Thursday, 30 June 2011

Do Twitter Trending Topics Build Blog Stats?

"For the uninitiated, here’s how Twitter works – I have no f***ing idea. I have no idea how it works – or why it is." 
-Jon Stewart, comedian and host of The Daily Show

If you've visited this blog before, you might notice that Power is a State of Mind is picking up speed. I'm uploading more frequently and getting more stats. I've managed to drive traffic here by using key words that people are already searching for (sometimes I've done this accidentally, sometimes purposefully). At the risk of getting overtly tech-y, I'd like to look into this a little more- with the hope that it will boost my blog stats- and possibly yours too, if you blog.

A giant extra chunk of traffic can be driven to your blog through social networking site Twitter.  If you have a blog, you need to tweet.

Tweeters can find your posts if you use trending “hashtags”, a word or phase beginning with the # symbol. These tags are clickable links, and allow you to see all public tweets that people have uploaded with the same tag. These tweets should all relate to the same subject.

Leading tech blog Mashable explains how hashtags work, and how some hashtags become more popular than others.

There's an opportunity for bloggers like myself to get traffic using hashtags. Trending topics appear on the right-hand side of your Twitter home page. You can check trends that are popular worldwide, or in your country, or even your city (if it's listed). If, like me, you've covered a range of subjects in your blog, you'll find that certain hash tags match up to the content of some of your blog posts. Take, for instance, a recent trend- #youcantdateme .

Some months ago, I wrote this article featuring dating advice for women.
It seemed suited to the trending topic, based on what others were tweeting with this hashtag. So I linked the page to my tweet and included the hash tag.

It's a little early to tell if this will improve my stats (especially when they don't show up properly on Blogger's Dashboard- grr), but I'll dabble around with hash tags for a month and post again with some results.

Give it a shot yourself and let me know what happens in the comments!

Monday, 27 June 2011


Had my flatwarming Saturday 11th. Between six of us we sank a devastating amount of alcohol. I nearly sobered up though, during a game of “I Never”.  I think we all know each other a lot better now.

Having said that, when you’re drinking this:

you’re not going to be sober for long. It’s 50% vol.

Woke up between two women. Whole night’s a blur.

Good night with the gang, as always. Flat’s been ready a couple of months. ‘Bout time I had the party.

I am thankful for the mess to clean after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.  ~Nancie J. Carmody, author

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

How to behave on Twitter if you are in the public eye.

Yet everybody just feels like they can relate,
I guess words are a mothafucka they can be great
Or they can degrade, or even worse they can teach hate
It's like these kids hang on every single statement we make
-Eminem, Sing for the Moment

You are a well-known figure to some. Perhaps not a household name per se, but many, many people know your name. Some can place your name to your face, just about. Some place it to another part of your anatomy. Others don't have a clue who you are.

You're a porn star.

It doesn't matter what you do for a living per se, but what's relevant is that you are well-known. You're in the public eye. And, like us everyday folk, you have your self-image to be conscious of. You've just got a bigger PR issue. If you slip up, there's a bigger chance that some idiot out there will rip into you.

Are you listening, Ava Addams? I am that idiot.

If you tweet about being at the gym, there's a good chance that someone will comment on your tweet. Lots of men go to the gym. Lots of men follow you. Men like to show off their knowledge. I know I do. That's why I dropped you a line. When you then responded with “look dude I don't need your advice ok”, you were asking for a reprisal. I could have been a total arsehole. But no. I have twitiquette.

I explained I was only trying to help. (Okay. I wanted to talk to a “famous” person. I'm like that.) You responded again.

I'm sorry but do you even know me or did I ask, no!”

Well, Ava. It depends on how you define “know.”

I explained that you had publicised what you were doing on Twitter. You had to expect a response. As shallow as it sounds, don't we all update social networking profiles for attention? Humans are very sociable creatures. We like to interact. There's no shame in it, most of the time.

Twitter, as opposed to Facebook, is for people who use the internet with a sense of purpose. Tweeters spread information. We tweet links to web articles, to videos, to photographs. Usually, we want to inform and enlighten their followers. It's worth holding that in mind before you tweet- especially before you go mental at someone in HTML form.

