Thursday, 26 November 2015

let's go round again...

I spent a happy hour-or-so yesterday evening with a friend.  It was great to catch up, not least because I haven't seen him since he and his wife adopted a couple of kids a few weeks back.  How about that for a little earthquake into your life, eh?  He seems to be having fun, which is the main thing, and he looked relaxed and happy.  I'm also pleased to report that he has also found the time to take up baking.... and who doesn't love a bit of cake?

Great though it was to chat, the main reason we were meeting up was because Pete is a really keen runner and one of the big cheeses at my running club, and he was helping me put together a training programme for the marathon.  Last time out, I just used a first-time marathon programme from the pack provided by our charity.  I wasn't overly concerned with pace and was really only interested in putting on the right mileage and getting around both the training and the race in one piece.  It worked.

This time around, although I won't be running with C, I'm still not overly concerned with pace -- I'm not trying for a sub-4 hour marathon, that's for damn sure - and I'm definitely still worried to make sure that I don't break myself in training.  So why change?  Well, partly to mix it up, but also because it feels different second time around: although I haven't been doing any super-long runs in the last few months, I ran a little over 11 miles on Sunday last week, and when training starts in January, I will have loads more training miles under my belt and a much stronger base to work from.  Plus I know that I can do it this time.  Don't underestimate the power of that.

Pete's worked out a programme for me that encompasses 5 runs a week:

- a club run on a Monday (5km - 5 miles, depending on how I feel)
- a gentle run of around 3-4 miles on a Wednesday
- a longer run on Thursday, starting at about 5 miles, but peaking at 10-12 miles
- parkrun on a Saturday (5km - at whatever pace I feel like doing on the day)
- a long run on Sunday.  This starts at about 10 miles and steps up gradually to 22 miles; not increasing every week, and sometimes stepping back down again, but building up a strong base of distance endurance

All told, the 16 week programme totals something like 500 miles, and starts on 4th January.

Yes, it's a lot of work.... but how often do you get to be the guy who tells people that he's just popping out after work for an easy 10-miler, eh?  Everyone loves that guy, right?

Come on... admit it: you're a bit jealous, aren't you?

I'm actually looking forward to it. Is that weird?

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

mustn't grumble....

running sucks....

At some point earlier this month, I ran my 1000th mile of the calendar year. It’s a new personal best, easily surpassing the 800 or-so miles that I ran last year. With six weeks to go before the end of the year, it was quickly noted and then left behind as the apparently endless accumulation of miles continued. I’m currently running about 20 miles a week, 80 miles a month. That’s some way down from my pre-London Marathon peak of 169 miles in March, but training for the 2016 marathon hasn’t really begun in earnest yet. The milestones keep coming too: I’m due to run my 50th parkrun on 19th December, having only run my first on 23rd August 2014, also volunteering some 13 times in that time.

All of this points to someone who is a keen runner…. which I am. What that doesn’t tell you is the physical impact this is having on my body. I have spasms in my legs where my thigh and calf muscles twitch uncontrollably; I regularly wake in the night as my calf muscles cramp (I take magnesium supplements and drink tonic water to try and manage this); my left ankle has swollen and I have lost a significant amount of dorsiflexion in the joint; when I get up in the morning or after sitting for some time behind my desk at work, my hips and legs are so stiff that I walk around the place like an old man; scuffing my left foot and collapsing my left knee inwards as I run has had a knock-on physical effect on my plantar fascia, my knee and my hip. I have also now lost something like 10% of the muscle mass on the left side of my body.

Some of these things are down to the progression of my multiple sclerosis. Some of them can probably be more easily explained by the fact that I’m a 41 year-old man with a few miles on the clock and a frame that isn’t really built for running.

I’m not telling you this because I’m looking for sympathy. Running is an enormously important part of my physical and mental wellbeing and something would have to go very wrong indeed before I will stop dragging myself out through the door. I run because I want to run, because I enjoy running and the way it makes me feel; I run because I really enjoy the company of the other runners at my local parkrun and at my running club.

I know that some runners are motivated by the bling they get for completing a race, but for me the medal is one of the least important aspects of a run, and I certainly don’t expect a medal just for lacing up my trainers and heading out on a cold, wet night in November.

