Archive | Uncategorized RSS for this section

Spying.

thumb_COLOURBOX5661662 - CopyDaniel Craig is my favourite Bond. There, I’ve put my cards on the table like Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. Sean Connery comes a close second. With Craig, it’s the combination of his brutal appearance which makes him appear more genuinely powerful than his predecessors in the role, and his ability to mix daft chat up lines with a dark, more brooding persona that gets him my vote.

What gives rise to impressing my Bond preference so abruptly upon you, dear reader, is a recent visit to London. Ambling through Covent Garden after a genteel saunter along the South Bank, I happened to find myself at the foot of the London Film Museum in Wellington Street. Not knowing it was there or that such a place even existed, I was giddy and immediately so, as the words ‘Bond In Motion’ confronted me from a sign above the entrance.

This, my friends, was a new exhibition and in fact, the largest official collection of original James Bond vehicles ever staged in London. I. Was. Excited. Less so my good lady, who left me to pay the admission fee (£14.50) and an extra £3 for an audio commentary by stunt driver Ben Collins, better known as The Stig in Top Gear. Collins was also the stunt driver for Bond’s car in Quantum of Solace, Casino Royale and Eve Moneypenny’s car in Skyfall.

It was a surreal experience seeing so many cars from the franchise in one place but very cool and I’d recommend a visit if you’re in that neck of the woods anytime soon. Anyway, this is a selection of the vehicles that I saw.

DSCF1080

This battered chopper is one of the models used to film the finale scenes of Skyfall, as Bond, M and the gamekeeper attempt to evade a siege from the air orchestrated by villain Raoul Silva.

DSCF1081

The Acrostar Mini as seen in 1983 film Octopussy starring Roger Moore.

DSCF1082

 Q’s ‘retirement boat’, last seen tearing up the River Thames with Bond aboard as he pursues a would-be assassin in The World Is Not Enough.

DSCF1083

The Glastron 150 GT speedboat was navigated by Bond in a high speed water chase in Live And Let Die, the eighth film in the series and Roger Moore’s debut as our suave spy.

DSCF1084

How do you make a Lotus Esprit even cooler? Why enable its driver to transform it into a submarine at the touch of a button of course. Maybe not of all that use for the daily commute, but Roger Moore’s Bond certainly found it handy when outrunning metal toothed nutjob Jaws in 1977 installment The Spy Who Loved Me.

DSCF1085

This is what was left of one of the Aston Martin DBS V12s hammered around Italian roads as Daniel Craig’s Bond out maneuvered would-be assassins en route to Siena via mountain passes and gravel roads in Quantum of Solace. Authentic.

DSCF1086

The same car, but a film earlier. The Aston Martin DBS V12 was flipped more times than a pancake on Shrove Tuesday as Bond took sudden evasive action at high speed to avoid running over gorgeous double agent Vesper Lynd who had been dumped and tied up in the middle of the road in the 2006 version of Casino Royale. It what was a world first, the scene saw the stunt team land a Guinness World Record for the most cannon rolls in a car – seven times. Barrel roll.

DSCF1088

The iconic and timelessly majestic Aston Martin DB5. Released in 1963 it first appeared in a James Bond film when Goldfinger hit cinema screens. Later, the same model was used in Thunderball, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale and Skyfall.

DSCF1090

Red leather interior eh? Niche market. This 1969 Mercury Cougar convertible featured in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

DSCF1092

The BMW Z8 was driven by Pierce Brosnan’s Bond in The World Is Not Enough and came equipped with ground to air missiles. Obviously. Sadly this fine sporty number was sawn in two by a helicopter later in the film.

DSCF1093

A Honda CFR250R in Turkish Police colours from Skyfall. For when two wheels are better than four.

DSCF1095

‘Little Nellie’ appeared in You Only Live Twice. The heavily armed gyrocopter could be transported in several cases and quickly assembled to deliver Bond from tricky situations.

DSCF1096

This Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante was particularly well packed. Used in The Living Daylights, it came armed with everything a slick spy could ask for: side skis, spiked tires, missiles, hubcap-mounted lasers, rocket propulsion and a self-destruct mechanism (best press the right button there James).

DSCF1098

The style ante was really upped when it came to motors in Die Another Day which came as an aesthetically pleasing distraction from what was possibly the most disappointing Bond movie in the series. In striking green, the Jaguar XKR convertible commandeered by villain Zao certainly caught the eye. Its miniature missiles on the door panels and the rockets under the front grille certainly seized Bond’s attention.

DSCF1099

Bond was not to be thwarted in Die Another Day behind the wheel of this Aston Martin V12 Vanquish which had an invisibility cloak, front mounted rockets of its own and target-seeking shotguns on its bonnet.

DSCF1100

Some golden oldies to finish this picture special, in the form of two Rolls-Royces: the 1962 Silver Cloud (above) and the super vintage 1937 Phantom III. The former featured in A View To Kill and the latter in Goldfinger, which was used by the Auric Goldfinger to smuggle gold.

DSCF1101

If that wasn’t enough for you then click on over via this link for more information about all the vehicles that have featured in the James Bond films so far.

Bond In Motion is running at the London Film Museum in Covent Garden until the end of 2014. Full price adult tickets are £14.50.

Cue the music: De-de, de-deeeerrrrr, de derr-derr…

 

Advertisements

Listening II.

thumb_COLOURBOX5661662 - CopyThere are moments; we all experience them, when you unwittingly find yourself quite involuntarily immersed in a stranger’s life from a distance. These spontaneous occurrences come in many guises: being forced to overhear one side of a mobile phone conversation while sat opposite someone on a train (it’s never the interesting folk is it? Always an ‘undesirable’), riding a lift with two people you don’t know who are having a chat between themselves, or taking in the dynamic of couples or families in the queue at the supermarket. If you’re in the kind of mood I was in the other day – dreamy – you’ll start to build an extended picture in your mind of that stranger’s, or group of strangers’, life or lives.

