Monday, 19 June 2017

data date...

Kraftwerk 3-D @ Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham - 18th June 2017

Why on earth would you want to see Kraftwerk live? Surely all they do is stand behind their computers and press play as you then lap-up an entirely pre-recorded show.  There's only one of the original band left anyway, so what's the point.   Right?

Wrong.  Completely wrong.

On a stiflingly hot evening, the air-conditioned luxury of the interior of the Royal Concert Hall was privileged to witness a remarkable show by a remarkable band.

It wasn't a particularly promising start, to be honest: queuing up politely outside the venue as we waited to get through a security check and to pick up our distinctly old-school 3-D glasses.  I felt as though perhaps I was here to watch Jaws 3-D ("the third dimension is terror!") rather than one of the most influential bands ever.  They threatened that they would be starting at 19:45 promptly too, but presumably were forced to delay because much of their audience had not yet made it into the venue.

We were so close to the stage that I was also a touch worried that we might not be in the best possible position to enjoy the 3-D effects... but actually I needn't have worried and was able to enjoy both my up-close view of Ralf Hutter and the splendid effects played on the huge screen behind the band.  As you would expect, the visuals were distinctly old-school, with a touch of the ZX Spectrum about them, but they were cunningly deployed and staggeringly effective: at one point, the aerial on the front of an orbiting satellite coming straight out of the screen had loads of people around me ducking out of the way.  We were also able to enjoy the sight of a UFO buzzing past the Council House on Old Market Square before landing right outside the Concert Hall.  

I joked before going in that we would probably have to get beered-up and then chuck lager around bellowing along to Man-Machine... and indeed, I think it's fair to say that the average age of the audience was well above 40. But, then again, the band was formed in 1969, and since when have the kids been reliable arbiters of good taste? It wasn't so very long ago that I walked past a crowd of youth queuing up outside of Rock City whilst I joined an audience of a similar vintage to watch Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds. (Although, to be fair, ticket prices for both of those gigs is probably beyond the budget of most students, even if they would have stronger bladders that would have meant less standing up and down as people shuffled out during Kraftwerk's set for a quick pee).

One thing that strikes you immediately about watching Krafwerk live, once you've got over the 3-D effects, is quite how much they are actually playing this stuff.  I know that sounds obvious, but you can't see what they've got on their podiums as they stand their in their identical jumpsuits.  I'd imagined that it would probably just be laptops or something, but clearly each of those four guys up there has a keyboard as well, and they're clearly physically really involved in what they're playing, as they inter-weave their music together to create the most wonderful harmonies, with Hutter adding vocals over the top.  The tunes are mostly familiar, of course, not least because I've got most of the records, but because they have also been sampled many, many times over and are very distinctive cultural markers.  The band themselves are mostly impassive, but you do get some foot-tapping and Hutter himself flashes the occasional half-smile as they expertly mesh this music together.

My highlights are predictable: Computer World, Computer Love, The Man-Machine, The Model, Radioactivity (actually the first Kraftwerk album I owned, picked up on an Our Price bargain bin without a cover for the grand price of £1 - it was chilling then and it's even more chilling now as Fukishimi is added to the list of nuclear disasters) and a splendid run of songs from Tour de France.  For the Encore, the band are actually replaced by robots for The Robots (do you see what they did there?) before the band return for their final blast, each taking a solo turn before departing, Hutter departign the stage with a smile and an "auf wiedersehen", leaving us to stagger back out into the clammy night to catch our breath.

An amazing gig.  The word 'legendary' is thrown around far too much, but I think it's fair to say that, when it comes to Kraftwerk, it's entirely justified.  Lots of people have tried to copy them, but no one has come close. I'm not going to Glastonbury this year, but at least I've seen one amazing gig this summer.

Verdict: 9 / 10

Computer World
It's More Fun to Compute / Home Computer
Computer Love
The Man-Machine
The Model
Neon Lights
Intermission / News
Geiger Counter / Radioactivity
Electric Café
Tour De France / Prologue / Etape 1 / Chrono / Etape 2
Trans Europe Express / Metal on Metal / Abzug
Encore 1:
The Robots
Encore 2:
Aéro Dynamik
Planet of Visions
Boing Boom Tschak / Techno Pop / Musique Non Stop

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

you call this bacon?

