Issue #12 - Special Christmas Edition! -
December 20th 2002 - January 9th 2003

Flowers in the Mud
It's not what we've done, it's what we might do, it's not where we've failed, it's where we might at last succeed...
By Paul Williamsnon

They don't give medals, part 7 (and the end!)
This isn't going to work. She can hardly keep the amusement from her voice: 'So you were a HERO? Just like me?'
By Ian Anscombe

Schooldays at Christmas
At least I can fall back on the comforting fact that I don't believe in another God or baby Jesus or whatever, so whether I sing or I don't sing, it makes no difference to me...
By Paul Williamson

A quide to Christmas
"Hey, Christmas is going to be here soon, Belle!"
I waited around for what must have been at least 5 minutes and Christmas didn't arrive, but that cat did.
By Belle

Hefner & Me - part 2
I don't know what you think, but I think that you have to have faith to be able to shout 'there's a rat in me kitchen, what am I gonna do?' like, I don't know, a five year old in a playground.
By Dimitra Daisy

Another Chemistry Experiment Interview
I (Lee) was found trying to convince the internet world that the Bluetones are great and, after the initial period of ridicule, was invited on board...
By David Strange

Stuart David - The Man Of Many Stories
for some reason my head was on the floor in the tiny space between the bottom shelf and the carpet. I'm not sure why. It was pretty filthy in there I think.
By Rachel Queen

Badly Drawn Boy: Genius or Goofball?
'Have You Fed The Fish?' he asks, though when we would have got the chance is anyone's guess, as he never actually went away
By Paul Williamson

Christmas & Cooking/Greek Christmas Sweets
It wasn't until a couple of hours later when she emerged on the door of my room and asked me if they have Greek Christmas sweets in England... I admitted that they don't.
By Dimitra Daisy and her mum

The Nightmare Before Christmas
Even though when I was a youngster I watched a lot of kids' cartoons and things, all saying that Santa was great and the nice guy we all know and love, for some reason I didn't buy it. And every year, even though I knew I would receive gifts, I used to think that surely Santa would want to take something for bringing them.
By David Strange

Balloons For Grown Ups - A Christmas Compilation
Jack Hayter (Hefner) reads Sylvia Plath's Poem "Balloons" over guitars and other gently swirly instruments. The music softens the poem and invites the listener into the world of the balloons where imagination makes anything possible... Read the poem here and buy the cd here for 8.00 (packing & posting included)

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Flowers In The Mud


There had been an incessant, nay, tumultuous, barrage of rain since yesterday evening. The pitch was waterlogged but the referee had inexplicably deemed the playing surface fit enough for the game to go ahead. There was no cover in the visiting supporters section of the ground, and I was soaked to the proverbial skin. There were a few half-hearted attempts at lightening the mood with a touch of humour but most of us shielded our faces from the pounding rain and transferred our thoughts to a domestic idyll- a warm bath followed by a piping hot meal in front of a blazing fire.

The match itself was a farce. Players couldn't keep their feet, passes went ludicrously, almost dangerously, awry, and every attack descended into a mud-slinging match. The referee, like a grey and slightly balding manna from heaven, had the good sense to blow the full time whistle a couple of minutes early.

On the way home, I tried to make some sense of the match, to pick out at least one highlight, and to run the thing over and over in my head until I got home. There was nothing. Then it occurred to me. That there was nothing, no highlight to speak of, didn't matter one iota in the great scheme of things. Because, in the great scheme of things, it is not what has been before that makes me go to a game the following week, it is the hope of what there might be.

This is why we stay alive. Think about it. It's not what we've done, it's what we might do, it's not where we've failed, it's where we might at last succeed, it's not the previous page in the book that holds the beauty and the hope, but the next page. You get the picture.

This is why Friends of the Heroes matters to me. This is why, pumped full of caffeine and alcohol, I churn out word after word, article after article, day after day, week after week. This is why Rachel and Dimitra exist in a bubble of perpetual html, ensuring that what we write is published every single week on the internet, and this, dear reader, is why you log into our world each said week and bombard your senses with the delerium of fact, fiction, and the inbetween that collectively makes up the Friends of the Heroes. Of course, like life, your decision might be influenced by what has happened, what you have read, before. But it's the looking forward, the hope that persists in us all, that makes you return to our tiny atom in cyberspace, that makes us work feverishly to ensure each issue is ready on time and that, indeed, keeps the flabby and extraordinary mass of humanity alive.

Because without it, what's the point?

Merry christmas and a happy new year to each and every one of you. Enjoy this bumper, festive issue of Friends of the heroes, and we look forward to renewing our unholy alliance with you on January 9th.

Paul Williamson

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They Don't Give Medals

|PART 1|PART 2|PART 3|PART 4|PART 5|PART 6|

PART 7

If I move my cheek muscles, the gag slips down my face..

'Do you know, Delilah? Do you know?..............'

I can feel the cloth rubbing against my upper lip

'Do you know how the story ends?...
No, of course you don't... poor, stupid Delilah. She thought she knew it all, but -

I can't take this any more. The gag moved sufficiently, I open my mouth and spit out whatever was blocking it:

'I'm not Delilah! I'm Leilah! I'm Leilah! Leilah Ward! I'm a psychotherapist! I'm Leilah Ward!'

