Thursday, 30 June 2011

one way ticket...

How about an Olympic ticket update?

When last we left this saga (which you can find here and here), I was picking over the bones of getting absolutely no tickets in the ballot and marvelling at the anger and entitlement being felt by the many millions of other people who were in the same boat.

I've provisionally booked as holiday the first two weeks in August next year. I was hoping that I'd be spending that time watching a series of Olympic events at a number of different venues around London. After the ballot, it looked as though I might be watching the 53kg women's weightlifting, but precious little else. Never mind, I thought, I am still going to take that time off and just enjoy the games with my friends, even if we are only watching them on the telly.

As someone who got none of the tickets I applied for in the ballot, I was (with millions of other people) at the front of the queue for the first come, first served release of the remaining tickets.  I wasn't hopeful.  The very detailed email that the London Olympic Team sent me showed exactly what tickets remained, but experience of things like this has taught me to be dubious that the system would be able to cope with the demand well enough to enable me onto the site to buy the tickets at all.  Apart from anything else, the ticket window opened at 6am last Friday... at which point I was hoping to be asleep in my tent at Glastonbury.

Luckily, my friend John's dad stepped up to the plate and gamely took on the responsibility of trying to get us a few more tickets to add to the meagre haul we already have.   Loads of us applied for tickets in the ballot, of course, but our hit rate was so low that we've decided that we're going to pool our resources and try to share out what we've got as fairly as we can.

So, before heading down to Somerset, I handed over my London Olympic account and credit card details, and then mostly forgot all about it.  I woke up on Friday morning to the news that the whole thing had been very difficult and confusing and prone to crashing (surprise, surprise)... but that we very well might have got some tickets.  It's by no means entirely in the bag yet, but I eventually received a confirmation email and my account is showing an application for 6 tickets to two separate morning athletics sessions in the Olympic Stadium and six tickets to a qualifying round in the Women's hockey.

Result!  Roy did some pretty good work there as we slept off a skinful of cider in our tents.

Fingers crossed that we actually get allocated those tickets, eh?  I've no idea how that process is going to work, but although the tickets are sitting on my account, they haven't been billed to my credit card yet..... so we wait.

I get a feeling this saga has some distance left to run yet.....

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

fitter, happier....

So, after the hedonism of the last week (which is surprisingly tiring actually… all those miles slogging through muddy farmland and standing up for hours on end and stuff. Yeah, especially stuff) it’s back to the old exercise routine. My first 4 miler wasn’t actually all that bad. I briefly escaped the office at about 2pm for a quick trot, and managed to stagger around at the reasonable pace of 8mins23s per mile (with the first mile clocking at under 8 mins before I came to my senses and slowed down a bit). It wasn’t easy, for sure, but given what I’ve put my body through in the last week, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I was expecting.

It’s now less 12 weeks before the Robin Hood Half Marathon on 11th September. Now that I’ve officially confirmed what everyone has known I would be doing for quite a while now, I’ve gone the whole hog and printed out a training programme. I reckon I probably do something around 10-12 miles every week, but I’ve become a little bit stuck in a rut, with most runs clocking in at about the 4 mile mark. I tried to break the habit with a couple of 6 milers before Glastonbury, but I’m smart enough to realise that a carefully considered ramping up of my mileage in preparation for the half marathon is probably a good idea.

I chose the one on Runner’s World with a target time of about 1 hour 50 minutes. I was really happy with my 1 hour 56 minutes when I ran this event in 2009, and if I do the same thing again I will be delighted…. But at the same time, I’m running consistently faster now than I did then, so I think I should perhaps set my training sights a bit higher and see where it takes me.

As the article says:

This band covers beginners and those who have been over the distance once before, in around two hours, and would now like to try for something a little faster. The schedules assume that you have already got into the running habit and are doing two or three miles at a time, about three times a week.

The important thing in this programme is to build up your endurance. The pattern is to keep most of the runs to 20 or 30 minutes, which can easily be fitted into the day, but to do one long run a week. This run gradually increases in distance over the weeks.

The training volume levels out at about 22 miles a week, spread over four runs. On two of those days you should be running easily, recovering from the harder sessions. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that more training is automatically better for you; unless your body is given a long time to adjust, putting in too much training is more likely to lead to overtiredness and injury.”

Sounds about right, I reckon.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
WEEK 1
4M slow
3M slow
4M
3M, timed
WEEK 2
3M easy
3M, with a few 50m bursts
3M easy
5-6M slow
WEEK 3
4M easy
4M, with a few 100m bursts
3M, timed, plus 1M jog
7-8M slow (or 1 hour)
WEEK 4
4M easy
4M, inc several 30-sec bursts
4M
8M slow (or 1 hr)
WEEK 5
4M or 35 mins easy, off-road if possible
4-5M of fast-and-slow, with bursts up the hills (but not down them)
4M or 35 mins easy, off-road if possible
9-10M steady, or 10K race
WEEK 6
3-4M easy on soft ground
1M jog, then 2 x 5 mins fast, with 5-min slow jog recovery
4M easy on grass
9-10M slow
WEEK 7
3-4M easy, off-road if possible
3M, inc a few short bursts
3M on grass
Warm up, then 10K race, then 10 mins walking or jogging
WEEK 8
4-5M easy, off-road
1M jog, then 2 x 7-8 mins fast, with 5-min jog recovery
4M on grass, inc several short bursts
11-12M, as slow as you like
WEEK 9
3-4M easy, on soft ground
1M jog, then 2 x 5 mins fast, with 5-min slow jog recovery between
4M easy on grass
9-10M slow
WEEK 10
3M easy, off-road
1M jog, then 1M at race speed, then 1M jog
2M jog
Race day

So I suppose I officially start training next week.

I’d like to try and keep up a couple of swimming sessions every week too, but I’ll have to see how my body holds up to the additional mileage. Hill interval running worked quite well for me last time too, so I might add some of that in for good measure.

Happy days!

Remember, I’m running this with C and LB to raise money for the MS Society. You can sponsor us here – every penny is appreciated and will help to both fund research and to provide care and support for people with MS and their families.

--

As an aside to this, my run on Tuesday might have felt surprisingly good post-Glastonbury, but this evening's swim most definitely did not. It seems that carrying a big, heavy rucksack around for hours at a time really takes it out of you.....

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

the moon is face down in a puddle....


Up at 5am, queue for six hours with a full pack on my bag in the pissing rain and then spending the next few days wading through a sucking bog.... and paying for the privilege.  It could only be Glastonbury, right?  I think this is either my tenth or eleventh, so there must be something that keeps drawing me back to Worthy Farm in Pilton every year.

You'll no doubt be sick to death of hearing about it, so I'll not add more than a few drops to the ocean of media coverage.  Here are a few of the things that stood out for me about the 2011 festival.


Food:

1. Clara’s Pepper Pot, on the corner of the Pyramid Stage and the Cider Bus. Jamaican jerk chicken with rice and peas, served with avocado sauce on the rice and hot chilli sauce on the chicken. Divine. So good that I sent everyone there. C. told them that she was there on my recommendation, and they fed her for free. I reckon she owes me £7. I’ve emailed them to tell them how much I enjoyed it, and they emailed back within half an hour. Properly amazing.

2. Ken’s BBQ, above the Other Stage. Bacon sandwich served on toasted ciabatta with homemade onion marmalade and a dab of garlic mayonnaise. Breakfast of champions. Well, apart from hot organic rum punch, of course.

