Thursday, 28 July 2016

save it for the break of day...

I spent much of last weekend at the Thunder Run, a 24 hour running event in Catton Park in Derbyshire. It’s fairly simple in format: there’s an undulating, off-road 10km course that runs through woodland and some beautiful countryside; the race starts at 12 noon on Saturday and runs until 12 noon on Sunday. The idea is to run as many laps as you can in that time, whether you are running solo, or as part of a team of up to 8 people. I’ve never done anything like this before, so I nervously packed up my tent and head-torch and set off after work on Friday to meet up with my team of 7.

For some people, this event is all about the times you run, but for lots of the thousands of people taking part, it’s more about the times you have. There’s a bar in a red double-decker bus by the finish, for goodness sake! My team was quite mixed in ability, and although we had a loose target of getting 24 laps completed, it really didn’t matter and the most important thing was that we enjoyed ourselves as much as possible. I was mentally prepared beforehand to run 3 or 4 laps on little sleep, but I wasn’t really prepared for how much I enjoyed the whole weekend. Although my team was relatively small, there were about 80 of us from my wider running community in total, and Friday night was very much about having a few drinks and enjoying spending a bit of time with old friends and making some new ones. Many people had brought both kids and dogs, so there was a great atmosphere around the campsite. Of course, with the prospect of all that running looming over us, it wasn’t a particularly late night….

Saturday started with a parkrun. I know that sounds mad when you’re about to start a 24 hour race, but parkrun is very firmly established part of my life now, and popping a couple of miles up the road to Rosliston seemed like the perfect way to get things started. Besides, a winding course through a beautiful forest with over 400 other mentalists (we doubled Rosliston’s previous attendance record and broke all their course records! See if you can spot me in the sea of apricot) was just lovely.

Then the race.

I did four laps: around 2pm when it was sappingly hot; between 2030 and 2130, starting in the light and finishing in the dark as the sun went down; between 4am and 5am, starting in the dark and running into the dawn; and finally our last lap of the event, starting at around 11:15. I managed a bit of sleep between laps (and even a shower), but I experienced things that will stay with me forever.

Here are a few of them:

- Encouraging other runners on the trail as I passed them, and being encouraged by quicker runners who passed me (pretty much everyone made a real fuss of the solo runners, who were easy to spot. The solo runner from my running club, five foot nothing of pure Irish determination managed 9 laps in all, and I passed her three times when I was out running. When I passed her on my fourth lap, she was just past the 5km mark of what would be both our last laps, and she was shuffling along painfully, powered mostly by an iron will not to stop… I had to stop and give her a big hug because she is such an amazing, inspirational person)

- Turning off the flat first km of the course and beginning to climb up a really steep hill through a dark, deciduous wood

- Passing the 5km marker after running up a gentle but apparently unending hill, and knowing that the second half of the course was a little easier

- Telling the Rosliston parkrun volunteers marshalling at the 8km mark how beautiful their parkrun was, every single time I passed them

- Running the last km of my first lap through the campsite and being ambushed by the rest of my team and their kids with water pistols. Bliss

- Dodging the tree roots and stumps in the woods as I ran in the dark by the light of my head-torch

- Returning back to camp after 9pm to find that our camp cook (one of the team’s wives) had saved me some burgers and also made me some fresh campsite crepes. Delicious

- Listening to an owl screeching in those same woods in the pre-dawn light at around 0415

- Cresting a hill out of another dark wood and finding myself bursting out into the open just as the dawn was breaking all around me. Magical. That run will stay with me forever

- Mustering a sprint finish for the last half km, leaving the rest of my team, who had kindly joined me for the end of our last lap and the end of the race, trailing in my wake. Maybe a little rude, but I didn’t want to leave anything in the tank…

I loved it. Including the parkrun, I ran 45km over the weekend (a marathon is 42.195km), but this felt different to running a marathon all in one go. I found it physically much harder to run a marathon in one go, with deeper muscle and joint pain… but running in 10km instalments like this with little sleep is differently challenging and requires a similar kind of mental strength. I think running on tired legs, starting your third lap when you know you still have another to go before you are done, takes a special kind of determination and I really kind of enjoyed that. I think they key is to remember to look outside yourself and to think about something other than how much your legs hurt and how tired you are. I tried to remember that it was truly a privilege to run such a beautiful course at such beautiful times of the day.

Given that running is usually such an individual sport, I also loved the teamwork; working out when you needed to be in the transition area to do the handover and to take your stint; I loved the camaraderie around the course and within the campsite. Over the years, I’ve learned that runners are generally pretty nice people, and whereas at a normal event, you run and then you go home, this time around we were all in it together. The fastest teams were running more than three laps for every two that my team did, but there is no way of knowing out on the course who has done what and everyone was very much equal. We managed 23 laps in total – we slowed down during the night – and the winning teams in our category (mixed teams of 6-8) were completing 36 laps. The winning solo runner managed 19 laps! Nineteen laps! He ran for 24 hours, averaging just over an hour a lap, without stopping. That’s incredible.

I can’t wait for next year and I hope I’m lucky enough to be invited to join a team again (I like to think I'm a pretty reliable team member).

