Sunday, October 31, 2004

High Hopes



Hope of the States at Manchester Academy last night were truly amazing and well deserving of the switch to the larger venue. It felt like watching a band on the cusp of something big.

I love the album, but live the impact is even more intense – a vast landscape of sound, layers upon layer...

From the off, our ears were bombarded with forceful, driven, sweeps and swoops of harmonic, powerful, sound. This is a band that knows where they want to take you and don’t ask twice.

The accompanying visuals projected behind the band were preoccupied with post WWII America and associated military imagery. Although a little ‘sixth form art project’ in execution at times, the content was powerful and seemed to resonate rather unnervingly with current times.

The only thing I can see holding them back, is that this is a sound that works best as an album or live set. The Lost Riots contains only a couple of tracks that show signs of having the potential to be the sort of single they’ll need if they’re going to really get the message out there with the second album. That said, judging by the way the audience joined in with Enemies/Friends they may not be too far off.

Come on, people,
Keep your friends close,
Your enemies won’t matter in
the end

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Hidden Shallows



Still feeling a bit ropey this morning, but I make it into town to get a haircut and do some shopping.

On my way to Marks and Spencer’s Foodhall I see that the common pro-Palestinian group have been ‘joined’ by a pro-Israeli opposition group. Each huddle of about 100 people are facing each other off. Separated by a line of police officers they are shouting and waving placards and flags at each other (the pro-Israeli’s having also co-opted various other national flags including the union flag and the stars and stripes).

The police are also conducting a major filming and photography campaign. Nothing like feeling that you have the freedom to peaceful protest is there?

I talk briefly to someone from each ‘side’; both so firmly entrenched that, as ever, the hopelessness of the situation seems insurmountable.

So what do I do after 20 minutes of discourse, observation and reflection on the sad state of the world?

Well I do boycott M&S foodhall in favour of Tescos, but other than that? I basically go shoe shopping of course.

Sometimes I worry how well I do shallow.

And hey, it’s not like I really needed another pair of trainers is it?

Friday, October 29, 2004

Ops Curry



With people at work going off for a week each with the latest bug to be doing the rounds, I should be grateful, that after 24 hrs in bed aching from head to toe, I seem to have fought it off (hurrah for duvets, orange juice and echinacea!).

All the same it’s an act of will to make it to the Greenbelt North West Ops Team curry night at the Punjab tonight (well where else was I going to book?).

It’s so great to see everyone, but after about 3 hours or so, the surge of adrenalin begins to fail me and I’m flagging fast. Sarah looks at me and with her usual perception says, “Home?” and I nod gratefully.

For once Phil is doing the driving as they have a hire car for the weekend. I’m very grateful to just be able to collapse in the back and not have to drive. I just about make it to bed before my energy gives out completely.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

More Mutants

So I was in Toys R Us looking for a birthday present for someone, when I found this:



Basically it's a horse, dressed up in giraffe clothing. But why?

However this was not even the most worrying toy on the shelves. Take this for example:



Clearly a monkey right?

But then as you look closer...


...


...


...



Camel?

What is going on in the world of soft toy manufacture? I think we need to introduce dope testing...

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Latest Addition

Well I'm not quite sure I like the tone of his first post, but that notwithstanding I'm delighted to welcome Stuart to the Blogging community.

Surely there should be some sort of commission scheme for when we sign up new recruits?

Oh and can I just clarify, this is Stuart who many of you will know as Greenbelt's Traffic Stewarding Manager not Stewart who is...well let's just leave that definition for now shall we?

Monday, October 25, 2004

Franz and The Kills



What a way to start the week – Franz Ferdinand rocked the Apollo!

It’s interesting to see how they have developed as a live act over the past year; they now seem very comfortable wearing the headliner mantle.

They played the entire album, a couple of B-sides and two new tracks. Not the longest set in the world, but the pace barely let up the whole time. That said, the mosh pit was one of the ‘politest’ I’ve witnessed in a long while; not that this should be taken as a sign of audience appreciation, the adoration and sheer enjoyment was written across every face.