Apart from total indifference, I think I get two different kinds of responses to the information that I have completed a marathon and will be running another one next year: lots of people, perhaps not fully understanding MS or the massive range of possible outcomes, think it’s extraordinary. MS can put you in a wheelchair, can’t it? Running 26.2 miles is a massive achievement. Well, yes it is... but that's true for anyone.  The other response I get is from people who do have MS, who sometimes dismiss me as a freak case who somehow gives people the wrong impression of what it’s *really* like to have MS. There are always people like you, they say, climbing mountains or running marathons, when the rest of us can barely get out of the front door.

I try not to think about either reaction very deeply, to be honest. I don’t think of myself as especially remarkable in any regard. I have a compulsion to run and so I run. It’s not always easy, but it’s not really easy for anyone, whatever their physical condition. That first step out of the door is hard for everyone, especially on a pissy, cold night in November.

Besides, what’s the alternative?  I’m certainly not planning on stopping anytime soon.

Monday, 23 November 2015

a long, long time ago....

Over the weekend, I took the time to watch the classic Star Wars trilogy again.

I’ve seen all of these films literally hundreds of times over the years, so this wasn’t so much a question of preparing myself for the release of the new film in December as much as the fact that I just thought I was due. When I watch these films, I can remember where the original boxing day adverts were in the version we taped off the telly and onto Betamax; I can remember Luke throwing his grapple on the Death Star and missing the first time; I can remember queuing in the rain outside the Elektra cinema in Newport Pagnell to watch the Empire Strikes Back for the first time; I can remember playing with my Star Wars figures and counting down the days to the release of the Return of the Jedi. I’ve owned these films many times and in several different formats, from that original Betamax copy of Star Wars taped off the telly, through various video box-sets (the one of the original cuts I left with an ex-girlfriend, which seems ridiculously generous of me, given that now it’s basically the special editions or bust), and finally onto DVD. I drew the line at buying the Blu-Rays because I figured that, by this point, I’d given George Lucas more than enough of my money. I’d love to get the original cuts again, but the crappy edits available on the Blu-Ray just wasn’t enough to entice me.

When I went to the cinema in 1997 to watch the Special Editions, I was a little surprised that Return of the Jedi was the film that I actually enjoyed the most. Like most fan-boys, I’m an ESB man, and had a healthy loathing of the damn ewoks… but when it actually came to watching the films again on the big screen, it was Jedi that grabbed me the most. Perhaps it was because it was the one of the films that I’d watched the least, but there it was. The same thing happened again this weekend: there’s something satisfying about the way it rounds off the whole journey with the death of the Emperor and the destruction of the second Death Star. Maybe I’ve mellowed, but I don’t even really mind the ewoks anymore either.

A couple of things did strike me about the films though: the first was that almost every single addition that George Lucas made in the Special Editions was a complete waste of time. Either they added nothing at all to the plot (that extra scene with Biggs before the assault on the Death Star – yes, they had the footage, but all it does is slow down the story and shows us how crap an actor Red Leader is), or they just looked hideously dated. Never mind the fact that it’s all a bit childish, all that additional CGI to beef out Mos Eisley just looks like it has been pasted onto the original film and doesn’t look real. Why squeeze Jabba in? It doesn’t make any sense and the logistical problem of having Han walking around him could just have been avoided by leaving the scene out in the first place. It’s tinkering for tinkering’s sake, and shows again that George Lucas didn’t really understand what made Star Wars so charming in the first place. We like Han Solo precisely because he is the kind of scoundrel who would shoot someone under the table. Still George Lucas was only insisting last week that he hoped that JJ Abrams didn’t “ruin” his vision and that Jar-Jar Binks remained his favourite character in the whole saga. Trolling Star Wars fans to the end….

The other thing that struck me was quite how much of the thunder of the original trilogy that the prequels take away. One of my friends has never seen any of the Star Wars films before, and so her boyfriend is preparing her for the release of “The Force Awakens” in December by watching the films in order of Episode I to Episode VI. That seems like it makes sense, but when you think about it… it really doesn’t. Think of the dramatic tension we get from finding out that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. If you watch the prequels first, that tension is completely ruined. And… of course, they’re crap films. If my friend can make it to Episode IV after watching all six hours of that crap – never having been interested enough to watch any of them before, remember – then she’s probably doing pretty well. We took part in a Star Wars quiz the other week, and the quizmaster was talking about something we should watch out for the next time we watched The Revenge of the Sith. I snorted. I’m never bloody watching that again, I thought.  It's better than the other two, but really that's not saying much.