It happened, as it normally tends to do, at a most unexpected time the other day. I fired up the engine of a company car; a vehicle I’d not driven before, and automatically there was music. The dashboard stereo churned into life. It was the beginning of a song, clean and without interference – it wasn’t the radio, it was a CD.

“De-de-der-de-de-der, De-de-der-de-de-der,   De-de-der-de-de-der,   De-de-der-de-de-der,   De-de-der-de-de-der,   De-de-der-de-de-der, DRUM, Sheee says her love for me, can never die…”

It was of course – fingers on buzzers – Bryan Adams ‘Run To You’. Okay, ‘this is cheesy’ I’m thinking though milliseconds later I’m unconsciously tapping my foot; I’ve not started driving yet. The foot tap is swiftly added to by a continuous head bop, aka ‘The Slow Chicken Peck’. Ah damn, I purse my lips in a pout at the same time, a sure sign that I’m ‘feeling it’ as it were. From outside the car, anyone casting a glance in my direction as they retrieve their motor from the car park at the end of a long day at work would be confronted by a slightly amusing, slightly deranged vision; I look like a guy pecking at the steering wheel of a Vauxhall Astra with my lips. I’m caught up in the moment, such considerations don’t enter my mind.

Halfway into the song I’m intrigued as to what the next track is. I’m as susceptible to the Slow Chicken as much as the next man when a Bryan Adams tune comes on, but I’m hoping this isn’t one of the chirpy, pock-faced Canadian’s albums – you’re just not my bag Bryan, not for a full listing of tracks, soz. Track two is ‘The Wolves’ by young Ben Howard. Meh, bit pedestrian for my tastes.

Falling from high places, falling through lost spaces,
Now that we’re lonely, now that there’s nowhere to go.
Watching from both sides, these clock towers burning up,
I lost my time here, I lost my patience with it all.
We lost faith, in the arms of love.

Next track. ‘The Man Who Never Lied’, Maroon 5. No. Just no. Suddenly I’m getting the impression, rightly or wrongly, that this is a compilation burned onto compact disc by a member of the opposite sex.

I was the man who never lied, I never lied until today,
But I just couldn’t break your heart, Like you did mine yesterday.

Track four is cheeky and happy. A funky beat. Then he goes and ruins it all by singing: Jamiroquai. Look, it’s a long time since ‘Space Cowboy’ and even ‘Underground’. ‘Seven Days in Sunny June’ just isn’t in the same class.

Sitting in the summer sun, You know I’ve wanted you so long,
Why do you have to, Drop that bomb on me?

My listening experience declines markedly with the next track. Kelly Clarkson, ‘Mr Know It All’; “You don’t know a thing about me”. I hit skip but suddenly something’s stirring in my mind. It looks obvious when you read the lyrics here, but the person who’s compiled this playlist has done so with intent and I’m starting to pick up on the mood. I think our girl – yep, definitely a female – is a bit troubled. I can sense a consistent sadness and reflectiveness in the lyrics and suddenly I’m empathetic. Through the words rattling my ear drums, I’m absorbing the memories of her unease. I try to imagine what’s left her feeling this way. The lyrics, to me, are suggestive of relationship issues. As well as sadness and reflectiveness there’s a dash of attitude; a sense of being wronged. That’s why the next song surprises me.

I mean, Loooooove-lllllly, Is The Feelin’ Now”, that’s right Michael Jackson, as ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’ kicks in; I’m happy now. Two things completely unrelated to my thoughts about the girl who had occupied this vehicle before occur to me. One, this must be on Yoda’s iPod – “Keep on with The Force don’t stop, Don’t stop ’til you get enough” – and two, this clip from Rush Hour II:

But once I’ve had my fun, the playlist continues with less rises and more falls and the sentiments I detected earlier return to the surface. The remaining tracks play out as follows: Billy Joel, ‘New York State Of Mind’ which is slow, sombre, knowing; Maroon 5, ‘One More Night’, an interesting one as the beat picks up and I can sense whatever troubles our girl is having with her other half, she’s not ready to throw in the towel:

You and I go hard at each other like we’re going to war.
You and I go rough, we keep throwing things and slamming the door.
You and I get so damn dysfunctional, we stopped keeping score.
You and I get sick, yeah, I know that we can’t do this no more.
Yeah, but baby there you go again, there you go again, making me love you.

Then it’s: Jamiroquai, ‘Black Devil Car’, fast and distanced from relationship issues. Now it seems like our girl has gone through a spectrum of emotions, something has been resolved in her mind, and she’s regaining her composure. The rest of the CD is a real mixture: The Script, ‘The Man Who Can’t Be Moved’, the words of which hint at acceptance that she can’t live without her man, whatever their current differences (“Good for her”, I think). Then there’s some Razorlight, Scissor Sisters, more Michael Jackson (‘Black or White’ – ace! The Slow Chicken is back), round two of Bryan Adams, Taylor Swift, ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ (come on girl, I thought you’d reached a happy resolution… oh, maybe this is it! …Good for you, he was never good enough for you darlin’), Red Hot Chili Peppers, ‘I Could Die For You’ (Right. That’s It. I’m confused. Argghhh! Don’t make me side with him), Maroon 5 (skip, skip, SKIP), James Morrison, Corinne Bailey Rae and, finally, track 20 and the end of the CD, and it’s Sheryl Crow:

All I wanna do is have some fun, I got a feeling I’m not the only one,
All I wanna do is have some fun, Until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard.

You were messing with me all along weren’t you girl?! …I wonder what Santa Monica’s like at this time of year. Oh look! A rainbow! *And he drives away into the evening*

 

 

Bearding II.

thumb_COLOURBOX5661662 - CopyTyping ‘why grow a beard’ into Google brings up some bizarre and entertaining results. Number one: ‘Want to look older and more aggressive? Grow a beard’. Number three dares you to grow epic: ’10 very good reasons why you should grow a giant beard’. I like number seven the most: ‘7 reasons to date a guy with a beard: Research shows that growing a beard keeps a guy younger-looking and cancer-free’. Contradictory advice on the affects of ageing but at least, as a beard wearer myself, I can consider myself immune to the big C (possibly).

