Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Kiss Me, I'm Irish

You know what you can get me for my next birthday.

It doesn't say whether the effects are lasting or just temporary. You'd better buy in bulk. Or should I say "boy in bullk".

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Wolfing It Down

On Thursday night I went to see Patrick Wolf at Newcastle Academy on his pre-album release tour (The Magic Position is out tomorrow).

As is customary for these gig jaunts to Geordieland, Lav and Laura's Sunderland abode was used as Event HQ, for things like eating, sleeping, and stroking their evil cat Amelie [photo of evil cat, Amelie]. Welford drove me and Ed to Sunderland where we then got on the Metro to Newcastle, and used the journey as an opportunity to engage in some fiercely contested games of Paper Scissors Stone.

Here, my stone beats Ed's scissors. In fact it doesn't just beat it, it's actually bent one of the metal blades backwards. I must've got carried away.

Anyway, Patrick Wolf was excellent but possibly not as excellent as I'm used to. He's been so amazing the previous four times I've seen him that I think my expectation levels have been raised too high. But really, my only problem is the way he seems to be approaching his live set these days. As he's becoming ever more upbeat and outlandish on stage (which I don't have a problem with) he's also actually playing less and less himself. He's got a full band on tour with him at the moment (violin, double bass, drums, laptop minder) and he seems content to let them do alot of the work, so during many songs he doesn't even pick up an instrument himself. This despite the fact he's an obscenely talented musician.

I want to see him playing himself. I think it's all tied in his development into a full-blown pop star, working the stage with camp theatrics (including mounting the speakers and shoving his hand down his crotch during The Childcatcher). That's all well and good - I'm all for a bit of superstar quality - but at the same time, there's nothing wrong with being a musically talented pop star. He should show it. The very first time I saw him in March 2005 it was just him and a drummer, and he was constantly switching between instruments. Piano, violin, ukulele... it was fascinating to watch. At times on Thursday night he was effectively doing karaoke renditions of his own songs, singing along to the (brilliant) electronica he'd devised for record. It left me feeling a bit unsatisfied... I wish it didn't, but it did.

I'm being hyper-critical, because I allow myself to be when I'm so fond of someone's work. He's still the most life-affirming artist about at the moment, of course. I've been listening to the new album alot (out tomorrow, repetition fans) and all in all it's a great record. I'd say all three of his albums are more or less on a par with each other, although The Magic Position is less of a complete work. Rather than being a fine body of work from head to toe like Lycanthropy and Wind In The Wires, it's got some stunning aspects and some less than stunning ones. It's like someone with a really beautiful neck and splendid thighs and kneecaps, but only an average chest and uninspiring ear lobes. It's a far more upbeat record, and it sounds like he'd found love when he wrote the majority of the songs, and wanted to tell everyone about it. I really like the way his albums document clearly identifiable stages of his life so far; Lycanthropy is a troubled teen on the run, while Wind In The Wires is him identifying his destiny as the true Libertine and falling back in love with the earth. The Magic Position (out tomorrow, repetition fans) is him breaking out into full-on joyfulness (don't worry, I'm sure it's just a phase). But seriously... I see his albums so far as being three consecutive chapters in a book you can't put down. It'll be very interesting to see what comes next in the Patrick Wolf story. Mental breakdown, gambling debts and a day job in Woolworths I reckon.

The Libertine was the highlight of Thursday's gig, and conveniently I happened to film it. Note that he's actually playing ukulele throughout. It's a great version with the violin part meandering and swooping, and it's just a shame I decided to nod along in appreciation so the video is quite shaky. I'll stand motionless next time. Also, he humourously dedicated it to Spuggy, the seminal character from mid-90s Byker Grove ("Probably the biggest inspiration for going ginger for this album"), as a nod to the city he was playing in.

(If you want a version that isn't messed up by YouTube, where the sound and pictures are in sync, then download it here).

After the gig we went back to Sunderland and went to some nightclub and danced to 80s hits [photo of non-dancing activity from the others] including Dancing In The Dark by Bruce Springsteen, which pleased Welford no end for some unknown reason.