On the flip side, a very short but polite twitter convo can really make someone's day. I've seen retweets by celebs much more famous than those I've heard from. Sometimes someone has tweeted to a celeb, got a response, then tweeted again to say, Holy shit! I've just got a tweet from @InsertFamousPersonHere! The celeb has then doubled their fan's pleasure by retweeting that update too. Twitter brings celebs closer to their fans. This might demystify the celebs somewhat. It might please the punters more. It might be that celebs find it a waste of time. I wouldn't know. But surely the way you behave online should reflect how you would behave in the “real” world. Talking to people through this medium doesn't cost anything.

Neither do manners.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Manchester Slutwalk

The political health of Britain has deteriorated very sharply. The Conservative Party must do something about it. I am the man to do it.
Kenneth Clarke

Tory MP / chauvinist bigot / moron Ken Clarke recently commented that some women were “asking to get raped” by dressing provocatively. The remarks sparked anger, and culminated in the organisation of a series of “Slutwalks”- demonstration marches- demanding Clarke stands down.

I went to Manchester on Friday 10th June to take part in the Manchester Slutwalk. To make the point, the majority of attending women were in short skirts and fishnet stockings. I decided against this attire.

The march started at the Town Hall, bringing together a plethora of women in low-cut tops, knee-high boots and purposefully heavy make-up. There was the odd cross-dressing young guy, including one complaining- at the top of his voice- about his eczema and how uncomfortable it made him to expose so much of his body. Attention-seeking much?

Ken Clarke's comments reflect that of another deranged individual- a Canadian policeman- who told students that the best way to avoid rape was “not to dress like a slut.” Well. These Slutwalks took place on the same day in Manchester, Edinburgh, London, Glasgow and Leeds. It appears that out of thousands of women all dressed like sluts, across the whole of the UK, a grand total of zero women were raped at the marches.

Around 200 people congregated for the Manchester march, including a ten-year-old boy holding a sign carrying the slogan “Feminist with a penis”, a woman determined to press her tits on as many bus windows as possible, various YMCA-inspired outfits, and a woman with a less-than-comprehensible placard saying “Police rapists not my fucking wardrobe.” Hmm. There will be chauvinists out there who would suggest that this sign's message backfired. It took me three days to realise that “Police” in this sense was a verb.

One woman's sign did not backfire: “I was raped by my boyfriend. When the police interviewed me, I was asked if I was adventurous in bed.”

Holding placards proclaiming “No Means No”, the (mostly female) gathering crusaded down Deansgate and Peter Street, chanting

2 4 6 8
Stop the violence
Stop the rape
2 4 6 8
Love sex
Hate rape

How profound.

Of course, there's a large number of internet users commenting on press coverage of the event. A good percentage of them aren't impressed by the march's ethos. Metro reader “Livingintherealworld” comments: “As far as some retards are concerned you are asking for it and there is no way round it. When you march along a street in skimpy clothing you are just reinforcing in their minds that all women are sluts begging for it. They don't read broadsheet newspapers or listen to Radio 4 or 3. It's unfair but that's how the human race works. Therefore if you want to reduce the chance of sexual assault you don't dress like a sl@g because a low life will think you are up for it. Sorry but that's how he sees it and no number of marches or discussions on Newsnight is going to change his mind.”

The problem I have with Ken Clarke's comments is not necessarily the offense towards women that he has caused. It's the phrase “Asking to get raped”. A woman might be asking for sexual attention by dressing provocatively. But describes rape as “Any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.” A woman might be asking for sex by dressing provocatively, but rape is forced. It's not technically possible to “ask to get raped”. Ken Clarke's lack of understanding of the English language is perhaps the most worrying thing out of the whole debate. And this clown is Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom. What does this say for the tories, or indeed British politics on the world stage?

Whether Ken Clarke will actually stand down- and whether the tories will ever grasp what decade we are living in- and whether the Slutwalks will actually challenge or re-enforce some men's perception of women- still remains to be seen. One thing's for sure- Manchester will not tolerate Tory idiocy.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Getting Blog Traffic Through Twitter... The Sexy Way

"The people drawn to Twitter are people on the cutting edge, the real nerds who are resentful of the fact that the general population have found and taken over Facebook"
-Steve Dotto, host of Dotto Tech

Well- I won the race. Some time around the early hours of Wednesday morning, I passed the 15,000 hit mark on this blog. Look- you can see my stats now, on the right. My competitor site- Skeletor's Armpit- was not far behind, at way above 14k. SA is a much younger site, so to reign in all those hits in a smaller space of time is no small feat. Hats off to Skeletor's Armpit. If you like bizarre musings on life and celebrity behaviour- which you probably do if you're on this site- you'll love SA.

