Dec 14

Knitting Her Swag On

My last post, on the subject of the now legendary Cher Lloyd knitted doll and the effort that went into securing her, appears to be one of the most popular things I have written in ages. Either that, or the title of the post managed to chime neatly with the thinking of many viewers of the now concluded series of X Factor, given the number of Google hits this site has been receiving thanks to searches for “Cher Lloyd Eyebrows” although the question of whether they are real or painted on will sadly not be answered here. As to those of you hunting for “Cher Lloyd Bikini” and arriving here too, can I just say that you are all sick and wrong in the head, but give it time – who knows what she will do in a desperate attempt to stay famous come the summer.

The real question I’m sure everyone is asking, is “what did you do with the knitted doll next James?” Well the answer to that is simple. I took her to work the other day.

First she boarded a commuter train from darkest Kent and was relieved to find that her celebrity status entitled her to a seat:


Once she had arrived at the office, Cher paused briefly at reception to sign in:


Next it was on to the computer to check out the latest stories on the talkSPORT website and to update some of the breaking sports news of the day:


By the time she had finished this, it was nearly the top of the hour so there was a news bulletin to prepare. For this photo opportunity I had to enlist the help of my colleague Robyn, a request which may naturally have sounded a little weird, but as I pointed out to her – that ship sailed a long time ago.


Now every superstar has a bit of an ego, even those just on work experience at a radio station for the day. Cher couldn’t resist checking out what people were saying about her on Twitter:


Next it was time for some expert analysis. Keen to find out just what England’s prospects were in the next Ashes Test match, she chewed the fat for a while with England bowling legend Darren Gough:


Preparation done, Cher headed into the studio to make sure everything was sounding good and that her microphones were set to the correct level (very important this).


This task completed to everyone’s satisfaction, she was behind the microphone and ready to give her opinions on the days events, as some people on Twitter commented, possibly making more sense than Mike Parry ever does:


Finally with the show over, Cher headed back home. She had one more job to perform for me that day, and some would say it was the most important one of all. In the manner which led her to fourth place in the competition and a place in so many of our hearts, Cher Lloyd gently rapped my newborn baby daughter to sleep.


Thanks for all your help Cher, I had a great time. Worth every penny in the end.

Nov 28

Cher Lloyd’s Eyebrows Of Doom

I began the autumn having made my peace with the fact that the X Factor competition this year was destined to only be of tangential interest to me. A combination of an adjusted working schedule and the prospect of other disrupting events taking place in life meant that doing a week by week evisceration of the contestants and their performances just wasn’t an option this year.

Despite this it is still hard to resist the lure of a TV show that somehow manages to capture the imagination of all but the really snobbish types who insist that Strictly is the only autumnal TV show worthy of their attention. A series that began with a slight sense of anticlimax given the way things appeared to be engineered from the start in favour of a win for Simon and his pet boy band One Direction has developed into an intriguing battle of the midcarders, both Wagner and Katie competing with each other to see who can have the most spectacular onstage meltdown whilst remaining utterly oblivious to their own lack of ability.

My personal guilty pleasure this year however has to be Cher Lloyd, the alarmingly frail girl singer with a built in gimmick of being able to rap with far more class and conviction than most other wannabe gangsters on YouTube. It is a USP that the producers have been careful not to overexploit, leaving the moments when she does break into rhyme to be very special ones indeed. Her inbuilt insecurity and the fact that she is barely able to cope with the tension of elimination nights also means that you cannot help but warm to her every time she shouts with relief and joy when she is reprieved late on a Sunday evening.

Having said all of the above, I only truly appreciated how far I was prepared to go to express my admiration for Cher Lloyd last weekend, for during the broadcast of the X Factor results show last Sunday the following message appeared on my screen. A message of hope and expectation from a writer and columnist for whom I have the utmost respect and from whom it is hard to turn down such a plaintive and heartfelt request.


It is the kind of bold statement we all make in jest from time to time online isn’t it? Do x and I will seriously do y. Nobody ever actually follows through with that do they? Except Peter “Popjustice” Robinson was apparently serious:


There, he said it himself.

The cause of this frantic and excitable enthusiasm? An auction on Ebay by a lady who appeared to specialise in creating knitted dolls of certain people in the public eye. Amongst the many items she had listed for sale was this one:



Fair play, how could you not love something like that? So in for a penny (or so I thought), I stuck a handful of speculative bids in. Now we’ve all been there on Ebay, putting in token bids for stuff but then suckered in as the price climbs ever higher and higher. A couple of other people either wanted the doll or wanted a Popjustice cake to such an extent that they were prepared to dig far deeper than any sensible person would for a chance to emerge as the winner. When my final “really stupid, nobody would ever go that high for a stupid doll” bid of £60 was beaten by a couple of quid, I stayed my hand from entering a further one for £75, telling myself that as the price climbed ever higher the chances of my winning and having to pay a stupid amount of money for a doll of an X Factor contestant who at that moment was in danger of being eliminated were a little too high for comfort.

So I left it, as did the competing bidder. The week long auction ticked on with the price of the doll stubbornly stuck at £62 something that I’m sure the seller regarded with some puzzlement. None of her other dolls were attracting this kind of attention, let alone this kind of stupid money. I was safe from having to fork out, something which was just as well, given the slight domestic situation which was set to develop. You see I am not the only one in my house with the password to the Ebay account.


Yeah, so I would possibly be in a spot of trouble if I started paying that amount of money for knitted dolls of X Factor contestants. Good job I’m not winning the auction now and some other poor sod has that responsibility.


Yes, the bastard who won declined to go through with it, so now the doll was on my conscience again. To say this was a shocking dilemma to face on a Wednesday night was an understatement. I now had the opportunity to be the owner of something quite unique, the ultimate manifestation of a fans’ admiration for a talent show contestant, and something that might require the man behind the vast and sprawling Popjustice empire to BAKE ME A CAKE. However I was faced with forking out an amount of money that would almost inevitably result in the silent treatment at home and my judgement as a husband called into serious question.

What else was a man in my position to do? I waited 24 hours until just before the second chance offer expired and bought the doll. It arrived on Saturday morning by registered post.

I don’t wish to go into details just how much I ended up paying for the doll, suffice it to say that whilst not a fortune it was still rather more than anyone in full possession of their common sense would do. I’ve told myself that it has at least given me a story to tell, plus the prospect of some other way of making something interesting happen to me this week.

For now the doll is a totem of our, OK my, love and support for Cher Lloyd and her continuing presence in the competition. Negotiations between Popjustice and myself as to the form in which the promised cake will take are on-going, but in light of the domestic strife it has the potential to cause, let it be seen on record that the cake is only likely to be acceptable if served up on a Girls Aloud gold disc and carried into the room by Little Boots. In a bikini.

For now, Cher Lloyd. Let’s be honest. She is pretty awesome isn’t she?

Nov 20

Now Please Let It Be

funny graphs - Verdict: Let It Besee more Funny Graphs

A colleague phoned me up at home yesterday to pick my brains on an issue which had clearly been diverting him from his main job for most of the morning.

“What is the likelihood of a Beatles song being Number One on Sunday?” was the main thrust of his enquiry. He sounded a mixture of shocked and deflated when I told him firmly and decisively my answer.

“None whatsoever”.

The appearance, almost without warning, of the entire Beatles back catalogue on iTunes on Tuesday afternoon finally gave us relief from the great festering sore of the digital age. The absence of the music of the fab four from online sites – a product, we were told, of the long-standing animosity between Apple (the computer company) and Apple (the Beatles’ record label) – was somehow the detail that was lacking from the big online picture. How can we say the online stores are definitive, was the thinking, when the music of the most famous act in pop history is missing from the virtual shelves.

The day that the tracks finally appeared was therefore set to be something of a watershed day in musical history. Right from the start of the download era, feverish speculation began over just how the market would react to this cork coming free from the bottle. There was a very real possibility, so we were told, that we would see an entire Top 10 made up of Beatles songs in the week following the release. I’m not sure who first floated that bizarre idea, but over time it became one of those predictions that was taken as self-evident, bookmakers happy to lay odds on the chances of it taking place and just about every mention of the possibility of the great Beatles digitising coming complete with a bolted on reference to the Top 10 clean sweep.

BOOKIES last night predicted Beatles hits will occupy EVERY space in the Top 40 once they can be downloaded legally.

They reckon fans both new and old will be desperate to have the Fab Four’s songs on their iPods.

One bookie said: “Making these songs available could spark a whole new outbreak of Beatlemania.”

The classic Hey Jude was last night favourite to be the Beatles‘ first downloaded No1 at odds of 8/1.

One UK music boss said: “No one knows how powerful the sales of downloads may be. But half a billion pounds is not out of the question.

“If hundreds of thousands of people start downloading entire Beatles albums, the entire Top 40 could be Fab Four songs now that downloads are taken into account.”

source: Daily Mirror, February 6th 2007, p10

Such was the case back in February 2007 when speculation was first rife that iTunes was about to play host to the Beatles catalogue following the initial settlement of the long standing dispute between the two Apples. I was contacted by a writer for the BBC website who was putting together a piece on the implications and he was rather taken aback by my rejection of the hype and the prospects of this mythical Top 10 domination. I wrote a short piece at the time detailing just why I didn’t expect anything of the sort to happen, even back then. The BBC piece duly appeared with my denials sitting alongside bold statements from Gennaro Castaldo of HMV saying a Top 10 made up of Beatles tracks would be “almost guaranteed” as soon as the songs go on sale.

So let’s take a look at what actually has happened this week. The Beatles catalogue usurped just about every other contemporary release on the front page of the iTunes application from the moment the songs were uploaded. Sales reports began to trickle through about which albums in particular were selling the most, and eagle eyes began to scan the Top 200 best selling tracks to see which of their singles were capturing the imagination of a whole new generation. In fairness there were many, but anyone scanning the Top 10 will have searched in vain for a song by the fab four amongst more up to date acts such as Take That, JLS and Ellie Goulding. In fact the best performance by any Beatles track was that of ‘Hey Jude’ which na-na-na’ed its way up to a high point of about Number 28 before falling back. Even by the end of the week the daily midweek updates had failed to feature any Beatles songs inside the Top 40, ‘Hey Jude’ limping as high as Number 48 by Thursday lunchtime. After all the hype and after all the speculation one thing was abundantly clear – the Beatles re-invasion was an invented bubble of hype and simply wasn’t going to happen.

Not that I wasn’t hedging my bets, even back in 2007. Wild flight of someone’s fantasy that it was, these things have a habit of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy and if enough people in the media were to stoke up the idea that the Beatles could manage a clean sweep, then maybe enough people would buy into the idea to participate in such a moment of history. I kept an open mind over the prospect of something close to that happening and secretly wondered if I would end up with a dramatic amount of egg on my face. These fears were groundless, as the original arguments held water. Just about anyone who wanted to own some 45 year old pop records which had never been unavailable from the moment they were released and which had been subject to endless amounts of re-promotion, re-issuing and re-mastering ever since almost certainly already did so. The only people left to buy the Beatles on mp3 or acc were those who hadn’t twigged they could import their CDs into iTunes (such people do exist apparently) or slightly newer arrivals at the musical party who might well be discovering these classic songs for the first time. The Beatles were the victim of some wild evangelising from writers who assumed that the consumer market would react to the appearance of these records in a new format in a way that nobody had ever done before, or simply assumed that the work of the Fab Four had such significance that normal rules of engagement simply did not apply.

So it looks like the popular press will have to come up with a different shorthand for a chart event that may or may not happen in the future. Close observation of the way music releases are reported in the media will reveal that the expression “could be heading for the top of the charts” is a nice hyperbolic similie for “is releasing a record next week”. Towards the end of each year, every novelty release from a bunch of singing gardeners to a children’s choir from Dorset is branded as “a challenge to X Factor for Christmas Number One this year” without any proof of popular demand to back that up.

Me? I’m more preoccupied with working out who now takes over as the biggest name not to be available online. Such digital refusniks are now few and far between. AC/DC’s catalogue remains locked in the vaults, as does that of Def Leppard for reasons that have never been properly explained.

Nov 10

Believe In 1998 – Part Four

Yes, this has indeed taken a while, so thanks for bearing with me. Unless you are reading this all in one go in six months time and pay no attention to the dates at the top of course. Welcome to our final march through the chart of October 25th 1998 and in this final rundown of songs we discover just what it was that made this particular singles chart so very unique.

10: Billie – Girlfriend

Long before Secret Diary, way ahead of the Dr Who years and before even she was “that bird who married Chris Evans”, Billie Piper was plain old “Billie”, the bright teenage pop sensation of 1998. Long before anyone knew what her voice sounded like, we all knew her face thanks to her selection earlier that year as the face of a high profile advertising campaign for Smash Hits magazine. It made for a nice neat hook to hang the marketing of her pop career on and so it was at the tender age of just 15 she was signed to a record deal and unleashed upon the charts. Debut single ‘Because We Want To’ was released in June and was an instant Number One, making Billie the second youngest female star ever to top the UK charts (a record held to this day by Helen Shapiro). Proof that turning a child of that age into a celebrity was fraught with danger came the day after her Number One was announced, pictures in the press of her enjoying a celebratory glass of what appeared to be champagne at a celebratory party causing a few furrowed brows at her label.

Moving past that minor wrinkle, ‘Girlfriend’ was her second single release and it too was an easy and instant Number One and heralded the release of her debut album ‘Honey To The B’. What caught the eye the most however was the list of credits on the album and in particular the fact that it was produced in its entirety and partially written by Jim Marr and Wendy Page. Nice years earlier pair were the leading lights behind indie-pop act Skin Games who were the darlings of the music press in 1989 and indeed made one of the best albums of the period, only for the British public to ignore it totally and for the band to fall apart shortly afterwards. Their association with the Billie album kicked off a flurry of hit songs penned by the pair at the turn of the century with Page herself performing vocal duties on the Tin Tin Out single ‘Eleven To Fly’ in 1999.

Billie’s career as a pop star has been all but eclipsed by her work as an actress as a rather less fresh faced adult. The work of Skin Games is equally as forgotten but perhaps more tragically so. It seems only appropriate to refresh memories of it here, especially as their album ‘The Blood Rush’ is more or less impossible to find.