I really enjoy being part of a choir.

Even if I didn’t work towards any performances in front of an actual audience, I still think it would be worthwhile. There’s something pure and therapeutic about just singing for a couple of hours a week, and there’s something wonderful about a choir of human voices coming together in harmony.

…I just wish that some of our songs were a bit better. Or perhaps by “better”, I really mean “a bit cooler”. Don’t get me wrong though: it’s definitely not that I’m too-cool-for-school, and there are very few songs in our repertoire that I actively dislike. In fact, some of the ones that I thought I liked the least have often turned out to be the ones that I have enjoyed singing the most…. it’s just that there’s something downright WRONG about being caught in the office quietly singing "Little Town (Belle's Song)" from the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack to myself as I sit at my desk. I’ve never even seen the Disney animation and I’ve certainly not seen the recent adaptation starring Emma Watson, and yet this has been my number one earworm for several weeks now. My wife actually walked into the kitchen this weekend to find me singing this song along with Alexa as I was cooking.
“Er, What’s this?”
It’s Emma Watson singing on the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack
“Why on earth are you playing this?”
“Because choir”
“Ah. I see” [shakes head sadly and walks off]

You know what, I actually quite like it, too.

For the record though, “Wind Beneath My Wings” is not a beautiful, uplifting song… it’s a dirge and a #humblebrag. I have my limits.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

cool water...

I was running intervals this evening, so throughout my day at work, I kept meaning to go and buy a bottle of water to take with me... but I kept forgetting and I was busy so never seemed to quite get around to it.  When I finally remembered at around 1645, I was mildly irritated to discover that all of our catering outlets had shut.  This was irritating because they say they're all open until 5pm, but that seems to be based upon my foolish belief that the opening hours reflect when a customer can shop rather than the moment when the staff leave and pull down the shutters.

Not to be deterred, I set out to have a look at the various vending machines we have around the place. Hmm.  Unless I wanted a can of Coke, it looked like I was out of luck.

Oh... hang on a minute.  This machine has cartons of apple juice.  That'll do.  I scramble around for the loose change and the machine slowly dispenses me a carton.  I open the drawer and discover that the bloody thing doesn't have a straw.

Never mind.

I'll buy another one.  I'll drink that much anyway and I can just use the one straw on both cartons.  I put in my remaining change, but for some reason the machine won't dispense me another carton.  I seem to be 15p short and it won't take coppers and that's all the change I've got left.  I try and refund the money and now it won't come out of the machine at all.  OK.  Whatever.  I dash upstairs to borrow 20p and run come back to the machine only to find it has now swallowed my money (or someone has nipped in and used up my credit in the time I've been away).

Deep breath.

I take some money out of the cash machine round the corner and use the nearby change machine to turn a £10 note into ten £1 coins.  I now have a bulging wallet, but the funds needed to buy another carton of juice.

There are no further vending machine related incidents to report, so I head back to my desk with two cartons of juice, one straw and a funny story to tell my neighbour.

"Oh.  You need a bottle of water?  Well I've got one from my meal deal that you can have if you want.  It was free"

....... sigh.

I took my apple juice and IT WAS DELICIOUS.

I only needed one carton.

Monday, 5 June 2017

the public gets what the public wants...

As we were travelling down to London on Saturday afternoon, a guy and his wife boarded at Bedford and sat down in the seats opposite us around the table.  Inasmuch as you can tell from a first impression, they looked to be a friendly pair, with the chap in particular having a friendly face and something of a cheerful demeanour. They were maybe fractionally older than me, although I must confess to losing my ability to judge things like this, and could easily have been my age or a little younger.

As they made themselves comfortable and the train pulled out of the station, the guy turns to his wife and says:
"Now then.  Let's find out what's going on with the election"
He then reached into a WHSmiths back and pulled out a copy of the Sun, which he proceeded to read cover to cover over the course of a full fifteen minutes.

I trust he found enlightenment.

We really are doomed, aren't we?

Friday, 2 June 2017

vapour trails...

In news that will come as no surprise to anyone, I seem to have accidentally signed up for a trail marathon in October.

Bear with me.

