Friday, 29 July 2011

and all I do is miss you and the way we used to be.....

Earworms of the Week

Loughborough Suicide” – The Young Knives

I know that I always say this, but the Young Knives just seem to be one of those bands that have crept under everyone's radar: I'm a fan, but their last album slipped out without me noticing.  I only picked up on it when I heard 6Music playing their single a few times.  They're distinctive, and if anything, have been getting more mainstream and (slightly) less quirky with every release.  This is from their first, Mercury nominated, debut album. It's a marvellous album too, and still sounds as fresh today as it did back in 2006.  I must wear my "I am the Prince of Wales" t-shirt soon, now I think of it.

Bluetonic” – Bluetones

Great band, of course, although like the Young Knives, they're another that have spent a lot of their career underneath the radar, in spite of getting better and better as they went on.  I have to admit that I thought they had finally called it a day, but LB brought it to my attention that they're headlining the Mychoone festival in Derbyshire in August.... along with **ahem** Reef and Toploader.  Glastonbury is brilliant, obviously, but it might be quite nice to go to a much smaller festival... especially if it's local.  You don't have to watch Toploader, do you?  Have I ever mentioned that I used to work with a guy in HMV York who used to be the bassist in the Bluetones?  No?  Lovely guy.

Golden Touch” – Razorlight

Johnny Borrell is a cock, obviously, but this remains a lovely song.  I also listened to "Naive" by the Kooks, and thought much the same about them too: I saw their new song on the telly and it was entirely forgettable, and yet they were capable of much, much better and showed as much on their debut album.  Razorlight? Reasonable band, but nowhere near as good as Borrell thought they were.  Self-belief and rockstar posturing are all very well, but he's hardly Bono is he? (as if we needed another one.)

Top Gun Anthem

I spent a happy half hour one evening this week with a colleague, grafting the head of one of our other colleagues from a photo onto a photo of someone wearing a terrible pilot fancy dress.  This chap had been to Ascot on a stag-do and had been mortified when his costume turned up to discover that it had a PVC hat and velcro stripper trousers.  Not content to let this pass, before he came back into the office, we knocked up a few of these with some choice quotes from Top Gun on the bottom of each one ("I don't like you because you're dangerous" etc.)  It amused us, anyway.

D.O.A” – Foo Fighters

Nicest man in rock, etc.  Listened to this and "Stacked Actors" this week, and was reminded what a good singles band they are, if not quite a good albums band.

Rehab” – Amy Winehouse

Pub quiz team name this week: "On reflection, yes, yes, yes".  Poor girl.

Uprising” – Muse

I've listened to a lot of Muse this year.  I always used to find them a little hard to listen to for any period of time, with a little going a long way.  That seems to have changed a little this year, and although I bought the resistance 18 months ago before we set off for Hong Kong, it's only in the last few months that I've really found myself going back to it and listening to it beyond the singles.  Good running music, too.... handy as my runkeeper sent me an email this week telling me that in July 2011, I've run more miles than in any month since I started tracking my training.  80-odd miles, with another one to come on Sunday before the month is over.  Phew.

I’m So Ronery” – Team America OST

A guilty pleasure, but I love the Team America OST... this song in particular.  I think there's something so absurd about their portrayal of Kim Jong Il that I find it irresistible.  Not high art, but very, very funny.  ("Why aren't more people interrigent, rike me?")

My Name is Jonas” – Weezer

I think I just woke up one morning with this in my head.  I've not been listening to them or anything, it was just in there.  Could be worse.

London Calling” – The Clash

Appropriate song for the London 2012 Olympic Games?  Well, from the point of view of the title, I suppose it is.... but if you listen to any of the lyrics, then I'm not sure that it really is, is it?  Great record - love that menacing bass line.  Just try not to think about the Scouting for Girls version.

Romeo & Juliet” – Dire Straits

Does this count as a guilty pleasure too?  They're not exactly the most fashionable of bands, but I absolutely adore this record.  It popped up on my iPod when I had been out running for about 4.5 miles but hadn't yet turned around: this song literally marked the point where I began heading for home.  I love it, and have loved it from the moment I heard it playing over a massive PA as we skiied down into Italy a few years back.   I like the Killers cover too, but there's something magical about the original: it's oddly moving and makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I hear it.

Right.  That's your lot: I'm settling down to watch the Trent Bridge Test Match to see what the state of play is going to be when we rock up there tomorrow morning for a weekend at the cricket.  Our Indian developers at work are VERY excited about this game: players like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid are bona fide megastars in India, and some of our guys have found out what hotel they're staying in and have been hanging around there.... they would never get a chance to be this close to their heroes in India, apparently.  It's quite sweet.  The game is moving on very fast though, so as many of them have tickets for the Monday, I just hope that play lasts that long.

Anyway.  Have a good weekend, y'all.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

soy un perdedor...

You might remember the weapon of the zombie apocalypse (WotZA): he’s the guy who used to sit next to me (and now sits just behind me) who has, shall we say, a very particular way of looking at life. He’s a developer by trade, and he has very, very firm views on life, whether that be on how steak should be cooked (always well done, never rare), sushi (raw fish is just plain wrong) or housing developments in old church buildings (but how could you do anything in the bedroom? God will be watching….).

He’s been on fine form this week: we had a (terrible) David Beckham lookalike in the office the other day promoting a new fragrance. We were laughing at how poor the likeness was, and how funny it was that people were still queuing up to have their photo taken with him, when WotZA picked up his sample, turned his chair around and made some remark about David Beckham being “a homo”.

What? I wasn’t about to let him get away with that, so I called him.
“What are you talking about?”
“He’s a homo. Look, it says here” At this point, he showed me his sample of “Homme” and pointed, repeatedly at the word. “Homo. Homo”.
“That’s not what it says”
“Well, it’s the French for homo then”

And so on. He also insisted on calling Homer Simpson "Homo Simpson" today, determined to persist in his belief that a program he has never watched is a brainless cartoon aimed at kids.

When he’s like this, the only sensible thing to do is to completely ignore him and not rise to it. He excelled himself this morning though: I was running through some of the questions we had in yesterday’s pub quiz. Whose marriage in 1981 drew more viewers for ITV than the royal wedding on BBC1, in which programme was Winnie Cooper the love interest (I was delighted to pull the answer to that one out of the depths of my brain), how old is Christopher Dean (off of Torville and…), which goddess appears on the back of the 2012 Olympic medals, identifying the theme tune to Inspector Morse played backwards… that kind of thing. WotZA shook his head in mystification at this.

“I don’t watch telly. It doesn’t even have an aerial plugged into it, so there’s no picture. Telly rots the brain and kills intelligent conversation. It’s the scourge of modern society.”
“Well, I don’t watch that much telly either”
“How do you know that stuff then?”
“Because I’m curious”
“But it’s all Jerry Springer and rubbish like that”
“No, it isn’t, and I don’t watch that either.”
“But it kills intelligent conversation”
“well, to be honest I’m not getting much of that from you either”

One of the other questions in the quiz was to name the guy who killed all those people in Norway at the weekend. WotZA shrugged again:
“I didn’t know there had been any shootings….”