9: 911 – More Than A Woman

Extraordinary to think that someone once thought of naming a boy band after the US emergency number, but there you go. 911 were a three piece boy band formed of Lee Brennan, Jimmy Constable and Spike Dawbarn whose work was slightly less throwaway than your average pop act thanks largely to Lee Brennan’s own talents as a contributing songwriter which meant that hits such as ‘Party People (Friday Night)’ and ‘The Journey’ had a charm all of their own and were worthwhile works in their own right. Sadly by the time of their third album ‘There It Is’, the group were reduced to little more than a covers band and their final few singles were nothing more than adequate retreads of older classics. Not that it did their chart positions any harm mind, this cover of the Bee Gees’ ‘More Than A Woman’ hit Number 2 upon release in October 1998, at the time their biggest hit to date. They would go on to top it early in the new year with a version of Dr Hook’s ‘A Little Bit More’ which went all the way to Number One, but for the boys themselves you suspect the fun had gone out of it. They famously split in early 2000, picking the Chris Moyles show on Radio One as their platform of choice to announce it truly was the end.

8: Kele Le Roc – Little Bit Of Lovin’

A brand new entry, but by no means the biggest. Not by a long way, which perhaps was ultimately to its detriment as history has all but overlook it since. One of those singles which sits forlorn as a lost classic, the dreamy ‘Little Bit Of Lovin’ was the first of just two major hit singles for East End girl Kele Le Roc, her exotic sounding performing name covering up the fact that in truth she was just plain old Kelly Biggs from East Ham. Showered with Mobo awards for her debut album ‘Everybody’s Somebody’, she more or less fell off the radar shortly afterwards – listen to this record and realise that this was actually a crying shame. Both this single and follow-up ‘My Love’ were utterly amazing.

7: Aerosmith – I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing

It is surely one of the most bizarre, messed up and truly perverse facts in music that in a career which stretches back to 1973 and with some all-time classic rock hits in their catalogue, Aerosmith’s biggest and most famous worldwide smash hit ever is a rather limp Diane Warren MOR ballad which they recorded for a film soundtrack. Even back in the day I watched the success of ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ with a mixture of horror and fascination. It was great that one of the biggest rock acts of all time were suddenly household names and a radio staple with this single, but their greatest record ever it most certainly was not. To this day I can’t quite fathom just what the hold this song has over people is. Diane Warren wrote far better songs and indeed far better love anthems for hit movies in her day and only the most charitable of critics would argue that the register and tone of the song suited Steve Tyler’s vocal range and abilities down to the ground. Yet for all its shortcomings the song from the “Armageddon” soundtrack stands proud as Aerosmith’s biggest ever UK hit single, a Number 4 hit which bucked the prevailing chart trends by entering low and climbing high and which sustained its sales long enough for a nine week run inside the Top 10 – again at a time when even the biggest chart hits struggle to do better than 3 or 4. Perhaps reduced now to a cliche thanks to the insistence of at least one X Factor contender each year insisting on attempting the song, for good or ill this is one of the defining moments of late 1998 in music.

6: Spacedust – Gym and Tonic

Ah, now this is my favourite kind of random dance single. One that has a genuine pull up a chair and listen story behind it. The diverting fusion of club beats and exercise workout instructions was created by a Frenchman – a Paris nightclub DJ called Christope LeFrient who styled himself “Bob Sinclar” in tribute to the famous James Bond spoof film “Le Magnifique”. The writer of the track was a certain Thomas Bangalter- he of the Stardust record we stumbled across earlier. The pair built the record out of samples from an old Jane Fonda workout album overlaid over an old disco track called ‘Bad Mouthin’ and generated enough interest from white label pressings to persuade labels to start sniffing around for the rights to release it properly. Whilst the track (originally titled ‘Gym Tonic’) came out in France under Sinclar’s name, clearance for UK release was rather trickier to obtain. Bangalter was reportedly rather unhappy with the track to begin with, feeling it detracted from his own productions under his own stream and to make matters worse Jane Fonda’s vocals were a further sticking point, with the UK rights holders of the original “Workout” series declining to co-operate and Fonda herself threatening legal action for breach of copyright.

Hence it came as little surprise to see a version begin to circulate with the Fonda vocals removed and a soundalike inserted in her place. What more more curious was that the credited artist on the track was now “Spacedust”, the identity of whom was a mystery at the time – and indeed right up until the official release of the single the assumption was that this was simply Sinclar and Bangalter operating under a new pseudonym to distance themselves further from the illicit original. Needless to say it wasn’t. This new version was the creation of Englishmen Paul Glancey and Duncan Glasson (erroneously credited on the initial pressings of the CD) who had put together their version with an eye to being formally asked to remix the original. Instead the rights to their version were snapped up by East West records who realised they could steam in with a hit whilst the original was tied up in a copyright dispute. Their reward was an instant Number One hit, albeit one which was swiftly bumped down to Number 6 a week later. The track is now a little too obscure to appear on streaming sites, which is odd because follow-up mid-table single ‘Let’s Get Down’ is itself online. Have the video anyway, just for the fun of it.


The reason for its swift 1-6 chart decline? Not actually because its sales crashed to that extent, but it came up against something unique in British chart history – a Top 5 made up entirely of brand new entries.

5: Alanis Morrissette – Thank U

Bringing up the rear so to speak was this, the first single from Alanis Morrissette’s album ‘Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie’ and her first new material since the ‘Jagged Little Pill’ album had shot her to stardom three years earlier. Trading on that reputation both the single and album were inevitably going to be her commercial highpoint, and so it proved. The wistful ‘Thank U’ – the lyrics bizarrely recounting a tale of Delhi belly she got on a promotional tour – shot straight to the Top 5 to become her biggest ever UK hit single. Mention has to be made of the video for the track which saw a naked Alanis (with the interesting bits blurred out) being embraced by strangers in a variety of urban settings. The subsequent French and Saunders parody was if anything just as memorable.

4: Culture Club – I Just Wanna Be Loved

Once upon a time, bands from the 1980s didn’t reunite every five minutes for a nostalgia tour or a TV special, so when one did so it was a very special thing indeed. The first Culture Club reunion after they broke up in 1986 actually came in 1989 when a series of songs were written and recorded for an album that was ultimately never to be released. Boy George was more interested in reinventing himself as a dance music star, this work manifesting itself in the Jesus Loves You project in 1991 and in particular the hit single ‘Bow Down Mister’ which somehow turned the Hari Krishna mantra into a mainstream club hit. Having spent most of the decade as a highly regarded club DJ, George was finally persuaded to put his differences with the rest of the group (Jon Moss in particular aside) and reunite with them for a reunion tour. To help an accompanying hits collection based around a performance for the VH1 show Storytellers on the way, the group returned to the studio for the first time in 12 years to produce a handful of new songs, with the lilting ‘Just Wanna Be Loved’, featuring the band well and truly back in the ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ groove selected for single release. The song wasn’t necessarily the greatest Culture Club single ever, but crucially it was a long way from the worst and it more than justified its existence by flying straight into the Top 5 upon release. Part of it may well have been for the nostalgic buzz of hearing Boy George singing lovers’ rock once again but the simple fact was that ‘Just Wanna Be Loved’ was their biggest hit single since ‘The War Song’ 14 years earlier. A group who had barely been on speaking terms for the best part of a decade sounded for all the world like they had never been away. It was hard to resist that kind of charm.

3: U2 – The Sweetest Thing

It was Greatest Hits time for U2 in 1998, the band suffering from the slight commercial wobble that had resulted from the rather experimental sound of 1997 album ‘Pop’. Whilst both the album and lead single ‘Discotheque’ had given them Number One hits, even the most die-hard of fans could not escape the feeling that for the first time ever the seemingly unassailable Irish superstars had made a record that was for the most part a bit rubbish. Hence a retread of the glory years of their first decade in music was the perfect way to remind the world just what made them so good in the first place. ‘The Best Of 1980-1990’ came in two versions – one with an extra disc featuring the b-sides of their singles during this period. ‘The Sweetest Thing’ was itself originally a b-side, having featured on the single release of ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ in 1987 and with a new version featuring a gospel choir finding its way onto ‘Rattle and Hum’ a year later. Bono always felt the song (an apology to his wife Ali for missing her birthday) deserved more attention that it first received, so the track was re-recorded to promote the new compilation and issued as a single. It could well have been Number One, but for the fact its release coincided with the flurry of big hit singles which made up this record-setting Top 5. Even as a Number 3 hit it stands tall as one of U2’s best singles of the decade. Heck, it even had Boyzone in the video.

2: George Michael – Outside

Back in the days when George Michael had a sense of humour about himself, even he had to admit there were probably more dignified ways to come out of the closet. His arrest for exposing himself to an undercover police officer in a Los Angeles public toilet made headlines across the world but also in turn served as the perfect publicity for his planned Greatest Hits collection at the end of 1998. Showing a self awareness that stood any criticism of his misdemeanour on its head, the album was cheerily titled “Ladies and Gentlemen – The Best of George Michael” and divided his solo work into a disc of ballads and a disc of floorfillers. It was from the latter that this newly recorded track came, a sizzling funk workout in which George put on his best “Mr Sex” voice and attempted to extol the virtues of al fresco loving. Coming after the soulful introspection of 1996 album ‘Older’ the track was a breath of fresh air and was hailed widely as George Michael back to his best. Massive chart success was almost guaranteed, and its failure to add to his tally of Number One singles was down to nothing more than there being an even bigger track ahead of it in the queue. History may well record that as the century turned George lost his artistic mojo and was reduced to turning out singles that were essentially carbon copies of this one, but if we are focusing on the now of this particular chart then it is enough to recall ‘Outside’ as being one of the freshest, funkiest pop records of the year and another offering from a man who voice could bewitch us all, regardless of who he waved his penis at.

1: Cher – Believe

It was a bold step turning Cher into a dance star. Her solo work for the previous decade and a half had been firmly rooted in rock music and it was as a leather-clad guitar heroine that most of the world knew her, notwithstanding the rock and roll nostalgia of ‘The Shoop Shoop Song’ with which she had topped the UK charts in 1991. Nonetheless it was believed that a change of direction would be the shot in the arm that the then 52 year old star needed, and at the behest of then Warner boss Rob Dickins, Cher was teamed up some up and coming British producers to make the pop record that would hopefully revive her career. The song ‘Believe’ had been floating around as a demo for some time, much to the frustration of its writers, amongst them a then unknown Brian Higgins. With the help of other Warner staffers, all but the chorus was ditched and the hit song took shape, hence the presence of no less than six different names on the song-writing credits.

Yet it wasn’t the writing of the track that made ‘Believe’ the near legendary track it became. It was all down to the production by Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling which transformed the song into something special. The magic ingredient was what Terry Wogan termed “Sparky’s Magic Piano”, the processing of Cher’s voice with what everyone assumed at the time was an old fashioned vocoder and which everyone “in the know” identified as a tribute to Roger Troutman, congratulating ourselves on our musical insight in the process. The vocal effects were greeted with horror by Cher’s label when they first heard the track, but they remained in place when the artist herself insisted they were her favourite bit. In fact it wasn’t until several years later, after the creators of the track formed the now famous Xenomania production team and label, that the producers revealed that the effect came from running the vocals through Autotune with all the settings turned up to 11. Without meaning to they had invented a production trick which ten years later would come to be the defining sound of transatlantic pop music.

‘Believe’ and its use of Autotune actually remained a one-off novelty until ten years later when Kanye West hit on the gimmick of using it to turn himself as a rapper who manifestly could not sing into an actual singer for the track ‘Love Lockdown’. Nonetheless the 1998 single has its place in history as the first ever Autotuned pop hit – and one that at the time was a global sensation. ‘Believe’ slice through chart records like a butchers knife. This was the first of what would become seven weeks at Number One, the single selling 107,000 copies in its first week and a phenomenal 205,000 a week later. In a year of no less than four million sellers, ‘Believe’ ended it as the biggest seller of them all. Its total sales to date of 1.7 million are enough to make it the 16th biggest seller of all time in this country and far and away the biggest ever by a female artist. It extended Cher’s span of Number One hits to 33 years, dating back to the 1965 success of ‘I Got You Babe’ and at the age of 52 she set a record as the oldest woman ever to have a Number One hit in the UK – one that persists to this day. As I commented at the time, it was enough to make Cliff Richard’s grumpy protestations of “ageism” seem a little like sour grapes. All you had to do was make a record that enough people wanted to hear, and nobody cared how old you were.

So there you are, the hits of October 25th 1998 and thank you for your patience as we finally got there. Relive them all with the Spotify and We7 playlists and we’ll do this all over again at Christmas. Naturally you’ll have to wait until then to find out which Christmas chart we revisit this year. I’m nothing if not a tease.

Nov 02

Believe in 1998 – Part Three

Looking back at the news headlines of the time, October 1998 was an enormously fun time. Not so much if you lived in the West Midlands however as what was billed as Britain’s wettest October since 1987 saw the rivers Severn and Wye burst their banks, cutting off Shrewsbury town centre with floodwaters. Welsh Secretary Ron Davies was forced to resign after what he called “a moment of madness” after being mugged in suspicious circumstances on Clapham Common. He was a former Welsh Secretary shortly afterwards. Still, even his departure was topped by that of Blue Peter presenter Richard Bacon who was caught in a tabloid sting taking cocaine in a nightclub, forcing the programme to dismiss him and making him the first presenter of the show to be sacked in the middle of a contract in its history. Looking back at his media career since, you can’t help but think it was the best career move he ever made.

Top 20 time now on the chart of October 25th 1998.. and we start with the wiliest veteran of them all.

20: Cliff Richard – Can’t Keep This Feeling In

How is it every time I do one of these there is a Cliff record in the charts? This one is actually quite a significant moment in his career as I think it marks the point he started to lose touch with reality and see everything as a gigantic conspiracy against him having hits, a point it seemed he went out of his way to prove. Now remember, despite his status as the Peter Pan of pop and a decades-spanning career that is the envy of practically all around, Cliff Richard hit a point round about 1992-1993 when his records ceased to sell on their own merits to music fans in general and were simply items of passing interest to nobody except the hardcore bunch of grannies who had stuck with him from the start.

Cliff being Cliff, could not accept this naturally and was determined to prove he could still be as hip and as relevant as anyone else Daddy-O. Hence the promotion for the admittedly rather sultry and very well made R Kelly-esque ballad ‘Can’t Keep This Feeling In’ which was initially pressed up as a white label and credited to the mysterious “Blacknight” as a way of making people assume it was some unknown superstar soul singer. A positive reception ensued, until the point naturally when Cliff took off his disguise with a Machiavellian flourish and went “ha ha you fools it was me all along, not so useless now AM I?” at which point we all went “shit, we almost liked a Cliff record” and avoided it like the plague.

