Monday, 31 August 2009

Monsieur Pantouflard's Big Night Out

Never let it be said that modern life cannot be exciting. After an otherwise uneventful Friday, and much to my surprise, I finished the day at a concert wearing my slippers.

I’ll admit that the occasion (the Lucksmiths performing
their penultimate ever show before calling it a day) and the venue (the Thornbury Theatre, a thoroughly unmodern and spectacular ballroom whose bar is carpeted, with sofas and armchairs and looks like my Aunty Lil’s living room) were highly conducive to a spot of extra-domicile slipper-wearing success, but still the comfy-thrills were quite visceral.

I hadn’t intended on wearing my slippers out but having come home and put them on I was loathe to take them off again. Mrs Custard suggested no one would notice anyway and then she turned it into a dare which, like
Marty in Back to the Future, I was not going to turn down.

It’s funny how when we are self conscious we can convince ourselves that everyone is staring and making mental notes to come over and kill us at some point. They usually aren’t. Once safely past the shoe-fascist door bitch (to be fair she was lovely, very helpful and appeared not to notice my indoors-outdoors soft-shoe-shuffle, but that doesn’t make for good drama does it?) I hid behind the safety of a big comfy couch and did my best to shield my slippers from view. After a while I realised that most people had more important things on their minds, like love and law and poetry, than a silly looking man seemingly in need of help getting dressed of an evening.

As it was, most people’s minds were on the Lucksmiths who were quite marvellous. That said, given the occasion this didn’t feel much like a goodbye gig. They played two great sets, but it wasn’t until near the very end (after a triumphant T-Shirt Weather) that the crowd seemed to remember that this was pretty much it. Perhaps people were overwhelmed by the venue (described adroitly by bass player Mark as ‘the inside of a wedding cake’) which whilst spectacular wasn’t very intimate. I’m sure Saturday night’s show at the Corner with Darren Hanlon was a more emotional affair.

And so, after a lovely closing rendition of Fiction (accompanied by Mr Hanlon on banjo) they were gone - another
Candle snuffed out by time and tide and the fact that Austereo perpetuates the idea that it’s OK to have rubbish taste in music. Boo sucks to them, but more importantly yay to the Lucksmiths for existing in the first place and writing lots of lovely songs about girls and weather and the seasons and travel and doonas and life and for letting me enjoy your (almost) final gig in the comfort of my slippers.

Post-Script: For any slipper fanciers, chaussuristes and foot fetishists, this season I favour the Grosby
Christian in chocolate. Whilst I’d prefer a more secular shoe, it offers a solid non-slip sole, a comfortable plush inner fur lining and a stylish yet soft suede-feel upper that goes well with both types of trouser: corduroy and pyjama. Rock on.

More Dan for Your Buck

Like going to the fridge for cold pizza only to find that someone has left a surprise cheese platter so it was nice to open my emails this week to discover that Daniel Kitson is bringing another show to Australia in the near future. This is in addition to this tour he's doing in October which might suggest that he hasn't got the central heating sorted in his new flat and fancies sunburn and unsavoury perspiration over frostbite and cold bathrooms this northern winter.

Whatever the reasons, it’s our turn to see 66a Church Road – A Lament Made of Memories and Kept in Suitcases, which is a theatrical piece he toured around the UK in 2008. Says Daniel: “Last September I had to move out of my flat after living there for almost six years. I didn’t want to. I lived alone. I am single. 66a Church Road was the longest relationship of my life. This is a break up show. For my flat.”

From what I can gather it’s more akin to his one-man play C-90 than his stand-up work, but having seen C-90 I can heartily recommend seeing Dan doing a bit acting. If you need more convincing there’s a review here from Chortle. I haven’t read it because I don’t want to spoil anything, but you can if you like.

Daniel is performing 66a Church Road – A Lament Made of Memories and Kept in Suitcases in the Fairfax Studio of the Arts Centre Playhouse in Melbourne, Tuesday to Sunday, from the 12th to the 31st January 2010. Tickets are available
here as of today. There will also be shows at the Sydney Opera House, but no details as yet.

One final piece of Kitson news, Mrs Custard found a podcasts he did on the i-tunes store at the weekend. It’s free and, perhaps unsurprisingly, fucking funny. Just type Daniel Kitson into your i-tunes browser and wait for the magical cogs of interwebbery to turn.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Society of the Spectacles

There is no escaping the fact that, in fashion, what comes around goes around. Yesterday’s discarded object of fashion ridicule will be tomorrow’s band new retro. Just as my folks must have been bemused by my enthusiasm for flares and brown corduroy, so it’s been bizarre watching fashion horrors from the Eighties excavated by the high street and sold to knowing (and unknowing) Gen-Y kids.

