I have just arrived home from a reading from DBC Pierre, Chuck Klosterman and Michael Smith at the Royal Festival Hall.

First off, let’s start by saying it is as cold as a witch’s tit outside. Not from a temperature reading that makes you think “brrr”, but from a wind chill factor that makes your bones feel the Arctic and your feet go numb. I guess what I am getting at is that it is a miracle that yours truly did the March of the Penguins to see anyone – let alone a few authors of which I hadn’t even finished (or heard of) their novels. But miracles do happen in these modern times and I did actually make the trek to see these three.

And how did it actually fare?

I began my defrosting phase by having a few pints of lager. I was a bit confused when I was asked if I were in the Purcell Room or the Elizabeth Hall – and upon response given the plastic cup. Were these telltale signs of the ghettoness of my experience to come? Or more pointers toward the “rock star” aspect of the authors and their following? Needless to say, I slammed my beer out of fear that I would be asked to relinquish the contents upon entrance (not the case as it turned out).

The reading started out with Michael Smith accompanied by some unknown figure whose name I fail to recall at this juncture. Mr/Miss Jujubee for the sake of this story. Michael is a Northerner, handsome fellow with a bit of beard growth, just the right length that you would figure him to be a writer or slacker (pretty interchangable really). He read from his novel “The Giro Playboy” along with some downtempo music. His accent was quite thick and his words came slowly. The reading was nice and hypnotic. The right mixture of charm, humour and heartbreak to keep an audience enraptured.

Next came Chuck Klosterman. A downright American who has that hint of North Dakota that makes it hard to diffentiate him from a Canadian because there is something not quite right about him (at least to this Californian). Yet another author whom I have not read…His book – “Killing Yourself to Live” which is subtitled as being “85% true”. This is a book about his trip across the States to visit sites where famous rockstars have perished, but ends up actually dealing more with his life, loves, etc.. (from what I gather, remember, I haven’t actually read it)… Anyways – Chuck’s reading was very entertaining. He has a natural flair for public speaking that verges on the front of comedy – besides, the Brits love any American that is self-depreciating.

Moving on to the star diva of the night DBC Pierre. Author of the Booker Prize 2003 for Vernon God Little. Pierre was reading from his latest novel from which I could surmise is about siamese twins looking for mail order eastern European brides. Title = Ludmila’s Broken English

WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU SAY?

Yes, that is correct. You heard me. Siamese (or conjoined) twins looking for mail order eastern European brides.

Is this a John Irving novel? Are there bears? Am I smoking crack? What the fuck did you just say?

No. No. No. And I said – Siamese (or conjoined) twins looking for mail order eastern European brides.

OK. Now that we have that clear…how was the reading? It was. Interesting. He read complete with Russian (bordering on Estonian) accents to a plot that I wasn’t sure I was following. Perhaps I drank a pint too many and was clouded by the fact that I was trying to plan a quiet escape to the toilet, but all in all I was not that excited. Both authors that had preceeded him were far more in tune with the audience. A skill that I don’t expect people who write to have exactly – but I still wasn’t captured by the reading.

Following all of this – and my imminent escape to the bathroom – was the questions portion of the evening. Again, Chuck and Michael stole the show with light and fun responses to questions. I had the feeling when DBC answered anything that he was a) taking himself far too seriously or b) totally drunk on whiskey. If B were the answer, then I respect him a lot more….

The outcome of the evening? I ended up buying all three books, getting them signed (like some literary groupie slut) and will read all of them before passing further judgement.

Because – remember what they say – you can’t judge a book by its cover.

And I guess you can’t judge an author by his reading…So I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

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Like a Friend – Pulp

Don’t bother saying you’re sorry.
Why don’t you come in?
Smoke all my cigarettes – againe.
Every time I get no further.
How long has it been?
Come on in now,
Wipe your feet on my dreams.

You take up my time,
Like some cheap magazine,
When I could have been learning something.
Oh well, you know what I mean.

I’ve done this before.
And I will do it again.
Come on and kill me baby,
while you smile like a friend.
And I’ll come running,
Just to do it again.

You are the last drink I never should drunk.
You are the body hidden in the trunk.
You are the habit I can’t seem to kick.
You are my secrets on the front page every week.
You are the car I never should have bought.
You are the train I never should have caught.
You are the cut that makes me hide my face.
You are the party that makes me feel my age.

Like a car crash I can see but I just can’t avoid.
Like a plane I’ve been told I never should board.
Like a film that’s so bad but I’ve gotta stay til the end.
Let me tell you now,
It’s lucky for you that we’re friends.

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Sad news for the hip hop world today. Yes, a death that has nothing to do with East Coast v West Coast rivalries, drug overdoses or HIV. J Dilla died on the 10th of February due to complications from Lupus. Yes, Lupus. That stupid, stinky disease that yours truly suffers from (although these days I have been feeling much better, thank you).

Seems he was fighting up until the end – recording his album from the hospital. That is pretty brave and strong. I know what it feel likes on my bad days and I’m not suffering from a life threatening form of Lupus – so I can only imagine how difficult this must have been for him.