During the race, I tried a few new techniques that allowed me to draw in more page views than usual. First, I wrote loads and updated as frequently as I could. Second, I jumped on Twitter, I dug through my archives and I posted links to old entries that might be of interest to people. Using Twitter always brings in a good chunk of traffic. If you have a blog, you need to get on this social networking site as well. Don't worry if you're more a Facebook person. You'll get your head around it. I did, and I can't even upload pictures from my HTC to my computer. So it can't be that complicated. (Facebook is also another great traffic source. People you know will check out your writing just out of curiosity.)

After Google, Twitter is my biggest referring website to Power is a State of Mind. Twitter is popular with celebrities, who have huge numbers of followers. Twitter is used for linking to other sites. Twitter is used for passing on these links to other tweeters (Twitter users) using “retweets”. Links inside tweets get passed on too. So, after months of mithering celebs just to see whether or not they would respond, I decided to make my tweets a bit more purposeful.

After hearing back from the likes of:

Kelly Divine

Dom Joly

Jelena Jensen

Natasha Nice

Trina Michaels

Bridgette B

Katie K

Isis Love

by sending the odd random message, I asked a few big names if they would kindly retweet me to their (much longer) follower list. In return, I'd give them a good mention here.

Hence, thanks go to the following lovely ladies for their re tweets:

Kerry Louise

Claire Dames

Angel Long

The stats leaped a little after their link-ups.

Side note 1: Dylan Ryder retweeted my invitation to a local pub. So that's a yes, right Dylan? Cool. Text me when you're nearly there, yeah?

Side note 2: Amy Reid called me cute after I invited her to my housewarming. My head went through the ceiling.

Side note 3: Someone went ballistic at me over Twitter. Someone you might have heard of. I'll post details of this debacle later.

So: people with lots of followers can get you lots of hits. Here's how. Be nice. Say please and thank you. Give them an honest compliment. This can work whether they're adult entertainment stars or business executives. Tailor your message, obviously. Sending a mention to Alexis Texas complimenting her lips may get you the response you want (perhaps). Sending Lord Alan Sugar the same message may not yield the same results.

It's all well and good using retweets to build up exposure. Getting hits this way will make your stats leap temporarily. But will the same individuals come back to read the blog again? Will you develop a following? Will these tweeters have followers who are interested in a city in northern England, or in mini fiction exercises? Probably not. Celeb retweets are great stat-builders, but nothing works better than solid, tailored content. The people retweeting the blog should ideally have something to do with the content of the blog.

Well. I guess they do now.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

"Running Lanes" to end obesity

Doc: And in the future, we don't need horses. We have motorized carriages called automobiles. 

Saloon Old Timer #3: If everybody's got one of these auto-whatsits, does anybody walk or run anymore? 

Doc: Of course we run. But for recreation. For fun. 

Saloon Old Timer #3: Run for fun? What the hell kind of fun is that?

-Doctor Emmet Brown (Christopher Lloyd) predicts “the future”, in Back to the Future Part III.

Have you ever been on the London Underground? As a passenger, if you are on the escalators you etiquette dictates you stand to the right. If you don’t, a rushing businessman will flatten you as he darts through, running for a crucial train. There is a system in London that segregates the fast from the slow.

Businessmen need this etiquette Londoners to get by. They would probably benefit from pavements and shopping centres running with this idea (pun intended). Rolling this out nationwide could speed up commerce considerably. But there’s another reason that running lanes could benefit society.

1 in 10 adults are obese in Britain. One of the best ways of burning fat is running.

We all know how to do it, but who has the motivation? People who are running out of time for something do. Those who are already in a gym, staring at a treadmill, tend to find it. Dedicated runners put the effort in. How can we broaden this out so that most people run?

When I inevitably become dictator of this country in about five years, and I begin to instil some logic in the UK, I will further the work done by cycle lanes- paint more green lines for cycling, and paint half the pavements- I dunno- purple, for runners. I’ll encourage businesses to install showers at their premises, for those who run to work. For short journeys to the shops etc, people will have more precious time, which they complain about not having. They’ll be beating congestion in cities. They will surprise themselves at how healthy they feel, and how little guilt they feel about the gym membership that they don’t use.