So in a way he had a point, there was a great deal of prejudice potentially holding him back. The point is however that no matter how much one pretends otherwise, music is as much about image and marketing and it made no difference how up to the minute he attempted to make the music sound, ‘Can’t Keep This Feeling In’ was still a Cliff Richard record and most people were past caring. It wasn’t an age thing either, the top end of this chart will prove that conclusively. All that Cliff achieved with the Blacknight stunt was to confirm suspicions that he was starting to lose his marbles PR wise. The single incidentally made Number 10 anyway upon release, his biggest hit single for five years and the first since he became Sir Cliff, making him I guess the first Knight Of The Realm ever to have a Top 10 hit single.

19: Meja – All ‘Bout The Money

Another final example of a 1998 pop gem, ‘All ‘Bout The Money’ was a rather glorious slice of Scandi-pop, imported directly from Sweden where Meja was already a huge star. Truth be told, despite the copious airplay it received across the board, the single was something of a sales disappointment, landing at Number 12 and then dipping out of the charts within five weeks, this placing here representing its second week on sale. The track received a respectable amount of attention in America, leading the singer to be selected to accompany Ricky Martin on his 2000 single ‘Private Emotion’. That duet aside, Meja remains a one hit wonder on these shores. But what a hit it was, seriously.

18: Rose Royce featuring Gwen Dickey – Car Wash

It is the disco classic that just would not die. A Number 9 hit in 1977 when it was the debut hit single for Rose Royce and then a Number 20 hit in the summer of 1988 during the first of what would turn out to be many disco revivals, the hit single was resurrected once again in October 1998 in what even at the time I termed a rather unnecessary remix. I forget why exactly lead singer Gwen Dickey received her own credit on this re-release – these days it indicates the star has laid down some fresh vocals and so receives a separate performer royalty but the reasons for the 1998 billing are lost in the mists of time. Exactly who made this new mix is lost in the mists of time, and like the Luniz single before it, all I can do is add the original version to the online playlists. Those who wish to subject themselves to the charge of the “Mustard Mix” which is the one released in 1998 are invited to click below. With caution.

17: Lynden David Hall – Sexy Cinderella

A poignant moment this, the biggest ever hit single for the rather tragic Lynden David Hall, a man who promised a great deal upon first emerging but who subsequently faded from view and died tragically young. ‘Sexy Cinderella’ had first been released in late 1997 but had just missed a place in the Top 40. After follow-up single ‘Do I Qualify’ had given him a Top 40 breakthrough, his first release was reactivated and charted here as a new entry at Number 17 to finally justify the positive press he had been receiving for the best part of the previous 12 months. His debut album ‘Medicine 4 My Pain’ followed a few weeks later, but aside from a brief return in 2000 this was his last brush with chart fame. He died of complications resulting from a stem cell transplant he received in treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphona at the tragically young age of 31 – three years after he had made a cameo appearance at the wedding scene in the film Love Actually, a moment which seems to have ended up as a greater legacy than even this overlooked hit single.

16: T-Spoon – Sex On The Beach

I remember the exact moment I first heard this record. It was Saturday September 13th 1998 and I was in the office at work preparing for the Saturday afternoon sports show I used to present. My colleague, the current Absolute Radio DJ Lucio, was at the time hosting the local chart rundown and before spinning ‘Sex On The Beach’ warned the audience he was about to play what he described as “the worst record I have ever heard”. Three minutes later I was dancing around the office with joy. It goes some way to explaining our subsequent career trajectories ever since.

T-Spoon were a Dutch act, fronted by rapper Shalamon ‘Shamrock’ Baskin and who had built up a reputation for fusing styles such as a jazz and reggae with wild abandon in a series of bubbly europop hits that edged ever closer towards proper happy hardcore with every subsequent release. ‘Sex On The Beach’ was possibly their most ludicrous single to date and would probably have never been considered for a UK release, but for the fact copies had been imported over to the Republic Of Ireland earlier in the summer, whereupon it had become a surprise novelty smash. With demand for the single subsequently spreading across the border (in much the same was DJ Otizi’s ‘Hey Baby’ would three years later) T-Spoon found themselves the creators of an equally unexpected British hit, one that hit Number 2 in early September as a hangover from the long hot summer that everyone had enjoyed.

Lucio may well have been correct, it is indeed the worst record ever made. But somehow it is also guaranteed to put a smile on even the craggiest of faces, and it wasn’t even the most ridiculous europop record of its era either.

15: Cardigans – My Favourite Game

It was Chris Evans who first championed the music of The Cardigans, way back in 1995 when he made their second British single ‘Sick And Tired’ his record of the week on the Radio One breakfast show. Although the track only reached Number 34, it was enough to get the Swedish group and their rather quirky laid back jazzy pop noticed by more than the odd reviewer in the heavyweight music press. 1996 single ‘Lovefool’ was the breakthrough, not first time around when it only made Number 21, but upon re-release the following year when it soared to Number 2 on the back of its use on the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s remake of Romeo and Juliet. For their 1998 album Gran Turismo, the group took the bold step of abandoning the bright and breezy pop of their earlier work in favour of a rather grittier and darker sound. It turned out to be a masterstroke. Lead single was the driving and intense ‘My Favourite Game’ which found a natural international audience in the way many of their earlier singles did not. It only crept to Number 14 upon release here (dipping to this placing a week later) but laid the ground for the new improved Cardigans to go on to bigger and better things, follow-up single ‘Erase/Rewind’ going Top 10 with ease in early 1999. This may not be their biggest hit ever, but it surely ranks as their most significant.

14: Dru Hill – How Deep Is Your Love

I’ve always said the worst crime any single can commit is to be unremarkable. So many R&B singles come and go, sticking to a safe formula and containing little in the way of hook or melody that they all tend to wash into each other after a while. Dru Hill’s breakthrough Top 10 single is the perfect example of a single that neatly sidesteps that track to perfection. Lifted from their second album ‘Enter The Dru’, ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ is a masterfully produced soul record that knits together the voices of the four men (one of whom was future ‘Thong Song’ king Sisqo) in harmony that is so tight you would struggle to slide a piece of paper between them all. ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ made Number 9 a week before this chart, and although they would better that placing in early 1999 with ‘These Are The Times’, for me it ranks as their best ever single.

13: Fatboy Slim- Gangster Trippin’

Norman Cook had spent the early-mid 1990s making records under so many aliases many thought he was going for a Jonathan King level of chart multiplicity. With the creation of Fatboy Slim he finally seemed to have found a coat that fitted, although it took a few goes for the concept to really take off, the first Fatboy record ‘Going Out Of My Head’ bombing at Number 57 when released in May 1997. The real breakthrough came in June 1998 when ‘The Rockafeller Skank’ charged to Number 6 and finally giving Cook/Fatboy a viable hitmaking persona, one which he would retain for almost a decade. ‘Gangster Trippin’ was the follow-up to that smash hit and turned out to be even bigger, making Number 3 in mid October with consummate ease. Funny to note that these days the origin of every single sample that makes up a dance record is instantly documented and presented for all the world to see, back then we neither knew nor cared that ‘Gangster Trippin’ was stitched together from six different sources. We just loved the way it sounded.

12: B*witched – Rollercoaster

At the time it was hard not to love B*witched (despite it being incredibly difficult to type their name at speed). The four Irish girls in stonewashed denim exploded onto the pop charts like the proverbial breath of fresh air in the spring of 1998, their marketability only helped by the fact that two of the girls – Edele and Keavy – were the sisters of Boyzone’s Shane Lynch. Debut single ‘C’est La Vie’ was one of the most magical pop records of its era, a joyful fusion of Irish reels and pure pop sensibilities which flew to the top with consummate ease the moment it was released. In a year that represented a genuine high point for Irish pop music in the UK charts, they were a core part of that domination. What they did next then was always going to be a matter of great interest. Follow-up single ‘Rollercoaster’ wasn’t half the record its predecessor was (how could it be?) but somehow it was cheery and breezy enough to give the four girls a second straight Number One, despite a few mutterings in some quarters that it was channelling the theme to the Double Deckers during the chorus. Their third and fourth singles were in truth little better but their marketing was so perfectly pitched that in the early months of 1999 they had set a new chart benchmark – going straight to Number One with their first four singles. Not even the Spice Girls had managed this when they started out. The law of diminishing returns hit B*witched hard when it came to a second album and poor sales of its singles saw them ultimately dropped by the label which had initially championed them so hard and the story was over.

11: Beautiful South – Perfect 10

Possibly the final exclamation point on the Beautiful South’s imperial phase, ‘Perfect 10’ was released in September 1998 as the lead single from their sixth album ‘Quench’ and in an instant became one of their biggest ever hits. The typically acerbic track about body image shot straight to Number 2, their biggest hit single since the chart-topping ‘A Little Time’ eight years earlier and only the third Top 3 hit of their career. As big a high point as it was, it was a height the group would never hit again. Follow-up single ‘Dumb’ made a mere Number 16 at Christmas and from that moment on they struggled to even make the Top 20 never mind adding to a total of Top 10 hit singles. Beautiful South singles continued to be minor chart hits right up until the release of their (to date) final album ‘Super Bi’ in 2006 but somehow none came close to hitting the heights of this single, one which was near inescapable on the radio at the time. Or maybe that was just because I kept having to play it on the radio, who can say?

Spotify and We7 playlists are up to date with these songs so far (a 100% strike rate for this segment pleasingly) – one more push and a never to be repeated Top 10 event is upon us.

Nov 01

Believe in 1998 – Part Two

You know what, in October 1998 I was happy. Insanely happy. I was producer and co-host of an enormously successful local radio breakfast show in Bradford, working alongside a former Radio One presenter who essentially dumped everything he ever learned onto me and brought me on in leaps and bounds as a broadcaster. I was driving around on my newly purchased scooter with a new 15 month contract from the radio station in my back pocket, leading a fun lifestyle in my attic room in Shipley and making the most of every minute. True, there were times on freezing cold mornings when I wondered just why I was out of bed and showering at 4.30am and wondered whether certain bits of life weren’t just passing me by a little, but if I was to look back at my entire on air radio career and point to the time when everything was going just as planned, this would be it. Hence these songs are those that soundtracked that era of my life. I was being paid to get up in the morning and play them. No wonder many are so incredibly memorable.

30: Brandy featuring Mase – Top Of The World

Two songs back to back to kick off this second segment, singles from two women who had teamed up a few months earlier to record one of the R&B smashes of the year. ‘The Boy Is Mine’ was the record in question, a call-and-response duet between Brandy and Monica which was not only arrestingly and inspiringly good but also served as a long overdue female equivalent to the famous Jackson/MCartney ‘The Girl Is Mine’ duet. The single was an easy Number 2 in May 1998 and needless to say had a beneficial effect on the careers of both women.

For Brandy Norwood it was the shot in the arm her international career needed. The mid- to late-90s were an odd time as far as transatlantic music tastes were concerned, with a great many American acts finding that European and British audiences in particular were almost completely unreceptive to their charms. There is an endless list of big American R&B hits from this period which simply flopped or were at best only minor hits in the UK, many famous songs only becoming hits here when covered by British pop acts at the start of the 21st century. Hence it wasn’t all that much of a shock to note that before 1998 Brandy’s singles here had failed to set the charts alight. Despite two bites at the cherry ‘I Wanna Be Down’ had been little more than a minor Top 40 hit and its follow-up ‘Sittin’ Up In My Room’ limped to Number 30, both in 1996 and a full two years after they had first turned her into a star back home. Post ‘The Boy Is Mine’ however and it was a very different story. ‘Top Of The World’ became the second single to be lifted from her second album ‘Never Say Never’ and immediately duplicated the success of its predecessor, charging to Number 2 in early October. The single was admittedly what we would now call a one week wonder, but then again most were back in those days – this Number 30 placing was its fourth week on the chart. She would never quite scale these kind of chart heights again, although her last Top 10 hit was as recently as 2004.

29: Monica – The First Night

As for her co-duettee, it was a similar story. Monica Arnold’s first releases during 1995 and 1996 were only minor hits, her best performance coming in the summer of 1996 when ‘Before You Walk Out Of My Life’ reached Number 22. Her first post ‘The Boy Is Mine’ single was this track, released just a week after the Brandy single and which made a comfortable Number 6 to give her the biggest solo hit of her UK career. Although ‘The Boy Is Mine’ appeared on the albums of both women, it was I guess technically Monica’s record to begin with as she named her album after the song, ‘The First Night’ thus qualifying as its second single release. As a side note, in a strange reversal of what would become the trend, Monica’s next single in the States was her version of a song that had already been a hit for a British R&B act – ‘Angel Of Mine’ most familiar to UK audiences thanks to Eternal’s 1997 hit version. Undaunted Monica’s British label attempted to promote her version in this country as well, but despite it being a Hot 100 chart-topper nobody here was interested and when it made Number 55 in September 1999 it became Monica’s final appearance to date on the UK charts.

28: Luniz – I Got 5 On It

No, your eyes do not deceive you. The celebrated hip-hop single had already been a sizeable UK hit first time around, hitting Number 3 in February 1996 as a follow-on from its American success. This chart comeback two and a half years later was thanks to a rather clever jungle remix created by Mickey Finn and Aphrodite and which had circulated as a bootleg white label for most of the summer before being finally licensed for release. Oddly for a track that had such a buzz about it underground, commercially it was something of a failure, entering here at Number 28 and vanishing from the chart within a fortnight. For completeness sake I’ve included the most famous hit version on the playlists and in the link above but the “Urban Takeover” remix charting here can be viewed below.


