Monday, 28 February 2011

...which I forgot when I started to sink

On Friday evening, I had my first swimming lesson in something like thirty years.

I've been sort of meaning to do it for some time. I wouldn't say that I was a keen or particularly talented swimmer, but I do like to have at least two sessions in the pool every week. I do a lot of running, but the muscles that are the most prone to wastage are the ones in my arms and shoulders - ones that running is hardly likely to build up. I do specific exercises with dumbbells and things three mornings a week in an attempt to keep up their strength and condition, but it also feels like a sensible idea to keep up at least one form of exercise that keeps them moving and hopefully keeps them from wasting away.

When in the pool, I tend to hang out in the lanes in the middle: not too fast, not too slow. I'll do 50 lengths, alternating 5 lengths breastroke with 5 lengths crawl. I'll usually be swimming at more or less the same pace as everyone else in the pool, but every so often, you find yourself swimming alongside someone really good: they seem to be going twice as fast as me with half as much effort, and I become actutely aware that my technique rather hauls me through the water. Watching them swim makes me wish that I was a better swimmer. It's not that speed is that much of a concern for me - although a faster swimming leg in any triathlons I might do would be handy - it's just that I find swimming a bit dull, and if I'm going to do it, then I might as well learn how to do it better. So I booked some lessons.

Lucy, my instructor, watched me swimming a few lengths and then proceeded to break down my stroke: I looked good in the water, and (apparently) had a good torpedo shape and a decent flutter kick, but I was reaching too far and was barely applying any power through my arms. We spent the next 20 minutes or so working on my "catch" - how I use my arms in the water to apply power. It feels really weird breaking down something you've been doing for years and trying to do it slightly differently, but by the end of the session, I was really starting to get my head around it: instead of windmilling my arms with a locked elbow, I was now bending my arm and applying the power by pulling hard with my forearm beneath my body before straightening the joint and lifting my arm out of the water. It was a bit of a struggle to get my head around it, but I could feel immediately that I was moving faster in the water and that was very motivational.

I went swimming again on Sunday morning, and spent half an hour trying to apply what I had learnt (wearing flippers, as instructed, so that I was focusing entirely on my arms and not on my legs at all). I used to think that I barely used my legs at all when swimming, and that all my power came from my arm action, but boy, was I wrong. Thirty minutes of using my arms "properly" and I'm feeling muscles in my arms and shoulders that I clearly haven't been using before.

I suppose that's the whole point of the exercise, but...y'know. OW!

Friday, 25 February 2011

chewing out a rhythm on my bubble gum...

Earworms of the Week

"Too Many Dicks on the Dancefloor" - Flight of the Conchords

I love the Conchords, obviously, but what made this song pop into my head was Simon Pegg's remark on Twitter that there "seems to be a lot of dicks on the dancefloor today".  I assume he was referring to some trolls, but the reference obviously started this song playing in my head.  Not my favourite of their songs, but as comedy records go, this is a good one.

Too many men
Too many boys
Too many misters
Not enough sisters
Too much time on too many hands
Not enough ladies, too many mans

Too many dicks. Create some lady space!

"World In Motion" - New Order

So there I was, innocently going about my business at my desk, when all of a sudden the John Barnes rap pops into my head:

You've got to hold and give
But do it at the right time
You can be slow or fast
But you must get to the line
They'll always hit you and hurt you
Defend and attack
Theres only one way to beat them
Get round the back

Best rap ever? Also: brilliant advice for life.

"Gepetto" - Belly

I've been calling one of my colleagues "the organ grinder" for some time now; she has a bit of a complex that I'm getting the credit for all the work we've been doing, so I'm doing my best to highlight her contribution.  Looking for a bit of variation the other day, I called her Gepetto to my Pinocchio.  It seems to have stuck, mainly because she likes it...which is the whole point, really.  Good song this, too.  I like Belly.

"Lump" - Presidents of the USA

I haven't thought about this song for LITERALLY a decade, and then suddenly BANG! there it is and it just won't go away. Well, at least I preferred this to Peaches.

"Name and Number" - Curiosity Killed the Cat

Was this before or after they became Curiosity?  Was oojit still wearing a beret at this point?  No idea, but this is a pretty good record, no?

"This Charming Man" - The Smiths

... the Hatful of Hollow session version, naturally.  I used the names of three Smiths songs in the report that I now have to write every week.  It was Bowie last week, and it's the Smiths this week.  No one reads this report as the contents are too dull for anyone to actually care, but if I have to contribute, then I might as well entertain myself.  I plan to use a different band every week.  It may cause earworms.  As I usually say at this point, every successive Morrissey solo album helps me to realise what a huge contribution Johnny Marr made to the Smiths.... just listen to the guitars on this song.  Brilliant. 

"Unfinished Business" - White Lies

You know the drill: start listening to the new album and immediately start earworming the old album.  There's something not entirely authentic about White Lies.  On the face of it, all of the ingredients are there: the voice, the riffs, the 80s synth influences.... and yet it doesn't seem to quite stack up.  First impression?  The old album is better. Ridiculous lyrics, mind you.  Preposterously overwrought.

"Goodbye My Lover" - James Blunt

Prompted, of course, by the Blunt gig I attended this week.  I suppose for lots of people, this would have been a real highpoint, and indeed, it was the first song of Blunt's that I heard.... and yet nowadays I just find it confusing.  What's he singing about?  He starts of sounding like he's leaving someone, then it's her leaving him, then they seem to be fine, and then someone seems to be dying.  Am I wrong in looking for a little consistency when there may be none to find?  Any reasonable lyrical interpretations?

"Monkey Gone to Heaven" - Pixies

if man is 5 
if man is 5
if man is 5
then the devil is 6
then the devil is 6
then the devil is 6
then the devil is 6
then the devil is 6
then god is 7
then god is 7
then god is 7

Brilliant.  Increasingly my favourite Pixies song.

"Rockaway Beach" - The Ramones

They played this on the breakfast show as I drove to work one morning.  What more reason do you need to love BBC 6Music?

1-2-3-4....what a way to start your day.

That's your lot.  I have a weekend of rugby, haircuts, farmers' markets, cinema, meals out, booze and more rugby to look forward to.  All kinds of awesome.  Have a good weekend y'all.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

it's like a later Tom and Jerry, when the two of them could talk....

On Sunday evening, we watched The Social Network.  When the credits were rolling, C. turned to me and said, "Well, it's not a patch on Inception."  Both films have been nominated for eight Oscars at Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, but although both have been shortlisted for the "Best Picture" award, and Christopher Nolan is up for "Best Original Screenplay", Inception has been ignored in the acting and directing categories, and is mainly up for the technical awards.  By contrast, as well as seeing Aaron Sorkin nominated for "Best Adapted Screenplay", The Social Network sees David Fincher nominated for "Best Director" and Jesse Eisenberg for "Best Actor".  Inception is hardly under-represented, and I'm not sure that I would say that the film has exactly been snubbed, but it does seems to be missing out in the bigger categories.

It's a film that seems to divide people: I liked it, and thought it was better and more interesting than The Social Network, but lots of people seem to get very agitated to see Inception described (as it often is) as an "intelligent film".  Here's Will Self on the subject in the Guardian the other week:

"No, Inception wasn't the last word in sci-fi meta-sophistication, but rather a stupid person's idea of what an intelligent film is like"

Ouch.  Although as I also saw someone saying today, "anyone who thinks that Inception is not an intelligent film has clearly never seen Meet The Spartans".