RIP J Dilla
February 7, 1974 – February 10, 2006

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j dilla

Hip-hop artist J Dilla, 32, dies

NEW YORK (Billboard) – J Dilla, a founding member of hip-hop act Slum Village, died Friday (February 10) in Los Angeles. The Detroit-hailing rapper/producer succumbed to complications from lupus. He was 32.
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Before his passing, J Dilla (born James Yancey and also known as Jay Dee) had been working on “The Shining,” the follow-up to his 2001 solo debut, “Welcome to Detroit.” The new album was scheduled for a June release via BBE Records.

“Jay was one of my favorite hip-hop producers of all time. His passion for music was a rare thing amongst people in the music industry,” BBE founder Peter Adarkwah said. “His music and presence will be sorely missed for many years to come.”

Since forming the rap trio Slum Village in the late 1990s with MCs Baatin and T3, J Dilla has worked closely with such artists as A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip, Common and the Pharcyde.

J Dilla left the group to pursue a solo career, and in 2003 released “Champion Sound” with fellow rapper/producer Madlib. J Dilla’s instrumental album “Donuts” was released last week by Stones Throw.

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I’m watching Match Point right now and it brings up the question that I have been wondering time and time (or movie and movie) again. What the hell is the facsination with Scarlett Johansson?

OK – she isn’t harsh on the eyes. I get the fact that she has some massive DSLs (dick sucking lips) coupled with an enormous bosom. Add her dyed golden hair, flawless skin and the fact that the camera seems to really favour her and she seems to be the incarnation of a classic Hollywood beauty.

But let’s now discuss her acting (or lack therefore of) ability. I am always left with a feeling of overwhelming emptiness whenever I see any movie that she is in. It seems that every role she is placed in has her as a lost soul trying to find her place in the world. A shell of a human. Usually weak and slighly confused. And then there is the over emphasis on her sexuality (back to those lips again). Her performance always lacks flair, depth and any sense of reality. It is like listening to a robot drone on and on with no emotion.

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“Open the pod bay doors, Hal.”

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed her performance in Lost in Translation, but maybe because that was the entire point of her character. The lost soul looking for her place on earth. An empty shell. Then there was The Girl with a Pearl Earring. Did she even speak once in that movie? I’m having trouble remembering. And In Good Company she plays another lost soul. Boring as usual. Finally Match Point. Lacking the same fire.

So what the hell am I missing? Why is she the hottest thing in Hollywood? Can’t we stop putting her in serious roles and relegate her to Marilyn Monroe like status of the ditzy blond? Although I’m not sure she can even pull of that air-headedness with her deep man voice.

Or is it just me?

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After having to abort driving the Smart car across France due to snow in Barcelona (yes, snow in Barcelona) I had to have it shipped over on a transport unit. It arrived last week, slightly dirty, but still looking as cute as ever.

Now onto my issues.

1. The car is left hand drive – and as many of you may be aware of – the folks over here prefer to drive on the wrong side of the road. YES – WRONG and don’t go accusing me of being a “damned American”.

2. I have a not so keen sense of direction. Really. Do I get lost going to the toilet? No. Do I get lost driving from Victoria station to my house in Notting Hill? Yes and seriously.

Maybe it actually isn’t that I have a bad sense of direction. Maybe it has to do with a few factors, such as I have never driven on the other side of the road, my car is left hand drive, I have never paid any attention to where I am going in cabs in London and, finally, the streets in London are wiggity wack funky.

Mmmn, I love assigning blame to everything but my bad sense of direction.

So what is a girl to do?

The first thing that I attempted to do was go and get the car washed. You can only imagine how dirty it was after having been after having driven across hell and high water (or France) to get here.

This task seemed simple enough. Someone told me to go up to Ladbroke Grove, turn right and then go to where it meets Harrow Road and there is a car wash. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Or so it seemed.

I busted out my London A to Z guide and checked the route before heading off.

Did I make it to the car wash? Not a chance. Then on my way home I got completely lost again and ended up taking probably the longest way across Notting Hill that could be imagined.

I had had enough. This was never going to work.

That is when I started investigating satellite GPS systems for the car. And that is when I discovered Tomtom – the affordable and highly rated handheld systems for your car.

I did my usual online research and was having a pickle of a time trying to decipher which unit would suit my needs without going overboard on cost. I immediately ruled out the Tomtom 700 because I really didn’t need detailed maps of all of Europe (the Smart isn’t a fan of long road trips as previously mentioned). This brought me to the Tomtom 500 – which had pretty cool features that included hands free calling via Bluetooth for my mobile phone. This feature seems really cool. It imports your contacts from your phone and allows you to make calls through the Tomtom interface. Sweet, right? The next version I ruled out as well – Tomtom 300 – due to the fact that it didn’t have the handsfree calling. I also pretty much overlooked the Tomtom ONE because of this fact as well.