And yet, even though we’ve seen the return of ra-ra skirts, footless tights, slogan tees, neon, Rayban Wayfarers and vintage Kylie-style prom dresses, there is one sartorial frontier that I hitherto thought unbreachable; big glasses. Now before you get all fashionista on me, I’m not talking about those enormous bug-eyed sunglasses favoured by footballers’ wives and Paris Hilton. No, I’m talking about those large unattractive plastic spectacles your mum might have favoured in 1986.

You know the ones I mean. They wore them on The Golden Girls. Like Clark Kent in reverse Dustin Hoffman became Tootsie the minute the big glasses (and other accoutrements) went on. I don’t know when they became popular but a generation of mums, aunties and teachers must have looked at Estelle Getty and thought ‘I’ll have me some of that.’

Usually accompanied by a tight bubble perm, such glasses have been by used by comedians for the past twenty years to denote a certain type of woman; one who never left the eighties, in attitude or fashion. Consider the Fast Show’s Roy and Renée (‘Oh I got a really dicky tummy on the Wednesday, I said oh Roy, my tummy’s off- what did I say Roy? You said you could have shit through the eye of a needle. I did not say that Roy).

An eerily similar look is favoured by undercover social benefits investigator Beverley Hilscopto (think about it) in Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights.

And when Shane Meadows wanted to make sure we understood that young Shaun’s mum in
This is England was downtrodden and a bit mousy, he did this to the otherwise attractive Jo Hartley:

And yet, curiously, I am starting to see young women wearing these monstrosities in 2009. Young, attractive, fashion conscious and otherwise immaculately turned out women, with my Grandma’s enormous glasses perched on their nose. Why do they do it? To be different I guess. All generations wants to prove they’re different from the last, and what better way, superficially at least, than to embrace everything that the last generation held up for ridicule?

I recall the first time I pulled my Dad’s black horn-rimmed NHS glasses out of the loft and started wearing them out, even though I couldn’t see through them properly. I was inspired by a photo of Jarvis Cocker recreating this classic shot of Michael Caine by David Bailey.

My Dad and my friends all thought I was a bit odd (fair enough) which is interesting considering how common and ordinary they are these days. I’m certainly no fashion risk taker - I just wanted to look cool like Jarvis, so I can kind of understand wearing something that other people might see as horrible to stand out a bit.

Perhaps the same will happen with Tootsie specs. In five years time everyone will be wearing them too. Maybe, but those oft-mocked NHS black-frames somehow became ‘classics’ because there is something attractive about them in the first place – the sleek plastic, harsh black edges, the way they dominate a person’s face. This is as much about taste as anything else, but it’s hard to imagine those enormous vaguely-clear-brown plastic horrors in quite the same way regardless of how many beautiful young things wear them. At least not for me – not whilst I can still see Estelle Getty’s little eyes peering out from them.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

A Jingle, Jangle Morning

Some mixed fortunes this week for people who like their music intelligent and sporadically jangly…

Sadness because this is the week we say goodbye to
the Lucksmiths, one of my favourite Australian groups. Being one of Australia’s best bands they, like the Go-Betweens before them, have sold bugger all records and as a result this weekend’s duo of Melbourne concerts will be their last.
The Lucksmiths were the first Australian band I ever saw and the first band that I saw with Mrs Custard. She put Smokers in Love on the first mix-tape she ever made me. Aw, bless. They were playing at the Hopetoun in Sydney and reminded me of the Housemartins. Through them I heard about other Candle Records acts and discovered a whole new world of indie down under.

In particular the Lucksmiths have a distinct and quite lovely way with words. They capture the joys of the pleasurably mundane (crosswords, reading the paper in in bed, smoking, sitting around on rainy days) better than most. This flows into their sweet and realistic love songs which are always high on romance, nostalgia and longing with healthy sprinklings of unrequited-love scattered throughout. The objects of their affection often have quirky habits and back stories so you find that you're listening to a story as much as a song. Travel and geography are also important aspects of their lyrics, with the great distances required both to get to Australia and to travel within this huge continent used metaphorically to describe the pains of being apart. Like the Go-Betweens before them, the Lucksmiths world, whilst universally understandable, is very much set against a backdrop of their Australia - and for that read the trams, cafes, street corners and record stores of Melbourne.