Now he was really annoying me: he’s not a stupid man, but he revels in his lack of intellectual curiosity in the world around him and he resolutely refuses to accept that there might be a difference between watching Loose Women and listening to the news on the radio. His idea of a fun night in is to plug his phone into his plasma tv and allow his other half to watch him doing jigsaws on the big screen. I don’t mean to judge, but that’s hardly a lofty position from which to ascend the moral high ground, is it? And the other day he came out with a joke he’d lifted from the movie “Porkies”. What’s that all about? It's not exactly cinema noir, is it?


Aren’t people fascinating?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

he's going the distance, he's going for speed....

Runner's World (@rwchallenge) tweeted an interesting link today:

"Get skinny get faster? Maybe, maybe not."

Will losing weight help you to shave a few minutes off your half-marathon time?  Apparently, for every pound you lose, you cut about 2 seconds off your mile time.... or nearly 30 seconds off your race time.

Since starting training in earnest for the race 3 weeks ago, I've lost about 3kg.  By that logic, I should have already shaved the best part of 3 minutes off my half marathon time.  If my weight loss continues at the same rate of about a kilo a week (which it won't), then in theory I'll be shaving another minute a week.... or about ten minutes in total by the end of my training schedule.  Not too shabby.... although, as the video goes on to say, if you're already skinny, then weight-loss can be counterproductive by taking away muscle-mass and sapping your energy.

To be honest, I don't really have a whole lot weight to lose and I hope I don't lose much more: I already know that I'm running about a minute a mile faster than I was a couple of years ago.  All things being even, then I should stand a pretty good chance of beating my 2009 time of 1 hour 56 minutes and 52 seconds.  I'm not setting myself any targets though: I'd like to beat 2 hours and I'd like to set a new personal best, but that's not the most important thing by any means.  I think I'd actually get much more of a kick if LB manages to achieve a lifetime's ambition and complete the distance in less than two hours.  To do that, he'll need to maintain a pace of a little over nine minute miles..... most people can manage that over a short distance, but the trick, of course, is to keep that up over thirteen miles.  That's what the training is for, right?  To put the miles into your legs so you can run further and faster.  That's the theory, anyway. 

I ran nine miles with LB ten days or so ago, and we maintained a pretty steady pace of 10:52 mins/mile.  During my training for 2009's race, in the second week of August that year, I ran the same distance at an average of 9.42 minute miles, a bit faster, but not unachievably so with another couple of weeks of training in the legs.  With the excitement of the day itself, you tend to run a bit faster anyway (I managed 8.57 min/mile, so nearly a whole minute a mile faster than my training times).... I reckon that a sub-2 hour time is definitely not beyond LB's grasp.  It might be a stretch, but I don't think it's impossible by any means.

Does it matter if he doesn't make it?  Not at all.... but it's great to have something to aim for (and no, before you ask, I don't think he particularly needs to lose weight either.  I reckon he can hit the required pace exactly as he is).

Together with C, the three of us are running the race to raise money for the MS Society.  You can sponsor us all here.

Monday, 25 July 2011

a kind of magic....

We were idly planning a trip to the pictures this evening. As the headache that’s been brewing all day has finally arrived, I can’t say that I really feel like watching the cinematic dénouement of the Harry Potter saga. I’m not sure I have all that much energy for it full stop, to be honest. It was the same with the books: I approached “The Deathly Hallows” with more a sense of relief that it was finally going to be over than with any real enthusiasm (although I still bought the damn thing the week it was released). I started reading the books in about 2000, around about the time that “The Prisoner of Azkaban” was published. Like everyone else, I was initially charmed by their freshness and invention, but as the books bloated and Harry and co. grew up, I began to wade through each successive volume with an increasing sense of duty…. I knew we were approaching a defined end point, and was reluctant to stop reading entirely… but when I finished the last book and read that little flash forward, I got to the end with an overriding sense of relief that it was over rather than delight at the conclusion to the story I’d been following for so long.

It’s not that they’re bad books, and I wholeheartedly endorse almost anything that gets so many people reading, it’s just that for me the series peaked with “…Azkaban” and that thereafter the books became needlessly big… a little editing would have gone a long way without damaging the overall narrative thrust of the story and I reckon you could have taken 100 pages off “The Goblet of Fire” just by judiciously trimming some of the fat. As the books went on, plotting was also seemed to become increasingly hard going and, as our heroes became teenagers, we seemed to get lots of clunky dialogue dealing with emotions painted in primary colours and with little texture and nuance (am I asking too much of a children’s book? I don’t think that I am. Philip Pullman’s “Dark Materials” books are aimed at slightly older children, I think, but are far less black and white).

The films have been okay, I suppose, although I haven’t been to the cinema to see all of them and only caught the first part of “The Deathly Hallows” on the plane to New York… not exactly the optimal place to enjoy the big screen experience (although I still don’t feel the need to watch “Avatar” in any other format, thanks very much). It’s been interesting watching the cast grow up, I suppose, but – ironically given that I think the books are overly long – the films are too short, even at two hours plus, to do justice to the plots. The story in the books is often given shape by the passing of the terms at Hogwarts, and in so many of the films we seemed to jump from winter to spring to summer in the course of about ten minutes: one minute they’re walking across a snowy quadrangle at Christmas, and the next minute they’re revising for their exams… dramatic peaks are only allowed to happen in the summer term, you understand, and Voldemort plans his ill-deeds strictly according to the academic calendar…. One per year.

Still, I’m griping. JK Rowling, I learned last week, apparently earns another £1m every three days. Good luck to her, I say: she’s earned it. Lest we forget, she was a single mother living on benefits barely ten years ago. Rowling seems like a genuinely nice person who is still taken aback by how much her little stories have been taken into people’s hearts (and I should also mention that she’s a generous supporter of MS charities, which definitely makes her okay in my view…), and those books (and films) have brought people an awful lot of joy. After all, no one forced me to read all the books, and no one is forcing me to complete the set by watching the last film either.

Apart from anything else, given recent news, it might be quite nice to watch good triumph over evil for once.

Just not tonight, eh?

Friday, 22 July 2011

then the door was open and the wind appeared....

Earworms of the Week

 “Wake Up Boo!” – The Boo Radleys

I haven't really listened to the Boo Radleys in quite some time now, although I remember "Giant Steps" in particular as being a marvellous album.  This song makes fairly regular appearances in my brain.  The presence of the sun this morning was all it took, and as I put my sunglasses on as I got into the car, I soon had the actual song playing as I drove into work.  It's catchy as hell, of course, but I love the wistful lyrics (how many songs this upbeat sing about things like the "death of summer"?) and I love the way it starts so slowly too.  Great song.  Perhaps Martin Carr sees it as a millstone, but I think it's a marvellous record.  Listen to it: it's barely dated in 15 years.

The Mighty Quinn” – Manfred Mann

Manfred Mann were on the shortlist for providing the song titles that make up the headers on my weekly report.   In the end I opted for Pet Shop Boys as I just couldn't work out how to include such hum-dingers as "5-4-3-2-1" and "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" into rather dry updates about hardware upgrades being piloted and major programmes preparing to enter testing.... Pet Shop Boys just gave me a little bit more flexibility with their song titles ("Yesterday, When I Was Mad" made the cut, I'm pleased to say).  The Manns knew their way around a tune though, eh?

