Thursday, November 28, 2002

I *knew* this was going to happen... one of our friends has just emailed me to say "Why are you selling one of my records on eBay?" Ooooops. You'll have to guess who though! Tee hee.

Once again, christmas madness has descended upon the UK. Just try shopping anytime after about 11:45 AM and see how stressed you get. So this morning, I begged off early from my voluntary work since my tutor was off ill anyhow, and dove into some much needed shopping. It's twice as important to be organised when you have to ship your presents abroad (this year's recommended send-by date is December 6th, for anyone interested!) And let's be honest, you can't get everything online so you're going to have to face those shops at some point.

So just do it - book or plead for a few mornings off, haul yourself outta bed early and save yourself a lot of grief. My plan is to get everything done in the next week or so, so I can actually sit back and relax in the two weeks leading up to christmas day getting fat on homemade shortbread while frazzled shoppers spend way over their budget, desperate to have something to wrap.

On the other hand, I've been so preoccupied with working, studying and worrying about postal deadlines that I completely forgot to plan anything for my birthday on Sunday. Maybe the discovery that I was born on the same day as Bette Midler has subconsciously disturbed me more than I thought...

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

I just got the weirdest call here at work.

Hello! I need to talk to your top business manager! (dozens of voices chattering away in the background, sounds like he's in a tin can - might be one of those call centres in India I've heard about...)

Me: (bored already, I hate cold calls) What is it regarding?

(ploughs on with his bizarre script) I need to give him business! I am calling on behalf of the 125 TOP marketing companies!! This is an EXCELLENT opportunity NOT to be missed!

Me: You'll have to call our head office. (give him the number reluctantly)

And what is the top business manager's name please? Have you got HIS name? What is HE called?

I'm instantly annoyed that HE assumed IT'S a man, so I give him the name of our office manager, who is a WOMAN.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

I hate being skint. OK, so it's skint in a can't-go-shopping kind of way, not starving/eviction skint, but it can still get to you. So I've been really vigilant lately about trying to make my money go its furthest, or doing things on the cheap. And let me tell you, I haven't been doing too badly! Here's a few ideas:

Complain!

While I wouldn't encourage anyone to turn into one of those people that lies down near a bus crash and starts howling, I think it's safe to say most people don't exercise their rights to decent service often enough. In my case, I had a complete nightmare with my bank when I tried to change an insurance policy. After a couple of months of constant phone calls, conflicting paperwork and staff that didn't understand what I was asking for, I wrote in to cancel the policy and included a long, detailed letter slating their administrative imcompetence. Today, I got a letter practically bursting with apologies and a cheque refunding two months' worth of premiums. In the past, I've also complained and was compensated for travel agent rudeness and lack of staff to deal with cinemagoers who used their mobiles during a movie. We're about to send a big ol' letter to BA regarding our pitiable flight to Brussels, too.

Who needs Space NK?

I am a sucker for beauty stuff that smells gorgeous - the more exotic, the better. And while I can't afford to spend £20 on handcream anymore, I still maintain that pampering yourself is an essential factor to staying happy. So when the Guardian weekend magazine ran a home spa article the other weekend, it reminded me that I used to make lots of my own beauty goodies. Some of my favourites:

* Salt scrub - buy a bag of rock sea salt (I got mine from my bulk organic co-op for about £1.50) which will last for ages. Add whatever catches your fancy - I grated in some lemon peel and added a drop of lavender oil . Turn on the shower briefly to get wet, then turn it off and scrub the salt all over. When you rinse off in the shower, the hot water enhances the aroma of the oil and peel.

* Oatmeal face pack - I simply mix some oatmeal, a spoonful of honey and some hot water in a bowl, then apply the paste all over my face. It looks ridiculous but it leaves your skin really soft (the honey apparently helps with dry skin, which is always a huge problem for me in winter...)

* Facial - all you really need is a big towel, a big bowl of really hot water and some dried cammomile (dirt cheap from any health food place). Sit over the bowl with a towel over your head, re-surfacing every so often when the steam gets to be too much. Cammomile also really softens the skin and it smells lovely too. If your face isn't glowing after one of these...