27: Natalie Imbruglia – Smoke

You see this is the problem when you have hits that are so big and with such massive appeal that they wind up being your defining moment – pretty much everything else you do gets rather overlooked and suffers in comparison. The doe-eyed Natalie Imbruglia would theoretically have been just another Australian soap actress aiming for a brief musical career, but for the fact she was served up an absolute belter of a song for her debut single. Having bounded around Scandinavia in a variety of different versions for a couple of years, the new English language rewrite of ‘Torn’ was handed to the lady formerly known as “Beth from Neighbours” and instantly became one of the bigger smashes of late 1997, impossible to escape on the radio and a single which neatly established her as a bone-fide chart star. That Number 2 single was swiftly followed by another second place track ‘Big Mistake’ in early 1998 and then an album which was mined for hits for the rest of the year. ‘Smoke’ was her fourth single release, a track that returned her to the Top 10 after ‘Wishing I Was There’ had fallen short, but in the grand scheme of things one of her most forgettable releases – such is the fate of fourth singles from the album I guess. She has made sporadic chart comebacks since, often with singles that are equally as well crafted (2005 release ‘Shiver’ a particular highlight) but she has to date never quite recaptured quite the impact she made in the 1990s with two early singles. Neither of which was this one.

26: Robbie Williams – Millennium

Funny this. The singles which made everyone start worshipping every drop of sweat on Robbie Williams’ body were the ones I didn’t particularly care for. I’m sure I am not alone in that view. After a slow star to the promotion of his debut solo album ‘Life Thru A Lens’, during which time he released a succession of singles which were well received but little regarded, Robbie exploded into superstardom with ‘Angels’, a Number 4 hit at the tail of 1997 and which now is so over-exposed it is now little more than a funeral soundtracking cliche. Inevitably after this breakthrough (and its Top 3 follow-up ‘Let Me Entertain You’) the first brand new Robbie material was going to be nothing less than an event. The first single plucked from sophomore album ‘I’ve Been Expecting You’ was the sweeping and majestic ‘Millennium’, based entirely around the string melody from John Barry’s theme to “You Only Live Twice” and which cleverly marked Robbie Williams (and his increasingly high profile songwriting collaborator Guy Chambers) as an artist who wasn’t afraid to indulge his experimental side every once in a while. ‘Millennium’ wasn’t the most immediate pop record he would ever make but it swept to Number One with consummate ease the moment it was released in September 1998. I’ll say this for nothing: I don’t care for it too much. He had made far better records before this one and would go on to write more than his fair share of classics. Nonetheless Millennium stands tall as his first ever solo chart-topper, only his second Number One as lead singer (‘Everything Changes’ was the only Take That Number One on which he took centre stage) and at the very least unique in being the only Number One ballad to use “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough” as a bridging lyric.

25: Boyzone – No Matter What

In compiling these flashbacks it is fun to look up the Wikipedia page for each of the songs, just to see how much attention the internet braintrust has deemed them worthy. Extraordinarily ‘No Matter What’ merits just four lines of explanation, half of which are taken up with noting a dance remix that was “very popular”. Astonishing really, ‘No Matter What’ actually ranks as one of the most significant singles of its era, for a whole variety of reasons:

  • Lifted from the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical “Whistle Down The Wind”, the song sailed past ‘Don’t Cry For Argentina’ in fairly short order to become the biggest selling single ever from a stage musical.
  • With a total sale to date of 1,095,000 copies (enough to make it round around the 76th biggest seller of all time, give or take a few places), the track is the biggest selling single ever by an Irish act, the only one by artists from the Emerald Isle to clock up a seven figure sale.
  • Although the track is essentially a two handed duet with Ronan Keating, ‘No Matter What’ is held up as the late Stephen Gately’s finest moment on record and the vocal for which it seems he is best remembered.
  • With lyrics and production by Jim Steinman, it became the legendary producers fourth and, to date, final Number One production in this country. Oddly it also meant the man credited with inventing the Wagnerian Rock genre had produced just as many singles for boy band pop acts (Boyzone and Take That) as he had rock singers like Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler with which he is most frequently associated.

Maybe to modern ears ‘No Matter What’ sounds a bit weak-kneed, not quite the epic it sounded back in the day, but make no mistake it was one of the biggest hits of the year, the fourth biggest seller of 1998 and high point of Boyzone’s career that they would never even come close to matching. That’s actually worth more than a very brief paragraph surely.

24: Lauryn Hill – Doo Wop (That Thing)

Perhaps not the easiest of records to listen to, Lauryn Hill’s one and only post-Fugees album is rightly regarded as a soul classic and one which contains more than its fair share of memorable hits. ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ was the first to be lifted, a single which maybe would not have attracted quite as much attention had she been a complete unknown, but which name value aside comfortably made Number 3 in early October 1998 albeit as part of a rather brief chart run. Two more Top 20 hits followed from ‘The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill’, after which we all sat around for the next 12 years waiting for her to record another one.

23: REM – Daysleeper

By the middle of the last decade REM had slipped into a nice comfortable pattern, common to the most well established of rock acts at the time. Appear every couple of years, release a new album, have one contractually obligated Top 10 hit single, go on tour, lather, rinse and repeat. After a while they all merged into one. ‘Daysleeper’ was their Top 10 single of 1998, the first to be lifted in support of the album ‘Up’ which was the first they had recorded following Bill Berry’s departure from the group. The epitome of their mid-90s “experimental” period, the album isn’t their most immediate of records, but the fact that it contained this single and also the surprise 1999 hit ‘At My Most Beautiful’ suggests it wasn’t a total bust.

22: 4 The Cause – Stand By Me

A few weeks back I suggested that the LZ7 single ‘This Little Light’ was the first ever example of God-rap in the charts, but in actual fact it was probably this single. 4 The Cause were a family group from Chicago, originally going by the name of Young Warriors For Christ which I guess was marginally less marketable than the one they eventually settled upon. This happy-clappy remake of the Ben E King soul classic made a smash and grab raid on the Top 20, making a surprisingly healthy Number 20 in early October on the back of being wildly successful on the continent. They have no page on English Wikipedia, but a full write-up in the German version. I think that tells you all that you need to know.

21: Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You (iTunes)

The 11th biggest seller of the year, despite ending up stuck at Number 2 for most of the summer. The club track ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ was the creation of soon to be Daft Punk member Thomas Bangalter, based around a sample from an old Chaka Khan single ‘Fate’. With a new vocal supplied by Benjamin Diamond, its creators called themselves Stardust and had a worldwide smash hit with the single, the only one they ever released as a collective. Near ubiquitous in its day, it is curiously hard to locate these days, unavailable for linking on We7 and I suspect will be unplayable for most in the Spotify playlist. Have the video on me instead, and see you soon for Part 3.

Oct 22

Believe in 1998 – Part One

A confession. This next series of retrospective articles is a tiny bit of a cheat. Regular visitors to these pages will be aware that the overarching concept for archive Top 40 reviews is as an excuse to dip into the vast collection of old Radio One Top 40 shows that I have stockpiled on cassettes dating back to 1987. Just in case you are curious, this is what the full set looks like:


This particular Top 40 isn’t actually one of these tapes however. Having never done a chart from 1998 before this seemed a good opportunity to fill in that gap, yet the most interesting countdown of the month was one that my regular recording schedule didn’t actually capture. Hence I’m bending the rules a little for this one, writing about the songs as I’ve looked them up online rather than hearing them in the true context of a Radio One broadcast at the time.

At the end of the day though, you don’t really care how this is being sourced do you? Let’s just roll the tape anyway… Welcome to the UK Top 40, as would have been broadcast by Radio One on Saturday October 25th 1998. All links are to the songs themselves on unless otherwise stated, and there are playlists of the chart as we go along on both We7 and Spotify.

40: Melanie B/Missy ‘Misdemeanour Elliott’ – I Want You Back

We begin this particular trip back through the years with a record which I always hold up as a classic example of an artist being reduced to the status of guest star on their own record. First the bare facts. ‘I Want You Back’ made a small piece of chart history, being as it was the first ever extra-curricular Spice Girls single, the erstwhile Scary Spice having been plotting her solo record even during the promotion for the 1997 ‘Spiceworld’ album. The single was released at the tail end of September 1998 and naturally raced straight to Number One and then naturally enough straight back out again, this final Top 40 appearance being merely its fifth week on the chart. The odd thing is however that it was never intended to be quite this way. Our first clues that a collaboration between Missy Elliott and Mel B came earlier during the summer when PR snippets suggested that Mel B had been invited by the hip hop star to help her our on a single she was preparing for a forthcoming film soundtrack whilst the Spice Girls were on a European tour. Mel B you will note had very little to do with its creation, the track is credited entirely to Missy Elliott, Gerald Thomas and Donald Holmes and had the invited singer been any other R&B diva, you suspect that the track would have wound up as “Missy Elliott featuring…” and landed on one of her albums.

This collaborator however was Mel B, one part of the biggest pop group in town, and one can only presume that an explicit condition of her participation was that she received lead billing when the single was promoted internationally. Hence Missy Elliott is little more than a featured guest on a track she co-wrote and indeed produced herself. All the plaudits, chart credits and heck even the cover picture on the single go entirely to the shouty lass from Leeds, grabbing as well the track for her solo album ‘Hot’ when it emerged a few years later. To the best of my knowledge ‘I Want You Back’ has never appeared on any Missy Elliott album, which somehow seems wrong.

In a desperate attempt to confuse the record books and to give us all a reason to laugh at how naive she was back then, this looked for a while as if it was to be the only solo record Scary Spice made under the name of “Melanie B”. By the time she released her next solo single (a lame cover of Cameo’s ‘Word Up’ in the summer of 1999 she was insisting on being billed as “Melanie G” to reflect her ultimately short-lived marriage to Jimmy Gulzar. Needless to say the moment Goldcard Jimmy was kicked to the kerb, she was back under her maiden name for singles that came out in 2000 and 2001. Cheryl “Cole” take careful note.

39: Garbage – Special

One of the more overlooked Garbage singles, which is something of a shame as at the time it provoked more than its fair share of attention, thanks largely to its affectionate lifting of some of the vocals from the Pretenders single ‘Talk Of The Town’ during the coda of the song. ‘Special’ was the third single lifted from the band’s well received second album ‘Version 2.0’, landing on the chart after both ‘Push It’ and ‘I Think I’m Paranoid’ had both made the Top 10. Musically speaking ‘Special’ is an upbeat jangly indie-pop record that hits you like a blinding shaft of sunlight compared to the rather more brooding and angry tracks for which they are rightly famous. The single made Number 15, a higher chart placing than acknowledged classics like ‘Only Happy When It Rains’ and ‘Breaking Up The Girl’, yet I have to confess that as a casual fan this might be the first time I’ve listened to it since it was released.

38: Steps – One For Sorrow

Still, at least Garbage singles don’t tend to run into each other after a while. History has maybe been less kind to the collected works of Steps, tracks which on their own and in their own time stood head and shoulders above the competition but looking back tend to mash together as the disposable pop it always was. Not that there is ever anything wrong with disposable pop of course, and as a shining example of it ‘One For Sorrow’ stands up to close scrutiny. The track is a masterful creation by Pete Waterman and the PWL team, a textbook example of the “sounds like an ABBA track but at the same time nothing like them” style that they created for Steps. The tinkling piano line is straight out of ‘I Have a Dream’, the chord sequence used in the chorus is a direct lift from ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and yet at the same time the track is a distinctively original piece of work, a feat which deserves nothing less than the highest praise. Released at a time when sales at the top of the charts were going mental, ‘One For Sorrow’ arrived in the shops with a sale of almost 140,000 copies, yet this still wasn’t good enough to see it top the charts. Damn those Manic Street Preachers and their tolerating of stuff children wouldn’t approve of. Damn then.

37: UB40 – Come Back Darling

It hurts to say it, but by the mid-1990s even a venerable chart institution like UB40 had jumped the shark, their only route to hit singles coming thanks to another visit to the well of cover versions and the ever diminishing returns of the ‘Labour Of Love’ concept. Nine years after Volume II of their interpretations of classic hits came Volume III and with it this lead single, a remake of a song first recorded in the 1970s by Jamaican star Johnny Osbourne. Naturally there is very little wrong with the track; give Ali Campbell a sweet love song to sing and the band will sit gently behind him like a well oiled machine and together they will make a record that washes over your ears like a mothers caress. The problem was that by 1998 we had simply heard it all so many times before. For ‘Come Back Darling’ you could read ‘Kingston Town’ or ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’. UB40 had made so many classic covers of already classic songs that adding one more to the list just wasn’t going to contribute anything to their creative legacy. Had they covered ‘Come Back Darling’ in 1983 it would have sold a million, it was that beautiful. In late 1998 it was a Top 10 hit single (their last to date, incidentally), and very little else.

36: Bus Stop featuring Randy Bachman – You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

Years before his ill-fated attempt to drag the Eurovision Song Contest kicking and screaming into the 21st century with ‘Teenage Life’, Daz Sampson was a man on a mission to turn the charts into a non-stop pop party via a series of cover versions of classic songs, all dressed up with bubbling beats and incredibly bad raps for a new generation of wedding receptions and birthday parties. Bus Stop was the main vehicle for this and in a manner which is quite breathtaking in its unashamed dismantling of famous hit songs, Daz and his collaborators proceeded to dismantle such venerable singles as ‘Jump’ and ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, very often with the consent and participation of the original writers and performers. Thus for this second hit it was the turn of Randy Bachman who either needed the money urgently or was given an enormously preferential royalty rate, to cheerfully re-record the vocals to the Bachman Turner Overdrive’s most famous hit record. The original ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’ has long been overplayed into the realms of cliche, but the Bus Stop version manages to be quite gloriously bad in a way that few other cover versions can aspire to. Of course it is intended to be nothing more than a throwaway party hit, so it takes a particularly hard hearted individual to get angry about the fact that for an entire generation of music fans this might well have been their first ever introduction to one of the most famous rock tracks of its generation.

Online streams of the track? Let’s be honest that was never going to happen. Enjoy the (sadly not properly embeddable) video and watch a future Song For Europe star throw the rap shapes that he was eventually to take to a worldwide audience.

35: Dina Carroll – One, Two, Three

Another single I genuinely don’t think I have heard since it was first released, and a track which sadly represented the moment the awesome Dina Carroll’s career fell of the rails thanks to record company dithering. The smooth soul of ‘One, Two, Three’ was destined to be the first single from her third album, following up the well received ‘Only Human’ released in 1996. The single itself came out on schedule in October 1998 and made a respectable Number 16 to remind the world she was still around. Its follow-up was destined to be a cover version of ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ but when Dusty Springfield passed away early the following year the release was deemed either to be in poor taste or at risk of being branded a too-obvious cash-in so it was shelved. With doubts surfacing over the quality of the other tracks on the album the label decided to postpone release and reworked the production, moving Dina Carroll back towards the dance diva style with which she had begun her career (and which she confessed to me years later she was never particularly comfortable with). A further Top 20 single ‘Without Love’ followed but then for reasons that were never properly explained the album was shelved completely and Dina Carroll was dropped shortly afterwards. She attempted a comeback in 2001 after a period of ill health but in truth her time had passed and she moved to America to start a family. I was privileged enough to meet her in early 1996 when she did the promotional rounds for an ultimately cancelled nostalgia tour which was enough to elevate her in my eyes as one of my favourite 90s stars. ‘One, Two, Three’ was maybe a little underappreciated at the time, so it is nice to use this opportunity to call attention to it once again.