I’m at the neurologist on Friday for my annual check-up on the progress of my MS. I will enter a waiting room filled with people in wheelchairs and using various mobility aids. I’ve had my issues this year, but I look around that room and I know that I’ve been fit and well enough to run the London Marathon in April and to run 45km over a weekend as part of a 24 hour relay race…. I’m not doing so bad, really.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I really believe that.

In your face, MS.

Friday, 22 July 2016


I’m feeling tired at the moment. Lots of people with MS find that heat triggers their symptoms, with some so badly affected that they have to wear cooling vests to try and keep their core body temperature down. Funnily enough, it’s never really bothered me. I’m sometimes troubled by a loss in sensation in my arms below the shoulders when it’s cold, but heat seems to be fine. In fact, I’m one of those masochistic runners who secretly really enjoy going out when it’s really hot and slogging my way through a really sweaty run. In my office, people were already complaining about the heat on Monday morning, but I’ve spent the last six weeks of the English summer cycling to work through monsoon rains, so I’m not going to start complaining now that the sun has finally started shining.

I am, however, feeling a bit tired. Fatigued, even. Lots of people feel lethargic when it gets hot, but MS fatigue is different. It’s hard to explain, but MS-related fatigue feels quite different to the kind of tiredness you get when you’ve not been sleeping enough or when you’ve been out running or something – that’s what I’d call a good, honest kind of tiredness and MS fatigue is an altogether different, much sneakier animal. It’s not the sleepiness you get when you haven’t slept well, but it’s fatigue that you experience physically that takes a hold of your body and makes it feel like you’re wading through treacle. Lots of people use Christine Miserandino’s spoon theory to describe how it feels

That’s great, but it seems to imply that there’s some kind of logic in the toll that different activities take on your body and on your energy levels. For me, this just isn’t true. How can it be true when I can run a marathon and feel fine, but other times, my fatigue can be triggered by a walk to the shops? I wish it was predictable and therefore manageable, but it just isn’t.

When this fatigue begins, I start to feel it in a tightness across my shoulders, followed closely by a sense of weakness in my arms and maybe some generalised numbness; I can feel my body start to almost tremble as I fight against the growing tiredness. Often, before I really know what’s happening, it’s like a switch has been flicked and all my power is draining away and all I can really do is get myself to bed and write the day off. I was in bed at 21:30 the other night, and on some days, more than eight hours sleep just doesn’t seem to be enough. Today, I found myself starting to struggle at my desk after about 3pm.

Naturally, because I refuse to let my MS rule my life, on Friday evening I’ll be heading over to Catton Park to join my team of 7 taking part in the Thunder Run… a 24 hour relay where I can expect to run at least three 10km laps between noon on Saturday and noon on Sunday, including at least one lap after dark. I probably won’t get much sleep and will likely run the best part of a marathon, but I’m really looking forward to it. I might even do a parkrun before we get started.

Fuck you MS.

Monday, 18 July 2016

took a sip from my devil's cup...

ReSoNaTe @ The Angel Micro Brewery, 14th July 2016

[review to appear on the Leftlion website at some point....]

The Old Angel in the Lace Market was always a reassuringly grungy presence amongst all the trendy bars of Hockley; a real pub and an excellent live music venue. When it closed earlier this year, with news that it was to re-open as a micro-brewery, it felt a bit like another landmark venue in Nottingham’s cultural life was disappearing forever and that the hipsters were taking over the world. Tonight’s gig is the first to be held in the venue since the renovation and provided a good opportunity to have a look around to see what they’ve done with the place. First impressions are good: the place looks broadly the same, only with really good beer (I recommend the Snake Eyes). A few things have even changed for the better: the toilets are equipped with Original Source coconut and shea butter soap. Imagine!

Tonight’s gig is promoted by Full Focus Events – a relatively new operation, set up at the start of this year and master-minded by Brad and Jack. They’ve been running regular events around Nottingham, and ReSoNaTe represents the cream of the crop from those nights. This is the second such showcase, shifted at short-notice to the Angel due to the closure of The Loom. The upstairs room here isn’t quite ready yet, so we’re forced to improvise downstairs with one speaker and more limited space. It doesn’t matter: the atmosphere is good and the sound is fine. This being the future, we even have a live stream provided by the Colour Hits Channel.