I left Australia not long after seeing them that first time at the Hopeton. Flying out of Melbourne I did a quick whistle stop of the record shops to get some music to take back to the UK. I ended up in Polyester Records and innocently asked the person behind the counter if they had heard of a band called the Lucksmiths and did they have any records of theirs. They were very friendly and pointed me towards a surprisingly healthy amount of stock. I nattered on with them for a while about how I really liked them and then bought a few singles and albums to remind me of my trip. I found out a few months later that Polyester is basically the home of the Lucksmiths and at least one of the band works there. It's hard to imagine many other bands as good as the Lucksmiths being so unassuming in that situation.

The Lucksmiths are playing with the Smallgoods at the
Thornbury Theatre on Friday 28th August. Tickets are still available so it’s still not too late to come along and give them the goodbye they deserve. Their last ever show is at the Corner Hotel in Richmond on Saturday 29th. Quite rightly it’s been sold out for months.

More pleasant and not totally unrelated news, given his propensity for an intelligent lyric and a jangly chord, is that Lloyd Cole is returning to our shores in November as part of a very quick jaunt around the world. He will also be playing at the Thornbury Theatre for the Melbourne leg, as well as the following dates around Australia:

Friday 6 November: Hepburn Springs, The Palais
Saturday 7 November Brisbane, Powerhouse Theatre
Mon 9 November Freemantle,
Fly By Night Club
Wed 11 and Thu 12 Nov Sydney, The Basement

He’s also taking in the west coast of America, New Zealand, Singapore, Paris and England before finishing up in Glasgow as part of promotion for his four CD box-set of rarities, Cleaning out the Ashtrays. Dates and booking details for all shows are available on Lloyd’s website.

If you haven’t seen him do his solo acoustic thingy I can heartily recommend it whether you’re a fan or not. The evenings are usually pretty intimate; you could hear every hushed word during songs at The Basement a couple of years ago. Lloyd himself is pretty comfortable in his own skin and pretty adept at playing up to his grumpy young man (but getting older) persona.

I know from personal experience that this is mostly slight of hand, as he’s actually an exceedingly nice chap. He signed some records and a set list for me after a gig in Toulouse and then he and I got done at babyfoot (table football) by some local fans who were clearly semi-professional. I told this story to my disbelieving French friend who came with me when Lloyd played the same venue six months later. Sure enough Lloyd was up for a bit more babyfoot. This is my friend on the right casually kicking Lloyd’s arse…

It’s worth saying that Lloyd has many, many songs equally good if not better than those on Rattlesnakes – his most famous album with the Commotions. His first eponymous solo effort (also known as ‘X’) is one of my favourite albums and used to make me feel like the oldest 15 year old in town. Check out Don’t Look Back and Undressed for a hint of the times to be had in November.

And finally, whilst we’re talking front men gone solo,
Jarvis Cocker is also returning to Australia to play songs from his new album Further Complications. Strangely Cocker is only two years younger than Lloyd Cole yet their imperial phases stand well over a decade apart. It’s unlikely that Jarvis is ready to dip back into the Pulp catalogue but no matter, because Further Complications and 2007’s self-titled contain more than enough songs to entertain.

Jarvis is playing as part of
the Meredith Music festival as well as the following dates around Australia:

Sat 5 Dec Brisbane (Hi-Fi Bar)
Mon 7 Dec Sydney (the Metro)
Tues 8 Dec Freemantle (Metropolis)
Thu 10 Dec Adelaide (HQ)
Friday 11 Dec Melbourne (the Forum)

Tickets are available from
Ticketek as of... (wait for it...) NOW!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Bumble Fever

I promise to stop going on about cricket but I couldn’t finish without a special mention for my man of the series. He wasn’t playing or part of the backroom staff, or even one of the decision-impaired umpires. He was David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd, former England coach and now (forgive me Richie Benaud) the best cricket commentator in the business.

Given Channel 9’s cricket broadcasting hegemony in Australia, those of us without pay TV have been denied the joys of a Bumble commentary. Cheers then to SBS for picking up Fox Sports’ broadcast from the UK, Bumble and all.

It’s not just Bumble’s droll Lancashire delivery that makes him so lovable. As a former England player and coach his knowledge of the game is superb. That’s to be expected from most commentators, but it’s the way Bumble shares his knowledge and love of the game through his commentary that sets him apart. He’s a bit like your favourite teacher or slightly deranged uncle – never patronising, always inspiring and generally fucking hilarious.

His spell gently mocking Freddie Flintoff’s lazy running on Saturday was quite brilliant. Super Fred, hero of all England in his final test match, about to have knee surgery and there’s Bumble laughing at him ambling about between the stumps. There has been much of the same throughout the summer with Bumble backing up his on-air antics with his first ever Tw*tter account – something akin to giving your grandad his first mobile phone with $50 worth of prepaid.