34: Honeyz – Finally Found

The debut, and far and away biggest, hit single for the three piece British R&B group The Honeyz, created by Dennis Ingoldsby of First Avenue management in an attempt to continue to mine the commercial vein he had tapped with Eternal. Initially consisting of Heavenli, Naima and Celena, the three girls were well served by the material they were given to perform, sugar sweet R&B ballads that were produced with just the right amount of respect for their crystal clear vocals. It meant tracks such as ‘Finally Found’ had an effortless magic to them and a quality that was almost wasted on the frantically moving pop charts of 1998. History hasn’t been kind to them and they hardly helped their legacy with an endless series of personnel changes which set the template for the Sugababes in years to come, but for me ‘Finally Found’ and its follow-up ‘Never Let You Down’ remain some of the best soul tracks of the turn of the century. Some day they will be ripe for rediscovery.

33: Deetah – Relax

The biggest hit in the briefly flowering chart career of Chilean-born Swedish singer Deetah, this rather cleverly made single saw her rapping and singing over a backing track which is readily identifiable as the guitar riff from the Dire Straits track ‘Why Worry’. Some may quite correctly see this as an outrage, but it was a formula which was good enough to send the single to Number 11 in late September 1998 with a follow-up ‘El Paradiso Rico’, this time based around ‘La Isla Bonita’, following in May 1999.

32: Savage Garden – To The Moon And Back

This was naturally enough Savage Garden’s imperial phase, when after initially struggling to gain a toehold on the charts here the Aussie duo were guaranteed a smash hit with every record they put out. Having originally flopped when first released in September 1997 (it made Number 55), the brooding track was reactivated as the follow-up to global smash hit ‘Truly Madly Deeply’ and it dutifully made Number 3, a chart placing they would never better with any subsequent single. I still thought ‘I Want You’ was a thousand times better though.

31: Jennifer Paige – Crush (Spotify link)

I spent much of 1998 pointing out that music was in the middle of a golden age of pop music, the charts crammed with enjoyable radio-friendly pop hits that were all selling in quantities that would have been unthinkable just five years earlier. Pluck out any chart from this period and you land on a whole series of singles that would have graced any era in chart history with consummate style. We end the bottom end of the Top 40 with this single, the first of just two chart hits in this country for Jennifer Paige and one which rocketed to Number 4 with very little effort in early September, hard on the heels of its American release which had seen demand for the single reach fever pitch when one station began playing it on heavy rotation before a release date had even been set. The singer’s self-titled debut album proved to be her commercial peak as far as most of the world was concerned but she still continues to write and record to this day, her 2008 album ‘Best Kept Secret’ spawning a handful of minor hits in Europe. In Britain she remains very much a one hit wonder.

Sep 29

Does The Pope Shit In The Woods?

Anyone studying the intimate details of my personal Facebook profile will come across one particular semi-comic line. Years ago when first creating the account, under “Religion” I put: ‘Self’. It is a gag that either nobody gets or one which most visitors treat with the contempt it deserves, but I leave it up there as a clear indication that I have very little time for religion of any kind.

It is odd really as I was brought up steeped in Anglicanism. My bookshelves as a small child contained the required illustrated bible stories tome, I had a tissue-leafed bible that I think was handed to me as a Christening present when I was a baby, every Sunday we were taken to Sunday school to learn how to be good little soldiers of Jesus and I spent the whole of my formative years in education attending C of E schools, from primary right up to secondary. My whole life until I was an adult was steeped in gentle religious indoctrination. As a teenager I even took a greater step forwards, attending a series of weekly confirmation classes with the vicar after school before taking my vows proper at a big ceremony in Wetherby, presided over by the local bishop. Thereon in I stepped dutifully up to the altar every Sunday, sipped the wine, chewed on my wafer biscuit and praised the lord as instructed by the man in the dog collar.

Except around about the age of 16 I stopped and simply declared that I was no longer going to volunteer my time on a Sunday morning to accompany the family to the local church. Dragging myself to sit on those wooden pews each week had become a personal burden, a tedium that had long since ceased to be enlivened by trying to guess which candle on the altar would burn down fastest or wondering just which shade of puce the face of the lead baritone of the choir would reach during the climactic hymn. I realised I didn’t actually believe a word of what was being spouted every week, had next to no spiritual emotions stirring in me to make such a belief system relevant to the way I lived my life and perhaps most importantly of all had just been exposed to  gigantic and outrageous hypocrisy which made me realise that the whole circus was pure bunkum.

To explain, the Sixth Form institution I attended for A-level study was an historic joint venture between the Anglican school I attended and the corresponding Catholic school down the road. As a model of Christian unity and harmony, the two establishments shared staff, facilities and student rolls, with our lessons divided between the two sites which were a short 10 minute walk away. For those of us non-Papists, even entering the building was an eye-opener, with statues of the Virgin Mary at the end of every corridor and a lavishly decorated and extensive small church attached to the building, a stark contrast to the small but functional chapel for which room had been made at our site. It also meant we were subjected to some of the less pleasant aspects of that particular faith, the afternoon when under the pretext of a General Studies lesson we all crammed into the hall and were treated to a two hour anti-abortion lecture by two sour-faced former nurses in a performance that makes me shudder from the memories almost 20 years later. It wasn’t education, it was indoctrination and I wish that the rage I felt at their lies had been able to articulate itself as a direct challenge during the Q&A session afterwards. Somehow you feel such an intervention would not have been welcome, looked down upon as we were by yet another gigantic mural of the Holy Mother.

As you might expect a big part of the calendar was the annual “week of prayer for Christian unity” where the two student bodies attended a service of worship together and bizarrely recounted our baptismal vows together. When we enquired as to why this part of the service was included, it was explained that the practice of the united congregation taking communion together had been quashed by the local Catholic dignitaries who had threatened Vatican-level retribution if it continued. Falling back on the baptism part of the service was the last remaining common bit of worship left that was not going to cause an upset.

My reaction verged between outrage and pity for those involved. The fact that as far as I was concerned we were worshipping the same God seemed to be lost on the powers that be. I pointed out that despite being a formally confirmed Anglican there was nothing to stop me attending mass at a Catholic church and receiving communion therein. If this was somehow considered “wrong” then the whole idea of a service of Christian unity was an elegantly constructed facade to hide the continuation of centuries of hypocrisy. The answers I received from everyone I consulted on this issue all consisted of much muttering and shuffling of feet.

My suspicions were concerned. The whole thing was bullshit from start to finish. I ignored religion from that moment onwards and at first took a dim view of anyone who disagreed with this position. I was in good company at school, for despite being a Church institution, by the time of the sixth form the number of people who viewed themselves as dedicated practicing Christians could be counted on the fingers of one hand and they generally congregated in their corner of the common room looking intense and worthy and cultivating odd looking beards. Even at university it was far too easy to view those as being of a religious bent as a bit weird, the Christian Society (or whatever they were calling themselves that week) having developed a reputation as a bit too evangelical and weird and who had done their reputation around the site almost irreparable damage by officially boycotting the campus chaplaincy centre as the university gay society were allowed to meet there. Thus it was that when one summer morning the campus awoke to find that some enterprising souls had worked all night to plaster every available wall and pillar with posters proclaiming it was “national piss off a Christian week” I was able to chortle along with the best of them.

As one gets older it is possible to take a mature attitude towards other people’s belief systems. I still regard religion as a crutch for the emotionally weak and a tool for the devious to manipulate people based on a belief in fairy stories. At the same time though, the followers of the Great Sky Pixie are at least for the most part following a creed which encourages everyone to be nice to each other, which is hardly to be sneered at and there is no denying that a healthy faith in something inspires the kind of mass social gathering on which we as human beings tend to thrive. Living for years in the East End of London meant that it was a common sight to see public transport on a Sunday morning crammed full of Afro-Caribbean men and women all scrubbed and groomed to immaculate levels as they went to a local shed to talk to their dead ancestors. Roughly once a year the docks would be besieged by the faithful as the latest big name television evangelist staged an all-night prayer vigil at Excel or The O2, events which were so popular people were being turned away from the door at 2am.

Hence I viewed with some dismay the outpourings of bile, much of it from people with whose opinions I am normally sympathetic, directed at The Pope and the small matter of his recent State Visit to Britain earlier in September. His comments at the start of his trip, condemning what he saw as society’s “militant secularism” only seemed to antagonise the very people at whom they were directed. Clearly for many it was not enough that they should personally have rejected religious belief, those who harmlessly took the other view were to be crushed and banished from what was apparently decent society. I found those views to be quite revolting.

A recent edition of The Spectator contained a series of articles on what it termed “The New Thought Crime”, noting the alarming tendency of British society to react with violent fury against anyone who even dares to express the “wrong” opinion. The message is clear – Britain is a liberal and progressive utopia and you risk arrest if you dare disagree. The Jan Moir furore earlier this year was a case in point. As Melanie Phillips states in the Spectator article: “After [she] suggested that the death of … Stephen Gateley was linked to a louche lifestyle, she was subjected to a fireball of vilification on the internet … The Crown Prosecution Service then said the Metropolitan Police passed the article to them ‘to determine whether or not any crime had been committed’ but Moir would not be prosecuted. Prosecuted! For making what at most was a tasteless remark. What on earth has Britain come to when the CPS entertains this as a serious possibility?”

The Moir fuss incidentally made me view any prevailing trend on services like Twitter with deep suspicion. There is a self-appointed liberal and intellectual elite which has discovered the service as a way of defining and propelling a particular agenda, aided and abetted by lazy journalists who have taken to using online postings as a neat barometer of what clearly must be majority public opinion, even when this is manifestly not the case. When I see a point of view coming to the fore on Twitter I immediately stop and question it and find it to be wanting. So it was when messages of hate and opposition towards the presence of the Pope on these shores found themselves working their way up to the surface – I instantly knew I could not let them go without question.

Much of the personal abuse directed at the Pope would have been quite laughable had it not emanated from some supposedly educated people, some of whom I knew personally. The Pope, we were informed, was “a former Nazi” due to his having had the misfortune to be a young teenager during Nazi Germany and thus compelled to become a member of the Hitler Youth, a pseudo boy scouts movement designed by the Nazis to help groom the future members of the master race in the ways of the Reich. Never mind that any parent who DIDN’T enlist their child in the movement was likely to be viewed with extreme suspicion by the authorities, last time I looked members of the Hitler youth were children even during the Second World War and so didn’t really take an active part in the more generally condemned Nazi activities of invading of European countries and the gassing of Jewish people. Branding an old man a participant in the holocaust based on his membership of a club when he was 13 years old would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact people were actually putting this forward as a serious argument and a reason to bar him from these shores.

Perhaps more damaging were the allegations of the Pope’s former role in not responding adequately to the allegations of child abuse that appeared to follow one particular Catholic priest around with alarming regularity. It was a large and sharply pointed stick with which to beat the pontiff, casting him as the defender of perverts, the condoner of kiddy-fiddling and a man who assists paedophiles in escaping justice. It is beyond a doubt that the Catholic Church as an institution has been guilty for far too long in not facing up to the realities of the personal failings of some of its ministers, a cross (if you will pardon the expression) which it is now realising it has to bear and for which even the Pope is stepping forward and acknowledging that far too little was done to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct. Last time I looked however this inactivity was hardly born out of a malicious desire to see children suffer, more from an ultimately misguided adherence to the notion of forgiveness. In Christianity, those who confess their sins are automatically forgiven them and it is simply the job of ministers to do God’s work by providing that absolution. Maybe it was indeed wrong to allow certain priests to continue to conduct themselves in what is allegedly (I’ve not personally seen any hard evidence either way) an inappropriate manner in so many different places for so long, but it can be argued that each time the individuals in question were being given the option to seek forgiveness and turn over a new leaf in the true spirit of the doctrine which they preached. So it was wrong, people have said sorry, started to put their house in order and worked to correct the problem. Is that really a reason to stand on the streets spitting hatred at the man in charge? Of course not, it takes an equally disturbed mind to even contemplate such a thing.

Some friends put forward the argument they had read in the newspapers that such a lavish State visit by The Pope was an unwanted extravagance, public money that could more usefully be spent elsewhere in this time of austerity. This was a straw man argument if ever there was one. Britain’s level of debt and the need to manage the ongoing financial crisis has been a political issue for the last two and a half years. In that time however, State visits have taken place by the President of France (March 2008), the President Of India (October 2009) and the President of South Africa (March 2010), none of which were decried by the chattering classes as a waste of resources and an unaffordable extravagance. Objecting on financial grounds to the visit of The Pope was simply an invented obstacle. Given that the alternative would have been to send a message out to the world that Britain was financially crippled and simply could not afford to even arrange for a brass band to play a visiting dignitary down the aeroplane steps, cancelling the visit to save a few bob (especially given that the Vatican itself was bankrolling much of the cost of the mass public appearances planned) was simply never a credible plan.

In spite of the wafer-thin nature of the arguments against the visit, we were still subjected to the unedifying sight of placard-waving agitants taking the streets of London voicing their opposition to the whole event. Much of it was coming from the “religion is balls, we don’t want it here” school of thought, one to which theoretically I subscribe to and so therefore should have been supporting. However the sight of a series of micro-celebs and obnoxious anti-everything turds like the vile Peter Tatchell heading up a small band of rather bitter and small minded loudmouths to parade through the West End rather turned my stomach. Just like them I was an atheist, but my only wish was to somehow tell them that under no circumstances did they speak on my behalf. The visit of The Pope was an event that was set to bring joy, inspiration and a sense of excitement to many. Who was I to attempt to deny them that just because I did not share those beliefs?