At the end of the day, the original films are just great entertainment. Several times, my wife passed by as I was watching them, and several times she found herself sitting down to watch as she got sucked in. It was a pleasure to watch them again, having not watched them for a few years. Even if I have seen them all hundreds of times over the years. I’m a fan, but I’m not one of those people who is so excited about Episode VII that I’ve booked my tickets already. I remember getting excited about seeing Darth Maul on the first Phantom Menace trailer, and look how that turned out. I’m hopeful that it will be a decent, entertaining film… but I think I’m past the point where I’m expecting it to really rock my world….. although I will admit that when Han and Chewie turned up in the trailer, my heart did skip a beat. Those cynical, manipulative bastards.

There will be more exciting Star Wars news here very soon. To misquote Lando, I’ve just made a deal that will help us with our marathon fund for the MS Trust enormously. Watch this space for a running / Star Wars based announcement that you will all be able to get involved here in the next couple of weeks….. For reals.

Friday, 20 November 2015

snowdrops falling through the night...

Earworms of the Week

You’re So Vain” – Carly Simon

I see that Carly Simon confirmed this week that this song is – at least partially – about Warren Beatty. To be honest, given that this is what everyone has always just assumed, I’m not sure what the point of the announcement was. Besides, didn’t a guy pay a small fortune to have Carly Simon whisper the answer in his ear a few years back? Yeah. $50,000. What must he be thinking now, eh? (although, perhaps he would have paid that amount of money just to have Carly Simon whisper anything into his ear?)

Apply Some Pressure” – Maximo Park

The album, “A Certain Trigger” is apparently now ten years old, which just makes me feel a little bit old. The band are, obviously, touring the record. I like them and I think they’ve written some great songs, but I imagine that it must make them feel a tiny bit sad too that their career never really got much bigger than this. Is there good money to be made as a sort-of-successful band like this, do you think? Enough to keep Paul Smith in hats?

Baby I Love Your Way” – Peter Frampton

Because the guy who sits next to me has been singing this to himself all week. ALL WEEK!

Kiss From a Rose” – Seal

He’s been singing this one too. To be fair, I’ve had my revenge well up front by constantly singing the most ridiculous stuff like “Last Christmas” by Wham, “Don’t it Make You Feel Good” by Stefan Dennis, and….

Mistletoe and Wine” – Cliff Richard

Yes. Cliff Richard. He’s probably lucky that it wasn’t “Wired for Sound”, but we are *almost* in December after all. Goodness me, this is an appalling record. Well done the Great British Public on sending this monstrosity all the way to number one. Mind you, “The Millennium Prayer” is even worse. Ugh. Pretty much crimes against music, never mind anything else the man might have done.

Creeping Death” – Metallica

I think I can categorically say that this is the best thrash metal song ever recorded about the biblical plagues on Egypt. Whilst we’re here, perhaps we should also spare a thought for Philthy Phil Taylor, the Motorhead drummer who died this week and who, on “Overkill”, basically invented thrash metal with the double-kick drum sound. Metallica themselves will tell you.

Where Do You Go To My Lovely” – Peter Sarstedt

Because sometimes, a song about someone born in Naples, sung in a French accent by someone from Sweden is the only thing that will really scratch that itch. The best bits of this song by far (apart from the accordion solo) is when his Swedish accent kicks in unmistakably. (“on your back and on you legshh”). A-haha-ha!

Believe” - Cher

Again, accept no substitutes and surrender to the earworm now. It’s only harder if you struggle. When we were visiting Gozo in the summer and were in a medieval fort, I suggested to my wife that she recreate the “Turn Back Time” video for a photo by straddling a cannon. She refused. Spoilsport.

