Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My invention

My, wasn't the tennis exciting last night. So much so some people in the crowd lost the ability to shut up during key moments to let the players concentrate! I have a solution though.

Underneath each seat should be a pressure sensitive ejector triggered by excessive noise. These would catapult cheering occupant out of centre court, and send them hurtling towards the outside courts. If you made people sign a disclaimer before they entered the court then you'd avoid potential lawsuits.

Of course, after the point is won or lost, cheering is allowed, you're thinking. Never fear. Simply employ a man or women (on equal pay) to deactivate the ejectors at the moment a point ended. Of course, if they missed that moment by a fraction of second hundreds of spectators would be unfairly flung high into the sky. Teething problems.

Of course, and I know you'd thought of this already, the new roof on centre court would cause probably too wouldn't it? Because those cheering members of the crowd would be sent flying skywards, only to smack their heads and get stuck, resulting in distracting cries of muffled agony echoing around the court, or their bodies would fall to the court - involving a lengthy removal processes of body parts, disrupting players rhythm and possibly leaving slippery blood patches on the grass.

Hmm, perhaps actually it can't be done. The annoying shouters will have to remain.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Push Off

What hasn't been written on queuing and the British could probably fit on a postage stamp. However, as the internets is unconstrained by space issues (at the moment) let me add my thoughts, based on yesterday's Bruce Springsteen gig (which was, part-time- music-journalist-speaking, absolutely bloody fantastic).

What I love about gig queues - especially at big gigs like The Boss, where crowds form for five hours before to ensure a spot at the front (which is worth it) - is that even in the mayhem of thousands of people standing in a jumble, there is a clear semblance of a queue. It's made up of arcs rather than a line. So if you're in a certain arc and you leave, everyone around you acknowledges your right to return there after a drinks break or whatnot. It's a lovely, communal feeling, something Bruce gigs at the front have a lot of due to the passion of the fans.

However, woe betide the idiots (and there are many) that attempt to push in. The tactics are pathetic and pass no muster with the diehards: "I'm trying to meet my mate" "Oh yeah where is he?" "Over there" "Well on you go then" and of course this happens at every section, so really they get nowhere. If they attempt to annoy their way to the front - as one weird chap around us tried to do: honestly, he had his spinal cord tattooed on his back - why? If a surgeon ever needed to operate on him it was a handy guide in case he forget where the spine was? Very odd.

He pushed and squeezed and jimmied his way to the front, and people just about tolerated him because he looked so odd. Then he pushed his luck literally too far, and was subjected to a bunch of middle aged people and a few hipster yoofs telling him to F off, before security came and hauled him out - to much cheering. Fair play, the security at the Hyde Park concert were very good.

I overhead one chap try this gem: 'It's not seating is it, there's no real order is there?' Oh how wrong you are my poor, misguided, idiotic, (unwritten) rule breaking, friend. Back of the line!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bad (news)

As this post shows in far more detail the BBC has been spared a front-page mauling in the press today because of Jacko's untimely demise.

Not sure what to make of MJ's death as I've never been the world's biggest fan. Unquestionably talented of course, but I have never really quite got the full blown obessesion with the man. Give me a Dylan or a Springsteen any day of the week.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What do you want from me?

I've not got the energy for a proper blog today so I'll do some bullet points
  • I went to Brighton on the weekend for a family birthday (click image to enlarge - stupidly impressive quality for a mobile phone camera taking in that much detail).
  • It was lots of fun and good to catch up with people I hadn't seen for a few years. Brighton was nice and it was great to see the sea again. The old, burnt out pier really adds character to the sea front.
  • One funny moment was, when talking to my cousins the same age as me, I referred to the older adults (their parents basically) as 'the grown ups'. Years ago when we went on holiday together this was an accurate assessment (and usually said in hushed, conspiratorial tones).
  • I haven't been running for a while and I feel bad about it.
  • I read Shakespeare by Bill Bryson which was very good. I'm now reading his Neither Here Nor There. He is a good writer.
  • James May in Space was truly amazing television and I would urge anyone who hadn't seen it to watch on iPlayer, especially the last 15 minutes or so when he does indeed go in to space. Breathtaking.
  • I won a moleskin notebook via Twitter. I will use it to record interesting ideas - not 'to do' lists.
  • I received one of my old poems from my tutor from my Creative Writing course at Cardiff University. I might enter the National Poetry Competition with it. Maybe.
  • I must get back to work. Bye.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Breaking a world record (with 850 other people) by playing the ukulele

On Saturday it was a short tube ride to Liverpool Street to take part in the successful attempt to break the World Record for the highest number of ukuleles playing together. A total of 851 ukulele players crammed into Devonshire Square and strummed along to Sloop John B. (and sang too) for over five minutes, which resulted in a huge cheer and much uke waving (as you can see) when it was announced we had indeed broken the record.