Then I went onto the forum at mytomtomgo.com and started reading around for complaints or reviews. And that is when I stumbled upon some disturbing posts. People were complaining about the fact that their 700 / 500 / 300’s were having trouble picking up signals in London. That, in fact, the ONE had a new GPS chipset that made the signal work really well without the need for an antennae booster add-on. I became a bit distraught by this news wondering if I should ignore their advice and take a chance or if I should forgo the handsfree feature for the safer bet. I read on. More and more evidence pointed to the fact that the ONE (cheapest model) actually outperformed even the 700 (which is about £200 costlier). People were claiming that they were trading in their 700s for the little guy.

At this point, I decided to go for the Tomtom ONE, with the added bonus that I would save a little money. I found one at PC World in Tottenham Court Road after another drive where I ended up lost thereby sealing the deal and justifying my purchase even furhter. The cost was £249 (including VAT) + I purchased an AC adapter so I could charge it up inside for an additional £19.

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tomtom one

Being the child that I am about new purchases, I promptly tore into my new toy as soon as I walked out of the door of PC World. I jumped in my little green chariot and sat there fiddling and plugging things in (ignoring the quick start guide, of course). Low and behold, in under 5 minutes my little Tomtom was set up and ordering me about.

I have never really used a GPS navigation system before. I have, however, sat in friends cars and listened to them annoy me. But Tomtom isn’t actually annoying. Perhaps that has something to do with my overwhelming gratitude that it got me home pretty quickly without the feeling of panic at being lost.

The Tomtom ONE is surprisingly small and lightweight. The color screen is very clear. The touchtap system works well, although I could see people with larger hands having slight difficulty working it. The voices that are included are pretty dry. My choices were Jane the British bitch or Tim the Loser. I switched throughout the day between them and honestly couldn’t tell you who I preferred. One really cool thing is that you can download new voices and install them – which I have. I now have the official John Cleese voice (quite good if you are a Fawlty Towers or Monte Python fan), the Joanna Lumley (turn right, darling – turn left, sweetie) and the Dr. Evil (I told you to friggin turn). There are also add on features that I haven’t yet explored because my phone isn’t GPRS (damn it!).

Some features that I do wish the Tomtom had are:

1. When I do something wrong – tell me that I missed the freakin’ turn. Don’t just readjust and continue like nothing happened. How will I ever learn the correct way? I guess this goes to their user research of men. They probably prefer to not be yelled at by Jane when they do something wrong in the car. But I want to know!!! Tell me so I can do it correctly next time.

2. I want a trip overview once I have arrived at my destination. How much time did it take me to get here? How far was it? How many times did I make a wrong turn and screw up the itinerary?

All in all I am in love with my little Tomtom ONE. I think that London is probably one of the most perfect cities in the world for this product (Los Angeles being another good example). Go out and buy one and let me know if you hate Jane as much as I do.
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On a recent trip to the market, I somehow got it into my head that I wanted to buy wine in a box. Now when I say wine in a box – I am not referring to a case of bottled wine neatly packed into a wooden box. Nope. I am talking Ghetto (with a capital G) real life wine in a box. The kind of thing that makes wine purists shudder even more than a synthetic cork. The kind that comes in cardboard at cheap prices and packs a punch. The kind that Uncle Tim (Bob’s gun wielding psychopathic drunken friend) used to make “Ice Tea” out of in old Mason jars with ice cubes and God knows what else.

Why did I have this sudden hankering to cheapen my drinking experience like in the days when Andrea Starkel and I used to steal Benson and Hedges cigarettes and drink all her mom’s boxed wine? And does boxed wine still have the same bad quality that its reputation implies?

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posh box of wine?

When I finally located the semi-half aisle of the boxed wine selection at Sainsbury, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t just Franzia or Ernest Gallo that were dominating the boxed wine trade these days. There seemed to be a good selection of semi-well known brands from California to Austraila – Chardonnay to Shiraz. The prices varied from low low discount (£4.99) to what I would consider a pretty decent high of £19.99 (for Hardy – Australia). Sizes ranged from 2 liters to 3 liters (roughly equivalent to 4 bottles). I made my selection of a mid-range Shiraz from Austrailia and happily (if not a slight bit ashamed) carried my box through the shop to checkout.

Upon arrival a la casa de Stephanie n Arlie I promptly busted out one of the two normal wine glasses that we have, assembled the case and pushed the little button to dispense my newfound juice. And guess what? It was pretty good! Not the same super bad quality, headache inducing, near-vinegar stuff that I was expecting. And it is more than fine for my need of having a glass of wine when I arrive home from work. Plus added bonuses include the fact that it stays good for 2 months, I don’t have to keep throwing out bottles (or lugging them home from the shop on the corner) and I save a little bit of change (in 2006 economy is the new black).

My recommendation: Don’t be such a pretentious wine snob (save this for the assholes in Sideways) and think INSIDE the box for a change. You can still have the occasional nice bottle, but give boxed wine another shot. You may even enjoy it!

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