They don't seem to perturbed by my outburst...

'Well, waddya know, Leilahward is more resourceful than we thought. Clever little Leilahward.. ...- Lucy, you may as well take off her blindfold. It won't do her any good.'

The light returns

My eyes are better than they were. I can make out most of the shapes in the car, though everything is still blurred. I can see Patient #S in the front of the car. I can't see anybody else.

'She's wondering where you are, Lucy. Show her.'

That laugh again, almost girl-ish this time. I can't make out where it is coming from.

'Don't bother looking... you won't see her. How do you think she survived for so long, and managed to avoid being on any of your files?'

Whatever he's telling me doesn't make sense..

'I'll give you another clue. Lucy is her nickname... its short for her Hero-Name. Trans-luca... Trans-loosa... Now you see it... Oh...no you don't.. And she's been with you, all this time..' Trans-luca takes her cue to pick up the story. I close my eyes:
'Ruth asked me to come along to her 'therapy'. Years of mistrust made her unsure. It might have saved her life. I feel as if I know you , Leilah...I've slept in your bedroom, I've read your diaries, I've visited your family.. I've even ridden to work with you..in your car'

She makes what sounds like a screeching noise

'I put myself at some risk grabbing that wheel the other day. Its lucky the car turned in your direction. Lucky for me. You, on the other hand have had a pretty unfortunate week.'

As I'm contemplating this, the car slows. I hear Lucy speaking to another woman as the door next to me opens, and I can only recoil internally from what I know is coming. I can't turn round to see her, but I can smell her even at this distance... the musky, feline odour that has given her away so many times over the years. She climbs in beside me:

'Hello Leilah. Good to see you again.'

I try to keep the agitation from my voice.

'Hello Ruth' I wish I had my hands free. I want to pull the blindfold back over my eyes.

And I don't know how long it has been, because things stopped progressing normally. I felt myself in a different place, very calm, listening to a dim sobbing in the background. Somewhere very quiet.. and then, right back. Somebody has slapped me, although I don't remember it. My cheek stings.

Ruth Birman is speaking 'Oh no, dear.. you don't break yet. That takes all the fun out of it.'

I can feel something jumping inside me. My captors fall quiet and I do not break their silence.

I can only guess at the time of day. I have no idea how much time has passed, but the dark is falling. The van has stopped by the side of the road. I have been told to lie down, and keep quiet. A couple of minutes previously, I listened to Patient #S and Transluca's voices as they walked away from the vehicle.

Ruth Birman sits above me. She is not looking at me. I believe she finds it hard to do so. Her breath reverberates within her chest, and around the van. She is purring.

I take a deep breath. This could be my only chance. She is clearly the most lucid person in this van. Patient #S - Samson, is showing signs of mania, and I'm not inclined to trust an invisible car-crashing bitch. As for me... well, I have to hold myself in, for now. I talk quickly, and quietly:

'You know none of this was personal? I liked you. I was just doing my job, defending my country. Just like you did. You hurt people too, you told me you had to. And you let people tell you who your enemies were, in the early days...'

This isn't going to work. She can hardly keep the amusement from her voice: 'So you were a HERO? Just like me?'

Another approach is needed: 'No, not like you. You people gave everything for your country. Many of you died in service. I have no intention of doing that. I have seen the rewards that loyalty reaps and I'm not interested. To be honest with you, I was starting to worry about where everything was leading me. Patient S, er, that is, your friend, Samson, I didn't know what to do about him. I was going to delay things, string them out. And I was planning my escape... I wasn't even going to BE there when...'

Oh god..I shouldn't have said that... her mood changes, and her voice sinks to a hiss:

'When they killed him?'

There's no response to give. She continues:
'You got close to me. You knew me better than anyone has done for years. You found out everything about me, and I trusted you. You knew all this, and you were planning my death.'

I see little gain in pointing out that her friends have done the same to me, so I shut up, and wait for the voices to return

When the van stops for the final time, they leave me alone with him. He takes the bow strings between his fingers, snapping them one by one as if they were thread. He notices the bruises on my leg and I think I sense something like regret when our eyes meet. When he takes the gag away from my mouth, I let my lips purse, and linger for a moment on the back of his hand. He pulls away, slamming the van door. I hear his pace gaining speed as he runs from the van and I wait for the explosion...

I am writing this to show I was there.
The manuscript they required was delivered to a post office box three months ago. I kept a copy for myself, as I told them I would in a covering letter. This note will soon be placed with it in the safety deposit box, and it will stay locked for as long as I stay safe. And, as we all understand, I stay safe by staying quiet.
They know where I am, I saw them in the side mirror of the van, following me along the motorway in a hired car. They know where I am living. Sometimes, I come home and things have moved around.

I don't think they knew how to kill me. Some of the guards at the facility were immobilised, permanently. the others were the ones they had hired to infiltrate - the guard whose induction I personally oversaw was the last link in the chain. After he had made sure the guards of Patient #S were out of action, it was relatively easy between them to take out the rest.
But I don't think they knew how to kill me. I think over and over the last words I exchanged with Ruth Birman. 'You got close to me... I trusted you.'.
Evidently being close to them had its advantages.

