Monday 4th May 2009

Added on 04 May 2009

 A Dementor At My Table

It’s a common mistaken belief that the filthiest, most germ-encrusted item in any household is the kitchen cloth. We generally use them for a few days without washing them, and by the time they start to smell a bit weird and we stick ‘em in the wash, they have three billion times more germs than your toilet. This is the myth.


However, a recent study by the Warsaw Institute for Common Eastern European Ailments (which are in themselves legion) has shown that by far the filthiest, most germ-encrusted item in any household is in fact the hand towel by the sink in the bathroom. I spoke to the author of the report, Professor Jacek Zielinski, to find out why such an innocent household item turns out to be such a harbinger of disease, germ diffusion and death.


‘As with many things,’ says Professor Zielinski, when we meet in the queue of the recently opened Starbucks on Warsaw’s Nowy Swiat, ‘it is all the fault of small children.’ Zielinski is an engaging man in his late 50’s. A chain-smoking vegetarian, he admits to spending most of his time couped up inside looking into a microscope, with little or no prospect of ever finding love. ‘How many times has the following scene been played out in every family household the world over...?’ he begins.


He proceeds to outline the scenario. The child sits on the toilet, leaving the door wide open. He stays there for a few minutes, doing what he has to do. The parent stands elsewhere in the house, washing up or ironing or attending to some other household task. Listening out for the telltale signs, the parent eventually hears the child leave the bathroom and head back to the TV/PC/Nintendo/PSP. Without even engaging in a positive mental process, the parent automatically shouts out Flush the toilet, wash your hands! The child replies, I did! The parent instinctively knows this to be a complete fib and bellows, No you didn’t! At this point, or under further duress, the child bows to the inevitable and returns to the bathroom. He will then flush the toilet and go to the sink. He turns on the tap. Now we reach the pivotal moment in the proceedings, the moment that the Professor and his team spent more than nine months targeting and investigating.


They call it the Apex of Death.


‘The child,’ says Zielinski, ‘will mentally use soap, but it is an entirely virtual procedure. No actual soap will touch his hands. He will then swish some of his fingers, but not all of them, through the water. Our studies have found that over 98% of germs and foreign bodies on the child’s fingers at the point of hand washing remain on his hands after the event. And then inevitably, most of those germs and foreign bodies will be wiped onto the hand towel.’


He stares sadly at the floor as we near the counter. ‘My God, the things we found on those hand towels,’ he says, his voice shaking, his face ashen, ‘you cannot even begin to imagine.’ I push him for more information. 'Tell me the truth,' I say. 'You can't handle the truth,' he replies forcefully.


He then points out that on average these towels are changed once every six or seven days, and over those days the alien substances that collect on the towel grow exponentially. As we finally reach the counter and have the opportunity to order coffee, his features pale even more. 'And then,’ he says, ‘some unsuspecting adult will come along and use it to dry their face...’


We leave Starbucks without either of us ordering coffee.


The bathroom hand towel. Be afraid. Be very afraid.


5 Things To Try This Week

5. Become a professional footballer and earn £30,000 a week. Really, how hard can it be?


4. Let Gordon Brown be your inspiration. Make a YouTube video laying out your plans in a bold decisive Presidential manner. Then completely capitulate four days later and don’t do anything that you said. You’ll look stupid, but then if it’s good enough for the Prime Minister...


3. Watch all seven series of the West Wing in a month. That’s what we’re doing. Great writing, flawless acting. You can tell the episodes that George Bush watched, the ones that made him try things. Like announcing in the State of the Union that America would soon put men on Mars. Whatever happened to that? 


2. If you'd like to undertake a mid-life crisis event but don't really have the time, why not try walking across the Silk Road, rather than along it.


1.  Read Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami. Try and get to the other side.


Engaging the Borg

(The continuing intergalactic saga of two children, One of Two and Two of Two, and two parents on the edge.)


On Saturday we introduced cricket to our ethnically European friends.


Reasonable people when playing cricket in the back garden with their children will use a tennis ball, or some other softer ball. However, I’m this crazed driven parent intent on making his children toughen up right from the off. We always use the real thing, although we don’t have pads, boxes, thigh pads or helmets. We do have a bat. It’s a tough game playing cricket with the Lindsays in the back garden.


My Ethnic Polish Friend lined up for her first ever bowl. Her son stood about ten yards away with a bat, not realising that he ought to be cowering in fear. Two of Two was standing just behind the stumps. My Ethnic Polish friend then delivered her first ball in international cricket; a full toss at a pace not that far removed from Michael Holding at his peak. Her boy dived for cover. Two of Two also dived out of the way, but the ball was directed straight at him. Tracking him like a guided missile, it thudded forcefully into his leg. He howled out in pain, and the crowd gathered round and the medics were called for.


Seriously this ball - a real, cork-filled cricket ball made by small children in a factory in India - hit him flush on the leg at about eighty miles an hour. And this is the thing. The following morning there was no bruise.


He’s an alien. Must get it from his mother.


Barney Thomson News

A slow week on the great drive to get the Barney Thomson series up and running for re-launch in September 2009. Tasks and their current status:


Proof read Book number 2: not done

Re-write Book number 3: not done. (Not even started)

Proof read numbers 4,5 & 6: not even started

Start final draft of number 7: not even started.

Speak to bank about massive corporate financing package to relaunch the series: not done


A slow week, yes, but I should be able to get most of that stuff knocked off in the next five days.


Strange Case Update

Plans are afoot for the on-line release of the debut album by acoustic rock behemoths Strange Case, some time in June. Album artwork is in hand, and the mastering of the album is currently taking place at the studio of ace Polish sound engineer Sebastian Witkowski. In the meantime, go here to listen to some early pre-mix cuts from the album.


Weekly Review

Together Through Life, Bob Dylan ****

In a piece about Jakob Dylan last year in the Scotsman, the interviewer wrote: Jakob's reluctance to describe them (his songs) as political is understandable when you remember how his father soundtracked Vietnam... Some fellow thought that and wrote it; his editor and copy editor both presumably read it and didn’t think anything of it; no one added a comment to the piece to question the line. 


Dylan wrote anti-war songs before America became mired in Vietnam, and he chronicled the civil rights movement for a couple of years. But Vietnam? What did Bob write about Vietnam? At the height of US involvement in South East Asia he was writing Dig that Country Pie and Alberta let your hair hang low... 


How do you measure the new work of someone who can be credited with ten years worth of protest songs that he never wrote, and no one notices? That’s how it is with Bob. People assume things. Every move, every song, every line is poured over. When he sings on his new album that he’s reading James Joyce, thousands of people start to wonder what it is of Joyce’s that he’s reading, or what aspects of Joyce can then be read into the song, and how this affects the meaning of the lyric. In fact, in the song Bob is reading James Joyce because he’s got the blood of the land in his voice. More than likely, if he'd had the blood of the land on his shoe, he would have been reading Winnie the Pooh. 


So how do you measure any new product by Bob? Divest yourself of the past and listen to it as it is. The fact that Bob’s album stands at No.1 this morning, a feat he has not achieved in quite some time, suggests that a lot of people are buying this Bob without reference to the past. So what are they finding? 


His voice is shot, it’s a long time since he’s been at the forefront of anything, there’s nothing new here, and a lot that’s borrowed. And it’s a wonderful record. Maybe not every track, but a strong seven out of ten, which is a good effort from a sixty-seven year-old geezer who knocked off an album in a few weeks because he had the notion.


It opens with the derivative accordion-led blues tango Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, and if the words accordion-led blues tango don’t get you going, then you’re in the wrong place. It’s a strong opening, which is then immediately killed off by Life Is Hard, which is one of those shuffling mincing songs that Bob’s taken to in the last ten years that sound like they were written for Perry Como or Bing Crosby. Fortunately, this one does not plumb the depths of previous Bing-type songs, and neither is it repeated on this album.


Next up is a slow blues, Hell’s My Wife’s Home Town, and while it’s not the strongest track here, slow blues is better than slow Perry Como. This is followed by the infectious accordion-led If You Ever Go To Houston. It’s a few minutes too long, and the accordion does get a bit repetitive - if the album had been produced by someone other than Bob himself, it might not have happened - but after one listen I caught Two of Two singing it in the bathroom, which has got to be the definition of infectious. 


Forgetful Heart is a wonderful slow, bluesy track, with great understated distorted guitar, and closes out with the albums’ standout line: the door has closed for evermore, if indeed there ever was a door. Followed by an up-tempo blues, Jolene. No relation. Along with Shake Shake MamaJolene is the kind of blues that Bob has done a lot of recently, but here they seem melodically more interesting.


This Dream of You is another beautiful accordion driven piece, very reminiscent of Girl From The Red River Shore, although not quite on that song’s epic scale. I Feel a Change Coming On is possibly the album’s standout song, although there are many. On first listen I thought he mentioned a Finnish priest, and I was thinking, holy crap, a Finnish priest, I wonder how you distinguish one of them? It turned out on second listening to be the village priest, which is much more mundane. Village priests are ten a penny. 


The album closes with It’s All Good which is lyrically stronger than it is melodically, and that's that. New Bob in seven hundred and seventy words. It’s a great album, with the accordion - which isn’t on as many tracks as other reviewers are making out - giving it a feel unlike any of Bob’s previous thirty-two studio albums.


The man still isn’t saying anything about Vietnam though.


Sandy Lyle Watch

(A weekly look at the golfing trials of the Greatest Golfer Never To Win Three Majors)


There was no Old Man tournament this weekend in the US, nor on the European Tour, and Sandy wasn’t in a tournament on either of the regular tours. The US Old Man Tour doesn’t play every week. Not being a US Old Man Tour insider, I don’t know if this is because they don’t have the sponsorship to host a tournament every week, or if they feel they need to give the Old Men a rest every now and again. 


Sandy’s world ranking this morning is 752.


20 Reasons Why The Last Fish Supper is Better Than The Da Vinci Code

# 2 The Last Fish Supper has a really cool, deaf, mute hunchback who gets all the women. There are no deaf, mute hunchbacks in The Da Vinci Code, and if Dan Brown ever wrote a deaf, mute hunchback character, he'd be a cliched deaf, mute hunchback, unlike Igor who is drawn with wit and panache. 


Follow this link to buy the most entertaining Holy Grail novel this millennium.


Next week, Reason #3...