Anyway.  I'm not sure I care who wins at the Oscars, to be honest.  Since when has this been the benchmark of the quality of a film?  Didn't Avatar win a whole load?  Exactly.  Much though I enjoyed the film, I also see no reason to get all patriotic about the chances of The King's Speech, either.  Why should I?  Good luck to 'em, but hardly a cause to wave the flag, surely?

I won't be watching the ceremony, but I did have a chuckle this afternoon when I found this in the comments section of an article about why Inception should win the "Best Picture" Oscar (they've been running articles every day about each of the nominees).  When you read this, remember that Christopher Nolan has been nominated for "Best Original Screenplay", not "Best Adapted Screenplay":

"All you need to do [to find out exactly how original Inception is] is to read the Disney comic published 8 years before the film came out (2002) called, "Uncle Scrooge in the Dream of a Lifetime".
It's got everything.

Plucky thieves (the Beagle Boys) invade a dream to steal the combination of a vault - check.  After they're inside Scrooge's mind, the Beagle Boys have trouble differentiating dreams from reality -- again, exactly like the characters from Inception.  
Donald uses "kicks" the feeling of falling to wake people from the dream. - check
In order to escape danger, Scrooge starts jumping from dream to dream, but like Cillian Murphy's character, he can't remember the last dream once he's in the new one. Donald, however, is the invader (like DiCaprio) so he alone is able to remember the progression.
Scrooge's old sweetheart even shows up in the 24-page comic. He hasn't seen her in 50 years. She may or may not be dead. And is there because of the guilt Scrooge carries over how he treated her in life.

It's a great movie. But if it does win an Oscar, the "I owe everything to Donald Duck" should be the first line of that acceptance speech!"

There's more on this here, and (if you Google it) all over the internet.  How funny is that?  Best Original Screenplay?  Are you sure?  Next they'll be saying that Nolan's other great work, The Dark Knight, was also based on some ancient comic book too.


I enjoyed Inception when I saw it at the cinema, but I do have to admit that I did fall asleep in front of it when I watched it on DVD.

Or did I?

Do you see what I did there?

Yeah, so maybe that's not an entirely original gag.  Feel free to nominate me for it, though.  Just be sure to credit ME with it.  Me. 

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

fingers and thumbs....

I'm not entirely sure how it started, but I have become a gesticulator. I suppose, as I could claim French nationality by marriage, that this ought to be my incomparable range of gallic shrugs. Unfortunately not (although I am working on them. along with a puff of the cheeks that is supposed to indicate my general insouciance to the whims of an impatient world). No, my gesticulation of choice appears to be the Paul McCartney thumbs up. Yup.  The Macca thumbs aloft.  Not half as much of a hit with the ladies, I'll wager (Macca: Linda.  Serge Gainsbourg: Brigitte Bardot.  I rest my case).  There is basically nothing that can be said in favour of this inane gesture. Even as I catch myself doing it, apparently to affirm my support and agreement with someone, I feel a complete fool. Apart from Macca, who really does that? And even if people DO do that, do I want to be seen as one of THOSE people?

No. I do not.

I am therefore trying to nip this unfortunate habit in the bud. From now onwards, unless I am trying to communicate to someone with whom I do not share a language, to the deaf, or I am trying to signal across a crowded bar when someone is offering to buy me a drink, the thumbs up.... especially the double thumbs up... is hereby barred. VERBOTEN. Closed for business.

If I don't catch this habit now, who knows where it will lead? Pointing, or some other such vulgarity, I should think.

Oh, but for the record, the throwing of the Vs or the bird to signal disapproval or dismissal is still very much on my agenda. In fact, from now on, I will be very much throwing the Vs at my raised thumbs, both metaphorically and literally. As required.

 Up yours.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

singing "here we go again"....

James Blunt @ Royal Concert Hall, 21st February 2011

Ah, James Blunt.  Where to begin with a man whose surname has become rhyming slang for female genitalia?  He first came to my attention with a very, very nervous performance of "Goodbye My Lover" on Later... at some point in 2004.  I didn't think he was very good, to be honest, but was still curious enough the next day to look him up and later on to buy the album.  He appeared in an unpromising looking lunchtime slot at the next Glastonbury, and it was clear that word was getting out, as the crowd was huge.  Shortly after that, "You're Beautiful" became ubiquitous, "Back to Bedlam" became the biggest selling album of the twenty-first century in the UK and people started to really hate him.  Clearly, you don't sell 4m albums in the UK alone without having people like your music, but a very vocal majority has decided that they hate James Blunt: his voice, his background, his voice, his songs and, above all, his success.  Blunt's response to this hatred was to play up to his image as a feckless playboy, appearing in photoshoots in his pad in Ibiza, surrounded by bikini-clad models.  You might hate me, he seemed to be saying, but see how much your hatred bothers me.  Trying too hard?  Maybe.

LB was due to review this gig for the Evening Post, and as well as the usual "plus one", he was offered an extra pair of seats to the show.  He was kind enough to offer them to me, and although I wasn't bothered, C. was keen, so that was decided.  Like lots of other music fans, I am casually rude about Blunt all the time.  I have his first album, but hadn't bothered with any of the follow-ups.  I spent much of the day before the gig rolling my eyes and saying how it was going to be a bit of a chore, but what could I do?  The wife wanted to go, so.....  I'm not proud of this, but I'm a snob and I think I'm far too cool to attend a James Blunt gig.  I'm not cool at all, of course, but I still reckon I'm cooler than that.  We can probably all picture the kind of person who goes to a James Blunt gig: they don't go out much, and they probably only buy a couple of albums each year.  What do they know about music?  Besides, who goes to see a gig in a venue like the Royal Concert Hall?  It has plush, covered seats.  Are we seriously supposed to sit in an orderly fashion and be played to?

As James Blunt fans don't go to many gigs, they looked at the ticket and saw that doors opened at 7pm... so that's when they all arrived.  We arrived a little after 7.45pm, and they were already sat in their seats watching the support band.  They were also, it must be said, a little pissy about making way for us to squeeze past them to get to our seats too.  You know, when they don't stand up to let you through, but vaguely move their legs to one side and don't bother to move their bags at all?  Yeah, that.  Not a good start. (I'd also bumped into a guy in the bar who was moaning at the minimum wage bar staff about the lack of beer on tap, saying that he'd paid the price of entry and expected these things to be on... as if it was something the bar staff had any control over.  Yeah.  It was that kind of a crowd.  When I saw the Guinness was off, I just had an IPA.  That's how I roll.)

Support was Wakey! Wakey!  I don't think they were anything special, but considering that most support bands play to half-empty venues, it must be great to play a tour like this where almost everyone is already there before you start.  Perhaps sensing this, and picking up the generous welcome he was getting from the crowd, the singer was positively chatty.  I liked him: he was funny and self-deprecating.  His music?  Pleasant enough, in an almost entirely forgettable way.  They have a terrible name, but I'm sure they'll do very well.

Blunt, when he first came on, was awful.  For a massively successful artist who has been doing this for an awfully long time, he's still really awkward (and so posh it hurts).  He throws rock postures and gurns at the crowd, but he looks as though he is doing it halfheartedly and thinks he looks a twat doing it.  As a result, he looks like a twat.  The layout of the stage also does him no favours; putting the rest of the band on raised platforms behind him only serves to leave him isolated, unable to really interact with his band and uncomfortable interacting with the audience.  Lucky for him, the crowd are thrilled to see him and offer him nothing but love, in spite of his awkward start.  He apologises for playing so much new material, and promises that we will be rewarded with older stuff before the end of the night.  Actually though, it's the older stuff that seems to be dragging.  Perhaps it's over-familiarity, perhaps it's the fact that much of the older songs are quite down-tempo, but the set doesn't take off.  "Goodbye My Lover" seems to be well received, and although it's meant to be an emotional showstopper, I can't get past the fact that the lyrics seem to be all over the place.  Is he leaving someone?  Are they leaving him?  Is everything actually going okay?  Is someone dying?  Blunt can't seem to make up his mind.  Even "You're Beautiful" seems a bit flat to me, athough there is a priceless moment where Blunt steps away from the mic and allows the crowd to sing along.  We choose the radio edit.  Imagine that: an audience so polite that they won't use the bad word in a song.