"Alison" - Elvis Costello

Love, love, love this record.  One of my all time favourites.

"Sleep" - Marion

This song originally charted at number 53 in February of 1995, but I have singularly been unable to shift it from my head ever since.  I don't own any other songs by the band, but I bought this single and I just can't get enough of it.  This is a great record, isn't it?  It can't be just me that thinks so?

Up the Junction” – Squeeze

"The Devil came and took me from bar to street to bookie" remains my all-time favourite ever lyric.  Fact.

The One I Love” – R.E.M. next favourite lyric?  Could well be the brutally dismissive "a simple prop to occupy my time" that Stipe spits out in this song and that couples inexplicably smooch to at R.E.M. gigs.  Great record.  Was tickled today to read Peter Paphides on Twitter describing the difference between comedians Stewart Lee and Michael Macintrye as follows: "Sometimes I like to watch a comic who has REM's first 5 albums; sometimes I like to watch a comic who has their last eight."  Nothing especially wrong with either, but I know which I prefer.  Nicely put, I thought.

Magic Moments” – Perry Como

Weapons grade earworm and genuinely awful record.  Trite.

Rent” – Pet Shop Boys

I got this one in too.

Love Me Like You” – Magic Numbers

This was on after "Wake Up Boo" in the car this morning.  I hadn't deliberately selected a slightly wistful-yet-summery playlist, but this seemed to fit the bill nicely.  Still a great sounding record.

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" - Blue Oyster Cult

I found myself on Amazon buying a cowbell at work this morning.  As you do.  Debated for a while the merits of 6" over 8", before deciding... still on the subject of cowbells... that the extra 2" might prove critical.

More cowbell?

Obviously.  Track one of disc one on "Protect the Innocent" too, the first CD I ever bought.... followed by "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath, "Fireball" by Deep Purple and "Ace of Spades" by Motorhead.  LOVED that CD!

Have a good weekend, y'all.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

move it, move it....

I don't really understand how my body works.  Not in the medical sense, you understand... the more exposure I've had to the wonders of medical science in the last few years, the more I'm realising how little anybody knows; I've seen some amazing high definition images of my own brain, and not only did I not have a clue what I was looking at, but it's fascinating how little some of the most eminent neurologists in the country were able to deduce from these amazing pictures too.   When I was diagnosed with MS and fell into the capable hands of the NHS, I was told to listen to my body and to look out for patterns that would give a clue about what made me feel worse so that I could avoid it.

A common example is heat: lots of people with MS find that their symptoms flare up as the temperature rises.  You can buy special vests that help you keep your core body temperature down.  Heat doesn't really seem to bother me though, but I seem to struggle when I get cold and football in the winter is a nightmare as I lose sensation in my arms from the shoulders down.... but I don't have any problems when I go skiing in much colder temperatures.  None at all.  Go figure.

I just can't spot patterns in my symptoms.  I know I'm supposed to be careful with my training too, making sure that I don't work myself too hard.... not forgetting that I first developed symptoms when I was training for the London Triathlon back in 2005, and just maybe it was all the extra exertion that brought on the attack.  I do try to be careful and to listen to what my body tells me, but the truth is that I flog myself, as if conquering my MS was a simple question of mind over matter.  Some days I'm more tired than others; some days I can hardly feel my feet; some days I can't feel my thigh muscles; some days my cheek goes numb or I can hardly lift my arms above my head.  None of it really seems to stop me, but I have no idea why some days are worse than others.

When I woke up this morning, I was feeling my symptoms more heavily than usual.  To be honest, I wasn't too surprised: I'd injected on Tuesday, so it probably wasn't anything to do with that, but I had been out at the pub quiz on Wednesday night and had a few pints and a late-ish night.  I have no idea why, but a combination of those two things sometimes causes my symptoms to flare (although never yet at Glastonbury, I'm relieved to say).  I felt basically okay though, so apart from having a couple of ibuprofen and one of my amantadine pep pills, I just got on with my day... as if I have any other choice anyway.

It was football tonight, and as I've said here many times before, this is one exercise that I find the hardest.  There's something about the stop/start, up/down nature of 5-a-side football that I find so much harder than the relentless plod of a run.  You only have to motivate yourself to get started once when you're out running, and then it's a case of having the will power to keep going.  In football, you have to motivate yourself to go up and down the pitch all the time, and somehow that's much more problematic for me.  Tonight I was playing on a team of 4 against a team of 5.  We played for 80 minutes, and I barely stopped running... up and down, up and down.  I felt good and chased around after the ball for most of the game, really working hard to cover back when we lost the ball.  I've no idea why I didn't feel exhausted or find the running difficult, but I was more than happy to roll with it.

.... now all I need to do is to learn not to panic when in possession of the ball, to improve my first touch, to shoot more often and more accurately and to stop needlessly giving the ball away, and I might actually be of some bloody use on a football pitch.

One step at a time though, eh?

Stupid body.  Maybe the numbskulls are asleep at the wheel?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

there's no time to analyse, analyse, analyse, analyse....

For better or worse, I have an analytical mind. This is probably my defining characteristic; it forms the cornerstone of my personality; what I am, in both my personal and professional life, is in no small part down to the way my brain is wired.

This has not always been a blessing: my success in my career – such as it is – has been in large part based around my ability to process large amounts of information into simply understood documentation. I have a natural instinct to ask questions and to probe what I am being told; in the language of the business analyst, I try to find the problem behind the problem. Unfortunately for me, this instinct to ask questions and to probe and challenge what I’m being told, when coupled with a big mouth, has served to irritate the people who might otherwise be advancing my career. I see myself as simply trying to understand the thinking behind what I’m being told so that I can better appreciate why they’re asking me to do it…. And they see me as highlighting the fact that they haven’t really done a great deal of thinking and therefore making them look stupid. This has not helped my career. I could choose to keep my mouth shut, but I have often chosen not to.

In my personal life, I have driven myself to near distraction by way that my mind will latch onto something and won’t let it go. Usually, this will be something tiny, but it will be something tiny that I feel like I ought to be able to control… the classic example being that, when I wore glasses, I used to obsess constantly about the way they sat on my ears or my nose, or the way that the lenses accumulated scratches no matter how careful I thought I was being. Why can’t they fit right? Why can’t I avoid scratches? Hours and hours of my life would disappear as I focused in minute detail on something that everyone else seemed to think was no big deal (the optician was very nice but clearly thought I was crackers, which made me feel terrible, even if I still couldn’t stop myself going to see him, as though for counselling and reassurance that everything was going to be okay). Things I couldn’t control at all didn’t seem to bother me at all: the washer/dryer blew up and filled C’s flat with steam? Not a problem. Open the windows, stay round mine and call the landlord to get it sorted in the morning. Simple. When packing a bag for a trip, I fret about all the things that I might have forgotten, but as soon as I shut the door on my way out, it doesn’t bother me at all because I have what I have and I have little choice but to get on with things.

My current obsession? My work shoes. They’re squeaking. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not really a big deal: I can always take them to the cobbler to be re-soled, and they’re pretty old anyway, so perhaps I should just treat myself to a new pair. Can I let it go though? No, every single step I take, it bothers me…. Just a little bit, but it bothers me a little more with every step I take. It’s been squeaking for months, so obviously I’m managing the pain, but it still annoys me.

