Sunday, November 22, 2009

Big finish

I love songs that build from humble origins to grand, orchestral, operatic finishes. My favourite example is You Set the Scene by Love, as well as notable mentions for Incident on 57th Street by Bruce Springsteen, One Day Like This by Elbow, You Can't Always Get What You Want by The Rolling Stones.

What's funny is I find myself almost willing the slow, non-dramatic bits to hurry up so we can get to the fantastic crescendos, and yet of course, that's the whole point; without the lead up to the big finish the big finish wouldn't seem so, well, big.

Sometimes I wish I could selectively delete bits of my memory so I could go back and get to rediscover great bits of music, TV, comedy and so on.

New beginnings

So I've spent the last week lazing around London town, going here and there, doing this and that, talking with you-know-who and what's-his-name, all because I was in the middle of a job gap between leaving my old job and starting my new job.

It's been a funny two years and two months at the old place. I had some great adventures -visiting Slovakia, going to a shooting range, wearing a Star Trek outfit for a company video, spending too much time at the NEC and so on - but the time came for a change and thankfully I found something that looked interesting and suited and, after the interview process and all that, I am off to a bigger company, based more centrally, and hopefully with scope to lead to other interesting, diverse places. Just have to wait and see.

Onwards, onwards, onwards, onwards...

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Burp

Went to the recording of Harry Hill's TV Burp last night in Television Centre, home of the B B C. We queued, we got some free beers, I bought a cheese and pickle sandwich from the canteen, we queued some more, we went in, sat down, they told off people for taking photos (why I have no idea; it's on TV right?) and then we watched the show being recorded.

The show was a typical Burp of this season, a peppering of great sketches and observations, with a couple of weaker, less good bits too. Hopefully the editing will drop the poor bits and keep the good ones. The director Spencer Millman is regarded as one of the top comedy directors you see so I am sure he will. I know this because the warm up act Bobby Bragg must have mentioned his name about 25 times during his warm up / continuity patter. It was very tiresome. He's clearly there to make Mr Harry's jokes seem even better by comparison and to make the funny clips a breath of fresh air against his laboured jokes, which are truly bad, yawn inducing stuff. I'm not being nasty, he seems like a nice chap, but even so...

I happened to walk past him at the end and overheard him say to a security chap that he'd back for My Family next week. But who on earth would go to a recording of My Family anyway?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Venetians were blind

I can stand it no more. I can only hold my tongue on this subject for so long until I must proclaim, 'Venetian blinds are rubbish'. There. Who invented them? The Venetians I guess. They work on none of the levels that window implements (i.e. curtains) are supposed too.

One: keeping out light. They fail here by about 237%. The moment the smallest slither of daylight begins to creep in over the Northern Hemisphere it pierces through the Bolton Wanderers defence sized gaps that exist on this ridiculous invention and means my room is flooded with light so that by 5am I am awake. Joyous.

Two: Warmth. They offer no heating insulation either. Where a large, thick, long curtain help keeps any warmth in, and any cold air creeping in through hairline cracks in the windows, if not out, then at least stuck behind the curtain, Venetian Blinds do absolutely nothing except let the airs all mix together and come and go as they please.

Three: Cleanliness. Okay, not as important as the other two but blinds gather dust in a way that curtains can only dream of (if curtains do indeed 1) dream and 2) dream of gathering dust.)

Four: Opening / closing: Unlike the fantastically simple 'drawing' mechanism of curtains, Ventian blinds require this ridiculous twiddling of a long often double-joined pole to open and close them, and then another system to pull them up to let more light in. This involves strings and hooks, loops and pulleys, and yet offers no other advantages over the more simple, traditional, and far superior curtains: (see above).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I went to the British Library yesterday. It was enjoyable. I had a look around the 'Points of View' exhibition, - no, not the best of Terry Wogan sardonically replying to a letter sent into the BBC - but a look at the first days of photography and how it impacted on society.

Then I went around the rest of the building, looked at the historical first page of Tess of the D'Ubervilles, and Jane Eyre, listened to poetry on some headphones read by Ezra Pound (sounding strangely Scottish), made a failed attempt to decipher the handwriting of the Magna Carta (why couldn't people write neatly in those days?) and then had a sit in the 'Digital Space' section and listened to some famous speeches from history.

