Wednesday, December 31, 2008

v/a "Playin' Hard to Get: West Coast Girls"

This is a compilation of music by semi-anonymous girl groups from the USA's west coast, a present from me to my beloved on her birthday. The best track is 'You Haven't Seen Nothing Till You've Seen My New Boyfriend' by Dee Dee Young. Her new boyfriend is something else, apparently, though, as this track was originally released in the mid-1960s, I bet he is not up to much now. The album as a whole is an enjoyable confection of teen drama.

This is on some reissue label called Ace. They look like they are a bit less of a dodgy hole-in-the-wall operation than that now defunct Radioactive lot – the record includes sleevenotes and claims to have been recorded from original masters, where these still exist.

Fish in a Barrell

It is easy to laugh at Conservapedia, this crazy website for strange people who are building a parallel universe by constructing an encyclopaedia that leaves out or grossly misinterprets anything from the real world that challenges their mindset. Currently giving us all roffles in Panda Mansions is the very impartial entry on Barack Obama, which includes many fascinating facts. I was particularly struck by the FIFTEEN proofs that he is a secret Muslim, proofs that include the following:

"Obama uses the Muslim Pakistani pronunciation for "Pakistan" rather than the common American one."

"Obama has chosen the Secret Service code name 'Renegade'. 'Renegade' conventionally describes someone who goes against normal conventions of behavior, but its first usage was to describe someone who has turned from their religion. It is a word derived from the Spanish renegado, meaning 'Christian turned Muslim.'"

Click here for more worrying facts that the liberal media conspiracy have tried to hide.

Click here for pandas

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

v/a "Rebel Music: Songs of Protest & Insurrection"

This is a somewhat disappointing Mojo compilation of supposedly insurrectionary music that came out with an issue containing an interesting (to me) article about The Clash, in the time around Combat Rock (an album by The Clash). What do Inuit Panda readers think of Combat Rock? Some people say it is one of the three "good" Clash albums, but other people say it is shite. I have not listened to my vinyl copy for a while, but I remember liking the mix of more straight-ahead tracks on side one and the wacky noodles on side two. But I can see how people might prefer it without the wacky noodles.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sonic Youth "Sister"

I bought so I can put it on my iTunes and, one day, make my killer introduction to the Youth compilation. I already have it on vinyl, so I may send this off to Oxfam shortly.

Sister is one the band's three big 1980s albums. If you are new to the band, it is probably as good a place to start as any, mixing together their squalling guitar noise, rampant experimentalism, pop sensibilities, and moments of almost blessed out beauty (not always on the same song). It has some total classic tunes - 'Catholic Block', 'Kotton Krown', 'Hotwire My Heart', etc. You love it.

image source

Saturday, December 27, 2008

More "Waltz with Bashir" action

If you saw that Waltz with Bashir film but feel that your retrospective enjoyment of it could be improved by reading a dull exposition of the the events the film covers, then check out this post on my other blog.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Suspicions confirmed

Like many people I watched some Dr Who yesterday, but it was old Doctor Who from 25 years ago, called Resurrection of the Daleks. This one was about the Daleks (hence the title), who were trying to bust a rather sulky Davros out of jail so he could make them immune to some virus. For plot device reasons they were storing samples of this virus in a disused warehouse in London's docklands, connected to their space ship by a "time corridor". The Doctor manages to defeat the Daleks (obv.), but his annoying Australian companion Tegan Jovanka decides she has had enough time travel and leaves.

One of the most striking things about the story was Tegan's rather outlandish costume. It may have been the kind of thing that young ladies wore back in the early 1980s, but it did lead to ongoing "WTF?" reactions every time she came on screen (see image; Tegan is the one to the right). There was an accompanying bonus feature in which then Dr Who producer John Nathan Turner and Janet Fielding (who played Tegan) appeared on some early morning breakfast programme (itself a fascinating relic of the early 1980s). JNT confirmed that the rather revealing costumes the lady assistants wore were primarily designed to appeal to any dads who might be viewing.

image source

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Furry Glen

I'm not sure if anyone is still reading Furry Folk, but if you are you may have noticed references to the Furry Glen. I can assure you that this is an actual place, in Dublin's Phoenix Park. I went there and took some pictures to research my novel.
Here's the road in the park that leads to the Glen.

And here is the path that leads into the Glen itself.

This was taken deep in the Glen.


I was there in the afternoon, so there were no shady customers in furry suits hanging around making lewd suggestions to me.

Other research reveals that there is mysterious nightclub in Dublin called the Furry Glen. Details are sketchy, but it seems to be popular with bears.

Free the Pandas!

The People's Republic of China has sent some unruly pandas to Taiwan, where they are being held in jail until they repent of their malevolent ways. Or maybe this whole panda thing is a bit of racket, and they have just sent off two guys in furry suits.

Would you like to know more?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Where were you at the time of the crime?

In other news, the poet Adrian Mitchell appears to have died. I decided years ago that I don't hold with poetry, but I retained a soft spot for the couple of Mitchell's poems that came my way in school. 'Nostalgia - now threepence off' touched a chord with me, with its evocation of the vanished children's culture of yesteryear. He also seems to have adapted the English language version of Peter Weiss' play Marat/Sade. Mitchell's great achievement, for me, was his poem 'Tell Me Lies About Vietnam', apparently first read out at an anti-war demonstration in Trafalgar Square. It is a masterpiece of invective, a work that took on a new lease of life during Bush and Blair's adventure in Iraq. As a tribute to the late Adrian Mitchell, I am now going to post that poem here in its entirety, until such time as his estate track me down and make me remove it:

I was run over by the truth one day.
Ever since the accident I've walked this way
            So stick my legs in plaster
            Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Heard the alarm clock screaming with pain, 
Couldn't find myself so I went back to sleep again
             So fill my ears with silver
             Stick my legs in plaster
             Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Every time I shut my eyes all I see is flames
Made a marble phone book and I carved all the names
              So coat my eyes with butter
              Fill my ears with silver
              Stick my legs in plaster
              Tell me lies about Vietnam.

I smell something burning, hope it's just my brains.
They're only dropping peppermints and daisy-chains
              So stuff my nose with garlic
              Coat my eyes with butter
              Fill my ears with silver
              Stick my legs in plaster
              Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Where were you at the time of the crime?
Down by the Cenotaph drinking slime
              So chain my tongue with whisky
              Stuff my nose with garlic
              Coat my eyes with butter
              Fill my ears with silver
              Stick my legs in plaster
              Tell me lies about Vietnam.

You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out,
You take the human being and you twist it all about
             So scrub my skin with women,
             Chain my tongue with whisky
             Stuff my nose with garlic
             Coat my eyes with butter
             Fill my ears with silver
             Stick my legs in plaster
             Tell me lies about Vietnam.

(poetry and HTML code from here )

My Favourite Tunes of 2008

It is once more that time of year, when I find myself compiling a CD of the music from the past year I most enjoyed listening to. I am listing the tracks here for your delectation. As with previous years, a copy of this disc is available to anyone who wants it, though you will have to join a queue that has people ahead of you who are still waiting for their world psych* disc.

One thing to bear in mind – these are all tunes that were new to me over the last year. Some of them are from 2008 or late 2007, but many of them are from much earlier.

Here are the tracks:

1. Chrome Hoof 'Circus 9000'
This is from their 2007 album Pre-emptive False Rapture. Chrome Hoof wear shiny capes and play space rocky music, giving good spectacle live. I suspect that this might not be too everyone's taste, but putting them on first is a good way of separating the sheep from the goats.

2. Tinariwen 'Chet Boghassa'
This is from an album called Amassakoul that came out a couple of years ago. As you know, Tinariwen are these fellows who combine the music of their Tuareg heritage with more modern instrumentation, with their frontman being particularly adept in the use of the electrical guitar. They present quite a sight live, carrying guitars and wearing Tuareg robes, but I think they still do the job on record. You may agree.

3. Moondog 'Enough About Human Rights'
This is quite old; iTunes thinks the record it comes from (The Viking of Sixth Avenue) was released in 1978. Moondog is an odd character. He was blinded at an early age but, if I recall the sleevenotes to the album correctly, he took up music while undergoing rehabiliation and then carved out a singular career for himself. He seems also to have spent time dressing as a Viking and busking on the streets of New York, but there is a focus to his music that makes it impossible to think of him as some kind of weirdo outsider artist. The music itself is very percussive, and sounds like it uses a load of that multi-layering stuff that artists like Fursaxa go for. This track is one of the few on the album that has a vocal.