Funnily enough, this very same complaint was driving me crackers in 2005

Different shoes, same stupid brain. Nice to know that although lots of other things have changed in the last 6 years, I’m still crazy in the coconut. They’re bothering me less now, I’m sure.

Perhaps I’ve grown?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

fire and ice....

After reading about 4,000 pages of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Fire & Ice” saga in very quick succession, through April and May, I took something of a break from reading through June. It wasn’t really something that I’d planned, but with “A Dance With Dragons” - another 1000 page epic and book 5 in the series - due to come out in early July, I just didn’t have the energy to get started on something else.

I was probably keeping my powder dry as I really wanted to know what happened next…. Those books are popular for a reason….Most of the way through the saga, each chapter in the book has been told from the perspective of an individual character, with many of the same characters appearing in book after book. The format changed a little in Book 4, “A Feast for Crows”, with Martin deciding that he would only tell us the story from the perspective of half of the characters. Book 5, we were assured, would pick up the story by taking us back over the same chronology from the perspective of the missing characters. Finishing book 4, not surprisingly, leaves you hungry to find out what’s happened to everyone else… and as luck would have it, I was only going to have to wait a month to find out (in George Martin’s endnote to book 4, he tells his readers that he’s hoping to have book 5 published before the end of 2005, so I think it’s fair to say that some people have been waiting a little longer than me to find out what happens next…)

The night before “A Dance with Dragons” was released, I charged my kindle up and put in a pre-order. When I woke up the next morning, the book was there and ready to go. I love my kindle. Since then, and with only a brief pause to read a few comics I picked up at the weekend, I’ve mostly been spending my evenings curled up in my chair with some music on and reading my book, often with rain pattering down on the window outside.


Is there a better way to unwind than that?

The good/bad news (depending upon your point of view) is that there is definitely going to be a book 6 in the saga, and there may be a book 7. I don’t know if you’ve seen George R.R. Martin, but the books have been getting longer and longer, he doesn’t look to be in peak physical condition to me, and he’s no spring chicken.

Plot threads that this old coot laid in the very first chapter of the first book in the series have not yet been resolved, so he’d better not bloody die on me leaving this open-ended. You hear me George Martin? No dying. When you’re not writing, you should be eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep.

You will finish this, damn you!

Monday, 18 July 2011

to fall down at your door....

I received an email last week from Runkeeper, my run tracker of choice.

Congratulations! You’ve been crushing your workouts, and your hard work and dedication have paid off. So how far is 1000 miles?

4,000 laps around a track

14,664 football field lengths

32,180 Olympic pool lengths

Impressive, right? We think that this achievement is pretty cool, and it’s important to celebrate the milestones you reach on the route to your goals. So why not celebrate with friends?

I logged my first activity back in November 2008 (3.82 miles in 36.57 minutes @9.40 mins/mile. I’m now running the same distance about 4 minutes quicker). I haven’t tracked every run that I’ve done since then, and not all of them have tracked 100% accurately, but Runkeeper tells me that I have managed 1,013 miles in 234 separate activities. That’s an average of 4.3 miles a pop.

Good grief. Celebrate my achievement with friends? I think what I really need is a sit down.

I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

(today's my day off, as it happens.... so I'm off for a swim)

Friday, 15 July 2011

now I got glowing eyes....

Earworms of the Week

500 Miles” – The Proclaimers

Apparently they used this in the business conference that I missed the other week: they made everyone there put on a green wig and march on the spot to this song to celebrate the "Miles for Macmillan" charity scheme that we're supporting.  I've seen the photos.  I can't say I'm sorry I wasn't there, especially as I was on my way to Glastonbury instead.  Marvellous record though.  They've been dining out on this and the other one ever since, haven't they?  Good luck to them.

A Life Less Ordinary” – Ash

Not their best record, I don't think.  It's a bit loose and sloppy, and yet somehow it endures as one of my favourites of theirs.  Back in the day, before their debut album came out, I used to go out and buy Ash CD singles.  I probably bought this one, but C. gave me the soundtrack to the film early in our relationship.  I can't remember why, but I do love the song.  The film's not too bad either.  I watched it some months ago on VHS (of all things) and it stands up alright as a charming piece of whimsy.  I think this popped into my head when I saw a picture of Tim Wheeler tweeted from the side of the stage by one of the members of We Are Scientists.  Why this song and not any other Ash tune, I'm not sure... but I've never claimed to know how this works, so.....

The End of the Line” – Metallica

Mark mentioned on Twitter this morning that he had started his day with "Master of Puppets", and coincidentally, as I was driving into work on my own this morning, I took the opportunity to listen to "Death Magnetic".  Loud (although I'm not sure if you can listen to this record quietly: even the MP3s are LOUDER).  This is as far as I got before I reached work, but goodness it puts a spring in your step.  Recommended.

Career Opportunities” – The Clash

Probably my favourite Clash song.  Enough said.

Oxford Comma” / “Mansard Roof” – Vampire Weekend

At some point in the last couple of weeks, I read something about how the Oxford Comma had been declared redundant.  You know, the comma used immediately before a coordinating conjunction (usually and or or, and sometimes nor) preceding the final item in a list of three or more items.  I don't tend to use them myself, but I don't really have anything against them.  Besides, as I read in the comments below the article informing me of this important grammatical news, it can have its uses: think how it changes the meaning of the sentence "I'd like to thank my parents, Sinead O'Connor and the Pope".  Without the Oxford Comma, that could mean something very surprising.  Worth keeping for that reason alone, billions of Catholics would probably agree.   This information brewed in my brain for a while, and then had me reaching for the first Vampire Weekend album.  Still sounds pretty good to me.

Suspicious Minds” – Elvis Presley

One of my friends does an absolutely uncanny Elvis impersonation as his party piece.  I still love the fact that he decided to sing THIS song at his own wedding.  Brilliant.  What a choice of subject matter.

Theme tune to “Hetty Wainthropp Investigates

Prone as I am to a little sweaty trumpet work, I was always going to enjoy this.  I haven't watched the programme more than once ever, and it hasn't been on in more than a decade, but I knew enough about it to make -- at the same moment as LB did the same -- the imaginative leap in the backwards TV theme round at the pub quiz that the BBC crime drama with the colliery band sounding trumpet work was likely to be this.  Great catch, I'm sure you'll agree.  We won the quiz.  It was a crucial answer.  A hobbit's early work, too. 

Theme tune to Blockbusters

My colleague at work is slightly reluctantly heading up to the Lake District tomorrow to spend a few days with her family to celebrate her sister's 40th birthday in a rented cottage.  She claims not to be looking forward to it at all and is expecting fights, but she's also spent a fair amount of time this week creating a Blockbusters themed game, complete with a game board, and I helped her out with some Gold Run questions based upon the year 1971 this afternoon.... no one's ever done that for me, I must say and it looks like it's going to be brilliant fun.  Obviously, it planted the theme tune into my head, and no, Bob Holness didn't play the saxophone solo on "Baker Street", although I dearly wish he had.  Great theme tune.

"Love Song" - Sara Bareilles

I had to look up who this song was by, so how it got into my head I have absolutely no clue.