Of course I'm scared of them. I could die at any moment. I lost my office job last month - a colleague approached from behind rather faster than I was expecting. I'm told I screamed for just under an hour. The bosses told me they didn't really think it was working out, smiling sympathetically all the while. But the Heroes don't scare me the most. I'm more worried of my old employers. I know how they operate, and I watch my every move. No more screaming fits. I remain inconspicuous...as invisible as the woman from whom I 'borrowed' my new name...as invisible as Lucy..

I try not to think about my old job, and the day when protecting the interests of my country gave way to protecting myself. I try not to think that I am now a danger to society, simply by virtue of my existence. Such thoughts only lead to one ending, and I am not prepared for that yet. I chose life over loyalty, and that, at least, is a decision I will never regret.
Sometimes, everything comes back to me in the dreams. Those sleeping ones where there really is a bomb in the back of that van with me, and those waking ones where I wonder just what would have happened if he'd let his hand rest against my lips for a moment longer. It has been a long time since I have... become physical with a person. Physical passions and emotional committment were incovenient. They interfered with the job, they caused questions.
I was made for greater things, or so I thought.

But I do not dwell on these issues. I try and remain in the moment. I have a new job, now. An animal sanctuary up the road. The owner took pity on me, and she pays me what she can. I allow myself to wonder, occasionally, if somebody arranged this job for me, because my chief responsibility is the cattery. I enjoy the simplicity of it all. It is straightforward, and honest. The cats are hungry, I feed them. The cats want freedom, I let them out of their cages and allow them to run around for a while. The cats are cold, I hold them close to me, and feel their fur against my cheek as they breathe in and out. There is no deceit. I trust them. They trust me.

I am their hero.

I have not had a cigarette in over a month.

The End

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Schooldays at Christmas


|Part 1||Part 2| Part 3|

I don't know what I'm doing here. Waiting for Cooney, I suppose. But he has been in Boots for ages now, trying to nick a Lynx aftershave gift pack for his dad for Christmas, and I told him not to try stealing in Boots because they have the best security guards in town (probably because of all the pills they keep) and they would watch a kid like him like a hawk, and he would be much better off trying to nick something from Morrisons, or Asda, or even Kwik-Save, but he wouldn't listen. Cooney's like that. Always does the least clever thing imaginable, and usually pays for it, though not in the literal sense, that is, not with money, because he doesn't have any. Well, none of us has any money really, but that's never bothered us except maybe at Christmas when the television bombards us all with adverts for things that they insist we need, and they are so persuasive sometimes that we begin to believe that we actually DO need the things these adverts tell us we need, and I know that Pete Wagner's dad got put in jail because he got caught trying to steal a set of Hot Wheels and a Mattel Dance Mat for Pete and his sister last Christmas. I think it's stupid the way these people try to sell you these things, because the things they try to sell are always too expensive for the people they are selling them to, if you get what I mean. The people who can afford them usually have them.

Cooney runs past, and he's laughing his head off with this Lynx gift pack in one hand and an extra item, looks like a bottle of perfume, in the other. Not far behind him is a security guard, and he's a bit of a disappointment really, I mean, I heard that these Boots security guys we ex-army, ex-cons, tough nuts, but this guy looks older than my grandad and twice as fat, and he's puffing and panting, and no wonder Cooney is laughing, and I think I might take this opportunity to nip into Boots myself and see what Cooney has left for me, now that another myth is shattered. That's the trouble with me sometimes. I believe too much of what I am told. I don't know, maybe that's the trouble with most of us, maybe that's the trouble with Pete Wagner's dad- he believed too much of what these adverts told him, what these funny voices and celebrities told him about what was best for his kids, what they did, and didn't want. Maybe he didn't talk to his kids, asked them what they wanted, I don't know, I'm just a kid myself.

I meet up with Cooney again an hour later, back at school. Well we are back at school for a total of about five minutes because we realise that the afternoon involves such gripping end-of-term activites as the school carol service, and I think about this, about how we are all supposed to attend this thing, this singing of songs about angels and devils and holly and ivy and inn keepers and kings, and how we are all supposed to believe in it, but it seems pretty far-fetched to me, and I'm not much different to anyone else, and I think of all the asian kids, and Sarif and Ali in their turbans, and how they all worship some other God, some other religion, and even THEY can't get out of going to the school carol service, and can you imagine how that is, how they are forced to sing songs and praise something when they believe in someone or something else? At least I can fall back on the comforting fact that I don't believe in another God or baby Jesus or whatever, so whether I sing or I don't sing, it makes no difference to me, but to these kids with the turbans and things, I imagine it's like sleeping, or at least singing, with the enemy, like a Celtic fan cheering on Rangers or something.

Cooney and I take another walk down town, through the town centre, just walking this time, laughing at the stupid display of christmas lights in the marketplace, no urge to go back to Boots or to anywhere, looking forward to the two weeks off and the smile no Cooney's father's face when he opens up the present his son bought him on a merry, merry christmas day.

Paul Williamson

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A Guide to Christmas

|A guide to trains|A guide to the beach|A guide to kitchens|A Guide to Food|

A little while ago the girl said:
"Hey, Christmas is going to be here soon, Belle!"
I waited around for what must have been at least 5 minutes and Christmas didn't arrive, but that cat did. I ran out into the garden to ask it whether it knew when Christmas would be arriving. As usual it didn't hang around long enough to answer my question and disappeared straight over the top of the fence.

