Friday, July 31, 2009

We can be heroes

Do you have a hero? Someone you look up to? Who you'd follow to the end of the earth? Whose words you take as gospel? Wait...

Is that what a hero is? What is a hero? Someone who runs into burning buildings, putting life on the line, in an effort to rescue others, unknowns? Or is it an individual thing, in which that person, whoever it may be, inspires you, uplifts you, seems to speak to you - through words, paintings, or music speakers?

I don't have a hero. There is no one person I believe holds the key to life, or can offer solace in times of despair; of course there are persons - be they famous, family or friends, who I admire, respect, listen to, take comfort from; but not one of them would I consider a hero. I think the word has lost all meaning nowadays. I think it's better to accept that everyone is a shade of grey and that really, you'd be best of taking a pinch of everything and everyone you admire or are inspired by, mixing it around a bit, adding your own personality (as the main ingredient) and then go off and try and leave people with the best impression of you that you can.

This all came from a mini-debate I had with a good friend on Twitter who said it was mean that people made jokes about Michael Jackson after he had died - because he's some peoples' hero. But what can you expect? Jackson was the perfect person to fall into hero or villain roles and so was clearly likely to be the butt of jokes from the off. Bobby Robson died today. Why not the same treatment, my friend asked? Well, I would suggest that there is little-to-nothing to joke about. A long, normal life spent playing, then managing, football that ended at a good age surrounded by his wife and family. That's all.

Ultimately, I don't even believe making jokes about people after their death is inherently a bad thing - it strikes me as a very natural and very good coping mechanism. But that's probably a topic for another blog.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

13 minutes to go

I usually blog during lunch - it's less frowned upon you see; but some days I read the paper, or a book, or go for a wander. Today, I have done none of these things and yet haven't blogged (yet). I have just 13 official minutes left to write about something and I can sense these parcels of time slipping through my fingers.

Time is a funny thing isn't it? This time last week I was back at home in Cornwall enjoying a nice pasty lunch with my brother and mother; all the time I was at home, eking out the last days of my obligatory two weeks off, I was conscious of trying to really appreciate the lack of work, of being able to wake up when I chose and generally just being at home in the countryside, miles from the reality of everything else; yet I knew it was futile, knowing time was on it's way, in its 'winged chariot, hurrying near'.

That's the thing isn't it - when time is precious it seems to hurtle by, when it's not, it just plods dutifully on; the time between each snooze alarm is surely the shortest time in the world? Yet to a night-worker waiting for that last 10 minutes to pass, it must be the longest. Einstein was more of a philosopher than he realised (or perhaps he did realise).

How can you stop time doing this to you? Accept it or ignore it? Come to enjoy the dull ache of dragging yourself from your bed as just another sequence of seconds to be lived through? Or should you just make your millions as quickly as possible in order to retire and spend your time getting up at whenever-the-hell-you-like o' clock?

And yet...when you do have unending time on your hands, you become restless, tired, lethargic, frustrated, all for the want of something to do; a reason to wake and rise and head out - feeling your own time is being wasted through inactivity; the very flip side of that feeling of being forced to wake everyday with regularity at 7:20am. Why fight time?

Time though is not real. We have invented it. Terms like 'noon' and 'quarter past six' are words imposed on the positions of planets and stars. That's all it is. A way to agree upon the position of the Earth in relation to the Sun so we can make sure we are at the correct place at the correct time. We need to know when to meet trains so we had to invent these terms sooner or later I suppose.

And that was my 13 minutes of blogging; you can write a lot in 13 minutes - a blog that talks about time and Einstein and trains (how relatively relevant) - but time ticks on and so even as I wrote it passed on to 13:59. Soon it will be 17:30, then 22:59, then 13:00 once again and then Christmas, then the Olympics om 2012, and then...and on it goes.