The set really takes off when Blunt starts to play his newer material.  I've not heard any of it before, although it seems that somewhere along the line, Blunt has discovered the art of the up-tempo pop song.  Either that, or he's been listening to Paulo Nutini and decided he can do that, only without the cod-reggae accent.  Stay The Night, I'll Be Your Man, Superstar... all are bright, breezy and guitar-driven, and all of them get the crowd on their feet (well, except the reviewer for the Evening Post, who takes a little longer to warm up).  The teenagers on the balcony on the right seem to be having as much fun as the large lady on the balcony on the left, and the middle-aged lady who gets touched by her hero as he runs around the first tier looks like she'll never wash again.  It's actually quite good... he's really warmed up now, and you have to admit that the set has been paced really well.   He's still not really my cup of tea, but you have to take your hat off to him... He ends with 1973 and an awful a lot of people leave the show tonight happy, and I'm one of them, as entertained by a show as I have been for a while.  Admittedly, a lot of that entertainment came from my enjoyment of the James Blunt crowd as from Blunt himself, but I've had a much, much better time than I was expecting.

Oh, and in case you're thinking of laughing at the sort of person who goes to a James Blunt gig, then never mind me, perhaps I should point out that Carl Froch was there too.  Yeah, not such a wise guy now, huh?

A good night.  I never thought I'd be saying that.  Fair play to the man.

Three last things:

1) For a man standing on a raised stage, it seems remarkable that Blunt should feel the need to wear stacked heels, but somehow he does.
2) He reveals during the course of the show that he's playing the Royal Wedding.  Of course he is.
3) His older songs seem to be about not getting laid.  His new songs seem to be about shagging in the sunshine.  Who says success has changed him?

LB's review of the event can be found here.

Set list:
So Far Gone, Dangerous, Billy, Wisemen, Carry You Home, These Are The Words, I'll Take Everything, Out Of My Mind, Goodbye My Lover, No Tears, High, Superstar, Same Mistake, If Time Is All I Have, You're Beautiful, So Long Jimmy, I'll Be Your Man, Stay The Night, Into The Dark, Turn Me On, 1973.

Monday, 21 February 2011

I always thought you should follow your dreams, however hard and uncertain it seems....

Tina Dico & Helgi Jonsson @ Rescue Rooms, Saturday 19th February 2011.

I can't really get used to Saturday gigs in Nottingham. It's not so much the day of the week, either. On the face of it, Saturday night should be the perfect time to be going to a gig... it is, after all, the classic night of the week for going out. It is this very fact, however, that causes a Saturday gig at Rock City or the Rescue Rooms to upset my internal gig-going rhythms. The venues, you see, hold well attended club nights on a Saturday night, so they set early stage curfews to make sure that they can get all of us out of the venue and tidy everything up before the clubbers arrive. I've missed the start of enough gigs now to know that this is how it works, but I just can't quite get my head around needing to be in the venue by about 7.30 and to be out onto the street again by 10pm. As I'm in town on Saturday afternoon anyway, I find myself killing a bit of time before heading straight over to the Rescue Rooms for a spot of tea (a very tasty pepperoni pizza) before heading in to catch the support.

I can't actually recall having seen Helgi Jonsson performing live before, but I must have done (and indeed, I have): I've seen Tina Dico performing several times now, and she never fails to mention him as a key collaborator. If I have seen him before though, then he's clearly not made that much of an impression on me as I don't recognise him at all. The venue is almost empty (with a stage time of 7.30pm, that's hardly surprising), but he still cuts a very slight, shy figure onstage. He's an Icelandic singer-songwriter, and much of what he does, including a cover of Roy Orbison's "Wild Hearts Run Out of Time", sounds very good.... and he's so thin and nervous-seeming that I find it impossible not to warm to him. The stage at the Rescue Rooms is hardly massive, but Helgi still does his best to disappear into the background.

He leaves the stage at the end of his short-ish set, but is quickly back as part of Tina Dico's band (who appear 15 minutes ahead of the advertised stage time, which can't really be helping the attendance: the venue is probably half full at best). Although she often performs alone onstage, tonight Dico is accompanied by both Helgi on keyboards and a drummer. Her songs work very well accompanied by only her own acoustic guitar, but the presence of the other instruments really allows them to breathe and to stretch their legs, especially on those songs where Helgi's vocals add a welcome counterpoint and support to Dico's own.

I think she's amazing. I first saw her some years ago now, but she's only grown in confidence since then and she's now an extremely accomplished performer. As I'm watching her performing songs like "Sacre Couer", "Room With a View", "Warm Sand", "Count to Ten" and "Copenhagen", it strikes me that she is at least as good as someone like Adele, but -- her native Denmark apart, where she is a superstar -- she will never achieve anything like as much success. Why that should be, I don't know and it hardly seems fair (as if fairness had anything to do with it). She certainly looks the part... but there's a part of me that is selfishly glad that I can continue to see her in small, intimate venues like this (albeit the Rescue Rooms, even half full, is probably a step up from places like The Maze and The Bodega, where I have seen her playing before.)

The crowd is pretty thin, although it swells towards the end (those early stage times catching people out again), but she is warmly received and, looking around, lots of people seem to know all of the words to her songs. It's a good set by an artist who just seems to be getting better and better.

Duffy's leaving the music business, I hear. Well, I won't be mourning her loss all that hard as long as there are female singer-songwriters with the talent of Tina Dico around.  If the gig attendance is anything to go by, then she hasn't made much headway commercially since I saw her here in 2008, but she's still worth a hundred Duffys.

VERDICT: 7.5 / 10

Friday, 18 February 2011

the river was deep but I swam it.....

Earworms of the Week

"You Can Call Me Al" - Paul Simon

As I was walking past reception in our office the other day, I caught a very familiar sounding funky, 80s bass solo drifting through the ether.  I think the PA they have in there is playing the same stuff that they play in our shops, but I was struck by the slight incongruity of all those people in suits waiting for people to come and collect them for meetings, many with a mental image of Chevy Chase playing the fool.  Great record.  About apartheid or something.

"Exit Music For A Film" - Radiohead

As "The King of Limbs" is released by Radiohead in a typically attention-grabbing way, my mind turns back to some of their older work.  It took a while for "OK Computer" to really grow on me: I worked in HMV when it was released, and was thus forced to listen to it all day, every day for several weeks.  It took a listen through a pair of headphones for it to really sink in... and actually it was this song that clinched the deal.  Try it.  The sound of Thom Yorke breathing adds so much to the emotional impact of the song.  "King of Limbs" is alright, as it goes.  It's grabbed me more on one listen than "In Rainbows" did, although I did pay a whole £6 more for this one, so that's the very least that I expected....

"The Power" - Snap

Quality I possess something I'm fresh
When my voice goes through the rest
Of the microphone that I am holdin'
Copywritten lyrics so they can't be stolen
If they are snap
Don't need the police to try to save them
Your voice will seize so please stay off my back
Or I will attack and you don't want that

Quality song.  Better lyrics than "Rhythm is a Dancer".  Serious as cancer?  Really?