A few days later I had forgotten all about Christmas arriving, but the girl hadn't. It seems when she said:
"Hey, Christmas is going to be here soon, Belle!"
She meant:
"Hey, Christmas is going to be here in a few weeks time, which is obviously a lifetime away, Belle!"
Anyway she got out the ladder and climbed up into the cold dark room in the top of the house. I wasn't supposed to be upstairs watching her go up there, but she was making so much noise up there that I went up to investigate, and as she was up the ladder I just pretended I didn't understand when she said:
"get down stairs, NOW!"

I couldn't really see what she was doing so thought about climbing up the ladder to get a better look. The ladder was a bit wobbly, and the girl seemed to turn a bit white and shouted in sort of squeaky voice:
"get down now"
This time I decided that I better had get down.

The girl also climbed down the ladder with a thin long red box. She looked excited so I knew there must be something good inside the box. I thought it might have been chocolate, because last Christmas I found a box of chocolates that nobody knew anything about! They weren't easy to find, hidden away, wrapped up in some shiny paper, but nothing gets past this nose of mine. While the girl was out I thought I would surprise her by finding them for her. (I'll have to admit that I did eat one or two or eleven or twelve of those chocolates before she came back).

When the girl got downstairs, and opened the box, I was quite disappointed. It wasn't chocolates at all! I recognised it from somewhere...then it dawned on me that the girl had got it out last Christmas too. Back then I had been very young and it had confused me a lot. It looked like a tree, but I knew that it couldn't be because for one thing it didn't smell like a tree, and for another trees don't come in the house!

Last year the girl had put the tree thing on a table, and if that wasn't strange enough she had put little sparkly lights all around it and hung some shiny balls on its branches. You can see why I was so confused can't you?

When she got the tree thing out of the red box this year I thought I would finally understand what that had all been about. But do you know what? The girl did exactly the same things with the tree thing as last year, and it still made absolutely no sense!

It seemed to make her happy though, and it is quite funny to have the tree thing sparkling away in the corner of the room. Maybe when Christmas finally gets here I'll be able to ask it what the tree is all about!

Belle

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Hefner & Me - part 2

9. Hold me closer
It doesn't make sense, it's a love song, the lyrics are random, dumb, charming and inspiring at the same time... ("When we're old and grey, we won't talk this way, we are stupid and dumb, but we're only young") as always. What's new is that it is a song about a couple not about a boy in love with a girl, and on top of that you have Amelia Fletcher (of Tallulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research and Tender Trap - phew) singing with Darren to signify that. I'm quite fond of the instrumentation too.

10. The day that Thatcher dies
It's just great for dancing and singing along to or, rather, bouncing and shouting along to. And it certainly is a hymn... a hymn for being what you are, dare I say...

"The teachers at school, they took us for fools,
They never taught us what we should do,
But Christ we were strong, we knew all along,
We taught ourselves the right from wrong."

And it really sounds as if they're having a party too...

11. When the angels play their drum machines
For me, this is adult Hefner, and it wasn't only bound to happen sometime but also necessary. And I love it. It has everything: dirtiness, innocence, love, despair, hope, it starts abruptly...

"And we drove, on a wet and windy road,
to the coast, to a dirty seaside town,
found a room, in a hotel by the sea,
unpacked our bags, and then she looked at me."

And this picture hasn't left my mind since I first heard it.

12. Home
This is supposed to be about the music industry, or at least about being in a band. To me, it's a 'them Vs us' song. I don't know if we have enemies, I'd like to think we don't need any, but then maybe we do, and in this case what could be better to do than sing:

I can't believe it's true what you're saying,
I just want to go home.
All you people are cheaters and liars,
I just want to go home.
You'll never know what true love is like,
My true love is at home.

We got the songs, we got the sun, we got the wine.
We have our girls, we got the love, we got the time.
You'll never know, you're far too fat, you're far too slow.
We got the songs, we got the sun you wouldn't know.

It is also a song about how simple it may be do have faith...

13. New French Tits
A peel session from last February (I think). Danceable in a rather old fashioned way, groovy, lyrics delivered with wit they probably lack, (just like me, St Jones is surely pining) it features the girlfriend-went-to-France theme that can be found in Breaking God's Heart and I find that sweet and touching. Probably my favourite at the moment.

14. Goethe's Letter to Vic Chesnut
A cover. Way better than the original in my opinion... Slow, rather sad, very strong, strangely catchy - you will have to stop yourself from singing "let me put it to you this way, you will get hit by a truck, you will fall from your bicycle", because it certainly isn't a nice thing to sing, is it. Along the lines of 'do something pretty while you can' but with a self-defeating twist.

15. You need a mess of help to stand alone
Another cover. A Beach Boys one! Hefner covering their heroes! Isn't that exciting? They seem to think so too: it's played with a lot of contagious enthusiasm. They've changed the lyrics slightly and this results in a strange sixties/nineties mixture ("I need a pot full of coffee to keep awake on a weekend/I need a whole lot of sunshine to keep my sundial advancing"). Which notably works surprisingly well in the late nineties/early noughties, if you think about it.

16. Twisting Mary's Arm
This is supposed to be the oldest Hefner song; this version is apparently from yet another Peel Session. A lot better than the version on Boxing Hefner (slow, boring, country), it is the best demonstration of why I like Hefner.