A while ago I was listening to my iPod on shuffle, and what I thought was a Moondog song started playing. But it turned out to be the opening shuffle of a Fun Boy Three / Bananarama tune. So that, maybe, gives an idea what the Viking of Sixth Avenue might sound like. I recommend him highly, and once more salute Lisa & Brian for giving it to me as a birthday present.

4. Nurse With Wound 'Black Teeth'
This is from Huffin' Rag Blues, an ablum iTunes says unconvincingly was released in 2008. I bought the record after NWW's performance at the Dublin Electronic Arts Festival, and remember this tune well from the concert. Love it or hate it, I can see this having to be surgically removed from people's consciousness. It you have not registered this yet, let me just say that this has a very high What Is This Shite? score. I must listen to it closely enough sometime to see what the lyrics are about.

5. Duncan Browne 'Cherry Blossom Fool'
This is from Early Morning Hush, a recent CD reissue of a compilation of British folk music from the late 60s or early 70s. Early Morning Hush has been on heavy rotation since it came into Panda Mansions. I could easily have burned half the album onto my end of year CD, so Duncan Browne's track here should be taken as standing in for all the others.

6. Selda 'Yaz Gazeteci Yaz'
Selda is a Turkish folk singer. Finders Keepers (a kewl English record label) have reissued Selda's untitled debut album (with a few tracks from her second thrown in as a bonus) as part of their Anatolian Invasion series of Turkish psych releases. This record was originally released in 1976, by which point Selda had been on the musical scene for some time (the accompanying pictures reveal her to be a somewhat dumpy mature lady). On the album her folkie tunes (usually protesting against some of the many things in Turkey there are to protest about) are backed by the leading lights of the Turkish rock scene, with some of the tracks (notably this one) even getting a bit of early electronics stuff thrown in. This should make Selda's album a bit of a dog's dinner, but it all works.

I have acquired a lot of Finders Keepers material on vinyl this year, but I love Selda so much that I bought this on CD as well so that I could put it on my end of year compilation. In some respects, she is standing in here for all the weirdo music I have heard through Finders KeepersWelsh language psych-folk, the big voiced sounds of Sarolta Zalatnay, Ersen (an actual Turkish psych band), and so on. With Finders Keepers you can be pretty certain that anything they release will be worth listening to.

7. Dee Dee Young 'You Haven't Seen Nothing'
This is from Playin' Hard to Get – West Coast Girls, a compilation of music by less well known girl groups from the USA in the 1960s. In this one, Dee Dee Young sings about how you haven't seen nothing till you've seen her new boyfriend. He is really something, unlike that loser she used to go out with.

8. Mahmoud Ahmed 'Mar tèb yelal kafesh'
And this of course comes from Swinging Addis, volume 8 of the Éthiopiques series of music from Ethiopia. I seem to have acquired a lot of discs from that series in 2008, so Mahmoud Ahmed is here standing in for all his fellows. As you know, Addis Ababa had a thriving musical scene in the dying years of the imperial period, largely based on an unusual local iteration of jazz ideas. The scene was shut down by the communist Derg regime that took power in thet mid-1970s, but thanks largely to the efforts of the guy who compiles the Éthiopiques series this music has been rediscovered by a new generation of hipsters.

9. The Kinks 'This Time Tomorrow'
I may be cheating here, in that this tune sounds too good not to have come my way on a compilation previously. This time it came my way on the soundtrack to The Darjeeling Limited, a Wes Anderson film I saw almost exactly a year ago. This song is great, but a lot of its appeal to me is based on its association with that wonderful film.

10. Dengue Fever 'Tiger Phone Card'
This is on Dengue Fever's third album, Venus on Earth, from 2007, the first I managed to track down. Dengue Fever were formed by these two American brothers (one of whom has an incredible beard) who became fascinated by the flourishing pop scene in Cambodia that flourished before the communists took over that country. Deciding to form a band to play this music, they recruited a Cambodian woman who had already made a name for herself on the karaoke circuit and then started recording Khmer pop classics and their own compositions. This track, one of the band's first in English, had a certain resonance for me in the period I spent here in Ireland while my beloved was off in Ethiopia.

11. Caribou 'Melody Day'
The (2007) album this comes from is called Andorra, and it would never have come into my awareness had KevLol not dragged me off to see Caribou play live here in Dublin. I think maybe they are better live than on record, but you do get something of a sense of their drum-led sound from this, the album's opener.

12. The Fiery Furnaces 'Ex-Guru'
This surprisingly straightforward tune from the brother-sister combo appears on their (2007) album Widow City. I salute the Furnaces for allowing people like me who buy their album on vinyl to then download a free copy of it.

13. The Auteurs 'Lenny Valentino'
This is the opening track from the Auteurs' second album, 1994's Now I'm A Cowboy. I never need an excuse to listen to the Auteurs (or any other Luke Haines related band), but I have been on a particular Haines/Auteurs kick lately thanks to my reading of Haineser's excellent memoir of the Britpop years. This song is apparently about Lenny Bruce dying of an overdose but briefly going back in time to find himself inhabiting the corpse of Rudolph Valentino at his funeral. Or something. I do not think you need to know this to enjoy this most excellent tune.

14. The Gresham Flyers 'Shiftwork'
Wow, a track by people I know! This is from Sex With Strangers, the 2008 debut album from this exciting band. I find it difficult to judge the artistic endeavours of people I know, but I have become rather fond of the Flyers' album in general and this song in particular. Hence its inclusion here.

15 David Vorhaus, Igor Stravinsky, & the Fairlight 'ORCH5'
I downloaded this from the Internet. ORCH5 is the VOMP! sound you heard on every record released during a certain period of the 1980s. It is a one second pre-set sample supplied with the Fairlight synthesiser, and people from hip hoppers to Kate Bush used it all over the place. David Vorhaus (himself an electronic music pioneer in the 1960s) recorded what became ORCH5 in the late 1970s. The sound is the transitional bit of Igor Stravinsky's Firebird, the moment when the full orchestra come in and do their stuff.

16. SCOOTER 'Jump That Rock!'
Yeah. This is from Jumping All Over The World, Scooter's number one album from 2008. It is easy to laugh at Scooter's nosebleed rave, shameless appropriation of other people's music, and fuckwitted rapping, but that would be rather missing the point. Yeah.

17. Portishead 'Half Day Closing'
This is not from the album Portishead released in 2008 but their largely overlooked and untitled second album from ten or more years back. I originally had that record down as being a bit disappointing, but this track has really grown on me. I am now starting to re-evaluate the band's second album, wondering if it represents a successful attempt to do something new as opposed to a less than successful iteration of what made the first record so good.

18. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 'The Singer'
This appears on the excellent covers album Kicking Against The Pricks originally released back in 1986. This track seems to have originally been a Johnny Cash composition.

19. Oneida 'Preteen Weaponry Part 2'
This long brooding tune is from Preteen Weaponry, a 2008 album by Oneida.

20. Sajuro 'Sakura: Cherry Blossoms'
This is from a record called Lullaby for the Moon. iTunes thinks it was released in 1997, though it would not surprise me if actually it is earlier. It combines that funny stringed instrument the Japanese have with that flutey thing of theirs. So it is nice, contemplative and restful music.

21. Some random load of Ethiopian clergymen, possibly accompanied by a congregation of worshippers '[Liturgical music from a religious service of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church]'
This comes from the album Music From Ethiopia, which came into Panda Mansions from Claddagh on the same day as the previously mentioned Lullaby for the Moon and Early Morning Hush. iTunes has this as having been released in 1970. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is big into the liturgical chanting, and it is not big on musical instruments. The only ones allowed in church services are a strange rattle thing and a big porker of a drum – not the kind of bongo drum people lazily associate with all African music but something that in sound is more like the big drums our friends in the North like to play (see picture).

I find this recording to be quite evocative of the kind of other worldly states of mind the religious like to aspire too. Ethiopian church services reputedly go on for hours at a time, so I reckon you could get really tripped out by listening to that much of this music. I also reckon that some racist people might not be down with the music of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, so I put it here at the end where it can be easily skipped.

Panda image source

*I have been calling this my world psych disc even though, as has been helpfully pointed out, some of the songs are more like beat music than proper psychedelia.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Worrying news for Tasmanian Devils

Tasmanian Devils are very fierce animals whose very fierceness has put them in terrible danger. They spend a lot of their time biting and snapping at each other, but unfortunately in so doing they transmit a terrible disease which causes their faces to erupt in repulsive cancerous growths that eventually make them unable to see or eat, leading to their death by starvation. Scientists have projected that their complete extinction in the next five or so years.