If You Wanna” / “Post Break-Up Sex” – The Vaccines

Look, I enjoyed the Vaccines at Glastonbury as much as anybody, and I think that the album is fine.... but seriously, it's like the Ramones never happened, isn't it? 1-2-3-4..... change of pace.... oi!

Psycho Therapy” – The Ramones

 Accept.  No.  Substitutes.  "If You Wanna" made me think of this song, so I listened to it and it's a much, much better song.  Not to do the Vaccines down, but this was written in 1983, for goodness sake. 

That's your lot.  I'm planning to spend the next 24 hours either reading or sleeping before my long run on Sunday.  Have a good weekend y'all.  I'm knackered.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

wonderful world, beautiful people...

You hear me moaning about my own MS all the time.  How about we hear the stories of a couple of people who both work in the same office as me and who both developed symptoms at about the same time as me?

C. is about the same age as me and although we both experienced symptoms at roughly the same time, she was diagnosed much more quickly than me.  Unlike me, C. has had a number of distinct relapses, including some optical neuritis that has permanently affected the colour vision in her left eye.  Overall, in as far as I can tell, she seems relatively physically unaffected by her MS.  She's been getting skinnier and skinnier, but she's fit and well and has just started competing in triathlons - although she's still using a big heavy mountain bike and was asking me the other day where would be a good place to get a good, starter road bike (Decathlon, was my suggestion).  Since her diagnosis, C. has had a couple of kids, but where I decided to start taking disease modifying drugs in an attempt to slow the progress of my MS, C. elected to do nothing.  As of a couple of months ago, although she is still dealing with the residual symptoms of her relapses, because she hasn't relapsed at all in a while, her MS was officially classed as "benign".  That doesn't mean that it will never come back, but it does mean that the disease progression is so slow that her prognosis looks really good.  Excellent news.

W. is a little older than me; her mother had MS and when she first developed symptoms -- literally in the same week as me -- she had a pretty good idea of what she might be dealing with.  We saw the same neurologist and had MRI scans in the same week.  Where mine was pretty inconclusive, with only one clear lesion and several other "possibles", her scan showed without doubt that she had multiple lesions in her brain and was diagnosed immediately with MS.... a good 4 years before my own diagnosis.  Like C, I don't think that W. elected to go onto disease modifying drugs.  She hasn't been as lucky as C: since her diagnosis, W. has lost significant sensitivity in her hands, and when I saw her walking down the corridor today, she has clearly started to feel the effects in her legs and feet too.  She is no longer able to go for the long walks that she loves, and she is starting to shuffle noticeably.  She remains positive and chipper, but having nursed her own mother through MS, she is realistic about what may lie ahead for her, and is fearful for her own teenaged daughter.

Three different people; all working in the same department in the same building; all diagnosed with MS at about the same time; three (so far) distinctly different outcomes.  MS really is a disease with a thousand faces and is much, much more common than you might think.  No one is the same and our future's are not written in stone.  Much the same is true for everyone, I suppose.


It was pointed out to me today that the MS Society conduct or fund medical research using animals.  I am, of course, running the Robin Hood Half Marathon to raise money for the MS Society (sponsor us here!).  I love animals, but as I inject a drug each week that is ultimately made from the ovaries of genetically engineered hamsters from China, I'm not sure I'm in any position to start questioning the use of animals in medical research.... I'm not saying that the end always justifies the means or that human life is always worth more than animal life or that animal suffering is a price worth paying to alleviate human suffering, but I do know that this is not a simple, black and white issue.  Clearly I respect the right of anyone to object to animal testing.  As long as they're not objecting using violence, obviously....

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

hey hey hey, that's what I say...

We’ve got C’s mum staying with us at the moment. We were chatting as I prepared dinner last night – C. being in London – and the subject of my job came up.

“Well, you enjoy your job, don’t you?”
Do I?
“Yes, you certainly seem to be a lot more positive about it on your blog recently”

When I speak about my job on here, it’s usually to poke a bit of gentle fun at what a ridiculous way it is for anyone to spend their time. I’m sure that this isn’t something that’s unique about my place of work, but I rather suspect it’s true of most people’s jobs. It’s an absurd way to spend a third of your life, isn’t it? (Or as one of my motivational posters says: “Meetings: because none of us is a dumb as all of us”).

I’m probably not as driven to be managing director as I was when I first started work, but that’s not the same thing as saying that I am unambitious. I take a lot of pride in my work and I’m very keen to do as good a job as I possibly can. Why else bother turning up to work? I perhaps choose to display that passion differently to other people, but that doesn’t mean the passion is any less real. My boss was having a bad day the other day, and was displaying a certain amount of cynicism in front of some of our business customers. When this was remarked upon by one of them, he gestured at me and said that he had been learning from the master. I didn’t say anything immediately, but after the meeting I called him on it: I ask a lot of questions of people within my own department and challenge decisions and processes that I believe to be ill-thought through. This is often – I think – incorrectly called cynicism. I’m not trying to pull things apart with no constructive alternative suggestions, but people seem to find it easier to assume that this is the case and that I’m just mocking without bothering to contribute. I know that’s how people in my own department see me, and although I think they are wrong, I accept that it’s my own behaviour that has led them to draw that conclusion. In front of my customers, however, I behave differently. With my business customers, I try very hard to be positive and helpful but also realistic and I believe that as a result, they regard me very highly. For my boss to suggest to one of my customers that I was cynical is to be grasping completely the wrong end of the stick and also to show that he doesn't read me very well at all.

But anyway. Have I been more positive about my job recently? Perhaps I have. It remains frustrating, but I suppose it’s fair to say that I derive a certain amount of satisfaction from it and I continue to put my energy and enthusiasm into it. It pays the bills and it passes the time, but actually I suppose it’s time that I admitted to myself that it’s actually a bit more than that too. C. and I do ok financially, but even if C. earned twice as much as she does, I would have to think long and hard before I packed up my job entirely as I think it’s more important to my self-worth than I might previously have admitted, even to myself.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

oh yeah you're skin and bone...

I normally weigh about 88kg.  That's 194lbs or a shade under 14 stone.  It varies enormously day to day and even during the day, but that's what I consider to be my fighting weight.  I don't like to be heavier than that anyway.  It might sound a lot to you, but I seem to have spent most of my life justifying my weight (and the size of my head and the size of my feet and son on...) on the basis of my height. 

I'm nearly 2m tall; six foot five.  It surely stands to reason that as someone who is taller than average, I'm likely to weigh more than average.

My Body Mass Index is 23.5.... or towards the top end of "normal".   My dad - a doctor - tells me that this chart is out of date (apparently "overweight" is the healthiest category to be in, which tells me that their categorisation is stupid) and skews if you are either really short or really tall.

I'm pretty skinny.  So people tell me, anyway.  I tend not to believe them as I have been many things in my life, but I find it very difficult to believe that skinny is one of them.  I've also been a lot heavier than I am now - probably as much as six stone heavier - and my body image stubbornly refuses to change to reflect the figure I now see in the mirror.

When I saw my dad a few weeks ago, he looked at me and asked if I was losing weight.  This is a loaded question: my dad is slow to outwardly show medical concern for members of his own family, but has been keeping a sharp eye on me since I first started experiencing the symptoms of what we now know is MS.  I didn't think I had been losing weight, and I certainly haven't been trying to, so I shrugged him off.