I like Hefner because they have faith. Faith in irrelevant things, maybe, in the wrong things, even, but... I don't know what you think, but I think that you have to have faith to be able to shout 'there's a rat in me kitchen, what am I gonna do?' like, I don't know, a five year old in a playground. You can't sing that song without either giving up half way or getting caught up in it as he does. And I love that.

And I don't know what it takes to sound so unconventionally poetic, inspiring, and, dare I say... spiritual...

Now that I'm expecting everything I didn't think would ever come,
My heart is big and swollen and my lips are torn and bruised from having fun.
There's no light inside this damp and squalid temple that we call your heart.
We are the prettiest of sinners, we've the filthiest, the dirtiest of laughs.

But whatever it is it takes, they have it.

Dimitra Daisy

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Another Chemistry Experiment Interview
(so you think you're in the same band?)

 

If you have been a regular reader of this great magazine you would have no doubt seen an interview with Steven Kirk, the lead singer from The Chemistry Experiment. In the introduction that I talked about how the flute player (Lee Tombs) sold me the Be My Postman Ep at ATP... Well imagine my surprise when the very same boy emailed us back: he had decided to answer the questions too! So here's The Chemistry Experiment according to flute playing/festival record selling Lee...

1. Most of your songs have very interesting titles, how do you go about deciding the name of your songs?

Some of them just happen in Steven's head. Others are devised through a period of intense snuff-fuelled inspiration and negotiation. We have been known to spend more rehearsal time deciding on song titles than actually learning to play the songs.

2. How did the band meet & what do you like best about the other members of the band?

In summary... Steven and Paul are from Hucknall (Nottingham's answer to Arkansas) so they've known each other forever and are distant cousins (probably and probably brothers too). They found Emily hanging around all the cool music establishments in Nottingham and she accidentally joined the band. I (Lee) was found trying to convince the internet world that the Bluetones are great and, after the initial period of ridicule, was invited on board. Martin placed an add in a record shop that gave the impression he was off his trolley, and, thus was straight in. I like the others because they're fairly friendly and sometimes laugh at my jokes.

3. What's your favourite instrument?

I like those western slidey-sounding string contraptions. As soon as I find out what they're called I'm going to buy one.

4. What's the best thing about being in the Chemistry Experiment?

It beats the day job. Oh, and playing music that I genuinely love and believe in. there's no pretentiousness or any of the other bollocks that ruin 99% of bands - we're honestly doing what we like and having fun in the process.

5. Who are your heroes? Who do you admire, want to be like, who inspires you?

I don't have musical heroes. In fact I think I'm too old for any heroes these days. The closest would be Stuart Pearce (former Nottingham forest and England footballer) because he was so passionate about what he did.

6. Have you ever been in love?

Yes. Best avoided really.

7. In your opinion what's the best love song ever recorded?

'At my most beautiful' by REM. a tender gem amongst the crap they've peddled in recent years. It's a beautifully honest song. No bullshit - just love.

8. If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you most like to go?

Iceland, the rest of Scandinavia, most of Eastern Europe, most of North America. I've not travelled enough yet.

9. Who was the first band you ever saw playing live? Where was it?

If you don't count friends' bands from school (which I don't) then it was Christy Moore - an Irish folk legend - at Mansfield leisure centre. It was ace.

10. What's the best record you bought recently?

The new Sigur Ros album is all shimmery and lovely.

11. Do you have a great admiration for postmen, as suggested in Be my postman?

Yeah. They're great. They take stuff to Aberdeen for less than 30p. How good is that?

12. I've always wanted to be in a band, do you think there's a role in the chemistry experiment for me?

Can you play trombone? We need one of them.

David Strange
(who regretably can't play the trombone)

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The Man of Many Stories

Stuart David is the sort of person who I have often thought I would like to ask some questions to. His songs talk about love, of space and Columbo and his books talk about winter ladies, jewels and people called "the peacock".

"You had to wait your turn if you wanted him to tell you about it. So I waited my turn"

My curiosity had began on the day I first heard "up a tree" by Looper, sometime in August 1999. I sunk down into an old uncomfortable armchair in a small top floor flat, on a busy street in Wales and listened to stories from the world of other people.

In a different, but equally small ground floor flat I read the first chapter of "Nalda Said" the day before I bought it in the shop.

"There were so many stories Nalda knew. And I would ask her for the same ones about myself and about things in the world over and again."

I've moved a lot in recent years, and as I have done so the my collection Looper CDs and Books by Stuart David, along with my collection of questions has increased in size.

"I took the risk of telling a guy I know that I had the idea, and he said he might know someone who could help. Someone who could make it real. I'm strictly an ideas man. But then again- that's the most important part, eh?"

Yet when I faced with an interview with the man I was stuck. What exactly did I want to ask the man of many stories?

I decided I would start by letting him introduce himself...

If anybody reading this doesn't hasn't heard of you, what do you consider to be the first thing they should be told?

My name is Stuart David, and I speak and sing in Looper, and do most of the production. I write novels too.

When you were younger did you dream of being a writer or of being in a band?

Being in a band. I started wanting to do that from I was about fourteen or fifteen. I didn't really have any interest in books at that time, unless they were books about bands I liked.

Has that dream changed? (if so how)

Making records is still what I want to do. But there are a lot of things connected with being n a band now that I don't really want any part of anymore, lots of record company stuff, and the way that it can get so's you never have any time to work on music cause you're too busy doing promotional nonsense and travelling.

These days, do you see yourself as a writer or as a musician?

As a songwriter, mostly. And a producer too. I've never been much of a musician.

Are the characters in your books based around people that you meet or know? Do you write about places that you have been to, or do you write about places you have imagined?

Everything is a mixture of the two things usually. In the Peacock book, all the places the characters went to were places I'd been, but that was the first time I'd done that. Usually my places and my people are half real and half imagined.

Do you find it hard to leave the characters behind after you finish writing a novel?

Not usually. With the characters in the Peacock Manifesto, we'd already been working with them in other things before I put them in the book, so they carried on in other things cause they hadn't been created for the book. But usually the book is the full scope of the characters.

What is the last book that you read?

I think it was Fences and Windows by Naomi Klein. Before that I was reading the Great Gatsby again.

What is your strongest influence when writing?

Just ideas that I've had. Some of them just keep growing and then when you start writing they grow even more. If that happens you can usually get a book out of it.

Do you have plans to write another novel in the future?

I'm playing about with another one just now. I think it'll work out, but I haven't got to the stage of sitting down at it everyday yet. So I'll have to see if it works out. There are a few more I'd like to write eventually.

Where did the original idea for the birth of Looper come from?

It sort of came together in stages. It had a lot to do with the way the technology became available at the time. I did a year-long college course in electronic music in 1989, which was about working with loops and sequences, and I loved working that way, but the sounds at the time were kind of fake. It wasn't until you could use real samples like that cheaply on the PC that I got back into it properly. Then the visual aspect of it came about cause my sister asked me to do a show at the art school, and there was only me in the band with my samplers, so karn made some film and videos and sculptures to put on the stage to make it more interesting.

What, if any, influence do you think your time in Belle and Sebastian had on the development of Looper?

I learned about a lot of differents kinds of instruments that I didn't know too much about before, because there were so many different people in the band playing so many different things. That was probably the main thing.

Are the songs written by one individual in the group, or is it a collaborative event?

It's always different. A lot of the time it's a collaborative thing. Sometimes beteween me and Ronnie. A lot of the Geometrid stuff was Ronnie and Scott. A lot of The Snare stuff was me and Evil Bob. A lot of the Up A Tree stuff was just me. Then sometimes Karn does stuff. It' s different everytime really.

Describe one place where you wrote one of your songs.

I wrote the melody and the words for "these things" lying underneath a book shelf on the floor of the last flat we lived in. Scott and Ronnie had already done the backing track and I was playing a CD of that on the stereo that was on the book shelves, and fo some reason my head was on the floor in the tiny space between the bottom shelf and the carpet. I'm not sure why. It was pretty filthy in there I think.

What projects are you and the band working on or thinking about for the future?

We're relearning the old songs just now to get ready to do some touring next year. That's the main thing at the moment.

Do you think a person should look to the future or live for the present?

A mixture of both I think. Just in case the future happens. You don't want to get there and find out you left all your faculties in the past.

Do you believe you can achieve anything if you try or are the some things which should remain eternal dreams?

Most of the time you can achieve whatever any other human being can achieve. But not what seagulls or dolphins can achieve.

Who would you say was your biggest hero? Who do you admire? And who has most inspired you?

David Bowie probably.

Rachel Queen

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Badly Drawn Boy: Genius or Goofball?


So here we are, dear friends. The end of the year draws ever closer, and the mad hub-hub of humanity prepares for the usual celebration of the birth of the son of God by systematically ripping each other to shreds in the aisles of Waitrose, spilling blood in the name of that great God of capitalism. Cynic? Me? Never.

Yet in the midst of all this festive furore, I push my luck at a modicum of redemption, not by joining the Salvation Army and giving out cold mince pies to the homeless, but by, erm, partaking in said bloodshed and purchasing the new Badly Drawn Boy album. Why? Well I, like many other aficionados of this thing that we call popular music, am troubled, nay, plagued, by the barrels of contradictory confusion that emanate from said Boy. One minute he's great, the next minute he isn't. At the crux of my troubles then, is the following question: Is Badly Drawn Boy a gifted musical maverick of genius proportions, or half-hearted, sweaty busker in a daft hat who just happened to have got lucky?

It is, of course, a question asked since the moment he donned a tea cozy and arrived in Musicland, showing us his half-finished doodles and acoustic meanderings.

The answer, I suspect, is both.

'Have You Fed The Fish?' he asks, though when we would have got the chance is anyone's guess, as he never actually went away. Damon Gough has managed to squeeze an album, a soundtrack, an appearance on the Glastonbury Pyramid Stage and fatherhood all into 2002 no wonder he's still not had time to wash. After the serious business of writing for the Hugh Grant 'About A Boy' flick, he's fooling around again. The pilot tells us BDB looks exactly like a cloud before old cumulus bonce bounces into 'Coming Into Land', falling somewhere between 'Five, Four, Three, Two, One!' and 'The Theme From Mission Impossible'; we then relive the spooky bit from 'Ghostbusters' on the opening title track, which then becomes a reduced Pink Floyd number, played by Wings, and produced by Nik Kershaw. Ish...