There’s a good varied bill on tonight too: opening the bill is Paul Walker, a veteran singer-songwriter with a gravel throated delivery and a nice line in bluesy slide guitar. The set consists a few original songs mixed in with the odd well-chosen cover, like a very Tom Waits-y version of “After Midnight”. It’s a good start. Next up are some South American vibes from Hugo Ivo, by the sound of it supported by a good slice of Nottingham’s Brazilian community. He looks a initially a touch shy behind his keyboard, but he’s got a sweet voice and mixes his own songs with covers of “Ain’t No Sunshine”, Vance Joy’s “Riptide” (on the guitar) and Keane’s “Everybody’s Changing”. He’s got a sweet voice and is clearly a real talent. He’s apparently off back to Brazil next month, but if you get the chance to see him, then I would heartily recommend you make the effort. Next up is Holly Taylor Gamble (pictured above) -. She looks small and fragile behind her enormous guitar, but looks can be deceiving and, after a bit of fussing over her tuning, she proceeds to rock our socks off with a kicking cover of Britney’s “Toxic” and a handful of her own songs. She reminds me very much of “Rid of Me” era PJ Harvey and is clearly something of a force of nature and an artist very much to be reckoned with. Well worth checking out. Last up tonight is Daniel Ison. Daniel is a veteran of the Nottingham scene and wryly tells us that he started out gigging on the same bill as a young singer-songwriter called Jake Bugg. Whatever happened to him? I’ve seen Jake Bugg perform, and I think it’s fair to say that he has nowhere near the onstage charisma of this guy. He even pulls off that old trick where he pulls a pretty girl out of the audience and asks her to hold his harmonica for him as he plays…shameless (and he asks a couple of lads to help him later on too). He plays a good set of his own songs (“psychosluts” is a particular highlight) and some fun covers like X-Press 2 and David Byrne’s “Lazy”, “The Clapping Song” and a slightly unlikely fusion of the theme tune to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and “I Wanna Be Like You” from the Jungle Book. It’s a great way to end the night.

ReSoNaTe Is going to be a monthly fixture at the Angel, with the next one scheduled to take place on 18th August. Do yourself a favour: get down there and check them out.


[full disclosure: Jack and Brad work in my office...I needed a favour from Brad last week and when he agreed, I felt it was only fair to offer him something in return.  A review on the Leftlion website seems a relatively small thing to do.  And Jack bought me a pint.  It was a good night though and I'll be back!)

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

golden, fallen heart

...and so it seems that I'm not bald enough already.

Some days, I wonder if it might not be kinder just to shoot me.

I was so pleased when that barber in Whangarei gave me a NZ $2 "half head discount" in 2010.  I should go back: I reckon I might qualify for a few more dollars off by now.

I used to wet my hair when I was at school to dampen it down.  I was told at the time that this would lead to baldness in later life, and I laughed in their faces because this was clearly nonsense.  Well, I'm not laughing now.  Just think, that might have been caused by a stray raindrop.

Learn from me and make sure you always -- ALWAYS -- wear a shower cap (or a hat, if you're outdoors and feel a bit self-conscious in a shower cap outside your home).  I'm not 100% sure it will protect you from blemishes that lead to bald spots (or, as I like to call it, my mange spot)... but you can't be too careful.

Monday, 11 July 2016

you watched yourself gavotte...

I don’t like Cristiano Ronaldo.

Whilst he’s clearly a talented footballer, there’s something about his oleaginous smile and the way he preens and poses on the pitch that really gets my goat. He might be the best player on the pitch, but surely even the very greatest player understands that football is a team game, and he needs his teammates to succeed in order to succeed himself. It’s often said that the difference between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi is that Messi would give up all his individual awards for team success, and that Ronaldo would do the opposite. There’s something delightful about the fact that Ronaldo is statistically one of the greatest players to grace the game, but that he isn’t even the greatest player in the Spanish league. Does Ronaldo think that this theatrics on the pitch, where he berates his team mates when they don’t pass the ball to HIM, help or hinder? Nani has over 100 caps for Portugal, but he always seems to look terrified of what Ronaldo will think if he decides to take a shot himself.

I sat down to watch yesterday’s final, eager to see the French wipe the smile off his smug face. Portugal barely deserved to be there anyway, and wouldn’t it be a great story if the French could win their own tournament (not to mention the fact that I have a French wife who was wearing her French t-shirt and bellowing out the French national anthem).

And you know what? Over the course of the game, Ronaldo changed my mind.

It was the injury that started it: I might have been happy to see Ronaldo beaten, but I wasn’t ready to see him crying real tears as he was forced to leave the pitch on a stretcher early in the game because of injury. He’d tried to carry on, but it was quickly clear that he couldn’t stay on the pitch. He tried to cover his face, but his absolute desolation was laid bare. I looked at him and, rather than a self-regarding idiot, I saw a man who had worked unbelievably hard to get to this point and had his dreams and hopes dashed. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have a hard enough heart to feel anything other than sympathy for him at that moment.

In truth, my opinion on Cristiano Ronaldo began to shift earlier in the tournament. In many sports, the players often line up in the tunnel waiting to be brought out onto the pitch. They often have small children with them, mascots who are lucky enough to hold hands with the players and to walk out onto the pitch with them. I like to watch how the players respond to this: many are totally focused on the game ahead of them and are almost in another place as they visualise the game. These people barely notice the mascots at all, and it’s hard to blame them. Some players – and Chris Robshaw in the England rugby team is one of these – are able to step outside themselves and make an effort to ensure that these kids are okay and that they are having an amazing time. Robshaw will often crouch down with his escort and do his best to put them at ease. It’s lovely to watch. Whatever your preconceptions of the kind of person Ronaldo might be, he’s also in the Chris Robshaw camp with the player escorts, and will spend a couple of minutes chatting with them instead of staring, glassy-eyed down the tunnel waiting to be called out onto the pitch.