Cantina Band theme – John Williams

It’s now actually reached the point that I’m going to stop reading about the new Star Wars film. I’m not one of those super-excited people who has already booked their seats at the IMAX on opening night, but I would quite like the film to hold some surprises when I sit down to watch it, whenever that is. Hopefully it won’t be shit… but to be brutally honest, it would have to go some way to be anywhere near as shit as the prequels. George Lucas was talking this week about how he hopes JJ Abrams won’t ruin it. Ha! But then, as he also said that his favourite character was Jar-Jar, I’m pretty sure the old bastard was just trolling us all. I like this song, but I feel it would be a mistake as a ringtone; one that seems like a good idea at the time, but causes excruciating embarrassment if your phone ever rings in a public place. My ringtone for my wife has been the Imperial March for about 15 years now. When it rings, people just seem to instinctively understand that it’s my wife. She doesn’t get to hear it very often, obviously, but she sort of loved and hated that scene in Ted all at the same time. Oh, and remember that, in the final analysis, no one really wins a Star Wars quiz. We won, obviously… but there are no real winners in that room.

Copenhagen” – Scott Walker

One of my colleagues is off to Denmark next week, and I don’t think he quite understands why I burst into this song whenever he mentions it. Well, that’s his loss, right?

Have a good weekend, y’all….

Thursday, 19 November 2015

all roads lead unto death row....

As I run, I've been listening to an audiobook adaptation of Neil Gaiman's "American Gods". As I squeezed in a quick 5km this evening, I was spellbound by this particular passage. It seemed to resonate strongly for me with the events of the last week or so:


“There was a girl, and her uncle sold her. Put like that it seems so simple.

No man, proclaimed Donne, is an island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other's tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature and by the repetitive shape and form of the stories. The shape does not change: there was a human being who was born, lived and then by some means or other, died. There. You may fill in the details from your own experience. As unoriginal as any other tale, as unique as any other life. Lives are snowflakes- forming patterns we have seen before, as like one another as peas in a pod (and have you ever looked at peas in a pod? I mean, really looked at them? There's not a chance you'll mistake one for another, after a minute's close inspection) but still unique.

Without individuals we see only numbers, a thousand dead, a hundred thousand dead, "casualties may rise to a million." With individual stories, the statistics become people- but even that is a lie, for the people continue to suffer in numbers that themselves are numbing and meaningless. Look, see the child's swollen, swollen belly and the flies that crawl at the corners of his eyes, this skeletal limbs: will it make it easier for you to know his name, his age, his dreams, his fears? To see him from the inside? And if it does, are we not doing a disservice to his sister, who lies in the searing dust beside him, a distorted distended caricature of a human child? And there, if we feel for them, are they now more important to us than a thousand other children touched by the same famine, a thousand other young lives who will soon be food for the flies' own myriad squirming children?

We draw our lines around these moments of pain, remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us. They are covered with a smooth, safe, nacreous layer to let them slip, pearl-like, from our souls without real pain.

Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives.

A life that is, like any other, unlike any other.

And the simple truth is this: There was a girl, and her uncle sold her."


It feels like a truth.

"We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature and by the repetitive shape and form of the stories. The shape does not change: there was a human being who was born, lived and then by some means or other, died. There. You may fill in the details from your own experience. As unoriginal as any other tale, as unique as any other life"

You might find that a somewhat bleak world-view, but I think it's beautiful.  Beautifully put, certainly.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

the nameless....

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, perhaps one of the stranger things to happen was when the hacker collective, Anonymous, declared that it was "at war" with ISIS.

You, the vermin who kill innocent victims, we will hunt you down like we did those who carried out the attacks on Charlie Hebdo"

It seems that they have begun by releasing the details of 900 Twitter accounts they say belong to ISIS and have now all been suspended.  Apparently, they're also leaking the personal information of suspected ISIS members online.

On my Facebook feed at least, this news seems to have been met with glee.  Good.  Hit these bastards wherever you can land a punch.

The thing is though, is this something we should be celebrating?  Are we happy to take the word of an anonymous group of hackers on who is, or is not, a member of ISIS; on who deserves to be exposed and to have their social media presence shut down, with perhaps worse to come?

What if they're wrong?  What if they came for you?  They could easily ruin your life without a backwards thought. Are we okay with that?  Are you comfortable with any potential collateral damage from these attacks? Are we comfortable with the collateral damage of any attack we make on ISIS?

The plain fact of the matter is that Anonymous can't be held accountable for their actions and that makes them dangerous and we should be careful before clapping them on the back and celebrating them as heroes.