It’s been nine months since I last shaved and the benefits have been many.

It’s taken me to grow a beard combined with turning 30 to bring an end to shop assistants asking me for ID for the purchase of four tinnies of Boddingtons and as someone who can’t sit still, it has given me a constant source for fiddling with; at my desk at work (suggests I’m deep in thought – tick), whilst watching TV and, erm,while I attempt to string together blog posts about beards…

why-to-grow-beardThere are minor drawbacks. My flatmate isn’t overly enamored with how long I spend trimming my chin locks in the bathroom and once compared discovering a stray facial hair to finding a spider’s leg in the sink. More of an irritant to me is cosying up with the duvet or a sleeping bag around my chin. It makes my bristles wiggle in somewhat uncomfortable fashion. The same effect is caused by bubbles in the bath getting all up in my face. Nonetheless, I’m committed to its longevity, albeit not quite on the same scale as the folks I met at Yorkshire Beard Day in Scarborough recently.

Organised by bearded people for bearded people, with a bearded band playing, beard t-shirts and badges for sale and, for the beardless, a generous supply of felt for cutting into the shape of a beard for the day, all proceeds went to Prostrate Cancer UK. It was the third time the event had been held by chief beard wearer, local man Anthony Springall, who works as a cake designer. A noble effort by the bearded community, make no mistake, but it was also a chance for egos to go to war. There was some serious bearding in the room, each man out to impress the others with the sheer manliness and coolness of their facial styling.

One chap mooched about the room wearing plastic curlers – like those you see the girls in Corrie wearing (in the hair on top of their heads obviously) in the salon – in his scraggly grey arrangement. Being early on in the proceedings, I asked if the curlers were installed to prepare his voluminous locks for judging later on. No, I was told, this was just his look. Okay. Someone might having been pulling my leg.

IMG_20140410_120552It’s hard not to stare at a brilliant beard. There was one slender gent, wearing braces over his short sleeved shirt, with an equally slender brown-haired beard that trailed neatly and perfectly column-like down to his waist. But my favourite was the epic effort sported by 31-year-old Andy Teague, pictured here, who is president of The Wessex Beardsmen, a branch of The British Beard Club and who took part in The World Beard and Moustache Championships in Germany last year.

I was staggered by the complexity and tidiness of his beard, and couldn’t help but ask to have my photo taken with him. He didn’t mind at all, and told me how he had driven seven hours up from Chad in Somerset with his wife and kids to be at the event. It had taken his wife two hours, using some form of gluing technique, to arrange his beard into the circular shapes which matched the shape of the lenses of his sunglasses. I believe this look falls into the steampunk category.

By mid-afternoon, 80 people had registered their beards as competitors across seven categories of beards. Despite encouragement from one of the organisers I decided not to enter my amateur beard into the King George V section.

Stylist for the day, Dawn Louise Cooper, who owns Scene hair salon in Scarborough, told me about the popularity of the event. A stylist of some repute herself, she has styled the hair of The Seahorses front man Chris Elms and has worked with celebrities such as Kerry Katona.

“It’s the Richard V category that usually the most popular but longer beards seem to be growing in popularity this year. Beards are bang on trend. A lot of beard wearers have a bit of an alternative look but beards seem to have gone a bit ‘David Beckham’ I think and the word has spread about this event and there’s more people here this year.”

I was unperturbed by joining the ‘masses’ of new beard wearers, not least because Dawn encouraged me to enter the competition, but I couldn’t help but feel out of depth in terms of chin prowess in this room in Scarborough. For now I’ll indulge in the weird and the wonderful of all things beard. To sign off, here’s a bit of light, factually accurate reading from Buzzfeed on why beards rule.

Dreaming.

thumb_COLOURBOX5661662 - CopyI didn’t know whether to title this post ‘Dreaming’ or ‘Believing’. As things stand, ahead of Liverpool FC’s absolutely huge showdown with Manchester City at Anfield this Sunday, I think the former is the most suitable description for how I feel about our title chances and that’s no problem at all. I’ll be sat in a Liverpool pub this Sunday, glued to the action on the big screen, with my head full of hopes and dreams.

I’d love to believe the Mighty Reds are going to romp on to claim their first top flight championship victory in 24 years, and I suspect should we take all three points this weekend I will start genuinely believing, but just dreaming of us lifting our first Barclay’s Premier League title is quite something. And I’m not kidding, I’ve fallen asleep on occasions this last week imagining captain fantastic Stevie G lifting that trophy in May, of the epic scenes of celebration in the city as the trophy is paraded before an adoring fanbase and of my own emotional response to the final whistle of the game that seals title victory. Sobriety in the days, nay weeks, that followed could not be guaranteed.

In 1990, when the likes of John Barnes and Ian Rush fired us to our eighteenth and last First Division title, I was seven-years-old, a full two years before my first footballing memories, which curiously are of watching the Euro ’92 final when Denmark upset the odds to defeat Germany in Gothenburg.

The 1994/95 season was my first of obsessively following the Reds. This is my twentieth season supporting the greatest team of my mum’s home city and in that time it’s no boast to say I’ve watched on as various incumbents of the liver bird shirt have won every single competition in which they have competed in, bar the Club World Cup and the Premier League.

We’ve come close before to ending the title drought. In 2008/09 we were tremendous with Gerrard at his most rampaging, playing off the once brilliant Fernando Torres; the energetic Javier Mascherano doggedly breaking up the opponents’ play, and the imperious Xabi Alonso spraying the ball around with effortless calm and precision. That was some Liverpool side, the best I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing and while it was a season in which we found another gear under the masterful guidance of Rafa Benitez, it was a season when we were always playing catch up to Manchester United and, albeit briefly when we destroyed those lot 4-1 at Old Trafford, it always felt that we were likely to just fall short.