At some point during the game yesterday, Ronaldo came back pitch-side with his leg heavily strapped up, and he gave me more reasons to reconsider my view of him. As a player on the pitch, it always seems to be about CR7. The champions league final this season was a case in point: Ronaldo was barely fit and was a peripheral figure for the whole game, carried by his team mates to the penalty shoot-out. When Ronaldo scored the decisive penalty, he talked expansively about how he had a “vision” that he would score the winning goal… ignoring the fact that a penalty isn’t a winning goal, and that his team-mates had carried him for 120 minutes to put him into that position. On the sidelines of the game last night, Ronaldo could not influence the game on the pitch with his own skill, and so instead he threw himself wholeheartedly into supporting his teammates, willing them to success. When they won, he was crying tears of joy as the supposed one-man-team won the game without him. Yes he changed back into his playing kit, complete with captain’s armband, to pick up the trophy, but it was too late now… my view on him had shifted and I could no longer feel anything but pleased for him.

Sometimes we’re too quick to judge. Even if, for all this change of heart, I probably still won’t be rushing out any time soon to buy myself some CR7 underpants…

...tempting though it is.

But for last night at least, where before I had only seen an arrogant, entitled man-child, I was able to see the dreaming fan and the vulnerable human being in Cristiano Ronaldo.  It was a bit of a surprise to me to be honest, but there you go.  I must be gaining some empathy in my old age.

*opinion subject to sudden change when I next watch him preening around on a football pitch next season... 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

to the left, to the left...

I've developed a twitch.

It's not quite as dramatic as Robert Lindsay's character Michael Murray in GBH, but it's getting there.

It's my left thigh, and it seems to happen mostly in the evening.  I'll be minding my own business, sitting on the sofa or lying in bed or something, and my left thigh will suddenly jolt as the muscle contracts. If I'm sitting with my feet up on the coffee table, this will quite often send my leg flying up into the air and off the table.  As you can imagine, it's quite irritating.... not least for the cat when she's sitting on my lap.

I've had problems with my calves cramping for a little while now.  That seems to happen mostly at night, usually when I'm asleep in bed.  I'll wake up, wonder why I've woken up and then suddenly realise that my calf muscles are cramping and I'll hobble out of bed to desperately try and stretch the muscles out.  It's not much fun and I'm not sure what to do about it.  I've been taking magnesium supplements before I go to bed, and I usually have a pint of orange and tonic water with my tea because the quinine is supposed to help.  Maybe it does help, but I'm still cramping.

The muscle twitching is new and troublesome development.  My left leg is my weaker leg, of course. During the summer months, I usually spend my Wednesday evenings doing some interval training on the Embankment organised by my friends at Colwick parkrun.  It's the kind of training that you would never really do on your own. It's horrible, but fun all at the same time.  We often have lots of different exercises each week to try and keep things fresh.  This week, we some of those little hurdles that you use for quick feet exercises.  They're only three or four inches off the ground, but they're designed to work on your speed and agility.  We ran over them as part of our warm up, leading with the right leg first, then the left leg and then both feet. I couldn't help but notice that I found it significantly harder to pick up my left leg over the hurdle than I did my right.  It's only a small loss of mobility, but it's a noticeable one and I'm afraid that it might be getting a little worse over time.  I seem to be having an accumulation of little issues in my left leg.

Still.  At the moment, most of this is annoying but not much more.  I can't be spending my life worrying about what might happen and if this might all get worse, because equally it might not.  It's a total waste of time.  That's not to say that I haven't noted that it's happening though, or that I don't find it irritating, because I do.

Probably not as irritating as the cat does though...she cocks her ear at me in a most dissatisfied manner with every twitch.

I suppose there's always this....

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

freeze the moment...

I think the most middle-class moment of my life happened over the weekend.  I'll admit that there is probably some pretty stiff competition for this particular accolade, but I do think that this just about tops the lot.

You be the judge.

On Saturday afternoon, I was at the West Bridgford food & drink festival, it was a lovely sunny day and I was wearing my new, handcrafted lederhosen trousers and enjoying a pint of Brewdog Dead Pony Club pale ale, served from a mobile bar in the back of a horsebox called "Heston". As I enjoyed my beer, I sat in a small tent watching a demonstration by Nottingham hipster coffee experts, 200 Degrees.  They were showing how different the same coffee can taste when prepared in different ways: in a aeropress and in a chemex.  Each time, the guy carefully weighed out a measure of ground coffee and added hot water from a kettle with a really long spout, apparently designed to let you moisten the coffee filter just so... and to put in a weighed quantity of water too, before carefully timing how long the coffee steeped in the water before serving.  The chemex coffee had a powerfully clean taste of hot water before the hit of coffee, which apparently some people like.  For myself, I much preferred the taste of the coffee from the aeropress.

I took another sip of my pint and considered....and that's when it hit me: this was the most middle-class moment in my life. date.

There's time to top that yet, if I really put my mind to it. That bar can surely be raised even higher.  It might be tough (the craft beer, the coffee...the lederhosen, for goodness sake....), but it's good to have a goal in your life, isn't it?

Monday, 4 July 2016

there is no future in England's dreaming...

I’ve written to my MP.

Luckily for me, I have a pretty good one. I’ve never actually voted for Ken Clarke in the 17 or so years that I’ve lived in his constituency (and thus, my vote has been next to useless in our wonderful first past the post system), but he’s always been up to the mark as a constituency MP. If you have to have a Conservative MP, then it’s good to have one with positively progressive views on Europe. Ken was first elected to represent Rushcliffe in 1970, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence at all that 57% of the constituency voted to Remain in the EU Referendum – that’s a tribute to the 46 years of service by a committed Europhile MP.