When it comes down to it, this approach is scarcely more forensic at tackling the problem than bombings... although at least David Cameron can't start his bombing campaign without the assent of Parliament.  Anonymous have no such scrutiny.  Let's hope that, this time around, Parliament gives a little more thought to the end-game than they have done in the past.  Will bombing Syria stop our own citizens taking up arms against our society? Lop one head of this hyrda, and two more grow back in their place and you had better be ready when they both come back at you harder and faster than before.

Without a clear idea of what we're trying to achieve, we shouldn't drop a single damn bomb anywhere.  If we kill innocent civilians in the heat of anger with our bombs, how does that make us different to the Paris gunmen?

This isn't a simple issue and there aren't any simple answers.  Let's not cheer the creation of any more chaos and the propagation of any more hatred.  There's already plenty enough of both.

Monday, 16 November 2015

it's the only thing that there's just too little of...

We live in troubled times. I don’t have any great insight or wisdom to offer on the events of the last few days, but as I watched the unfurling horror of the strikes and counter-strikes, a couple of quotes sprung to mind.

The first is from the film “Independence Day”, of all places.

President Whitmore:I know there is much to learn from each other if we can make a truce. We can find a way to co-exist. can there be a peace between us?
Captured Alien: Peace? NO PEACE!
President Whitmore: What is it you want us to do?
Captured Alien: Die…die…

Brent Spiner wasn't involved in Paris - either in the attacks or in the decision to launch retaliatory airstrikes - but the message was eerily similar.

As our leaders meet to discuss what to do next, a few rather more hopeful words sprang to mind.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.  There are also dozens of quotes from Nelson Mandela saying much the same sort of thing.  Love not hate.

Are airstrikes the answer? Is war the answer? Well, as we all ponder the answer to that one, I’ll leave you with a couple of quotations from Kurt Vonnegut – a man who saw the human impact of war first-hand, and had a wiser appreciation than most of what it means:

Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns”.

Now that would make the G20 meeting interesting. Putin in particular might really enjoy that kind of thing (although he does rather like a pair of well-oiled guns....)


And finally, some sage advice to the people of this silly, little planet.

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."

...God damn it, you’ve got to be kind. We need to hang onto that more now than ever.

Friday, 13 November 2015

the longer it lasts, the closer we grow...

Earworms of the Week

Apologies in advance, but I've had a right motley pile of shit floating around in my head this week. Don't say I didn't warn you.

"When A Child is Born" - Johnny Mathis

I've always had a soft-spot for this ridiculous record, but I think that's mainly down to the talky bit in the middle:

"And all of this happens because the world is waiting,
Waiting for one child
Black, white, yellow, no-one knows
But a child that will grow up and turn tears to laughter,
Hate to love, war to peace and everyone to everyone's neighbour
And misery and suffering will be words to be forgotten, forever"

Beautiful, isn't it?  We're actually singing this at choir as part of our Christmas season, and it's a source of great regret to me that the talky bit has been excluded.  Everytime we get to a bit where we are just ahhhing and oooiing, I keep hoping that our musical director will turn to face the audience and just get stuck into it.  Perhaps he will....

"Bump n Grind" - R.Kelly

A video of R.Kelly has surfaced this week of the great man in a sauna somewhere, fully clothed and surrounded by slightly bemused looking sweaty men in towels.  Out of nowhere, and really loudly, he starts singing this song. MY MIND'S TELLING ME NO.... BUT MY BODY, MY BODY.....Not at all awkward, R.Kelly.  Not at all.  This isn't even my favourite video of R.Kelly. Not by a long shot.  Here he is explaining the concept of an echo.

You know, in case you didn't know what an echo was... in which case, that was probably super helpful.

Thanks R. Kelly!  I knew you wouldn't leave us hanging.

"Israelites" - Desmond Dekker

A brilliant song, of course.  There is also a small part of me that, whenever I hear this song, always starts to sing the Vitalite advert with the singing sunflowers.  Ooooooh, oooooh. Vitalite!

"Romeo & Juliet" - Dire Straits

This will always remind me of skiing across from La Rosiere into Italy, finding this song blasting out as we skiied down to the bottom.  It took me a long time to appreciate Dire Straits.  I was just starting to get into music when "Brothers In Arms" came out, and like everybody else in the whole world, I had a copy.  Well, who didn't like "Money for Nothing"?  But apart from the title track, I'm not sure if I could name another song on that record, and I think what they were overshadowed what they actually sounded like.  When I came back to them, it was this song that was the key for me.  Not that I can listen to them without hearing this shred, which is terrifyingly accurate.