"Autoglass Repair, Autoglass Replace!"

Awful.  You try having this stuck in your head all week.  Just those four words.  Over and over and over again.

"Changes" - David Bowie

Ah, that's better.  Classic Bowie.  I managed to sneak some of the lyrics from this into a report I had to write at work this afternoon.  No one reads it, so I'm not expecting anyone to pick me up on it.  This is a new weekly task for me: both writing the report and inserting lyrics.  Any suggestions?

"Do the Hustle" - Van McCoy

Our cat does this thing when we are in the kitchen preparing food - particularly in the morning when we're making our pack lunches: she goes up onto her back legs and leans against the handles to the kitchen cupboards by our feet, stretching up towards the work surface and making greedy eyes at what we're doing.  She'll occasionally reach out a paw, and if you put your hand down, she'll hook you and try to bring your hand down to her nose for a good snuffle.  To get the best possible view/smell, she will shuffle along next to your legs.  We call this the Minou Chat Shuffle, and obviously it has this as it's theme tune.  "Do the shuffle...." etc.

Long story for an earworm, but there you go.

Theme tune to Airwolf (and the Professionals)

Interesting fact: both of these classic themes sounds more or less EXACTLY the same played backwards as it does forwards.   The wacka-wacka guitars on the Professionals theme in particular sound awesome either way around.

"Seratonin" - Mystery Jets

I'm aware of the Mystery Jets, vaguely, although I'm not really familiar with their work.  I've started listening to 6Music a lot more in the car though, and this week I seem to have heard this song an awful lot.  I like it.  When I first heard it, I didn't know who this was, but liked it.  Now I know who it is, I'm tempted to check out the album of the same name.

"Dammit, Janet" - Rocky Horror

When C. put Glee on the Sky+ the other day, I put on a pair of headphones and spent some quality time watching the trailers to forthcoming comic book movie adaptations like Captain America and the new X-Men film.  I clearly didn't have the volume on loud enough though, as the "Rocky Horror" Glee special kept drifting into earshot.  Confession: although I've never seen the film or been to watch the show live, I love  the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I'm not really sure why.  My favourite song is "Toucha Toucha Touch Me", but this runs it a close second.

The river was deep but I swam it, Janet
The future is ours so let's plan it, Janet
So please don't tell me to can it, Janet
I've one thing to say and that's
Dammit, Janet, I love you...

The road was long but i ran it, Janet

There's a fire in my heart and you fan it, Janet
If there's one fool for you then I am it, Janet
Now I've one thing to say and that's
Dammit, Janet, I love you...

The only problem with this, is that I sit next to someone called "Janet" at work, so singing this out loud isn't ideal, to be honest.

Have a great weekend, y'all.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

it's too much....

I like to think that I'm fairly generous to charities. Although I no longer give directly through my salary, I do (I hope) go out of my way to make regular donations along the way. Not to blow my own trumpet, but I gave a decent chunk to Shelter, the homeless charity, when the cold weather was really starting to bite, and just last week I made a contribution to Macmillan as a nod towards a friend's mother who is currently battling against breast cancer. I also give my time, spending six or so hours until 2am manning a phone on the Children in Need call centre.

This year, if I do go ahead with running the Robin Hood Half Marathon again, I will try to raise some more money for the MS Society. Clearly, that's more than a touch self-interested, but the MS Society half-fund the MS Nurses, who are an absolutely invaluable first line of support for multiple sclerosis sufferers; they are an invaluable source of knowledge, experience and are a gateway into the services offered by the wider NHS. If you have MS and you have a relapse, the very first people you call are your MS Nurses and they will take care of the rest. My nurse, Maxine, was also good enough to write me the letter that I took with me to Australia that persuaded the doctor doing my dive medical that I was fit enough to do that diving course on the Great Barrier Reef. The MS Society funds 50%, but the other 50% comes from the government. Do I need to tell you that the government, ever on the lookout for ways to shaft the people who need their help the most, are looking to pull their funding. That's David Cameron's Big Society for you.  If I can raise a few quid to help keep this brilliant service alive, then I will.

Anyway, I digress. I was talking about (even though I don't like to talk about it) how I give money to charity.

One of the charities that I donate is the Red Cross. I think I started around the time of the terrible floods that devastated Bangladesh in the summer of 2009. Like lots of other people, I saw the footage of people stranded on the tops of trees, drowning livestock and flooded villages, and felt moved to donate. I know terrible things like this happen all the time and in all sorts of places (Queensland being the most recent example), but I found myself moved by the footage and decided I couldn't just sit there and do nothing. So I donated.

Since then, the Red Cross have sent me post encouraging me to donate more money, more often. I'm not a big fan of this kind of spam (let's call it what it is. They also send me lots of emails).... but at least you can mostly ignore it. Then, in summer last year, I received a phone call. It was one of those charity cold-callers. As a person who had donated to the Red Cross in the past, they wondered if perhaps I would donate again now. Had I seen the footage of the floods in Pakistan? Yes I had. Did I know that [insert name of cold calling company here] had been commissioned to raise £250,000 for the Red Cross in the next n days? No, I was not aware of that. Yes, and of that £250,000, nearly £200,000 of that would be used to provide aid to Pakistan (the rest, shockingly, was commission). Did I want to donate?

"No thanks"
To which the reply, as if it was any of their business, was "Can I ask why not?"
"I've already donated to charity"

By now I was starting to get annoyed. What damn business was it of theirs where or how I spent my charity dollar? Why was I being put into the position where my compassion was being questioned and I was being guilt-tripped into giving more? Still I felt the need to justify myself.

"I give to charity regularly through my salary"
"Have you donated specifically to the floods? Just £2 a month will help to do x, y and z"
"I'm not going to sign up for a direct debit"
"But have you given to the floods?"
"May I ask how?"
Now I felt like I was being accused of lying. "I put money into a charity box at work". Trace that, you fuckers.

Eventually I got rid of the guy, but it left a sour taste in the mouth. Now, every time I get some post from the Red Cross (and I got more on Friday), it makes me feel cross. This is a good charity that does good work around the world with people who need it the most.... but all I'm starting to see is more begging spam, and it's actively turning me off them. The Red Cross (and they're hardly the only offenders) may raise more money this way, and I know that times are hard and people aren't giving as much as they used to, but surely this kind of hard-sell is counter-productive in the long run?

I finally opened last week's letter, actually.  It contains a pin badge and two tea bags. As the letter explained, as it invited me to share a cup of tea with them:

"Because in the time it takes to brew and drink a cup of tea, some very important things can happen.  For example, one of our dedicated Red Cross volunteers can arrive at the scene of an emergency and save someone's life through an action as simple as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  So while you brew and drink your tea, I hope you will decide to help us again today by making a donation....."

And so on.

Is it wrong to be cross about this*?

*no pun intended**

**well, maybe a bit.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

somebody put me together....

In spite of seven hours sleep and no alcohol, I woke up this morning feeling as though I'd been hit by a truck: every muscle ached.... even my eyes seemed to be lumpy and tired.  This is bad on an ordinary day, but on a Tuesday it somehow seems so much worse.  As well as being the day when I usually do my weekly injection, something that generally leaves me feeling more fatigued than normal the next day, I also had some interval running planned for lunchtime.

Clearly I wasn't going to cancel my run, even if I was hardly looking forward to it.  Strange though I know it sounds, exercise often helps to ease the fatigue.  I took one of my pep pills at about 9am and got on with my day, planning to go running at about 12:30. 