"I wrestled the octopus. I came out with extra arms", he sings. Silly boy.

The thing is, 'Have You Fed The Fish?' swims into your head and the hook will take over your goldfish brain, and 'Born Again' is a catchy bugger, as is Bowie-boogie-like 'Under Our Feet'. 'How?' and the instrumental 'Centre Peace' redefine the word lovely, and then of course there's the last single 'You Were Right' which already sounds like a classic of our times, and pays homage in BDB's own idiosyncratic way to Jeff Buckley, Kurt Cobain, and Frank Sinatra lamenting the death of some of the iconic artists of our time by being "busy doing nothing", and brags that he's "turning Madonna down" (then again, seeing as Mrs Ritchie is increasingly metamorphosing into Barbara Windsor- all bleached hair and wrinkles- it's difficult these days NOT to turn her down).

There are ideas galore here, which is always admirable, though you feel he could have taken the 15 tracks, whittled it down to 10, and developed all this stuff to staggering effect. It's not like the world needed another Badly Drawn boy album just yet is it?

Too flawed to be a classic but good nonetheless, when he stops trying to pull the big woolly hat over our eyes, he may prove to be a genius after all. For now we can live with the idiot savant.

Paul Williamson

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Christmas & Cooking

"I know what you can write about!"

If Rachel was in the same room with me, and not in her kitchen in Carlisle, I would have looked at her expectantly. "You'll write about your first British Christmas last year and how it was different from Greece!". If I were in the same room with Rachel, and not in my computer room in Thessaloniki, I would have looked at her uneasily.

I don't know how to explain this. Christmas in Greece isn't such a big deal - it may appear to be, what with the holidays, the extra money, and all the fuss about it in the press - but in people's heads, it isn't. I like the British fuss about it - it's childlike in a good way and I like anything that makes people remember they have reasons to be happy.

But there is one thing about Christmas in England I dread, and it is the inevitable question: "so what do people do in Greece at Christmas?"

Everyone asks that: my friends, their parents, their distant relatives who happen to visit them; they all seem to think it's an excellent topic of conversation... And I can see why it may appear so, but believe me, it's not. I look at my shoes, or my plate, I smile and mumble and try to avoid answering because my mind suddenly appears to be devoid of any answer. What do people do in Greece?

Well, people in Greece spend their extra money until they're poor again - it happens quite quickly -, stay away from work for a few days and eat till they can't eat anymore. Before Christmas, they get quite stressed trying to get ready for all this; after Christmas, they moan about it. They moan about the how expensive everything was, about the amount of food they ended up eating, about having to buy presents for people they don't really like and about having to see relatives they find really boring and stupid.

And if this sounds quite familiar, let me tell you, the difference is that no one knows why they're doing this and the fact alone that it is Christmas doesn't mean much to anyone. I think the one feeling I associate with Christmas the most is a feeling of disorientation... Now you can't really say all that to your friends, their parents and their distant relatives over a festive dinner, can you?

So this year I decided to come prepared. My mum looks like the kind of person who would ask this question if she had the chance... So I thought she should have the answer, too. "Mum, what do people do at Christmas in Greece?" I asked while walking down a street. After the first 'what do you mean haven't you lived here forever' look she told me they don't do much, do they. My heart sank.

It wasn't until a couple of hours later when she emerged on the door of my room and asked me if they have Greek Christmas sweets in England... I admitted that they don't. After wondering how they survive without them, she walked away decided to make some and make me take them with me, knowing she had solved at least half of my problems. So there you are: Greek Christmas Sweets.

I picked those two because they sound easy enough to make:

 

Kourabiethes (I've seen those referred to as Greek Butter Cookies... I suppose they are)

Ingredients:

3 cups flour
teaspoon baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup + 1 lb powdered sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon brandy
1/2 cup blanched and finely chopped almonds (optional)

What to do:

Mix butter with sugar until it's very light and fluffy. Stir in egg yolk and brandy. Then add sifted flour and baking powder, a little at a time. Add almonds if you like. Knead well until dough is smooth. If it is too soft, add a little flour.

Take small pieces of dough the size of a small egg and shape into balls, or into crescents (or into small pears and insert a clove in the top of each). I recommend crescents... they look cool. Place on lightly greased baking sheets or greased baking pan and bake in moderate oven for about 20 minutes.

While warm, roll in powdered sugar; then sift sugar over them too as they should be very well coated. They should like it has been snowing on them all night. Makes about 40, depending on the size.

 

Melomacarona (originally, those were made with honey, but I don't think they are anymore)

For the dough:

6 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (or more)
1 pinch ground clove
1 cup orange juice
2 cups of olive oil (or seed oil or margarine)
Grated peel of half an orange (or so)
About a cup walnuts...

For the syrup:

2 cups water
2 cups sugar
cup brandy (or more)

What to do:

Add the baking powder, cinnamon, clove and orange peel to the flour. Mix orange juice and oil, then add sugar. Mix the two mixtures, knead gently until it's smooth.

Pinch off small portions of dough the size of an egg. Decide what shape you want them to be. Normally they look, um, like they look in the picture... sort of oval and flat on one side. I quite recommend that, but you can be adventurous if you like. Fit half a walnut in each one if your chosen shape permits it. Should make approximately 30...