Such events are what make London so unique, bizarre, never-ending and unknowable.

I've got a lot of love for the ukulele, despite only been playing for about a month (ten years guitaring and three mandolining have helped me pick it up quickly though) and it's great that so many people are equally keen on such a fun, enjoyable and easy / easier to learn instrument.

If you were ever tempted to buy one, I'd recommend spending a touch more money to get a good quality one, rather than the £15 toy ones, as it's better to have a good sound and one that stays in tune. Additionally, mine is a tenor one, rather than the soprano (which is smaller and the more popular size), and so gives a fuller, louder sound, while still retaining the light, airy sound of a traditionally ukulele and I would suggest this for anyone who can play guitar, and would like to add a uke to their repertoire. The one thing I can safely say though is if you do buy one you won't regret it.

One a final note (f sharp?) I played a dulcimer yesterday at a friend's house, which is a four-stringed instrument that gives a lovely, Indian sound, and is very hard to make sound bad as every position and strum gives a harmonious chiming sound, pleasant on the ear. Lovely.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Last night I watched Psychoville, the new BBC2 comedy written by Steve Pemberton and Reese Shearsmith (who wrote and started and the League of Gentlemen too) and it was, for want of a more pithy phrase, bloody brilliant. So much so I even risked hitting the red button (something which usually result in a system crash - and did, but it recovered quickly enough so I only missed about two minutes), and watched the second episode immediately.

The show is part mystery thriller as well as comedy, with a series of weird and wonderful characters receiving letters from an anonymous, faceless individual who claimed, 'I know what you did'.

In receiving these letters we saw the day to day lives of the characters - Mr Jelly the terrible clown with a missing hand (he claimed was caused by rival Mr Jolly), and this was used for a quite brilliant joke of a mother paying him for his (terrible) performance at her daughter's party by placing the money in his fake hand and passing it to him through the door (after he had been kicked out) with the pay off "as agreed, cash in hand". There was also a blind man obsessed with teddies (and a hilarious eBay bidding war to win a legendary toy alligator), a dwarf with weird powers and many more. You can read about them all here or here.

The humour was mined careful, not letting a good joke pass by, but not over doing it, which in turn allowed the engrossing, mysterious story to tick along as each scene played out. Not only this but the production levels were immaculate too. The attention to detail was perfect, the colour tints spot on, and little touches like the style and sound of handwriting that appeared on the screen to introduce the location of each character done with a panache rarely seen.

It's refreshing to see such a well constructed, thoughtful and engrossing story that, has so far, managed to mix a balance of humour and plot without one compromising the other. The very best shows manage to do this, such as Arrested Development, and I'm hopeful this show will continue as strongly as it has in its first two outings.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cheese running

I went for my first run last night since my 42.20 in Richmond and it was quite hard. Only did 4.56km - such accuracy due to shiny Garmin watch - but did do third km in about four minutes (which is quite fast) so that was good.

The reason I only managed such a short distance is because I've picked up this really bad habit. When I get home I am always hungry so grab whatever is to hand in the fridge and munch. Now, despite knowing that cheese is terrible pre-running, it's also very good to bite a hunk of (loving using the word hunk in relation to food) to fill the stomach and feel fine for about 15 minutes.

Every bloody time I do this I even think "it'll be fine!" and for 15 minutes it is. Then after about 20 minutes it all goes wrong. I always end up having to stop due to agonising stomach cramps that are brought on by my own stupidity. Most of the time I even feel like I want to throw up and I have a painful aching inside to the point where I have to stop running.

Bloody cheese. I must resist your wily charms.

Caption: People chasing cheese; they should try eating it first then running down there.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Out of this world

Did you know that when the Apollo 12 NASA mission went to the moon some jokers from NASA placed shots of playboy models inside the astronauts handbooks as a means of 'surprising' them when they got out on the lunar surface?

Across is a shot of the image from the PDF document and there's more on this here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The future of news (it's ducks)

I've said it before - here - and I'm going to say it again. Perhaps newspapers will survive by printing stories so small and trival they achieve a uniqueness that more traditional news cannot possible hope to offer anymore.