Fortunately the few hundred miserablists were drowned out both in voice and number by the many thousands who crammed into Hyde Park on the Saturday and in Birmingham on the Sunday. Each one was there to celebrate, to feel blessed and if nothing else to catch a glimpse of the man their faith decreed was their spiritual leader. Even just to watch it all on television was an inspiring and moving sight. Just for once the people of Britain had risen above the complaints of a vocal minority, ignored the Thought Crimes of those who would insist that opinions different to their own had no right to exist and instead proved that it was right, proper and fitting that The Pope should be welcomed to Britain and to allow his message to be heard.

I’m not religious. I reject it totally and utterly as the fairy story and the outdated prehistoric superstition that it quite plainly is. I doubt very much that this is ever going to change, I hope to credit myself with far too much intelligence to be ever suckered in to any kind of creed, faith or cult. Yet watching the scenes on television made me just for a moment regret I was that person. The Pope’s visit was a party, a celebration and a festival to which I would never be able to anticipate. Right at that moment the Catholics and sympathetic Christians of Britain were the luckiest people in the land. I’m proud to have rejected the hatred and to have supported their right to enjoy it.

Sep 10

My Life In Boxes

They say that changing your job and moving house are two of the most stressful experiences a person can go through in life. Touch wood it has been quite a while since I’ve had to change my job, but the reason for what has been by and large radio silence from this neck of the woods over the last few weeks is that I have indeed been occupied doing the latter.

A week and a half of becoming comfortingly familiar with the smell of cardboard, the satisfying sound of the reel of tape being pulled apart, the relentless swearing as you discover you have lost the scissors YET AGAIN only to realise that you are in fact sitting on them and finally observing that the labelling of said boxes is the only time when expressions such as “bedroom misc” and “bathroom wets” form a standard part of the English language.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic No matter how much you survey your living space and visualise it all fitting into two or three well packed cartons, fate always determines that the packing process will take far longer than it actually does and that there will inevitably be certain combinations of items that just will not go together. I experienced this myself last month when dismantling the hi-fi, taking five goes to find a combination of black units that would all sit comfortably in a box together and enable the delicate mechanism of the turntable to rest gently on the top.

This house move was a particularly significant one as it marked for me and the other half a rather belated transition to that particular stage of adulthood known as “property ownership”. For the very last time I waved goodbye to what a former on air colleague used to cheerfully term “rented accommodation” and greeted instead to a world where I can do whatever I want to my interior and walls without reference to anyone else, even if I do now have to take on the burden of responsibility for fixing whatever happens to go wrong.

I’ve been renting rooms and apartments since the age of 23, so that’s 14 years of landlords and landladies of varying quality almost to the week. I think this calls for some kind of retrospective of places what I have lived in.

Frizley Gardens, Frizinghall, Bradford. September 1996 – October 1997

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My first post-university foray into the world of independent adult living, paying £40 per week to a lady called Helen to be her live in lodger in the two bedroom flat that she owned. Found after I responded to an ad she’d placed in the local newspaper, I moved in after a two month delay whilst she did a favour for the daughter of a friend of hers. In certain ways we got along like a house on fire, she was glad of the company and security, let me borrow her car from time to time, invited me to parties at the local rugby club of which she was a member – that kind of thing. Gradually though I began to fall victim to a whole series of neuroses and obsessions that she had, and as time wore on it became clear that whilst she was happy to share her flat with someone, that someone had to conform at all times to a very strict set of rules. Thus Friday evening was cleaning evening, and woe betide me if I didn’t leave the bathroom in the exact sparkling condition she demanded. The kitchen was to be scrubbed spotlessly clean after serving oneself even just a glass of water and to cap it all she was one of those serial re-arrangers with the design and layout of the living room switched around at roughly two month intervals. Having inherited a sum of money from her mother, she spent a good part of the year going travelling so I often had blissful periods of sole occupancy of the flat, the only downside being the short notice I had of her return each time and the urgent need to scrub the entire place clean to her exacting standards.

It reached a stage where I couldn’t relax at home in the afternoon for fear that the door would open and she would find a new way to find fault. After suffering another family bereavement, her emotional state deteriorated and after a screaming row over a saucepan that had apparently not been cleaned to her standards I knew for my own sanity I had to get out of there. A quick scan of the local newspaper threw up an advert for a room in a house just around the corner, and it was there I found one of my favourite ever homes from homes.

Beamsley Road, Shipley. October 1997 – September 2000

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Andy was the landlord’s name. A rather scarily obese 50 year old single man who owned a vast three storey four bedroom house. At the time I met him he was cheerfully long-term unemployed, his ever changing array of tenants providing him with more than enough income to pay the mortgage and allow him to feed the army of cats that patrolled the house. What was clearly a large redundancy payoff from his last job had paid for the house to be done up a treat, so it had a modern kitchen, sparkling new bathroom with whirlpool bath, double glazing throughout and even a gym down in the basement. It was like living in a fun hostel. In marked contrast to my previous residence, cleaning was something left to the neighbour who popped around once a week. Dishes left in the sink were magically washed, bills were all paid by our host and he was happy for cable TV to be piped to all the bedrooms. My attic room was spacious enough for a large double bed (to the joy of many girlfriends), and all the belongings I began to amass – as well as being a playpark for three of the house cats who immediately adopted me as their best friend and spent most weekends napping on my bed.

Best of all however was the company my new friend kept. For reasons I was never able to quite figure out, he was best mates with pretty much ever stripper in Bradford. As a result the kitchen was a daily parade of glamorous women who would pop round for a cup of tea and a chat. I grew a new circle of fascinating new friends with the special added bonus that I had seen all of them naked at one time or another. Many of them had been lodgers themselves on occasions in the past, and the local taxi firm whom I engaged to convey me to work on the radio at 5am every morning were quite shocked that I had ended up there. “You live here?” asked my driver one morning shortly after I had moved, “this no possible, this house with girls with big tits.”

Over the course of three years I had an entertaining array of different housemates. First there was Paul, the local TA Sergeant who had custody of his young son once a month but who spent the rest of the time seducing the strippers, there was Colin the trainee accountant from Glasgow whose need for conversation led to him spending most evenings in everyone else’s room in turn to drone on about his day and who I later discovered was the scariest driver on the planet. There was Katy the croupier from the local casino whose working hours dovetailed with mine in an entertaining way that led to us often fighting for control of the bathroom at 4am – her as she was going to bed and me as I was just getting up. Finally there was Dave, an affable and rather heavily built engineering wizard whose big claim to fame was an appearance with two university friends on Robot Wars which we all gathered round to watch with glee, only to see their robot blow up after 30 seconds. He had a girlfriend of similar stature who would visit from time to time, one visit managing to scar me for life after I lay in the bath one Sunday morning and was forced to listen to them noisily copulating on the ceiling above.

Truly I could have lived there forever, and it was only the call of the big city and a job-enforced move to London that meant I reluctantly packed up my possessions (now numbering enough to be loaded into a rented Transit) and headed off for a brand new life in the capital.

Greenfield Road, Tottenham. October 2000 – June 2003

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This will scarcely come as a shock to anyone who has gone through the experience, but for the uninitiated let me tell you that finding somewhere to live in London is the most painfully soul-destroying experience on the planet – particularly when you are a complete newcomer to the city and are groping your way in the dark about which are the good and bad areas to try to set up home. A week before my new job was set to start I came down to stay with my sister and battled against the odds as I scoured the pages of Loot every day for shared houses that were within my budget and in places where I was less likely to die. I spent several days touring cupboard rooms in grotty garden flats, walked for 20 minutes from railway stations to knock at a door only to find the room had been taken five minutes earlier, and spent one particularly enjoyable evening in the company of a group of people in a shared mansion in West Hampstead only to spend the next 24 hours feeling miserable as they never called back to invite me to move in with them.

Still homeless, I started my first week in a new job sleeping on the sofa of Cheeseford only to discover that all good things come to those who wait – an advert on the Tuesday took me to the South Tottenham terrace and the front room bedroom that would be my first London home. They say your first London rental should only ever be a short term one, but I stayed there for three years, content with the reasonable rent, short walk from Seven Sisters tube and the relaxed quiet atmosphere in the house. Flamboyant intellectual Marina (a PHD, as she was forever reminding us) owned the house but only seemed to spent brief periods there, either living on the other side of town on work assignments or researching overseas for the books she was forever writing. The only constant housemate in all this time was Sudhir whose means of support during his studies for a sound engineering qualification were never clear to me but who was always happy to share his pizza when he accidentally ordered too much.

The idea of living in Tottenham seemed to horrify many people I spoke to, but I embraced it with a combination of wide-eyed innocence and genuine emotion. On my first Saturday evening there I wandered down West Green Road, almost enchanted by the array of barber shops operating as social hubs, foodstores and greengrocers with exotic looking produce spilling out onto the streets, fried chicken shops competing side by side with all-night bagel vendors and what seemed like an endless parade of Greek and Turkish diners. Maybe if I had known to look harder I would have spotted the barely disguised drug dens, the emaciated looking prostitutes and sensed the air of suspicion that my innocent looking white face always prompted. Quite simply though I had little reason to care. I had a home, I had an exciting new life and I had gone from a small boy at a tiny farm village school to someone who took the tube to work every day.

Greenfield Road may well be the only residence that I actually outgrew. My salary increased as my career in London media progressed. I could afford bigger and better and it was time to take the step to the area I’d coveted for so long.

Barrier Point Road (I), Royal Docks. June 2003 – August 2007

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Living in a posh Docklands flat had always been my dream. Even on my very first day of househunting in the capital I’d phoned up in response to an advert from a man advertising a docklands flatshare. I took his blunt response that the place had been taken already as a signal that I was not yet worthy of such a status symbol and considered it no further. In the intervening time I would sometimes spend weekends riding the DLR out to exotic sounding places such as Mudchute and Prince Regent and stare wistfully at the rows of buildings that it seemed I would never quite be able to enter.

My casual search for new digs, one that I was embarking upon with no pressing need to, led me to make a posting on a flatmate matching website. Amongst the many invitations from people needing warm bodies to help pay the rent came one from a lady who had a room near the Thames Barrier that she thought I might be a perfect match for. A bedroom in a barely three year old luxury block not far from Canning Town, it was glamour far beyond my wildest dreams. I had a balcony, a private bathroom, a sparkling new kitchen and even an onsite gym. I remember rushing away from the viewing and texting Mila, at that time due to come and stay for a fortnight that summer, telling her “I have found us an absolute palace”.

To start with this flat was indeed perfection. A glamorous location, newly developed transport links, gorgeous furnishings and a laid back flatmate who would sit on the balcony and strum on his guitar whilst I sat and surfed the net in the evening. I would catch myself walking up the drive and joyfully muttering “I live HERE” in wonderment. I appeared to have reached the stage in life where I was “allowed” to life in such a palace.

Then in the new year things changed a little. The aforementioned flatmate got a new job elsewhere and moved out, leaving me with the run of the place for a few weeks. At that exact time, the lady who would one day become my wife had made the decision to up sticks from her home country and come to live here with me. Not necessarily wanting a change of scenery, I tentatively asked the landlady if I could move my lady into the room with me, offering to pay more rent for what was theoretically more wear and tear on the place. She happily agreed, and even assured me that I didn’t have to do any work finding a new tenant for the spare room, as she would do the looking. To cover the change in rent she sent me a new tenancy agreement to run from the start of the year and all seemed well.

Weeks rolled by with no sign of any new resident forthcoming. Then one day in early spring a letter arrived from the landlady. She advised she was struggling to let the second room on the basis that it would be sharing with a couple and had decided to start from scratch. On that basis she was giving us notice to leave, no hard feelings, just circumstances. Sad though we were to leave The Palace (as it had now been Christened), we accepted that this was just the way things had to be. As luck would have it a newspaper ad led us to a flat in the same building into which we could move with a couple of weeks to spare.

It became clear that my landlady (still to remain nameless) wasn’t all that skilled at this property rental thing after all, and had little idea of the way to behave towards tenants departing on good terms. The agreement we had signed was a boilerplate document clearly sourced online and contained a great many quotes about how the property was to be left at the end, with all manner of industrial level cleaning of carpets, curtains, bathrooms and furniture mandated to take place. In a sense this was a little unfair as I had arrived at the property as a replacement tenant under an existing agreement. It was only circumstances that meant I was leaving as the sole resident, yet under the letter of the agreement I was required to polish the flat up to a standard far above that in which I had found it (when I arrived for example, the toilet had not been cleaned for months, the living room was cluttered with unwanted furniture and I never did receive the promised wardrobe for my room, making do with a hastily provided steel clothes rail). Nonetheless I had until this point always been a good tenant and so made sure that the things that did need cleaning were indeed scrubbed to perfection. My mother and I spent an entire weekend polishing every fitting in the house and a professional cleaner was invited along to steam clean the cream sofa as per instructions.

It was during the last week that things began to go a little weird. We had handed over the spare set of keys to the landlady so she could show prospective tenants around, but it became clear she was randomly entering the flat to check on progress. Furniture was rearranged, notes were left from us about things she wanted doing, and this culminated in our final week with our arriving home to discover the entire flat had been rearranged, our few remaining possessions tidied into a corner and worse still some personal documents tampered with, our copy of the tenancy agreement from which we had been working having now gone missing. Mila was so distressed by this invasion of privacy that she refused to spend another night in the place. Thankfully by then we had the keys to the new flat, so we stripped the bed, marched through the underpass car park and installed ourselves in the new place a day or so earlier than planned.

The landlady’s cavalier approach to the quiet enjoyment of her tenants was demonstrated one last time during that weekend of final cleaning when the door flew open to reveal a rather startled estate agent, there to show some potential tenants around and who had no idea that there was anyone still living there and with access. This was clearly a detail which our increasingly deranged had omitted to mention. He was incredibly apologetic, knowing full well he was in breach of the law, but just as I had been through the entire process I was co-operative and friendly and allowed him in anyway.