By about 1pm, it became clear that I wasn't going to be able to find enough time to get out for a run.  I started to eat my lunch and immediately began to feel less fatigued.  Perhaps it was because I'd postponed my run and could now put it out of my mind (runs can often be exhausting to even think about, nevermind to do), but more likely it was simply because of the sudden increase in my blood-sugar levels.  I have no idea how this fatigue thing works.  It's probably different for everyone, but I haven't really been able to work out when I am going to be affected and when I'm not.  The post-injection tiredness I know about, although even that doesn't happen every week, and I also know that drinking too much can also sometimes (but not every time) increase my fatigue/tingling the next day too.  But it also looks very much to me as though if I have a long weekend or a really busy couple of days, then the fatigue really hits me a couple of days later.  I think that's what is happening now: a fantastic, long weekend with friends is really catching up with me.

Although, if that's true, then I have absolutely no idea why eating should make me feel so much better so quickly.  What's that got to do with MS? Still, I picked up very quickly and maintained my energy levels long enough to go out running when I got home at about 7.30pm.  It was raining, but was otherwise a beautiful night.  I didn't risk running intervals -- still nervous of getting too tired -- but I actually ran reasonably quickly anyway, clocking in at an average of 8.32 min/miles for the 4.19 mile of my run.  What I'm especially pleased about is the fact that miles 3 and 4 were the quickest of my whole run.... peaking at 8.15 min/mile on the darkside of the Embankment.  That's nearly as fast as I've been running my quicker intervals.  It was hard work, but the results are very pleasing.  I still stabbed a nerve as I injected, but all in all a decent end to the day.

I've been moaning a lot recently about how fatigued I'm feeling.  Well, I have been feeling tired, and there's not much anyone can do about that.  What timing my runs like this gives me is concrete evidence that I'm not completely falling to pieces. 


Monday, 14 February 2011


In a meeting today, a relatively senior colleague of mine recalled how she remembered meeting me on her first day at the company, some five or six years ago.  Amidst lots of mock sympathy at her misfortune, I remarked that if only every new join could have such good fortune.  To everyone's apparent amusement, as if this was a remarkable thought, she then went on to say how helpful I had been in helping her get her bearings and to feel at home.   After a small pause, she then added that I seemed a lot harder and more cynical now.

I don't actually believe that this is true, but I've been dwelling on the remark ever since.  I honestly don't think that I have ever been more positive and constructive about work than I am now, and I really believe that I have been actively and concretely contributing to making things better.  Still, perception is reality, and hardened and cynical is clearly the way that my colleague sees me, and I'm afraid she's probably not alone.

One of the simple truths of my brilliant career is that, for all that my customers and my colleagues around me may see me in a different light, I present myself differently to the people directly above me in the department: I'm harder and more challenging; quick to ask difficult and awkward questions.  Partly I do this because I am naturally analytical and this is how my brain works - if a question occurs to me, then I will ask it - but part of this is also undeniably because it amuses me to ask questions when I know that the person I'm asking doesn't have an answer.  I don't like the thought that someone is telling me to do something that they might not have thought through properly (or, indeed, thought about at all).  It's not hard to see why the people who are responsible for my performance management and for my career progression might see me as a flippant smartarse.  It's what they see.  Also, I AM a flippant smartarse.  Watch me sticking it to The Man!

It's nobody's fault but my own: I might think that people should take the trouble to look a little harder before they judge, but I give them plenty of ammunition to write me off as negative and cynical by choosing not to keep my mouth shut, or at least by not being more selective about when I do open it. I say that I don't care.... I know why I come to work, after all.... but hearing someone I like and respect casually call me cynical like that has bruised me a bit, especially as I thought I had been making some headway recently.

I received some formal recognition at work today too.

It wasn't much -- £20 worth of vouchers and a round of applause -- but it was an attempt by the leadership team of my department to recognise the hard work that a colleague and I have been putting in over the last couple of months to reshape and clarify the way that our department sets up projects and works with the business. We've rather racily called our new process "the Shark Net", but essentially it's a common sense way of making sure that we can control our outputs as a department by better controlling our inputs. The idea is to make things easier for us, and to make our output more consistent and reliable for our customers.  Not very exciting to talk about here, for sure, but ground-breaking in my office, let me assure you.  [Ahem.  Not really].

A promotion and/or a massive payrise would be nice, but I suppose that any thanks and recognition for our work is a lot better than a kick in the teeth.  I'm a little embarrassed about it, and as inclined to dismiss praise as criticism, but it is a nice gesture nonetheless.  If you have time for such nonsense, you might say that my brand was on the rise.  (luckily, I don't...).

Unfortunately, because the meeting this was happening in overran (and because I had no idea it was about to happen), I was forced to leave before the end in order to attend my next meeting.  I only found out about my big moment of recognition when I got back to my desk and it was all over.

Public recognition for my work, and I wasn't even there to see it.

That seems somehow typical of my career. 

Or am I being cynical again?

Friday, 11 February 2011

this snake is gonna rattle....

Earworms of the Week

"Bombtrack" - Rage Against the Machine

This has been in my head, on and off, all week.  Coincidentally, RATM came up this evening in a conversation about the supposed Glastonbury.  I realise that U2, Coldplay and Beyonce might not be to everyone's taste, but you have to be a special kind of idiot to threaten to return your ticket because you don't like the three headline acts at the Pyramid Stage.  It's not as though there isn't an alternative is it?  Anyway, the conversation was really about how I often look at the headline acts of other festivals and think they look much stronger than the Glastonbury bill - Rage Against the Machine at either Download or Reading/Leeds were a great example from a couple of years ago.  I've never seen Rage play live and I would dearly love to.  But did I consider for a second not going to Glastonbury?  No.  In my opinion there's simply no festival like it.  The bill often doesn't seem to be amazing, but somehow we manage to muddle through, eh?  Very few of my most treasured festival memories involve music at all.

"There She Goes" - The La's

.... one of the most amusing things I've seen at Glastonbury was when thousands of people arrived at the Other Stage towards the end of the set by the reformed La's.  The crowd literally doubled.  The reason? Because they were only interested in hearing this song (in spite of the fact that the rest of that album is amazing too).  It's a timeless classic, of course.  Sadly for the people hoping to tick it off their list, the band had played it about three songs into the set.  As Nelson Muntz might say, HA HA.

"Charmaine" - Plan B

Gary, the guy who sits next to me in the office, tipped me off about Strickland Banks shortly before Xmas, and it was a great tip.  Today, he asked me if I'd heard this record from his first album.  I hadn't, so he loaded it up on his phone for me to give it a go.  I like it.  It's not quite as polished as his more recent stuff, and it's off an album that is much more rap-orientated, but I think you can see the direction he's travelling in.  It's a bit basic, with some suspect lyrics, for sure ("The best of both worlds, caramel complexion /And I swear when she smiled I almost, got an erection"??), but that's a great pay-off.

"After Hours" - We Are Scientists

Best.  Video.  Ever.

Also, I heard a completely different song playing over the PA in reception, and, for a brilliant second, I thought that some genius had put this on the playlist.  No.  But it's a great song anyway.

"Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore" - REO Speedwagon

Mentioned by LB yesterday, and stuck in my head ever since.  I actually started humming it in a meeting this afternoon, and the most senior guy there picked me up on it.

"It's been stuck in my head"
"Well, at least it's a great record"

Yes, yes it is.

"A Most Peculiar Man" - Simon & Garfunkel

I've been listening to their back-catalogue in an attempt to escape the tracks that I've heard millions of times before.  This is exactly the kind of hidden gem I was looking for.  Well, I knew it was there as I've heard it loads of times before, but you know what I mean.  It's tucked away on "The Sounds of Silence" album, and it's about suicide.  But it's beautiful.