From a personal point of view, I’ve felt the need to write to Ken twice: first over Blair and Bush’s Iraq war and then, more recently, on Israel’s attacks on Palestine. Both times, he took the trouble to send me detailed, point-by-point replies. The first letter was actually type-written on three sheets of paper, the second was word processed using a typewriter font. Safe to say that Ken is old school.

Why did I write to him this time? Well, over the referendum and its aftermath, of course. I didn’t really have any specific points to make, and I’m fairly sure that I share Mr. Clarke’s view on most of this anyway… but I’ve watched the events of the last few days, weeks and months with growing disbelief, and I wanted to make my feelings known to my representative.

Here’s what I wrote:


Dear Mr Clarke,

Whilst I was pleased to see that Rushcliffe voted to Remain part of the EU in the recent referendum (thanks in no small part, I'm sure, to all the hard work you have put into the area over the last several decades), I was - as I'm sure you were - dismayed by the national results. I was even more dismayed by the events following the referendum that showed all too clearly that the "Leave" campaign had no clear exit strategy, and that our country was plunged into a crisis of our own making with no leadership or plan to get ourselves out of it.

These are dark days, with our political leaders fighting amongst themselves as racism and intolerance seems to be on the rise. We're perhaps a little bit insulated from this in leafy West Bridgford, but I'm nonetheless extremely concerned about the future. Perhaps I'm an idealist, but I see myself as a citizen of the world and as a European first and foremost, and I have little time or patience with those Little Englanders who will seek to blame the ills of this nation on anyone but themselves. I believe we're stronger together (both as the United Kingdom and as an integral and involved part of Europe); I also believe we have a duty to reach out to those people who need our help, wherever they may come from and whatever the colour of their skin. This has been an incredibly divisive campaign, and the aftermath is shaping up to be even worse. I look to you as my representative in Parliament to do everything you can to act as a voice of reason and moderation as everything seems to be coming to pieces around us. I look at the chaos in both the Conservative party and the Labour party and I despair, and I hope I can rely on you to use your experience and your wisdom to help steer us into safer waters.

I'm aware that I'm not really asking you anything that you wouldn't naturally already be doing, but I wanted to speak up to you as my MP to let you know how I felt and to express my concern to you rather than to do nothing.

Yours sincerely….


I’m not sure quite what I’m expecting him to say, but I wanted to let him know how I felt all the same.

One of my friends wrote to her MEPs about this, and received the reply from one of them: “Astounding that you do not like the outcome of democracy. Brexit won, then end”. The same MEP then took to twitter and threatened to release her email and address details to her followers. Given that Janice Atkinson was thrown out of UKIP for racism and proudly has a profile picture showing her sitting alongside Marine Le Pen, perhaps this shouldn’t surprise anyone…. Quite why people vote for morons like this is another matter altogether (and this particular piece of cyber bullying is now with the police and relevant complaints authorities). Suffice it to say, I’m expecting an altogether different class of response from our Kenneth.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Sweet moderation, heart of this nation...

Earworms of the Week - Glastonbury edition

Well, it's hard to know where to begin with reviewing Glastonbury.  In the past, I've done long write-ups of everything I've seen, and occasionally too, everything I've eaten.  Since that's probably not really of interest to anyone, and because I also can't be bothered with spending the time writing that up (even if I can remember it).... how about this year, I just document my 14th Glastonbury in the shape of some earworms?  Yeah?  My wife ignores all these posts anyway....

"Mr Blue Sky" - ELO

Some of my friends were very, very excited to see ELO announced on the bill this year.  Sunday afternoon on the Pyramid Stage is very much the legends slot, and over the years I've seen some brilliant acts here: Brian Wilson, Neil Diamond, Shirley Bassey, Dolly Parton, Lionel Richie.... and Jeff Lynne's ELO seems to fit right in..... except that I'm a bit meh about them.  I know Mr Blue Sky, and it's a pretty decent song, but there seemed to be some expectation that I would know loads of these songs, even if I thought I didn't.  Well, let's just say that this wasn't quite the same as watching Chic on the West Holts stage here a couple of years ago, when basically every song they played was a stone-cold classic that you didn't even realise Nile Rodgers had been involved with.  ELO for me were nothing like that.  Alright, so as well as this song, I sort of recognised Living Thing, Evil Woman, Sweet Talkin' Woman, Don't Bring Me Down.... but they just sound insipid to me; like a slightly crappy, over-produced version of the Beatles.  Jeff Lynne isn't much of a showman either.  Fancy playing this song in front of about 100,000 people in the drizzle of the muddiest Glastonbury ever and not make a comment about the humorous juxtaposition.

"It's Christmas" - LEKIDDO, the lord of the Lobsters!