Quite a marked difference from the earlier mass reaction to the second support, The Kills. They weren’t terrible, but they weren’t great either. The audience was decidedly unimpressed.

Wandering vaguely around the stage and flicking ones long black hair (however impressive a mane one has), doesn’t really constitute a stage show. Similarly chemistry between a duo is one thing, but at times it felt they were purely performing for each other and by the time we reached their closing number the only thing I wanted to shout was "get a room!".

Stewart however betrayed his Goth past by disagreeing with me on all this. To him (and apparently about 3 other members of the audience) they were fantastic and "really dark and evil". I suggest that maybe I should give them some benefit of the doubt as the sound mix seems pretty dire, but I’m informed that it’s actually how it is on the album.

Hmmmm... well I’ll not be rushing out to buy that then…

Sunday, October 24, 2004

UK Music Hall of Fame

Ok so I had more like 13 possibles on my list, but it did include all 10 of those that made the 70's shortlist.

On the basis of this I feel I should be invited to be on the panel for this next year. Well it would beat proper work wouldn't it?

I know Caroline will be distraught that old raspy throat Rod Stewart didn't make the grade, but it's fine by me.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Another night at The Duck

Another night at the Strawbury Duck, this time for Sarah’s birthday celebrations.

I do feel just a little bit stupid carrying Sarah’s present up on the train. Still she assures me it is what she wants most.



It was actually very hard to find a pump action water canon in October. Toys R Us in a spectacular piece of business practice had some in the stock room, but couldn’t sell one to me because they weren’t currently "on-sale". Of course having to explain to the assistant what ‘sort’ I needed and for what purpose, was a little embarrassing: "errrr...something with a good strong, long distance jet – she wants to shoot cats when they try and ambush birds on her feeding table".

Luckily the Toys R Us website is far more helpful (and less judgemental!).

Sarah seems pleased with the choice anyway. It comes complete with fabric ‘target’ patches that lose their image when they get wet. So now we just need to find a diplomatic way of asking her neighbours to attach these patches to their cats before they let them out in future.

Slightly less successful is Stewart’s present for Sarah and Sarah and Phil’s present for Stewart. Remember what I was saying about the need for a moratorium on personal shopping leading up to one’s birthday?

Let’s just hope HMV and Waterstones do returns eh?

Friday, October 22, 2004

Yeah, I know.



How good is the new series of Little Britain?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Should it be this difficult?



The Nutsford Vale meeting tonight leaves me frustrated.

Whilst we’ve won a further two grants, in one case we’ll only get about two-thirds of the total amount applied. Bearing in mind the funding in question is for providing lockable barriers and chicanes to try and prevent the use of trail bikes on the land, it seems to me to be a little short-sighted to just secure two-thirds of the perimeter.

The local councillor present explains the reasoning behind their decision, which I won’t bore you with, but is all about petty differences and ward politics and does nothing to improve my view of local government.

It’s depressing news too on the much larger issue of the transfer of the management of the Nutsford Vale land. There have been plans mooted for the past 3 or 4 years that management would be transferred to the Forestry Commission’s Red Rose Forest organisation. Apparently however, Nutsford Vale just missed out on the first round of this and there is no information re timing for a second phase.

Whilst, I have grave concerns about the suitability of the Forestry Commission in managing sites in deprived urban areas (don’t get me started on the swathes of hawthorns etc they planted on the land the other year – muggers paradise!), it would at least mean someone was managing the land. This surely would be an improvement on the current neglect by the city council and Greater Manchester Waste who own roughly half the land each.

However, it seems we will continue in this ridiculous limbo for another few years yet. As a community group we are blocked from doing any significant improvements (eg putting in shale paths even!) as it might prejudice future plans, but year on year the proposed transfer of management is deferred.

It’s a constant uphill struggle that is so very tiring. If I weren’t so committed to the belief that the Longsight, Levenshulme and Gorton areas need and deserve this resource fully realised, I would throw in the towel.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Treasures

Text message from Stewart this afternoon ends with “BTW did I leave the lighter and my baccy at your house?”.