* Hair pack - a mashed avocado sounds like a disaster, but it does work on those dried out split ends! Buy a soft ones from your local fruit stalls for a bargain.

Don't go to Sainsburys or Boots!

This is probably more of a girl thing. Example. You need some basics (bread, butter, eggs) and pop into the supermarket. But instead, you walk out with all of the above plus some buy-one-get-one-free Haagen Daz, some posh condiments that caught your eye and various other stuff that will languish on your shelf. Same for Boots and their blasted buy three, get the cheapest free/triple Boots points offers. But you know what? It's not your fault! Teams of market analysts have plotted your trip round their shop and strategically placed their wares so that you're practically reaching for stuff you don't need before you know it. I have tried to just go in Boots and walk away with toothpaste, and have finally admitted to myself that it's almost impossible to resist the Clarins counter. So I don't go inside. Nope! I send my boyfriend instead, who has amazing powers of resistance and comes home with exactly what's on my shopping list. Our shopping bill has gone down dramatically, and there's finally space in my cupboards as things are being used up.

Friday, November 22, 2002

Bit of a re-design for you - I've recently aquired a battered old Thank Your Lucky Stars book packed with great photos, and this Francoise one took my fancy. Maybe I'll start a rotating set, like David from Swish Cottage!

Anyhow, I'm trying to keep busy. Charlotte, our eldest cat (10 1/2) is in the vet's today having a series of tests to check out her liver after the vet checked her out at her annual vaccination yesterday. We have no idea how serious or simple it will all turn out to be, and the bf is particularly upset since he got her from a kitten, a long time before I moved over. We've been landed with some pretty hefty vet bills too, so I spent about 5 hours last night listing records on eBay. It's amazing - I have at least 100 things to list, if not more, but when you look at our collection it doesn't look any different. Bids are already coming in, especially for the Saint Etienne fan club only cds I put on. In case anyone's interested, have a look at my list - I'll be adding things continuously over the week including soul/girl group singles, indie stuff, etc.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

"I don't know who that is, I'm sorry." -- Sarah Nixey, Black Box Recorder

For fans of the movie The Party, I've just found out about this Claudine Longet website. It's amazingly detailed and tells you everything you need to know about that fateful day in Aspen...

Later on when I'm at home, I'll scan in my copy of her LP "The Look of Love", which I got Pulp to sign for me many years ago! Yes, I was striving for that "I'm a fan, but a *cool* fan who won't settle for a signed copy of Different Class" effect, and it worked! Hee.

Monday, November 18, 2002

Slow Fizz - the Sh-Boom-Run-Down-Down

*blink* Has it been over a week, already? So sorry. To keep things nice 'n sweet, here's a brief run down of events from the night.

Friday 8th, 3:30 PM. Get call from Waldorf manager who now tells me we can't get into the venue early to decorate and soundcheck because the police have advised them to shut for the afternoon. Why? Because Manchester (scum) United are playing Man City, and there might be lager lout trouble after the match. Have a mild heart attack but am reassured by manager that the equipment will be fine and I can get in at 7 pm instead. Text all my DJs madly and hope I don't miss anyone.

Saturday 9th, 12 noon. Arrive at salon to have my hair done. Bit scared of the massive red lacquered talons and the clouds of mousse clawing through my hair, but decide to have faith. Nearly fall asleep under the vintage hairdryer - one hour at what feels like 40 degrees celsius! Just before I'm done, I hear that City have beat United 3-1. YESSSSSSSSSSSSS!

3 pm. Run frantically around the house trying to choose a dress and get everything I need in one pile so nothing's left behind.

4 pm. DJ Mick P calls. He is outside the venue and obviously didn't get my message. Feel like a heel.

5 pm. Anna arrives to drop off her stuff and finish getting ready. Feed the bf and guest - too nervous to eat myself!

6:30 pm Load up taxi and head for the venue.

7 pm Venue staff complain that I am early, despite having cleared it, oh, about 5 times with the manager.

7:10 pm The sound system seems to be ok, until we walk around the room and realise that only one out of the 3 speakers has anything coming out of it. The bf and I stare desperately at the mixer, willing it to work. Start to feel dizzy and hope that technical whiz Phil arrives soon.