The plan has always been to build towards a third London marathon in April.  I'm currently half marathon fit, and I was planning on holding that to the end of the year (with a couple of halves and with the Thunder Run 24 hour relay along the way), building up to around 16 miles on my long run by the end of the year and then marathon training proper from January.

I've been feeling okay: I did eight miles with C. on a rainy Monday morning and then backed it up with another four-or-so miles that afternoon.  Neither run was very fast, but speed isn't really the objective here as I was thinking about the 4 or 5 10km laps that I'm likely to have to do across 24 hours at Thunder Run towards the end of July.

So what happened?

Well, it was World MS Day on Wednesday and I was chatting with some friends about how MS is such an uncertain condition that affects sufferers in different ways.  It took me four years to get a diagnosis, and I had no way of knowing that I would then use that diagnosis as a spur to start running marathons.

"Well how about a trail marathon, then?  To really stick two fingers up at MS?"
Super Kev is a machine and an inspiration: he's a fantastic runner who is quick over pretty much any distance from 1 mile to 100 miles. He's also an incredibly generous man who is happy to give up his time to help other runners.  I've been going out running the trails with him every Thursday night over the last few weeks, and he's been kind enough to run at my pace. It turns out that he's always wanted to have a go at the Spires & Steeples challenge: a trail marathon from Lincoln to Sleaford on 15th October.
Abigail, another wonderfully generous, community-spirited runner was quick to get involved.  "That sounds brilliant.  I'm in.  Tim?"

...and so I heard myself agreeing to get involved too.

I haven't formally entered yet, but I'm actually warming to the idea.  Trail marathons are apparently a completely different kettle of fish to a road race, with a gentler pace and cake. Throw some good friends into the mix, and I guess that means marathon training is going to start a little earlier than planned.

Hey ho.  Take that, MS.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

are you ready boots? start walkin'...

For a bit of change of scenery, I went store visiting in York today.  It's been a bit relentless over the last few weeks, with 11-12 hour days at my desk and then overnight stand-by too, so it was nice to just get away from the office for a day.  I won't lie to you, it was also a lovely day to be driving up the M1 with my sunglasses on and to get the chance to (briefly) walk around my old stamping ground in York town centre in the blazing sunshine.

As a favour to another colleague in the office, we also popped out to Selby on the way home to check on something for them. What I didn't realise, until I walked through the door of the shop, was that the thing I was checking on was the closure of a part of the shop and the redundancy of two members of staff who have been there for more than sixty years between them.  In fact, the person that I spoke to was on her last afternoon in the shop before her redundancy after 34 years, and although she was more than pleasant, to say that she was unamused and couldn't really give two shits about how the closure was going is probably an understatement.  She was still giving first class service to the customers who walked in when we were there too, and it's hard not to wonder at what the business is going to lose when all that experience walks out the door.

We were the first people from head office to speak to her about this, never mind to actually walk through the door and look her in the eye.  Nobody had even had the courtesy to explain what was happening to her beyond the bare facts of her redundancy, which seems astonishing.  We were only there as a favour to someone else (who neglected to mention all of this to us and let us walk into this situation totally unprepared), but it felt like the least we could do to thank her for all her years of hard work and to wish her well for the future. Thirty-four years is a pretty large chunk of anyone's life.

It's true that it's the people that make a business. I don't care how many years of glorious history a company might have, if you treat people like this, then ultimately the people worth having will vote with their feet.

Bobbins.  Proper bobbins.

Friday, 19 May 2017

cut down, shot down...any way you please.

There's a really nice little charity that provides toilets for the third world.  Their hook is that you get to "twin" your toilet with a toilet somewhere in Africa or in another less-developed part of the world. You get a little framed sign with a picture of the bog you're sponsoring and the GPS coordinates that you can hang in your own cloakroom.  My mum and dad gave me a toilet in Cambodia, and I gave one of my best friends and his wife a block of toilets at a school in Burundi (they met in Africa, although, as a French-Canadian, his wife was a little uncertain about the appropriateness of this as a wedding gift. "Is this some kind of British joke?").

It's a nice gift and the money you're spending is being used to provide safe, clean and hygienic sanitation to a community.  It's all good.

Except for one thing.