What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Philip Larkin

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Something to crow about

This is one of my favourite videos for a while: concerning the highly intelligent nature of crows - namely, their ability to tell human faces apart, even flying upside down to check if it is the person they think it is. The fact it's presented in a fun, well produced, and enjoyably drawn cartoon video is a nice bonus too.

A true story

About a month ago I was out for lunch with a friend. As we strolled innocently down the roads around Parson’s Green we were accosted by an old lady needing directions: ‘I need to find X street, my friend lives there you see’ she demanded, pushing me up against a wall with the speed of a ninja.

While I struggled to breathe against her vice like grip, my friend logged on to his BlackBerry and loaded up Google Maps to find the directions she needed. As he carried this out the old lady and I exchanged pleasantries.

“Off somewhere nice?’ I gasped.

“I’m visiting a friend I haven’t seen for many years”, she replied dismissively, stubbing a cigarette out on my cheek.

“Ouch! Oh, how wonderful.”

“Yes, it should be super. Although I haven’t seen her for several years and she doesn’t know I’m coming. I just hope she’s in,” she said, kneeing me in the balls for no apparent reason.

“How’s that map coming along?” I winced.

Soon enough she was given the directions she needed and was on her merry way, leaving me bent double in agony, and my friend somewhat bemused at what I claimed she had done while his back was turned.

As I gained sufficient strength to walk again I couldn’t help but imagine the old woman, arriving at her friends house unannounced, after several years of silence, only to discover from the new occupants that her friend was now sadly deceased, and had been for some years, but her grave was in the nearby churchyard, if she wanted to visit her there.

Seemed like a hell of a risk to take.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Run for the hills

For the first time in 3 and a bit weeks I laced on my running shoes, strapped on my fancy Garmin watch, and hit the road. With a 10km coming up at the end of August in Cornwall (a tough, hilly 10k that could, with the weather we're having, be a mudfest) I felt it was better to try to get back to peak fitness as soon as possible to make the efforts of going sub 45m on such a tough course a possibility - my 42.20 in Richmond seems a long time ago now.

I set off at a steady pace, finding my feet again, enjoying the evening sun and the music in my ears. After about 2km I was feeling good so picked up the pace a little to around 4.50m per km, but after another 1km or so, had to ease up again as it was starting to give me a stitch. After about 4.5km though the pain eased off and I once again started to increase the pace. There were quite a high number of other runners out and about too so it was good to be able to spot someone in the distance and either try and reel them in, or at least use them as a pace marker (albeit one that was a long way away).

After 6.5km I decided to head for home so followed my route back and. My watch showed I finished on 7.3km in 35.52. About 5m per kilometre. Not bad considering it was the first for a while. But I'll need to be up to 4.30 per km if I'm to hit 45m in Cornwall - and that's on a much harder course. But with 29 days left to train, I'm confident it can be done.


In other news - about half way through Leviathan and I have to say it's rapidly turning into one of the best books I have read in a long time. I'll finish it before I write too much more.

Music men

Here is a little piece my brother and I recorded while at home for a few days. I quite like it. Enjoy!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Picture perfect

The quality of mobile phone cameras continues to astound me. These were two images taken from my phone while at home, and the sheer level of detail, and size of the images, is just incredible. And my camera is hardly top of the range. The days of needing both a digital camera and a phone are surely coming to and end?

Aside from that, isn't Cornwall spectacular?

Back to reality

So after 14 days of not having to respond to emails, or update websites, arrange interviews and so on, I am now back at work. Sob.

Ah, it's not so bad. I had a great few days back in Cornwall with the family. It's so fantastically dark and quiet where we live now. Being in London for so long means you can forget what real, blinding darkness, is like. Even more impressive is straining your ears and genuinely not being able to hear a sound from any direction in several miles.

I could waffle on about Benicasim and some of the adventures, anecdotes and insights, but it's probably one of those 'if you haven't been you don't care' things, so I won't.