The last day of the tenancy arrived and the landlady and I met face to face for the first time since I had moved in, not that I really had any choice in the matter – when I arrived at the flat on the penultimate day before the tenancy expired I discovered she was already there, assembling new furniture in the bedrooms and placing items of whose ownership she was unsure outside the front door. Technically the place was still mine for 24 hours but details like this clearly were unimportant to her. She gave the flat a cursory look around, reassured herself that all seemed to be in order and took the final set of keys off me and read the electricity and gas meters in my presence, promising to forward on the final bills.. A week or so later I tentatively emailed her to ask when I might be seeing some of my £750 deposit again. Her reply was nothing short of extraordinary, which is why I’ve kept it to this day:

Further to a closer inspection on Sunday 30th May, please note the following points that need to be sorted:

1) Kitchen

– Dishwasher is not working – Needs to be fixed

– Oven not professionally cleaned as requested – This needs to be arranged

– Oven hob needs to be replaced due to use of a scourer on this

– Oven extractor fan not cleaned, has marks all over where dirt/dust has become engrained in the material

– Kettle – Lid is broken and Kettle not descaled

– Iron missing

– Saucepans missing

– Scissors broken

Other stuff that was not cleaned and needs to be sorted:

Freezer to be defrosted & then cleaned

Drawers not cleaned

Cupboard by freezer not cleaned

Washing Machine not cleaned

Sink not cleaned – Still has brown stains

Toaster not cleaned

2) Bedroom

– Mould on windows needs to be removed properly (due to lack of cleaning)

– Carpets not professionally cleaned

– Mirror not cleaned

– Lightbulb not replaced

– Marks on bedroom wall need to be cleaned

3) Shower room

– Shower not professionally cleaned (as requested) Still mouldy and bad limescale (due to lack of cleaning)

– New Ikea circular white bath mat missing (was in cupboard)

4) Bathroom

– Sink & Bath not cleaned (had a film of dust on!!)

– Mirror not cleaned

5) Lounge

– The sofas have been damaged during the professional clean.. Can you please advise full name of company, contact & telephone number of cleaners – as they need to come back and re-clean. The cleaning has made the fabric extremely hard and they have not cleaned the undersides of the cushions.

– Carpets not professionally cleaned (as requested)

– Curtains have come off hooks

– Glass table top has come off the actual table – Need to get new suckers

– 2 x Lightbulbs not replaced

– Marks on walls under pictures need to be cleaned

If you can get back to me with regards to the sofa asap, that would be great.

You also need to confirm payment for the Gas / Electricity & Telephone. Can you please advise who the Gas supplier is.

Can you also let me know about the missing Iron / Saucepans etc..

In the meantime, I will contact TDI cleaning company to arrange for all the things not professionally cleaned as requested i.e. Shower, Oven & Carpets (the curtains in your bedroom look OK), as well as clean up all the other things not done.

I then need to find out the cost of replacing and fitting the oven hob and fixing the dishwasher.

Finally, I need to organize silly little jobs like replace lightbulbs, get curtain hooks etc…

That’s it for now and I look forward to hearing from you.

I should explain here that when I moved in, nothing in the way of pots, pans or utensils had been supplied. Nor was there an iron or ironing board save for that owned by my housemate and was even accusing me of removing items that she clamed she had put in the flat before I left (without my knowledge or consent naturally). Whilst quibbling over little details such as lightbulbs is par for the course for any picky landlord, she appeared to be completely ignorant of the concept of “fair wear and tear”, indicating as you can see that I would have to pay for a completely new cooker hob as she believed it was badly scratched (it wasn’t, and she failed to ever prove that it was). Furthermore she was no claiming that items such as bath mats which she believed she had put in the flat the previous week during her illegal entries had been blatantly lifted by myself. In essence I was now accused of stealing property I didn’t even know existed. I sent a reply, rebutting many of the points she had made and indicating where was was in error. Her response was to escalate matters further and to effectively accuse us of trying to wreck the flat totally:

The flat in your occupation

On a number of occasions that I visited the flat, I was disgusted to see the way that you and Milla lived. Throughout your tenancy, you violated clauses no. 2.11 and 2.12 On at least two of the occasions that I visited – at 8 months and 9 months pregnant I had no option but to clean the flat myself. (I spent 3 ½ hours on one occasion and 2 ½ hours last week – Again this will be charged back to you). My 3 year old flat, had looked like a 30 year old flat. The lack of cleaning anywhere, was disgraceful and your neglect has been the only reason that I have lost out on 4 months rental for the other room whilst you were living there – This is why it was necessary for me to give you a notice on the flat.

You even admit yourself and I quote you in your email 1st June 2004 “having spent a great deal of effort and enlisting the support of most of my family to ensure the apartment was handed back to you in a presentable state…….”

It is interesting that the day after you have moved out, that people who were shown around the flat are now wanting to move in on a 12 month contract, yet I have been advertising for 4 1/2 months and couldn’t find anyone – what does this tell you about the condition in which you kept the flat?

It was a viewee that alerted me to the condition in which the flat was in – as I had described it as ‘luxury’ in the ad and he stated it was anything but luxury.

Therefore when you mention things are down to general ‘wear and tear’, this is absolute rubbish. All the things I have mentioned are due to your neglect.

For the record – The previous ‘incumbent’ tenant that you refer to was a co-owner of the property and the flat was kept in a great condition as I was there myself a few days before you moved in to show you around. I also seem to remember you saying what a wonderful flat it was when you moved in and that it will be a pleasure to look after – so to say now otherwise – again is utter rubbish.

I was starting to conclude that she was either barking mad or a little paranoid. The only time she had seen the inside of the property during the entire time I was living there was during the final week of our residency, during which time it was covered with dust and cardboard boxes as we packed everything and moved out. Understandably the place was a tip. Moving out kind of does that to a home. Barely two months earlier when being given notice we had been given the option to stay if we had ourselves found a tenant for the spare room, yet now apparently the reason the place was unlet was because we were apparently smearing faeces over the walls (precisely 2 people visited the flat during this time, both rejected it because they didn’t like the location).

Other parts of her letter (too long to reproduce here) included her belief that we owed her for her time as she had run around cancelling electricity and gas accounts (a job she volunteered to do, presumably not trusting me to do this) and for the times she visited while we were out to rearrange things to her tastes. To this day I simply cannot understand why she suddenly flipped like this. Never before (or indeed since) had any landlord had any issue with the way I treated their property and the state in which it was left. Her pursuit of me even extended to leaving threatening telephone messages, such as the one left a few weeks later where she accused me of re-entering the flat (which I no longer had keys to) to remove a clothes drier and that any further trespass would involve calling the police.

I took a deep breath and replied as kindly as I could:

I am writing in response to your email of June 5th continuing the dialogue about the termination of my rental contract with you. Please excuse the delay in responding. It is now clearly time for this dialogue to come to a end, however in a spirit of good will and in a wish
for clarity about the issues you raise, I am relying point by point and with some general considerations at the end.

There appears to be some confusion over the state of the dishwasher, particularly as your assertion that it was dysfunctional contradict your claims that “recent food remains” were to be found inside. I confirm that at no stage was the dishwasher used while I was in residence. Your comments about the risk of mould are without foundation. It is my understanding that a dishwasher finishes all programmes on a drying cycle and hence the conditions for mould simply do not exist. I would also reiterate that repairs to a fixture such as a dishwasher are the responsibility of the landlord. I am sorry that you have discovered that it appeared to be out of order but you are fully appraised of the circumstances.

We will clearly continue to disagree over what constitutes fair wear and tear of the oven hob. The only way to avoid scratches on the polished surface of a hob would be not to
use it – clearly not the intention of any provision by a landlord. Having now moved into an identically funished apartment in the same development as your own property I am in a position to confirm that the oven hob here is covered in many small scratches as a result of use and cleaning. Your complaints as to the state of the equipment at 164 Barrier Point road are I’m afraid without merit.

I am pleased you have sorted the kettle. We are all aware of the inconvenience of hard water in  London. Previous kettles I have used have lasted often less than one year and indeed we were tempted on many occasions during our tenancy to replace the kettle but were reluctant to discard your property without consultation. It is entirely appropriate that you have made your own arrangements.

Iron, Pans and Scissors. Thank you for accepting my points on these. I have always taken great care to replace supplied items such as these in my tenancies and would never remove such things.

I refer now to your comments regarding the bedroom. Of course a room in which the only means of ventilation is by leaving the patio door  ajar and which has no hopper window,  is badly designed. Hence my new comparable flat has had an external extractor fan installed (but still has a mould problem). There were only one or two spots of mould left at the base of the windows. As they were not free of these black marks when I moved in, the room was left in a better state at the end of my tenancy.

I’m afraid we cannot agree about the carpets. These were regularly vacuumed (using the top of the range cleaner which we were pleased to find you had supplied) and as we usually removed our shoes when entering the flat, they remained in excellent condition. My contract only required for cleaning to take place if it was necessary to return the carpets to the state they were in at the start of the tenancy. In the absence of any dirt or stains I would regard any professional cleaning as unnecessary and indeed would almost certain be detrimental to the condition of the furnishing. It is my understanding that flat 164 is one of the few properties in the development to retain its original carpeting, most landlords and owners having discarded of it in favour of their own in very short order. Its excellent condition is a tribute to our care.

I maintain that the bathroom was left in a pristine condition and between us we appear to have restored it to a satisfactory condition.

There appears to be some confusion over the issue of bath mats and I do not know how we resolve this issue amicably. There were two sets of mats, each consisting of a floor mat and pedestal mat. Both sets were washed and dried prior to my departure. When I entered the master bathroom to place the set from there back in place, I observed that you had left a new mat in its packaging on the side of the bath. I am aware of no others that you had either supplied at the start of the tenancy or placed there prior to my departure and you can be assured that none are in my possession.

In arranging for the sofas to be professionally cleaned, I believe I have fully fulfilled my tenancy obligations in this respect. In my experience, such cleaning never restores furniture to its original ‘feel’ and further cleaning my cause the fabric to age more rapidly. I would suggest that you leave well alone, but any further cleaning is your responsibility and at your expense.

I have nothing to add constructively to your comments on the glass table. You were the
first person to have moved it as I was able to clean underneath without needing to do so.

The mattress protector was the subject of some debate amongst ourselves when preparing the property for departure. In the light of many of your other comments I suspect had I discarded it I would have found myself accused of its theft. For the record, I am not in possession of any new protector that you claim to have left in the property. I’m very much afraid you are mistaken in your belief that there was one present in the room we occupied.

I will of course let you have the window key or any other item if I come across it. However having, as I stated before, never had cause to open the windows in the living room it is highly unlikely that this will appear amongst my possessions. I note that you did not raise the issue of window keys with Mr Platt upon his departure, even though none were present at that time either.

I’m sorry there has been some confusion over utility bills. Your unwillingness to believe my constant statements that the gas account had been left in credit has meant that I have now received a notification of its closure from British Gas and a cheque for £1.74 as a refund of this credit. I hope you feel that this was a worthwhile exercise. When you took a final electricity reading in my presence I was left with the impression that the closure of the account was something you were keen to take charge of yourself and I am pleased to say I have now paid the final bill which has been sent to me and which was in line with my expectations. I’m sorry you feel inconvenienced by any lack of action on my part but it is apparent that any action I took would have been simultaneous with your own.

It is a matter of some deep regret that you felt the need to pepper your previous correspondence with many insulting statements. I consider this to be most unworthy of you.

May I remind you of the extensive goodwill that we extended towards you in the final months of our tenancy, not least of which was our acceptance of the notice you gave at the end of March. Had we wished to object we had strong grounds to do so as you were in breach of the tenancy agreement by giving notice before sixth months of the January 2004 contract had elapsed. We were also happy to accommodate visits by prospective tenants and conduct them on a tour of the premises on many occasions when you were unable to fulfill your duties as landlord and conduct the visits yourself. I make particular reference to the events of April 29th 2004 when at short notice you advised that you were unable to keep an appointment with a prospective tenant for the property and despite the inconvenience this caused us, Mila and I made arrangements for him to gain access.

I regret that I must also issue you a reminder of the laws concerning the rights and privacies of tenants. I have reason to believe a serious breach of these rights took place on Thursday 27th May when we arrived home to discover that you had not only entered the property without prior notice but had interfered with our personal possessions, in the process removing from amongst them an original copy our of tenancy agreement. These activities caused my partner Mila so much distress that she felt unable to spend any further time in the property and we made arrangements to sleep elsewhere for the remainder of the tenancy. Myself and my companions were also witness to a further breach on the afternoon of Sunday 30th May when we arrived at the flat to discover you had entered some time earlier, had placed many items whose ownership you confessed to be unsure of outside the front door and were in the process of assembling new furniture in the bedroom. All this despite the fact that our tenancy did not expire until May 31st and the right of occupancy of the property remained ours.

I must also take issue with the offensive telephone message that you left on the morning of Thursday June 4th which accused me of trespass and theft. Despite returning the call immediately to point out your error, I note with some regret that you have not felt an apology to be in order.

It would be better if we could end our business relationship on good terms. From experience I know that I am a good tenant as other owners I have dealt with know. I treat owners with the respect, honesty and trust that I would expect if I was the owner myself, fully aware of the financial risk and anxiety experienced by owners of property to let. I’m delighted to hear that you were able to let the property in short order. This is I believe a tribute to the immaculate and first rate condition in which it was kept.

It is now time to agree the level of deposit that you must return to me. Please remember that this money and the interest it has earned that you have held as a safeguard is legally my property and I require your assurance that it has been properly managed and is instantly accessible.

I look forward to your response

Her response was not to offer a sum of money for the deposit return but to actually send back a set of calculations to demonstrate that actually OWED her money. To whit:

James, throughout your tenancy you have violated a number of the clauses within the Assured Shorthold Tenancy Contract which I must bring to your attention. Clauses you have ignored include: 2.11; 2.12; 2.13; 2.14; 2.15; 2.1.6; 2.20 and 2.25. I have been extremely tolerant, hence why I gave you 2 month notice period as agreed in the Contract and had to bite my tongue in fear of any repercussions whilst you were in occupation.

In the last 2-3 months of your occupation, the flat has been in an unacceptable condition and through your neglect, things like the oven hob, windows and shower were damaged.

Also through your neglect, the flat had not been in anyway in a presentable condition in order for the other room to be let out and because of this, I have lost out on over 4 month rental income and I feel that it is necessary for me to make the following deductions from your deposit.

1). Cleaning flat on 6th May 2004.

Due to your neglect of the cleanliness and tidiness of the flat, I must charge my time spent cleaning, as the flat was in a filthy state (please see pictures taken on 6th May):

I arrived at 1.30pm and left after 5pm.

