Monday, 12 January 2015

Is it coming to an end for Madonna - a sad fan and reluctant rebel heart speaks out.

For the last 30 years I have been a loyal, unequivocal and dedicated Madonna fan.

Ask anyone who knows me to think of one word to reflect or describe an integral part of me and they would probably say ‘Madonna’ - that or (with tongues in cheeks) ‘the weather’ 

I have the word ‘Madonna’ inked onto a private part of myself (not that) such is my dedication.

After 10 years of keeping that secret for fear of my mother finding out I can now say it, after bending down last summer to stroke the dog (that is not a euphemism) she gasped in horror ‘what’s that across your arse?’ - yes she did.

I repeat, I have worshipped and adored the woman for three decades (more).

I have waited for hours outside hotels to glimpse her coming in or out, queued outside Wembley in the pouring rain, Hyde Park, Earl’s Court, the O2.

I have pilgrimaged to New York to trace her steps, hailing a yellow cab to Times Square and telling the driver to ‘take me to the centre of everything’ - her legendary first words on the journey to make it big.

I have a room dedicated to Madonna memorabilia. I have a spec of blonde hair picked off the stage at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre in 2002 after her sacred feet graced the platform in the play Up for Grabs.

I have toured Hard Rock Cafes taking pictures of me beside her stage clothes. I have a packet of New York-purchased Hot Tamales held in a shrine as a tribute to her ‘favourite candy’. I have every album, book, video, CD, DVD, tour programme and even a packet of Madonna condoms I spotted in a souvenir shop in Amsterdam.

I love the woman.

But now I say, though I admit through teary eyes, I think she may have had her day. I think ‘Rebel Heart’, the new album, reflects an uncomfortable strain to stay relevant, contemporary, or even just good.

Sorry - yes, I know. I issue a heartfelt apology to my 16-year-old self who would have driven a dagger through his own heart before issuing such words.

But after she unexpectedly released six tracks from the forthcoming album at the end of last year, it was not her gesture of defiance to get one over on the hackers which resonated as I played the first song, but proof of her admission that they had been rushed out.

Rewind 25 years. Madonna was the queen of the world. She had just released Like a Prayer one of the best albums ever made.  She then stepped up with vogue - an immediate classic, expertly crafted with bumping, soul-carrying back beat and that iconic hook weaved in with the names of Hollywood legends to tip a nod to the now god-like status of the artist. 

She packaged it with the tightly choreographed black and white video and within seconds it was number one. People still ‘strike a pose’ on dance-floors and mouth “Bette Davis we love you” when it hits the chorus.

Madonna then took to the road in the summer of 1990 complete with blonde ponytail, conical bustier and a red satin bed. This was the moment she secured her place as pop royalty. This was the Madonna which the world stood up and took notice of.

She was no longer a bubblegum, teeny pop singer but was taking on the Catholic church and sticking two fingers up to the police  who threatened to arrest her for touching herself on stage.

She single-handedly sparked the age of the real wannabe, the Kylies and Sonias, the Gabrielles and Ce-ces emerged in their droves - but there was only every one Madonna.

While Kylie Minogue was squeaking about being ‘so lucky’ Madonna was thumping her way through hit after classic hit - True Blue, Papa Don’t Peach, Express Yourself, cherish, Dear Jessie.

After Madonna wrapped up Blond Ambition in France Kylie took to the stage complete with dancers in ponytails, headset mic, and pointy bras and the world laughed its head off at her feeble mimicry - no one could match Madonna and shouldn’t try.

Who would have thought the tables would have turned so drastically, it is now Kylie putting out the  decent albums, and Madonna, well, we’ll get onto that.

Kylie is releasing Into the Blue, Les Sex, Get Outta My Way - really polished tunes with almost Abba-like tightness of harmonies, lifts and addictive choruses.

All the lovers I, well love. Strong, soulful, gripping, a really good pop number with brilliant video to match. So as I cringe through Madonna’s first Rebel Heart offerings, I refuse to believe the queen of pop has begun to sound so amateur.

When I hear Like a Prayer it still chokes me up. Everything about it. The passion, the pulsating choir cutting in just as you think you have no more goose pimples to raise. The plea to fall to your knees “no choice your voice can take me there”.

Is this really the same polished, mature artist who wants me now to buy into ‘you get freaky all night long, na..nana….na na, Bitch I’m Madonna’?

Let’s address the problem with Rebel Heart - from the taste we have had so far.