This year, under Brendan Rodgers, in only his second season at the helm, it feels different. We have momentum as the league leaders with nine wins on the bounce. There is cohesion among our XI that I’ve never seen before. To a man, the players seem to anticipate intuitively where their teammates are on the pitch. They press the opponents when they have the ball as one and they attack in great numbers and with electric pace. Has there ever been a Liverpool side so bursting with pace and trickery? I can’t recall a greater attacking quartet in the last twenty years than Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling.

For long periods under Benitez, we played with great intensity and it was a joy to watch. That’s the hallmark of a great Liverpool side to me. But where we were intense as a counter attacking side under Rafa, we are a different proposition yet with similar qualities under Rodgers. We press hard but express our own game, attacking is the remit, even when we’re a couple of goals up and it’s refreshing to finally hear neutrals who’ve derided the Reds for years as boring, tell me how Liverpool are an entertaining team to watch.

The squad has great youth and I don’t mean rough diamonds, but quality young players who are already full internationals or are otherwise knocking on the door. Sterling is only 19 and has 72 appearances and nine goals to his name. Jon Flanagan is 21, has 36 appearances and one goal (among this season’s highlights for me, his emphatic finish during the 5-0 hammering of Tottenham at White Hart Lane in December). Coutinho turns 22 in June.

Perhaps not ‘youth’, but definitely still young players with plenty of potential for improvement are Henderson, who’s 23, and Joe Allen, Mamadou Sakho and Sturridge, all just 24. Combine them with the experience of Suarez, Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel, all top players familiar with the pressure that comes with playing on the grandest stages, then the chemistry of this Liverpool squad looks fantastic. With a few reinforcements to improve upon our second tier players next season – the likes of Aly Cissokho, Victor Moses and Iago Aspas – and I would expect a decent run in the Champions League, participation in which now looks assured and has, incredibly, been sidelined as we dream of what the next five games of this unbelievable season could yet, and just might, deliver.

I’m not counting my chickens. Fourteen wins on the bounce, a feat which looks likely to have to be achieved to immortalise this squad of players, in the history books, is a huge ask and has only been achieved once by an English side in the last 99 years – by Arsenal in 2002 (and that spread over the end of the 2001/02 season and the start of 2002/03).

What is for certain is that this season has already surpassed expectations, with a finish in top four the aspirational target before a ball was kicked last August, but it would be unreal for the dream to come true for two reasons – for Steven Gerrard to complete his trophy haul whitewash and, of course, in this, the 25th anniversary year of Hillsborough, for the 96. There would be no better tribute. YNWA.

Jigging.

thumb_COLOURBOX5661662 - CopyIf you know me at all, you will know I’m somewhat partial to throwing the odd shape on the dancefloor. I can recall one such occasion on a mostly unoccupied dancefloor at a work bash in some random part of Scotland working a Beyonce routine like no man has ever done so before (the song about the ring); I recall unashamedly thrusting my arms in various directions into the sweaty air of a Sheffield nightclub finely balanced on a podium when I felt untouchable, shirt unbuttoned, in my student days.

Essentially I’ve generally no issues with making a fool out of myself for the sake of a bit of fun. I had however, until very recently, never been confronted with a ceilidh. Describing this form of dance in official, culturally respectful terms – doths cap to the Scots and Irish – it is a social event with Scottish or Irish folk music and singing, traditional dancing, and storytelling. The singing here was thankfully limited to the band and required no audience participation. Traditional dancing? Yes, there was plenty, although I would describe it as a high-tempo deviation of the hokie-cokie that wouldn’t look out of place in a Hobbiton dance scene. Storytelling? Perhaps, but it was lost on me.

It was a fine occasion. One of my besties’ wedding celebrations in a fine hotel in the centre of Harrogate, North Yorkshire, and a fair proportion of the guests were getting in on the action – the bride and groom, their parents and family and friends across the age spectrum. There were plenty who took to it as naturals. There were others who did not. From where I was standing – nay, prancing – I was one of the latter.

Here’s what I didn’t look like:

 

Billed beforehand, I knew a ceilidh was on the cards, I just wasn’t entirely sure what one looked like. Bless the brave first couples who stepped up. It soon became clear, as the band instructed them through their paces, that there were stringent rules on the sequence of dance patterns – they have to be repeated a prescribed number of times and strung together in order… over and over and over. Now, I’m more of a freestyler, more at home letting the beats be absorbed by my tipsy brain and translated through my limbs as mock-serious moves. I’m a fan of ‘the compressed dancer’ for example; fists bobbing at chest height, shoulders hunched in – it’s a classic; compatible with a wide range of musical genres.

Me & Kelvin, the stylish groom.

Me & Kelvin, the stylish groom.

Ceilidh intimidated me. My memory is a tad shaky at the best of times so remembering the steps with a belly full of wine in front of a room of people was something of an ask. It was this, and maybe some apprehension after my last attempt at cultural performance in Ireland – when, making my gaelic football debut, I fell full-frontal onto the heel of a friend, landing on my rib cage (an affair which led to six weeks dosed up on codeine as muscle damage repaired itself) – that saw me issue pleas of denial when the mother of the bride wandered over to our table of school friends and demanded I accompany her on the dancefloor.

My resistance was expressed in frantic pointing, to volunteer a friend across the table, alas it was in vain. An awkward ten seconds passed and I suddenly felt guilty for leaving the mother of the bride hanging like this with so many watching eyes on our exchange. So I stepped up like a gent… and proceeded to dance like an under the influence version of the Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley.

Stumbling through the moves, learned as we went along, my dance partner put me to shame. Where she recalled when and in which direction to swing round holding hands, then to trot around and negotiate a couple forming a tunnel with their hands held aloft before sidestepping around in circles in a group, I was none the wiser. In fact I highly suspect I’ve recalled the order incorrectly here. We repeated the maneuvers maybe seven or eight times and I was utterly shattered by the end of it. My performance had been ridiculous and I felt worthy of indulging in a cigar outside to regain my composure at the end of the night.

Ceilidh: approach with caution.

Listening.

thumb_COLOURBOX5661662 - CopyMusic has the power to articulate within you those unspoken feelings that would otherwise stay locked in your heart. I read a quote to that effect years ago. I’ve written it down somewhere. Beautifully eloquent and so true.