I know I predicted he’d lose it within the week, but I was kind of hoping for at least 24 hrs…

I’ll certainly be taking far more care of the box of goodies that arrived completely out of the blue today from the wonderful Caroline.

But then how could one not treasure fluffy disco ball style photo stands, a Devil Duckie eraser and a clockwork nun that stomps towards you spitting sparks from her mouth!



The piece de resistance however has to be the clockwork giraffe. Its gait is quite the strangest thing you’ll ever see.

Good to see the mutant giraffe theme continuing in such splendid style!

Would it be wrong to take it to work tomorrow?

Not on a School Night!



Last night, Stewart and I met in the Cornerhouse bar for a few pre-dinner drinks. I know a part of him was dreading this birthday, with Ian no longer with us. It’s times like this that Stewart misses his number one drinking buddy most.

That not withstanding he seemed to be doing ok and got positively over excited opening his presents (much to the amusement of the guy sat adjacent to us!).

I’m glad to say that all three pressies were a definite hit (phew!) and he grinned from ear to ear as he discovered each one. Heck I even got the correct size for the T’shirt!

After a couple of drinks, we headed into Chinatown. I’d promised to treat him to whatever night out he wanted (after I failed to secure Ian Brown tickets) and he decided on a banquet for two at the Little Yang Sing.

The food was fabulous and was washed down nicely by two bottles of wine.

Fed, happy and just a little pissed we went on to Fab and spent the next few hours drinking and laughing in one of our favourite after-hours hang outs.

The music was excellent – a happy mix of new and old-skool indie. By the time the DJ spun The Cure however, sofa dancing is no longer enough for Stew, and while I stayed with the bags he headed onto the dancefloor to swirl around like a dervish. For some reason I’m put in mind of that line from Four Weddings and a Funeral: “The first time I saw Gareth on a dancefloor, I feared lives would be lost”.

All too soon it was closing time and having narrowly decided against catching the last hour at 5th Avenue, we caught a cab home.

Knowing I would have to drive in the morning I had already switched to soft drinks; Stewart was still going strong however and we were no sooner through my front door, before he had found the whiskey on the shelf.

I think we eventually got to bed sometime around 4am.

At 6am Stewart’s alarm goes off. He falls back to sleep. At three points between 6.15am and 6.
50am I rewake him and remind him he needs to get to Stalybridge to get Tor to school. I fall back to sleep.

Next thing I know my alarm is going off and it’s 8.10am.

And yet Stewart is still fast asleep next to me.

Major panic ensues and while I enjoy a nice hot shower and get ready for work, Stewart manages to arrange for one of Tor’s friend’s dad to walk Tor to school and grovels frantically to Tor’s mum on the phone.

We eventually leave the house at about 8.45am and as I drive the-hangover-kid to work all I hear from the passenger seat is "I’m never going to drink again...".

I'll believe it when I see it. In the meantime I just give thanks once again for the fact that I don’t do hangovers.

They don’t look like fun.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Present Dilemas

Buying birthday gifts for a new partner can feel like a bit of a test. How well do you really know this person and their likes and dislikes? Can you get them something they’ll truly like, rather than something you’d like them to like?

In Stewart’s case it hasn’t been helped by the fact that no sooner does he mention in conversation that he’d quite fancy this DVD or that CD, then he goes out and buys it. Shouldn’t there be a moratorium on personal purchasing for two weeks leading up to a person’s birthday?

After extensive internet searching and much indecision I’ve settled on three items:

He keeps banging on about the new version of Battlestar Galactica and in passing refers very fondly to the original series (less dark, more camp apparently...). So whilst I don’t want to indulge the sci-fi geek side of his nature, I repeat the mantra of “what they want, not what you would like them to want” and track done a DVD box set of the entire original series.

Music is probably about the most important thing in his life and the New York scene from the 70’s one of his truest loves. I’ve heard more than once about all the places he visited in New York, when he travelled there last year. Frankly the trip was a pilgrimage and CBGBs was the golden temple at which he worshipped. So a vintage CBGBs T’shirt in a colour I know he likes seems like a good bet.