"Rehab" - Amy Winehouse
"Son of a Preacher Man" - Dusty Springfield

Next time you listen to that Jack White and Alicia Keys Bond theme (if you've ever listened to it again after the credits of the film), then spare a moment to think that it was a late replacement for a proposed Amy Winehouse theme.  She would have been perfect, no?  Such a shame.  I'm not sure that Dusty would have carried off a Bond theme in quite the same way, but she does have one of the best voices ever, in my opinion.  Obviously, this particular song is probably most famous for being on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, but if you haven't ever listened to "Dusty In Memphis", then you really need to get onto that....

"D.I.S.C.O." - Ottawan
"Brown Girl in the Ring" - Boney M

I totally baffled someone in my office today by singing "D.I.S.C.O.".  She's in her early twenties and she had absolutely no idea of the song and just thought I'd gone completely mad.  I think my other colleagues also thought that, but at least they knew the song.

She is D, desirable
She is I, irresistible
She is S, super sexy
She is C, such a cutie
She is O, oh, oh, oh

They might well have wondered why it had popped into my head, but I don't really know the answer to that either.  That song then led into Boney M..... and I started to wonder about the lyrics.

Brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la
There's a brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la la
Brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la
She looks like a sugar in a plum
Plum plum

Is that racist? Is it gibberish? Both?  Well, either way, it was another song that had some colleagues instinctively joining in when I started to sing it, and the others just looking at us in horror.  I suppose you can understand why, really.

"Distant Past" - Everything Everything

I'm not joking about having a button that says "distant past" when I press it. The keyboard player for Everything Everything had one at Rock City on Wednesday night when they played this song, and I want one for use in casual conversation.  Ideally with a Star Trek tri-corder sound effect.  I reckon there would be a market for that.  Not just me, anyway. (Judging by the comments on the video to this song on YouTube, it's on the FIFA 2016 game soundtrack.  Distant Past?  Does that soundtrack English football or just the fans?)

"Don't It Make You Feel Good" - Stefan Dennis

There are so many things right about this record, that it's hard to know why it wasn't the start of a career that really put Kylie into the shade.  That leather jacket!  The up-turned collar! The pout! The chicken wire fence in the basement!  The snarl! The guitar solo! It's essentially the perfect storm of singer, song and accompanying video.  Paul Robinson is still in Neighbours, I believe... minus a leg?  Is that right?  This song is GOLD.  Speaking of Neighbours, one of my colleagues showed me a personal video that Alan Fletcher - Dr. Karl Kennedy - made for his wife on her birthday.  Apparently someone had signed her up for his fanclub, which is completely free, and he sent her a birthday card in the post and recorded a message just for her that he posted on her facebook page.  What a legend!  25 years to the week since Scott and Charlene got married, apparently.  Does that make you feel old?

And with that beautiful selection of songs, I'm off to go and spend a few hours on the Children in Need call centre. Ring in to make a donation, and you never know, you might just end up talking to me.  Be sure to say hello.

Have a good weekend, y'all.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

I'm gonna keep my plunder underground...

Everything Everything @ Rock City, 11th November 2015

The last time I saw Everything Everything at Rock City, in October 2013, I can see that I was preoccupied by the sight of the town centre filled with drunk students in fancy dress being shepherded from venue to venue before ending up at Rock City at about 10:30. That was on a Monday night, but two years later, on a Wednesday night, I can see that things haven’t changed. I didn’t see any sober people with red clipboards ushering people around on an organised pub crawl this time around, but I did see lots of drunk students in fancy dress: from cowboys on the bus passing around a big bottle of Smirnoff (branded vodka please, darling) to a bunch of idiots in the cheapest looking lederhosen costumes you can imagine. The girls, to be fair, didn’t seem to so much be wearing a specific, bought-for-the-purpose costume as much as just wearing the shortest, tightest hot pants they could find and a vest. I know I’m getting old, but I felt cold just looking at them, even on a mild night. All of this leads me to the slightly uncomfortable realisation that students don’t just have one night of the week where they get into costume and go drinking, and that they just get into costume to go drinking every night.