Turning up haggard and worn out, drenched in sweat, will prove to the employer that they ran in. Do this enough: get a tax break for reducing congestion.

This will begin to work for the country- health will improve, traffic jams will ebb down- until, of course, people realise that all the years of running has started to take its toll on their knees. Then they will all pile straight back into their cars and we all start back over again.

Hmm. What about cycling? Oh, wait, we’ve already tried this.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Inside the M60 Helps Out

Manchester news blog Inside the M60-  nominated at last year’s Manchester Blog Awards-  is a great place for all the latest city-based info. As well as the site, which “aims to report on the issues of concern to the general population of the city,” the organisers maintain a daily newsletter providing links to online articles about Manchester.

I wrote up bank holiday party Fantasia at city-centre bar Prohibition. I put it on my blog. The article made it into the ITM60 daily on 5th June. Unfortunately you're going to have to take my word for it- the daily, hosted by deletes pages after just a few days.

ITM60 and I follow each other on Twitter, which is a great way of developing contacts in the writing world- or whichever your sphere is. That’s possibly how they found my write-up. If you want to know what’s going on in Manchester, you need to be checking it out.

Monday, 13 June 2011

My Greased Up Deaf Guy Impression

After the relative success of my Herbert the Pervert video, I was asked to do this Family Guy impression:

As you can see, I took it a step further to get into character and used a quarter of a bottle of Nivea. Oohh!

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Life is a Prize

I believe that life is a prize,
But to live doesn't mean you're alive.

-Nicki Manaj, Moment for Life

This week I met the old lady above me for the first time. I've lived in the same block as her since November. The only time I'd previously laid eyes on her was in March when she had a very nasty accident.

She's not quite as old as she sounds from her phone conversations (I can hear them quite clearly through my ceiling). I'd put her at 60 having met her, but when she's on the phone she does sound 20 years older. She's had a hard life. When I saw her, her ankle was still bandaged. She'd just redecorated before the accident- on returning from hospital she had to do it all again, which she could barely afford.

Next door to me there's a guy in his forties. I call him Charles Bronson. All he needs is the 'tache and he's a true 70's lookalike. The lady says that nobody lives long in the flat he rents.

Before I moved in, an old lady called Eileen had lived in this flat. I didn't ask the housing association, but I suspect she died. She may have smoked herself to death. When I took the paper off the walls and ceiling, the nicotine stains had embedded straight through multiple layers and onto the hard surface. (Nobody had stripped the paper off, ever, judging from the 1960's designs.) You could tell that Eileen sat in an armchair in the corner of the room, taking drag after drag, year after year. The stains fanned out from that corner, covering the whole of the stripped lounge a dirty yellow.

The old lady above me had been friends with Eileen. Apparently, Eileen was an unkempt hoarder. Her flat was filthy; she never cleaned it. (This isn't hard to believe, considering the smell when I first got the keys.) The old lady said she couldn't stay talking to Eileen for too long. The smell made it hard to breathe. You couldn't move in the bedroom. She piled up stuff everywhere, as if she was afraid that she could lose it all.

I suppose she did, in the end.

I pitied the old lady: she was close to tears regaling it all. I'd have helped take her bags up, but I had a pile of my own shopping that needed throwing in the freezer ASAP. There was also a part of me, admittedly, that thought she might latch on to me and take up my time every day. I felt guilty for thinking that.

At least she knew her previous neighbour. At least they were similar ages. I'm the youngest in my block by about 20 years. I haven't really bothered socialising. The lady didn't mention if she could hear my music or other, erm, sounds.

On the bright side, nobody has died since I moved in. We're all living pretty frugal, by the looks of things, but for an Oldham council estate the area isn't too bad. We've got a fair bit of greenery around us- trees, grass- which is important when you live in a sprawling, close-knit network of arranged bricks. We could all do with a bit more money, but everyone would say that. We still have our lives here on the estate- our prizes, as Nicki Manaj would have it.

Sometimes all you can do is to try to keep it that way.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Race

Everything popular is wrong.

-Oscar Wilde.

I must be doing something right at the moment as my blog stats are rising. I don't mean to brag (or maybe I do), but I pulled in 3000 hits last month. Well, go me.