Finally for the more frivolous pressie. Obviously this is where ebay comes in. I nearly plump for a Stormtrooper helmet, but that does seem to be going a bit too far, so instead I manage to find something that combines his love of Star Wars with his love of smoking: a zippo style lighter engraved with a stormtooper helmet symbol. I give it a week before he loses it mind!



Judgement will take place tonight...wish me luck!

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Better Deal...

Curry tonight with Phil and Sarah in the Punjab.

Unfortunately their weekend hasn’t been quite as chilled as mine. Whilst Stewart and I were holed up in a pub in Dobcross, they were cycling over Snake Pass. This bizarrely at one point also included having cheese and tomato sandwiches and general obscenities thrown at them by some louts in a passing car.

Similarly, whilst I had today to myself, pottering around the house, making phone calls to old friends and watching Little Britain on DVD, Sarah had a service to take in the morning and a funeral visit to undertake in the afternoon.

I can’t help thinking that with my weekend of a Spinal Tap-esque films, lie ins, trips to the country, pub lunches, peace and quiet, long phone-calls, DVDs etc… all rounded off by a trip to the Punjab was the more preferable option.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Chilled Saturday



The perfect mellow Saturday: get up late, head out into the country, enjoy the sunshine, space and fresh air and then when the weather draws in a bit, find a warm country pub. Read the papers, talk nonsense, text friends, drink beer, eat lunch, head home.

Heaven.

Friday, October 15, 2004

More Tap than Tap?



Things I learnt from watching Metallica: Some Kind of Monster:
  1. It is possible to sell 90 million records by making fairly uninspiring noise

  2. If you’re in a successful band that has sold 90 million records it’s very hard to walk away from the prospect of selling more

  3. Especially if you are clearly motivated by money rather than ‘art’

  4. If however you and your bandmates can’t now bear to be in the same room as each other, without a $40,000 a month therapist being present, then it’s probably time to walk away

  5. If you don’t, then the chances are that any music made under these circumstances will lack in creativity, inspiration and let’s face it integrity

  6. It also wouldn’t seem to be great timing to commission a fly on the wall documentary

  7. …or let the film crew have access to the group therapy sessions

  8. Watching rock stars adopt ‘therapy-speak’ is however most hilarious

  9. All rock stars should be made to watch Spinal Tap on an annual basis and have a workable definition of irony stuck on their fridges

  10. Never trust a therapist who in a desperate bid to prevent you dispensing with his services, tells you that this is a sign of your trust issues that you still need to work on...with him

  11. Lars Ulrich’s 75 year old dad is possibly the coolest person on the planet

  12. I want to have a beard like his


Thursday, October 14, 2004

Urban Harvest pt 2

I'm afraid it's not up to Kirsty's fantastic standard, but I only had 10 mins free and this was the best I could come up with:

We buy our food in Asda
We must confess it’s cheap
It’s handier than Tesco’s
And the prices aren’t as steep.
The value we don’t question
But as we fill our shopping cart
We feel somewhat uneasy
Knowing it’s now part of Walmart

Refrain:
All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above;
Then thank the Lord,
O thank the Lord,
For all his love.


Our bacon comes from Denmark
The strawberries hail from Spain
The prawns were farmed in Asia
The wheat’s from the Ukraine
We fly food across the nations
Without a thought or care
No sense of passing seasons
Just more polluted air

Refrain

We like our low cost coffee
Cheap chocolate and tea
We think not of the farmers
Their hardship we don’t see
We care not how they’re treated
If trading rules are fair
Or whether those like Nestle
Take more than their fair share

Refrain

We’d like to buy organic
Fairtraded, decent fair
At a local Farmer’s Market
And demonstrate we care
But they only happen monthly
And you really need a car
Let’s face it Asda’s closer
And much more cheap by far

Refrain

We thank thee then O Father
For all our cheap, cheap food
The Nettos and the Lidls
That grace our neighbourhood
We promise to try harder
The harvest to respect
Though we’ll still shop at Asda
We’ll buy CafĂ© Direct


Hmmmmm... still of the opinion that hymns reworded for urban or present day relevance end up invariably naff.