3. Goan kedgeree, by the side of the West Holts stage. The queue for Infiinite Monkey Cage in the Cabaret tent was far too big to contemplate, so I had this for breakfast instead. Good plan: lemony, spicy deliciousness.


Booze:

1. St Austell Tribute served from the keg in the Cornish Arms. Fruity, nutty beer. Very, very drinkable. A proper pint of bitter, in a farmer’s field in Somerset. Blissful.

2. Hot rum Punch from the Organic Wine tent in the green fields. Earliest booze licence on the site, and purveyors of a very quaffable strawberry wine. My breakfast choice was the hot rum punch though. Sweet, hot and very alcoholic. Certainly helped take the edge off the weather.

3. Burrow Hill cider from the cider bus. Whether medium (the dry is atomic) or hot and spiced, Glastonbury would not be Glastonbury without spending a fair bit of time here.

4. Wine, served fresh and warm from the goon bag. Mmmm. Spiced rum from a hip flask also made an appearance during the QotSA set. ROCK.


Sets:

1. Elbow. Saturday evening on the Pyramid. They slayed it. The best Glastonbury moments happen when the band and the audience connect. It happened for Blur in 2009 – still the best set I think I have seen at the festival – and it resolutely failed to happen for U2 and to Coldplay. They both played good sets, but they lacked the alchemy that Guy Garvey conjured in the first 30 seconds of the band’s set. They were amazing, and he had us eating out the palm of his hand with his humility and good humour. The singalongs for “Open Arms for Broken Hearts” and “One Day Like This” actually had me welling up. Beautiful. I missed Pulp for this…. And didn’t regret it for a second.

2. Warpaint Friday afternoon at the Park and Saturday afternoon in the John Peel. These girls are very definitely a rock band, and yet the music that they play is very mellow and perfect late night listening. I was laughing before their first set in the Park at how thorough their sound guy was, apparently loving his moment in the limelight before the band came on…. But when they did come on, they sounded AMAZING, so perhaps he was onto something. They played to a much bigger crowd in the John Peel the following day, and boy did they deserve it. A crowd, I might add, that mostly left before the Horrors came on. They were wiser than me, clearly.

3. Queens of the Stone Age. Sunday night on the Other Stage. Everyone has been raving about Beyonce’s set, but there was never any question where I was going to be. Josh Homme was saying how surprised he was to be asked to headline, as the band aren’t plugging an album at the moment. He wondered what they were going to do, and came up with the idea of asking the fans to vote for the songs they wanted to hear. We did, and so the band opened up with “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” and “Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” and the pace rarely dropped from there. They even played “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dime, But I Feel Like a Millionaire”. For me, they peaked when they played “First It Giveth” (my vote, FWIW). “Go With The Flow” and “No One Knows”, but they were epic throughout. A saga.

Honourable mention: Morrissey. He was very self-deprecating about everyone waiting for U2, but he opened with “I Want the One I Can’t Have” and went straight into “First of the Gang to Die” and I was sold. “This Charming Man” works better with Johnny Marr and not Red Hot Chilli Pepper guitar, mind.  Eels were great too.... when Mark Everett looks like he's having fun, you know it must be going well.  And he played a thrash version of "Birds", too.


Songs:

1. Elbow – “Open Arms for Broken Hearts”. They might have had a bigger ‘moment’ with “One Day Like This”, but for me it was the synchronicity of singing this to a mud swamped festival in a field. I was singing like a lunatic with the tears flooding my eyes like a big, happy baby.

2. U2 – “Beautiful Day”. It wasn’t a perfect set, although the link to the International Space Station was pretty good. Bono mainly resisted the temptation to preach and the Edge was magnificent. They’ve got some tunes though, eh? My favourite moment was when they played this song. This was used to great effect as a soundtrack to a lovely video put together for World MS day a couple of years ago, and watching the band play it inevitably brought that to mind, and for the first time, I really caught the lyric “It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away” and the tears came running down my face, catching me a little by surprise. Not tears of self-pity, I think, but tears nonetheless.

3. Biffy Clyro – “Mountains”. I was only there to get into position for Moz, but caught this and it was EPIC. I was singing it for days. Great song. Big crowd, too.

Honourable mentions:

“No One Knows” by QOTSA. Loud.
“American Pie” by Don McClean. Long.
“You Can Call me Al” by Paul Simon. Legend.
"Undertow" by Warpaint.  Languid.


Best thing of all about the festival though?  I know I say this every year, but it's about the quality time I get to spend with my friends.  We don't even particularly need to go to watch the same bands or spend all that much time together, but there's something about sharing a campsite and sharing cheap wine that really makes it feel like quality time.  Breakfast is a great time, as we all emerge slowly from our tents and have a natter over a cup of tea or coffee.  My favourite day is probably the Thursday, when we're all in and settled but don't have to race off anywhere to go and see any bands.  I love it.... even if I rarely make it much past midnight and in all that time have never yet seen the sun come up over the stone circle.  Maybe I'll just leave that to the kids, if they've got time from putting on full makeup, pissing in the hedges, hoovering up drugs and generally making a mess.  They're the future, you know.

Man, I'm getting old... as I was reminded when I looked in a mirror after six days without a shave and saw a load of grey stubble.  Mind you, one of the great things about Glastonbury is the wide age range of the people who go - from babes in arms to toothless old ravers.  There's a festival here for everyone.


What the hell am I going to do next year?

Roll on 2013.

Monday, 20 June 2011

baby, we were born to run....


In 2009, LB, C and I raised over £3,000 for the MS Society by running the Robin Hood Half Marathon.  It's taken me about two years to recover from that, but we've committed ourselves to running it again this year to raise money for the same charity.

This is something of a self-interest charity for me, of course, but LB and C are going to be raising money and putting their bodies on the line to help fight a disease that they don't even have.  How about that?

I've said it here before, but the MS Society provide an invaluable service to people diagnosed with MS and to their families: they provide information, advice and the MS Nurses that they part-fund are the gateway to the services of the NHS when you need them.  At a time when the government are threatening to make cuts to healthcare services like these, we need the MS Society more than ever before.

I'm obviously going to be banging on about this quite a lot over the next 12 weeks or so..... but I've set up a page where you can make donations to help us towards our fundraising target.  I've set an initial goal of £1,500 but I'm hoping that ultimately we'll be able to beat the total we raised in 2009.  Anything you can spare will be gratefully received.  If you'd like, you're also more than welcome to come and join us on a training run or to cheer/laugh at us on the day.

You can make a donation here.


Speaking of fundraising, here's a photo of me taken on Sunday about six miles from the finish of the Great Nottinghamshire bike ride, which a team from work took part in to raise money for Macmillan.  We've managed to raise £1,500 so far, and it was a good day.  As you can see, as an athlete in training, I took the refuelling stop very seriously indeed.  My body is a temple.... and lager and monster munch were just what the nutritionist ordered.

One last 4 mile run today, and it's now a bit of a break from exercise as we head to Somerset tomorrow night in advance of getting into the Glastonbury Festival first thing on Wednesday morning. The weather forecast is a bit patchy....


....but they'll still have cider, right?  Even for athletes in training? Especially for athletes in training?

See you on the other side of the festival.

Friday, 17 June 2011

I am not a qualified physician....