Another blog making waves is Skeletor's Armpit. This site is rounding people up and drawing them all in like it's the beginning of Planet of the Apes.

Okay, maybe not as violently as that. But, not dissimilar to Charlton Heston's situation, the scenarios depicted on this blog will leave you dumbstruck. They are bizarre, silly, graphic yet somehow highbrow. Overall, it's a very funny blog.

The author of Skeletor's Armpit- DesmondPot- who admits he “doesn't hold on to thoughts too long”, hence the blog- has challenged me to a race. Our blogs are both around the 13,000 mark in terms of individual blog views. We're racing to 15,000.

So, why not click on my blog? Oh, you did. Hence reading this. Could you just click the title again, please?

Worth a try. I'd insert a winking smiley here if I were any younger.

At the bottom of this post there's a range of icon buttons- why not click them and see what happens? I'm only kidding. I know you know. But go on.

I'm planning to post a screen dump of my stats to prove that I've won/lost: Anyone know how to do this? Comment if you can help. Feel free to rummage around Power is a State of Mind!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Meeting The Game Author Neil Strauss

Neil Strauss is a happy man. “I was doing a series of behaviour-changing experiments,” he says. “One was to go for thirty days with no gratification. I failed 16 days into that one. I’m not gonna say how, but I couldn’t sit down by the end of it.”

Strauss, author of best-selling men’s dating advice book The Game, has sold out the signing session for his new book, Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead. The seats are all taken. People stand at the back of the room, crammed in by the doorway. I got in early near the front, sat with my notebook in hand.

I jot as many notes down as I can at book signings for two reasons: 1) I want as much info as possible to choose from when writing up the event later- which in this case will be a few weeks, due to being busy, and 2) due to short-term memory difficulties. With in a few hours, I would have forgotten all but a few lines of what Strauss says tonight, had I not made notes. It's due to these memory difficulties, I believe, that I've had so many setbacks in my personal life. I've dealt with the issue from birth. Seven psychologists and a plethora of support workers later, I'm still facing challenges in work, friendship circles, relationships and finding my Goddamn car after I've taken it out. Those setbacks- and my plans to overcome them- are what motivates me to learn what I can from Strauss.

With the story of The Game, Strauss has fixed his life by “sarging”- picking up girls- and has allegedly bedded hundreds of women. The slim, shaven-headed regular-looking guy from New York has told people- through his now world-famous book- how he went from and Average Frustrated Chump (AFC) to being rated the world's no.1 Pick-Up Artist (PUA). It’s a popular subject, to say the least- especially with young men in their twenties, who make up 95% of the Waterstones audience. And, presumably for validation of his skills, there’s a random stunning blonde girl leaning on the table behind him. He's come a long way from his less successful days, when- according to Strauss himself- he was so broke he would eat popcorn that had been left in the cinema.

This month I’m doing thirty days of verbally agreeing with everyone,” Strauss tells us. “It’s amazing how your mentality and outlook improves if you don’t argue with anyone at all. So if I disagree with you on anything, I owe you one pound.”

Strauss is not only a success with the ladies. Before selling millions of books his career started picking up momentum at Rolling Stone magazine, writing celebrity news. His first published story covered Kurt Cobain’s suicide.

A few months later he was snorting Cobain’s ashes with the Nirvana singer’s widow, Courtney Love.

Not long after that, Strauss moved in with her.

Strauss’ writing successes went hand-in-hand with his sarging successes and his celebrity encounters. He tells of getting arrested with rock group The Motley Crue, when the police dragged off singer Vince Neil while still he was still blow-drying his hair. He discusses Paul McCartney’s paranoia around reviews of the former Beatle's music. He describes being shunned by Mariah Carey: she’d read his books, but he hadn’t returned the favour by listening to her album so she pulled out of the planned interview. These incidents, and more, (including being battered by a group of men for no reason, and being held up at gunpoint from his New York bedroom window) are all detailed in his new book.

Every good writer uses their ears. They listen constantly for inspiration, soaking up their environment for future reference. Strauss also notices the things that he doesn't hear people saying, which in itself is quite revealing. Here are a few samples of what he hasn't heard people saying in Manchester:

Take the cab, you were here first!’
Thank God, the police are here!’
Wow. It hasn’t rained all week!’
Here’s some cocaine from last week.’