It's a great building, and seems to be (unless perhaps it's just me) somewhat overlooked among the things-to-see-and-do-in -London-list, as it houses some fascinating pieces of history and is all free too.

Friday, November 13, 2009

My year in books

So this year I have so far read 50 books. Below is the list in mostly chronological order (nerd alert!). Where there's a link it's to a previous review of that book. Might do a little 140-character review of the rest in time on separate blog post.

  1. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
  2. Black Swan Green (2-6 all reviewed on same link as this one)
  3. The Plot Against America - Phillip Roth
  4. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
  5. Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 - Hunter S. Thompson
  6. Mortal Engines
  7. The Road - Cormac McCarthy
  8. The Damned United - David Peace
  9. The End of Mr Y - Scarlett Thomas
  10. Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham
  11. The Chrysalids - John Wyndham
  12. The Country Life
  13. The Remains of the Day - Ishaguro
  14. Under a Blood Red Sky
  15. How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs If You Ever Want to Get Published
  16. The Olive Readers (worst book of the list without question)
  17. Viva South America!
  18. When will There Be Good News? - Kate Atkinson
  19. Survival of the Fittest by Dr Mike Stroud
  20. Shakespeare - Bill Bryson
  21. Neither Here Nor There - Bill Bryson
  22. The Never Ending Days of Being Dead - Chown
  23. In Patagonia - Bruce Chatwin
  24. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
  25. Blind Faith - Ben Elton (terrible)
  26. A Wild Sheep Chase - Murakami
  27. Attention All Shipping
  28. Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of his Time
  29. Leviathan by Philllip Hoare (best book of the year, without question)
  30. Moby-Dick
  31. Ghostwritten
  32. American Pastoral - Roth
  33. A Light Hearted Look at Murder
  34. Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals
  35. The New York Trilogy Paul Auster (all Auster's covered on this link)
  36. Man in the Dark - Paul Auster
  37. Music of Chance - Paul Auster
  38. Leviathan - Paul Auster
  39. Dance Dance Dance - Murakami
  40. The House of Sleep - Jonathan Coe
  41. The Brooklyn Follies - Paul Auster
  42. Travels in the Scriptorium - Paul Auster
  43. Timbuktu - Paul Auster
  44. Mr Vertigo - Paul Auster
  45. The Trial - Kafka
  46. The Maze of Cadiz
  47. The Book of Illusions - Paul Auster
  48. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  49. Moon Palace - Paul Auster
  50. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
  51. Drown - Junot Diaz

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Word up!

In 2004 I was standing in Cardiff Central Railway Station's branch of WH Smiths. I was hungover and readying myself for a four-and-a-half hour train journey home. I had my sarnie, my water and I needed some reading material. The men's magazines looked as terrible as usual but, just I was about to give up the hunt, I spied the headline "Jeff Buckley lives!".

Now, during my first year at university I had become somewhat obsessed with the drowned-warbler that was Mr Jeff Buckley, after the recommendation of the album Grace from a friend, and so to see this headline, staring out at me among the sea of other "look at me" cover lines, felt somewhat serendipitous.

It was a magazine called "Word", something I was vaguely aware of but not really. Anyway, I bought it, I read the article, I very much enjoyed it. The rest of the magazine was equally compelling with intelligent, interesting, well-written, articles, reviews, interviews and so forth. Ever since I have enjoyed Word - mentioning it in my interview for the Cardiff Magazine course - texting Radio 2 when Mark Ellen was on the show asking for advice for aspiring journalists when I was in my university days, reading the blog of David Hepworth, having a subscription in the boom times (on the Christmas list for this year too) and so on.

Then, in October, I won a competition hosted by Word (by submitting this video), to play with the JD session group the New Silver Cornet Band - made of up musicians who have played with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and so on. The day itself passed in a blur of nerves, missed notes, and a flurry of a guitar solo. Afterwards though, during the little interview I did with The Word's Andrew Harrison I offered (because you have to take advantage of the weird ways life can work out and play into your hands) to write something about the gig that was taking place two nights later, featuring Brett Anderson, Jon McClure and Carl Barat, and - perhaps because I had oh-so-subtly mentioned some of my other freelance work including The Guardian, and plenty of music reviewing - he said, "Okay, sure."