Earworms of the Week

Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart – Manic Street Preachers

Ready?  Here we go then..... another week of seemingly random tunes that float across my brain for no discernible reason.  Well, I say that, but this song is in my head because it popped on shuffle as we were driving to work the other day.  C. was less than impressed with a slice of densely worded Welsh heavy metal before half past eight, but I loved it.  From my favourite Manics album and a song that reminds me of walking across Academia bridge in Venice at about 2am as the fog rolled in across the city from the Lagoon.  Fuck the Brady bill.

Mathilde – Scott Walker

I'm not sure if I'm earworming the song itself as the glorious burst of brass at the start that starts the whole frantic tumble.  I love most of Scott Walker's interpretations of Brel, but this one is probably my favourite.  Look at those lyrics though.... you'd not get any airplay with some of the things he says in there nowadays, you know.  He wants to beat her black and blue, etc.  Still, as joyous a song about an abusive relationship as you're likely to hear.

Getting to Know You – The King & I

Never seen it, but it's used to brilliant effect in the very first episode of Spaced... which I watched on my iPad whilst in bed last weekend.  It was great.  Look at Simon Pegg now though, eh?  He's all muscles!

Africa – Toto

Big in eastern Europe, C. tells me.  Of course it is.  If there was a God, this would be big everywhere.  Ergo I'm an atheist.

Suffragette City – David Bowie

Oooooooooooooooooh wham bam thank you M'am!

Stay Together – Suede

Come to my house tonight
We can be together in the nuclear sky
And we will dance in the poison rain
And we can stay a while in heaven today

Not peak era Suede, if you ask me... released just after they were over the top and is the last thing that Bernard Butler worked on before leaving the band.  Still gorgeous though, but could those lyrics be by anyone else other than Brett Anderson?  I bought this on CD single, if memory serves me correctly.  Remember them?

Fool’s Gold – Stone Roses

I'm not complaining, but that bit about winding on through the hills for fifteen days popped into my head as I was sat at my desk trying to pluck some estimates out of my arse for next year's plan....  if all businesses are run like this when working out their strategic agenda, then it's probably no surprise that the economy has gone down the tubes.... Good tune though, eh?  I loathed the Stone Roses when this was in the charts.  Funny how things change.

Tom’s Diner – Suzanne Vega

I haven't heard this in an age, and in fact I don't even know if I have a copy, but for some reason I found myself singing the doo-doo do-do, doo-doo do-do bit at my desk.  Not at all annoying, I'm sure.  Those lucky, lucky people who get to hear me singing all the time.  Still, it's better than the sweaty jazz trumpet noise I make the rest of the time, I should think.  For the record, great song though this is, I prefer "Luka".

Little Sister – Queens of the Stone Age

Another one that popped up on shuffle on the way into work, although this time I could turn it up as I was on my own.  I've not spent a great deal of time listening to the QOSA albums after "songs for the deaf", but I'm very much looking forward to seeing them live again at Glastonbury in a week's time.  A week!  I can hardly wait!  Best get the wellies out of the shed.

This Night Has Opened My Eyes – The Smiths

Perfect and from my favourite Smith's recording, "Hatful of Hollow".

"Wrap her up in the News of the World
Dump her on a doorstep, girl"

The pathos that Moz summons when singing those lines is awesome.  He's playing "I Know It's Over" on his current tour, and although he clashes with Billy Bragg on the Leftfield, I think I'm going to have to watch him on the Pyramid on Friday night at Glastonbury.  He's a treasure and we'll miss him when he's gone.

Theme from Midnight Cowboy

I don't think I've even properly watched the film, so quite where this came from, I have absolutely no idea.  John Barry of course.  Legend.

Dr. Kitch - Lord Kitchener

I did NOT expect to hear this on BBC radio at about 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, that's for sure.

I am not a qualified physician
And I don't want to give this injection
I am not a qualified physician
And I don't want to give this injection
Dorothy is begging for trouble
She insist I should give her this needle
But, darling, one thing I want you know
Don't blame me for where the needle go
I push it in
She pull it out
I push it back
She start to shout
Dr Kitch, you are terrible
I can't stand the size of your needle
She lied on in such a position
It was difficult to give this injection
She start holding on to the needle
Making me so uncomfortable
I said Darling can't you be steady
I'm going to have it done very shortly
She said Dr Kitch I am sorry
But the size of the needle frighten me
I push it in
She pull it out
I push it back
She start to shout....

We're still talking about needles and injections, right?

Right?

Great calypso, not entirely ruined by the discovery that apparently the Black Eyed Peas have done a cover of it.  Yuck.

That's your lot.  Have a good weekend, y'all.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

copycat....

When I got in from the pub last night, instead of going straight to bed, for some reason I decided to have a look on Google to see if anyone else had reviewed last week's Pierces gig at the Rescue Rooms.  Reviewing a gig forces you to engage your critical faculties, and I was curious to see what other people thought.  Someone at the gig standing just next to me took copious notes throughout, and I suppose I was sort of curious to see if any blogs or anything came up.  The Evening Post review is all very well.... but I've reviewed gigs here for years, and the way you can write on a personal blog is completely different.  Anyway.  Whatever the reason I did it, I searched Google for The Pierces at the Rescue Rooms.

A few results came up.... my review on LeftLion and Mike's review in the Post, of course.... but my eyes were drawn to a website called Nottingham Live and I clicked through to read the review.  The prose was a bit clunky, but I liked the fact that both of the supports got a fair bit of coverage.  I was still wondering why you might describe Delta Maid as "affluent" when I began to read about the main act.

Hmm. 

The more I read, the more familiar it looked.  By the time I got down to the bit where the reviewer talked about some of the songs the band had played, I actually loaded up my review on LeftLion to double-check what I'd written.  It wasn't pretty:

Nottingham Live:  "Performing mainly tracks from their new album their relatively short set lasted less than an hour, but it was well worth checking out. Their harmonious voices made everyone soon forget that they were concentrating just on the material from their new album"

me on LeftLion: "The Pierces play a relatively short set tonight, clocking in at less than an hour, and focus almost exclusively on songs from their new album. Luckily, the material is uniformly good and the sisters’ soaring harmonies sound as good live as they do on record".

Nottingham Live:  "they performed songs such as You’ll Be Mine (requested on Radio 2 as “the 1-2-3 song”, apparently), It Will Not Be Forgotten, Close My Eyes, Kissing You Goodbye, an acid-tinged Secret, Sticks and Stones and a wistful I Put Your Records On".

me on LeftLion: "Highlights include You’ll Be Mine (requested on Radio 2 as “the 1-2-3 song”, apparently), It Will Not Be Forgotten, Close My Eyes, Kissing You Goodbye, an acid-tinged Secret, Sticks and Stones and a wistful I Put Your Records On".

Nottingham Live: "They ended the night with a performance of their 2007 song Paean to Ennui".

me on LeftLion:  "It’s not often that a crowd shout of “Boring” will be taken as a compliment, but the band finishes their set with a storming version of their epic 2007 paean to ennui. It’s a great way to finish a set by a band whose star is (finally) on the rise".


That last one in particular had me in stitches: cutting and pasting is one thing, but to have misread my review and wrongly assumed that "Boring" was called "Paean to Ennui" was a corker that shows a pretty complete lack of understanding of both band and what they're reading.  It's a great name for a song, or perhaps a novel.... if slightly pompous.... but it's definitely not the name of the Pierce's most famous song.

I mostly found it funny, to be honest.  I was perhaps even a bit flattered.  I didn't leave a comment on the review there and then, but slept on it and came back in the morning.

"I’m pleased that you enjoyed my review of this gig on Leftlion, but you should probably know that the “Paean to Ennui” that we both mention is in fact the band’s most famous song and is called “Boring”. It’s not called “Paean to Ennui”, it **is** a paean to ennui. You need to cut and paste more carefully….otherwise I enjoyed your review very much. I could hardly have put it better myself ;-/
http://www.leftlion.co.uk/articles.cfm/id/3719
It was a good gig, though."

 It was submitted for moderation, and you probably won't be surprised to know that it has never been published.  In fact, after a day in which various friends and fellow gig-reviewers & photographers have been laying into Nottingham Live for their flagrant plagiarism (thanks guys!), the review itself has now been taken down completely.

Well, I took the precaution of keeping a copy, so lest Geri Richardson's review be lost forever, I will paste it in full below.  There was a copyright notice at the bottom of the page, but I hope they'll understand:

-----

I must admit I was a bit apprehensive reviewing tonight’s gig as I’m normally in the throngs of mosh pits & sweaty men, however I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by all three acts that graced us with their presence on stage at a packed Rescue Rooms; there wasn’t room to move at all, in fact I cannot recall ever seeing the venue so full at any gig I have been to.

Kicking off the night was DELTA MAID a young singer from Liverpool, who’s musical influences showed in her songs and performance. Delta is very affluent and had a lot of fans at tonight’s show, who were all singing along to her songs, and going wild. Performing songs such as “Anyway I Want To”, “Broken Branches” and “Running on Empty” went down brilliantly with the crowd, leaving fans wanting for more when the set came to an end.

Next up to perform was ALICE GOLD, who again showed her influences in her set. An accomplished singer Alice’s bohemian style is something of a breath of fresh air in the current music scene. Alice knew how to use the stage to her advantage, as well as showing her old & new fans what she is capable of. She performed songs such as “Orbiter” “Conversations” and “Conversations”. All in all it was a cracking set by an extremely talented singer who you will know doubt be hearing more of in the coming months.

Headlining the night were American sisters THE PIERCES. A couple of years ago, and struggling to get attention, this twosome almost called it a day but now they are band on the rise and tonight they gave Nottingham a glimpse of their talents. Performing mainly tracks from their new album their relatively short set lasted less than an hour, but it was well worth checking out. Their harmonious voices made everyone soon forget that they were concentrating just on the material from their new album, they performed songs such as You’ll Be Mine (requested on Radio 2 as “the 1-2-3 song”, apparently), It Will Not Be Forgotten, Close My Eyes, Kissing You Goodbye, an acid-tinged Secret, Sticks and Stones and a wistful I Put Your Records On. Sticks and Stones did stand out to me because of how catchy the song was. They also performed their newest track Glorious, an accomplished and polished number that will hopefully help this band get some of the recognition they deserve. They ended the night with a performance of their 2007 song Paean to Ennui.

Despite not being the kind of thing I would usually be checking out I have to say that by the end of the night all three acts had impressed and I would happily check them out again the next time they visit Nottingham. Ideal for a chilled night out the acts all put on a great show and were all happy to stick around to chat to fans after their set, which is always good to see from artists when they play. A great, enjoyable and chilled out night from three cracking acts that all come highly recommended.

---

It's too easy to pick holes, and the cut and pasting is painfully obvious, but apart from anything else, the gig wasn't sold out, so I've definitely seen the Rescue Rooms busier.  Still.  It was a good gig.

Seriously though, how hard is it to come up with 400 words on a gig you've seen?

**update** 

LeftLion tell me that they've had an apology from the editor of the website, who wanted to apologise to me personally.  Well, no harm done and I've had a very entertaining day as a result of stumbling into this last night.  You can buy me a drink and we'll say no more about it.  What do you say?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

my death waits among the falling leaves...

The BBC screened a documentary yesterday in which the renowned author, Terry Pratchett, investigated the issue of “Choosing to Die”. Pratchett himself is suffering from early-onset Alzheimers, so this is clearly a subject very close to his heart. Amongst the issues raised, the programme has stirred controversy by showing footage of Peter Smedley taking a lethal dose of barbiturates at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland and then dying on camera, peacefully and alongside his wife.  If you didn't see it, then I urge you to watch it on iPlayer.  It is intensely moving and had me in tears, mostly at the amazing grace and dignity being shown by the Smedleys in the most extraordinary of circumstances.  They were so, well.... British about the whole thing.  How ridiculous that they had to travel to Switzerland and didn't have the right to do this in their own home.

 The final moments.

As Pratchett himself said on Newsnight after the programme, "I believe it should be possible for someone stricken with a serious and ultimately fatal illness to choose to die peacefully with medical help, rather than suffer," he told BBC's Newsnight. Asked about the sanctity of life, Pratchett responded: "What about the dignity of life?"

As the Guardian reports, the backlash has not been slow in coming and the BBC has received hundreds of complaints for showing the programme at all:

""Campaigners accused the BBC of helping to promote assisted dying and of consistently portraying the practice favourably.  Writing on the Christian Concern website, Nazir-Ali [ST's note: a former bishop, apparently...] said: "Real life is quite different from Sir Terry's science fiction ... The Judaeo-Christian tradition is a surer guide. 'Thou shalt not kill' is about acknowledging the gift and dignity of human life which, whether ours or another's, we do not have the competence to take."  Care Not Killing (CNK)'s campaign director, Dr Peter Saunders said: "This latest move by the BBC is a disgraceful use of licence-payers' money and further evidence of a blatant campaigning stance. The corporation has now produced five documentaries or docudramas since 2008 portraying assisted suicide in a positive light. Where are the balancing programmes showing the benefits of palliative care, promoting investment on social support for vulnerable people or highlighting the great dangers of legalisation which have convinced parliaments in Australia, France, Canada, Scotland and the US to resist any change in the law in the last 12 months alone?"

These are not simple issues, and striving to find a black and white answer in these murky waters is always going to be difficult, if not impossible. Two things are clear to me though: the first is that, as an atheist, I find it very hard to take the views of many religious people on this issue seriously, although I envy them their certainty. Quite how that programme could be seen as "propaganda" is beyond me.  Who has a vested interest in allowing people to choose to die with as much dignity as they can muster?  The second thing that I am sure of after watching the programme is that I want to have the right to decide, if it comes to it, to end my life.

I suffer from multiple sclerosis, and on a very basic level, I find it quite upsetting to see people with the same condition on the television discussing their right to choose to end their lives. Pratchett’s programme followed one such guy, Andrew Colgan, described in the Guardian’s TV review like this:

"Andrew has multiple sclerosis which, though he seems disturbingly OK, he describes as 'like walking down an alley that's getting narrower, with no doors.'"

Leaving aside the casually ignorant remark that he “seems ok”, it sends shivers down my spine to contemplate that someone with MY condition can be driven to the point of wanting to end their own life. I’m nowhere near that point, of course, and I may never be…. But the fact remains that it is a possible future for me. Debbie Purdey is another MS sufferer who has campaigned for many years for clarity in the law so that she can be certain that her husband would be free from prosecution if he helps her get to Switzerland to end her life.

She was on the radio this morning talking about the programme and some of the issues it raised. She was forced clarify that MS is not – as people have been saying – a terminal condition, but it is a condition that can lead people to want to end their own lives rather than to continue to suffer. She mentioned the remarkable statistic that people with MS in Denmark are 2.5 times more likely to kill themselves than a member of the “normal” population. In Canada, the figure for people with MS under the regular care of a neurologist (i.e. presumably more advanced cases, although actually in the UK that would include almost everyone) rises to 7.5 times more likely to kill yourself. We don’t have comparable statistics for that in the UK, but that is an amazing and terrifying thought…. That people with MS are far, far more likely than average to be driven to a point where death is preferable to living.