.... but then, last week, I put on the suit I had tailored in Vietnam at the end of August last year.  When it was made, it was tailored by Mr. Xe to be particularly skinny.  As I'd just come off the back of a bout of Phnom Penh belly, I was a little doubtful that I would ever be able to get it on again.  As it turns out, less than 10 months later and I found that I already needed to wear the suit with a belt.  There was maybe an inch or two of spare material at the waist.  Sina, our Swiss friend that I met in Africa last May, also remarked that I looked like I had lost weight.

So I weighed myself. 


Nothing to worry about, I didn't think, but when I was training for the half marathon in 2009 I dropped down to about 85.5kg.  As I'm only at the beginning of the second week of training with eight more and a substantial ramp in mileage to go, it seems likely that I may drop below that this year.

Is it wrong that a part of me is a bit pleased about this?

As I paired my training run today (3 miles, easy) with an hour of football, should I really be surprised?

It's mostly muscle, right?

Monday, 11 July 2011

we ain't over but the writing's on the wall....

Forgive me for lowering the tone, but I'm going to talk about toilets.

I've talked about them here several times before, so you could probably argue that I'm not lowering the tone very far.... but I'd like to think that there are perhaps one or two deluded people who stumble here occasionally expecting some high-brow discussion of thought-provoking subject matter.  Well, if you are one of those people, then consider this fair warning that the conversational tone may not be all that you were hoping for.


I'll be honest: the toilets at work aren't all I'd hope they might be.  I don't ask for much really; I don't require perfumes or bidets or anything like that.... I simply require them to be clean and functional.  To be fair, they do get cleaned twice a day and the cleaners are all really, really nice.  It just that...well.... how can I put this?  Some of my fellow users are perhaps not as considerate as they might be.

I've spoken before about how people seem to inexplicably wipe the contents of their noses onto the wall as they stand at the urinal.  Well, that's not really so much of a problem at my local toilets.  Instead, we have a very particular issue.  A cultural issue.

Like many other companies, we work in partnership with lots of offshore companies - in our case, mainly in India.  As part of the deal and to help things run more smoothly, we have quite a large number of representatives from offshore working onshore in our offices.  I was frequently baffled by the presence of drinking cups in the toilet cubicles.  We have water coolers in the hubs near a sink, hot-water machine and fridge, but I couldn't really understand why anyone would feel the need to take a cup into the toilet with them.  They never seemed to finish their drinks either, and half-empty cups of water were forever being kicked over, leading to flooding in the cubicles.

I'm sure you can agree: no one needs that.

....and then it dawned on me.  Apparently, lots of Indian guys don't use toilet paper.  Instead, they will take a cup of water into the cubicle with them to clean up after themselves.

Now that's all well and good.  It's a cultural thing.  Fine.  I get it.  What I don't really understand is why they have to leave their half-empty cups in the toilets when they're done.  A cup of clean water being kicked over is one thing, but a cup of water that has been dipped into as part of a clean-up operation?  Yuck.  No thanks.  Pour it away when you flush and remove the empty cup as you leave.  Wouldn't that be the polite thing to do?

There's more -- although to be fair this isn't necessarily a cultural thing.  Some graffiti has appeared in trap four.  Graffiti in a shared toilet isn't all that unusual, although I can't recall seeing any in the toilets at work before..... that's a bit odd by itself, but even stranger is the graffiti itself:

A cartoony scribble, in red pen, of an animal with the word "CAT" written underneath.  It looks a lot more like a dog than a cat, I'm sure you'll agree, so the artist has wisely taken the precaution of removing all ambiguity from the interpretation of what they've drawn.

The location is weird too: I could just about imagine someone having a doodle as they went about their business, but this sketch is located at about my eye-level (which must be nearly six feet off the ground) and just to the right of the door, well away from the business-end of the cubicle.  This hasn't been done idly to pass the time, this has been drawn deliberately by someone before they left the cubicle.

Why would you do that?  What does it mean?  Does this happen everywhere? As graffiti goes, it's hardly a Banksy, is it?  If you haven't got any amazing artistic talent or insight into life or someone's phone number at the very least, why would you bother?

It's all slightly baffling. 

...mind you, someone once fell asleep in trap 4 (properly sound asleep - snoring and everything), so who knows what goes through people's minds when they're in there.  Maybe anything is possible?

Friday, 8 July 2011

it's just a shot away....

Earworms of the Week

"Tarzan Boy" - Baltimora

We've had Sina and Roland, our friends from Bern, staying with us this week.  Apart from feeling vaguely embarrassed that Nottingham isn't exactly as picturesque as their home town, it's been absolutely lovely to see them.  We met Sina on our Africa trip last year, and as we were driving back from our walk in the Peak District on Tuesday, I put on a playlist of songs that we listened to during all those long hours we spent in the back of the truck driving through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia.  Johnny Cash, Tight Fit, The Streets, Goldie Looking Chain, Boston, Toto... and this little beauty.  No messin'.

"Monkey Man" - The Specials

Paolo Nutini was playing over the PA in the gym the other day.  I don't really get why a guy from Glasgow has to sing like he comes from Montego Bay, but I generally find his songs harmlessly insipid.  I don't even know what song was playing, but it brought this one to mind.  Terry Hall is from Coventry, right?  Near Barbados?

"Where Do You Go To (My Lovely) - Peter Sarstedt

Love, love, love this record.  A-ha-ha ha!

"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" - Elton John, I took my boss to Sweatshop this afternoon to get him a proper pair of running trainers.  We'd been running at lunchtime and I told him for the 100th time that he needed to get a new pair of trainers as he was running weirdly and his current pair is clearly shot.  After filming his running style, it turns out that he's a neutral runner who has been wearing overly supportive running shoes that have effectively been making him UNDER-pronate.  Anyway.  The new trainers are bright red like Dorothy's ruby slippers.... cue earworm.

"L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N" - Noah and the Whale

My favourite song of 2011.  That bit at the end still raises the hairs on the back of my neck.

"Unbreakable" - Alicia Keys

Well, your guess is as good as mine.  I'm not sure I even know more of this song than about two lines in the chorus.  I have no idea how my head works.  Never have, never will.

"Rain" - The Cult

Well, this one is EASY to explain: Biblical thunderstorms and rain this evening.  The end.  I like the Cult.  First band I ever paid to see live.  They were very good.  AND I'm in the "Sweet Soul Sister" video.  Hot sticky sweet, you know what I mean?

"Blackbird" - The Beatles

Macca knew his way around a tune, eh?  I still prefer "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" as far as songs on the White Album go, but I was listening to "Yesterday", and it took me to "Michelle" and had me reaching for this one.  Good band.  Look out for them.

"First it Giveth" - Queens of the Stone Age

So, so good at Glastonbury the other week.  I had "Songs for the Deaf" out the other day and it still sounds AMAZING.   I'm also reliably informed that Josh Homme is quite the dash.  Not my cup of tea, to be honest, but good for him.  I like to think he's how Ron Weasley grows up.

"Gimme Shelter" - The Rolling Stones

On the whole, I'm not the biggest fan of the Rolling Stones.  It's not so much their music, much of which is pretty good up until about 1973s "Angie".... it's mainly something to do with Mick Jagger.  Keith is cool of course, but I find it hard to shift the thing I read once about how he "spontaneously" mouths "I love this job" to the camera at every live gig when they play "Satisfaction".  Every time. Still, this was a good RAC advert, no?

Have a good weekend, y'all.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

the wind beneath my wings....

I've likely mentioned it before, but we've got a big change initiative underway at work at the moment. You know, one of those things that most large organisations go through every couple of years.... we shuffle the furniture around a bit and then more or less carry on doing things the way we've always done them.  It's called "Breakthrough" (you may remember that I went to an away day where the slogan was the grammatically eccentric "Breakthrough by doing different").

I'm instinctively cynical about such things, obviously.... but I'm not the kind of person who can just shrug my shoulders and let it slide by until it goes away and the next one come along.  If you're going to try and change something, then you might as well try and change it for the better, right?  Almost accidentally, I ended up being quite involved and -- together with a close colleague of mine -- we change the way that my bit of the department works.

I remain sceptical of many things associated with Breakthrough, and I'm not convinced that the initiatives are being coordinated terribly well or that we even have a particularly good grasp of what the problem is that we're hoping to solve..... but it's not all bad.

Well, that's what I thought, anyway.

I took the day off on Tuesday to spend some time with our Swiss friends who are visiting.  When I came back into the office on Wednesday, I saw that Breakthrough had been busy on a postering campaign, and the rest of my team were waiting with bated breath to see what my reaction would be.

Well, they're SPLENDID.

I find some quotations very inspiring.  A great example of this is Gandhi's "Be the change you want to see in the world".  I like that quote because it is direct, personal and a simple call to action.  That quote about simplicity is none of those things; instead it is indirect, impersonal and mildly confusing.  It doesn't even have a particularly inspirational picture.  Isn't that how these motivational posters are supposed to work?  Nice picture, vacuous quote?

The posters get better and better.

Um.  Gonorrhea? The common cold?  Bubonic plague?  And what's with the rocker, anyway?

Well, now this is more like it: that beautiful image of a sailing boat heading towards the sunset on a beautiful clear ocean.  Who could fail to be inspired by that?  So what if Prince Henry the Navigator discovered most of Africa by sailing down the coastline from Portugal, rendering the quote somewhat absurd?  Who cares if I'm struggling to see the relevance of shorelines and the discovery of new oceans to the day-to-day work of a large IT department.  It's a masterpiece and I'm pleased to have it stuck on a concrete pillar near my desk, brightening my day and putting a spring in my step.

Masterful.  More talk of infections.

Two perfect quotes on one poster.  Let's admire them again:

"In the race for quality there is no finish line". (I wonder if this is "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" quality we're talking about here, and if we've entered an entirely new level of philosophical thinking?).

"Remember that a brand is simply a promise delivered".  (Hmm.  Is it though, really?)

Inspired by this exhibition of amazing inspiration, I was prompted to put up a couple of posters of my own.  Entirely coincidentally, whilst I was at home on Tuesday, a calender I ordered some time ago arrived in the post.  I blew up a couple of the images and pinned them up near my desk.

Motivation: If a pretty picture and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job.  The kind robots will be doing soon.

Winners:  Because nothing says "You're a loser" more than owning a motivational poster about being a winner.

They've been up all day, and so far they're still there and no one has made any attempt to move them.  One of my colleagues came up to me anxiously this afternoon.
"Did you put those up?"
"Why do you ask?"
"I think you might get into trouble"
"Because you're openly mocking the people who put those other posters up"
"Am I?"
"Yes, you're saying that those posters are stupid and they must be idiots for putting them up and thinking that anyone would be inspired by them."

Am I worried about what people might think of me for putting up those posters?  Not really.  I reckon my credit is pretty good at the moment.

Last night I attended a gala awards dinner for my department and I won (together with my colleague) an award.  Not just any award: the Breakthrough award.  An award for my contribution towards trying to change the way that our department works and to make us better and more efficient at doing what we do.  Did I achieve this through the use of inspiring images and quotes?  No, I did this through hard work and careful thought about how we could improve what we do so that we are better and more consistent at delivering to the business.

Changing the culture and working habits of a department like ours is hard and is also probably necessary.  Does anyone seriously think that trite quotations like these are really going to inspire people to make a difference? People read me wrong all the time and assume that I'm just sneering at these posters.  Well, I am sneering a bit, I suppose... but contrary to appearances, I also care what happens to my department and have been trying hard to make a difference.

How are posters like these helping to make a difference?

I find them funny at best and insulting at worst.  Inspiring they definitely are not.  The day we can't see them for what they are and give them the reaction they deserve will be the day we might as well give up and go home.

....I'll get my coat.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

let it all out....

What’s your view on shouting into the void? You know, ranting on a topic where the ranting itself is likely to change nothing…. I do it quite a lot, and I’m inclined to believe that it’s a little bit like primal scream therapy: better out than in. I’m often accused – especially at work - of being pointlessly angry about things that I can’t control and would be better off just letting go. Maybe so, but I prefer to think of my little rants as acting like a pressure valve and allowing all of that negative emotion to harmlessly exit the body rather than getting stuck inside, building up like a pressure cooker. For me it’s simple: articulating frustration helps me get rid of that frustration.

Yeah, I’m about to have a rant. I bet you never saw that coming…..

I was driving in the Peak District yesterday. We have some Swiss friends staying, and we took the day off work so that we could take them out for a walk in some beautiful English countryside. Rolling hills, dry stone walls, flowering meadows…. The Peak District is lovely, and it was great to see it through the eyes of some appreciative tourists. What I was less impressed by were my fellow road-users. Once we’d left Ashbourne, the roads narrow significantly, and it’s often necessary to slow down at passing points to allow traffic coming the other way to get through on a track that’s not wide enough for two cars. It’s not a system that I would have thought it very difficult to understand, but I kept found myself being pushed into the edge of the road by people pushing their way through without apparently caring what was in front of them on the road.

Deep breath.

…then I got stuck behind some OAP’s driving at about 15mph in huge 4x4s, braking erratically at the approach to every corner. I followed them until the stopped, suddenly, over a junction without any indication and showed no signs of moving. I took another deep breath, drove around them and carried on with my day. Then at Dovedale, I crossed a small stone bridge and found myself facing off against a large coach full of pensioners. The driver glared at me, so I pulled as far as I could into the side of the road. The driver gesticulated at me angrily. He didn’t think he could get past. I looked behind me: another car had crossed the bridge and was sat directly behind me. I looked back and saw that the coach driver was indicating that I should turn around in the narrow lane to allow him to pass. I didn’t see what other option I had, and so did a 10-point turn – lucky I wasn’t in a car bigger than my Mini --and pulled into the hedge on the other side of the bridge. The bus pulled past with the driver scowling out of his windscreen and without a single gesture of thanks at my manoeuvre. I failed to see what I had done to deliberately inconvenience him, but pulled back out, turned around and crossed the bridge to carry on my way.

You know what? Not 15m behind where we had faced off was a coach layby. The miserable bastard could easily have backed up and let me past, but chose to be a dick instead. Grr.

For the record, we had a lovely walk around Thor’s Cave and my Swiss friends were enchanted by the lovely countryside we walked through. We stopped in a country pub on the way home for a proper pint of beer and everything was fine...