I've lived in Greater Manchester all my life, and I'm 28. I've never heard anyone utter these lines either. From the chuckles in the room, nobody has. He asks the native Mancunian audience if there are any more we could add to this list. Suggestions include:

The M60’s quiet at six o’clock.” (This is the motorway section encircling the city. Usually snarled at peak times.)
Dogging? What does that mean?”

People read dating advice because they want to be happier. As someone who made his name selling this advice, he's nailed down the principle of being happy.

I think the secret to happiness is balance”, Strauss emphasises. “When you look at old celebrities on the whole, you’ll notice all the workers who grafted all their lives- they ended up miserable, and all the partiers ended up dead.” The people who fall between that, he says, survive as happy individuals.

And for a successful career in the limelight? Strauss cites faith. Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, he says, thought God wanted them to achieve fame. They succeeded, where doubters fell back into obscurity.

I think Americans are much more likely to talk openly about their religion- particularly if they’re Christians- whereas in Britain people generally either don’t believe, don’t know or don’t want to be thought of as the same kind of people as the loud-mouthed-geek street-preachers you get on the high street. But Strauss doesn’t take that route in his suggestion.

It’s not religion,” says Strauss. “Faith is more than that. It’s an inner strength to know what you are doing is right. It’s about esteem. It comes from within. It’s not about culture.”

7-time Mr Olympia champion Arnold Schwarzenegger once told Strauss that he could tell who would make it to the bodybuilding finals. The men that exert themselves in the gym to the stage where they pass out or vomit- they are ones who go on to become the strongest men in the world. That, Strauss believes, is real faith.

During the Q+A, Strauss reveals the meaning behind the new book’s title. The reason everyone loves you when you’re dead is you’re no longer competiton. Makes perfect sense. He also mentions meeting one of the editors of classic war movie Apocalypse Now. The editor had suggested that whatever you wanted to do when you were ten years old, that’s what you should be doing now. (I agree.) Strauss, of course, says it’s also a good pickup line.

An audience member asks, “You’ve become quite a role model for men. Who’s your role model?”

I don’t agree with role models,” Strauss replies. Then, remembering his challenge, he adds “but I agree with the question being asked. I’ve always thought that if you put a person on a pedestal, they’re going to let you down.”

A career formed around experiences with high-profile celebs has taught Strauss things that the average man doesn’t normally get to learn.

Let go of the past,” Strauss says. “I’ve interviewed A LOT of celebrities, and they are all hung up. You have to let go and move on. It’s amazing who hasn’t.” He references Chuck Berry, who- forty years ago- was arrested for taking a minor across state lines for “immoral purposes”. Strauss claims this still haunts Berry. 

Fame and wealth,” says Strauss, “won’t make you better. Fame emphasises the flaws in your personality.”

He references Eric Clapton, who once said that after Curt Cobain died, he empathised with the Nirvana singer. “When Clapton was on stage, and all these thousands of people were cheering at him, he thought that if those people really knew him, they would absolutely hate him.”

Strauss offers us all this rhetorically useful advice: fix your problems and your life before you get famous.

Being the pretentious bastard that I am, I’m glad he told me. Short term memory difficulties. Chaotic yet barren love life. Tendency to say too much / too little at crucial moments. Self doubt. Questionable culinary skills. Complete inability to gauge how I’m coming across to people… The tabloids would eat me alive. Popbitch would have a field day.

But I’m working on it. I make a mental note to read The Game as fast as possible.

Ironically the next question comes from a young man with extra challenges. He asks what advice Strauss would give to someone with Aspergers Syndrome, who wants to improve his game with women. 

I would say that whatever it is you can't fix,” Strauss advises, “you make it a feature in your game. It's something that will make you different.”

As someone with memory difficulties, I admire the young man for asking this. I was thinking of raising the disability issue myself, but I think I chickened out. Strauss' answer gives me a sense of optimism. A plethora of psychologists, a social worker and numerous other memory-support related professionals have all tapped into me giving me advice here and there on how to handle memory difficulties. None of them had made that suggestion before, and Strauss' answer starts to feel- for me at least- like a missing piece in a puzzle. Am I ready, I ask myself, to sarge properly now?

Your new book title...” a man asks, “does it apply to Bin Laden?”