To add icing to the Bumble love-in cake he’s quite into his music, and is a big fan of The Fall and Half Man Half Biscuit. Compare that to Channel 9’s ready-for-pasture Tony Grieg and painfully parochial Bill Lawry and its clear that we’re going to miss Bumble when summer comes around down here.

For those already having withdrawals, here’s a compilation of some of his antics on Sky Sports, including his straight faced ‘pitch reports’ from a dry-ski slope and a wooded hillside. Not quite the same as hearing him in all his commentating glory but it will do for now.

Bumble, thanks for the memories and if you need showing round the local indie record shops next year I'll be glad to help out.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


It pains me greatly and my fingers are twitching like Herbert Lom's eyebrows as I type this, but I have to profess some grudging admiration for Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting this week. This may just be a misdiagnosed case of pity resulting from the unusual sensation of seeing England beat Australia. However, his admission of tactical culpability and general refusal to blame the pitch, umpires or weather for his second Ashes series defeat raised Ponting a notch or two in my standings.

Ponting has always been an immensely unlikable opponent – arrogant, intimidating, overly competitive and of course, prodigiously talented. Anyone who has passed by this corner of the internet in the past weeks will know that the joy of seeing Ponting dismissed a few times was the most that I dared to dream for out of this Ashes campaign for a while. Memories of his face smug in victory over the past decade are still fresh, and as with all feared adversaries there is pleasure in seeing them lose.

'Punter' represents the last of the Invincibles-era; a time of unprecedented success and freakishly-talented individuals that is now well and truly over. In the history of test cricket Ponting, Steve Waugh, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer are amongst the top twenty highest run scorers, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath rank 2 and 5 respectively amongst test bowlers and Adam Gilchrist is the most successful Australian wicket keeper of all time. With such esteemed colleagues now long gone, Ponting has been left to oversee a wobbly handover to the next generation on his own.

Perhaps emboldened by the sight of a great opponent on the ropes, Ponting has been this summer’s pantomime villain for the English fans. There were boos and jeers from Cardiff to Leeds (and quite a few from our house). Almost in parallel the English press has maintained a series-long campaign in defence of the Australian captain. This might have emerged from an embarrassment that ‘the gentlemen’s game’ was being sullied by a yobbo element, but was mostly been built around the (admittedly true) notion that Punter is one of the all-time greats and deserves some sporting respect.

By mid-afternoon on Sunday, as he was trudging off the pitch having being run out by Andrew Flintoff, there was evidence of a noticeable thawing in hostilities towards Punter. The warm and generous ovation he received from the crowd surprised him as much as the jeering from the Cardiff stands had six weeks earlier. You could argue that all it took to see relations improve was for England to win for once. However I think that the sight of Ponting giving his all (including a brilliantly dramatic must-not-show-weakness stoic walk to the pavilion, spitting blood without so much as a flicker after receiving a cricket ball to the face) and producing another scarily good innings on a deteriorating pitch might have helped soften English fans' hearts. I even surprised myself.

Calls for his replacement seem sillier now than they did during the two series against India and it’s unlikely that he’ll be asked to go. The label of being only the second Aussie captain to lose the Ashes twice in England is an unfortunate irrelevancy – I mean, how many captains even get the chance to take a team to England twice? As for the future, well, statistics don't win matches but they don't look that bad for his young side. Australia scored more centuries, ran more runs and took more wickets than England. Ultimately it didn't change the result, but it just might offer some hope to a bruised and bloodied Ricky Ponting as he flies home tonight.

As for the unexpected rapprochement between me and Punter, well I'm sure normal service will be resumed soon enough. After all I have Pakistan and the West Indies to cheer on this summer and I'm sure he'll be back to his pugnacious old self. But for tonight Ricky, and only for tonight, Ricky - a tip of the hat to you.

...Funk to Funky

A funny thing happened yesterday… a sporting team that I wanted to win actually won. It was a novel and not unpleasant experience, currently being over-analysed in newspapers and websites across the world (well, in countries that give a monkeys about cricket).

More interestingly – considering my lack of expertise when it comes to the finer aspects of the game, and an innate belief that whatever can go wrong will go wrong -
I actually called it right. Australia’s first innings collapse and second innings self-destruct seemed unlikely given what happened ten days earlier at Headingley, but somehow it just seemed possible - and so it proved.