But seriously, what happened to simple manners and the concept of driving with a bit of consideration for others?

Oooh. I feel better for that.  Just don't get me started on people who don't indicate on roundabouts....

As you were.

Monday, 4 July 2011


The 2011 Tour de France began on Saturday. As ever at this time of year, my thoughts turn toward my friend Tracy. Tracy died more than a decade ago now, struck down long before her time by a particularly nasty stomach cancer, but she has not been forgotten. I first met her when we started work together on the same graduate scheme back in 1997. Our paths crossed pretty regularly, but we really bonded when we found ourselves on the same residential course and we watched the Tour de France highlights together in my room every evening.

Lance Armstrong was yet to win the race, and the 1998 race was dominated instead by the brilliant, tragic Marco Pantani.

C. was on the same course. Much to Tracy’s amusement (and my surprise), when we were asked to select a “buddy” for the week, C. literally leapt across the table to pair up with me – I was blissfully ignorant of her motivations for this, but nine months later, we were an item. Although she was now undergoing chemotherapy and had been forced to move back home with her parents, nobody was more delighted by the news than Tracy.

We attended her 31st birthday party in her parent’s garden that summer, and bounced on the bouncy castle and ate angel cakes and generally had a lovely afternoon with Tracy modelling the “Yoda” t-shirt I’d given her and proudly showing us her new wig. Lance Armstrong won his first Tour that year, but it was the last one that Tracy ever saw, and she died on the evening of November 4th that year.

Tracy was full of energy and laughter and loved hiking and climbing. She was barely 31 years old and should have had her whole life to look forward to. Life can be so fucking unfair.

Miss you Tracy. I can’t watch the cycling without remembering you.

Friday, 1 July 2011's a snake!

Earworms of the Week

YMCA” – Village People

Well, although there is inevitably something of a Glastonbury theme about this week's earworms, how about we kick off with something a little random?  It's a classic, obviously... but it's not really the whole song that has got stuck in my head as much as that big parping intro.  Over and over again.  As usual, I have absolutely no idea where it's come from.  What can you do but roll with it?

Undertow” - Warpaint

A band so good that I saw them twice at Glastonbury this year: first on the Park Stage on Friday and then in the John Peel tent on Saturday.  I think they were probably a little better at the Park, but they were excellent both times.  I like the albums, but this is very much one of those bands where it all really started to make sense when I saw them playing live.  They're not much into onstage banter, but they sounded really, really good.  The bassist is kinda cool too.

You Can Call Me Al” – Paul Simon

Well, I was a little disappointed by his set, truth be told.  He's a solid gold legend, of course, and he has the right to play exactly what he wants, but after a strong start I felt that his set sagged badly in the middle and the huge crowd began to lose their focus.  If he'd paced it so that he'd had a couple more of his best known songs in there, then things might have been totally different.... but as things were, he followed his own muse and we began slip sliding away.  Then he played this.  TUNE.  His bassist has been in his band for twenty-odd years, and of course this is his big moment.  He did not disappoint, and in fact played that famous bass solo twice.  It's a great song, isn't it?  Have you listened to the lyrics recently?

"He looks around, around
He sees angels in the architecture
Spinning in infinity
He says Amen and Hallelujah!

Need a reminder of why Paul Simon is a genius?  This song is it.  Oh, and Chevy Chase is in the video.

Irish Blood, English Heart” – Morrissey

There was a time when I thought I would never get to see Morrissey performing live: I'd turned down a chance to see him on the "Your Arsenal" tour, and then he didn't tour again for nearly a decade (if memory serves me correctly).  Now I try and see him whenever he comes around.  His solo albums have (as ever) been of fluctuating quality, but it's hard to escape the thought that this is a unique voice in English music and one that we will sorely miss when he is finally gone.  He's long since embraced his back catalogue, and Smiths songs are a common feature of his setlist.  At Glastonbury his very first song was "I Want The One I Can't Have", but he also played "There Is A Light", "Shoplifters of the World Unite", "Meat is Murder" and "This Charming Man".  Sure, Jesse Tobias has little of the subtlety of Johnny Marr, but these are still fantastic songs.  Perhaps not surprisingly though, Morrissey's band seem more comfortable playing his solo songs, and their muscular, slightly lumpen style fits this particular song beautifully.  As ever, love those lyrics.  How many other songs can you name that denounce the compromise of the English Parliamentary monarchy?

Pieces” – Chase & Status feat. Plan B

GJ is something of a one man earworm crusade: as we sit at our desks at work, he's quite often passing over an iPhone and a pair of headphones to play me something.  I shouldn't complain really, as he's the reason that I gave Plan B a go in the first place, and it's always good to hear something new.  He's about as subtle as a sledgehammer though: he knows that today is earworm day, and so he played me this and made me watch the video.  As the song is on the list, then his campaign clearly worked, but what's wrong with sitting there humming something until it shifts into my subconscious and I pick up the tune without realising what's going on?  Eh?  Tell me that.  This is a great tune though, and has a marvellous video that I encourage you to watch.  I skipped Plan B at Glastonbury in favour of Eels - who were excellent.  My rationale was quite simple: I reckon I'm more likely to have another chance to watch Plan B than I am Eels.  Of course, I would have liked to have seen them both, but that's not how Glastonbury works, is it?  It's all about choices....

"I Like Birds" - Eels

Mark "E" Everett is something of a funny fish.  He's clearly had a rather turbulent life and has experienced a lot of loss and pain that is reflected very honestly in his music.  I've never seen him play live before and didn't really know what to expect.  He was great.  He's still sporting a very impressive beard, as is every single other member of his band.  He also seemed to be in an excellent mood and really enjoyed himself... which I definitely wasn't expecting.  I love this song, and somehow the fact that he played it in a thrash style made it all the better as the sun set.  He loves...... burds.

"Beautiful Day" - U2

That link, live or pre-recorded, to the International Space Station was pretty cool: astronaut, Mark E. Kelly reciting a line from "Space Oddity" to his wife (Gabby Giffords, who is - of course - recovering after being shot in the head earlier this year) and then reading one of the verses to the song itself.  But the line that had me in tears was much simpler: It's a beautiful day.  Don't let it get away.   I've been telling people all week that I thought U2 were pretty good but lacked that emotional connection with the crowd that Blur got in 2009... but as they moved me to tears, they must have been doing something right, eh? (that World MS Day video is here, by the way).

"Open Arms for Broken Hearts" - Elbow

Emotional connection to the crowd?  Yeah.  That.  More tears.

Mountains” – Biffy Clyro

I only watched the last 3 or 4 songs of their set as I had made my way over to watch Morrissey.  They had a really big crowd and, by that stage, the singer was all beard and sweat and bare chest.  I don't really know any of their stuff, but when they played this it was EPIC.  Respect.

Badger Song

OK, so two weeks ago I had never heard of this.  Then I discovered it when trying to show my 4 year old niece what a badger looked like on YouTube, then I found out that it was "a thing", and then I saw a flag with a badger, a mushroom and a snake at Glastonbury.  It's not big and it's not clever, but it most certainly IS a weapons grade earworm.  Sorry GJ, but you haven't heard the last of this one yet.

Have a good weekend, y'all.