I knew someone would ask me that eventually,” Strauss says. “You know, it's funny. Geronimo, the Apache warlord, was actually a terrorist. Maybe in a few years from now,” he muses, “the military will be shouting, 'Bin Laden!' When they jump from planes.

That isn't the real meaning, though. The reason everyone loves you when you’re dead is: you’re no longer competiton.”

During the signing Strauss comes across as a really chilled out, friendly guy. I told him I gave him my blog card and told him of the lit events I've written up. He seemed genuinely interested and asked me if I'd slated anybody. ( “To all the writers you trashed,” he says, “may this be the exception!” and hands me the book. Inside, it says...


Sarge on!

Neill Strauss

Indeed, Mr. Strauss. Indeed.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Dance-off on Venus

I had a preconceived notion that the atmosphere in Venus would be hazardous, choking and hostile. I thought it would be hard to breathe, and that I might not get in, anyway. Entering Venus is expensive, and then not everyone with the money can just land there. You need the appropriate clothing, and the right mentality. Somehow, we managed to barter a discounted Venus Visa on entry.

Sometimes clubs in Manchester have strict door policies.

Venus the Club, the Blackfriars Road venue, is a good destination for late-night clubbing. Far from being a pretentious, smarmy club, Venus- I soon found out- is popular with some of the most hilarious people in Manchester. Good house music, friendly clientèle and reasonable queuing times at the bar. (It was about 5am after staying at Prohibition ‘til the end, mind, so perhaps not as busy as it had been that night.) Highlight: Me absolutely dominating the dance-off between a group of lads by using The Hangman. Kinda looked like this.
(The video was not taken on the night. Won't embed for some ridiculous reason.)

On the decks: Frater & Stent, who have remixed a number of house hits including Solu Music's “Fade” 
and “I Like Love” by Solitaire.
I know their names from something else, but the internet isn't jogging my memory at the moment...

I had a little bit of trouble on Venus' door a while back so I was a bit apprehensive about giving it another shot. But I’m glad I did, and I hope return. It looks like Manchester’s house music scene is still a living, thriving beast, and as for the music in Venus- it's out of this world.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Fantazia at Prohibition‏

The back-bar, daubed with candle wax, houses a plethora of exemplary spirits- your regulars like Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort make the grade. Find your scotches- GlenLivet and GlenFiddich and others- nestled in the corner. The large mirror behind the bar, secured in a purposefully rusty frame, reflects the packed room- well-dressed and good-looking revellers sampling classic and contemporary house. On the decks, Jason Herd- one half of dance duo Herd ‘n’ Fitz- dishes out tune after tune, including my request: 

Prohibition is a favourite; not just for me but for a crowd of house lovers in the city.

It's May bank holiday, and tonight the bar is hosting Fantazia. Given that bank holidays tend to be quiet in Manchester, with the majority of people from surrounding towns preferring to stay local, Prohibition has done well. They sold out of bookable tickets days ago. There were a small number available on the door- we dived in early to snatch them up. Although the atmosphere is good, the room is boiling hot- hotter than most packed bars. This doesn’t stop the dancing, though.

It’s possible that the Prohibition team were a little to ambitious- Apparently the ladies’ toilets are “minging”- the gents' seem okay, but busy- and queuing for drinks obviously takes a while. It’s normally just a few quid in at Prohibition but tonight they are charging £10 on the door. It’s still a good night, but that’s a given for Prohibition. Ten pounds? Well… people pay it. More important than any of these factors- the music, the décor, the money- is the company I keep. In my case, with my mates- it’s exemplary.

Prohibition is a chain of bars. There might be one near you. See their website, and their (strangely mute) cocktail-making instructional videos.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Getting the most out of a gym membership

I just use my muscles as a conversation piece, like someone walking a cheetah down 42nd Street. 
 -Arnold Schwarzenegger 

This photograph, taken on “Speedo Day”, shows the theme celebrated nationally, by 3 people (there were 6 in total), in Magaluf, once. And they were British.

Effort. The reason people give up the gym in February, after the inevitable flurry of new-year gym uptake, is that going to the gym IS- by its very nature- a lot of hard work. For some of us, it’s fun as well- but still hard. Otherwise, it’s pointless.

Being a gym member and only doing weights every session, however, is like going to New York for the weekend and going up the Empire State Building three days in a row. Yeah, it’s a good experience, but it’s only a fraction of what you could have done. If you’re paying for something, you might as well see what there is on offer. Right?

That is why I’ve set myself a little month-long task. Throughout June, I’m going to hit as many gym classes as I can. I’m going to try things I’ve never thought of doing before, like boxercise. I’m going swimming for the first time since last summer. I expect I’ll be the only man doing Zumba. I have the feeling the same will go for quite a few classes that are traditionally “for women”.

Getting my money’s worth is one reason for trying this. Smashing weights every day will make you stronger. I’ve proven that to myself. That’s why I’ve stuck with the weights and not ventured out to many classes. Using the weights, however, is also a solo experience. Few people go to the gym with their mates, and those that do spend more time spotting and less time putting in the actual graft. That’s certainly why I go on my own. On the flip side, if you’re spending that long in the gym… why not make a few friends there? Won't that be a lot easier to do in classes than when you’re sat in the chest press machine? The circuit class groups members into pods of four. In boxercise you’re paired up, holding the pads for the person punching then swapping over after the timer goes. And of course, the instructors usually have a bit of banter while they’re getting you to put in your all. Having an instructor egging me on will probably push me out of a comfort zone and improve my cardio, hopefully, which has been pretty static for the last year or so.

I’m going to put the weights on hold for the month. I’ll hammer the classes. Then at the start of July, I’ll see whether I’m stronger when I go back to weights. As for the classes, I’ll see how I fare over the next month. Whatever I like I’ll stick with. Bring the pain.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

ABBA Lyrics "Develop Creativity", Group Finds

A group of Manchester writers have discovered that lyrics from ABBA songs have more worth than filling up birthday-function playlists.

The group, calling themselves Writers Connect Manchester, made the find in a group writing exercise led by one team member. ABBA had never previously been used as a stimulus for this group’s activities.

The Stockholm pop group disbanded in 1982 after releasing a string of cheesy, mind-numbing, chart-topping hits. Their album sales still stand at 2-3 million units per year, but this is only one way the Swedish pop quartet affect people’s lives.

I took some slips of paper,” explains group leader Oz. “I wrote a different ABBA song title on each one, and folded them up. Each member of the group picked a slip at random, and they were then faced with a memorable party classic. I gave the group ten minutes to tell a little story that must include their song title. The results were astounding!”

Local writer Matt Tuckey offered his absurd piece as an example of how these lyrics can evolve into a mind-blowing, culture-defining and literature-world-shaking vignette. Or not. Can you guess which song he was given?


James stepped forward to the microphone, dewey-eyed. He tapped the mic head. Sounds of thumping filled the room. People hushed, putting down their forks and drinks.

Hello”, he said, and his voice boomed quietly from the corners of the hotel function room. “Thanks for making it here today,” he said. “I’m a very proud father.”

A smidgen of cream cake rode on the corner of his lip, riding the waves of his speech. “I’m glad the ceremony went well. I hope you all enjoyed it. I certainly did.”

A camera flash painted the room white for a nanosecond. James looked up in the direction of the camera, offering a smile.

I couldn’t have asked for a nicer guy than Lewis to, er, to give my daughter away to. You drive us nuts sometimes, but you’re certainly a good lad.”

Lewis looked into his plate, smiling.

My wife has grafted hard to get everything ready. It’s been controlled chaos, I think is the phrase. But thanks go to her for doing a good job. And Tony, where’s DJ Tony?”

Here!” – A modest voice struck in from the back.

Thank you for the music.” He glanced to his right, to the star of the show- and the most important thing in his life.

And of course, my daughter, Helen. You look… You look beautiful.”

She blushed.


I can never write these exercises long enough in the time given”, says Matt. “In the silence of Waterstones’ Costa Coffee shop, sometimes the only sound that can be heard is the crunching of rusty gears inside my skull, as I try to plonk together words like one of those thousand-piece double-sided jigsaw puzzles. Only those puzzles had the picture on the box to refer to- with exercises like these you never know what you'll be looking at when the timer beeps and it’s time to read out…

When I delivered this it got a fairly good reception (reception. Geddit? Never mind) but people said they could see the song title ‘coming down the road.’ I expect you could too.”

Are you a Manchester writer? Why not join Writers Connect in Waterstones Arndale on fortnightly Sundays.

ABBA members are not known to attend.