They're a Christian charity... which is obviously fine ... but they keep sending me emails like this one, which arrived this week:


Dear Tim,

What’s your perfect ‘Bible moment’?

It’s time to get thinking if you want to win a copy of this rather splendid prize. I’ve got five copies of a very special Bible to give away. It’s ‘The Bible in One Year’ read by actor David Suchet – best known as TV’s Hercule Poirot.

On six CDS you get 365 MP3 files – each file contains a portion of the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Psalms or Proverbs. It’s the perfect ‘three-portions-a-day’ way to listen to the entire Bible.

You could listen on your computer, phone or MP3 player – while you're on your commute or walking the dog...

How to win

You just need to hit ‘reply’ to this email and tell me:
A favourite passage of scripture.

Where you would most like to listen to or read it and why.

For instance, you could choose Malachi 4 v 2 (‘But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.’) while you are sat watching the sun rise in a favourite picturesque spot. It can be anywhere in the world (universe?) you like, just give me a great reason. Our five favourite responses will win the prize; as always, our decision is final.

You get the idea. Get those inspirational thinking caps on. I look forward to hearing the result.

With every blessing,



I really like supporting them, but COME ON! Does it even occur to them, do you think, that this proselytising might be off-putting to the demographic who are happy to support the work that they do but could happily do without having any particular flavour of deity - or, indeed, any flavour of deity at all - thrown into the equation?

Besides, Malachi 4 v2?  What the hell? Isn't everyone's favourite Bible verse from Ezekiel? 25:17?

"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children".

You know it.


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

what does the fox say?

The front page on my Guardian app caught my eye yesterday and seemed to rather sum up the state of UK politics at the moment: a very unconvincing Theresa May harangued by a member of the public over her party's treatment of the disabled and, in considerably smaller print, "Corbyn vows to help underpaid and overworked nurses".

If you didn't know any better, which one of those two politicians do you think would be popular with the average person in the street?

Yes, the one who wore diamond studded shoes on the One Show whilst talking about how her marriage was "strong and stable", of course!

It's intensely depressing that this government can pretty much say and do whatever they want - bring back fox-hunting, sell the NHS, grind the bones of the poor, the sick and the disabled down into fertiliser....whatever - and they're still going to increase their majority at the general election next month.  I actually heard the former leader of the Conservative party, Michael Howard, talking on the radio the other day about how Remain voters no longer get a say, and that their opinions are worthless because they lost the debate in the referendum. I've heard otherwise rational-seeming people saying that any MPs that favour anything other than a hard Brexit should be sacked because they clearly aren't representing the will of the people.  It's baffling.

(As an aside, there's a reason why referendums - federal plebiscites - are illegal in the German constitution.  Just sayin'...)

Still, who doesn't want strong and stable leadership, eh?

[from news thump]

We live in interesting times, I'm afraid.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

pray that my feet don't fail me now...

I feel like my legs are getting worse and my running is getting slower; I feel like I have no business joining an athletics club and spending time trailing in after much faster runners.... but then there are also nights like tonight.

I was the 312th man to finish at the second Summer League race of the season at Holme Pierrepont this evening, but I ran the 5 mile course at an average pace of 7m 50s per mile (as fast as I've run over any distance in some time.  In fact, my magic mile time trial the other week was only about a minute quicker than that) and - most importantly of all - I really enjoyed myself.  I think it's pretty clear from the smiles and the sprint finish I managed at the end that I'm not the kind of runner who likes to beast himself, flogging out every last iota from my body.  I prefer instead to hold something back, but that's okay too.

I actually look like I might be enjoying myself.  Maybe there's some life in the old dog yet.

I'm not quite dead just yet.

Also, sun's out, guns out....

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

just go with the magic, baby...

I had a revelation this evening.

I was listening to Father John Misty when it suddenly came to me that "Don't Stop Moving" by S-Club 7 might just be the purest, feel-good song ever recorded.  I don't even like to *start* movin' to the funky, funky beat.... but that song is pretty much irresistible.

Tay-Tay will no doubt be delighted to hear that, in spite of an obvious lack of hella good hair, I think that "Shake It Off" is a pretty close second.

I'm not even joking.

Like the man says, No need to reason why: just listen to the sound and it makes you come alive.

(Yeah. Uh. Come on.)