Someone prove me wrong...

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Empty Streets



Following more reports of attacks in the Gorton area of Manchester, Sarah sensibly against going to an evening meeting. By 7pm the streets are devoid of female pedestrians.

This is of course a sensible precaution on behalf of the individuals, but it makes me furious that 52% of the population can be put in this position. How do we reclaim the streets from this?

Leaving these worries behind for the evening, I pick Sarah up and we head to the cinema (the car may be a thing of evil environmentally, but I’d struggle to live happily in the area I do, without the relative security and thus independence that it offers).

Tonight we need something relatively brainless and unchallenging (though preferably not as painfully bad as Wimbledon). We take a chance on The Terminal. Neither of us are Tom Hanks fans and I have a distinct uneasiness about the use and distortion of the real story that is the inspiration for the basic premise of the film. However the reviews have been OK and we're not really in the mood for any of the alternatives.

As it turns out we both enjoy the film more than we expected. It won’t change your life, but it’s an agreeable enough way to spend a couple of hours.

Independent Media?

Just how dodgy is this?

It used to be said that "Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one". Courtesy of the land of the free, it seems even that is no longer true.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Unhappy Mondays



Today was not a good day. Work was manic and stressful (though it is a huge credit to my professionalism that no one in the Quality Assurance department was on the receiving end of actual physical violence!) and personal stuff was buzzing round my head and driving me slightly insane.

Book group proved to be a happy respite, although we all uniformly disliked the week’s book, Beryl Bainbridge’s Every Man for Himself.

On getting home Sally and I eventually both managed to be free on the phone at the same time and had an excellent chat. So good to talk to someone about stuff and have them understand. Her observation that we are no better now than we were as teenagers is sadly so true at times.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Urban Harvest

For the first time for absolutely ages, I went to church this morning.

I’m reminded how much I like the good people of St Luke’s and as ever tell myself I really ought to make the effort more often. If only Sunday mornings didn’t come hot on the heels of Saturday nights…

It turns out to be harvest Sunday. This always seems to be a strange festival to try and celebrate in an inner-city area so remote and disconnected from the source of the food we eat (cue rememberance of former days as a youth worker taking Longsight youths out to the Dales and being asked "...but what are sheep for?".

Attempts at harvest festival to try and forge the association between source and supermarket shelf invariably come off weakly.

We Plough the Fields and Scatter is reluctantly wheeled out for it’s annual turn and Peter is clearly disappointed that there have been no takers on last year’s request for someone to come up with lyrics more suited to the Longsight neighbourhood.

He’s got the first line sorted: "We buy our food at Asda..."

Any ideas?

The harvest theme was continued in the evening as Stewart and I head round to Phil and Sarah’s for our tea. Sarah’s church had held a Harvest Supper with a twist the night before. From what I gather there were two menus; one representing the rich world, one representing the poor. Participants entered into a lottery, which determined which meal they received.

In a fitting metaphor the rich world had prepared even more than it’s indulgent menu required and leftover roast potatoes formed a certain theme in our evening’s fare.

Phil truly is a wonder-chef – you’d be amazed what you can do with leftover tatties with a bit of imagination!

Thursday, October 07, 2004

First Times

So taken was Stewart by last week's Paradise kebab, that he in all seriousness suggests a repeat visit for tonight.

Strangely I had something a little more refined in mind and happily he goes for the alternative suggestion of That Cafe.

He's never been before and it's a buzz to introduce him to one of Manchester's hidden gems. Fortunately he approves greatly - I think we'll be back!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

F***muppet Rant #2

Isn’t amazing how someone you have never met in person can hack you off so instantly and completely in the course of their first two emails.

It would be inappropriate to go into too much detail about this particular w@nker’s crimes, but that's not going to prevent me getting this little rant off my chest:

Sir you are a f***wit, who it would seem: has trouble recognising that the world is no longer single gender and who undermines people by making stupid decisions that fall outside of your area of expertise. To cap it all you then fail to even have the courtesy to tell that person so that they might avoid looking like a complete arse in front of a third party.