7:20 Start to decorate. Realise I have forgotten blue tack to put up my 60s sheet music creations. Make a mad dash to Spar.

7:30 Sound system still hopeless, but Phil turns up with my other Spectropopper DJs. He starts dragging out wires and leads, trying to fix the patching. The speakers seem to delight in taking turns to work, or working simultaneously for 10 seconds before fizzing out. I get the manager to see if he can help. He reluctantly comes in, claims "it were fine last night" and has a half hearted look at the system before walking away, but not before reminding me that I have to pay him in cash later on. We're furious, but Phil the star keeps trying to work something out.

8 pm No joy. Friends are starting to arrive. I am sat at a table with Anna, Jon/Anna and the bf staring at the ground in despair. I don't know if I'm going to faint, start hyperventilating or cry. Probably all three. Although I know it's not my fault, I can't help but feel responsible.

8:30 pm HURRAH! Phil has somehow begged, borrowed and stolen us a system that works. I don't know how, but I can tell from his cheeky grin that he's had to change quite a lot. The manager might not be happy about it, but do I care?

8 - 11 pm Mick, Ian, the bf and Simon DJ up a storm while I run the door. I gulp down a couple of drinks and start to relax. Lots of new faces which is nice! And lots of friends, too - I'm particularly excited to finally meet Carole, who you might remember sent me those pics of her and Dusty back in August. She and her friend Michael are as lovely and chatty as I'd expected, and I have a ball modelling her Dusty mini and making Mick try it too.

11 pm Do my set, which includes a couple of new songs by Felice Taylor (I feel love comin' on and It may be winter) and a gorgeous wintry homage to Spector's christmas album, Lisa Mychols' 'Lost winter's dream'. I'm actually not nervous at all - in fact I feel incredibly comfortable. The crowd seems to enjoy it too...

11:30 - 2 am Declan M, Declan A, Ian, Mick and Tag all carry on DJing. I know, I was supposed to as well! But we got off to a late start and I was just so relieved to have everything working that I took a back seat to make sure everything else went smoothly. Besides, it means I get to dance! The dance floor is rarely empty after my set, which is cool. Loads of people come up to ask when the next one will be. Maybe Valentine's? A couple of people beg for a christmas party and I laugh out loud (but not unkindly!)

2 am Pay the manager and take down our decorations. I'm pleased to see that the blue tack has taken some of his wallpaper with it. Serves him right! We all run out when we see him starting to poke through the PA system in case he gets mad.

2:15 am. Crud. We didn't pre-book a taxi in case things went pear-shaped, so we have to queue at Piccadilly station in the rain. The promise of tea, toast and a (gas) fire helps us get through the wait. Get home and tuck in.

4 am Bed. Sweet sweet bed. Feel kind of sad that's it all over - these things serve to bring big groups of friends together as well as a fun night out, and I always feel like there's not enough time to talk to everyone as much as I'd ....zzzzzzzzzz.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Slow Fizz

The first few photos are rolling in! Here are a couple courtesy of my friend Ian.



"It may be winter outside, but in my heart it's spring..."




Attempting to try on Carole's fab "I'll try anything" Dusty miniskirt, which you could get by mailorder back in the 60s. It must have been a size 8!

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Before I post a thing about Slow Fizz, I just wanted to post a few bits and pieces to tidy up the Brussels report. It was not dull, as Kevin wondered in the comments below - just bad timing!

Records

Jukebox Shop, 165 Boulevard Anspach

Legendary, but remember to print off your wants list before you go so you can hand it over at the counter!

The Collector, Rue de la Bourse, 26 Beurstraat (across from the Museum of Brussels)

Friendly shop selling all vinyl - plenty of Motown and European issue singles here to delight any 60s collector.

Arlequin (across from the Mannequin Pis)

I can't remember what the road called and I didn't get a bag. However, I did find an Enchanted Forest 45 there! Not a massive vinyl selection, but worth a rummage.