I didn’t spot any fancy dress inside Rock City, but the venue was certainly packed full of the youth. Last time around, it was fairly clear that being on the 6 Music playlist had brought a small but significant portion of the audience. This time around, not so much and I was amongst the oldest people there. Damnit! People watching is always a pleasure, but tonight it was a beautiful thing to watch the youth at play. Rock City has started selling beer in two pint cups, and even the biggest guy is rendered a tiny hobbit as he clutches this ridiculous bucket full of piss-weak warm lager in both hands. I actually ordered two pints at the bar, and had to carefully explain by means of a dumb show that I meant “one pint and one pint. Two pints”.

Rock City wasn’t sold out, but it was pretty full, and the crowd was really pretty excited indeed to see the main event… which made it all the more baffling when most of them then spent the vast majority of the evening chatting to each other as the band played. To be fair, I felt the band paced their set appallingly badly, and that it sagged for a good twenty minutes in the middle, but even so…. They’re a good band and all of their albums are pretty strong, including the latest one, so I’m not quite sure why they dropped the pace so much halfway through the set. Still, the youth didn’t seem to mind, and often paused their conversations to pull out their phones to film 30 seconds of footage to load on the “My Story” bit of snapchat. Does anyone, anywhere spend their time looking through these crap video snippets of a gig? I probably sound about 100 years old, but I just don’t get it. Can’t you just enjoy what you’re watching with your eyes and ears? Be present in the room in the moment? I guess not.

The band sounded good. One of my friends has a problem with Jonathan Higgs’ falsetto live, but I think he makes it all sound pretty effortless (even if his peroxide flick hair-do is a tragic, tragic mistake). He also looks like he’s enjoying himself, which counts for a lot too. We’ve all been to too many gigs were the band look like they wish they were somewhere – anywhere – else….I’m looking at you Radiohead….. And, just as he did in 2013, Higgs told us as sincerely as he could manage that we were a great crowd, best on the tour so far… and I think he might actually have believed it to. The new album is good, and they played a lot of it, as you would expect. I’m not quite sure then why that meant the set was so uneven: the songs are good and the band sounded good, so what’s the problem? In a word: Pacing. They played the wrong songs at the wrong time and momentum gradually drifted away. They do have some glorious songs though: they tossed “Kemosabe” out early, but “Schoolin’”, “Regret”, “Don’t Try”, “Cough Cough”, “Photoshop Handsome”, “Distant Past”….. A good start and a good finish, I suppose, but the focus on the newer stuff meant that they have inevitably dropped a few of the quieter, slower-burning gems from their older albums. The new material is good, but apparently not quite as deep.

(incidentally, I want to have a dedicated button – as the keyboardist did here – that plays the phrase “distant past” every time it is pressed. Ideally accompanied by the sound of a classic Star Trek tricorder. Can you imagine how useful that would be in everyday conversation?)

So, in summary, a curate’s egg of an evening: a fascinating crowd and a band that I really like who sounded pretty good on the night, but a bumpy set. Oh, and I’ll leave you with some fashion thoughts: I’ve seen band’s wearing uniforms before, but the jackets that Everything Everything wore for the whole of the main set (grey with black trim , sort of like a Star Trek: the Next Generation jacket) just looked ill-fitting and a bit cheap. They then produced a coloured set of the same for the encore and looked even worse. Have a word with yourselves, lads! Either commit to wearing a band uniform like Django Django’s shirts and commit to it, or don’t bother! It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it shouldn’t look like it’s made from cheap fuzzy felt. They looked like they might have made them themselves, which I suppose would be charming….

Oh, hark at me. Coming on here and talking about almost anything but the actual band and generally sounding like I’m the oldest man alive. Oh wait…. I’ve always sounded like that, even when I wasn’t old. If you haven’t worked that out by now, then you’re probably in the wrong place.

Swisslet: hunting badgers by owl-light since 2004.

VERDICT: 6 / 10.
(If someone wants to explain snapchatting to me, they’ll find me somewhere in the mid-1990s....)


To The Blade
Blast Doors
Get To Heaven
Fortune 500
The Wheel (Is Turning Now)
Riot on the Ward
Warm Healer
Zero Pharaoh
Don't Try
Cough Cough
Photoshop Handsome
Spring / Sun / Winter / Dread

No Reptiles
Distant Past

Wednesday, 11 November 2015


by Phillip Larkin

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat’s restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana