Tuesday, 16 December 2014

We drink, we sing on the state we're in If it leads to another year...

Well, I'm just about done here before Christmas.  What with one thing and another, I probably won't have a chance to write anything much before we get back from Austria in the New Year.

All that remains is to wish you all the compliments of the season.

As is now traditional around here, I've also made a donation to Shelter in the name of everyone who has popped by over the course of the last twelve months.

It's a great charity and the money will definitely help towards making sure some other people can enjoy the festive season too.

Be excellent to each other and see you on the other side.

Thanks 2014, it's been emotional.

Monday, 15 December 2014

loose as a goose....

OK.  So we're finally off the ground and officially fundraising.

On 26th April 2015, C and I will be running the London Marathon to raise money for the MS Trust.  26.2 miles is exactly twice as far as the furthest distance that I've ever run in one go.  When I was injured last year, I felt as though a half marathon was completely beyond me, but since then I've run 800 miles (and counting) this year and somehow got it into my head that actually, I do want to run a full marathon... and once you've decided that you want to run a marathon, why wouldn't you want to run one of the biggest and best supported that there is?

So we're running.

Our fundraising page is now up and running and can be found here:


I mentioned this on Facebook this morning and, thanks to our super-generous friends, we seem to have already got off to a flying start towards our target.  Well, with 131 days until the marathon, I'm afraid to tell you that I'm going to be banging the drum to raise some money for an excellent cause quite a lot here.  Resistance is futile.

Plus, if you make a donation, you get to use this exclusive badge in your status update:

And, as it's not just me running this marathon, you can also use this one:

Who could resist?

It's going to seem like a long 131 days, no?

Friday, 12 December 2014

naughty or nice....

It's that most wonderful time of the year again when I get to be Santa.  I think I must have been doing this for about a decade now.  It was somewhat easier when she sat behind me at work than it has been in the last few years since she moved back to Australia.... but we manage.

Time was when the fact that her kids didn't know anyone with the same handwriting as Santa (and they checked *everything* that came into the house, which meant I had to be really careful with cards and things) was proof that Santa was real.  They're fifteen and twelve now, and mum and I had a brief discussion a few weeks ago about whether or not Santa's services were still required.  After a little consideration, the answer came back: "The eldest was asking about writing Santa a letter this year, so I think we're definitely on.  I've also realised that even if they were ready to move on, I'm not ready yet and I want this tradition to continue as long as possible".

I can't help but agree with that.  I absolutely love doing this and it will be something of a sad day when it comes to an end.

Anyway.  This year's letters:

As ever, mum sent me copies of the letters her two daughters had written to Santa.  Hannah is the eldest, and she went through a phase where her letters basically said things like "I want a mobile phone".  Ellie, as the younger of the two, was happy drawing pictures and asking how Mrs. Claus was and was much more straightforwardly adorable.  But do you remember being a teenager?  Anyway, this year she seems to be back into the whole pretence and has written a proper letter.  Sadly for her, her mum wasn't really paying attention when she showed her the Dr.Who t-shirt that she really liked.  Oh well, these letters always were about expectation setting.

Now she's twelve, I imagine that Ellie is fully aware of the game that we all play about Santa.  Still, she seems willing to keep playing, and I like to think that it's all part of the traditional family Christmas that they grew up with.  As well as the letters, I also write up a set of gift tags too.  It's the complete package (well, as long as the postal service does the business.  Last guaranteed post to Australia before Christmas was about a week ago.  The letters have been scanned and emailed as a precaution.

Mum and Dad got a surprise letter from Santa too:

This is one of my favourite jobs of the year.  Without question.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

sleigh bells ring..

The Puppini Sisters @ Nottingham Glee Club, 10th December 2014

I know I say this every year, but I really like Christmas music. Well, perhaps I should say seasonal music. Along with a deep, rich pint of winter ale and a roaring fire, there’s something about songs about this time of year that make me feel all warm and cosy. The only problem is that our definition of “Christmas Music” seems to stretch to about 20 songs… your Slades and Wizzards and McCartneys and Mariahs. I’m sure they all have their own merits, but to my ears they’ve been so overplayed as to become almost unlistenable. Even the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. “The Fairytale of New York” used to seem a bit like a well-kept secret, but now it’s *everyone’s* favourite Christmas song. This year, I even saw a Facebook campaign to get it to Number One in the UK singles chart for Christmas Day. How quaint, I thought.