Chocolate

Unfortunately, I bought a load of chocolate at Neuhaus in Bruges before being told off by a local we met for a drink later that night. "Too sweet!" he admonished me, "Go to Wittamer in Sablon and you'll see what I mean." We got home and ate all our chocolate, and he was right. There was nothing wrong with Neuhaus, but it was cloyingly sweet and uninspired next to Wittamer's creations, like the earl grey ganache encased in dark, dark chocolate. Mmmmmm. I will be ordering some online when I need to treat myself.


Bars

There are no shortage of bars in Brussels, and I doubt you'd go far wrong by wandering into one at random. The main difference is price, with the posh pubs in Grand Place or The Mannequin Pis (yes, it's across from it) charging a pretty penny. However, Belgium's idea of "tourist trap" is much nicer than say, Paris or London, and I would certainly recommend going to at least one of the flashier places for the ambience.

For slightly mellower and more local surroundings, St. Gery has loads including one huge place that's housed in a former market. But we ended up at Le Greenwich (67, rue des Chartreux) drawn by the no-music policy and the fact that chess superstars Kasparov and Karpov used to go there for a quiet game and a drink. The Duval was cheap (2,50 euros!) and the faded art nouveau decor charmed us both.

Another approach is to just wander onto one of the tiny sidestreets and find one of Brussels' many little holes-in-the-wall. These types of bars didn't seem to make any guidebook we saw - but although it might feel a bit intimidating to crash what is clearly a locals' bar with about 10 tables, I think so few people actually end up at these places that you'll be received with more friendly curiousity than anything else.


Things to do

The Atomium

It's a bit of a journey out of the city centre (get off at Heysel metro), with a slightly confusing walk once you leave the metro, but a definite must-see. Built for the 1958 Expo, this slightly dilapidated building shaped like an atom was one of my favourite places we saw. Entry is cheap and although the initial ride up and the view from the top is nothing special, it's what comes afterwards that's truly cool. Your next stop is 6 or so floors of 50s furniture and original souvenirs, posters and exhibits from the 1958 Expo, all crammed in each "ball" - a dream come true for someone like me!

Fondation Jacques Brel (place de la Vieille Halle aux Bles 11)

A quick stroll directly up the hill from the Mannequin Pis, and worth a trip even if you're not a fan of Belgium's chain smoking chanteur. It only cost 5 euros to get in, and for that you get a "night with Jacques", including a fake elevator ride, a visit to his dressing room, a concert, interviews, a quiz to test your Jacques knowledge ("What did Jacques love to do at his house parties? Answer: throw the cream pies!") and a free massive jukebox in a vintage "bar" where you can hear whatever Jacques song takes your fancy. Brilliant! There's a great little co-operative cafe across the road that serves delicious, cheap food as well.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Let's start the party again...

OK, you'll have to forgive me for writing so much about my club night but hey, it *is* happening in 3 days!

Some nice plugs today. The first from a friend - lovely Mike over at Troubled Diva has put together a gorgeous little post with pics from Smashing Time (I'll be happy if my hair turns out a bit like Lynn Redgrave's actually!) Cheers honey.

And we made City Life! A nice juicy seven-line listing, *and* Tiger Lounge (horrid kitschy club) gets slated on the same page in the print version. Ha! I think I forgot to mention that the club editor called me the other week to say he loved the idea and promised to try for a feature if we do another one.

(NB - Phil Chapman isn't DJing - I mentioned him in the press release because he's sorted the backing tracks, but somehow his name got tacked on the list. Ah well.)

I also *finally* found a hairdresser near my house that is happy to do an old school roller set and tease/lacquer my hair into a 60s creation. At £25, it's not exactly cheap, but it will save me the hassle of rushing across town and trying to do my hair at the club before we open. I won't have the Actionettes there to help this time, so it's worth every penny if you ask me.

It's just struck me that I sound vaguely like that horrible leading-up-to-the-wedding column from the Guardian that ran every Saturday until she finally (thankfully!) said I do. Y'know, it was entries like:

"Must find some organic flowers for the bridesmaids, so I visited my PS (personal shopper, natch) at Harvey Nicks who put me in touch with the most *darling* mail order company. Even the ribbon they use for hand-tying is fairtrade!"