It’s pointless to dwell on what might never happen, but at the same time, if it does happen to me, I absolutely want to have the right to end it all and not have some politician or cleric telling me what is right and what is wrong. It’s not up to them. It’s not their life.  I was reading today that a good way to think about a law is to think of its opposite: so instead of thinking about changing the law to allow people to choose to die, what if they were changing it to prevent you from doing the same?  Does that seem like more or less of a violation of your rights?  I think that if the right to die was already enshrined in law then we would think it a ridiculous idea to take it away.  If that's true, then it's a short leap from there to making it legal, isn't it?

A couple of my colleagues were laughing today when we were talking about this, joking that they knew I’d have an opinion on this, but that unfortunately they didn’t have all day to spare to listen to it. Hahaha. I have multiple sclerosis: I have to think about things like this. These kind of decisions might be in your future too, but they’re more likely to be in mine. Of COURSE I’ve got an opinion on it*.

*and yes, I'm an opinionated wind-bag too... and yes, I know it's just banter.

Monday, 13 June 2011

gimme, gimme, gimme...

Not to put too fine a point on it, there’s a whole lot of crap being written about Olympics tickets (on the radio, in the comments below otherwise sensible articles online, etc. etc.). I know I’ve spoken about this before, but people are STILL going on about it, and it’s STILL annoying me. Together with a bunch of others, we planned really carefully, picked out the sports we really wanted to go and see (excluding things like the 100m final or the Opening & Closing ceremonies, spread our applications around, put in some insurance bids for tickets and still got next to nothing. I actually DID get nothing, and I think between us we got about 10% of our application. That’s a little disappointing, certainly, but when you hear that there have been something like 20 million applications for a total of 6 million tickets, it’s also not all that surprising.

Has that stopped the whining? No, of course it hasn’t. For the last couple of weeks, since it became clear who had been lucky enough to get tickets, we’ve been awash with commentary from people bitching about how they didn’t get the tickets they wanted. It’s probably worth saying that disappointment being expressed comes from a shared sense of ownership of these London games that bodes will for the Olympics next year as a whole…. but the sense of entitlement to tickets that people have is amazing. There’s the person on the radio who has “volunteered in athletics for 30 years” but from his bid for every single session in the Olympic Stadium, got nothing. Applied for EVERY SINGLE SESSION and moaned that it was a process that favoured the rich; there’s the people whining that they haven’t even got tickets to volleyball or the basketball or the weightlifting, you know… the sports that are so patently ridiculous that they CAN’T POSSIBLY HAVE SOLD OUT; there are the people bitching about the 8% (-ish) of tickets set aside for the sponsors who are paying for more than 25% of the games (i.e. money that we the British taxpayer won’t have to pay); the tickets allocated to foreign athletic associations are also under fire…. Why should foreigners be allowed to come to OUR games?

Pah. I don’t know which of them are worse.

Oh actually, yes I do…. With all due deference to the Londoners who believe that they should have been treated preferentially for THEIR games, It’s the people who insist that the ballot was somehow unfair and that first come, first served would have been much fairer. Let’s see: 20 million individual applications for 6.6m tickets available, with each person applying for multiple events over multiple days. Imagine that at 9am on a Monday morning, with renowned online ticket sales experts like See Tickets or Ticketmaster handling things when they can barely handle a Barry Manilow arena tour. The internet would have MELTED.

I’ve just spent a hefty chunk of my afternoon on the French ticketing website, where tickets went onsale to registered users today. Using C’s parent’s address in France, we registered a few days ago…. And were amongst 4000 other Brits to do so. The prize on offer was two days exclusive access, with other members, to any tickets to the games the French had been allocated. It was due to be up at 8am UK time this morning, and had crashed before a single ticket could be sold. It came back online at 1pm, but it then proved impossible to log on or to get access to any tickets. Whichever genius designed the site had failed to protect the transactional end of the site from the volume of unregistered traffic coming to have a look and the result was frustration. You need to log on to buy tickets, but volume on the website was preventing log on. I don’t imagine that the French site has seen even a fraction of the traffic that a full UK site would have seen if this had been the chosen way of selling tickets here….. but as the next round of the ticketing here is to be first come, first served too, then I imagine we’re about to find out how well we would handle the same thing.  Some 8 hours after they first put tickets onsale, you now can't open the page at all.

I’m disappointed I didn’t get any tickets to the games too, and no ticketing process will ever be perfect, but it’s not the end of the world. It will still be an amazing event, with or without me; I certainly don’t flatter myself that I could be the crucial difference in atmosphere and I’m sure they’ll manage in my absence. I do not have a RIGHT to tickets, I have the right to TRY to get tickets… and I’m going to keep trying.

As an aside, though, it’s hard to escape the feeling that if the 2012 games had been awarded to Paris, it would have been a whole lot easier to get tickets as probably 90% of the people moaning about not getting tickets now likely wouldn’t have bothered applying at all.

Ah well. Here’s to Rio 2016!

Friday, 10 June 2011

I'm on the hunt, I'm after you....

Earworms of the Week

Montezuma” – The Fleet Foxes

So many things to love about the Fleet Foxes, not least the reliably offbeat tweets of Robin Pecknold telling us things like how touring Europe is so much more fun when you have a bicycle with you (and I don't know about you, but I'm thinking a big old fashioned thing with a wicker basket here....).  The new album perhaps isn't a massive stride away from their debut, but it is definitely a progression and it's also really, really good.  Love those harmonies and can't wait to see them again this year at Glastonbury.  The sun would be nice (albeit apparently looking increasingly unlikely), but I don't mind getting my wellies on if I have to.....  Bring it on!

and now.... Number 1.  The Larch.  The Larch.

Dreams” – Fleetwood Mac

Listening to The Pierces all week has inexplicably brought this song to mind.  I have no idea why.... although I wonder if Stevie Nicks has been poring over their album looking to see if she has any songwriting credits.

"Shiny Happy People" - REM

Now, famously REM don't like this record.  Neither do I.  I haven't listened to it for some time.  Hell, I haven't even listened to the band at all in a few weeks.....and yet when I sat in the sauna this evening, there it was.   If I knew how earworms worked, then it probably wouldn't be quite so much fun tracking them, eh?  It's the randomness that appeals, to be honest.

"King of Pain" - The Police

I listened to the Police quite a bit about six weeks ago, but worked them out of my system and moved onto other things.  But here they are.  Again, this isn't even a song that I like very much - I much prefer their earlier stuff - but here it is.  Go figure.  Oi!  Sting!  Out of my head!  NOW!

"Love Goes Down" - Plan B

Ah, now this is a bit better.  The song that GJ recommended to me at work that led me to taking a punt on Plan B in the first place.  He's playing Glastonbury, and I'd quite like to see him, I think.... although I have a horrible feeling that he clashes with the Eels.  I've wanted to see E play for some time.  I rather suspect that he's not the kind of guy who will be inclined to play a festival set, and may well focus on his newer albums (and he's nothing if not prolific).  Do I see Eels just to say I have?  Do I stay at the Pyramid and watch Plan B?  It might depend on what else is on, how bothered I can be and what the weather is like... or I may watch neither and sit in the circus tent instead.

Hanging Tree” / “Go With The Flow” – Queens of the Stone Age

You can vote for your favourite QOSA songs and the band will play the top ten at their Glastonbury set, apparently (well, vote now closed, but you could).  Well, I couldn't help but think that a vote for "No One Knows" or "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" would be a waste, so I went for Hanging Tree.... love the Mark Lanegan stuff on those albums.... and that promptly planted "Go With the Flow" in my head.  Both good songs though, so it's all good.  REALLY looking forward to seeing them live.  They were amazing when I saw them in Rock City back in the day.  They will be epic.

Waiting for an Alibi” - Thin Lizzy

....yeah, usual drill: I listened to Thin Lizzy once about a month ago and they surface in my subconscious all this time later and won't go away.  That.  Again.

The Wild Ones” - Suede

They're reformed, haven't they?  Not with Bernard Butler, of course, but with the "Coming Up" era line-up.  This album always reminds me of the four months I spent living in Venice, when I listened extensively to "Dog Man Star" and "The Holy Bible" by the Manic Street Preachers.  Good times.

Secret” – The Pierces

Good gig.  They played lots of their new stuff, but threw in two or three older songs, including this one.

Got a secret
Can you keep it?
Swear this one you'll save
Better lock it, in your pocket
Taking this one to the grave
If I show you then I know you
Won't tell what I said
Cause two can keep a secret
If one of them is dead…

I loved the way the sisters looked across at each other pointedly as they sang that last bit. 

Hungry Like The Wolf” – Duran Duran

You might remember that I have to contribute to a weekly report.  With everyone's contributions pasted together, it's huge and dull and no one reads it.  To keep myself interested, even if no one else cared, I started to pick a band each week and then use song titles from that band as the headers to each of the three or four paragraphs I contributed. Occasionally I'll throw other song titles into the text itself, but I'll always try and keep the titles relevant to what I'm talking about.  Well, it keeps me entertained.  This week's band -- suggested by GJ -- was Duran Duran.  I thought about the songs I might use in my updates about the progress of an EPOS update, graduate recruitment and three year planning, and quickly decided to use as many titles as I could, peppering them throughout the text.  In about 150 words, I used about 12, including "Union of the Snake", which was a bit of a challenge.  It made me laugh, although I do wonder how far I can push things before they start editing me for not taking this seriously (although, to be honest, is the point of the report to be interesting enough for people to read it, or to be so full and dry that no one bothers?).  They wrote some songs though, didn't they?  This is a GREAT song.

Right.  That's your lot.  Have a good weekend y'all.  I'm off for my motorbike lesson tomorrow.  Should be fun... just don't tell my dad.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

you swore you'd never tell....

The Pierces / Delta Maid / Alice Gold @ Rescue Rooms, 8th June 2011

Look, here’s the thing: when I write gig reviews on here, I generally have the luxury of being able to write about what the hell I want. If I’m not that bothered about the band and manage to find myself distracted by the haircut of the bloke standing next to me, then I can talk about that. I always attend concerts knowing that I’m going to be writing them up, and this forces me to actually process what I think of the show and not just let it wash over me. I think that’s a good thing, but for all that I write these reviews, I’m not really writing them for anyone but myself. I don’t have wordcount restrictions – as you might have noticed – and I don’t have any deadlines but the ones that I impose upon myself.

At yesterday’s gig, this changed. For the first time I was officially attending the show as “a reviewer”, with a deadline and a wordcount and EVERYTHING. I was going to the gig anyway, so sadly I didn’t get to take the reviewer’s ticket, but as that meant that LB was going to be able to attend gratis, then that was okay too. With a review for Leftlion to write, I felt a heavy responsibility, I can tell you. I took a notepad and pen to make notes, lest I forget a detail that might prove crucial in my 250-400 word review. I even arrived at the venue early enough to be able to catch BOTH support acts to mention them in my review.

Anyway. Here’s what I came up with. It might get cut to pieces or it might not appear at all, but here’s what I submitted:

---

As sisters, Catherine and Allison Pierce have likely been performing together for as long as they can remember, but as The Pierces, they’ve been releasing records since as long ago as 2000. Only now, after four albums, do things seem to really be taking off for them. Critical acclaim (and a song – “Secret” - featured on hit US TV shows “Dexter” and “Gossip Girls”) never really converted into commercial success, and the band seemed on the verge of calling it quits before fate intervened in the unlikely shape of Coldplay bassist, Guy Berryman and an offer to produce their next album. The result, “You & I” sits at number four in the UK Albums chart – the first of their albums to make the chart in the UK - and singles “You’ll Be Mine” and “Glorious” feature heavily on national radio playlists.

Tonight’s gig is the second in a short tour that culminates with an appearance at the Glastonbury Festival. Support comes from Delta Girl, whose accent marks her out as more Mersey than Mississippi delta, but whose music comes squarely from the tradition of the delta bluesmen and from the leather-shorted, guitar-wielding Alice Gold. Both acts have been marked out in the press as “ones to watch” and are warmly received by a decent-sized crowd, politely massing for the headline act.

The Pierces play a relatively short set tonight, clocking in at less than an hour, and focus almost exclusively on songs from their new album. Luckily, the material is uniformly good and the sisters’ soaring harmonies sound as good live as they do on record. Their earlier albums are folkier, but the sisters seem to have been listening to Stevie Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac and the Mamas & Papas, and their influence is written large across the new songs. Highlights include “You’ll Be Mine” (requested on Radio 2 as “the 1-2-3 song”, apparently), “It Will Not Be Forgotten”, “Close My Eyes”, “Kissing You Goodbye”, an acid-tinged “Secret”, “Sticks and Stones” and a wistful “I Put Your Records On”.

It’s not often that a crowd shout of “Boring” will be taken as a compliment, but the band finishes their set with a storming version of their epic 2007 paean to ennui. It’s a great way to finish a set by a band whose star is (finally) on the rise.

---

As I worked my way to join my honourable colleague, the reviewer for the Evening Post, at the front before the main act took to the stage, I felt the force of a few hate lasers burning into the back of my head. I waved my notepad seriously and told them “I’m REVIEWING the gig” and pushed on serenely. The full extent of the notes I took in that notepad? “Delta Maid: Mersey delta” and “Alice Gold: leather shorts”. Both, you’ll notice, observations that were included in the final submission…. Not a peep about the headliners, mind.

In case it doesn’t come across in the Leftlion review, I very much enjoyed the show. I don’t really understand why a Scouser chooses to sing so faithfully in the idiom of the American South without adding her own take, and Alice Gold were pleasingly noisy but otherwise – shorts aside – I didn’t listen closely enough to take much in (although maybe I’ll give them another go at Glasonbury). The Pierces though, I thought were great. It’s a good album, and the more I listen to it, the less I hear the Fleetwood Mac influences that seemed so obvious when I first played it. Oddly enough, I bought this album at about the same time as I bought Danger Mouse’s “Rome”, his tribute to the spaghetti western soundtracks of Ennio Morricone. When I was running the other day, I had both albums playing on a playlist that was accidentally set on shuffle, and some of the songs on “You & I” sit strangely comfortably alongside some of the Norah Jones voiced songs on the Danger Mouse album.

The crowd was a bit Radio Two: slightly older and keen to be inside the venue from the moment doors opened at 19:30, but the place was full without being rammed and there was a decent atmosphere. Apparently the Pierces are a little coy about revealing their ages, which as they released their first record in 2000 is perhaps understandable: I’ve barely read a review of them as it is that doesn’t mention either the way they look or the fact that Catherine was engaged to Albert Hammond Jr from the The Strokes (both things I avoided in the Leftlion review but have obviously now drawn attention to. D’oh). Regardless of how they look or who they are sleeping with, the most important thing, of course, is the music…. And they sounded great. At least as good in person as they are on record, with the added bonus of watching the sisters exchange (deliberately) pointed looks during “Secret” (“…two can keep a secret if one of them is dead”). A good show, then. Success has been a long time coming, but I for one am planning to troop up the hill to the Park Stage on Sunday at Glastonbury to watch them again. You can’t say fairer than that, eh?

Verdict: 8 / 10

Mike’s review for the Evening Post is here.
David Baird's great photos from the gig are here.
Link to the (entirely uncut) article on Leftlion here.  Front page link!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

be my, be my baby....

I heard a discussion on the radio this morning about the provision of IVF on the NHS. Apparently, nearly three-quarters of all NHS trusts are failing to follow guidelines and are refusing couples treatment. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) stated in 2004 that couples should be given up to three cycles of IVF on the NHS, where the woman is aged between 23 and 39. Apparently, many PCTs are either refusing treatment entirely, or are imposing other criteria on age, weight, smoking status and whether or not one partner already had a child.

Gareth Johnson, Conservative MP for Dartford and chairman of the APPG on Infertility, said: "IVF is the creation of life and gives hope to thousands of infertile couples across the UK. "IVF treatment was invented in Britain and so, more than any other country, we should be championing its use. As chairman of the APPG on Infertility, I believe that all PCTs should be offering three cycles of treatment as recommended by the Nice guidelines. One in seven couples in the UK suffer from infertility problems, indeed more women attend GP surgeries to obtain advice on infertility than any other issue other than pregnancy. This shows just how big an issue infertility is for so many people."

Now, I think IVF is an amazing thing and I know it has given lots of people the opportunity to become parents….. but should it be seen as a right; as something that we should expect the NHS to pay for? That was the thrust of the discussion I heard, but I’m not sure that I think it should be.

The NHS is constantly under the threat of budget cuts. Even now, the battle lines are being drawn in parliament around the Conservative plans to slash budgets to attempt to save money (although interesting that they seem to think IVF is worth defending)… but even in more optimistic economic climates, the NHS is always operating to a budget and doctors are always going to be asked to make potentially difficult decisions about what treatment and services they can offer, and who should get them and who should not. I know that the nature of NHS funding means that there is something of a postcode lottery around which PCT offer which services, but the fundamental principle is the same: medical decisions are made on the basis of budget. Some drugs are approved for use, other drugs are not. Think of the stink that was kicked up when NICE refused to authorise the use of the “miracle” breast cancer drug Avastin.

If you are suffering from breast cancer or have a relative who is, then it is perfectly understandable that you want to give them the best possible chance. NICE is in the invidious position of having to draw the line of what is in and what is out. They will swear blind that it is not a budget led decision, but budget surely can and surely should be a factor in that decision.

Somewhat closer to home, as a sufferer of MS, I am keen for NICE to approve the NHS to dispense oral therapy so that I can escape from my weekly routine of injections….. not that I should grumble, because my injections cost the NHS something over £1000 a month. Never mind the drugs, I benefit immeasurably from access to the MS Nurses: they’re my first point of contact in the event of a relapse or if I need advice or an appointment or therapy or anything. They brilliant, but they’re also under threat. They’re 50% funded by the MS Society and 50% by the government… and they’ve been marked down as a possible cost saving. Losing them would have a devastating effect on the frontline of the treatment of MS in this country… and I’m sure there are services like them threatened across the board.

IVF costs – on average – about £3,500 an attempt.

In an environment were the treatment and care of critical illnesses is being cut and where people are not receiving the drugs that could possibly save their lives or radically alter their quality of life, how can that be justified? Having a child is no doubt an amazing thing and is a cherished ambition for many… but is it a right that you would expect the government to pay for? Or should it be something that is only available to those who can afford it?

Look, I know it’s not as black and white an issue as that… and my view on this is no doubt slanted by the fact that I’m a 37 year old man with MS and no kids…. But I’m genuinely interested to know what you think.

It’s a thorny one.

And if you can make your mind up about IVF, what about abortion? Lay aside the ethical issues for a moment; do you think that termination should be offered on the NHS? What about facial reconstruction?

And to think I moan about the decisions I make in my job.

Monday, 6 June 2011

walk, walk, fashion, baby....


I know I'm getting old, but there are just some things that I cannot understand.  Just walking through the town centre now frequently has me shaking my head in a state of almost permanent mystification.  One recurring cause of this confusion is the fashion sense of the youth of today.  Flip-flops in winter; beanies in summer; shorts that are so short that the pocket lining hangs out; baseball caps perched on the very crown of your head; fat people wearing a much thinner person's clothes... yes, there are lots of things that I don't get. My particular bug-bear at the moment, though, are saggy-arsed jeans.  You probably know the ones I mean: the ones that are worn so low slung that they are essentially belted across your thighs, revealing the whole of your backside to the world, forcing you to walk like a penguin.  

Apparently this trend originally initiated in gangland America as a tribute to your comrades in prison, where you are not allowed to wear a belt.  Subsequently, I am reliably informed, about ten years ago it was picked up as a look by "the gays".  Now it has become so entirely mainstream that I imagine it's quite hard to buy a pair of jeans in some shops without a saggy arseline.  Is there anything less gangsta than a middle-class student in a cheap, saggy pair of skinny jeans shopping in Sainsburys? 

Why do I hate this look so much? I'm genuinely not sure where to start: how about the way that guys are walking along constantly hitching up their trousers to prevent them falling around their ankles? the way that these arse-displying jeans are often coupled with the rattiest, greyest pair of underpants? the fact that they are almost uniformly unflattering and make you look as though you have a filled nappy as you waddle up the street?

And now, apparently, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority in Texas have banned them:  "Pull 'em up or find another ride," reads signs on city buses, put up after passengers were banned from boarding a bus with saggy trousers that expose the person's underwear.

"Riders don't want to see a person dressed like that on a public bus," Joan Hunter, communications manager for The T, told Reuters. "Our customers think it's disrespectful. A lot of different people ride the bus, and many of them told us it's not a good idea to have your pants below your buttocks."
The decision on whether a potential rider's pants are inappropriate is up to the discretion of the bus driver, and on the first day the policy was in place about 50 people were removed for improper trousers (I love the idea of being "removed for improper trousers")

The reaction from other passengers has been uniformly positive.  "Following this rule is actually easier than following any other clothing policy we have," Hunter said. "All you need to do is pull your pants up before you get onto the bus. You don't have to go home and get a shirt or get a pair of shoes. Then, after you get off the bus, you can dress however you want."

Hmm.

I hate saggy-arsed trousers and fail to see the point of them.  But banning people from wearing them?  That's the thin end of the wedge, my friends.  Who exactly is qualified to determine what constitutes an "improper trouser"?  If they're qualified to judge on trousers, then where do they draw the line? Are they merely concerned with your clothing choices, or do they have authority on other matters? I wonder if they've been offering advice to authorities in Barcelona pondering how to enforce their ban on beachwear in the town centre?  (When is a Bermuda short beachwear and when is it just a short, I wonder? What if you're wearing those shorts that are so short the pocket lining is exposed? Is that more or less acceptable than a tanktini? Have they added guidance on these key questions to the curriculum at the Barcelona Police training college?)