It is a bit like, I suppose going to an exclusive restaurant and coming out wishing you had just gone to MacDonalds, unsatisfied, cheated. There was no salt in the food, the plates were dirty - a bit like that.

The strongest song is Ghosttown, and this could have saved the album were it not for the fact that you  still come away feeling short-changed. There was something missing, I'm left wishing I had been given the final cut.

Although it is a good tune it sounds rushed and un-finished. It sounds like nobody has given it a listen after pulling it together.

The song builds to what is a classic Madonna chorus and just as you are given a taster, think ‘here we go’ and get ready for that hook again, it flops into an awkward, synth-pop, unrelated stream of non-sounds.

All the songs do this.

Devil Pray is clunky, unconvincing and the words just don’t work - I cant put it anyway other than that, they just don’t fit together, they sound ugly. It needs more salt.

Unapologetic Bitch - yes there’s that word again, I just don’t get this. However after cringing through the first half of the song suddenly there is hope. It dissolves into what you hope will be a tuneful crescendo, but no, just as your taste glands moisten, it cuts away into another ugly synthesised cluster of banging and clattering. It sounds like Prince on his worst day has had a go at mixing it - what I am saying is it sounds rushed.

Then we come to the real treat, ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’. This I thought had to be a joke when I first heard it, in a Give Me All Your Luvin’ kind of way.

Madonna, is this really you? Has this really come from the same brain which spawned The Power of Goodbye, Frozen and Ray of Light?

To add insult to injury you invite Nicki Minaj onto the crime scene to make it, if this is possible, worse.

I don’t know where it all went wrong Madonna, and though I hope the remainder of the album is sensational, I think this might do it for you.

You might just release those loyal fans who have stuck by you for the best part of half a century.

You would do well to see how Lady Gaga is running her show, not just by ploughing all her focus into the music but how she treats her fans. She actually likes them.

It was very different for us back in the day.

The more you treated us like dirt the stronger you secured your place in our hearts as our fearsome queen, our diva.

When you made it clear to us, after waiting hours in the cold to meet you at Selfridges, that letting us edge next to you for a photo made your skin crawl - we loved you even more.

“No photos today guys” - we were told, desperately clutching our cameras in the pouring rain, hoping this would be the moment we get that treasured snap. Photographic proof of us breathing the same air as our idol.

“She doesn’t want people grabbing her” 

Lifelong fans staggered out of your 30-second one-to one audience in 2004, struggling to walk, in floods of tears, but with no memento of that special moment - their cameras having been taken off them beforehand.

But even as close back as 10 years that was ok because after all you were Madonna - we were just grateful you had allowed us in the same closely-guarded enclosure as you.

While you have shamelessly shown contempt for your fans, Gaga is out there hugging hers, letting them take all the pictures they want.

And it is not as if she needs to, she is still knocking out some pretty decent tunes. But she has grasped  the ‘I need to be less of a diva’ climate, using skills to play the market you once mastered above anyone else.

As Kylie continues to lead her followers in a defiant march to the dance floor, you left yours behind long ago, they are still snoozing through Hard Candy.

It hurts me to say this Madonna, it really does, and don’t get me wrong I shall always love the old you. But you are taking the mick a bit.

I shall always get a rush of candy-sweet, tinsel-draped joy when I hear vogue.

I shall always feel the tropical sun on my face when I listen to La Isla Bonita - thrown back to your beautiful island with the same lift as when you released it in the winter of 1987.

But I don’t want to cringe when I listen to you. I can’t bring myself to. 

I don’t want to have to strain to hear anything of note in your work while trying to ignore the juvenile ankle biting of Nicki Minaj in the background.

I don’t want to hear you effing and blinding your way towards 60, flooring your historic statement to Radio One on the sweaty Wembley Blond Ambition stage of summer 1990. Then you were making a statement and it worked. Now you just sound like a potty-mouthed old lady.

I have spent hundreds, no thousands seeing you perform and mostly I have come away with precious memories. However in recent years I’ve found myself clocking a look at my watch before the show has ended.

I have shelled out a week’s wages to be at the back of a half-empty stadium to see you as a dot in the distance while straining to hear one note. At the time I thought ‘couldn’t she have given her fans a better deal by taking this to a smaller venue?’.

I have no doubt you will take Rebel Heart onto the road this year and the last remaining 40-plus die-hards will toy with their credit cards as their fingers hover over the five-minute warning on TicketMaster’s website.