Lekiddo is rapidly becoming a Glastonbury institution.  Apart from playing maybe 15 gigs across the festival at a number of completely different stages, he was also the proud recipient of a five star review in the Guardian last year.  He's exactly the kind of act that makes Glastonbury so different and so special.  I saw him twice this year, and at the Rabbit Hole on Thursday night, his audience included about ten people in full shrimp costumes.  I'm not joking.... they brought shrimp costumes to Glastonbury as a salute to their hero ("many are called, few are frozen....").  His set hasn't changed all that much.  There seem to be some new songs, but they sound pretty much the same as the old ones. Lekiddo himself is his usual irrepressible self; so ridiculously joyous and downright weird that you have to stop and wonder what on earth he does in the real world when he's not at the festival.  Children's parties, maybe?  Too weird for that?  A bit too Euro-disco sexy?  Hm.  Well, he's here.... and as he does every year, he plays his Christmas single.  I think he releases it every Christmas too, perhaps in the hope that it will one day go viral and he'll be playing megadomes.  It feels like a longshot, you have to say, although look at this gushing review of the single in the Guardian

As they say: Lekiddo, it has to be said, is an unusual candidate for the country’s chief festive songsmith. For a start, he claims that his moniker arose from a time eight years ago when he was chosen by the world’s lobster population to represent them: ““I realised that the crustaceans shall inherit the kitchen,” he says, matter of factly. “The lobsters knew that I knew this, so they chose me as their lord, and now I go around spreading lobster love.”

All together now, “Scam scam, scam-a-dur-dam-ba-dam/Scheme-scheme, scheme-a-deer-dim-da-dur”

Utterly bonkers.  I think in a good way.  I saw him twice this year, and people were dancing and laughing both times, so he must be doing something right.  I enjoyed him more than ELO, anyway.

"You're In A Bad Way" - Saint Etienne

Sarah Cracknell is now 49 years old, and you'll be delighted to know is as fragrant as she always was. It's been drizzling all day, the festival site is a bog and the Sunday evening crowd is tired after a long, long festival and the slog up the hill to the Park stage.  And you know what?  Saint Etienne's brand of soothing, sophisticated pop is pretty much just what the doctor ordered.  A joy.  I don't think I need to say very much more than that really, do I?

"Courting the Squall" - Guy Garvey

Lovely Guy is a Glastonbury hero.  Some bands (I'm looking at you, The 1975) take to the stage in white suits that tell you that they have popped straight onto the stage from their tour bus and will be leaving straight after their set.  That's not Guy Garvey's style.  You just know that Lovely Guy will take to the stage in muddy boots and trousers and wearing a raincoat.  He's one of us.  He hasn't been onsite all weekend this time around because of other commitments, but you just know that he's going to milk the festival for everything it's worth whilst he's here.  He has an easy charm with his crowd.  To be fair, as it always has done, this mostly consists of repeatedly asking us if we're okay.  But that's okay because you know he means it.  At one point, he decides to award a prize for the best waltzers in the crowd, and searching his pockets for a prize, he tosses them his packet of fags.  He's not fancy or fussy, but he's genuine to his core.  His whole set tonight is taken from his debut solo album, "Courting the Squall", and we don't get so much of a sniff of an Elbow song... but that's okay too, because the album is good and because it's nice to hear him doing his own thing.  He's the last act that we see before we make an early exit from the site, and I have to say that I couldn't have asked for anything better.

"Goddess on a Highway" - Mercury Rev

I haven't got the energy to go and see Adele on Saturday night.  I don't have anything against her, and I'm not one of those people who spend all their time on internet forums moaning about the Glastonbury bill and how the headliners just aren't right for the festival (last year was a new low when that guy, who had never been to Glastonbury before, started that petition to try and stop Kanye West playing.  What's wrong with these people? There a literally hundreds of other things you could be doing at the festival instead, and who exactly are you to determine who is and isn't an appropriate act? If Oasis played every year, it would be pretty bloody boring, wouldn't it... and that's basically what they mean, isn't it?).  Adele is the biggest selling act in the world and she's also that other rarity: a female headliner.  She has every right to play here, but I want to take the opportunity of her drawing a massive crowd to do something else entirely.  I've seen New Order before, so I head up the hill to the Park Stage to watch Mercury Rev.  We're camping in Worthy View this year, which is way over the top of the hill at the very back of the site past Strummerville, and the Park is a pretty good staging post on the way back up to the tent (for pretty much the same reason, I also find myself sitting around the campfire at Strummerville for the very first time in the 14 times I've been to this festival).  Besides, I've got a couple of Mercury Rev albums and their spaced-out rock seems like a good way to wind down the day.  They're both very loud and really very good indeed.  Over the weekend, I got to see a number of bands that are highly rated.... people like Blossoms and The 1975.... and I have to say that Mercury Rev blow those guys off the stage in terms of songwriting and sheer musicianship. Yes, they've been doing this for a long time, but they're actually really pretty bloody good at it.  Some of their tunes are brilliant too, not least this song, which is a proper classic. As we walk back up the hill to our camp, you can hear the sounds of the massive sing-a-long from Adele's set, and as we look back down across the festival site, we can see the whole Pyramid Arena light up with mobile phones as Adele asks everyone to hold them up and we just have to pause and admire.  It looks amazing, and the effect is even better as I walk a bit further and catch a waft of True Faith along the way.