As Voltaire probably said, "I disapprove of your saggy-arsed trousers that make it look like you have filled your nappy and force you to walk like a penguin, but I will defend to the death your right to wear them....

What he said.

....Well, perhaps not to the death. There has to be a limit.

Friday, 3 June 2011

But weeds are for hoeing....

Earworms of the Week

Theme to the Muppet Show

Well, we open up with a real classic.  I can't recall now if it was me humming this out loud at my desk that started the conversation about the Muppets, or if it was the conversation that prompted the earworm.  It doesn't really matter.  Whichever way round it was, we ended up trying to place people in our team to characters in the Muppets.  Guess who I ended up with:


On balance, I think I'm going to take the positives out of that.  My boss has already decided that I'm a lookey-likey for a different blue character:

... so much so, that he has a picture of this pinned up next to his desk.  Well, as I think he looks like William Shatner (now - and my boss is probably about half Shatner's age), I suppose we're probably even.  I told him it's in the hair: they must go to the same shop for it.

Amarillo” – Tony Christie

Yes, incredibly annoying now, isn't it?  I just try and cast my mind back to that scene from the beginning of the second series of Phoenix Nights when Max and Paddy were singing along lustily to this whilst in the front of the van....only for the camera to pull out and for us to realise that they were ferrying the Islamic Elders around town.  Best not think about it's afterlife, eh?  Persistent earworm, this one.

One of Us” – ABBA

As you know, I don't really like Abba.  When I caught myself singing this to myself as I was sat at my desk, I had to stop and think for a minute to work out who this song was by.  Then I realised.  Then I stopped singing it.

One of Us?” – Joan Osbourne

....although unfortunately for me, my brain then took the logical step into this song.  I'm not a fan of it, on the whole: it makes the atheist in me nervous, for one thing, but it's also just silly.  So what if God was on the bus trying to make his way home?  If you can get to heaven on a bus though, I wonder what route it is.... if only it was that easy, eh?  Exact change only, do you think?  It's catchy enough, but I was pleased to move onto something else.  Actually, on reflection, I quite like this song.  Damnit.  Although, isn't God unknowable?  Isn't that the point?  Am I overthinking this?  Again...

I Believe I Can Fly” – R Kelly

...until the something else turned out to be this.  I was having a pretty productive 5 minutes, from the earworming point of view, if not from the "doing some work" point of view.  This song, of course, is to be sung with your arms outstretched in an imaginary cornfield and into an imaginary camera in the sky.  I did this.  At my desk.  Until I got told to stop.

Return of the Mack” – Mark Morrison

... at which point I moved onto this.  Ridiculous.  Both the song and this terrible run of earworms.  Mark Morrison.  From Leicester.  Best number one single ever?  Return from what, by the way?  Wasn't this his debut?  The R Kelly of the East Midlands?  Is that the mental link?

Sabotage” – Beastie Boys

Phew.  That's better.  A proper song.

Two Against One” – Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi feat. Jack White

On the recommendation of Steve Nixon, I decided to check out "Rome" by Danger Mouse.  Very good it is too, albeit it is essentially a homage to the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone.  It's none the worse for that, though.  One listen in, and it sounds pretty good.  This song has stuck in my head courtesy of a typical guest vocal from Jack White, but it's all good.  Thanks for the tip, Steve.

You’ll Be Mine” - The Pierces

Now, I knew this lot from "Boring", but they've been getting excellent reviews for their new album, and with an amazon voucher burning a hole in my inbox, I decided to give it a go.  Their older stuff is quite folky, but they've clearly been listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac.  An awful lot of Fleetwood Mac.  That's not a criticism, by the way.... just an observation.  Number one bestselling Kindle author on Amazon, David Belbin, pointed out that they were playing in the Rescue Rooms next week and tickets were still on sale for £10.  Done!  It's a good album, but this song - track 1 - stands out particularly.  Looking forward to the gig very much.

Human Again” – The Young Knives

I heard a song on Six Music the other day that sounded very much like the Young Knives.  It was the Young Knives, and it turns out that they've released an album without me noticing.  Luckily that voucher had some spare and I was quickly able to get it downloaded.  It's good.  They are perhaps not quite as quirky as they were when they started, but they've got poppier as they've got older, and unless my ears are deceiving me, it sounds like they've discovered sex somewhere along the way too.  They're a great band.  I last saw them at Glastonbury when they were playing the John Peel stage in the middle of the afternoon.  About halfway through their set, I suddenly realised that the tent was rammed.  Apparently this wasn't due to a sudden mid-career surge in popularity for the Young Knives, but was down to the fact that the very-much-flavour-of-the-moment Ting Tings were on next.  I've never seen the place so busy... I had to fight my way outside to avoid them.  Young Knives: good band.  This is the most Young Knives-y song on the album, but it's none the worse for that.  Such a criminally underrated band.

That's your lot.  Have a good weekend, y'all.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

working all day for a packet of pay....

I'd almost forgotten what working late feels like.  One of the great advantages of car sharing is that common courtesy generally means that you're all out of the office by 6pm lest you leave anyone hanging around waiting to go home.  This never really worked when it was just C. and me, but throw a neutral into the mixer -- a neutral who usually drives us, what's more -- and we're often home and hosed at a time when I used to be thinking about making a cup of tea and really starting to work after pissing about in meetings all day.

This week has been different: C. is about the no-doubt-very-laborious task of attending a company conference in Monte Carlo, and I've been busy preparing the detail of a three year plan with a deadline looming.  As a result, I've been driving myself into work in the morning and generally not getting out of the office until 8pm.

It's rubbish - although I have been reminded of how much easier it is to concentrate when everyone else has gone home and the phone stops ringing.

Today's frustration was in trying to fill out a pre-prepared template for about 40 completely separate projects, identifying objectives, issues, risks, benefits, critical success factors and so on in advance of going through an estimating exercise at the start of next week.  I'm boring myself just talking about it, but if I don't get it finished by the end of this week, then I'll be working on it over the weekend.  Better a few later evenings now than that hideous prospect.

There are a couple of things that annoy me about this: firstly I'm annoyed by the fact that, as I prepare this list of projects in one format, people elsewhere in the business are compiling the same (or at least very similar) lists using different formats.  We're all working on the same projects and bidding for the same budgets, so we're probably burning 300% more effort than we need to.  It's not very motivating to know that all this hard work may, ultimately, be pointless.  Also, as I hardly know any detail about some of these initiatives, I'm inventing an awful lot of what I'm putting in.  I don't expect it matters, but shouldn't these multi-million pound initiatives be thought through, at least a little bit?   Actually, I've been working long enough to know that's never going to happen.

The other thing that annoys me is much, much worse though: it's the template I'm using.  Is there anything more annoying than having to put a whole pile of probably pointless and mostly made-up information into a template that someone has produced using Powerpoint.  POWERPOINT. Do they think I haven't got better things to be doing than trying to add text boxes to boxes on a slide and then trying to work out how to format it into something approaching readable on a multi-coloured background?

Coming on 8pm, with a determination to make it to the swimming pool before I had my tea, I just moved the damn thing into Word. Fuck it, eh.  Let's live life on the edge. Stick it to The Man.

Then I went swimming.  Not going swimming was not an option.  Obviously.

Then I had curry soup and doorstop toast for my tea.

That's living alright.