All these opinions I will keep to myself though in the guise of professionalism, but you will be getting an email from myself and another expert washing our hands of the shite decision you have taken.
F***muppet.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Meeting gone to the dogs?

A huge thanks to Pab for alerting me to National Meetings Week and this wonderful website.

This story in particular caught my eye: Psychologist recommends training dogs to help stage-manage meetings.

The full article is definitely worth a read, but to whet your appetite, the psychologist in question a June McNicholas advocates:

"canine participation in conferences to help reduce stress, make the occasion more memorable, boost morale, and to fit the breed to the corporate brand or meetings message"
And suggests how the dog could be used by being trained to:

"wear a jacket with the company logo, to welcome delegates by sitting at heel or wagging its tail, and to favour VIPs with a paw-shake. Dogs can be trained also to smile, revealing their teeth"
however she adds:

"but this is not recommended for large breeds like Dobermans or Alsatians"
Also to be avoided apparently are:

"long speeches which may cause the dog to yawn"
Wise words. But hey if you don't fancy using a dog, she also suggests that "most meetings could use an insect or animal to help communicate a deeper message." As publicity officer for the National Ferret Welfare Society, she has quite a lot of suggestions to make about them. Read it to believe it!

Security Alert

Well it was quite an exciting morning.

On the plus side, my iSkin and car charger have at last arrived in a oversized cardboard box..



On the negative side, security here X-rayed the package and freaked out because they could see 'wires' inside.

The money they spend on that X-ray facility is definitely worthwhile then ;-)

Monday, October 04, 2004

Wimble-don't...just don't

So Sarah and I wanted a mindless girly night out film.

In the absence of anything better we somewhat reluctantly went for Wimbledon, despite the rather dodgy reviews. At least it’s cheap on a Monday night.

Well I have to say we had a good laugh.

Not sadly due to the comedy on screen, but rather at each other miming ways in which we would like to kill ourselves to end the torture. By the time we get to the painfully bad father–son bonding scene, Sarah is quite graphically hanging herself by a noose.

This is not the way to do Brit rom-com and Bernard ‘gissa job’ Hill should be ashamed to have had anything to do with it.

My advice – spare yourself the ordeal.

Or take cyanide capsule in with you.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Where do we go from here, is it down to the lake I fear?

Miserable weather today.

It makes me feel grumpy just looking at the grey sky.

I spend the evening round at Stewart’s. The sweetheart has cooked a roast dinner, which given how arsey I was to him on text earlier in the day I almost certainly don’t deserve.

Accompanying the meal a little wine perhaps? No, tonight it's Lucozade for him and water for me. Now I know my diet coke habit puts me on dodgy moral ground here, but surely it’s not good to drink 12 bottles of Lucozade in the course of a weekend is it?

We’re both knackered, but get sucked into watching Bands Reunited on VH1, until late. Basic premise: pick an 80’s band that has long since disbanded, track down the members, hijack them on their doorsteps, find out what they’ve been up to and try and persuade them all to meet up and possibly do a one-off gig for fans.

It’s car crash TV. A fascinating glance at what happens once fame has left and how people react to having it come back calling out of the blue. Some are keen to meet up with old friends, some never want to meet again, some are eager to experience once more the high of performing to adoring fans and some still feel cheated and exploited and don’t want to go there again, or at least not on someone else’s terms.

I’m blaming this trash TV watching and the Lucozade overload as being the catalysts for Stewart trying to engage me in incoherent, sleepy, conversation about Haircut 100 at 5.40am when I’m trying to sleep.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Does everyone I know, now own an iPod?

Phil has now bought one of these.



Sarah is despairing due to his history of breaking, ill-treating and losing anything small and gadget like.

Anyway, rumour is, come December we’ll be after something even smaller .

Friday, October 01, 2004

Gadget Heaven

At the risk of sounding like a complete gadget-girl, can I just mention how much I love this site?



Sadly however it appears that the Borg Ponies (it’s a Star Trek thing I’m told…) appear to be one offs and not on general sale. Damn another birthday idea for geek-boy thwarted!