"Sharp Dressed Man" - ZZ Top

I saw ZZ Top in about 1991 at the Milton Keynes Bowl, and it must be said that I don't think the band have changed very much since then: they certainly look the same, and I'm pretty sure the setlist is pretty much the same too.  They have a pretty big crowd for a Friday afternoon too, with a fairly significant number of the audience wearing comedy beards and carrying inflatable guitars.  It's that kind of a gig.  They sound bloody good too: people forget that Billy Gibbons is an extremely talented guitarist, and when you have songs as good as this, Legs and Gimme All Your Loving... well, you should be playing to massive crowds.  I'm not sure that you could get away with some of those lyrics now, but there's no denying that they sound absolutely brilliant.  Good enough that I'm thinking of digging out my old copy of "Eliminator", anyway.  This is totally the riff from the Rolling Stones cover of Chuck Berry's "Route 66" though, eh?

"Knights of Cydonia" - Muse

Muse are predictably brilliant on Friday night.  They're technically astonishing and they have a long list of outstanding songs to draw on.  There's a reason that they're the only one of this year's Pyramid headliners that I choose to watch... but I have some reservations.  The first is that, just as with their albums, I find that a little bit of Muse goes a long way.  They're a fantastic band, but their music can be so involved that it just becomes exhausting to listen to.  A two hour set?  Well, that's enough soloing and conspiracy theorising for anyone, isn't it?  The other reservation?  Perhaps it's a bit selfish and self-absorbed of me, but I like bands at Glastonbury to respond to the fact that they're at Glastonbury.  You don't need to go overboard about it (I'm looking at you, James Hetfield...and you Bono), but it's nice to acknowledge where you are and that it's not just another gig for you.... well, maybe it is just another big gig for a band like Muse, but it really feels like it too.  Matt Bellamy appears to have picked up some weird sort of trans-Atlantic "thankyouverrymuchhaahhh" thing that he uses at the end of every song in lieu of actually talking to us like a normal human being.  They're very impressive --- oohh! fireworks! --- but maybe a little emotionally un-involving.  That being said, I don't think I hear many better songs than this one, which closes their set without an encore.  It's an absolutely barking mad song, but it's all the more brilliant for that.  I did hear the girls in the tent next to ours discussing how it was such a shame that Matt Bellamy was a bit too small and pinched to be good-looking though.  There's no pleasing some people, eh?

"Moving On" / "Sometimes" - James

James are a brilliant choice of band to open the festival on the Other Stage on Friday morning. They're more than an hour later on as the crew desperately try and put woodchip down onto the sodden ground in front of the stage, but when they do arrive, they are introduced by none other than Michael Eavis himself... who seems to perhaps be a fan.  They're a funny, awkward band and they proceed to play a very typical James set.  The large crowd is probably hoping for a Greatest Hits festival set, but James have always been cussed, and they've been recording some great stuff over the last couple of years, and it's absolutely no surprise to me that they are keen to play some of it.  Sure, they don't play Sit Down, but for my money the mix the set up pretty well.  When they play Sometimes, I'm so overcome that I have to actually wipe away the tears that suddenly mist up my eyes.  It's such a beautiful, profound song and it reminds me so much of being a student in Venice in 1994.  "Sometimes, when I look deep into your eyes, I swear I can see your soul".  That is one of the most beautiful things I think you can say to someone, and it gets me almost every time they play it. They play songs like Come Home, Laid, Tomorrow, Curse Curse, Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), but their newer stuff really stands up to scrutiny too: Moving On is a beautiful reflection on life and death inspired by the death of Tim Booth's mother, and it's another heartbreakingly lovely song with a killer chorus.  Tim Booth seems to enjoy himself too, enthusiastically crowd-surfing and coming back onto the stage with a smear of mud on his cheek.  He's not quite one of us in the way that Guy Garvey is, but in his own particular way, he's having fun.  A great start to the festival by one of my favourite bands.

"Queen of Denmark" - John Grant

The John Peel tent has been moved slightly up the hill this year, near an entirely new area called the Wood and mostly out of the sludge that used to make it famous.  We take the long hike from the Leftfield, right the way across the back of the Pyramid as Madness are playing to a huge crowd, through the Wood and then out at the John Peel in plenty of time to catch John Grant.  There are only about three or four acts on the bill that I was determined to catch this year, and that gave me a load of freedom to wander around and just watch whatever grabbed my fancy.  I was never going to miss John Grant though.  He was brilliant when I saw him in Sheffield a couple of months ago and he was probably the act I was most looking forward to seeing at the festival this year.  He's a hard act to explain to people who haven't heard his music, but I like his intensely personal (and often very funny) lyrics and his beautiful bass voice.... he was struggling with a cold here, but he was clearly drawing so much energy from the crowd that he was determined to give everything a go and hope for the best.  As he feared, he wasn't able to hit the big parts of this song, but the crowd took up the reins and picked up the mantle, allowing John Grant to bring the whole thing gloriously home.  Grant was clearly buoyed by the energy and enthusiasm of his crowd and it was truly a beautiful thing to be a part of.  Magical.  Although I had been drinking cider.... no.  I'm pretty sure he was that good.  On Sunday, as we walked back into the site from a trip to drop our bags off in the car, Sarah stopped to queue up to use the toilets.  When we caught up with her a bit later, she was beside herself with delight because the person who was in the portaloo directly before her was... John Grant.... I asked if she stopped to say hello, but apparently it wasn't really the moment.  She did reveal that she was pleased (and slightly relieved) to discover that he left the toilet in an acceptable state.  Imagine!

"Between the Wars" - Billy Bragg

I woke up at about 6am on Friday morning when my phone sent me a push alert from the Guardian informing me of the result of the referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union.  I read it, swore loudly and then rolled over to get some more sleep.  As Billy Bragg said later in the day, this was Schrodinger's Referendum... as long as we were at the Festival, we were neither in or out of the EU.  I say every year that I want to spend more time at the Leftfield tent, but this year I had more reason than ever to want to hear soothing things to make me feel better about the state of the world.  I did a bit better this year, amongst other things watching a very interesting debate with some junior doctors and Mhairi Black, the 21 year old SNP MP (Black talked about how the Labour MPs in Scotland thought they had safe seats and that their constituents would always vote for them, so they spent their time in Westminster and didn't bother campaigning because they were complacent.  The SNP was able to exploit this.... it's impossible not to feel the same way about some of the remaining members of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the way they currently seem to feel that the wishes of their members are not as important as their own ambitions...)  As ever though, the main draw of the Leftfield was Billy Bragg himself.  The man is a Glastonbury legend, and I must have seen him performing here dozens of times by now, usually several times at each festival (I think my personal best is 5 times in one festival).  I wanted Billy to help me make sense of the shape of our country; he is the milkman of human kindness and I really needed an extra pint.  He didn't disappoint.  Although he's famously political, actually most of his songs are about people and about love; when he spoke, he often spoke about the need for unity and the need to pull together and not let things drive us apart - he was quite wry about the fact that, just as the Tories were at their weakest, of course the Labour party was choosing just that moment to begin tearing itself apart.  Lots of his songs make me a bit emotional - New England, Levi Stubbs' Tears, Sexuality - but it was when he played Between the Wars that I think there wasn't a dry eye in the house.  I make no apology for putting the whole lyrics here:
I was a miner, I was a docker
I was a railway man between the wars
I raised a family in times of austerity
With sweat at the foundry between the wars

I paid the union and as times got harder
I looked to the government to help the working man
But they brought prosperity down at the armoury
We're arming for peace, me boys between the wars

I kept the faith and I kept voting
Not for the iron fist but for the helping hand
For theirs is a land with a wall around it
And mine is a faith in my fellow man

Theirs is a land of hope and glory
Mine is the green field and the factory floor
Theirs are the skies all dark with bombers
And mine is the peace we knew between the wars

Call up the craftsmen, bring me the draftsmen
Build me a path from cradle to grave
And I'll give my consent to any government
That does not deny a man a living wage

Go find the young men never to fight again
Bring up the banners from the days gone by
Sweet moderation, heart of this nation
Desert us not, we are between the wars
Ah, so painfully apt as we seem to lurch towards a more chaotic, racist and intolerant society.

It was a good festival.  Muddy and tiring, but also inspiring and uplifting too.  The best thing I saw over the weekend?  Well, these guys captivated me for an hour in the circus tent and they were simply awe-inspiring


Roll on 2017.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

so you go, and you stand on your own and you leave on your own...

When we went to see Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds the other night, I was in the somewhat unusual position of being well into the younger end of the demographic. This is not something that happens to me very often anymore, unless it's one of those gigs where the kidz are accompanied by their parents (when I saw Jake Bugg playing at Rock City a couple of years ago, I was one of about four people in the audience who recognised "Folsom Prison Blues" when Bugg covered it.... all of the others were dads).  It seems that Brian Wilson (aged 73) is something of a draw for the grey pound, most of whom no doubt bought Pet Sounds the first time around and not, like me, when they started to get into music and heard it was one of the greatest albums ever recorded.

On the way to the Royal Concert Hall, we walked past Rock City. It was a Wednesday night... student night... and there was a huge crowd of kids in their late-teens and very early twenties queuing up outside the Rig.  It was quite a gathering of the tribes, and as we walked past, I had a good look and saw a real mixture of people.  Well, after all, everyone goes out for the big nights, don't they? The ones that really caught my eye though were the awkward ones; the ones who looked like they were trying a bit too hard to fit in and weren't quite managing.  They caught my eye because that was me.

As we walked on to the Concert Hall, I told my wife that I wouldn't go back to being that age for any money in the world.  I remember it far too well for that.  I might be twenty-odd years older, but I'm a lot more confident in who I am and in what I like to do these days; I don't feel much of a need anymore to pretend to be something I'm not.

If I could go back to being nineteen, then maybe I'd spend more time doing things I enjoyed with people that I liked. What I didn't know then is that if people don't like you for what you are, then they're probably not worth knowing.

Plus, if Brian Wilson is in town performing Pet Sounds, only an idiot would want to be anywhere else*.

Brian Wilson!

* admittedly, ticket price may prove prohibitive... although you could equally be at home listening to Pet Sounds instead, and I pretty much guarantee that's a better night than any you would be likely to have at the Rig. Certainly better than any night I had at the age of nineteen in anywhere like that.