I was reminded this week that I actually put a Spotify playlist together last year of my Christmas tunes of the moment. It seems pretty decent, so I’ll share it here again. The only real omission for me is Joseph Spence’s magnificently shambolic version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, but that didn’t seem to be available. All I can say is that I HIGHLY recommend you seek it out.

Looking through that list, I suppose the sad thing is that I haven’t found anything new this year to add. The last few years have been pretty productive on that front, with albums by Emmy the Great and Tim Wheeler and Smith and Burrows in particular quickly becoming firm favourites around here. Last year I went back in time and started scouring songs by people like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Cash (although, frankly, the Cash records seem to come from a time when he was very much in love with the Big JC….). This year, not so much.

Last night, a friend had a spare ticket to see the Puppini Sisters at the Nottingham Glee club, and because I don’t see him all that often, I was delighted to take him up on the offer. Boy, am I glad I did. It turns out that the Puppini Sisters did a Christmas album back in 2010 that somehow escaped my attention, and their show was essentially a run through of seasonal songs (and filthy jokes) designed to put us all in a festive mood.

If you’re not familiar with the band, here’s how they describe themselves on their website:

"Let’s face it: who can resist three bewitching females dressed in delightfully matching attire, singing in close harmony and moving in impeccably synchronized steps? Just like the Andrews Sisters, who took the genre to the top (one hundred and thirteen songs in the American charts between '38 and '51...), the Puppini Sisters have long become synonym with the intoxicating mix of music and style they call Swing-Pop, and have won hearts all over the world.  Back in 2004, when Marcella Puppini created a new Sisters group, the idea was not to try and copy the enchantments of a historical songbook: rather to create an individual sound, which would encapsulate the trio’s eclectic influences….Every style was filtered through their rigorous, sunny, vocal discipline: no improvisation, just the extraordinary power of a wall of voices whose architecture seemed designed by a virtuoso. In their first two albums, Betcha Bottom Dollar and The Rise and Fall of Ruby Woo, they combined their own arrangements of classics from the Thirties to the Fifties, jazzy reinventions of rock hits, and self-penned original songs. And then they sang for Santa Claus in Christmas with the Puppini Sisters, before tackling the Garden of Eden of vocal standards, i.e. old-school Hollywood, and being invited to duet with Michael Bublè on his Christmas album".

Yup, this is a band so in tune with Christmas that they were co-opted by Bublè himself.


They play a pretty good setlist here, and it turns out it was just what I was looking for.  All the better for being completely unexpected.  Here Comes Santa Claus, Santa Baby, Winter Wonderland, Sleigh Ride, Last Christmas (complete with a filthy George Michael joke), All I Want for Christmas is You… as well as non-seasonal songs like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend and Mr Sandman. They were sensational and backed by a more-than-accomplished three-piece band. The bassist - with a proper, stand-up double bass - was absolutely brilliant, but they also have a drummer who can play the piano! Who knew?

Their Christmas album might not be exactly new, but it’s new to me and gives me something fresh to add to my Christmas playlists. Given that I just received my copy of the twentieth anniversary edition of the Holy Bible by the Manic Street Preachers, it’s perhaps good to listen to something a little more cheery and seasonal than “The Intense Humming of Evil” (remastered).

A fun night. Thanks Dave!

Verdict: 7.5 / 10

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

don't get caught alone no, no.....

I got sucked into one of those "Top 100 countdown" things on TV last night... I would have quite happily watched to the end to discover what the Greatest 1980s Movie made was, but the realisation that the programme finished a little before 1am on a school night sent me packing to bed shortly after we had reached "Beverly Hills Cop" but before we'd got to Bill & Ted.  Eddie Murphy was 22 when they made that film.  Twenty-two!  I was also slightly disappointed to discover that Bronson Pinchot - who appeared to talk about filming his scenes with Murphy - isn't actually Eastern European at all and instead has a meat-and-two-potatoes American accent and was born in New York.  Huh. (and looking at his wikipedia page, I can see that he won an award for his performance in the talking book book of "Matterhorn" by Karl Marlantes.  Now that's an excellent book which would have been weird if he'd read it in either the accent of Balki Bartokomous or Serge.... but I digress).