I cleaned the following:

Limescale & brown stains off the sink & draining board – 1hour

Oven door (thick with grease) – 1 hour

Kitchen outer cupboards & radiator (removal of stains) – 20 mins

Shower sink plus mirror (removal of limescale & weeks of dirt) – 20 mins

Bathroom Sink (removal of limescale & weeks of dirt)– 15 mins

Bathroom toilet (removal of brown stains)– 20 mins

I have called a number of cleaning services who charge £25 per hour, which I think is a fair price for my time. I will therefore charge you £75.

Amount to be deducted: £75.00

2) Cleaning flat on 26th May 2004

Again due to your neglect of cleanliness and tidiness of the flat, I must charge my time spent cleaning the flat in order to bring the flat to an acceptable condition for a potential viewing:

I arrived at 12.15 and left at 15.00 hrs.I cleaned the following:

Shower room: Sink, toilet & Mirror & hoovered.

Kitchen: Scrubbed sink & draining board, cleaned all work surfaced and made tidy, hovered and scrubbed kitchen floor, emptied rubbish.

Lounge: Hoovered, cleaned all side tables, dining table, cleaned part of mould off windows in lounge.

Hallway: Hoovered

Bedroom: Made tidy & hoovered (so the viewees could see the floor)

Amount to be deducted 2 ½ hours at £25 = £62.50

3) Your neglect = Unable to rent other room

Due to your overall neglect and lack of cleanliness in the flat, of which you did not rent in full, I have been unable to rent the other room out at a cost of £520.00.

Because of your neglect, I have been unable to rent the other room out and I have lost out on £2080.00.

4) Oven hob

A white substance found on the Whirlpool Oven hob (it looks like paint) means that I need to install a new hob. The cheapest price I can find is £155.99 plus a fitting charge of £55.00

Amount to be deducted: £210.99

5) Dishwasher

I will honour the cost of fixing this. Therefore there is no charge.

6) Other items

Curtain hooks £1.54

Replacement lightbulbs 2 x £2.24 £4.48

New Ikea Bath Mat taken £2.90

New Debenhams Mattress Protector taken £19.99

Professional Carpet Clean (30 sq meters) £75.00

Professional Shower Clean & Oven clean £40.00

Amount to be deducted: £145.91

6) My time

Letter 1st June x 1 hour @ £15 £15.00

Phonecalls to utility companies x 1 hour @ £15. £15.00

Letter 3rd June x 2 hours @ £15 £30.00

Fuel cost to flat to sort problems on 3rd June £15.00

Journey time to & from Surrey Approx 2 hours @ £15 £30.00

Cleaning for 3 hours@ £25.00 per hour £75.00

Extractor fan,

Descaling Kettle,

Cleaning mould of bedroom windows

Marks on bedroom walls

Defrost & clean freezer

Clean kitchen sink / washing machine

Clean & Empty toaster & 4 x drawers

Amount to be deducted: £180.00

Therefore according to my calculations you owe me approximately £2,754.40. Can you please confirm how you propose to re-imburse my losses. I look forward to hearing from you.

The conclusion virtually everyone I spoke with about the whole sorry saga came to was that the burden of servicing the mortgage on the flat (originally co-purchased with a boyfriend and now owned outright by her) was close to crippling her. She had clearly spent the original deposit (illegally) and was now attempting to claw back whatever money she could. My only dilemma was how to proceed. Logically the way forward was to file a small claim for the money, safe in the knowledge that any judge with a brain would throw most of her arguments out of the window and award me my cash back. Clearly I’d be stung for some deductions (she continued to insist that the cooker was ruined, as you can see) so it really came down to how much of my time I wanted to waste on the saga given that I was never going to get the sum back in full. My decision was helped thanks to something that technically I was indeed at fault for. Her lack of competence at managing the property meant that in all the time we lived there she had never advised the council that there were now tenants living at the premises and she was no longer liable. Thus we never received a council tax bill, and she clearly never dealt with any of the correspondence that may or may not have reached her on the subject. I discovered that three months after we had moved out there were bailiffs hammering on the door of the puzzled new tenants demanding hundreds in arrears from their landlady. I calculated that the amount of tax I almost certainly should have paid, plus perhaps the cost of replacing the cooker, was actually more than the deposit. Taking her to court would be something of a pyrrhic victory given that anything she was ordered to return I would probably have to pay out anyway – and as you might guess, after ignoring her demand quoted above we never heard any more about the matter. Putting it aside as an unpleasant memory, I moved on. Literally.

Barrier Point Road (II). June 2004 – August 2007

In contrast to previous experiences, this particular residence could not have gone any smoother. A one bedroom flat in exactly the same development, it had more or less exactly the same layout as our previous flat only this time it was owned by someone who knew what they were doing, a professional landlord who just happened to own a business that supplied furnishings for rented properties. Thus anything we needed for the flat, any appliance that needed replacing, we simply phoned up and he supplied it without demur.

I threw parties in that flat, got married and played host to two sets of parents and various sofa-surfing homeless mates for short periods. I even learned some elementary gardening skills, thanks to a particularly vicious weed that had taken root amongst the stones on the balcony, fed by the rainwater that never quite seemed to drain away as fast as it should. In truth I could quite happily have lived there forever, but for the fact that after three years of not bothering us, the landlord requested to increase the rent and wanted to do so by such a large amount that we felt it best to try to find somewhere else.

We left with a great deal of goodwill and with the place looking spotless. Although I had to nag, the deposit for the flat was returned in full within a few weeks of us moving out. Clearly in three years we had somehow managed to “neglect” this flat less than we had the previous identical one in the space of a few months.

Wards Wharf Approach. August 2007 – August 2010

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Staying in the same area wasn’t really a deliberate plan, happy as we were there, and indeed during the two months of our notice period at the Barrier Point place I’d viewed flats as far flung as Stratford, Catford and Hither Green. After starting to despair of ever finding something as nice as the place we were currently occupying, and after putting down a deposit with an agent for a flat close to the centre of Canning Town only for the owner to announce she had found her own tenant instead, I contacted an independent agent via an online ad and was shown a series of flats – one of which just happened to be in the development across the other side of the park from where we lived.

Moving day must have been the strangest job the man with a van I booked had ever undertaken. We carted all our worldly goods down four floors in a lift, drove 2 minutes down the road and then unloaded them again into another lift. This new place although having only been built a few years before was showing a few signs of wear and tear. The people it had previously been rented to had clearly not shown it too much love. The carpets had stains, the oven needed about five cleans before it was deemed fit for human cooking and the dishwasher was completely knackered after several years of being clogged up with grease. A little bit of work however (via a trip to Ikea for a new cover for the sofa and various other household implements) and it became a home as well. Even if by this time one bedroom docklands flats were clearly slightly too small for the amount of what is best described as “personal crap” myself and the other half were accumulating.

We lived there until this summer when we finally stepped onto the property ladder properly and bought a three bedroom house. Once again moving out was a breeze. The flat was cleaned to a far higher standard than it had been when we arrived (no gruesome stains in the toilet for a start) and after a few clicks online the now £1200 deposit was returned in full, the cash neatly paying for the pair of sofas that now grace our new living room.

I don’t doubt for a minute that the time will come when my life ends up in a set of cardboard boxes once again, but barring any serious financial accidents in the future I think I can safely say I’ve dealt with my last landlord. I’ve had the good the bad and the crazy over the last 14 years, but with one particular exception I don’t think I’d change a single moment of it.

Aug 08

10 Reasons Why I Suck

For someone who spends a disproportionate amount of his enthusiast-reserved time dealing with rundowns of charts and rankings of this, that and the other, I’ve never been much of a fan of the Top 10 list as a source of creativity and or comedy. List based writing and humour has its place I guess, but to me it has always seemed a rather artificial constraint, requiring you to either stretch a particular concept to breaking point in order to make up the numbers or restrict you to a particular number of elements just to stick to the format as it were.

Or maybe I never had an English teacher at school who set us a “Top 10 of x” exercise as homework, you work it out.

Sometimes you get a good reason to break the habit, and such an occasion presented itself midweek. It was Tuesday evening and I was in the middle of a crap week at work, having to do all manner of extra shifts in the studio owing to a lack of otherwise available staff and burning the candle at both ends to do so. Furthermore I was bored. Tired of the office, tired of the conversations around me and crying out for some degree of distraction.

So I did what any rational and connected individual in this kind of position does in 2010. I complained loudly on Twitter just how bored I was. Answer there came from the incredibly profound lady who writes Queen Margot and the Supper Club, a blog which for some odd reason I’ve neglected to link to until now.


Now that was a challenge and a half. Suddenly I had new found motivation and a means of mental exercise to dial out the unspeakable crapness of my evening. It seemed a shame to waste the final list to the necessarily small audience paying attention to my 140 character ramblings, so it is with no small amount of egotism I present to you the full version of:

Top 10 things that James is rubbish at.

1) Ironing.

No man on the planet can actually do this to any degree of competence or accuracy. I’ve been known to stand cursing over a board in a steam filled room, watching as my electrically powered lump of stainless steel glides uselessly over a particularly rumbled shirt and leaves it as stubbornly lined, creased and (apparently) unwearable as when I began the exercise about 12 hours earlier. The pain is generally only ended by a wife-shaped female who loudly asks why on earth I don’t just leave it for her to do it (“because you’d take exception to any suggestion I might make that my ironing is your responsibility” is the truthful answer) before snatching the iron from my hands in order to render the errant shirt crisp, smart and looking like I’d just got it home from the shop in a matter of 30 seconds. I’ve timed this. It happens.

2) Throwing.

All girls throw better than me. All of them. My younger sister once explained to me that a large part of athletics lessons in PE at school for the girls are taken up with explaining the correct way to perform such athletic disciplines as running and throwing as this is apparently something that does not come naturally to the female of the species. When running, the female’s natural instinct is to flap their hands up and down by their sides rather than the tucked into the sides pumping action that we blokes do without thinking. Similarly the throwing action comes rather more easily to men than it does to women. The “throws like a girl” motion is actually genetically inbuilt rather than a measure of a person’s competence. Except that is when a man does it. I never learned or was taught to throw, an issue which only tended to rear its ugly head when playing cricket in the summer. The joy of fielding near the boundary was only tempered by the fear that a well aimed shot would come winging its way towards you, leaving you with the onerous task of returning the ball to the wicket in a timely and accurate manner so as to prevent the unnecessary concession of runs to the opposition. For the whole of my school career, I was the chap who palmed the ball and then tossed it to a nearby colleague so as not to send the ball winging its way at 90 degrees to the other boundary in a failed attempt to return it.

3) Art.

Again this was something that always used to bother me at school, the assumption on the part of every teacher that every child was blessed with the ability to visualise a scene and commit it to paper accurately and in a manner that was pleasing to the eye. The drawing of pictures was some kind of treat to be dished out, a way to fill up a few minutes at the end of a lesson or a way to distract those of us who had finished some exercise ahead of the slow ones at the back. “Just draw a picture to go with the text” was the instruction that was conveyed from the front in classes as random as Religion Education and Home Economics. Except this wasn’t a treat. This was torture. From the age of three when the boundaries of the shapes in my colouring book were little more than an aspiration, my creative abilities have generally confined themselves to the pen and keyboard. I’m no more able to draw a human smile than an elephant can perform heart surgery. Art lessons were nothing less than a hideous torture, an hour a week when the full scale of my personal inadequacies had to be laid down and worse still GIVEN A MARK OUT OF 20 by a lady with a blonde perm and a lisp. On one particularly memorable occasion we were set a homework task of drawing ourselves as we might look in 20 years time. I abandoned all pretence of creativity and turned in a neatly drawn picture of a coffin. This wasn’t to make some kind of deep impressionistic statement, more down to the fact that it had geometric straight lines and I could just about do those without ballsing it up. A year or so later my art teacher and I came to a gentleman’s agreement. She would stop wasting my time trying to teach me to draw as long as I agreed to stop wasting her time trying to learn.

4) Self deprecation.

After all when you are this awesome, why bother?

5) Pretending I know anything about football, beyond how it is supposed to sound on the radio.

Oh yes, I will freely and happily wax lyrical about the broadcast of football matches and what it means to those of us doing it and those people at home or in their cars listening. I appear to have spent most of the summer doing so after all. Discuss the finer points of tactics? Explain the ins and outs of the whole Gerrard/Lampard axis that so bedevils the England side? Asborb the complex nuances of the argument about whether Manchester City’s bottomless pit of funds amounts of trying to “buy the title” in the same way Chelsea did seven years ago? Completely beyond my ken. And pretty much everyone I work with knows this.

6)  Fashion.

My original tweet on this subject summed it up thus: To me being dressed properly extends as far as “genitals not on public view”. I think here I’m reflecting back on myself the way I view the world. For reasons that escape me I’ve grown up flatly refusing to judge anyone on the way they are dressed, to the extent that I am completely blind to the way people attire themselves on a day to day basis. I know from experience there are people utterly obsessed with the subject, scrutinising everyone they know for the cut of the fabric of their top, the style of their shoes and the extent to which they have accessorised. You know what? I really could not give a shit. The person I work with is the same person from day to day, regardless of what motif they have on their top or what colour their trousers are. Hence if I don’t care what other people are wearing, I see no reason why they should care what I am wearing. I’ll be berated by female companions for wearing shoes that appear to be a bit tatty or are unpolished. “Who cares” I will reply, “nobody will be looking at my shoes”. I mean why should they really, the shoes I am wearing are there to keep my feet dry and warm, that is all. I can think of nothing less interesting than staring at the floor to note what someone has on their feet. Yet I’m told people do this. In short, if you are about to get dressed after reading this and are worried about how you might look to me if you meet me, then please don’t. If I met you yesterday I do not have the first clue what you were wearing when we spoke. I did not notice and do not care.

8) Counting in the correct order.

7) Paying credit card bills on time.

In all fairness I don’t think anyone is are they? Plans to settle these oh so cumbersome debts are inevitably thrown into disarray by the way credit card companies have a habit of randomly changing the due date on your bill on an almost monthly basis. Just because they can. I’ve got one particular card which I have had since 1996, a period when I can vividly remember receiving the bill on the 10th of the month and then paying the appropriate amount into the bank around the 5th without penalty. That self same card still sends me bills on the 10th of the month, with payment due on the 22nd, a deadline which I consistently fail to meet owing to its on the nose proximity to my actual payday. Somewhere along the line in the intervening 14 years I have lost over two weeks breathing space in which to settle my debts. Deep down I know I should be annoyed about this, but I don’t have the time. Those £12 late payment penalties won’t earn themselves you know.

9) Finishing what I started.