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Penny Dreadful - SOTW's agony aunt

PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2009 12:16 am
by Gordon Neill
Dear Penny
I’ve been a keen listener to world music for many years. But lately I’ve become concerned that I’m not listening to the music in its proper context. Listening in the comfort of my home to my pigmy people war drums CD isn’t the same as actually travelling to Nigeria and listening to the music in its natural environment. On the other hand, I may destroy its natural environment by travelling there in a ruddy great aeroplane. I’m anxious to be seen to be doing the right thing. What should I do?
Yours sincerely
Bruce Easily

Dear Bruce,

I think you’ve reached that stage in life when you really need to pluck up the courage and tell her how you feel. There’s no point banging on about all this pigmy music nonsense in the hope that she will notice you. You need to speak to her and share your feelings and fears. These things can be frightening, but what’s the worst that could happen? She might scream, or maybe her boyfriend will threaten to smash your face. Or perhaps she will call the police and you’ll find yourself doing some time for stalking her. But it’s better to get these things out in the open (no dear, not that). It’s better to move on rather than worrying about all these travelling pigmies. I suppose there is also the possibility that she might share your feelings and say ‘yes’. But let’s be realistic.

However, if you are resolved to travel all the way to Nigeria to hear these pigmy songs properly, there are a few precautions that you should take:

(1) Make sure that you pack your precious CD. You would feel extremely foolish to travel all the way to the proper context but have no stupid CD to listen to.

(2) Make sure that enough pigmy people are still in Nigeria when you plan to be there. People make holiday plans well in advance. Maybe they’ll all be here while you’re there. That would be very irritating, even if they hadn’t done it on purpose. In fact, I'm not even sure that there are any pygmies in Nigeria.

(3) Make sure that they understand what sort of context you want for your CD. For example, do you want to listen to the tunes surrounded by urban squalor or mud huts? Do you want them to be as boringly normal as everyone else on the planet, or do you want them to involved in an exciting war or expressing their discontent at their post-colonial heritage? They need to know.

(4) Bring a selection of other pop CDs to listen to. What might sound exotic and interesting in your squalid bedsit may well sound totally naff over there. Imagine if a Nigerian pigmy arrived at your door clutching a bagpipe CD and smiling hopefully. Would he have your respect? Or would you slam the door in his face as a bit of local context? You may need to be quick on your feet and claim that it’s Michael Jackson’s greatest hits that you really wanted to play.

(5) Try not to look like a tourist. Otherwise people will change the environment to fit in with your Bermuda shorts and wallet. You don’t need to go as far as actually living in the dump for the next 40 years (you can take context a bit too far). But, whatever you do, avoid inadvertently changing the context to something less authentic than how you imagine things to be. Try and behave as if you’re not there at all. One easy way of achieving this is, of course, to not be there at all.

Penny Dreadful

PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2009 10:10 am
by NormanD
Dear Penny

Listening to Spotify (I obviously have the schnorrer's version) the audio ads come on after the second song, at least. Rushing for the 'mute' button is never a quick enough option, and there is no prompt for the start of the next track. I have noticed that a lot of Scottish voices seem to be used. I have no objection to that, of course, but am quite curious about the reason for this. Is it because gruff, male, Scottish voices are somehow assumed to be more sincere and convincing?

A London Listener

PS I am quite comfortable with my sexuality and sexual preferences, and my dreams rarely involve men or South African athletes. Thank you for not asking

Re: Penny Dreadful - SOTW's agony aunt

PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2009 10:35 am
by Con Murphy
Dear Penny

I’ve been going out with a World Music fan for a few years now, and I felt that things were going well, although recently I felt that my girlfriend was starting to become a little distant and cold – so cold that she’d started listening to Joy Division records. Occasionally, in her sleep she would cry out with epigrams from obscure 19th Century French philosophers. When I confronted her about this, she got all defensive and tearful and said it was all my fault for neglecting her spiritual dimension. She even claimed that I wouldn’t know where to find it even if I knew what it was. I protested, even suggested counselling, or if we got really desperate, homeopathy. But the truth is she’s right. I don’t even know what the spiritual dimension is. None of my past girlfriends ever complained before. Maybe they were faking it? Please help. Are there manuals for this? I looked in the index of The Rough Guide to World Music Relationships, but the nearest entry I found to the problem was Ami Koita’s Interruptus.
Please help.