"Vicinity of Obscenity" - System of a Down

Mad as a box of frogs, but popped on shuffle when I was out running and needed it the most.

Terracotta Pie, Hey!
Terracotta Pie, Hey!
Terracotta Pie, Hey!
Terracotta Pie.

Banana Banana Banana Banana Terracotta Banana Terracotta Terracotta Pie,
Banana Banana Banana Banana Terracotta Banana Terracotta Terracotta Pie!

"The Bridge" - Scott Walker

I'm in the grips of a real Scott Walker phase at the moment, and I've been listening to Scotts II, III and IV a lot.  When Del was talking about "Bad Head" by Blur being a great hangover song on Twitter the other day and asked for others, this is the one that popped into my head straight away.  It's not so much about a single hangover, as a lifetime of hangovers.  It's sad; it's overblown.... I love it to bits.

"Back in the Saddle Again" / "Young Lust" - Aerosmith

Aerosmith were one of my first musical loves.  I think it was "Permanent Vacation" that did it first, but soon it was "Pump" and then a search through the back catalogue.  Who knew that Aerosmith had such an amazing back catalogue? (well, apart from every single American alive....).  "Rocks" and "Toys in the Attic" are both great albums and I must dig them out of deep storage and rip them so I can listen to them more often.  I was prompted to get the old Greatest Hits out when I heard "Sweet Emotion" on the telly, but I was soon listening to "Pump" as I was boiling up the carcass for a chicken soup last Sunday.  Damn, but they were a good band (although the Run DMC version of "Walk This Way" gives the song a kick up the arse it really needed).  "Get a Grip" was the last of their newer albums that I bothered with, and I'm not really tempted to investigate that stuff now, but their older stuff was brilliant.  And their older newer stuff too.  Never did see them live.

Anyway.  That's your lot.  I'm off to Twickenham - via Oxford - to watch mighty England play Italy in the Six Nations.  Should be good.  Whatever you're up to, have a good weekend, y'all.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

who answers? who answers?

Have you ever wondered about life's big questions?  I have.  Luckily for me, a leaflet was put through my door this week with information on where I could get the answers.

The Life's Big Questions Programme:

An 8 week programme that will give me all of the answers I have ever wanted.

Week 1: Introductions.  Why should I believe in a God I can't see? Why is the Bible special? (Bible Prophecy part 1)

Week 2: Has Science disproved the Bible? (part 1) Why is the Bible Special? (Law ahead of its time part 1)

Week 3: Why is the Bible special? (Archaeology) Has Science disproved the Bible? (part 2)

Week 4: Why is the Bible special? (Bible prophecy part 2) What is the World coming to?

Week 5: Why does God allow suffering? (part 1) What is the meaning of life? (part 1) [big week, presumably....]

Week 6: Why is the Bible special? (Law ahead of its time part 2)  Why does God allow suffering? (part 2)

Week 7: Why is the Bible special? (Bible prophecy part 3) What is the meaning of life? (part 2)

Week 8: Is there more to life than this? Has Christianity caused wars? Conclusion.

Tempting, no?  As if the programme of lectures itself wasn't enough, the flyer also contains a few more reasons to attend:

- See for yourself there are good reasons why we can trust the Bible
- Find out why the Bible is relevant in the 21st century
- Find out that there's more to life than you think
- You'll be able to make informed decisions about Life's Big Questions.


- What is the real meaning of your life
- What is the evidence that God exists
- Why God allows suffering
- That there is more to life than you might think
- There is a plan and purpose behind what goes on in the world
- That God is in control - see and hear the evidence for yourself
- Why the Bible is relevant in the 21st century.

It's all free, of course.  The Nottingham Christadelphians "want to show you good reasons why we believe in the Bible and want to share it with you.  We want to encourage you to look at the Bible for yourself."  You will not be asked to join the Christadelphians.

They're entitled to believe what they want, of course... and judging from their website, they are a group who base their faith entirely on the Bible:

"The Bible is God's word and the only message from him. It is without error, except for copying and translation errors."

Well, at least there's none of that wonderful Catholic get-out clause of "the word of the Pope is equal to the word of God" about that.  But "except for copying and translation errors"??  That's a pretty big get-out clause in its own right, isn't it?  How can you preach the Bible as a way to find all of the answers when you can't categorically tell me which bits are the word of God and which bits are the errors introduced through mistranslation?  How can you be confident enough to pick out God's message from the mistakes?  What about the contradictions between the different books?  Do Christadelphians eat shellfish?  (AN ABOMINATION - Leviticus 11:9-12) Or how about:

Any person who curseth his father or mother must be killed~Leviticus 20:9

Entrance into the assembly of the Lord was granted only to those with uninjured testicles and a complete penis ~Deuteronomy 23:1

People who have flat noses, or are blind or lame, cannot go to an altar of God ~Leviticus 21:17-18

Where do Christadelphians stand on those particular pronouncements? Word of God or mistranslation?

What about the basic truth that the books that make up the Bible as we know it were chosen by the Church in 367AD, and that the process of what went in and what was left out was done by men.   As men, how could they possibly know that they didn't exclude crucial parts of God's message?

I realise that Faith takes, well, faith, but.... seriously? I know that lots of people can work with this level of uncertainty, but I definitely can't.  If you don't accept it all as valid, why would you accept any of it?  Far from providing me with answers, I'm just getting more and more questions.

Tuesday nights between 20:00 and 21:30?

Sorry.  I'm not sure you're asking the right questions, never mind providing the answers.  I'm afraid I'll be washing my hair.

Anyone else reminded of this?

"What was that?"
"I don't know, I was too busy talking to big nose"
".....I think it was "Blessed are the cheesemakers"."
"Aha, what's so special about the cheesemakers?"
"Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products...."

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

do it faster, makes us stronger....

Today was one of those days where, for no obvious reason, I had particularly numb feet and legs and tingles in my hands: I had an early night, I didn't drink any alcohol at all, I'd had a day off exercise.... I couldn't think of anything that I'd done that might provide a simple explanation for feeling worse than normal.

The truth is that there IS no simple explanation; there are no obvious whys and wherefores - MS just isn't that kind of a disease AT ALL.  It's different from person to person, and for every person affected, it's experienced differently day-to-day.

Obviously, I wasn't going to let this get in the way of the intervals I was planning to run at lunchtime.  Besides, it was an absolutely glorious day.  It's the first time in 2011 that you could smell the air and really believe that spring might just be on the way.  I'd been secretly dreading today's run for at least the last 24 hours, but if I was going to do it, at least I was going to be doing it in sunshine.

As it turned out, the running was hard work, but not awful.  The masochist in me is starting to really enjoy the dreadful anticipation of the beep that signals the two minutes of faster running and the subsequent attempt to really pick my knees up and up my pace for every last second until the next beep signals the start of a slower interval.  It's hard work, but it's ultimately very satisfying.

Looking at my times, I got around my run today something like 13 seconds faster than I did on the same route this time last week.  It doesn't sound like much, but compared to the week before that, when I ran this route without intervals, I did the same run more than 60 seconds slower.  That means that in 2 weeks, I've improved my average running speed by some 15 seconds per mile.  I'm now running at an average of something like 8.12 minute miles, with my faster intervals coming in at closer to 7 minute miles.  It's really, really hard work, but the progress is easy to measure.

A guy asked me in the changing rooms after my run if I was training for anything.  Not really, although I may enter the Nottingham Half Marathon again this year.  At the moment I'm not training for anything other than to run faster for the sheer hell of it.  It feels good, too.