Reactions to the result have been as notable as the game itself. The English press has inevitably gone a bit mad as happens in the rare instances when British teams prevail. Anglo-Australian one-upmanship brings out the worst in ‘journalists’ from both sides of the world. Over reaction is to be expected from the UK gutter press but I doubt that even they could be any worse than
this piece from the otherwise unswervingly excellent Guardian coverage. In many ways I’m glad to enjoy this victory at some distance from lowest common denominator anti-Australian crap that will no doubt be filling British news stands this week.

Also, as lovable and iconic as he is, a bit much has been made of Andrew Flintoff’s contribution (positive and negative) to this series. England’s team rebuilding has been a team effort with just about everyone playing some part. Broad, Swann and Anderson all delivered spells of bowling that were as important as Flintoff’s Lords magnificent performance, even if they don’t have his train-thundering-down-the-tracks presence. TV and newspaper editors who know nothing about cricket tend to reduce team achievements down to the exploits of one man, and this was never more inappropriate than this summer.

Meanwhile the Aussie press is in mourning. Australians woke up to the bad news with their vegemite on toast and it left a bitter taste. Sour grapes about baked pitches, South African Englishmen, bad weather and unlucky coin tosses aside, the selectors are being called to account and tactics questioned. English cricket fans shouldn’t flatter themselves that this is all about them – the period of deuil has been going on since India and South Africa ram-raided these shores last Christmas. The loss of the Ashes is painful but slipping to an all time record low of fourth in the world rankings hurts more. English fans can add little to what the Australians already know: the Baggy Green, it ain’t what it used to be.

Fittingly, the best reaction came from someone who actually played in the bloody game. Andrew Strauss’s summary of his first series win as captain (“When we were bad, we were very bad, when we were good, we managed to be good enough”) was grounded, endearing and refreshingly realistic. Perhaps it’s born of the knowledge that he will have to lead his young team to Australia in 18 months time and the memories of the 5-0 whitewash he suffered as part of the last touring team. Strauss knows the job is only half done, but at least England have someone with a sense of perspective in charge (however many plums he has in his mouth).

For me, a strange and pleasant feeling of satisfaction and eighteen months respite from the taunts of my friends and colleagues.

For England, sweet sweet victory... and the sight of Strauss with the urn, the urn, and the rest coming home with the urn.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Ooh You Are Oval... But I Like You

After what seems like an eternity since Australia inflicted a drubbing on England in Leeds, the fifth and final Ashes test gets underway at the Oval tonight. It's winner takes all with both sides on a game each, although the Aussies have a bit of an advantage as a draw will be enough for them to keep their mitts on the little urn.

As a result of the Headingley thrashing few people are predicting an England success. This is a shame because not only have this English team already proved that they can win against this Australian side, but everybody knows that if you keep Ricky Ponting's young side under pressure, they will wilt. We saw it during India and South Africa's visits to Australia, and even lest we forget, off the back of the 5-0 Ashes thrashing in 2006-07 when a humiliated England somehow rallied to win the one-day series down under. Much has been said about the way the momentum has been passed to Australia throughout the series, but you can bet your arse that those young Aussie players will be bricking it just as much as the English who - now reinstated as underdogs - have less to lose.

The Australians have been far more profligate with the bat and that, combined with Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark's returns to form and the team respectively, is what makes them favourites. And yet, when the weather has suited them, the English bowling has been equally impressive, and it's on that point that my faint hopes hang. This is after all about one game. Everything else is past, these next few days are all. In footballing terms this is a Cup Final occasion. England's bowlers need to remember what they are capable of, and if they happen to be reading this whilst tucking into their Pop Tarts and bowls of Frosties, I hope this collection of the best moments from the previous four tests gees them up a bit...

They Say, We Say... Posh Beer

Welcome to the first (and feasibly last, knowing my memory) posting of 'They Say, We Say...' a new Mint Custard feature in which advice is proffered in a less than scientific manner on a range of consumer goods by myself and Mrs Custard. Our first review is for Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier - a posh Bavarian beer that our friend Mr Flange purchased during his recent stay.

They say: "Original Schlenkerla Smokebeer –Brewed According to the Bavarian Puirty Law of 1516. Aecht Schlenkerla Wheat is the unusal sibling of the classic Maerzen Smokebeer. Only the barley malt portion is smoked over beech wood logs while the wheat malt remains completely unsmoked. The light smokiness is coupled with complex notes of banana and clove created by the use of Bavarian style wheat beer yeast. It is unfiltered (cloudy), unpasteurised and bottle conditioned.

Mrs Custard says: "Tastes like burger rings..."