Yours more in hope than expectation,
Ration Al Materialist

PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2009 9:37 pm
by DavidM
Dear Penny,

I was wanting to ask you about some issues with my spiritual dimension, but I have to confess I'm more preoccupied by my physical dimension. I mean, how can I find it's proper context ? Do I need to get wet in a field with thousands of strangers to really know myself ? Or would the travel do me some good, take my mind off things ? And those pygmies; what are they trying to tell me ? How am I supposed to interpret that ? I know size isn't everthing, but, I just want to be sure. My wife tells me I should just go to sleep...
I hope you can help me.
(Perhaps we can meet ?)

D. Flated

PostPosted: Sat Aug 22, 2009 4:06 pm
by Gordon Neill
Boys, boys, boys

I found your questions absolutely fascinating. Even more interesting is the fact that you felt able to come out in public with these, quite frankly, rather embarrassing matters. I know that you’ve adopted some silly nom de plumes, but you’re not fooling anyone. Your real names are at the side of your messages! Perhaps, in future, you might want to send me your questions via a PM? This would help protect your privacy and maximize my opportunities for blackmail.

But isn’t it interesting how all your concerns come down to the one thing? For all your high-minded talk about spirituality and Scottish voices, it’s clear that you all have concerns about your feelings of inadequacy and fears that you are deeply unattractive to ladies. On the plus side, however, I can tell that you are all highly perceptive

Although you also manage to be wildly deluded at the same time. D. Flated claims that size isn’t everything. Have you ever actually asked a lady about this? Clearly not. Perhaps you might want to share your other authoritative views on, say, aliens’ favourite soft drinks or what giraffes think about one-day cricket? And then you have the nerve to suggest that we meet, without providing any evidence of your income or capital investments! I don’t know about wet fields, but you certainly need to get out more

Ration Al, I find all my sympathies with your long-suffering girlfriend. After reading your letter I too found myself gravitating towards my Joy Division records. Has it never occurred to you that your previous lady friends never complained as they were all fast asleep? And how typical of a man, expecting to find a manual on how to deal with feelings and emotions. We’re not dealing with a motor car. We’re dealing with a woman who has needs. These aren’t going to be met with some manual. What you need is a cheque book, or some hard cash, and go out and buy her some much needed spirituality.

London Listener, you claim to be comfortable with your sexuality and sexual preferences. That’s very good of you to share that with us. But have you ever wondered if everyone around you shares your comfort? Or are you too preoccupied with pushing buttons and moving on to the next track as quickly as possible (I’m sure Freud would have had plenty to say about that)? Although you are quite correct about the Scottish accent. Not only is it soothing and authoritative, but women also find it extremely sexy. Which is just as well as the Scots are, by and large, quite an ugly race with red hair in unexpected places. But a gal just has to hear ‘cud ye len us a quid fur some chips, hen?’ and she goes all weak at the knees. It's the only reason the species still survives.

Penny Dreadful

PostPosted: Sat Aug 22, 2009 4:20 pm
by Gordon Neill
Dear Penny
I’m a famous CD reviewer and I get loads of free CDs to listen to. Loads. Sometimes they have all the artwork, sometimes they just come in a plain sleeve. Sometimes I even get invited to special parties where I get to listen to the new CDs while handmaidens gently stroke me in rhythm to the tunes and feed me lots of sweets and cakes and stuff. I feel quite worn out with it all. The thing is, I’ve been thinking of not bothering anymore with the stupid CDs and just focusing on the special parties with the handmaidens and that. But would this affect my integrity as a fearless investigative journalist?
Phil Page

Dear Phil

Talking to girls can seem daunting, especially if you’re not used to it. I can’t help thinking that you have needed to take a more direct route to building up your confidence. Pretending to be an important investigative CD reviewer could have been a way of meeting members of the opposite sex. I dare say that it has worked for some. But surely there could have been more direct methods. Why couldn’t you have become a millionaire, or at least bought a sports car, taken up ballroom dancing, or worn some chunky jewellery? It would have saved you a lot of time.

I imagine that you’ve taken years to get to the stage of being invited to these special parties. I can only admire your dedication and sheer stamina in putting in all that time listening to all those dreary records. But, having at long last got the chance to talk to a young lady, what exactly would you be able to talk about? Dreary old records, I suspect. It may well be a way of turning a young lady’s head, but probably not in your direction.