Finally, I bought 'Leviathan: or, The Whale' on Saturday, winner of the Samuel Johnston prize for non-fiction, and read about a quarter of it on the train on the way back from Cornwall. It's so far a fantastic read, very well written, full of interesting and unknown facts and information, and a unique and beguiling subject matter. Hopefully it will continue in the same way.

Hopefully this passes for a catch-up, back to the coalface blog?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Walking on the moon

Hello again blogging world, I'm back from sunny Spain and the endless sleep deprevation, noise, beer, food and fun of Benicasim.

In the meantime a blog I wrote for the Guardian about music influenced by the Moon landings (what with it being the 40th anniversary and all) was published a couple of days ago.

Have a read here and if you feel the need, comment away.

Saturday, July 11, 2009



I am going away for a bit now, on a holiday to Spain, so will not be blogging.

I think staycation is a horrible portmanteau, it should be homeiday.

I should have a piece going live on the Guardian on July 21 in the music blog section.

Also going back to Cornwall for a bit too, which will be nice, and hopefully involve some boating, dog walking, waterside drinking and home cooking.

I must be going now.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Work matters

Went out last for a works leaving do. Strange when you consider you'll never see someone again; someone who before that day you saw every single working day and took their appearance in the office for granted. The Office got it spot on when it talked about the sheer oddness that work means 'you spend more time with strangers who you share the same carpet with than your own friends or family'.

And then at the end, when the person leaves all you can say is 'have a good life', and then, on Monday, a new person shows up and on it goes.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Quick Jeeves - to the fire escape route!

I've been at a conference in the Whitehall area this morning - very interesting it was, and a nice lunch too.

The fire exit signs (they're on the way out aren't they?) are so posh the man fleeing from impending danger is wearing a top hat and tails. I love that.

While there I, and two other delegates / attendees at my table, managed to shock, confuse and eventually convince a Swedish chap that English football stadiums really can be emptied in about 10 minutes.* He was utterly incredulous about this and demanded I explain how it worked.

I replied, 'don't look at me mate, I'm just a journalist', which failed to impress him, but thankfully, with my two table sitters - who knew the speed and order of a football crowd post-match - we managed to, just about, win him around to this notion. He claimed he'd seen a sector of a Dutch crowd empty in about 2-3 hours. I was tempted to make a cliched joke about the Dutch, but decided decorum suggested not.

*If you want proof of this - see Bernabeu 2004 - eight minutes.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Look at me

One of the scariest Dr Who episodes is, apparently, Blink. I've not seen it but I know that the plot involves statues that attack people by moving towards them if the person doesn't look at them. The idea of living statues must have influenced Anthony Gormley for the fantastic living plinth art installation. I think it's a great idea. It has generated much discussion and because every hour is different there is potentially always something interesting, different and noteworthy taking place.

Not only that, but for those of us who lucky enough / unlucky enough (delete as to your opinion) to live in London, it really is the case that if you find yourself in the vicinity of Trafalgar Square you can pop round and see what's going on. I love the lions in the Square, but I don't detour to go and see them anymore much like the way I use Big Ben as a time keeping device first, a fantastic London landmark second. Because it's ever changing there is always a reason to wander over and have a look.

It's also very much of its time but timeless too (I hope that doesn't sound pretentious). All art is made by people, inspired by events, a reaction to things that have happened, or are to happen, so to place people on the plinth, campaigning for certain things, dancing, playing music, or just standing there admiring the scenery, is at the heart of all art.

But on the flip side, in the world of Youtube and Facebook and Twitter, where everyone is pontificating and sounding off or telling you what they had for breakfast, and uploading videos and photos (often of what they had for breakfast), it's tapping in to this new age of creativity and self-expression. What's also pleasing to note is, thus far, no-one has (as far as I am aware) had eggs or anything hurled at them. Which you could expect to be the case.

I've applied to go on, and hope I get it. Just not at 3am on Sunday night in the pouring rain.