Not everyone values music in the same way, don’t you think? Father Christmas did me a solid when the bearded gent delivered a Walkman and the mighty Monster Hits: Volume 11 to this grateful blogger in 1989. Sold straight away by the cool-looking lizard in a tuxedo on the tape box sleeve, believe it or not, this compilation featuring gigantic(-ally cheesy) hits such as Black Box, Ride On Time, Chris Rea, The Road to Hell (part 2) and Cher, If I Could Turn Back Time, was to prove my original musical awakening.

To give my six-year-old self some credit it was the rather more testosterone-pumping hits on the album, namely Aerosmith, Love In An Elevator, and Alice Cooper, Poison, that captured my imagination. The guitars, the pace of the drums, it stirred in me an excitedness I’d never experienced before. I was hooked on music from then on. I’ll hurry through my early musical journey, no self-respecting man of the world can be proud of once owning the entire back catalogue of Take That in the peak of their sex-object boyband years. I remember bouncing on my parents’ bed singing and dancing to Take That and Party – no, I have no idea why I’m sharing this with the world either.

Annnnyyyyway, I became quite the tape collector, scouring the bargain bins in Woolworths searching for singles that had fallen out of the Top 40 weeks earlier – I remember picking up the likes of 2wo Third3 – I Want The World, Aswad – Shine and UB40 & Pato Banton – Baby Come Back for about £1.49 each. (Random aside – At the time I was convinced, absolutely convinced, that Pato B sang ‘With a CD collection above my knee’ instead ‘of Bob Marley’ in the second or third verse. Alas, I was mistaken.) The great love affair was also expressed through my collection of Now That’s What I Call Music collection which started with Now 26 back in 1993. Who can ever forget such musical masterpieces as DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Boom! Shake the Room, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Relax, and, erm, Chaka Demus & Pliers (Best. Name. Ever.) She Don’t Let Nobody? (Maybe not the best song ever?)

I had a pop phase, a dance phase – think ATB, Alice Deejay and Darude – a rap phase when I bought 42” waist jeans for my slender 32” inch frame so they were baggy like Eminem, but it just looked like I was wearing a tyre around my crotch beneath the denim, that’s how stupidly baggy they were in all the wrong places. It was around the time of the latter that I also had my second musical awakening. American punk rock. Take a bow. And it all started with Green Day – more on that in a mo.

Another of music’s great qualities is its capability of taking you back to a very specific moment in your life. Some tracks or whole albums evoke very vivid memories of where you were at in your life when you originally listened to it. Here, below, are three tracks, among countless others, that have that very effect on me, for better or for worse.

2014-01-07 22.22.30Green Day, Minority – I heard it on Radio 1 late one school night as a 15 or 16-year-old, headphones jacked, lying awake in bed. Wow, I thought, just wow, it felt like I’d been waiting for something like this ever since Love In An Elevator on Monster Hits. Minority certainly isn’t Green Day’s finest track, far from it but its lively simplicity and couldn’t care less attitude resonated with me. Mentioning this band in school the next day, my good pal Kelvin, later in the week produced his copy of Green Day’s Nimrod album for me to have a listen to. The floodgates opened. Hitchin’ A Ride remains one of my top ten tracks ever, and from Green Day I got into punk rock and a whole host of associated genres, there was Offspring, Blink-182, New Found Glory and from there Nirvana, System of a Down, Foo Fighters, among many, many others. I still listen to all of those artists today, some a lot more often than others, but they are the foundations of my music collection; music that spanned some of the best days of my life growing up as a teenager and going to house parties.

2014-01-07 22.23.11The Beatles, Hey Jude – ‘Nah, nah nah, nana-nah-nah, nana-nah-nah, Hey Juuuu-uuudddeee!’ Belting out of my lungs it was as I pushed the 40mph speed limit in my recently acquired, second-hand Renault Megane. ‘Nah, nah, nah, nana-nah-nah’ – as I drive round a gentle downhill bend, crossing into Bradford on my way to start work in the newsroom – music continues at lofty decibels and a moment after negotiating the bend the cars in front brake heavily as a truck decides rather sharpishly to turn left into a driveway. I brake – mouth still reciting ‘Hey Juuu-uuude’ – too late. Smash. Crunch. Oh bugger. There’s a hissing sound. Smoke. And I’m staring at my front end, crumpled, concertinaed into the rear of a Nissan. The Beatles are still in full flow. Out I get, swap insurance details with older couple in front. They leave. I call work and the insurance company. I have to wait for my car to be towed. I’ve written it off mere hundreds of yards up the hill from its garage of purchase, £3,500 and a few weeks ago and after my last wheels went to the scrap man for mechanical failure. I walked to a church just down the road in a state of shock while I waited for the recovery van and cried. It was a pathetic sight. I’ve never been able to listen to Hey Jude with the same enthusiasm.

2014-01-07 22.37.25The Cribs, Be Safe – Unbelievably this track escaped my attention until last summer. Backpacking through the Balkans with Dan, my flatmate, I relied on borrowing his mobile phone to listen to music during the long bus journeys between Belgrade and Sarajevo, Sarajevo and Kotor and back again, Sarajevo to Nis and Nis to Sofia – we covered some miles and we had a lot of time on our hands so I was listening to stuff on Dan’s phone that I’d not heard before. Be Safe blew my mind. It’s five-and-a-half minutes of beautiful tangled poetry drawing on life’s highs and lows but ultimately fills me with optimism – ‘The movie, unreeling, about to begin’. I was starting a new chapter in my life, I was passing beautiful countryside in gorgeous summer heat, I was living day to day, for the moment, responsibility-free for three weeks on the road with my best pal and this song spoke of recognising the insignificance of life’s minor irritations. Hairs did indeed stand up on the back of my neck.

Music is a powerful thing and it’s good for the soul to get lost in it every once in a while.