Place in greased baking tin, bake moderate oven for about 30 minutes. Wait until they're ready, leave them take them out, leave them to cool (but not too much) and prepare the syrup.

Put water, brandy and sugar in a saucepan and boil for about five minutes. Pour it over the melomacarona, leave them to soak. Optionally, sprinkle with chopped walnuts and cinnamon.

Good luck!

Dimitra Daisy & her mum

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The Nightmare Before Christmas

So Christmas is fast approaching and everyone is excited at the thought of turkey dinners for a week and laughing at distant relatives getting drunk and trying to play charades. My aunt is always the worst for getting drunk and making us all watch the queen's speech at 3 o clock, and we aren't allowed to talk or make any noises at all while the queen was talking. So I scrape the cutlery on my plate or use this time to pull crackers with my brother. Well this is how Christmas is like for me and I guess a lot of people reading this, but it hasn't always bee like this happy joyful Christmas scene.

When I was a young boy Christmas was a time for confusion and dare I say it fear!

This possibly sounds a little strange, perhaps a little hard to believe but when I was young Christmas Eve usually a happy fun time for all children was a dreaded day. Well the day itself wasn't that bad it was more the evening and night that the problems began. You see I was scared of Santa Claus.

Even though when I was a youngster I watched a lot of kid's cartoons and things, all saying that Santa was great and the nice guy we all know and love, for some reason I didn't buy it. And every year, even though I knew I would receive gifts, I used to think that surely Santa would want to take something for bringing them.

Another the reason I was scared of Santa was that he used to give me rubbish toys. Though maybe it was because I cried most of the time (I was only crying because Christmas was approaching)... So one year after I received my presents I pushed them all to one side and began playing with some very old toys. Now this wasn't me being really ungrateful, it's that just my old toys were so much better than new ones, because I was used to them... Plus the fact theses new toys came from Santa made them a bit scary as would always wonder where the toys came from.

I used to design traps in order to catch him, but sadly I would never actually get around to making these greatly designed traps. One Christmas Eve I was so frightened that I hid in my room designing what I thought to be the greatest trap of all. It involved a net, a mince pie, and some brandy.

This trap had been designed so well, it couldn't fail. Basically what I would do is I would set a mince pie on a plate on the floor of my lounge... And as soon as Santa's greedy hands picked up the pie it would trigger a net falling from the ceiling. Unfortunately my mum was quite against me hanging nets and leaving mince pies in the middle of the lounge... Plus what if the cat decided it wanted a mince pie?

I must have been the only child in the world who was glad when he learnt that Father Christmas wasn't real. Now don't get me wrong, I like Christmas and I used to love it... But everyone please remember you can never be quite sure about what Santa is doing... And as for that reindeer of his, well it's probably best we never know what they get up to... Especially that Rudolph...

I mean who can trust someone who eats the carrots you have spent months growing! I realise that these animals must be hungry during all that travelling but surely Santa could have some reindeer food on his sled...

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Balloons For Grown Ups

When my dad, who prides himself in having better taste in music than most fathers, brought home the Christmas CD, he blushed a bit whilst my sister and I teased him. Deep down, I was pleased that he had. When the days are short and grey and nights are long and dark it is nice to think about all the magic that childhood promises you at Christmas time. Every year somebody still gets out that CD. Trouble is the CD lives with my mum and dad and I do not.

As you grow up you acquire many things. I have my own fridge, a dog, and this year I have a new Christmas compilation CD of my own.

"Get Thee Behind Me Santa" was produced by Puppy Dog Records and contains a mixture of traditional carols, classic Christmas songs and new tracks all with an original slant. The 21 tracked compilation sees contributions from artists such as Jack Hayter, Airport Girl and Baxendale.

"Little drummer boy" bySimon Breed and Paul The girl is hardly recognisable, beginning with a tongue in cheek dialogue between the two artists. And I was at least half way through "Away in a Manger" performed by "Long Johnny Silver" before I realised what it was. Both songs made me smile for very different reasons.

Jack Hayter (Hefner) reads Sylvia Plath's Poem "Balloons" over guitars and other gently swirly instruments. The music softens the poem and invites the listener into the world of the balloons where imagination makes anything possible.

"Brother is making
His balloon squeak like a cat.
Seeming to see
A funny pink world he might eat on the other side of it"

Jack's voice is perfect for the poem. It does not dominate the words yet is full of character and warmth.

In contrast "Its only Christmas", by Matt Manson USA, is a slower, less cheerful sounding track but it does offer some good advice...

"If you are not with who you wanted on Christmas this year,
Chill out,
It's only Christmas"

The song, among the many songs contained within the CD which made me smile with memories of childhood magic, acts as a reminder that once Christmas is over there will be 364 other days to the year.

I suppose growing older has meant that along with the dog, fridge, and compilation CD I have also acquired the knowledge that Christmas isn't the only day of the year when balloons become magical. When dreams burst leaving you contemplating what you once had it is time to make new dreams, its time to believe in magic again and:

"If you did not get what you wanted for Christmas this year
Chill out
There's always your birthday"

Rachel Queen




The CD is now available for purchase for 8.00 p&p inc within the UK (for postage outside of the UK please contact us here)

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