I still feel numb this evening, and I'm sure that tonight's weekly injection isn't going to help that much.... but I did feel a whole lot better about myself this afternoon and, as well as all that numbness, my legs now have a much worthier and explainable ache.

Monday, 7 February 2011

(or it could save my life...).

At some point around 1996 or 1997, I went to a barber and asked for a number 4 all over. It seemed like a big decision at the time, but you have to understand that in those days I still had a full head of hair. In my mind, going for an all-over clipper job was a renunciation of the tyranny of hair; a decision made voluntarily at a time when I still had little idea what my hairline had in store for me. It was a kind of emancipation. Take two bottles into the shower? No, I renounce hair and choose to take none.

As the years have slipped away, so too has my hairline, and my decisions at the barber have become simpler as much out of necessity as choice. Grade 4 quickly became grade 4 on the top with grade 3 around the sides and back. Before long that moved on to a grade 3 with grade 2. Then it was a grade 2 and grade 1. Then grade 1 all over. Then grade 0.5... Each progression accompanied by a certain amount of anxiety about the next step. I was worried about having my hair cut too short.... but at the same time, clearly, I was running out of styling options.

Finally, on Saturday, I went to the barber and got a grade zero all over. My hair was cut so short by the time they'd finished that it was probably about the same length as the couple of days of stubble growth on my chin and probably doubled in length before I came into the office this morning. My head was now (partially-)covered in velcro, not hair.  It felt like the end of the line: short of using a razor and shaving my head completely, this is about as far as my tonsorial journey can take me. I haven't owned (or needed) a hairbrush in fifteen years.  Hair, for me, is officially over.

Or so I thought.  That may be the end of the line for the hair on my head, but it appears, however, that this is not the end of all my hair-related indignities. My future path was revealed with a simple question, asked by my barber as she put the finishing touches to my buzz cut.

"Would you like your eyebrows trimmed?"

Gah.  And, sadly, yes please.

Friday, 4 February 2011

we could feel the motion of a thousand dreams....

Earworms of the Week

"Piano Man" - Billy Joel

Another week, another Billy Joel song.  Well, can you blame me?  The man's an absolute marvel.  This is, of course, the song that made him famous.  It's not my favourite of his tunes, but you have to love the attention to detail.  Listening to the lyrics here, it's really not very hard to understand where he got his inspiration.... that will be when he was playing for tips in a bar then, right?  In the pre-iPod days, I used to have a little wallet of CDs that I carried around with me to listen to in the car.  I tried to change them around pretty regularly to prevent boredom, but 2 CDs that never left the wallet were both discs of my treasured BJ greatest hits.

"The Swing of Things" - a-ha

I've been listening to a lot of a-ha recently.  Seeing them live before Christmas had me reaching for my copy of "Scoundrel Days", one of the first albums I ever bought back in the day on cassette and a cherished Christmas gift from a couple of years ago.  I was lucky enough to be given a copy of "Hunting High and Low" on CD for Christmas from the same source, so I've been listening to them pretty solidly ever since.  Good band.  But you know that, right?  I must have listened to "Scoundrel Days" thousands of times back in the day, but I've been rediscovering it with a fresh pair of ears now.  It's good, isn't it?  Really, properly good.

"Ca Plane Pour Moi" - Plastic Bertrand

No idea where this came from.... probably an advert.  A famous Belgian, if people are still playing that game.  Adolphus Sax, he's another good one.  Eddie Merckx.  Enzo Scifo.  There are loads of them.

"Hiphopopotamus vs Rhymenoceros" - Flight of the Conchords
"Battery" - Metallica

You know how some people have "power songs"?  The tunes that they play when they're out running that are guaranteed to put an extra spring in their step and to give them a lift for the final push for home?  Yeah?  Well, when I was out the other day and was flagging badly with about a mile to go, it was this Flight of the Conchords song that gave me the lift that I needed to keep going.  It probably didn't hurt that "Battery" came on next, mind you.  Now that's a proper tune.

"Your Song" - Ellie Goulding

Not a good cover, in my opinion.... but entirely unavoidable.

"Helplessness Blues" - Fleet Foxes

A new song from the Fleet Foxes is always something to be happy about.... the fact that it seems to be cut entirely from the same cloth as the songs on their brilliant debut album is good enough for me.  For now, anyway.  I await to see where they go next to develop their sound on their next album.  They have to develop it at least a little, right? right?

"It's Raining Today" - Scott Walker

I put "Scott III" and "Scott IV" on when I was reading my book the other night.  The man is an absolute genius.  No question.  My favourite male singer without a shadow of a doubt.  Morrissey is up there, but Noel Scott Engel is the man for me.  These albums are AWESOME.  Majestic.  Perhaps the best I have in my whole collection.

"Sussudio" - Phil Collins

"Do you like Phil Collins? I've been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that, I really didn't understand any of their work. Too artsy, too intellectual. It was on Duke where, uh, Phil Collins' presence became more apparent. I think Invisible Touch was the group's undisputed masterpiece. It's an epic meditation on intangibility. At the same time, it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding three albums. Christy, take off your robe. Listen to the brilliant ensemble playing of Banks, Collins and Rutherford. You can practically hear every nuance of every instrument. Sabrina, remove your dress. In terms of lyrical craftsmanship, the sheer songwriting, this album hits a new peak of professionalism. Sabrina, why don't you, uh, dance a little. Take the lyrics to "Land of Confusion". In this song, Phil Collins addresses the problems of abusive political authority. "In Too Deep" is the most moving pop song of the 1980s, about monogamy and commitment. The song is extremely uplifting. Their lyrics are as positive and affirmative as, uh, anything I've heard in rock. Christy, get down on your knees so Sabrina can see your asshole. Phil Collins' solo career seems to be more commercial and therefore more satisfying, in a narrower way. Especially songs like "In the Air Tonight" and, uh, "Against All Odds". Sabrina, don't just stare at it, eat it. But I also think Phil Collins works best within the confines of the group, than as a solo artist, and I stress the word artist. This is "Sussudio", a great, great song, a personal favorite."

....Looks like someone's been watching "American Psycho".  I wonder what Collins made of that. ("At last!  Someone who understands what I'm trying to say....").  Film not as good as book, BTW.  Not even close.

"Doctor! Doctor!" - The Thompson Twins

I've been listening to BBC 6 Music in the car for the last few weeks.  Steve Lamacq is a legend, of course.  If that needed any confirmation, then it surely came when I was driving to football the other night and he played this record.  Tune!

Have a good weekend, y'all.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

down on skid row....

We had some very serious briefings at work last week.  You know, the kind of briefings where they take every individual department aside at the appointed time, read them a carefully worded statement and then, when that's done, make sure that everyone has a one to one meeting with their boss that same day where you can hear how the changes to the organisation affect YOU.

As we trooped out of our briefing, one of my colleagues grumbled about how the session, long anticipated, had actually been something of an anticlimax.  Well, in my experience, anticlimax is about the BEST you can hope for from a session like that....

The long and the short of it, at least as far as I was concerned, was that the company was halving the number of job grades.  Not the numbers of people within those grades (although there will be some redundancies), but the number of levels within the company itself.  The rationale, apparently, is to make things simpler and lines of communication much clearer.


So, my level was being merged with the level below, but none of my benefits or terms and conditions would be otherwise changing at all.  Instead of being a grade G, I was going to be a band 5.  My closest colleague was moving from a grade H to a band 5.  Nothing else about the way we worked was going to change.

Yeah, whatever. 