Good grief, apologies for such a long, rambling post. It's quite higgledy-piggledy, and I'm struggling to leave you with a positive message. Would you take two negative ones? (joke copyright Woody Allen 1968).

Monday, February 19, 2007

Britney Shaves Head. World Tilts on Axis.

Britney Spears has shaved her hair, sparking frenzied panic attacks around the world about her mental state. Radio 1 Newsbeat were asking earlier today whether we think she's heading for a breakdown. Does she need help?

Meanwhile (Newsbeat continues), locks of her hair are at the centre of fierce auctions, with online bids from $1m upwards [buybritneyshair.com]. Just who is it that needs the help again?

'I-I-I-I-I wanna walk in the snow'

I had an unexpectedly brilliant time on my skiing holiday dans les Alpes. I was a bit apprehensive beforehand, mainly due to the fact I wasn't sure I'd take to the skiing itself and would thus be stuck for things to do because, well, skiing is really all you do on a skiing holiday. We went to Val Thorens, one of the higher resorts in the Alps at 2300m.

As a brief segue from my consistently modest opinion of myself, I'll say this much now - I was bloody brilliant at skiing. I went with various branches of the family, most of whom had skied alot before, and they all say I'm a natural. By the end of the week I was tackling red slopes (there's a colour grading for levels of difficulty, from green --> blue --> red --> black) without falling over very much. In fact most of my falls through the week didn't come through skiing, but were generally the result of just losing my footing and falling from standing positions in embarrassing manners. I didn't hurt myself at any point, which was a bonus. That much was drummed home to me when we were at Chambery airport to come home and I saw four people who'd been in fine fettle on our outbound flight, but returning either on crutches or in a wheelchair.

I went to ski school every morning from 9am to midday, which at first seemed a bit too regimented for any self-respecting holiday. But the lessons were really good, mainly thanks to my legendary French instructor Jean-Pierre. He bears a striking resemblence to Hulk Hogan, despite not even knowing who Hulk Hogan is. [Photo of Jean Pierre, explaining how to ski]. He was really engaging, funny, and just a good teacher. The only blemish on his legendary status was that he insisted on calling me 'Patty' for the first three days, causing the rest of the class to stifle their giggles. Thankfully he eventually grasped the idea of a 'd' sound. In the afternoons I usually went out with someone from the family and just skied about, refining my technique and falling down slopes in a long, drawn-out lanky manner. I think that's the main reason I never hurt myself - all my falls took about 15 seconds to materialise so I was always well prepared for impact with the ground.

Aside from the skiing, it was just nice to be living in a winter wonderland for a week. There were a couple of beautiful days of wintry sun where everything looked perfect, and some of the scenery was stunning. It was a bit like living in a bubble for seven days, completely cut off from the real world. Everyone is focussed on their holiday and not much else. Having said that, I watched CNN on practically a rolling basis whenever I was lying about because it was the only English speaking channel we had, so I was still well clued up on the globe's most grave and pressing matters. Like the Anna Nicole Smith paternity case.

This was one of the best views I had all week. It was taken on the last day there when I tackled the red slopes from the top of Caron, the highest point of the resort. You can see how far back down I had to ski to the town (good grief):

You could see over a vast exspanse of the Alps, including Mont Blanc (highest peak, centre), and it truly felt like being on top of world. It wasn't, but it felt like it, so there.

If I could ever afford to go skiing independently again, I probably would. I never really thought I would've gone in my lifetime, and I only actually did because I was taken by the family and didn't have to pay full whack. Of course it's a frivolous, overwhelmingly white, middle class pursuit, but we all need our little distractions don't we. I feel a bit revitalised now I'm back, and I'm told my skin has taken on a healthy glow. So that's good.

A couple of extra photos:
It was so cold some days that we had icicles longer than my arms hanging from the top of our balcony.

Eeee, look how much snow there was.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The bird flew

I don't know if I've missed something here but surely if (a) you're a major processed turkey producer, and (b) you know strains of the deadly H5N1 virus have been found in Hungarian turkeys, you (c) generally wouldn't choose to import turkeys from Hungary for your own product. Plus (d) I'm not exactly a fresh food nut, but even I know that (e) Bernard Matthews' processed meats are (f) pumped full of water, (g) laced with sand, and (h) taste like wood shavings. Hang your head in shame Mr Matthews.