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Paul Heaton's Scrapbook

You’ll have to forgive the stream of Housemartins-related posts of late but after a 20-year famine the re-release of London 0 Hull 4 has produced a bit of a ‘martins feast.

I’m still to find a newsagent in Melbourne selling the air freight copy of Mojo with the Housemartins reunion interview. Whilst this is a tad frustrating, I was sated somewhat to discover that the Mojo website currently has a section devoted to
Paul Heaton’s scrapbook collection. It should come as no surprise that a man who collected crisp packets would keep a fastidiously-ordered scrapbook of Housemartins-related newspaper cuttings, but there are great rewards to be had from Paul’s OCD tendencies.

His scrapbooks contain everything from cuttings of Norman and Paul’s first band (the Stomping Pond Frogs), record label rejection letters, early Housemartins reviews, Smash Hits and Record Mirror features to a lovely felt-tip picture of the band (replete with a sheep) by a six year old fan. The Housemartins versus The Sun battle (in which the right-wing rag accused them of the 'crimes' of being gay and middle-class out of spite for their open attacks on Thatcher and the monarchy) is all there, as is a lovely piece written just before they split up and giving the reasons why.

I’m not sure how much of the clippings feature in the Mojo magazine article itself (can anyone reading in the UK let me know?) but for those of us waiting for the next clipper to reach the far corners of the Empire this is a nice taster.

Monday, 17 August 2009

You Ain't Seen Me... Right?

A friend of mine who is more adept at exploring the furthest reaches of the internets than I told me about Garfield minus Garfield a while back. I liked it a lot but have been a bit obsessed with eggs lately and kept forgetting to pass it on. Anyway, here I am, stooped low with humility and ready to share the love.

Despite a vague dislike of cats I was a little obsessed with Jim Davis' Garfield cartoons when I was 11. I had all the pocket books and would spend many a maths lesson drawing pictures of Odie the dog with huge pools of drool all around him. For a while there I even wanted my own rubber chicken just like the eponymous hero. It didn't happen. Pretty soon I grew bored of Garfield and never returned. It's interesting that it leaves me so cold now - it's not like I grew up really. I still love lots of other things that I was into when I was a kid, especially Peanuts.

Thanks then to the people behind Garfield Minus Garfield for reviving my interest with the simple yet inspired idea of reprinting Garfield comic strips with all traces of said cat removed. Panels have been redrawn to eliminate Garfield and his thought bubbles from scenes, switching focus to his dorky owner, Jon Arbuckle.

We are left with an altogether darker strip, something the creators describe as a journey deep into the mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness and depression in a quiet American suburb. Jon is seen musing aloud, talking to himself or ranting in his empty home with only the walls for company. One sided conversations abound, with Jon seemingly at a loss how to operate in the modern world. The result is a cross between Brad Pitt's psychiatric patient Jeffrey Goines in 12 Monkeys and Max Cannon's Red Meat strips.

Naturally enough it begs the question who else would benefit from a similar treatment. Not wishing to get all politically correct about cartoon strips - especially in a week where the BBC announced a neutered Dennis the Menace sans pea-shooter, catapult and everything that made him fun (latent homophobia aside) but a new version of Reg Smyth's cloth cap wearing Andy Capp, with wife Flo surgically removed, could be brilliant.

Imagine the pathos of a drunken Andy coming home from the pub night after night to an empty house with only himself for company. Did Flo finally leave him? Did she die? It might not be as funny but you'd get something that bridges truth and art in a way that the original hasn't done since the seventies. If that's all a bit serious why not redo Pokemon without any of the the irritating creatures - then we'd all be happy.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Here Be Pickled Eggs

Those of you who've spent the past month anxiously pacing the floors of your homes and workplaces wondering how my July pickled eggs experiment turned out can sleep again. I bring glad tidings and tales of great joy - here be pickled eggs!

I'm as surprised as anyone, but yes, Mother Custard's recipe actually worked and, like a girl on an early morning tram, I've been happily nibbling away at vinegary eggs for a couple of days. Needless to say Mrs Custard is less impressed by this news, but hey, swings and roundabouts.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Tram Observations #153

A young lady traveling on my tram today reached calmly into her handbag and pulled out a small aluminium parcel. Unravelling it like the woman from the Flake advert she revealed a still-shelled hard boiled egg. She then cracked and slowly peeled the top of the egg and started nibbling at it like squirrels eat nuts in cartoons.

Eggs being eggs this created quite a niff, but she sat there quite oblivious to the horror of the passengers around her, gently gnawing away until it was all gone. She then folded up the foil, returned it to her bag and went back to staring into space.