Going Gaelic.

thumb_COLOURBOX5661662 - CopyYou know what? I’ve got to be honest, at that moment, lying face down on the AstroTurf, throbbing pain coursing through my torso having taken the impact of a hefty fall onto the trailing leg of my flatmate fully on the left side of my rib cage, I thought, this ain’t so much fun.

Never had I lain prone wracked with agony, then retracted into the foetal position, on an artificial sports pitch in Ireland before, but that was my fate last weekend. C’est le craic? Hmm, a cracked rib is my self diagnosis but at the time, on a blustery Saturday afternoon in Dublin, it felt like I’d been hit by a small hatchback being driven at speed.

The thing is with me, when it comes to sport, I’m an all or nothing kind of guy. Short, idiotic bursts of energy, exhausting my fitness in a heartbeat and falling over. Think Boris Johnson’s lunatic cameo during Soccer Aid circa 2007.  I should have learnt my lesson from countless crashes into walls and hopeless dives onto the floor during bouts in the squash court, but no, and this time I was trying another sport for the first time. Gaelic football. When in Rome and all that…

It’s easy to get tunnel vision about sport; passionate about one and stick to it. I’m guessing I’m not the only Englishman to have visited our neighbours over the Irish Sea completely unaware of just how huge the gaelic sports are over there.

Strolling through Dublin city centre in my Liverpool shirt, blazer on, 51st State style, a few randomers commented, a mixture of kinship from LFC’s strong Irish contingent and scorn from the odd Man Utd fan; but the popularity of the English Premier League in Ireland is overshadowed by their love of gaelic sports. At Na Fianna, the gaelic sports club that played exemplary host to this out-of-shape blogger and six other members of the same stag party, we were told that the two biggest sports in Ireland are gaelic football and hurling.

20140215_150854We learnt how clubs like this one had dozens and dozens of teams across genders and age groups from as young as under-8s and every city, town and village has a club or a whole host of clubs, and if you are born in a neighbourhood associated with a particular club, then that’s your allegiance set for life.

Out of each club are rosters of different squads representing different gaelic sports, much like at Na Fianna where they have gaelic handball, football and hurling teams. It’s a community atmosphere where people frequent as boys then men, and as girls then women. Star players, who rise through the ranks to achieve the honour of representing their county team, are expected to pay their dues and show up at their local club to take training sessions with the kids. One of the chaps involved in our sessions is the uncle of a top hurling player for Dublin County, but you’d have no idea.

Unlike soccer, where the stars are millionaires and live very differently to the supporters who pay through the nose to watch them perform in front of television cameras broadcasting the action worldwide, gaelic sports appear to have retained their ameuter standing albeit with a huge following. The biggest clashes regularly attract crowds of more than 40,000 – not unlike your average EPL fixture – and the All-Ireland Finals attract 82,500 fans every September at the purpose-built Croke Park stadium near Dublin city centre.

The best way I can describe hurling is hockey with a shorter stock and a broad oval blade but you can run with the ball – which is baseball-like – on the oval of your stick like you’re competing in the egg and spoon race, you can flick the ball into your hands and smash the ball with your knuckles to pass it. You can only carry the ball in your hand for a maximum of four consecutive steps mind. The purpose is to out score the opposing team by slamming the ball into the back of the net – much like a soccer goal. I’m scratching the surface on the rules here, but needless to say it was a heck of a lot to take in, not least since I’d grabbed about four hours sleep that morning before arising for a 4am flight across the water. You’ll have to forgive me if my mind wasn’t just a tad distracted by cravings for a couple of Guinness too. Fast isn’t it:

Hurling was a test physically, involving flexing muscles that I swear had never been flexed before – seriously, I had about 14 different aches on the bottom of my feet alone and damn, it’s rigorous on the buttocks I hasten to add. Anyway it was the second instalment of this educational three-hour session of sports that brought to a premature end my involvement in the frantic shenanigans. Gaelic football is like soccer mashed with rugby and basketball, only it is said to pre-date soccer by around 500 years. Here’s a taster:

Unlike hurling, which, as a non-hockey player, was a whole new concept to me, gaelic football was too closely aligned with soccer for me to cope with. All I wanted to do was rampage towards goal with the ball at my feet, do away with the same-as-hurling four step malarky and welly the beggar goalwards. Mentally I was stuck in a halfway house of stubborn resistance and so it’s not surprising my energies were soon expended, and, running on empty but with all the unrelenting determination of a bull charging at a matador, a showdown to catch an incoming ball during a training exercise brought my abrupt and brutal demise. Falling amid the tussle with my opponent was instantaneous, a split second after jostling I was smashed into the plastic turf, writhing in pain. I think I’ll stick to soccer… from the safety of watching at the pub, with a pint of Guinness in my hand, obviously.

  • Our gaelic sports dabbling was with www.experiencegaelicgames.com and I’d recommend them if you’re organising a stag do in Dublin. Despite my unfortunate injury, it was great fun.

Inking.

thumb_COLOURBOX5661662 - CopyHow’s this for a First World dilemma? Do I or do I not get a tattoo? The head is starting to err on the whimsical side of the heart on this one.

There was a time when I considered getting a Liver Bird on my chest, where my pectoral muscles should bulge if it wasn’t for years of physical neglect. This would of course have been an ode to my beloved football club, Liverpool FC; alas, head ruled over heart on that occasion, back in my student days. It was more of a vague imagining rather than graduating to a seriously weighted ‘should I, shouldn’t I’ argument in my head. Either side of that brief dalliance, I’ve been strictly opposed to going under the needle. Chiefly, I didn’t like the idea of having something pretty permanent done to my body that I would later regret, that people would see displayed on me later as a wrinkly old man, ink faded on a sagging limb.

Lately, I’ve been feeling more along the lines of ‘sod it’, be impulsive. Living in denial of impulse (albeit within certain law-abiding limits) is unhealthy and constitutes suppression of creative instincts for the sake of concerns we might never have for a whole host of impossible-to-foresee reasons. I’m not thinking of an all-singing, all-dancing tattoo of a fearsome, fire-breathing dragon with winding tail twisted from shoulder to palm; nothing fantastical, graphic or all-dominating like that – that isn’t me. I have words in mind. A saying, a phrase that is meaningful to me on a level that inspires me and gives me strength.