I know this is probably not the answer that you were looking for but, sadly, after all these wasted years, I think you are better sticking with the CDs and leaving the handmaidens in peace. Whatever you decide to do, however, I’m very confident that it could not possibly affect your integrity. But if you’re worried about the ethical considerations, you could always write the CD reviews before going to your special parties. Although I suspect that you already do that anyway.

Penny Dreadful

Counting your CD collection

PostPosted: Sun Aug 30, 2009 2:48 pm
by Gordon Neill
Dear Penny

I’ve been collection records for years and years and by now I must have loads and loads of them. I mean, I’ve got so many that you couldn’t shake a stick at them. Or, at least if you did shake a stick at them, you’d have quite a sore arm. Unless, of course, you were used to shaking sticks for quite a long time. Maybe if you had a job that involved a lot of stick shaking. Maybe as a Millwall fan or a Greek fireman or something. Or even some kind of part-time hobby that involved stick shaking, like ornithology or something. Or, I suppose, if you were involved in some other physical activity that involved using your arm muscles on a regular basis. And, obviously, even if you didn’t have sturdy biceps, I suppose you could still shake a stick at all my CDs, as long as you had the will-power to put up with the increasing physical discomfort. I mean, look at that Usain Bolt. I bet he’s got the physical stamina to shake sticks all day long at my massive CD collection, and to do it really fast. And I don’t mean with his legs neither. I just mean that as an athlete, right, he would have like the mental toughness to see the thing through. Unlike my girlfriend, Doris. Or, I should say, my ex-girlfriend. The way she just stomped off with all her stuff and floored the accelerator, she just had to go.

Er…..anyway, the thing is, I’m keen to come up with an accurate count of just exactly how many CDs I have. But it’s not that straightforward. Should I count a double CD as one or as two CDs? Likewise, I’ve got a few box sets, loads really. How should I count them? And what about CD singles or those freebies that come with magazines? And then there’s all those CD-R compilations that I’ve done for myself, should I count them? And I've got a box of blank CD-Rs, as well. They’re all CDs, so why not? I’ll bet others do it, and I’ll bet there’s no independent validation of the numbers that they come up with. Obviously, I’d like to come up with the biggest number possible. But I’d still like to maintain an air of casual indifference.

Mahatma Brolly

Dear Mahatma

I can’t help feeling that your preoccupation with shaking sticks is deeply symbolic of a loss of libido. Men, typically, find these things difficult to talk about and instead seek refuge in collecting shiny things and then lining them up in straight lines.

As with so many things in life, size isn’t everything, it’s what you do with your CD collection that really matters. Perhaps Doris would have felt more fulfilled if you had started a small business, such as selling novelty coasters or frisbees. Even buying a small landfill site could have been a step in the right direction.

However, if you are determined to count you collection of shiny discs, I would suggest that the most efficient method is simply to weigh them. It is relatively straightforward to hire a skip. Your local trading standards office will be able to point you towards the nearest weigh-station. Then simply divide the total weight by the average weight of a CD (16 grams, or 60 grams with a slim jewel case) and you will arrive at a reasonably accurate estimate of your total number of CDs. Feel free to round-up. Do what you like with the free magazine CDs and all the other crap. Nobody’s bothered.

Penny Dreadful

PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 6:39 pm
by Des
Dear Penny

I recently fell in love with a Cambodian girl. Anyway, I found out that some nice chap from Scotland also had his eye on her but this didn't put me off and I asked another chap called Paul from a place called Far Side (I think it is near Norwich) whether I could be introduced to the Cambodian girl. Now it turns out the nice chap from Scotland had exactly the same idea and he sort of 'got in first'. I still didn't really mind, as the Cambodian girl obviously had enough to satisfy more than one man. However, can you imagine my dismay when Paul from The Other Side emailed me to say that the Scottish gentleman had snapped up the very last copy of the Cambodian girl's offering!

Despite my bitter disappointment, Penny, I'm going to have something else from the Cambodian girl instead, but it will probably be really rubbish in comparison. My self-esteem has taken a battering, and I can't think of the Cambodian girl without also thinking of the man from Scotland. Should I go back to West Africa where I will be safe from him?

Yours in desperation,

Des Peration

PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 10:25 pm
by Hugh Weldon
Dear Penny

No doubt you've heard this all before, but I can't help feeling that a Caledonian perspective might help. Just a wee bit.

It's my male friend. He just won't listen. Perhaps I'm an oversensitive soul. Perhaps I dabbled with too many, ahem, substances, back in the seventies. I certainly spent too many warm summer days indoors with my nose in a book - deep philosophical stuff, Chinese religion, the whole hippy bookshelf, so much that I left my scouse roots for Alternative London, only to find alternative London didn't exist and it could be a bit of a shithole really.

But "he" rescued me from all that. Taught me to forsake Mahavishnu John McLaughlin for David Bowie and Mark Bolan. "Will you stay in a lover's story?" he crooned wistfully to me one night. "Throw your homework on to the fire..." And I did, and for many years I wasn't sorry. I became a hard headed rationalist. I even voted for Blair.

But the intensities of my past have started to catch up with me. "Someone take these dreams away", I found myself humming the other night, "that point me to another day". Yes I even dug out all my old Joy Division records, but he kept taking them off and playing Magazine instead.

But I don't think the light pours out of him, not any more. "You just don't realise how hard it can be to be male in the 21st century" he complains. But I just want peace, and beautiful things to believe in. I want to be a dove again, but he says I'm just a hawk in sheep's clothing. I want to hold on to my dreams, but he insists the dream is over, and history is a nightmare from which we are trying to awake.

Am I just sinking in the quicksand?

Ima Beleva

PostPosted: Mon Sep 07, 2009 6:38 pm
by Gordon Neill
Dear Des Peration

Goodness, you do seem to have a lot of issues! Let’s put aside your dubious courting habits and my suspicion that you’re really interested in collecting young ladies from around the globe, as if they were stamps or flu viruses. And let’s hastily pass over this shady character from the Far Side. ‘Pimp’ is not a word that I feel comfortable with.

I can’t help feeling that you’re very impulsive and quite needy. It’s quite obvious that, although you proclaim your love for this Cambodian strumpet, you haven’t actually met her. What if she turned out to have an unexpectedly high-pitched voice or to be irritatingly tinny? Would you just play with her once and then leave her on the shelf, gathering dust?

And why act as a doormat to this ‘gentleman’, this ‘nice’ Scotsman? I don’t recall him asking you if it was OK to spend time with the Cambodian lady. Your self-esteem may have taken a battering but, if you were a Scotsman, you would simply deep-fry it and make it more enticing.

Rather than running away to Africa, I think you need to confront these issues. You could be patient and wait for this Cambodian lady to become available. Or you could invite this Scotsman to step outside for a ‘square go’ and settle the matter. You’d probably be beaten to within an inch of your life. But I’m sure that inside, very deep inside, you’d eventually feel better about yourself. And, after all, you might get to meet a nice foreign nurse in the intensive care department.

Penny Dreadful

PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2009 4:41 am
by judith
Dear Auntie Penny Dreadful,

I have a problem about which I am concerned and I fear it is getting out of hand. While responding to a topic, I simply cannot keep to the subject at hand and find myself indulging in what has been referred to on this forum as 'thread haar' and 'thread drift'. I suspect this is not a good thing and I am afraid this indulgence is becoming an addiction and that if this behaviour continues, I may subject myself to stereotype.

What happens is, I will be reading a topic...maybe being stereotyped would not be such a bad thing if I could pick my own stereotype. Other people do. Why, only recently I read on the forum how in England people can simply change how they talk and other people will not recognize their roots because they cannot hear them which apparently is not true because I also recently read on the forum that even when they live in Singapore, the English are recognizably English even when they cannot hear their own roots. Or do you suppose this only works in England?

Maybe stereotype is not a good word and by using this word I have begun this letter to you with a negative implication and thus I have precluded a positive reply. However, I cannot think of another word to substitute for 'stereotype'. I am weary of this topic. I will go write something elsewhere after I change my profile. Do you think if I changed my personal data and recreated my identify, it would help me stick to the topics (I was wondering if health care discussions also remind you to eat stalks of broccoli or spinach leaves) as they are presented? What or whose persona do you think I should choose? I would prefer one with roots.

I assume that since your column is on this forum, you occasionally read it (the forum). Is this so? If not, perhaps this letter does not make any sense.

I would rather not say

PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 1:43 am
by Des
Dear Penny

I am having great difficulty making new friends. The other week I tried to make friends with a really nice American chap and told him we had a special relationship but I think I scared him and he refused to talk to me for ages. I'm having a few days in Brighton with my mates but I don't think they like me at all. I can hear them muttering behind my back - I think they're out to get me. Am I imagining things Penny? Anyway, some of my so-called friends tell me the Poles are low, but the one putting in my new bathroom is actually quite tall. Someone else said something about wanting a new leader so I bought him a copy of The Times.