I just thought you should know.

Ungentlemenly Behaviour

A few overdue words of praise for Psychoville, the recent BBC comedy show starring and written by Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, erstwhile members of the League of Gentlemen. In case you hadn’t noticed, the League are rather popular round our way, so it’s been fantastic to have even 50% of them back together doing what they do best: intelligent, horror-inspired grotesquery with a heavy dose of silliness.

(Fear not, here be no spoilers…)

In essence Psychoville (the name given to the Royston Vasey-based League of Gentlemen series by Japan and Korea) is a comedy-thriller. It takes the stories of five individuals from across England and slowly intertwines them until you see they were mixed together all along. It eschews the sketch-based approach of the first two League of Gentlemen series and has more in common with Vic and Bob’s Catterick (also starring Shearsmith). Reece and Steve play three of the leads each but this time there are more prominent roles for an impressive supporting cast.

The most recognisable is Dawn French as Joy, an obstetrics nurse who treats her creepy demonstration baby like a real child. There are also great turns by Daniel Kaluuya as Tea Leaf, a petty criminal on community service, Alison Lintott and Debbie Chazen as the conjoined-Crabtree sisters, Daisy Haggard as a dim-witted pantomime Snow White, Elizabeth Berrington as Joy’s seemingly more down-to-earth colleague Nicola and Vilma Hollingbery as a pensioner with verbal diarrhoea.

For all these actors bring, Psychoville remains very much the Shearsmith and Pemberton show. The latter is particularly impressive as the serial killer obsessed mummy's boy David Sowerbutts and the mysterious blind recluse Oscar Lomax. As with Tubbs Tattysyrup and Pauline Campbell-Jones, his most infamous League characters, Steve’s performances generate genuine sympathy for two otherwise very unlikeable fellows and you completely forget there is a man behind the mask.

Shearsmith is not far behind, and whilst his Mr Jelly (a depressed, one-handed children’s clown) is a one-part Ollie Plimsolls, two parts Geoff Tipps shandy, he is more potent as David’s Bontempi organ-playing mother Maureen. The Sowerbutts provide the series highlight in episode four - a half hour special which abandons the five story format to provide a note-perfect homage to Hitchcock’s The Rope with a genuinely lovely surprise cameo.

This being one half of the League of Gentlemen, there are some marvellous one-liners and set pieces. Maureen’s organ, Lomax’s Club biscuit, Mr Jelly’s toilet break handcuffed to a diabetic old lady and any reference by Joy’s to her little Freddie Fruitcake are all worth looking out for.

As with the League, Psychoville is not all about big belly laughs. Much of it is about the pathos of sad, lonely and complex characters slowly revealing their tormented souls in increasingly bizarre circumstances (Lomax and David in particular). In that it has to be said that Psychoville did not hit the mark as consistently as I’d hoped. The whodunit element of the show buoys up some of the weaker stories, but as that fell away towards the end some of the joins started to show. The pantomime dwarf story in particular runs out of steam a bit, which was a shame, whilst something just didn’t click with the finale.

This doesn’t detract though from what has been a welcome return for two of Britain’s best comic performers. Personally I’d pay to see Reece and Steve read golf results from the paper, so seven new episodes of them together was wonderful. It’s far from easy to create a likable variation on the sitcom, so after a decade in which reality-based comedy took the lead, Psychoville is a welcome piece of fiction from two very fertile imaginations. More please BBC, more please.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

How to Cook: Cheese and Pickled Onion Hedgehog

Today is Neil Armstrong’s 79th birthday. No doubt Mr I-Don’t-Want-To-Talk-To-You will be celebrating on his own in a dark room with a sensible dinner covering all the food groups and a pleasant cup of cocoa before bed.

This is a shame. If Neil was my friend I would have organised a surprise party for him with all manner of frivolous and exciting treats from my culinary repertoire and maybe even a cake with a picture of the moon on it. However, in the hope that Neil’s friends and family might be reading this and thinking of knocking him up something nice as a surprise I’ve prepared another recipe showcasing more of the best of British cooking.

Hérisson au Fromage et Oignon au Vinaigre
(Cheese and Pickled Onion Hedgehog)

· 400g of mature cheddar cheese (not so mature as to be crumbly)
· 1 small jar of silverskin pickled onions
· 1 large raw potato (washed)
· A pack of cocktail sticks
· Aluminium Foil (Optional - depending on whether you’re making it for an astronaut)

Step 1: Chop cheese into something approximating 2cm cubes. Cheese fiends who ignored my earlier advice about buying cheese that’s too mature will have to stop at this point, eat the crumbly pile of cheese you’ve just created and then go back to the shop to buy something a bit more robust. Everyone else can move to stage two.