I'm fleeing the whole sorry mess in the morning anyway. I'm going to the French Alps (des Alpes Francais) for a week on my first ever skiing trip to gorge on turkey slices of a non-Hungarian origin. I may be able to post from there, if they have the Internet.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Earlier today I walked out of my house, locked the door, and got in the car to set off for York to meet young journalist of the year Mr Kieran Lynch, only to discover I was wearing my slippers.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

London Trawling

After a few days of frustration in the capital I finally got to do a few of the things I wanted to do on Tuesday. I skedaddled down to Tate Britain to see State Britain, a full recreation of the Parliament Square protester Brian Haw's peace placards which were removed by police last year when the government introduced its ridiculous exclusion zone on free political demonstration around Parliament. Anyone wishing to protest within 1km of the buildings that house our free, representative parliamentary democracy now has to gain permission from the police beforehand under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The full recreation features over 600 items and it was extremely interesting.

I sneakily took this photo without using a flash, only to still be shouted at by an eagle-eyed member of staff.

One nice touch about the whole thing is that the 1km exclusion zone bisects the Tate Britain building. So if taken literally, about half of the installation is still breaking the law. If you look carefully at my photo you can see the black tape marking the 1km boundary from Parliament Square. Fight the power that be.

Interesting Interjection #1: While I was (for some reason) in Trafalgar Square, I noticed how small the Houses Of Parliament are in relation to Nelson's Column. [Photo of mini-HP]. Astonishing.

Interesting Interjection #2: I'd never actually been to the Barbican Estate before, so I found it quite astonishing when we walked right through it on Sunday night. It's massive (35 acres in fact). The way all the residential blocks are combined with civic space, a library, shops, arts centre and schools make it feel like a Communist masterplan. Every essential aspect of life self-contained within one place. And the architecture doesn't exactly do much to shatter the observation [my lovely night-time photo of the Barbican].

On Tueday night it was off to the south coast on another Boro jaunt. We played Portsmouth at Fratton Park, where we traditionally succumb to a limp defeat. But we ground out a 0-0 draw, which was quite dull but a very satisfactory result nonetheless.

Boro on the attack (although it looks like Portsmouth's Benjani Mwaruwari is trying his damndest to score an own-goal)

Fratton Park is a real old-fashioned little ground - like being transported back in time ten years to misty memories of the period before everyone built shiny new stadiums. The away end is particularly scruffy, lacking in facilities, and doesn't even have a roof. Luckily it was dry anyway. It was great though, everyone was allowed to stand for the whole match and my brothers both drank Bovril. That's what it's all about. I didn't want any Bovril because I was feeling a bit unsteady in the stomach that evening. But still - I was drinking Bovril in spirit.

Before I came home on Wednesday I had a little bit of time to kill and, seeing as I was on the South Bank, decided to pop into Tate Modern. Which makes this trip sound like some kind of Tatefest. I discovered that all the galleries were closed as part of the nationwide civil service strikes, meaning all the gallery attendants were lounging at home watching Jeremy Kyle. The Turbine Hall was still open, so I had a look at the slides that make up Carsten Höller's Test Site 2006 [photo of slides]. It's all about the spectacle of watching people sliding, and the 'inner spectacle' of actually sliding for yourself and experiencing a state of delight and anxiety simultaneously. I didn't have a go though - I'm already well accustomed to feeling delight and anxiety simultaneously.

As I left Tate Modern I took this photo, which I quite like.

I couldn't help but notice that it looked as if the building's chimney had risen and pierced the sky, smashing the soft white cloud into shards. Symbolising humankind's running battle with a divine being, represented by this man-made former power station as it competes with, and smashes through, the ceiling that has suppressed it. And now, converted to an art space, it symbolises art's triumph over limitations. Innovation's defeat of dogma. Individual expression overcoming God-fearing rigidity. I felt alive - truly liberated, and laid myself open to my inner hero as it burst forth from within, accompanied by my silently-epxressed wails of pure, wanton existence.

Then I got on the train and went home.