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Still mad busy, and no time to write lengthy speeches on the record shops of Brussels! To keep you amused, have a look at this montage of snaps from the Spectropop party I talked about back in August, available at last for general viewing.

Saturday, November 02, 2002

Brussels, day two

I wake up and have a good look at our hotel, the Royal Embassy on Rue Anspach. It's one of those places that is fairly expensive (190 euros a night!) but smacks of being done up in the 80s - all flowery prints and faux brass. We haven't paid even close to that thanks to an Air Miles offer, but the breakfast is generous, the staff are nice and hey! It's actually next door to Juke Box, *the* record store everyone said we had to visit.

It doesn't end up being our first event of the day though, as shops don't seem to open until 11 AM, so we have a wander to see the Mannekin Pis, preparing ourselves to be disappointed. Yup, it's basically just a tiny fountain nestled into a street corner. We stop for about 30 seconds to watch tourists pose next to it then wander up the hill. At the top is the Jacques Brel Foundation, hurrah! But that's for later.

Onto Grand Place, which is indeed an elegant and impressive square. The flower market there inspires me to persuade the bf we should check out the daily puces (flea market) in Jeu de Balle, so we buy a metro day ticket (a bargain at 3,60 euros) and get off at Hal de Port. The market is bustling - there must be over 100 sellers with knick knacks and junk on blankets and card tables. Prices are high though, and I don't think I can cart a huge 60s light fitting I fall in love with back home so we don't buy much. I do find a fantastic space age Carpenters picture sleeve single for "Close to You" for one euro, and the bf buys a cool old russian badge for one euro as well so we're both happy.

Back to Juke Box. I practically tingle with excitement as we walk in - boxes and boxes of singles on shelves and a friendly old dog at the door. Unfortunately, it doesn't start well. There is a gang of blokes at the front counter (probably the owner's cronies) so I make a beeline for the LPs and some other singles stuffed away in the back. We find an absolutely gorgeous Francoise Hardy 10" mini LP that has the loveliest artwork I've ever seen, but it's nearly £50. Ouch. But eventually a space clears at the counter so I go up to try and get the owner's attention. He's busy though, so one of his friends starts to interrogate me. "What are you looking for?" I tell him - sixties girlgroups, french german, brits... He sniffs. "Don't you have any names?" OK, how about the German girl, Marion (Maerz)? He get the owners attention to ask, but it feels more like a power trip than assistance. No, no Marion. Well how about Chantal Kelly? Mr. "I'm friends with the owner" sniffs again. "As far as I know, Chantal Kelly is not German." Duh! I feel like strangling him. What a jerk! I turn away from him and move a small box of singles to look through some other French singles, but they're modern so I have a quick flip and move aside. He gives me a scathing look and pointedly puts the box of records back where they were before. As if it matters! I'm this close to walking out, but I haven't put up with a nightmare BA flight and travelled this far to walk away empty handed, so I storm off to the very back to go through some boxes of singles in peace.

The owner appears, and I get the impression he's noticed that the other guy pissed me off. He gruffly points out a few boxes which might be of interest and I calm down a bit. No Gitte or Manuela, but I find a single by Maria Duval that looks interesting - it's a Hatch/Trent song in German.

Things quiet down out front and the rude friend disappears, so I decide to have another go at asking for things. Eventually the owner seems to decide that I am the real deal and lets me look through some boxes behind the counter. He also starts playing things I might not know but like - that's how I pick up a nice little single by Marianne Mille - a french cover of "where did our love go?" A few other things and I cash out. I've made some finds but I've had enough! He gruffly shoves a card at me. "You can email me your wants list." I can tell it's his way of being nice so I take it as a compliment.

Verdict: this shop is best approached if you march in with a printed list! And you'll need plenty of attitude to deal with the professional counter cronies.

More later, absolutely in need of a latte!

Friday, November 01, 2002

Well, my plans to post more often during my holiday got blown out of the water! Apologies, it's been a bit hectic and stressful for various reasons, not least because I've got one week to go before Slow Fizz. I'm starting to have stress dreams where no one turns up and the PA won't work.

A further update should be done late today - I'm spending the day at my voluntary job and there's no computer access there!