Watching clips from films like St Elmo's Fire, Weird Science and Desperately Seeking Susan reminded me of a conversation I had at work the other day.  We'd been talking about being the gatekeepers for some process or other, and one of my colleagues piped up:

"Ah, what I want to know is who is the keymaster!"
Another colleague looked confused.
"What do you mean?"
"It's from Ghostbusters"
"The film?"
"When did that film even come out?"
"About 1984"
"What? 1984? That's the year I was born. Is it worth watching?"

It's not so much the ignorance that gets me, it's the lack of curiosity.

Monday, 8 December 2014

like when a rag gets wet...

My new boss is slightly younger than me.  If I had to guess, I would say that she's a little older than thirty-five but younger than forty.  I have no problem being managed by someone younger than me, and certainly no issue with being managed by a woman - three of the best four managers I've ever had were women - but it's just that I have noticed that she has a certain tone of phrase that makes her sound a bit middle-aged.

I'll give you an example: whenever she says "last minute", my boss doesn't just say "last minute", she always says "last minute dot com".  Okay, I grant you.... that doesn't make her sound middle-aged as much as dating her very specifically to a period of time in the mid-1990s, but that basically amounts to the same thing, doesn't it?  It's as if her linguistic development froze when she was at some point in her twenties, and she's never felt the need to move on.  It's a bit like those hippies who persisted in saying things like "groovy" and "man" all the time, although I'm pretty certain involving a lot less marijuana.

There's nothing particularly wrong with it, and nor is it particularly strange that someone of that age might begin to sound a little middle-aged.... it's just that I'm not really ready to sound middle-aged myself just yet and I'm dismayed to watch it happening to people around me who are of around my age.  I might *be* middle-aged, but I'd like to think that I don't sound it.  At least not yet.

It's happening to some of my friends too (although I'm sure not you): when viewed through the prism of Facebook, some of my best friends suddenly seem very dull indeed.  It's not that they *are* dull, you understand, only that they have a grasp of the medium that is something akin to my father's, and they post update after update to which the only possible response is "cool story, bro....".

When did this happen?  When did these people move into middle-age?  Why did it happen? How did it happen so fast?

Please tell me that it hasn't happened to me.

Maybe it already has, and maybe worrying about something like this is the first sign of a mid-life crisis.


I need to buy a flashier car.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

we have something they'll never have...

Earworms of the Week

Joy” – Tracey Thorn

We’re only just into December, but I like seasonal music and some of it is just starting to voluntarily appear on my playlists. I tend to stay away from the Slades and Wizzards (not that there’s much wrong with them apart from over-exposure). Instead, I like to try and find stuff that’s a little bit further off the beaten track. I think this song (from “Tinsel & Lights” from a couple of years ago) is my absolute favourite: Thorn’s voice is naturally a little downbeat, but this is a lovely song that really captures what makes a Christmas special in a way that doesn’t involve talking about Santa or presents or any of the normal clichés.  This one makes me blub.  Just a tiny amount.

We Are Young” – Fun (featuring Janelle Monae)

Best performed by a family of Austrians of our acquaintance, but this lot do a reasonable job too.

Bullet in the Head” – Rage Against the Machine

Still a punch in the guts and a thrilling call to action even after all these years. It was released in 1991!  Also, whilst we're here, here's the uncensored clip of RATM on Radio 5 Live playing "Killing in the Name" as part of the campaign to make them the best Xmas number one record ever in 2009.  They made a swear on live radio!  Even though they said they wouldn't do that bit!
Uh! Come on!

Climbing to the Moon” – Eels

Beautiful, delicate and heartbreaking. Yet another example of how unhappiness seems to create the best music. As a sidenote, this is also the only suggestion I have ever got included into a “Readers Recommend” playlist in the Guardian. The playlist in question was songs that make you cry. It’s a pretty terrible column, incidentally, and I don’t really bother any more: it’s too full of people shouting their own (often painfully obvious) suggestions without bothering to read anyone else’s suggestions. It’s also full of regulars with their own separate blog and a language all of their own. Yes, that is as tedious as it sounds. Last time I looked, the reader who wrote up the week’s playlist wrote the column from the perspective of their pet dog. Yes. Honestly. Anyway. This is a heartbreaking song from an album full of heartbreaking songs. Mark “E” Everett doesn’t seem to have led a very happy life, but he has certainly produced some remarkable music.

Running the World” - Jarvis

Still true, I’m afraid. Did you see that Iain Duncan-Smith has recategorised Parkinsons and Multiple Sclerosis as curable conditions? Either he has some new information on these previously incurable illnesses, or he’s found a way to try and remove disability benefit from a few thousand people who really need it. He’s a Conservative politician…. Which one do you think it is?


Smash the system.

Back in Black” AC/DC
Jailbreak” – Thin Lizzy

Sometimes, you really just need a big, dumb rock song. I only really need the first fifteen seconds of “Back in Black” to be happy, and “Jailbreak” even sounded great when rendered on a bontempi organ in the pub quiz last night. They’re not clever by any stretch of the imagination, but they are ace.  AC/DC for Glastonbury please.

Dancing on the Ceiling” - Lionel Richie
Three Times a Lady” - The Commodores

Guess who’s the first act to be confirmed as playing Glastonbury in 2015? Yup…. Lionel. If he’s not the perfect Sunday afternoon act on the Pyramid, then I don’t know who is. Ah. Perfect.

L.A. Woman” – The Doors

Some songs are just perfect for driving, aren’t they? There’s just something about the propulsive rhythm of this song that makes me think of driving down a sunny boulevard in Los Angeles. I never have, as it happens… and actually this popped into my head when I was cycling home from work the other day in the freezing cold, dark night, which wasn’t really the same thing at all. Still, I made do, and for about five minutes, I was Jim Morrison…. If Jim Morrison was taller, thinner, on a bike and wearing enough fluorescent clothing to light a small house. Oh, and still alive.

Two Devils” / “Do the Right Thing” – Dog is Dead

They’re definitely a better live band than they are on record, but they are still pretty good on record too and their first album gets better with every play. If they manage to catch some of the lightning from their live show in a bottle and distil it onto their forthcoming second album, then just maybe we might have another band from Nottingham finding some proper success. Finger’s crossed for them.

Hand in Glove” – The Smiths

Hard to believe that this was their debut single and that a band as good as The Smiths just seemed to appear before the world fully formed. I’ve been listening to “Hatful of Hollow” this week and it’s a magnificent record; not an album proper but definitely my favourite collection of their songs. I love the urgency and rough-edges of the session recordings of some of their most famous songs, and I love the way that Morrissey yelps. As a band, they played a pivotal part in the development of my music taste, and they’ll always hold a special place in my record collection…. No matter how much of an idiot Morrissey seems hell-bent on proving that he is.

Right. So a day earlier than usual, but that’s the way of my week. Have a good weekend, y’all. I’m going to a wine-tasting and then doing a load of running.
Same-same but different, right?

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

gotta get up, gotta get up, gotta get up....

If you’ve got a spare ten minutes, then I highly recommend watching this video. It’s about a high school runner with MS and it’s very inspiring.

As a runner with MS myself – albeit a somewhat slower one: Kayla's 5km PB is 17:22, so a little bit faster than I can manage – I found this quite emotional to watch. I don’t quite need anybody to catch me at the finish line, but there’s definitely something about her determination to run that I recognise. It makes me feel good too, even though it is hard. Perhaps because it’s hard.

As her coach says:
To beat it; to outrun it; to know you got every movement out of those legs while you still can. That’s why she’s running

Yup. That’s pretty much exactly it. That’s more or less why I run too. You can’t beat it and you can’t outrun it, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.

That applies to you too, by the way….

Go Kayla!  Inspirational.

(hmm. I really need to get our fundraising page for next year’s London Marathon off the ground, don’t I?)

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

if we don't stop now we'll be dead by summer....