Clearly The Telegraph thinks this could work.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Hard sell

Everyone knows supermarkets research every last detail of our spending patterns, ensuring offers are placed in prime locations, that bread is at the back to get you in to buy other products and so on.

However, can't help but think this idea is a bit far fetched. My dad prefers Salad Cream anyway.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


I think you know you're maturing (like a fine cheddar cheese) when you find yourself buying random books. As a child books were always a token present, not unwanted, but not exciting; no batteries, no flashing lights, and other gizmos. Yet as you get older the reason your Dad gets nothing but books at Christmas becomes apparent.

Today, after wandering around shops in North London, I returned home to discover I'd bought four books, each as disparate as the one before, both new and second hand. Intrigued by each one, their covers, the titles, the hard sell on the back, I parted with hard earned cash (in the middle of a bloody recession!) to buy books; paper, words, ideas.

Book readers and the like are all very well and good, but it seems impossible that books will ever go out of fashion or even print; and perhaps magazines can be an addendum to this; although time will tell on that one.

In the pub last night (The Olde Cheshire Cheese) there was a bit of graffiti that read, 'the irony of life is that it's lived forward but understood backwards' (click above). If you think this is pretentious then the underneath scrawl of 'oh wow, thxs nob' made that point for you succiently, but I thought it was a nice bit of drunken wisedom to pass on that seemed to chime with the above thoughts.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The terrible power of music

Music, as I suggested below, comes in myriad forms, and has the power to uplift, inspire, and move. And it can also shock and appall.

Below: how to make one of the world's most recognised intros unrecognisable.

Cats and dogs

I've always been a bit unsure about Cat Stevens. Partly because he's called Yusuf Islam. Such a generic Muslim name, surely a singer-songwriter could come up with something with a little bit more invention? And Cat Stevens wasn't even his real name either.

Musically too he's a hard one to fathom. Some tracks, like Peace Train and Sad Lisa, are genuinely great while others, like Matthew and Son or even Morning Has Broken, I find disconcerting and musically a bit, well, all over the place.

But, on watching the recent show of his on BBC4, you can't say the man's not talented.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

He literally exploded

The rise of the overuse of the term literally is nothing new, but last night David Pleat (never one to worry the lexicographers) claimed that Andorra had 'literally parked the bus in front of their goal'. Someone should have a word.

In other news, there was one of the greatest pieces of fielding in the Twenty20 game between Sri Lanka and West Indies yesterday; watch below.

I've also learnt my brother has regular paid gig slots at a local bar in our hometown, which is cool. You can watch some of his musical talent here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Working from home

Hello, are you at home? I am. I have been for a bit now. I was ill on Tuesday, and today the tube's are on strike.

When I first moved to London on only my second day of work at my (then) new job, I had to deal with a tube strike. Man it was terrifying. Can you imagine it? Second day in London and having to work out an alternative route to a destination I still didn't even know the main route to. But, thankfully, the Northern Line was running a normal service (different union you see), so I was able to make it in without too much fuss; in fact I even got to walk past the Oval cricket ground; tick it off the 'things to see and do list'. I don't really remember much about it now, but the tube trains must have been rammed if they were the only ones running.

Being at home is odd; I've been working, doing exactly what I would have been doing at work, but from home, which is both the blessing and the curse of the modern internet age I guess. Although, when you've got deadlines looming and writing to be done, while it's theoretically nice to not have to work, the reality is it leaves you with a huge amount to do on your return, with very little time to do it in. So I'd best get back to it.

Still, at least I can have a proper lunch. Beans on toast all round!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Oh dear

As this blog post explains in further detail, both the Mirror and The Telegraph fell for a rather obvious fake Twitter profile of convicted murderer Phil Spector, and turned one of "his" tweets into a full news story. Disappointing and a touch worrying.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The idiot's crisp

Actually I like McCoy's crisps. They're large, tasty and usually fill the entire bag. But, I do hate these adverts for them.

Win Man Gadgets with McCoys Man Crisps

In the above (which will take you to another site to watch despite the claim the code is to 'embed' the video) a group of lads playing a pub quiz machine are shocked that their mate knows the answer to a question about ballet. In fact so terrible is this crime against ladism, the unfortunate chap is sucked off to an unspecified destination, while a geezer voiceover proclaims McCoy's crisps to be for MEN.

However, the problem I have is that before the bloke reveals he knows about ballet he is clearly seen eating McCoy's crisps. It doesn't make sense. In fact of the four men at the pub quiz machine our anti-hero is one of only two to be eating the macho crisps. So he's even more of a man than 50% of the people there and he's intelligent enough to know the answer to a ballet question.