Step 2: Take your potato and, with care and respect for its potatoey ways, chop its little bottom off. This will convert your spud from a Weeble into a solid foundation for your art sculpture/ cheesy-oniony comestible.

Step 3: Skewering Time! Yes, you and your cocktail sticks are an improbable golden spaceship driven by Flash Gordon, whilst the cheese and pickled onions are the evil Emperor Ming the Merciless – stabbed right through the middle with a maniacal laugh. Repeat until the Earth is saved or all the onions are gone.

Step 4: the tricky bit. Starting at one end of the spud (so you don’t run out of room) take your cheese and onion-laden poles and push the pointy bit into the potato. This is harder than it looks if your cocktail sticks are pointy at both ends so practice beforehand on a fake potato (perhaps an apple painted brown). Keep on stabbing like Dexter until your potato is covered.

Step 5: Create a surrounding moat with any additional pieces of cheese that you haven’t eaten, then carefully place your completed masterpiece on the party table. Stand back and wait for applause.

Optional Stage for friends or family of noted astronauts: For extra showbiz pizzazz why not pre-wrap you potato in aluminium foil? Not only will it evoke memories of space exploration but you can chuck it on the fire after use and enjoy a nice baked potato long after your guests have gone. (Note too-mature crumbly cheese in this picture and learn from my shame...)

Anyway, happy birthday Mr Armstrong. Enjoy your cocoa, sir.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Hopelessly Devoted to Them

Of all the ramblings I’ve posted on Mint Custard it’s fair to say that the most read has been June’s piece on the Housemartins mini-reunion for the Radcliffe and Maconie Show and Mojo magazine. Over twenty people a day are still popping by, although I won’t flatter myself that it’s due to the quality of my writing.

However, it does warm the cockles of my heart to know that hundreds of people from all around the world care enough about Paul, Stan, Hugh, Norman and Dave to type ‘Housemartins Reunion’ hopefully into Google, looking for some good news. Sadly for them they end up at my lonely outpost of the internet with no more hope of seeing them play again than they started with. Hopefully they still got the same joys as I did from hearing the interview and seeing the pictures of a band seemingly both proud of and at ease with their past.

Paul, Norman, Hugh and Stan – Summer 2009 (with thanks again to Kipjaz for the photo)

Still, it’s understandable that the band have reservations about playing together again, even for a short while. After all, this is the band who stuck to their three year plan to call it quits at the top with the immortal words 'in an age of Rick Astley, Shakin' Stevens and the Pet Shop Boys, quite simply they weren't good enough.’ Life shouldn’t be lived in the past and reunions are rarely as good as people hope they will be. Still, you can’t help but feel that the personalities involved would ensure this was something special and not a tacky cash-in. One show at the Adelphi in Hull as a benefit would be lovely… as long as I got a ticket.

I still don’t think it will happen, but if there’s anyone from Universal Mercury reading this please take note of the huge amount of goodwill out there for Hull’s finest. They deserve better than the threadbare 2004 Best of and the opportunistic joint Beautiful South compilation Soup and I hope the great reaction to the remastered London 0 Hull 4 shows that any other gems you’ve got hanging around in the archives will be gratefully received. And not just by me…

The September issue of Mojo magazine featuring the Housemartins reunion interview is out now in the UK. It might reach Australia by Christmas… to help pass the time here’s Think for a Minute; my favourite Housemartins video and a great example of why less is always more…

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Madmen Me

It’s the first of August which rather excitingly means it’s only two weeks until the new season of Madmen starts in the US. The AMCTV website has a 30 second trailer but far more fun is to be had elsewhere on the site thanks to our friend, Dyna Moe. You may recall from earlier this year that the glamorous Ms Moe produced unique illustrations for every episode of the first two seasons, as well as a range of paper dolls and outfits so fans could live out their weirdest dressing/undressing Christina Hendricks fantasies.

Rightfully instated as the official artist for Madmen she’s now gone one step further and developed this rather fantastic Madmen-Yourself Interactive Flash Player game. Now you too can be part of the sharp suited, neatly coiffed and pointy bosomed world of Sterling Cooper. One word of warning: this can take away hours of your life. After turning myself into a blue-suited Pete Campbell I decided to try being a glamorous suburban housewife a la Betty Draper and now I think I fancy myself…

Remember to check out Dyna’s own website at Nobody’s Sweetheart where you can see her non-Madmen work, read her blog and buy stuff. Do. It’s great.