I stopped wanting to be managing director some time ago and the prospect of advancing upwards through the job grades isn't really that enticing for me.  I'm sure some people were deeply upset by the changes, but the merging of my grade with another?  Not a big deal for me.  My colleague, less experienced than me and previously in a lower grade, would now be in the same -- bigger -- band.  So what?  I do not define my self-worth by my rank within a job.  Who does?  Well, to be honest, given the vast number of grades within the company in the first place, everyone else just might...... so maybe simplification could be a good thing.  Whisper it quietly, but perhaps, for the first time in history, this was a well-conceived corporate reorganisation?

....So imagine my surprise when I was told that, as part of the changes in the department, I was going to be responsible for writing the job descriptions for my role.

Yes.  Descriptions.  One grade, two job descriptions.

You see, although two levels have been merged into one level as part of the reorganisation, it seemed that we are still going to have distinct job descriptions: a senior role and a junior role, if you will.... except that HR have forbidden the use of the word "senior" in job descriptions at my level because it's a word that denotes a job at the level above.  The word "lead" is also banned, as that would indicate a job at the level above that.  No, the "senior" job at my level should include the word "manager" to differentiate it from the "junior" job that now exists at the same level.

All clear? Twenty grades halved into ten bands with different levels within the bands.

Aren't you glad we made things so much simpler?

Oh, and in case you were wondering, C. is a band 2.  For context, that's the same level as the director in my department (my boss's boss's boss).  I'm increasingly realising that my main role in life is to drive her to work in the morning and then home again in the evening.  The rest?  That's just filler.

Just as it should be.

We can't all be heroes, because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


C. is in Tel Aviv at the moment, and I found myself unusually ahead of schedule last night: home from work at a reasonable hour and dinner prepared and eaten by 7pm.  There was nothing on the telly, so I decided that this was probably a good opportunity to light the fire, make a cup of tea and to read my book.

I'm a keen reader, but I've not been getting much reading done of late.  The reason is not too difficult to ascertain: I'm reading "Emma" by Jane Austen and finding it dull.  I started it in November, and apart from reading a couple of other books inbetween-times, I've found it something of a struggle to find the motivation to get it finished.  Still, this was as good a time as any to make some headway and to move onto something else.

I'm about halfway through, but after about five minute of reading, I decided that I frankly didn't care who supplied Jane Fairfax with the pianoforte, and I began to update my book list instead.  In theory, this is the ongoing list of all the things that I've been reading since March 2008, but in practice it's a list of all the ones that I can remember when I eventually get round to updating it.

That took me a few minutes, but once it was done, rather than read more Austen, I began to think about what books I want to read this year.  I tend to pick up things that catch my eye as I go along, but inspired by Mandy, I thought I'd maybe work up a little list of possible reading for 2011.  Through the day, I've been randomly asking people what their favourite book was, with a view to picking a few of them and reading them.  Here's what I've got so far:

> "The Lord of the Flies" - William Golding.  I've already read it, but not in about twenty years... probably well overdue a revisit, I think.  No Kindle edition, I notice, so I'll have to do this one the old fashioned way.

> "The Hobbit" - J.R.R. Tolkien.  Well, it's a classic, obviously, but I read this one again back in September, so....

> "The Doctor's Wife" - Brian Moore.  Nominated for the Booker Prize in 1976, but currently out of print.  David Belbin told me this was a book that changed his life, so I thought it was well worth a look, and on that basis definitely one to try.

> "Jurassic Park" - Michael Crichton.  We're all familiar with this one, but one of my colleagues tells me that the book is very little like the film and is a rip-snorting read.  Okay then.  This might be next, I think.

> "The Complete Sherlock Holmes" - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Well, I read "A Study In Scarlet" again towards the end of last year, but I've always loved these stories, so perhaps one to work my way through over the course of the year.

> An Atlas.  Hmm.  The person who told me this seemed to be serious, but I did have to ask him if he realised that the blue bits were actually water.....

> "The Profession of Violence.  The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins" - John PearsonGary told me that he didn't read much, and certainly not much fiction... but he did love this.  I'm not sure if it's quite my cup of tea, but who knows?  Maybe worth a look?

So.  What would you add to the shortlist?  What's your favourite book?  I'm going to keep asking around for a bit as I plough my way towards the end of the Austen, so all suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011


I'm knackered. Bone-achingly weary.

Although my MS means that this is now an ever-present threat hanging over me, I was absolutely fine whilst we were skiing a couple of weeks ago. My upper body strength is now such that I struggle if I'm forced to carry my skis too far, but this year I had no real problems at all with fatigue, in spite of all the extra exertion. I took my pep pills with me and carried them with me out onto the slopes every day, but I never once thought that I might need to take one: my energy levels were fine and I had no real problem with muscle fatigue beyond the expected burning thighs during a long run down the mountain.

Since we've been back, however, it's been a different story, and I've been struggling with weariness and fatigue for much of the last ten days. It was so bad on our first week back that I was finding that my body was simply shutting down by about 10pm and I was forced to go straight to bed before I was entirely unable to move. By 10:30pm most nights, C. would come up to bed and find me entirely dead to the world. It's a horrible feeling when my body shuts down like that: it's almost as though I'm locked in as my muscles entirely fail to respond to my brain's commands. Luckily, if this happens when I'm at home, then I can just go to bed. What worries me is if it happens when I don't have that option. Fortunately, it's not happened yet.

On reflection then, perhaps this wasn't the best time to up my exercise regime.

In spite of my fatigue, I decided that I needed to up the intensity of my running. Perhaps it was all the stodgy food that I ate when skiing (even if I didn't actually put on any weight, in spite of eating like a pig); perhaps it was the thought that I might enter the half marathon this year and maybe also a triathlon or two. Whatever the reason, I felt that the time was right to start to reintroduce interval training into my schedule. I'm usually a very one-paced runner. Over the last few months, I've been focusing on running faster, but there is still very little variation in the pacing of my runs. Interval running is designed to force you to work harder and to build the fast-twitch muscle fibre as you mix timed bursts of faster running into your usual pace. I did some of this in the run up to the half marathon in 2009, some of it on a hill, and it was bloody hard work but I think it was very effective in making me a quicker runner.

This time around, instead of shuttle running from point to point with bursts of two minutes at a steady pace and two minutes of quicker running, I wanted to incorporate the changes of pace into my usual routes. Using the brilliant Runkeeper app on my iPhone that tracks all of my runs, I set up intervals of 5 minutes steady with 2 minutes fast. At the change of each interval, the app beeps to indicate the need to change pace. Simple, but effective. You quickly learn to anticipate the beeps, of course, dreading the beep that signals a faster interval, and then waiting the seemingly impossibly long time before the beep that signals you can slow down again. As ever, interval running is as much a mental exercise as it is physical: time seems to slow down during the quicker intervals, and it takes real concentration to keep picking your knees up as you begin to tire. I try and pick out little intermediate points to focus on instead of thinking about the time: run to that tree; to that bench; to that bush... hopefully bringing you to the point where the next beep signals you can slow down again.

I've done this now two or three times in the last week or so, and it is exhausting. I come in from each run absolutely shattered. On the plus side though, I am running at least 15 seconds per mile faster on average, with my faster intervals clocking in at a pace of about 7 minutes per mile... although I had to wean myself out of the pointless habit of running a little bit faster in my "steady" intervals as I reached the end of a run to try and avoid hitting a "fast" interval before I got home.....

I AM weary at the moment, but whatever toll my MS may be taking on my body, at least I know that some of that fatigue has been earned the old-fashioned way.