What's more the questions are presented, as is standard, in multiple choice format meaning the answer is visible alongside three other incorrect choices. This often triggers latent knowledge to suddenly shoot to the front of the mind; a gut instinct piece of knowledge which anyone who's played on of this machines will know of or when playing along with Who Wants to be a Millionaire at home.

Enough pseudo analysis. Point is, stupid advert.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Raining on the parade

A lot can happen in 45 minutes: you could boil 15 eggs in a row. Iraq could have launched weapons of massive destruction at the West. You could run 10km. Well, I had never managed that, despite three valiant efforts previously, I had always fallen short in the 47m period. However, on a humid, rain soaked Saturday morning in Richmond park I finally beat the 45 minute mark finishing in a time of 42m 20s.

This time placed me 10th from 90 runners and 9th of the male runners. The race was won by a women in 38.23.

It was a diverse run (route here): undulating through paths for the first two kilometres then, heading mostly downhill, on a path running alongside the main road for the next two km before the final kilometre over grass back to the start / finish area, and the whole thing repeated for the second lap. Having set off at a fair whack I used the downhill of kilometres 3 and 4 to keep this speed before easing through 5 to 8, before pushing on over the last two km, again using the hill to kick the speed back up.

Having been aiming to beat 45m it was good to so comprehensively pass that time. However, on telling my time to a friend who had ran too (45.30) he said, 'oh, you could go sub 40 on a flat course; like at Clapham!'

Oh dear.

Working backwards

Snakes on a Plane was a documentary right?

Friday, June 05, 2009

The revolution will not be televised

But it will be live blogged by various media outlets and, actually, is almost certainly running on numerous 24 hour TV news channels too.


Which given the day it's turned into was definitely the right thing to do.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The greatest reality show in the world

The prize - nothing less than the chance to run the country! Okay, so these aren't the general elections and so on, but it is a chance to vote and take part in the great experiment of democracy.

Have you noticed how open people are at talking about who they're going to vote for, or have voted for? I remember my parents talking about such things, when I was pre-voting age, in hushed conspiratorial tones, and my Dad eventually relenting at some point in the future and, quietly, furtively, telling me who he had voted for in the great Labour victory of 1997 - "things...can only get better...can only get better..." - and I felt as if I was being let in on something really rather secretive.

Interestingly, today is also the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, something that's led to the banning of many websites by Chinese authorities and is a powerful remindar of why voting and our freedom to write, debate and ridicule the government of the day is something to cherish. Something about that image of a lone protestor against a column of tanks never fails to strike a nerve.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Run Away!

There's a day for everything these days. Or if it's not a day it's a week. Sometimes people go mental and have a whole month dedicated to something. And if it's really, really special, like potatoes, then the entire year is dedicated to it. Don't tell me you missed out on the International Year of the Potato in 2008. You did? Shame.

Today the celebration / awareness raising is for running. That thing you do where you walk but, well, faster. I think this umbrella terms includes all forms of running, including sprinting and jogging, but perhaps it's just running - for the three are different you see. Joggers are plodders and don't go beyond their comfort zones. There's nothing wrong with that, it's important to be out doing any exercise, but I bet most don't run into the Zone of Discomfort and stay there in order to try and improve times and so forth. They shouldn't have to if they don't want to neither. That would be like some form of fitness dictatorship. Sprinters, by there very nature, are not really runners, in that they just use up all their energy over 100m, 200m, 400m or, at a push, 800m. Don't me wrong. It's massively impressive. But it's sprinting, not running.

No, to be a runner, you have to be going between 1km and 26.2 miles, running at a pace that is teetering on the edge of the Zone of Discomfort (ZOD), or in it, for as long as possible. When I trained for the marathon, I was a jogger, with occasional forays into the ZOD for races, or mid-week runs (note, runs), but mostly I jogged. Now, post-marathon, I am a runner. I keep running fast, too fast sometimes, and have this weird urge to constantly beat the clock (as a gameshow host might say) and every other runner I see. Petty I know.

Meeting Brendan Foster

It's all a bit futile really. You can't beat time, or Chronos himself, and I'll never be an Olympic gold medal winner. Indeed, when I started my marathon training I secretly hoped that perhaps I would discover a latent talent for marathon running that would culminate in me running to gold and glory at London 2012 and retelling my story: 'Well it all started in 2008 when I got a place in the London Marathon...and here I am now Brendan!' (Brendan Foster, the former runner turned BBC presenter - it's just the person I imagine interviewing me in the fantasy.)