I'm desperate, Penny. Please tell me how to make friends and influence people or I will be forced to write my memoirs.

In anticipation,


PostPosted: Mon Oct 05, 2009 12:56 am
by Gordon Neill
Penny Dreadful is currently in prison. She will return next week.

Folks disease

PostPosted: Sun Dec 20, 2009 9:44 pm
by Penny Dreadful
Dear Penny

I’m worried about my friend. His home was broken into and his CD collection ruthlessly rearranged. While alphabet experts are sorting out the chaos, my friend is staying with the people next door. The thing is, these neighbours are well-known folkies and quite openly talk about stuff like the Irish Rovers and the Watersons, even in front of their children. While my friend comes across as reasonably normal, I am a little worried that he might catch folks disease. Although, to be honest, it’s no big deal as I can always just dump him and get a new friend. I mean, let’s face it, I hardly know the man. No, frankly, I’m more worried about myself. What if he gives me a hand-knitted jumper for Xmas? Or tries to kiss me? I’ve read about folk music being orally transmitted. Would it be best just to dump him and find somebody else? It would, wouldn’t it?

Justine Case

Dear Justine

There’s an awful lot of nonsense talked about the risks associated with folk music. And, quite frankly, even from morons like you, it’s disappointing to hear these hoary old tales brought up yet again. We’ve all heard these silly stories about men wearing beards, sticking their fingers in their ears, carrying out satanic fertility rites, or even resorting to cannibalism! The fact of the matter is that folk music fans nowadays very rarely wear their beards.

And there’s very little risk that someone might ‘catch folks disease’, as you rather crassly put it. Goodness! You make it sound like it’s some kind of illness! The fact is that some people are just born that way. It’s not their fault. Unless you have underlying health concerns or are hard of hearing, there’s no need to worry about you or your friend coming into contact with hard core folkies. Yes, I know, there are the occasional health scares whenever someone claims to ‘quite like’ a folk record. But these are very rare events, and it usually just turns out to be someone seeking attention. Most folks nowadays have built up a natural resistance to folk music and it’s not in the least bit infectious.

Although I think you’re right about folk music being orally transmitted. I’m sure I read that about that somewhere. If you are going to socialise with folk fundamentalists over the holiday season, it might be best to stay away from the mistletoe and remain tight-lipped about your friend.

Penny Dreadful

John Cage's finest ‘4 minutes 33 seconds’

PostPosted: Fri Feb 12, 2010 6:58 pm
by Penny Dreadful
Dear Penny
I’ve just got an invoice from EMI records, claiming that I owe them £3,485.95 for copyright infringement. Says I’ve been performing some John Cage song without permission. This can’t be right, can it?

Robin Banks

Dear Robin

I’m afraid that you are in the wrong and you deserve everything that’s coming to you. EMI are clearly referring to John Cage’s landmark composition ‘4 minutes 33 seconds’. To plebs like you, it probably just sounds like 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence but, in reality, it is a wonderfully evocative piece with much to say about the human condition and all our hopes and fears for the future. Not you, obviously. No doubt, you’ve reduced the Cagean aesthetic to a few minutes staring vacantly with your mouth half open waiting for the chip shop to open. But nevertheless, you’ve used his song and you need to pay for it. Artists such as Cage (and his children, and his children’s children, and his children’s children’s children) desperately need that money to help ensure that they don’t have to mix with the likes of you.

In earlier years, people like you might have got away with it. But the Racket Protection (Music) Act 2009 – commonly known as the Hum-Drum Law - significantly widened the scope of copyright protection in the UK. Section 12, covering public performances, makes it clear that songs cannot be sung, whistled, or even hummed without – and I quote - “financial recompense being paid to the first person to, you know, think them up and that”. Mr Cage’s ‘4 minutes 33 seconds’ is a particularly useful song as it can be applied to any significant periods of silence.

Already, in the first few weeks of 2010, several unscrupulous window cleaners and postmen have felt the full weight of the law as a result of this new legislation. I understand that their trade union representatives foolishly claimed to be ‘lost for words’, at which point a class action was immediately launched by lawyers acting on behalf of Booker T and the MGs. The case is currently being heard by the House of Lords. A judgement is expected within the next 25 years.

Penny Dreadful