Cheesy, you’re thinking. But we all take inspiration from words; from poetic arrangements of the literary form that encapsulate a soulful message that strikes at your very core, whether it’s a lyric from a song, or a line in a novel, poem or historic utterance from a treasured book of quotes, a saying posted on a Pinterest board (like my collection here) or something someone you hold dear says that you never grow tired of hearing. To me, there’s nothing cheesy about finding the right words to have inked onto your body.

There are matters of taste of course, regardless of what ink you opt for. If I do take the plunge, and no, I’m not telling you what I have in mind, it won’t be in foreign transcript – for one thing, I certainly wouldn’t want to end up making this kind of mistake – and the font won’t be over-elaborate. For me, a tattoo has to be personal and not a fashion statement or attention seeking. I’m drawn to the idea of a phrase that I can glance at and that will lift my spirits when that’s what I need.

What I certainly do recognise is that a tattoo that means something to me, won’t necessarily translate with the same resonance to others and that’s something you just have to be prepared for. Take for example ‘Tetley’. This is a chap who is so besotted with Tetley tea he has two of the brand’s tea-men cartoon characters tattooed on his arm. His friends call him Tetley and when his choice of ink made the headlines in his local paper a couple years or so ago, he was preparing to have another Tetley teafolk tattoo, featuring all seven of the characters, on his back. Take a look.

I don’t understand frivolous or ‘hilarious’ tattoos. I don’t understand example no.16 in this this gallery. Dude, seriously? You got a tattoo of your bicep… on your bicep? And I call your actual ‘bicep’ said muscle with some degree of sarcasm (and irony given this blogger’s office arms). Where’s the meaning in that? It’s hardly like looking into your soul – or perhaps, unfortunately, it is. No. 23 is just plain weird – what kind of person decides, of all the possible artwork available, to go: ‘Oh, I got it, I got it! I want a tat of a woman wearing a bobble hat puking into a pram!’ Erm. 

Another mystery to me is full face tattoos. Why do people do it? I’d love to hear a rational explanation. Is it because they think they’re ugly? Well damn, do they really think the ink will be more endearing? Would I feel like saying hello to this guy in a lift? Probably not. I would be too confused quite frankly. Don’t people with face tattoos get sick of being stared at? It’s impossible not to let your glance linger.

I see everyone’s favourite manufactured boyband One Direction courted controversy for encouraging their fans to respond to them on Twitter with pictures of their tattoos. Aren’t their fans all nine-year-old girls? Anyway, their tweet provoked a very silly debate on This Morning (surely not?) in which Katie Hopkins, the notorious rent-a-mou… I mean respected social commentator, wrote off the entire tattooed populace as damaged  ne’er′-do-well-ers with no chance of landing a job. Phillip Schofield’s expression at 5 mins 17 secs sums up what I make of her comments.

This next one made me cringe, and the guy’s commentary is hilarious – he’s clearly outraged, but then the girl in question did go for a face tattoo in tribute to her boyfriend within 24 hours of them hooking up. Remember what I said about denying impulses earlier? Maybe I take that back!

Amid all the tattoo debate, there are some really powerful reasons for some people to get a tattoo, so in Russell Howard’s Good News style I’ll sign off for now with a link to this short clip about a woman who has found getting inked helped her to move on from breast cancer.

Surely even Katie Hopkins would empathise.

Root of all evil?

Marmite: Acethumb_COLOURBOX5661662 - CopyI’m a lover not a hater of the brown spread that’s been in the news this week. 2013 will forever be cherished by my taste buds as the year in which they discovered the thick, beefy British delicacy that is Marmite. Apparently the Canadian authorities aren’t its biggest fans and I was going to wax lyrical about the divisive delight throughout this post before being distracted – by celery. Huhuhuhuhuh (that’s a shudder in case my intentions are unclear). Celery. Is. Evil.

I cannot definitively prove this as fact but I’m going to go with my gut on this one. We’ve never got on, ever since our first confrontation at a buffet table during my childhood. It looks so innocent too; green vegetable sticks plonked casually alongside other standard buffet fare; the mini Melton Mowbrays cut in half, the bread sticks and the dish of humous, all presented as snacks of equal belonging and merit. And so I was fooled to pick up a stick of the stuff, lulled in by the safe bets surrounding it like it was the most natural thing in the world of party food.

Fearlessly, I tasted it, a crunch and then a nibble. Blurrrrrrreeeeeeeehhhhh – Eeeeeuuuurrrrrhhhh – Where’s a napkin?! SOMEBODY PASS ME A NAPKIN FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS SACRED – it was like squirting washing up liquid into my mouth, swilling it around and then licking a bar of soap just for truly abysmal measure. Why would anything ever taste so bad? What freak of nature is this vegetable beast that has invaded the food chain?

It may be rich in nutrients and low in calories but celery tastes like soapy ass, I would imagine. If I wasn’t a massive pacifist I may well be minded to gather up all the celery in the world and find a method for obliterating it forever. For too long it has made a cesspool of soups, a mockery of buffets at otherwise happy events.

At this stage you may be questioning my sanity, but please understand, I’m not alone. Like any normal person would do of course, I typed ‘celery is evil’ into a well-known search engine. Lo and behold – ‘About 1,360,000 results in 0.35 seconds’. Cripes.

http://www.mylot.com/image/2047097/evil-celery-evil-celeryI clicked on the first link, a tumblr page with the name ‘Celery is Evil‘. Now this here folks is a dedicated celery hater. I’m talking 40 pages of anti-celery posts in the last 11 months. The first was a close up shot of the vile veg with the face of Hitler seemingly embossed onto it – the author assures us it’s definitely not a Photoshopped image. I believe you.

Apparently I’m not the only one who believes the world would be a better place without celery. In one post our blogger comments: “You need to burn celery because if you try to cut it into pieces or anything like that it just makes more individual pieces of celery which also have the ability to kill people. Burning it makes sure there isn’t anymore celery to hurt anyone.”