I have previously mentioned how some hope had emerged following the discovery of Cedric, a Tasmanian Devil who appeared to be immune to the facial cancers decimating his kind. Scientists had hoped that they could discover the secret of his immunity, or use him to repopulate the world with his cancer-immune progeny. Sadly, these hopes have now been dashed. Cedric recently developed some of the tumours on his face. Scientists have tried to excise them, but they do not hold out much hope.

Professor Greg Woods of the University of Tasmania has said that the results are "very deflating, very, very disappointing. There really is only one thing that can save the Tasmanian Devils now - they must stop being so fierce".


An astonishing discovery

The popularity of UB40 among the rougher elements in Dublin is a well known and long enduring feature of the city's cultural landscape. Yesterday evening, though, I discovered who is such people's second favourite recording artist. When driving around in stolen cars, they sometimes like to take a break from UB40's reggae stylings to listen to the neo-folk sounds of Tracy Chapman.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Pressing Question

If I wanted to help homeless people, what should I do?

Ice Volcanoes???

I remember years ago reading about some olde Doctor Who, probably PLANET OF THE DALEKS, in which an ice volcano featured, this being some kind of volcano that splurged out ice rather than molten rock. I took this to be yet another occasion on which the Doctor Who science advisor had been smoking the crack, but now it turns out that today's scientists think there might be ice volcanoes on Titan, the enormous moon of Saturn, the well-known ringed planet.

It is not believed that the Daleks are building a secret base on Titan.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What is this shite?

I'm having fun making an end of year compilation, with music new to me from last year (so some of it is much older, while some of it was actually released in 2008). It is packed full of totally awesome sounds - or sounds people like me consider totally awesome. I'm not sure what earth people will make of it (not that my tastes are actually *that* out there - some of people who hear my disc will no doubt deride it for being too pedestrian).

Sunday, December 14, 2008


My pal Carsmile Steve is giving away his old role playing games (and Warhammer stuff) to make way for more grown up items. If you fancy some RPGs, click here

I'm hoping to pick up some of these myself, so if you are one of my Dublin pals or someone who will be in Dublin in the near future (i.e. Myles) then it might make sense if we got them all together and pooled postage.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Clever Dog Learns Sign Language

This dog is deaf. Her name is Zoe, and she has had problems communicating with humans as they typically use speech to interact with dogs. As a result, staff in the RSPCA Little Valley Animal Shelter in Exeter feared that she might be overlooked by humans who adopt orphaned animals. To get around this, they have taught Zoe a number of key sign language terms, including ones for "sit", "stay", and "lie down". Zoe has reportedly found it very easy to learn these commands, because she is a very clever dog.


Front load the future

I've scheduled all my NaNoWriMo episodes to appear here, exactly a month after teach one was written. Nothing in the world can stop me now - even if I were to fall under a bus tonight, the episodes of Furry Folk will keep coming.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Film: "Waltz With Bashir"

This is only a quick note on this animated film. I am basically writing to encourage everyone reading to go and see this while it is still in the cinema. The film is a semi-documentary in which the (Israeli) film-maker tries to remember what he did during his country's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. He knows he was there, he understands that he was near to the massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra & Shatila refugee camps, but he does not remember anything of it. In the course of the film he talks to a number of other people who also invaded Lebanon, trying to jog his own memory.

The animation technique is very striking, but not in such a way that this starts turning into a tricksy film where you marvel at the style. You never lose track of this being a real film about real, terrible events. There is a bit at the end which has attracted some controversy, where the film suddenly switches from the animation to news footage from the time of wailing women and scattered corpses. Other people are less fond of bit of the film, but I found it very effective. If I had witnessed such events, or, like the film maker, played a part in them, I think my memory would try to bury them for me. It is also useful to include the news footage to remind viewers that the events in the film actually occurred - younger viewers or those who do not actively follow Middle Eastern affairs may have never heard of the massacres before.

As you know, I holidayed in Lebanon in 2002. This was 20 years after the events it describes, but I was struck by how familiar the Beirut scenes looked. Even in 2002 you would still get the occasional poster of Bashir Gemayel* in East Beirut. And that brings me to an odd thing, only tangentially related to whether the film is any good or not. The titular waltz with Bashir is a scene where an Israeli soldier takes a heavy machine gun and dances in the open, blasting away at mystery assailants, underneath a huge poster of Bashir Gemayel. But the film is very specific about where this event takes place - at the junction of Hamra Street with the Corniche, at the heart of West Beirut. There is no way in hell there was ever a giant poster of Bashir Gemayel in that part of West Beirut**; it would be like British soldiers meeting a giant poster of Ian Paisley on the Falls Road. I find it oddly appropriate that a film about the vagaries of memory would include a scene like this that could not have happened where and when the guy in the film remembers it***.

*the Phalangist leader whose murder, by still unidentified assailants, triggered the Sabra & Shatila massacre

**Bashir Gemayel led the Phalange, a militia-party popular with Maronite Christians. In Beirut, the Christians live in the East while Muslims live in the West.

***I look forward to some "I think you'll find - " comments documenting how it is well known that when the Israelis finally moved into West Beirut they were surprised to find giant posters of Bashir waiting for them.

Look Good. Feel Great.

Would you like to know more?

Art in Cork

Yes, it exists. On my trip to the Southern Capital last week, I paid a visit to the Glucksmann Gallery. This lies in the grounds of University College Course, in an imposing neo-brutalist edifice that somehow manages to look closed even when it is open. There was some great stuff inside. The exhibit of artworks relating to the Irish troubles was interesting, with Robert Ballagh's picture of the Miami Showband* (a photograph of the band overlaid with glass made to look like bullets have been fired into it) being eerily evocative of one of Northern Ireland's more unpleasant events. Another impressive piece is the much older Men of the West by Sean Keating, a picture from the early 20th century of some men from the West of Ireland who are clearly ready to answer Ireland's call. Sean Keating (an associate of William Orpen) is a fascinating artist, kind of like an Irish Socialist Realist in the iconic and propagandistic nature of his work. Another great work by him is Men of the South (veterans of the war of independence pose heroically shortly thereafter) and The Dockers, with the latter visible to Dublin readers in the Hugh Lane Gallery.

It was the foreign art, unrelated to the Troubles, that ultimately proved the most memorable.. One favourite was this video installation by Carey Young where the artist, dressed in a smart suit, went to Speakers Corner and delivered a well-prepared speech on public speaking techniques, while around her people milled around and various nutters ranted away about stuff in an over-excitable manner.

Another piece of complete genius was the Mao-Hope march, a film recording of a march through New York by some Öyvind Fahlström fellow in the late 1960s. They were carrying giant photographs of Bob Hope and Mao Tse-Tung, and asking passers by if they were happy. The responses they received can be read here (that's also the image source). I particularly liked the guy who thought that it was a sign that Bob Hope was going to become US president, or the various people who got very defensive when asked whether they were happy.

*younger readers may not heard of these fellows. They were one of those showbands you hear about, and their career was cut tragically short by the Ulster Volunteer Force, who stopped their van and massacred them in the mid-1970s.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dog chases rabbits, gets in trouble

More dog news: late last month, Riley (a collie-cross) was chasing a rabbit when he became entangled in brambles 15 feet down into a quarry near the town of Portland in Dorset. Personnel from the fire department and the coastguard were able to cut Riley free and reunite him with his owner, but a coastguard spokesman warned that the naughty dog had had a "lucky escape". A source close to Riley has revealed that he came very close to catching the rabbit and that Riley hopes to have better luck next time.

Furry Folk - Part 6

Jack hits a wall of silence, and makes a terrible mistake.

Jack looked around the club. There was no sign of the cat lady anywhere. Oh well, he thought, easy come, easy go. Cats love to tease dogs. He decided to go back to the quiet room. Maybe she would be there, and if she was not then perhaps he could find out something about the runaway Panda. There was no point staying in the dancing room, the noise was too loud for conversation.

The corridor between the two rooms also boasted doors into the ladies' and gents' toilets. With the various drinks he had already consumed now working their way through him, Jack felt the need to relieve himself. Standing at a urinal beside two other men in furry animal suits, he found himself reflecting once more on the strange world in which he had found himself. The impression was enhanced by the sounds of coupling coming from behind one of the closed doors of the stalls – the noises seemed like they were being made by creatures distinctly less than human, like the people making them had genuinely regressed to a bestial state. Jack tried to take pride in his not having sunk so low just yet, but his mind was still on the cat lady. With a sinking feeling, he realised that for her he could be entirely animal.

The plush room was more animated now, with the seats mostly full of furries engaging in what looked like the most fascinating discussions. Others stood around, chatting away, or perhaps they were flirting. It was hard to tell. Devlin was at least glad that the furries were not all staring at him anymore. Perhaps the cocktails they all seemed to be drinking were making them less interested in eyeing up the new dog in the pack. But there was no sign of the cat-lady.

He made his way to the bar, and ordered another brandy alexander. In for a penny he thought, all thoughts of the terrible effects such a rich drink might have on his digestive system banished to the back of his mind.

"You're new here, aren't you?" said a man in a horse-suit – no, a donkey suit – who had come up to bar to order drinks while he watched the raccoon throw his drink together.

"I am, yes", replied Jack. "Is it that obvious?"

"Well, I couldn't help but see you order that pint. No one drinks pints here, It's not the done thing".

"I see that now. And you, you're a regular?"

"Oh yes, very much so. You never get a night in the Zoo without Old Ned".

"How long have you been coming here?"

"Ah now, that would be telling! But come now, my friend, why not join my table over here? I'll introduce you to the gang".

Why not? thought Jack, walking with the donkey as he carried a tray of cocktails over to a table around which a group of furries were ranged. Two women in what he thought might be guinea-pig suits sitting on a sofa insisted that he squeeze in between them. Their costumes were far less figure-hugging than the cat-lady's (or, at least, he hoped they weren't).

The donkey ran through the names of the two guinea pigs, a cow (who, confusingly, seemed to be male), a rabbit, a horse, another dog, and a man in a rather different catsuit to the cat-lady's. Jack immediately forget all their names, just as he was asked for his. "Fido", he replied. The other dog guffawed. "What a common name!"

Devlin was trying to think of a response more cutting then "Up your lad" when the horse riposted "You can hardly talk, every second dog here is called Bob or Bobby".

"With me Bob is just an abbreviation", retorted the dog, "For I am Bramshaw Bob, gold medal winner at Crufts!" He looked very pleased with himself.

"It's not the quality of your name that counts", interjected the cow sonorously, "but how you build a reputation for yourself. That is something that can only be achieved through continuous hard work and application, something that I am no stranger to. Thus I am well known throughout our circle as a cow of great discernment and wisdom"

"Oh he is a one!" said the Guinea Pig to Jack's right, while the other chuckled in a worrying manner.

"So", said Jack, trying to steer the conversation in directions that he hoped would prove more profitable, "You have all been on the scene a long time? It's my first night here"

"Oh we all know that!" said Bramshaw Bob, "We saw you drinking Guinness!" He said it like it was urine or some other equally foul liquid that no right thinking person would drink in public. Jack found himself taking a real shine to this mutt.

"And we saw you talking to Tiddles", said the horse, with what Jack thought might be an air of innuendo in his voice. "She likes the new ones". This provoked some mirth among the animals.

"So you know her as well?" said Jack.

"Oh we all know her" chipped in Bob. The guinea pigs were in such paroxyms of laughter that Jack felt like he was being put through a mangle.

"I see. I was asking her about an old friend of mine, someone who had first introduced me to… to this whole thing, you know what I mean. Maybe you know her too? She used to tell me about how she would come here, and made it all sound so magical. I used to dream about coming here myself, but wondered if I would ever pluck up the courage to reveal myself as the… as the dog I really am. But now, yes, I have plucked up the courage, and here I am".

"Well done, sir, well done", said the cat, whose accent sounded English. "And is she here, this inspirational old friend of yours?"

"I haven't seen her yet. I don't know if she comes to the club much. It's a long time since we've talked, but I heard she got married – to another of her kind. I think they may spend a lot of time at home together, you know what I mean".

"When I'm at home I like to eat my carrots", the rabbit pipped in helpfully.

"We all have our favourite domestic pursuits", the cow declared, "but the noblest of all activities is industrious labour. I can tell you in a most unequivocal manner, that that is how I spend my time at home – in ceaseless toil, for as the Roman once said, laborare est orare. Not that I am particularly religious, of course, but you will understand the improving nature of my labours".

"I often find that I have to tidy up after you because you've left a terrible mess everywhere" said the rabbit. The cow turned his expressionless face towards his floppy eared friend, and the latter somehow sensed that it was time to be quiet.

"This friend of yours, Fido", said Old Ned, "it is possible we know her, both her and her husband. We animals are a gregarious bunch, mostly, and weddings are a great social occasion for us. What was your friend's name, and do you know what kind of animal she is?"

"Why yes", said Jack, "Her real… her human name is Laura, but I think she said that here she calls herself Miss Cuddlebuns. She's a panda, and I think her husband is called Mr Chubbytail. He's a panda… too".

Jack trailed off in what he was saying, because it seemed to be getting something of a reaction. With the animal suits, he could not read facial expressions, but from body language it was clear that what he had said had caused some upset. The animals went silent, and their plush faces turned blankly to each other. Jack sensed also that some of the furries at the neighbouring tables had gone silent.

"Do you know her? Or her husband?" he gamely continued.

"No, Fido, I can't say I do", replied Old Ned, deliberately. "I know no pandas", concurred the cat. The others seemed uncertain whether it was necessary for them to also confirm their lack of panda acquintance, but then the rabbit threw in a somewhat contrary position.

"I knew a panda once – " he began, before being unsubtly given a dig by the horse. The rabbit lapsed into silence, lowered his head and looked at the ground.

"So, no one knows any pandas?" Jack queried, again.

"We do not know the pandas", replied Bob emphatically. "Let us trouble ourselves no more with this subject. You there, Raccoon!" he called to the bar. "Fetch us more drinks, can't you see we are dying of thirst!"

After that the animals resumed their conversation, largely ignoring Jack and preventing him from questioning them or the rabbit again about the pandas. They did at least throw him another brandy alexander, which he sipped while wondering what it was about the pandas that had made them clam. They knew something, it was obvious, but they were not going to talk. Apart from the rabbit – Jack felt certain that if he got him away from the others he could worm something out of him. But there was no real chance of this happening. At one point the rabbit had to visit the toilet, and Jack took his chance to nip off after him, but the cat and the horse sprang to his side and more or less escorted him too and from the urinal.

The animals did at least keep plying him with drinks, but he knew his investigation waw going nowhere. And there was only so much of the furries' inane converstational one-upmanship that he could take. So he decided to call it quits.

"Well guys", he said, butting into an argument over whether Bob or the horse was the best read of the animals present, "it's been a lovely evening but I am getting a bit puppy tired. I'm heading home to my, eh, kennel. It's been great meeting you all, and I'm sure I'll see you again here real soon".

By this stage, he had had quite a bit too drink, a quantity of alcohol that could only really be identified as too much. He rather staggered towards the door, waving to the animals, missing the rather half-hearted farewells they threw back at him. The bear in the kiosk was still at his honey and did not seem to be aware of him going. Outside, there were some taxis parked in the hotel courtyard. Brilliant. The gorilla-suited bouncers helped him into the back-seat of one and generously buckled up his seatbelt for him. He barked out his address to the driver and the car sped off.

Devlin had a lot to think about. The marked reluctance of the furries to discuss the panda lady or even acknowledge her existence. The cat-lady and her sudden disappearence. In his drunken semi-stupor the events of the evening and the day before all started to merge into each other, and he started imagining the cat-lady showing up in a panda suit in his office, with all the other furries close behind.

He looked out the window, expecting to see the familiar landmarks of the city centre. But he was mistaken, and with a sickening mental thud he was jolted back into semi-sobriety by the realisation that the cab was not heading south into the city, but north – out into the wilds of north county Dublin.

"Hey! This isn’t the way to Rathgar!"

"No, Mr Devlin, it is not" replied the taxi driver, inclining his head slightly so that Jack could see him better. Oh my God, he thought, I'm a fool! Why didn't I see it until now? The taxi driver did not have a human head, or not one that Jack could see - the cab was being driven by a man in a badger suit

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Good Dog Wins Award

Simba (a Leonberger) has won an award. This good dog has been chosen as the dog of the year by Pets As Therapists, an organisation with which he volunteers. Simba works with people who are depressed or who have other problems by letting them talk to and hug him.


Monday, December 08, 2008

Canine Science Latest

Scientists have made some important discoveries concerning the nature of dogs. They discovered that if you get two dogs it is easy to train them to give the paw if you reward them with a treat.

But there's more. If you then stop rewarding one of the dogs but keep rewarding the other, the dog you are not rewarding will become agitated, and will soon stop giving the paw when requested to do so.

The BBC has more on this ground-breaking research.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Ian's World of Incisive Theatre Criticism" "The Resistable Rise of Artutro Ui"

The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui in the Abbey is very good. I was Jimmy Fay's last go at directing Brecht's classic, back in 1987 or something. This was different, more, eh, theatrey. I think they went for it more with the American gangster accents as well this time.

People talk a lot about Tom Vaughan Lawlor, the chap who plays Ui. And he is very good, but the rest of the cast rock too. Karl Shiels as Givola, of course, but also the rest. I had a particular fondness for Des Cave, who plays a hammy old Shakespearean actor hauled in to give Ui some lessons in deportment and public speaking; he had played Ui himself in the last Abbey production, in 1974*.

As you know, the play tells the story of the rise of Adolf Hitler, only resituated so that it is about a Chicago gangster who is trying to ingratiate himself with the city's cauliflower suppliers. In our time of economic meltdown he play has a certain resonance, and you do find yourself worrying about what the crisis will bring us.

One funny textual thing - the last line of the play is a warning, telling us that we cannot assume that with Hitler's defeat the threat of fascism is gone, with the narrator saying that the woman that gave birth to him is still fertile (or something like that). Apparently this is more usually rendered in English as the more graphic "The bitch that bore him is still in heat". I wonder why the change.

*there is a great picture from this in the programme, featuring two guys who appear to have read Michael Green's "The Art of Coarse Acting"

Friday, December 05, 2008

Scary TV

One of the scariest TV programmes I have ever seen was the BBC serialisation of John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids. The first episode begins with this guy waking up in hospital to discover that i) everyone else in Britain has gone blind and ii) the place is over run with walking carnivorous plants. Even the title sequence was terrifying - creepy 20th century classical music playing over images of newly blind people looking a bit pathetic, before one of them is hit in the face by what turns out to be a stinger from a walking plant.

There is an interesting piece on it today on the BBC, prompted by the fact that some fuckwit has decided that the programme needs to be remade: Why the love affair with man-eating plants? The article situates the Wyndham's book in the great genre of global disaster fiction, pointing out that it came out shortly before Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. Take that Yanks. For real creepiness, though, scroll on to the reader comments, and check out what one G Ben of London, UK has to say.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

This is not a test

Actually it is.

What does this look like in LiveJournalLand? Is it what they call a "cut"?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hawkwind "Epocheclipse: The Ultimate Best of"

Again, Oxfam have a lot to answer for. This time, though, I have hit paydirt, with a collection of fab tunes by everyone's favourite space-rockers. I reckon if charged with the job of compiling their greatest tunes onto one CD, I would pick a slightly different selection to this, but for people who want an easy introduction to this great band then this would be a great way to go. I'm particularly struck by how enjoyable the late-1980s track 'Night of the Hawks' sounds, this being the one where Lemmy played with the band for the first time since chemical differences forced him out of the line-up.

Out of curiosity, is there any interest out there in an introduction to Hawkwind CD-R?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

After the cut

So, does anyone know if Blogger blogs have an easy way of doing those cut things that they love so much on Live Journal?

Furry Folk - Part 2

Private detective Jack Devlin has been hired by a man in a panda suit to find his missing wife. Now he is off to the pub.

Devlin's office was on Capel Street, but whenever he felt the call of an early pint he made the trip over to the Palace on Fleet Street. He had tried the Capel Street pubs, but they were not to his taste – they were all either full of skangers or trend people. The Palace was somewhere he found far more congenial. As he came in, he spotted one of his associates drinking on his own at the bar.

"Joe! Story? Pint?" he said, by way of greeting.

"Pint, yeah sure", came the morose reply. "Why not live while we can".

"So, Joe", said Devlin, after placing the order, what has you in the pub so early? Shouldn't you be at work, looking after the administration of the country?"

"Ah, it's all gone to shit, I might as well be here as there".


"Jesus Jack, don't you watch the news? The rebels are attacking Athlone. If they take there we're all fucked".

"Athlone? That's a shithole, they're welcome to it".

"That's not really the point – if they take Athlone, there's nowhere else to stop them. They'll be here within the week, and then – ". He made a gesture indicative of a man being hung by his neck until dead.

"Ah now, maybe it won't be that bad. I mean," he continued in an undertone, "they might even be an improvement on the current lot".

"Oh come on, you've seen the pictures from Limerick!"

"Well, yeah, but that's another shithole".

"Well they might think Dublin is another shithole and do the same here! Then we're all fucked! Or at least I am!"

"Well, yeah. So what are you going to do about? Sit here moaning? Wouldn't you be better off, I don't know, signing up with the FCA to do your bit or something?"

Joe paused to take a sip from his newly arrived pint before continuing. "No way, Jack, those poor fuckers won't last a minute, and they'll be the first up against the wall if the rebels get here. No, if Athlone falls, I'm getting the fuck out of here – first train to Belfast".

"I doubt you'll be the only one".

"Jesus, I hadn't thought of it like that! What the fuck am I going to do?"

"Ah, you'll sort something out. Anyway, I've got bigger fish to fry. An interesting case came my way today, you might be able to give me a dig out with it. It all started when this guy in a panda-suit came into my office, and – "

"What's this got to do with me?" interrupted Joe, suspiciously.

"Nothing! Jesus, I just thought that as a man of the world you might have heard something about this kind of thing".

"Well okay, as long as we're clear on one thing, I'm not one of those freaks who dress up in animal costumes. Those people make me sick!"

"I wasn't saying you were".

"Well it sounded to me like you were implying it, and I couldn't let you get away with that. I'm a man, not some perv who likes to dress up as a dog and go round sniffing other people's arses".

"Let it go, Joe, you're protesting too much".

Joe shuffled uncomfortably on his stool. "OK Jack, this Panda, what did he want?"

"His wife had left him. Seemed like she was another panda-suit weirdo too, but she had turned her back on all that. Left her suit behind and everything. He wants me to track her down, so he can give her the big speech, make her come back to him and all that shite".

"I see".

"So, Joe, you are something of a man of the world, and have heard about all kinds of things. I am not for a second suggesting that you are one of these animal suit fruits, but have you ever heard anything about this lot? It's all new to me".

"Well… from what I have heard, they are typically people who live a normal life – what society calls normal anyway – by day, but by night they seize any opportunity to get together with other people who, like them, like to dress up as animals and do animal stuff together".

"What is this all about, Joe? Not that you would have any personal experience, obviously, but from what you have heard, is it all some kind of sex thing? I am having unpleasant visions of a lot of fat middle aged people in animal suits porking away at each other". He shuddered.

"Bring everything down to smut, that's always your way. No, Joe, it's not like that. Or so I have heard. It's a total lifestyle. They engage in the full gamut of interaction with each other. Now, that might include sex, but it's not like it's the central part of what they do, any more than it is in normal life".

"Speak for yourself!", Jack responded, and then wondered if something a bit less flippant would have worked better. "Anyway, from what you are saying, this animal-suit stuff seems to be like, I don't know, fancy dress or something. But this panda-suit guy, he seemed to be living it twenty four seven".

"That, Jack, is the dream of every Furry – that's what they call themselves. Many would live the furry life at home, especially if their spouse is another Furry – it makes it all so much more of a way of life, not just something that people do out in clubs or at parties".

"A pretty weird way of life", retorted Jack, his pint glass now heading for empty.

"Ah yes, of course," replied Joe, before nodding to the bar man for two more pints. "But who are we to judge? Anyway, this Panda fellow you had in your office, he has achieved what so many of his furry friends would dream of – he has the guts to wear his skin wherever he goes, to say to everyone he meets 'I'm a Panda! Have you got a problem with that?'. That would be the greatest thing imaginable… to another Furry, of course".

"Though his wife left him, so maybe it's not that all that great".

"Feh", said Joe, dismissively, "She sounds like a false Furry, some gold digging slut who put on a panda-skin just to leech money off a vulnerable man! Such people are the lowest of the low, Jack. Don't you forget it!"

"Sure, but if it weren't for people like that I'd be out of a job. Anyway, these furry people, where do they get together? Would you have heard this?"

"Well, a lot of it would be at parties in people's houses, but there are some clubs that cater to people of that persuasion. The Pet Shop, the Zoo, Reynard's, they'd be the big ones, and I suppose the Cage would also count. It's for Furries who are into, you know, S & M".

"Bondage Furries, now I've heard it all".

"Oh come on Jack, don't be so narrow-minded! Just as there are normal people who like to be tied over a barrel and mercilessly flogged by women dressed as Ann Doyle, so there are Furries who enjoy being forced to run around mazes or to take part in strange medical experiments. Don't let the minority colour your perception of the whole community!"

"No way, that's not my style Joe, you know it", he replied. And then, in an undertone: "Joe, keep your voice down, walls have ears, you know? This isn't the kind of thing you want too many people to hear you talking about". Jack had started to wonder if the guy in the corner with the sweaty face was only pretending to read his Irish Times. He had the air of someone who liked to earwig on pub conversations, and he seemed to be nursing his pint a bit too much to be the kind of serious drinker you find in a pub in the later part of the afternoon.

"Sure Jack, I get you", Joe responded, in what passed for a whisper.

"One more thing, Joe. From what you're saying, this animal-suit scene seems to be pretty big. From talking to the Panda, I thought it was only a dozen or so fruits getting together once a month or something".

"No Jack, you're wrong. The scene is huge! Furries are everywhere. Anyone you look at, they could be one too! That's the thing with the suits, you never know who that dog or squirrel you're talking to might be in 'real' life. And you never know who might have a furry suit hidden at home".

Jack glanced around the bar, looking at the barmen, the other patrons, and at Mr Sweatyface, imagining them all as people who might like to put on animal suits and secretly get together to do whatever the furry people did. It was a most disturbing thought, and one that made him suddenly feel the need to get out and clear his head.

"Cheers Joe", he said, before knocking back his pint. "Thanks for filling me in on all these furry freaks. I've got to go now, but I'll see you again soon. If you haven't run away to Belfast, obviously".

With that hurried goodbye, he made his way out into the street and started moving through the crowds. It was late on Friday afternoon now, and Temple Bar was already filling up with wankers. He pushed his way through them, determined to punch the face in of any fool who tried to start something. No one was obliging enough to give him an excuse. Devlin continued drifting through the crowds, not really going anywhere in particular. But then that alertness that goes with his profession kicked in, and he realised with a start that the sweaty-faced guy from the Palace was following him. Or at least, he seemed to be following him. It could just be coincidence, of course. Time to check this guy out, thought Devlin.

Trying to look as though he was unaware of his tail, Jack took a roundabout route up to Dame Street and then crossed over and made his way into the maze of side-streets that fill the space between Grafton Street and George's Street. Sweatface was still coming along afterwards, trying far too obviously to look as unobtrusive as possible. Maybe he's the one I'm meant to see, thought Devlin, wondering if maybe there were more subtle tails marking his course through the city. Somewhat unlikely, he reckoned, but there was only one way to find out. Devlin ducked up Andrew's Lane, and past the theatre and hid in the bend of the roadway there. No one around, good. He pretended to fiddle with his mobile phone, so he would look that bit less suspicious to anyone who spotted him.

Soon enough he heard footsteps coming along the way he had just travelled, and then Sweatface came round the corner, his faux nonchalance turning into dismay when he realised that his target was right there in front of him. His dismay multiplied when Devlin grabbed his jacket and slammed him roughly against the theatre's wall.

"Right, fucko, what's going on here? Why are you following me?"

"I don't know what you're talking about – ow!"

Devlin had slammed him against the wall again. "Cut the crap! Don't try to play me for a fool!" He shook Sweatface roughly one more time, realising that this guy was plainly not used to rough stuff.

"Ow! Stop hurting me! Alright, I was following you… I wanted to warn you! I heard you in the Palace, and you need to be careful – you are getting involved with things you don't understand!"

"Stop giving me the conspiracy theory bollocks and tell me what you're on about!" Devlin slammed the increasingly sweat-faced man against the wall, one more time, not so much because he reckoned it would make him talk, but because it was fun.

"Ow! It's the Furries! I heard you talking about them. They're dangerous – they don't like outsiders poking around in their business, and they'll do anything to stop their secrets getting out. Be careful, for the love of God!"

"So you're saying I should watch out for a load of freaks in bunny costumes?"

"Yes! yes! Believe me – I know what I'm talking about!"

"And how would that be?" said Devlin, getting ready to slam the sweat-faced sap against the wall again. But before he could do so, he heard the sound of heavy footsteps from around the corner and a distinctive broad accent calling out:

"What's goin' on there now?"

The Guards! The last thing Devlin needed was trouble from those clowns. He flung the snivelling wretch down to the ground and sprinted off as fast as he could, hoping that the man he had been questioning would not feel like telling tales, and that if he did he hadn't caught his name in the Palace.

There is an art to running away, especially from people who have not seen you and do not know what you look like. Devlin was practiced in that art. Once he had rounded another corner he ducked down into another alleyway, came out onto another street, and then assumed the kind of ambling pace that someone out for an after-work stroll might adopt. He became the very picture of innocence. He walked around aimlessly for a bit, stopping in a shop for a packet of crisps, and then when the coast seemed definitely clear he made his way home.

There was a thick, hand-delivered envelope waiting for him in his post-box. He opened it up, to find a couple of wads of money – €50 bills, no less – and a note.

"Dear Mr Devlin. Today you can expect a man in a panda-suit to visit your office, attempting to engage your services. He is not what he seems. Do not take him on as a client. Let Laura have her freedom. As compensation for losing this business, please accept the enclosed monies as a token of our appreciation."

Devlin had not checked the post-box on the way out, so the note could have been there this morning. Reflecting that they had not left a return address, Devlin scrunched the note into his pocket and trousered the cash. He did not count the money, but it had to be a couple of grand's worth. The case was becoming even more bizarre than it had appeared when Mr Chubbytail walked into his office, but whatever happened, he had taken on the case and was bound to the Panda by a commercial relationship. He could not back out now.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Furry Folk - Part 1

What the hell. I have decided to post my NaNoWriMo thing here, in instalments. The worst that can happen is public humiliation. Anyway, it is going to appear here at the same rate I wrote it, typos and all, but only for a limited period of time.

Here's part one, written on the 1st of November

Jack Devlin was drunk. When some people get drunk, they become violent, combative, and argumentative. Jack, though, just became talkative and over-friendly.

"So yeah, how is business going for you at the moment?"

"It has been better", replied his taxi driver. "People do not take so many cab trips now".

"Yeah yeah, the economic situation. It's not holding me back! I've just closed a big case. I'm a private investigator, you know? It's not as exciting as it sounds, all insurance scams and taking money from saps whose wife is getting it on with their best friend. It was a bit of that this time. This guy, he thought his wife was seeing someone else… turned out she was seeing half of Dublin. Jesus, I might be in with a chance with her myself. She's a really fine looking woman… great pair of tubridies… ". He trailed off in silent contemplation. And then: "Maybe I should give her a ring – I've got her number!"

The taxi driver made no reply while Devlin fumbled for his mobile and keyed in the numbers. The phone went straight to voicemail, unsurprisingly given the lateness of the hour.

"Hi! Yeah, how are you? Listen, you don't know me, but I was wondering if you might fancy meeting up for a meal or a drink or something, taking it from there, you know, seeing where it goes. The Korean places on Parnell Street, they're good crack, not too expensive, and you can do a it of karaoke afterwards, puts you in an excitable frame of mind, see what happens… what do you – ".

The voicemail's closing beep cut him off. Devlin started to imagine the woman disrobing in front of him, but then he remembered where he was and started to engage the taxi driver again.

"Hey, have you ever seen Taxi Driver? I've always wondered whether you guys watch it".

"Oh yes, it is very good. That Danny De Vito, he is a very funny man".

"I think that's the TV series you're thinking of. I mean the film, with Robet De Niro. You know, 'Are you talkin' to me?' and all that".

"Is Marilou Henner in it? She is very beautiful lady".

"No, but they had yer one from Moonlighting. But the film isn't the same, it's about this guy who drives taxis, and he is a Vietnam vet, and he turns into a bit of a psycho".

"That does not sound as good as the TV programme. It was very popular in my country. Seeing it made me decide to come here and become a taxi driver".

"But it's set in New York…"

"It's all the same".

Devlin looked out the window. Where was he? How long had he been in this cab? Where was he going?

"Eh, is this the way to Rathgar?"

"Ah yes, short cut, avoiding congestion".

A few minutes later Devlin was outside his apartment building. Thirty five Euro seemed a bit steep for the fare, though he was not really in a position to argue.

There was a guy in a white tracksuit and a shifty looking moustache loitering near the front door of Devlin's apartment, who now started trying to engage him in conversation. Devlin ignored him, opening the door as quickly as he could, tense in case he would suddenly have to fight for his life. "Here bud! Come here! I got something for you, Mr Devlin", but the slamming of the door drowned out his words. Devlin found himself wondering how the skanger knew his name, but did not dwell on this mystery. His bed was calling him, and that is where he soon found himself.

Devlin slept late the next day. After a leisurely breakfast he rolled into the office, said hello to his floor's receptionist and buried himself in some of the paperwork he needed to catch up on. Distraction soon set in, and he found himself checking webmail and reigniting a frank online discussion on the relative merits of the different Indiana Jones films. And then his phone rang, he answered a call from his receptionist, and his day changed course alarmingly.

"Mr Devlin, there's a… a Panda here to see you", said his receptionist.

"A Panda, Jane?"

"Well, not an actual Panda. That would be weird. What I mean is, there is a guy in a panda-suit here to see you."

"OK, it takes all sorts, show the fucker in".

And so Devlin found himself ushering a somewhat chubby looking man in a panda-suit into his office. "Please do not take offense, Mr Devlin, if I decline to shake your hand", began the visitor, speaking in a deliberate and distinguished voice that suggested time spent studying art history in Trinity College Dublin. "Incorrect assumptions about pandas abound in this age of debased culture, and one of the most pernicious is that pandas crave nothing more than physical contact with complete strangers. Hence the propensity for people to try to give me hugs" (at this he shuddered) "when we have barely been introduced. The truth is, Mr Devlin, that I loathe physical contact of any sort with any but my own kind, and even then only after a long and extensive courtship. Even a touch of the hand is something that I find rather disgusting, especially with a – with a person such as yourself".

"Sure, sure, no hand-shakes, I get the idea", said Devlin as he ushered the Panda into a seat into which he was barely able to squeeze. "So, what can I do for you, Mr…? Someone been at your bamboo?"

"Very droll, Mr Devlin, I see your reputation as something of a humorist is well deserved. I am not, however, in a situation where jokes are of much assistance. And you can call me Mr Chubbytail".

"I take it that's not the name on your birth cert?"

"No sir, it is not, but if you are asking whether it is my real name then I can assure you that it is. I changed my name by deed poll five years ago when I adopted this persona. Mr Chubbytail is the only name by which I am known".

"No first name?"

"I have no need of such a thing. In formal situations Mr Chubbytail is perfectly appropriate, while in more intimate company the mister can be dropped and I become simply Chubbytail. But, Mr Devlin, this is not an intimate encounter, and all this talk is taking time away from more important matters".

"Sure, you'll have to forgive me if my normal professionalism lapses. I've never had a guy in a panda-suit in my office before, so – "

"Mr Devlin", interrupted Mr Chubbytail icily, "Please do not under any circumstances ever refer to my skin as a panda-suit. It is not something I take off and put on at will, but an intrinsic part of what I am".

"Sorry! Jesus, look, this is all new to me, don't take it the wrong way if I make a wrong step. Let's start again. What has led to you requiring the services of a private investigator, and what has brought you to me?"

"Well Mr Devlin, I can answer the second part first. I was given your name by an associate, who recommended you as someone who can deal with the most sensitive matters with the necessary tact and discretion. He warned me of your less appealing personal qualities, but he made clear that you were the kind of fellow who can accomplish wonders, and all at a highly competitive price".

"I aim to please".

"And as to what brings me here – well surely you can guess. I mentioned that I loathe physical contact with any save my own kind, and even then a courtship that your sort would find unacceptably lengthy is necessary. Now, after years of disappointment, I had found a mate, a most delightful lady Panda called Miss Cuddlebuns. The more we came to know each other, the more in love we grew. Last year we took the logical next step – Miss Cuddlebuns became Mrs Chubbytail. Yes, Mr Devlin, we got married. Marriage is not just for your kind, but for ours as well".

"Well, I've no problem with that, take love where you find it and all that".

"My mate and I set up home together. Our life was one of unremitting joy. We looked forward to the day when we would be blessed with offspring, when our house would echo to the sounds of little Panda cubs gambolling around. But that… that was then. Things are different now". A hesitation crept into his voice, but he forced himself to continue.

"Last Tuesday, I arrived home from the office to find that my wife had gone. She had left me a note – and her skin. Mr Devlin, she is a Panda no more".

"I see. Do you have the note with you?"

Mr Chubbytail's suit seemed to come equipped with pockets, and from one of these he produced a piece of paper and began to read. "'My dear husband. This is the hardest letter I will ever have to write. I love you, and I always will, but all this time I have been with you, I have been living a lie. I have tried to deny it, but I can do so no longer. Chubbytail, I am not really a Panda'", and at this a choking quality came into the Panda's voice, as his black-eared head slouched forward. "'I am a human being. I belong with my own kind. I must leave you now. We must never see each other again. I hope one day you will find yourself a good lady Panda, god knows you deserve it. Yours with eternal affection, Laura'. Do you see Mr Devlin, she didn't even sign the letter with her real name?"

At this Mr Chubbytail broke down into tears, sobs causing his black and white frame to convulse. Devlin jumped up and was about to give him a reassuring hug when he remembered Mr Chubbytail's aversion to physical contact. Another tack was called for, so he ran over to the filing cabinet and produced bottle of cheap Irish whisky. "There there Mr Chubbytail, how about a glass of Paddy to cheer you up?"

"Thank you Mr Devlin, you are too kind", sobbed Mr Chubbytail. "But I never drink alcoholic beverages".

"Come on, just this once, it's not every day a man, eh a Panda loses his wife" he said, forcing a well-filled glass into Mr Chubbytail's paw, albeit with the minimum possible amount of skin-fur contact. "Look, I'm going to have one myself, don't make me look like the kind of guy who drinks on his own like a sad alcoholic".

"Alright Mr Devlin, I will take a couple of sips", said Mr Chubbytail, bringing the glass up to the suit's mouth, where a small aperture allowed it access to the human mouth behind.

"Now Mr Chubbytail, tell me, where do I come into all this?"

"Well Mr Devlin", he said, with composure returning to his voice, "I want you to find my Cuddlebuns. I need to talk to her again. If I can speak to her one more time, then I am sure that I can persuade her of the error of her ways. Mr Devlin, what she said in that note is just not true – she is a Panda, through and through. She can never be happy in the human world".

"Mr Chubbytail, I am happy to take this job, but I have to warn you – you are probably setting yourself up for a big disappointment. You may be the first Panda to come into this office, but I've seen a lot of husbands whose wives have done a bunk, and they always think they can make them come back. They can't. When a woman walks, she's gone".

"But my Cuddlebuns is not a woman, Mr Devlin – she's a Panda".

"I'm not sure if that makes a big difference, but look, I've tried telling you, my ethical duty is done. So now let's get on with things. Have you any idea where your wife might have gone?"

"No, Mr Devlin. She is in the world of humans now. Your world. That is why I am hiring you to find her".

"I see. Well, can you tell me anything about her background, or even her real name – I mean her name before she became Miss Cuddlebuns?"

"I cannot, Mr Devlin, save that the note reveals that her former first name was Laura. She was already Miss Cuddlebuns when we met".

"Is that the name on her marriage certificate?"

"Mr Devlin, we did not marry in one of your churches, or in a registry office for your kind. We married in a ceremony before those who share our persuasion, and yes, I can assure that Miss Cuddlebuns was recorded there as her name before marriage".

"I see. But can you tell me where and when did you meet?"

"Five years ago, Mr Devlin. We met at the Zoological Club, known somewhat more informally as the Zoo. It is a convivial environment where our kind meet and relax together, away from… your sort. I say that without meaning to give offence, Mr Devlin. I am sure your kind are happy in their own way, but we are always happier without the snide glances of the furless. That is why we seek out our own exclusive company, wherever and whenever possible".

"So, a whole club full of Pandas?"

"Not all Pandas, Mr Devlin, not all Pandas. All kinds of furry creatures frequent the Zoological Club. The venue opens its doors to all who are blessed with a body covered completely in thick hair".

Devlin wondered if his ex-girlfriend had heard of this place, she would fit right in. "I see, Mr Chubbytail. I think this is going to be a bit difficult. But tell me, do you have any pictures of your wife?"

"Why yes, of course", said Mr Chubbytail as he produced some photographs from another of his pockets.

"Ah, I meant photos of her not wearing the, ah skin, whatever you call it".

"Mr Devlin, what do you take me for?" replied the Panda, with a hurt expression. "I am not the kind of person who is interested in taking obscene photographs of his loved ones. That kind of sordid smuttiness disgusts me". He shuddered.

"Fair enough", said Devlin. "I thought maybe she could have some photos from before she had become a Panda, or… whatever. This is not giving me much to go on. Does she have a mobile phone?"

The Panda wrote down a number on a piece of paper and handed it to Devlin. "I have tried telephoning her, but the phone seems to be switched off".

"Well I don't know, Mr Chubbytail, this all does not give me much to go on. I will see what I can find and come back to you in a week. If the trail is cold, I won't take your money any further, but if the leads are going somewhere you can decide how you want to play it. Speaking of money, there is the small matter of my remuneration…"

That led to a brief discussion of payment rates and expenses, after which a short document was signed. Devlin then walked the Panda back to the lift, promising to do his best to find his wife.

"I have complete faith in you, Mr Devlin. You cannot fail. I must speak to my wife again. Deep down inside I know one thing – that Miss Cuddlebuns misses her Chubbytail".

"I'm sure she does", replied Devlin waving his client into the lift. Strolling back into the reception area he came across Jane reading some celebrity scandal sheet. "It takes all sorts, eh Jane?" he said by way of a conversational opener.

"Yeah? Oh you mean the panda? Yeah, I suppose it does".

Devlin went left her to her reading and went back into his office. How the hell was he going to get anywhere with this case? While helping himself to another whisky, he checked his mobile for messages. Someone he didn't know had texted him.


"Charming", thought Devlin. Then he remembered that he didn't have a dog. What was this all about? Probably one of the lads playing some kind of prank.

"FUKC YOPU CNUTY UR GAY" he texted back. That made him feel better. Then he decided he had been in work for long enough and headed out to the pub.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Yes, it is true. I have written a 50,783 word novel in the month of November, validated on the NaNoWriMo page and everything. I am looking forward now to going back to a life of aimless web browsing.

A couple of people have expressed interest in reading my NaNoWriMo draft. I'm not sure I can recommend this course of action, as there are many excellent novels in the world that were not written in a month during the author's spare time and made up as they went along. Also, other novels typically have been proofread and had typographical errors removed from them, and characters in them usually retain the same name all the way through the story. Even so, I am a great believer in giving people what they want.

So, what I am thinking of doing is posting it on a blog, as it is now (i.e., no edits, bar HTML codings for things like italics and emboldening). If I do this, I will do it so that it appears over the month of December at the same speed as I wrote it in November. The sequential format might well suit something written episodically, and by spinning it out like this then maybe by the end of the month people will have forgotten the strangely unresolved things that were introduced at the beginning.

Assuming that I go ahead with this, I will almost certainly delete all of the novel posts in Jamuary, maybe when I get back from Morocco. Two things demand this. Firstly, I don't want people stealing my amazing ideas. Secondly, I don't really want to be associated forever with a draft of a novel I wrote in my month, and fear it being spread around the internet as a new candidate for the worst writing of all time (taking over from this one*).

Actually, fear of public humiliation like that might yet mean that my work remains forever hidden on my laptop hard drive. We'll see.

*this linked to piece of LoToR fan fiction is complete genius; if you've never seen it before, check it out now. It's worth looking at even if you have seen it before (I had forgotten just how G*R*A*T*E it is, and when I found it again to link to it the roffles came back once more).

Friday, November 28, 2008

Boring NaNoWriMo update #16

Home stretch! Just under 5000 words written today, bringing me up to 40,015. Can I write 10,000 tomorrow and Sunday? Yes, I can.

Don't be afraid of the robot

I was reading a post on the interesting Angry Robot blog, and it linked to a truly terrifying post about the world's creepiest real life robots. I would include pictures here, but I shouldn't steal the roffle. Follow the link and see for yourself.

From there I followed a link to the world's most evil robots. They seemed initially innocuous enough, but when you get onto the second page you get the robot exo-skeleton for giant repulsive insects from Madagascar (it is not clear why giving these giant insects exo-skeletons is such a good idea), but the most terrifying is the Breast Massager Robot. It seems to have come from Japan. To massage your breasts.

Follow link, see terrifying pictures.

The Decline & Fall of Western Civilisation Part 3: The Britpop Years

Thanks to having a pal who toils in the book mines. I am now reading a proof copy of Bad Vibes, Luke Haines' forthcoming book about the Britpop years. This was a time he spent as the main man in brainy indie band The Auteurs, watching other people he considers less talented becoming far more successful. Thus far it is proving to be total genius, with Haines writing with the acidic pen of someone who is not letting bygones be bygones. It is also both funny and surreal, with the opening account of the time The Auteurs were joined onstage in France by a malevolent dwarf setting the tone. My current feeling is that this is one of the very greatest rock books, giving an insider's account of life in a band who never quite achieve the success he feels they deserve. It bears comparison with that book* by James Young about being in Nico's touring band.

I reckon anyone would enjoy this book a lot, even people who are not familiar with the music of The Auteurs. I reckon, though, that anyone reading it would want to hear music by this excellent band. Which reminds me, a while back I made a compilation of music by Luke Haines (from The Auteurs, his time with Black Box Recorder, the record he released as Baader Meinhof, and his solo career). If in the future you find yourself reading Bad Vibes and wondering what the music sounds like, contact your pal (me).

In case you don't know the Auteurs story, it goes like this. They formed as a Luke Haines songwriting vehicle, rapidly attracted some note and started selling modest amounts of records in Britain and even more so in France. Their first album was up for the second Mercury Prize, but they lost narrowly to Suede. At the awards ceremony Haines assaulted several members of that band, demanding that they hand over the money that was rightfully his. After that, the Auteurs were somehow left behind by Britpop, for all that Haines is sometimes seen as the inventor or inspirer of that dreadful scene. Not even recording a brilliant album with Steve Albini (who praises them in that recent poker website thing) could save them and they eventually split up. Along the way, Haines had released a concept album about West German terrorism under the name Baader Meinhof. The book, then, is an account of the Auteurs' initial meteoric rise and their then being stuck by a glass ceiling as various people Haines considers far less talented become incredibly successful. Much embittered comment ensues. It helps that Haines is a very funny writer, as otherwise this book would just be the inchoate whinings of a sore loser.

One odd thing about this book is how young Haines was while he was in The Auteurs – he was only in his early 20s when they started, and the precocious little twerp had already been in another band for several years before that. His youth was underlined by my dredging up an old copy of Volume, in which he appears looking like he is just out of primary school, complete with obligatory shite early-90s indie haircut. It just seems wrong for Haines to have ever been this young, or at least for him to have been doing such great work then. It is not for nothing that sometime collaborator John Moore refers to him as Old Haines. Luke Haines is a man born to be old.

Reading this book has got me listening to music by The Auteurs and Baader Meinhof again. Oddly, I came to The Auteurs late, and it was only the Steve Albini connection that made me jump in and buy After Murder Park, their nasty third album (also a work of genius). I largely missed them while they were still going, though I have subsequently seen Luke Haines live thrice (once on his own and once with Black Box Recorder). Reading the book is making me interested in filling in the gaps in my Haines collection. Only yesterday I picked up the Auteurs second album Now I'm A Cowboy. At the time I think this was seen as a bit of a disappointment, but on the first couple of listens it seems to be a stormer. The opening track, 'Lenny Valentino' is an obvious classic, though I think having Haines explain the lyrics in the book is a bit of a help here.

Since writing the above I have finished reading the book and have more to say about it, but you will have to wait for that.

image source: eh, can't remember. I feel that reproducing this excellent photograph is both in the interests of the photographer (but who is he/she?) and the subject.

* James Young (1992) Songs They Never Play On the Radio London: Bloomsbury

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mojave 3 "Excuses for Travellers"

This is another charity shop purchase. Mojave 3 are the band that guy formed after Slowdive stopped On this he has left behind the washes of sound and sonic cathedrals, and instead keeps it real with some lame-o country-tinged yawnfests. I fear this is fated to return soon to the Oxfam from whence it came.