But for the first time, and with a heavy heart, this time round I might consider saving my money.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Ice Bucket Challenge - water wastage and hypocrisy

There is a craze sweeping the world at the moment, it is filling newspapers and ‘going viral’ on the internet.

For anyone who has been living in a cave for the past two months I am talking about the ‘ice bucket challenge’ - the latest thing to be seen doing.

A simple theory, it involves filling a bucket with water and tipping it over your head, preferably with a camera pointed in your direction.

The ‘challenge’, I am led to believe, helps raise awareness of Motor Neurone Disease - the paralysing sensation of getting drenched in ice-cold water apparently gives an insight into what sufferers experience.

I get the theory, however I am starting to grow tired of the endless watery Facebook updates and procession of publicity-hungry ‘celebrities’ who, lets face it, would tip a bucket of camel dung over their heads if it scored them a picture in a national newspaper.

I can imagine the calls flying from publicists to clients - “I think it’s time you were seen doing the ice bucket challenge, I’ll get the press release typed up”.

I give my 100 per cent support to any organisation which raises money for and awareness of good causes - even if it is not one which resonates with me.

Motor Neurone Disease is a terrible condition which of course should be highlighted, it is a cause deserving of every penny raised to help sufferers.

But what started off as a well-intentioned idea is turning into an annoyance and, if nobody has noticed, a big waste of water.

Some big names have already hinted at their detachment from the challenge.

Former Baywatch star and anti-vivisectionist Pamela Anderson refused to take part due to the nature of the animal experiments involved in research into Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

American president Barack Obama has also decided to maintain a dignified dry stance, though he has not disclosed his reasons for snubbing the bucket.

It could be that he prefers to give money to the charity of his choice in a private manner or maybe he thinks it is simply publicity seeking, if so I am fully in his camp.

Cast your mind back to summers gone by and warnings which emerge around the same time as the first daffodils poke through the ground.

“Use water wisely”

“Don’t spend more than two minutes in the shower”

“Turn the tap off while brushing your teeth”

“Don’t throw the water away after boiling an egg - use it to water the garden”

We are told how many millions of gallons are wasted flushing the loo and warned we will all be queueing at standpipes if we take an extra bath.

However the very same people who wave their fists at the first hint of warm weather now seem reluctant to criticise the water-sloshing frenzy gripping the planet.

On its website, Friends of the Earth claims to be “working to protect fresh water through our network of local activists, and regional and national advocacy work”.

It states: “Fresh water is one of our most precious resources. 

“Yet we’re taking it for granted and using too much.”

Its water policy includes “Governments measuring water use and setting targets to reduce it”, “Strong EU rules obliging large companies to measure and manage the amount of resources they use, including water” and “more low-impact consumption”.

It even advocates “low water diets” and “reduced meat consumption” to help save the planet.

So what did they have to say when I called them hours after racing car driver Lewis Hamilton was pictured having two wheelie bins of water dumped over him.

A press spokesman said: “We’ve had a call about this already and its not something we’re concerned about.”

Oh really? - I’ll get that steak back on the grill then if you’ve changed your minds.

In a Government report in 2008 the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Hilary Benn said: “Pressures on our water resources are set to increase. 

“The south east and east of England in particular face increasing demand on a finite water supply.

“We must find ways of using water much more efficiently and sustainably if we are to meet these challenges whilst continuing to enjoy high standards of water quality and a constant supply. 

“Water efficiency saves not only water but also the energy needed to pump, treat, and often heat it.”

When I asked about the water wasted doing the challenge The Department for Environment and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) said today: “It’s not something we’ve got a position on, it’s a bit of fun for a good cause.”

Is this hypocrisy or are people fearful of slipping on an ice cube into the wrong side of political correctness? I think the latter.

I spoke to Jacob Tompkins at Waterwise, a body which aims to promote water efficiency, and to be fair he gave me a reasoned explanation as to why he wasn’t up in arms over the challenge.

He said: “There is a difference between water usage and water wastage, and as this is engaging people in charitable donations and looks like a bit of fun, it is not really a waste.

“We use around 150 litres of water per person per day, so you could offset a bucket of water by knocking a minute or two off your shower.

“We are not the water police.”

I’m not sure it is the waste of water which bothers me or the sudden emergence of double standards.

It also doesn’t help  that the bandwagon is steadily growing laden with the likes of Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga posing under a bucket, all in the name of charity of course.

I have no intention of getting wet and sharing it with the world on Facebook, though I do and and will continue donating regularly to charity.

And to all the militant water watchers playing it safe for fear of offending the PC brigade - you just try and tell me I can’t hold the flush for more than two seconds next time we get a dry spell.

Friday, 23 May 2014

The answer to all your Italian cooking desires

THERE was a time when the mention of Italian food would make people think no further than spaghetti, pizza or tiramisu.

But over the years the British palate has grown more adventurous as people have explored the wealth of cuisine from around the globe.

Italian has always been a favourite, whether it is a simple plate of spaghetti vongole or a more exotic lobster risotto infused with the scent of truffle.

Italy’s culture is deep-rooted in its love of food and there is an Aladdin’s cave of flavours and textures offered in its dishes - for those willing to take the plunge.

The secret of great food is of course high-quality, authentic ingredients and when it comes to a taste of Italy, Peccando promises nothing but the real thing.

Set up by housewife and keen cook ‘Beata’, is the go-to website for people who want to delve deeper into the adventure of Italian cooking.

The name ‘Peccando’ means ‘sinning’ in Italian - an apt title as all its products are “worth sinning for”, Beata told me.

She said: “Just as supermarkets sell the sort of food we need for our daily lives, we provide speciality items which transform the way we eat.

“Our website has detailed descriptions of hundreds of foods, delicacies and authentic Italian ingredients.”

The website sells virtually every type of pasta including Cavatelli, a thick pasta with curled edges, Orecchiette which means “small ears” in Italian, and elongated ‘Strascinati-, which  means ‘dragged’ in reference to the manner in which it is shaped.

There are also black varieties infused with squid ink including Fettuccine egg pasta and Spaghetti Squid Ink.

People wanting to impress their dinner party guests can stock up on Chillies stuffed with Tuna, delicious Grilled Artichokes cooked on volcanic rocks and a wide selection of cakes and biscuits.

Italians are known for their love of coffee and Peccando sells authentic ground and decaffeinated varieties.

Beata said: “Peccando is an online grocery run by Italians and specialising in the finest Italian products ranging from ready-to-eat delicacies to the kind of great ingredients not usually available outside Italy.

"We are strictly governed by this criteria when choosing our products: that they must be of the highest quality, must be produced and certified in Italy and, above all, they must taste great.

“Most of our suppliers are not manufacturers – they are family-run small businesses benefitting from decades of tradition and passion for what they create and they are making their delicacies available to Peccando.

“We don’t have a bricks and mortar presence so the only visit you need to make is just a click away."

Anyone who is nervous about turning their hand to Italian cooking can make use of a selection of recipes on the site.

Before long you could be knocking up Trofie pasta with salmon, Black olives tart, or Orecchiette al pomodoro - a popular pasta and minced beef dish.

Peccando makes home deliveries from Monday to Friday at £5.90 for parcels up to 20kg.

Free delivery applies for orders of more than £69.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Getting cool again - snow by the weekend

In the space of a few days it has gone from wall-to-wall sunshine and temperatures in the 60s (20C) to feeling pretty cold and grey again.

Although it is still warmer than average for the time of year, the mercury is set to drop even further making it feel wintry in parts by the weekend.

The north is in for some unsettled conditions  with gales of up to 70mph threatening to batter parts of Scotland with heavy rain forecast.

Although it has been very pleasant recently, some regions have already seen dramatic changes in temperature in just a few hours.

Last week a high of 15.7C (60.3F) was recorded during the day in Ardoyne, Scotland, and just hours later it had plunged to -5.5C (22.1F) - a difference of 20C.

On Sunday thermometers rocketed to 86F (20C) across the south with swathes of the country feeling almost summer-like.

Although the bad news is it is set to get cooler, the good news is that spring as a whole looks promising with May likely to be the best month.

The Met Office said  by the end of the week they temperatures are likely to have sunk to around  50F (10C).

In the North the mercury will hover closer to around -3C (27F) over night with even the chance of sleet or snow on high ground.

Met Office spokeswoman Nicky Maxey said: “It is going to get cooler through the week, there could be quite a big temperature difference to what we’ve seen.

“In the north there is some rain on the way and there is the chance of gales on Thursday and Friday, remaining unsettled into next week.

“The warm weather has been due to an area of high pressure close to the UK which is starting to dissipate, bringing temperatures back to normal.”

Leon Brown, forecaster for The Weather Channel, said temperatures could drop as low as -8C (18F) in Scotland by the weekend.

He said: “Turning much colder to end the week, and this weekend. 

“On Thursday the cold front will move south across Scotland  to northern England and Wales, eventually reaching the south-east in the evening. 

“Outbreaks of locally heavy rain along the front, but becoming lighter as it reaches the south-east.

“A cold weekend with sunshine and wintry showers. Some snow even to low levels in northern Scotland. 

“Temperatures may dip out to -8C in Scotland and -6C (21F) in northern England, even  in the south-west temperatures may fall out to -3C (27F).”

The Met Office’s three-month contingency planner suggests temperatures above or near average until June. 

It’s all down to a weather pattern called the North Atlantic Oscillation which is expected to enter a positive phase allowing warm air to flood in.

Jonathan Powell, forecaster for Vantage Weather Services, said: “At the moment May looks like it could be the best month of them all.

“With some cooler spells there are likely to be some extreme heat spikes bringing the average temperatures up.”

Sunday, 19 January 2014

SHOCK WARNING: Gays to trigger years of HELLISH weather warns 'expert'

BRITAIN faces years of vicious storms, floods, heatwaves and big freezes, an expert has claimed.

The entire country is at risk of relentless extreme weather events with a never-ending deluge of torrential rain, snow and football-sized golf balls.

To heap further misery on the nation, lightning bolts  threaten to erupt from the heavens with no-one spared from the ferocious onslaught.

However, the latest ‘research’ conflicts with current theories that the changing weather is the result of climate change.

According to part-time meteorologist and recently-suspended Ukip councillor David Silvester, the real cause has nothing to do with carbon dioxide emissions or the ozone layer.

Nor is it in any way linked to  claims from some meteorologists that cyclic weather patterns could be triggering the variance of the weather.

Silvester, who claims to have a unique insight into what affects the climate, has blamed television soap EastEnders.

He said as soon as its new ‘gay’ story line was unveiled he knew we were in for trouble, and has only now felt able to speak out.

Quickly washing his eyes out with soap and bleach after catching the scene on television he then rushed into his garden to bring the washing in.

He said: “As soon as a I saw that young actor telling Danny Dyer he was gay, I thought ‘bugger it’ - that’s summer screwed this year.

“I knew it was going to trigger violent rain and flooding.

“These weather patterns could continue, especially if they don’t clean their act up, or bring in some nice, clean, heterosexual characters.”

He said the rot set in back in the early 1990’s when there was  a run of hotter summers and several exceptionally big freezes.

“I blame Brookside, and that kiss between those two lesbians, especially the ginger one,” said Silvester.

“Lesbians usually lead to hotter weather, so that would explain why there was a heatwave in 1995.”

“It could also explain why they get such hot weather in Australia, because some of those ‘sheilas’ in the outback are quite butch,” he laughed.

“But on a serious note, in places where there are no gays like Saudi Arabia or China, they tend to have very good weather, and we could all learn a lesson from that.

"I have nothing against the gays, but when I think of what they get up to, I just can't help but worry abut the effect it is going to have on our delicate climate and ecosystem."

Silvester's predictions this week made headlines after he blamed the recent floods which have blighted Britain on plans to legalise gay marriage in the Uk in March.

He said although his theories have sparked fierce criticism he holds fast to the belief that listening to Kylie and watching Judy Garland films is somehow linked to the jet stream.

He said: “You only have to look at that bit where Dorothy is carried off by a big curly swirly storm to know there is something to all this.

“If she hadn’t put on those camp red shoes she could have been spared a lot of trouble, and that green witch wouldn’t have been able to steal her dog.”

Silvester said the weather in his constituency of South Oxfordshire took a turn for the worse when two lesbians entered a jam making competition at the village hall.

He said: “It was all going well until they turned up.

“Suddenly the sky clouded over and the heavens opened. There had been warnings of heavy rain that day but I believe the experts were taking a lucky guess.

“It wasn’t until those two ‘ladies’ arrived that all hell broke loose - what more proof do you need?

“Thank goodness we got them to leave, it cleared up after that. I have nothing agains the gays, I just think they do themselves no favours.”

Silvester has, until now kept his talent for predicting the weather under his belt, but felt the need to speak out after the recent floods.

In a glimmer of good news he said the shift in the weather is not permanent, and can be easily put right if gay men ‘man up’ and lesbians start wearing ‘pretty dresses’.

He added: “I am glad I have come out about all this, as I feel I have something unique to share.

“I don’t have anything against gay people, I just wish they would stop messing about with our weather.”