However, 4 hours 22 minutes and one second after starting the London Marathon, this dream was shattered. Exhausted. Bent double in pain and in a trance-like state of tiredness. Sadly, I will not be winning any golds for Great Britain in 2012. Sorry everyone.

Nevertheless, I continue to run, or now run, not jog, and have found myself with some bizarre fixation on completing a 10km in sub 45 minutes. Perhaps because my three previous 10km have all been 47m and what's two minutes? Turns out it's quite a lot as I've been finding out trying to train towards this. This Saturday will be the fourth 10km - Richmond - and we'll see how I get on.

I hate spiders, I don't eat chilis, but...

Back to running and more precisely, National Running Day. The thing is (and while running is not for everyone, in the same way bungee jumping, spider holding, or chili eating is not for everyone - like me), it's something people should try or think about trying, with an open mind about their own abilities and what they can get out if it.

Because the human body is actually one of the greatest running machines on the planet. Perhaps the best. It can sprint, run or jog over short, medium and ridiculously long distances. A marathon is small fry in comparison to what the human body can do, especially if it has to. There's a book called 'Survival of the Fittest' I've just started reading that makes the very interesting, and yet obvious point, that thousands of years ago humans, male and female, young and old, had to be able to run - both distance to catch prey or move around, and sprinting, to escape predators, or, again, catch prey. We evolved to be able to do these things and it helped us become the dominant species. Brains and thumbs would also like me to point out their help in this - okay guys, noted.

It's all your fault Brian. Hey, sneaky. No, it is your fault brain.

But, brain, you've also caused a problem. By helping us evolve and become intelligent, you allowed us to create technology, and domesticate animals, and build food processing facilities, and burger joints - all things that allows us to eat, drink and be merry, without having to exert barely any energy. So while our bodies remain stuck in the past, our society is forever pushing forward. We think we don't need to run, or even worse, that we can't. We can, we've just forgotten how.

The point is running is actually one of the most natural things for a human to do. It keeps us fit (ready to run away from sabre tooth tigers, or yoofs with knives), it helps us catch prey (like, er, chickens? and catch people who've robbed us) and it staves off diseases (from the humble cold to heart problems).

So, although today's National Running Day is just another in the plethora of events that come and go and barely register on the radars of people who are not already interested in the day that's being promoted, it is at least worth considering running as an activity to partake in. Or at the very least, enjoy the fact you have a body that, theoretically, has been able to - and continues to be able to - overtake or outlast almost all other beings on the planet.

An expert's view

This is a very interesting, well-written and reassuring, yet at the same time, sobering, article on the recent plane crash / disappearance, and some of the potential causes as to why it happened.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

There's a hot dog in the crowd

To the Oval for the World Cup warm up game between Australia and New Zealand. Lovely evening, tickets available on the door; although the Oval website is somewhat useless at conveying such information when, you'd think, with so many empty seats they'd have been keen to promote the bloody thing. I digress. A boisterous crowd, including a rogue hot dog that was eventually evicted - see above - kept the spirits high as the match became something of a parade, and that was about it.

Click to enlarge images

Monday, June 01, 2009

Eye catching!

About two months ago I was out perusing the bookshelves of a Borders when the cover on the right jumped off the shelves at me. As it probably has done to you.

Not only is the cover good, but the book, Viva South America! by Oliver Balch to be exact, is a good read to boot; each country explored on a different theme - religion, violence, politics etc - and full of characters and stories as Balch travels around and is constantly 'put in contact' with the right people every step of the way. But he doesn't just take the gravy train, and flits between the slums and the elected officials' offices as he goes, talking to those promising changes in the running of their respective countries, to those displaced by the violence of the FARC or those who have seen their land ravaged by multi-nationals.

The chapter on Ecuador was particularly strong as he documents the trip out to visit a native tribe, and then accompanying them on a hunt to catch a monkey, and in doing so, gently lifts the lid of the changing nature of the tribe, their interaction with the outside world, and their relationship with the tourists who are taken out to visit them.

There's a lack of photos that would have given the book a nice bit of colour to match the front cover, and sometimes it probably would have added the final touch to some of the stories - at one point he even mentions that he had his photo taken carrying the dead monkey and surrounded by the two Ecuadorian tribesmen who caught it after the jungle chase, and it seems strange such a photo isn't included - but a minor gripe on what is otherwise, a very interesting and compelling read.