Much agonising over words later I emailed the copy off and sat back, waiting to see what would happen. Fast forward to today...after much peering at shelves in various corner shops in Pimlico (if they're not on a corner, what are they?) I found the December issue and there on page 49 is my review in full, complete with a small picture of me and the band from the rehearsal day, complete with a little, in-bold byline. Pretty cool.

Okay, so I got to write it via a competition entry I saw on Twitter (yet another tick in the pro-Twitter column) but hey, I can now say I've written for Word Magazine.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The age of Auster

In September both my housemates urged me to read The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. So I did. And thoroughly enjoyed it; a strange, hyper-meta-fiction work that subverts the crime fiction genre, while also being very compelling and confusing in equal measures. A cheap airport thriller it is not. After that I read Man in the the Dark, also lent by my housemate, and enjoyed that too.

Glancing down a list of other books by Auster I spied one called Music of Chance. I went into a book shop and, not only found it straightaway, but next to it was another Auster called Leviathan - it was clearly a sign. I read both of these while on my flights to and from Slovakia (see post below) and returned home eager for more. I found The Brooklyn Follies for £2 in a charity shop, and then bought Mr Vertigo, Timbuktu, Moon Palace, and The Book of Illusions from Amazon, while someone at work lent me Travels in the Scriptorium. I finished the last of these - Moon Palace - last night. Ten Auster's in two months.

Of these my favourites were Timbuktu, Mr Vertigo, Leviathan and Music of Chance. Timbuktu is told from the perspective of a dog, Mr Vertigo is about a boy who can fly - what's not to be intrigued about? Travels in the Scriptorium was my least favourite - a poor man's New York Trilogy - and the rest a mixture of the very good and some slightly flater moments - The Book of Illusions, for instance, starts off very strongly but fades off somewhat towards the end.

There are a lot of reoccurring themes, motifs and plots elements in a lot of these works. Many character come into money in different ways (inheritance mainly), eliminating Auster having to worry about what his character do to get by, instead having them spend time in long, strange periods of isolation, often retelling, or writing, stories, or spending time sat in rooms writing in notebooks. In both Moon Palace and Book of Illusions the central character spends a great deal of the novel - almost a third or a half - hearing the life story of another central character - thus the books are essentially two stories bound up in one.

Furthermore character names and historical figures crop up all the time too - Zimmer, Blume, Quinn, while Nathaniel Hawthorne and other Hawthorne family members are frequently referenced. There is always a section in which a character either goes to live in France, or has lived in France in the past - something Auster himself did - while they are almost always set exclusively in and around New York. Lots of characters start off intending to destroy themselves - "I was looking for a quiet place to die" - first line, The Brooklyn Follies - only to find themselves in a strange, quirky story which ultimately saves them - not in a Hollywood happy-ever-after way, more in a dark, life-goes-on way. Sometimes these repetitions of plot are irritating, and other times they are not. It's hard to explain that but although each time it happens it's easy to reference to the other book(s) where it happens it's more important when read within the context of the book and the story as to how noticeably it sticks out as another Austerism.

Auster's writing style is one thing I am a great fan of. There are some wonderful descriptions in each and every book - some sentence are so intriguing or well-written it make you stop and re-read them; often they are so evocative as to conjure up another entire story, as if they could be the first line of another complete novel. He has an uncanny ability to philosophise on ideas of chance and fate (in his characters voices') without it sounding trite or clichéd but fresh and original. There is also a great emphasis placed on detail for details sake, rather than merely to fill paragraphs with descriptions. Indeed, since reading Auster I have rediscovered my creative writing bug and written one short story - and put online here - and have a couple of others bubbling away on my Google Documents.

So yeah, Paul Auster. There you go.

Monday, November 09, 2009

From Slovakia with thoughts

At the end of September I went to Slovakia on a work trip - part of which involved a flight in a Hind Military Attack Helicopter (video), which was awesome - and I realise I never wrote anything on this. So now I will. Stand back...

Slovakia was a very interesting, pretty country - I saw the cities of Presov and Košice, the second and third largest, as well as a bit of the countryside as we travelled about by coach, and above from the air. The streets were classic Eastern European - covered in tram lines, little cafes, bistros, odd looking alleyways heading here and there and so forth. But there were clear signs of modernism too with Tesco, Pizza Huts and M&S all to be found in among the old gothic facades of the local shops. There were plenty of pinks, yellows and blues on the fronts of buildings too, giving it that chocolate-box (cliche?) feel you often get in quaint European cities and while there was little clear evidence of the Cold War or the Second World War there was a definite sense of history among the streets; the church in Kosice for example had that air of the old world, of the dates 1759 or 1816. The women were mostly stunning, the men, less so.

A few days in either town would probably suffice I imagine, but it was nice to have seen a couple of interesting places in Europe I doubt I would otherwise ever visit. It was strange to realise too that we were just 70km from the Ukraine.

Friday, November 06, 2009


So it's been 40 years of Sesame Street; I can't think of much to say about it really except that I was absolutely terrified of Big Bird when I was a child. I think it's understandable really; this massive, yellow, huge nosed creature peering down at the camera with the slightly gorky, fluish voice saying 'ooh hello children, today's letter is the letter Ttttt' is terrifying. Ho hum.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

London aboveground

In the last ten days I've had the luck to fly in over London twice. Once around 3.30pm, as a low winter sun bounced off the Thames and the buildings, and then again last night, on a clear moonlight skied night, with every electricity-burning piece of equipment shining brightly below.

Both times it was absolutely stunning. The day time flight was incredible to see so clearly buildings like the Gherkin, St Pauls, the colours of the trees in the parks, especially my local Finsbury Park, or the winding Thames from such a unique perspective, as we flew into London City Airport. I didn't think much could top that but last night was even more spectacular.

Something about seeing the city so brightly lit, the cars, buses, trains and tubes hurtling this way and that, each famous monument bathed in assorted shades of colours, the parks' outlines clearly visible by their darkness in among the light - there Green Park, on to Hyde Park, up to Regents, then Hampstead, across to Finsbury Park, below the Emirates football stadium clearly visible - was just utterly beguiling. The boats on the river causing trails of white water, the city stretching away to the horizon, the idea of so many people out and about below us, barely acknowledging just another plane arriving from another party of the globe, all of it so mesmerising. We even did our flight holding path out over the city, and banked at Canary Wharf (ha!), making those towers of money seem beautiful.

Back on the tube, chugging slowly home, it's hard to appreciate the reality of London. But from above, the whole spectacle splayed out before you, it really is quite breathtaking. For a fantastic set of images (takes a while to load mind) taken by a photographer for the Boston Globe, check here (number 15 is my favourite).

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Z is for...


Why are Zzzs representative of sleep? Is it the shape, the three layered positioning that could resemble the head, body and legs of a person in bed. Or is it meant to be snoring that makes a sound akin to zzz - because, if it is, it's not very accurate is it? A snore is more guttural, more nasally, than the soft, sounds of a Zzz. Make the snoring noise and you'll agree it's far more like this: 'Ckkkkkkk'. Or perhaps you have a better interpretation? Trying to write out sounds that don't easily fit into the sounds of letters is strange.

Did you enjoy the alphabet blogs then? I don't know why I started them, I just thought it would give me a good reason to blog (almost) every day and might through up some random / diverse / interesting topics. I hope it did at least.

A blog on London from above tomorrow. Pencil that in your diary.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Y is for...


Coming from Cornwall I've done a bit of sailing in my time - possible not enough in some respects, but I've been in to the Carrick Roads several times, to the Scilly Isles and back, and so on, and it's much fun, as long as you can get a nice bit of speed up.

Sailing around the world seems to be a challenge of human existence that remains a significant feat of endurance and ability. Of course, GPS and Sat Phones make it possible for people to be far safer by allowing them to keep up to date with the weather, and stay in direct contact with the outside world, but like climbing Everest, while lots of people have now done it, it still requires a level of dedication that goes beyond the everyday. I found out about the clipper yacht race in which people of all abilities, starting from no sailing experience at all, take boats around the world over nine months as part of a race. I thought, that sounds like fun. Cost to enter? £40,000. Shame.

This video of one of the Volvo Ocean Yacht race boats skimming over the waves, surfing at one point (20-23 seconds), is a great example of the speed and excitement sailing can provide (and has the Pirates of the Caribbean theme music too):