thanks for the help. Every time I've ever had to use mysql something has gone wrong at the setup stage, on whatever platform. You could say it was me
but I've been using the mysql manual or other people's instructions... personally, I think the setup is crap. It's insecure by default, and there's enough people out there posting with similar problems to make me think they ought to do something about it.
I'll be using Postgres next time - for all the extra work I at least want a real database - and if anyone says I have to use mysql then they can do it themselves!