Will Carling should know better

Will Carling yesterday did a Bad Thing on Twitter. He used trending topics that were totally irrelevant to his posts. This is known as 'Doing a Habitat' - something he didn't seem to know of. He apologised though, once he understood, and deleted the offending posts (I'd taken a screen grab before though, knowing full well he would delete them in time. Click to enlarge).

While I believe his apology is sincere I do find it a bit weird that he did it in the first place at all. He joined Twitter last September so surely knows what the trending topics are all about? Not only that, his claim that 'I was told that's what you did' seems a little spurious. Why would anyone believe that you tag updates with hashtags of utterly unrelated subjects, such as Michael Jackon (#MJ). And who is telling him such things? Does he have a Twitter advisor?

All very strange.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Play us a song you're the ukulele man

A cut above

I've always hated going to the barbers because I can't stand either a) dull, laboured conversations or b) the rigid silence. However, I've recently discovered a little place in Victoria called 4fellas that is fantastic. Two girls, great banter, good prices, and a rare example of a business just run really well.

The service is quick and efficient, the banter is excellent - you can tell they really do just chat away to one another all day and the clientale just comes and goes, dropping in and steering the conversation this way and that. When I arrived they were talking about murdering cheating partners (or just removing body parts - scary talk from hairdresses), then it moved on to how good an actor Jack Nicholson is to how bad Madonna was the other night, the charity fun run they're doing soon and so on...

The pricing is sensible - a tenner for a cut. not £9.95 or £10.50 - and the prices board has the great headline of 'what's the damage?' while opening times for Sunday says 'what do you think?'. It's the little touches right?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Fly me to the moon

I went to a talk with Buzz Aldrin on Saturday night in London. The applause he received on entering the room was quite moving, people just love the idea of someone who's been to the moon it seems and the crowd were a mixture of all types of people but mostly wizened old men and fathers and sons.

Buzz was promoting his new book, Magnificent Desolation, which he mentioned quite a few times, but it was all in good jest or fair promotion, and I've no doubt it's a fascinating read. He's 79 and so rambled a bit on some questions, but only in a way that you could sense he was remembering details as he went, feeling them necessary to back track on to drop in and add. It only took a sentence such as 'looking at the earth from the moon is just wonderful', to suddenly make you realise quite how unique an experience he has had and why the entire auditorium was packed out.

The audience questions, submitted earlier in the day via slips of paper, were more interesting than the hosts, who asked a couple of rather banal questions, or at least, the more obvious questions, but then I suppose they had to make sure they covered the basics. His mother's maiden surname was Moon (Marion). Weird eh?

At the end of it though, when you're listening to a talk from one of 12 men who have walked on the moon, it's just enough to be in the same room of them and have them talk about some of the experiences they have been through, to keep you enraptured.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Will they do the dance?*

*Yes I stole that joke from the man in the video

They also admit they are the musical section of an evil empire

while here they acknowledge the fine navy tradition of Britain.

Thursday, July 02, 2009


Still in a Bruce haze from Sunday's gig I found this fantastic video of the entire performance of Racing in the Street. It's quite beautiful and underlines the range and styles of Springsteen, far beyond his other 'fist pumping' stuff. The piano is simply wonderful. At 5.05 he raises his guitar in salute to the former member Danny Federici who was the organ player who would have been playing the part as it comes in.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

It's only a game son (you'd better believe I'm right)

Last night I played pool for the first time in about two years. For some reason London pubs rarely seem to have pool tables. I like pool but I've always seen it as nothing more than a pub game. Fun, enjoyable, a bit of a laugh, but nothing to take seriously.

Some people do take it seriously, which is fine, but on such a small table you can hardly be surprised when a good old fashioned geoff hoon (i.e. wallop) of a ball ends up weaseling down a hole. Last night I did manage to produce a fantastic fluke having snookered myself (should that be pooled myself?) from which the ball ran right around the table and left me straight on the black, allowing me to chalk up (ha!) another win.

Which leads me on to this: is the BBC Snooker music the best sports music?


Only took me 24 hours to realise I'd spelt believe wrong. Great.