D.I.D. @ Nottingham Bodega, Monday 1st December 2014

The artists formerly known as Dog is Dead returned to their old stamping ground for one of their now-traditional Christmas gigs.  They've been "the next big thing" on Nottingham's music scene for a few years now, and with their debut album reaching number 45 in the UK charts in 2002 and Clifton's Jake Bugg leaving them gasping in his wake, this is a band that have everything to prove with their forthcoming second album.  Make or break time, boys.

As the band said themselves when they booked the gig:

Recording the first album was a learning curve of which we worked with 4 different producers from completely different backgrounds, from psych-maniac David Kosten to 80s legend Trevor Horn. Sometimes it takes a long time to learn where the best place for you to write and record is, both metaphorically and literally. We knew this time around we wanted a finished product before we went and toured the world over rather than going back and forth to the studio. What we took from the first record is that we knew we wanted to starve ourselves of luxury and write and record in Nottingham at our favourite studio (random recordings) in the middle of an industrial estate. No luxury 12 foot mixing desks and symphony orchestras lying about meant that we could focus on the pure essence of song and stay true to the progression of the band with no eye on being 'current'. This process meant we had to have the discipline to sacrifice playing live shows until now which has only made us more hungry to get on the road and cause trouble."

The kids love them, anyway.  They've been featured on "Skins" and a sold-out crowd at the Bodega is both extremely youthful and very, very excited.  They say that we've reached "peak beard", well perhaps that's true, but without a word of exaggeration, every single man in the room who is able to grow a beard (with the notable exception of LB) has grown a beard.  Or at least attempted to grow a beard.  You really have to admire some of the wishful thinking on display here.  Long bumfluff is still basically  just bumfluff, right? No matter how much you want it to be a proper beard.  Bless....

But I digress.

I've never seen Dog is Dead before.  Perhaps that's a remarkable thing for someone who reviews Nottingham music to say, but there it is.  I'm barely familiar with any of their work and can thus approach this gig with a fresh perspective.  Well, with that fresh perspective, let me first tell you that the guitarist looks a little like Westley from the Princess Bride with a top-knot and a big ginger beard.  My first (proper) observation is that they sound a lot more substantial live than they do on record.  Their debut album is good enough, and grows on me with every play, but they're a little bit vanilla for my taste.  The singer's voice lacks subtlety and nuance (or he is not being very adventurous on record), with the end result that every song sounds more or less the same.  It's all very pleasant, and one or two of the songs really soar, but they stubbornly refuse to take flight for me.

Live, they're a different proposition; they're much more muscular and, when the fancy takes them, they really get their rock on.  They certainly make the whole Bodega shake when they get the youth jumping up and down (although, to be honest, when I see a crowd getting that excited when an otherwise fairly mild band starts to rock out, I can't help but think that they really need to go and watch Metallica or someone with proper riffs, but that's probably just me.....)  The old songs sound better than on record and are joyously received by the bearded, exuberant youth of Nottingham; new songs like "Killer Whale" and "Hotel" sound pretty damn good too.

They're a good band, and it's a good night.  Besides, how could I not get behind a bunch of lads who hail from leafy and genteel West Bridgford?  It's not the natural habitat of a rock band, is it? This is a big few months for them and with a following wind and these songs, their second album could really see them go all the way.  Fingers crossed.

VERDICT: 7 / 10

Setlist: Two Devils, Fast Food, Do The Right Thing, The State We’re In, River Jordan, Any Movement, Glockenspiel Song, Funny Bones, Hotel, Killer Whale, Teenage Daughter.

LB reviewed this gig for the Evening Post (and was good enough to get me in as his 'plus one').  His vastly more informed review of the band he first interviewed in 2012 can be found here.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

end of a century....

...and with a 4.2 mile run around Oxford Parks this morning with Rich and C, the one hundred miles for the month is up.

That's a new distance record for me....although marathon training proper doesn't really start until January, and all that mileage this month was achieved with no single run longer than eight miles.  In fact, I don't think I've run further than eight miles in one go all year.  The really long runs are coming soon enough....

Thanks, November 2014.  It's certainly been memorable.

Roll on December, eh?