Link number four is ingeniously entitled ‘League for the Suppression of Celery‘. It has 47 members to date – which I can only attribute to a lack of awareness. Brands making use of the abominable veg are named and shamed. One is derided for using the stuff for a range of crisps thereby making celery appear to be palatable to children who don’t know any better. A soda range is condemned for having a name that is spelt suspiciously similar to the word celery and is chastised as “a gateway drug for the use of real celery”.

Further down the search results is a piece on Gawker, ‘The Three Most Vicious Lies About Celery‘, in which the author asserts: “Celery tastes like bundles of floss that have achieved sentience through anger and banded together to jam themselves permanently into your teeth. Celery is an insult to human dignity.” 

So it would appear that celery is the Marmite of the vegetable world. All I know for sure is that I will never, ever dip a stalk into the beefy dark depths of my new favourite spread. No sir!

Becoming.

January blues my bottom. The only blues going on right now is Chicago Blues Radio playing out of the Bloom.fm app on my smartphone on the desk next to me. Oh yeah. That’s how I fly on a Tuesday night in the maiden month of this brand spanking new year.

And a happy new year to you. You may be skint after a month of excess, the weather might be rank and the hours of daylight short but now’s a good time to get your head in order and say “2014, I’m going to own you. Own. You.”

Huge cliché alert but life is too short to write off 31 days every year by wishing time away until the outside world feels more hospitable and the bank balance picks up after next payday. Another cliché for you, be the change you want to see. Life is a rodeo bull, grab those horns, hang tough and seize control.

ImagePatronising? You’re not hearing me right. Embrace who you are right now and make life happen, don’t be a passenger. Okay that stills sounds patronising but, come on, you know I’m right. Admittedly I’m doing the same thing as you – I’m planning my next escape from the routine reality of everyday life. According to Visa Europe, the beginning of the second week in January is the time when travellers book more flights than at any other time of year. I’ve got far too many travel plans but wandering is one of my passions and time waits for no man so I’m going to see how much I can cram into one year. On the initial itinerary are: Iceland, Japan and returns to Denmark and Bosnia.

I want to step up my hours dedicated to learning to play the beautiful guitar stood accusingly just out of my eye line and to be less selfish by volunteering and/or fundraising this year. I’m going to say “Yes” to more things and I’m going to push the boundaries of my comfort zone. I don’t want to read this in January 2015 and look at myself in the mirror and say “You’ve failed”. Failure is not an option. Words are all well and good, it’s action that’s needed. In an earlier post ‘Sad‘, I warbled on about drawing on as many inspirational stories and people as I can to ward off the dreaded Seasonal Affective Disorder. Here are three people who are inspiring me to strive for greatness in 2014. Feel free to share stories of people who are inspiring you in the comments section at the end of the post.

ImageIdris Elba: Serious ‘Dude Alert’. I have a huge amount of respect for the actor from Hackney who could be in with a shout of an Oscar before long with Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom in which he stars as the late, great Mr Nelson Mandela and which is now showing at the pictures. Like everyone else, I discovered Elba when he played the part of the sharp-minded gang man Stringer Bell in the best television series ever produced, The Wire. My reverence for Elba grew enormously while reading an interview he gave to Esquire magazine – here’s the link to what is a thoroughly enjoyable read. What’s so inspiring is that he went from a hip-hop loving London kid whose father worked in a car factory, to being cast for Crimewatch re-enactments, to skint hustler, DJ and multiple TV pilot reject in New York to landing the part of Stringer and now Hollywood actor. In one day in 2002, he got The Wire gig, rushed his pregnant wife to hospital and then DJ’ed at a club before getting back to the hospital in time for the birth of his daughter. The rest is history as they say. Elba’s story tells me to dream big and to persevere.

ImagePeter O’Toole: Best known as the star of 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia – which I’m told is a classic but I must confess I’ve never seen myself – the late actor lived a remarkable life after spending much of his early life in Yorkshire; Leeds to be precise. In fact he once worked for the Yorkshire Evening News – sister publication of the Yorkshire Post where I currently ply my trade as a journalist. Anyway, I digress. What is inspirational about O’Toole’s life, to me anyway, is that he did his National Service in the navy and when he came home he hitched a ride on a lorry to London in search of adventure. The story goes that he was meandering around the streets in search of a hostel and stumbled across the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Curiosity piqued, he wandered in to check the place out and later claimed he took a scholarship “not out of burning ambition but because of all the wonderful looking birds”. He may never have bagged an Oscar but hell, did he forge one hell of an acting career and lived a life full of gregarity. RIP Peter O’Toole. Here’s the obituary that appeared in the Yorkshire Post after he passed away last month – awesome photograph of him playing the guitar with a cigarette hanging from his mouth too. O’Toole’s life tells me to follow my instincts more and to trust my gut. 

ImageMike Bown: Who? I’d have asked the same thing before I read this. This is a man with guts, a real sense of adventure and a devil may care attitude. All of us could be a little bit more Bown. His story is thus – aged 21, he set off with a backpack to travel the world, leaving behind his family and friends in Ottawa, Canada. Gap years are common these days. Bown saw gap years and raised them… by 23. That’s right, he toured the world of his own accord for an incredible 23 years. That’s a heck of a long time to be of ‘no fixed abode’ and an achievement beyond which the vast majority of us could ever hope to muster even if we wanted to. Aged 44, and having visited 195 countries, he returned home wearing the same backpack, having only been robbed twice and having never visited a doctor. Bown’s life speaks to me of not being afraid to live a life on your own terms, regardless of whatever society otherwise demands.

In short, don’t let January pass you by. Have plans, strive for better and don’t watch the hands of the clock as they press ever on in their unceasingly, aimless quest. If you need a bit of ‘woosah‘ after all this, get this chilled out record on – a bit of Chicago Blues to put to bed those January ones. Do it now; serenity for even the most restless soul.

%d bloggers like this: