Wednesday, 31 March 2010

On Paloma Faith

Paloma Faith @ the Shepherd's Bush Empire

Last night I went to see Paloma Faith. She was bloody brilliant, and I heartily recommend her gigs - she's quite the entertainer on top of having an amazing voice. Even N enjoyed himself, despite having spent most of yesterday trying to wriggle out of it. Although, he did buy me the tickets, so I'll let him off of his lame attempts to make me go on my own.

For those of you that don't know, Paloma Faith is a British singer. She's been compared to Amy Winehouse, only with less drugs and more likely to perform without being sick down her top. That's not the only difference; her songs are a lot more layered and theatrical, and she has an eccentric style and visual presence that mark her out from the crowd. Some of her songs, particularly the ones she's released as singles, are a bit too pop for my liking, but the mellower, darker ones I think are fantastic. Her covers of songs by Etta James and Billie Holiday last night were unbelievably good... What I also like is that she has such a laugh doing what she does; she looks like she's having a great time, which is important. Watching someone who's really talented but miserable as sin can be quite a chore in my humble opinion, so watching someone who can sing while having a giggle was much fun. She doesn't take herself too seriously, which is quite refreshing to see. Her music shall be gracing the Pod for a while methinks.

The only problem was caused by my laziness. I decided not to put my bag in the cloak room. Once a gig is finished, I have an almost irresistible urge to flee the building as soon as possible. I hate queues for cloakrooms, not least because just by being in said queue you are accepting that the fun has been had, and now it's time for bed. So I kept my things with me, and N capitalised on this by shoving his massive coat in my man bag. [Haha, that sounds a bit like innuendo; it's not. Grow up T.] This meant I couldn't really relax; I spent a lot of time wedging my bag in between my feet, or resting it on my shoes, or moving it to the side, all while holding onto the strap so no-one could steal it. I'm not sure how, but I seem to have pulled a muscle while doing this. I think I must have kept my right leg tensed for the duration of the gig, because this morning I noticed I'd developed a limp and can no longer walk down stairs. Up is fine, but not down (I believe cows also have this problem? Perhaps I'm becoming a cow - watch this space).

Anyway, happy April everyone - I hope we all have a great month, and I'll write again soon unless my fingers turn to hooves.


Sunday, 28 March 2010

On The Return of a Wanderer

Every year, for one week in March, the heartbreakingly pretty city of Bologna hosts the International Children's Book Fair. As fun as it was, I must say I think that the cuthroat world of children's publishing would drain the energy out of anyone; enormous children's book characters roam the aisles, spies from other publishers steal samples and ideas, books leap from shelves into people's handbags - one has to be constantly on one's guard to fend off these villains. I think I met the task head on, and had a bloody good time, despite being manhandled by a man dressed as a giant ginger baby:

Who is this madman?

One of the reasons I like my job is that it gives me an opportunity to talk to people from all over the world. Furthermore, I now know that my banter is appreciated by my foreign friends and have been invited to Finland. Get on.

The food was of course amazing, as was the city, but i shan't bore you with any more photographs. Instead, in honour of the Book Fair and because I'm feeling lazy, I'm going to complete the book-themed questions below instead:

Hardback or paperback?

Paperback, probably. I have nothing against hardbacks, but I like the noise when a paperback's spine breaks, which you don't really get with hardbacks.

Waterstones, Borders or Amazon?

Borders has folded in the UK, and Amazon scares me with its uncanny ability to make me spend more money than I can spare (although I do use it for the wishlist) so I'm going to say Waterstones. Although my favourite is Foyles in St Pancras station, because it's posh and often full of fashionable Parisians.

Bookmark or dog-ear?

Dog-ear, I have no time for all this bookmarking stuff, and as you'll gather I quite like the look of a bashed up book.

A-Z by author, or A-Z by title, or random?

No order whatsoever, although I do like to keep books with the same colour spines separate.

Keep, throw away, or sell?

Keep it. Keep it forever and never let it get away.

Short story or novel?

Novel - I don't mind the odd short story but prefer something I can sink my teeth into, like a dog with a big fat steak.

Buy or borrow?

I like to underline bits in books that I like (see: Lines I Like) so never really borrow books either...

Tidy ending or cliffhanger?

It depends - I think a cliffhanger is sometimes better than trying to tie off hundreds of loose ends in a few paragraphs right at the end, which can sound a bit rushed.

Morning reading, afternoon reading, or nighttime reading?

I only really read when I'm commuting, so in the mornings and early evenings. If I'm really into a book, I'll read at night as well.

Favourite series?

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. Couldn't put them down.

Favourite children’s book?

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis.

Favourite YA book?

Erm...Twilight, ashamed as I am to admit it.

Favourite book no one has heard of?

Ariosto's Orlando Furioso - it is actually quite famous but I think most people who have heard of it have studied it. It's fantastic, a medieval romp with dragons and wizards and damsels in distress (and damsels in armour killing dragons - I'm no chauvinist!).

Favourite books read last year?

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie blew my tiny little mind.

Favourite book to re-read?

I don't often re-read books. I know it's a waste, but I never enjoy a books as much as I did the first time.

Do you ever smell books?

Yes, always. When I was at university, I studied Magic in the Middle Ages - the books from the occult section in the library smelt like no others I've ever smelt. Because they were old and never opened, not because they were enchanted or anything...

What are you reading right now?

Amnesia Clinic by James Scudamore, I'm just getting into it.

What are you reading next?

I'm unsure, I have many titles to choose from and what I choose will depend on my mood the day I finish this one.

That's me over and out. I do hope you can forgive my laziness, and that everyone had a ruddy good weekend.



Thursday, 18 March 2010

On The Week That Just Was

An Evening At The Scala

I'm so pleased it's the weekend - it's been a week with more ups and downs than the Big One at Blackpool.

After my Night of Shame last Saturday, I couldn't shake the hangover until Monday evening. Oh, how I struggled at the office. I drank so much water in an attempt to end the misery than I spent most of my working day in the toilet.

Tuesday was marginally better; I went for a few drinks after work (I know - I never learn!) which were rather funny. We've started recording the funny things we say in a quote book, which makes great reading, but is not for the faint hearted.

Wednesday, however, was very good. I met N after work and we went to see Tom McRae at the Scala. I don't know his music at all - it was N's birthday present - but it was bloody brilliant. I think also, because he's not as well-known as he could be, he's developed a scarily devoted fan base. I'm not joking - it's like they all know each other - they know when to sing along and when not to, they have little jokes with him and all sorts. The only downer was that we went for an all-you-can-eat buffet meal at Kitchin beforehand, which limited movement later. Luckily, we found a perfect spot right at the front of the top balcony - meaning we could see everything. I felt like Prince William, looking down on the paupers squashed in below. I really like the Scala for that reason; it's full of corridors and stairs and balconies, it's quite easy to get lost in. One of my favourite gig venues I think. Especially the mosaic floors in the stairwells.

Thursday was a lowpoint - despite not drinking on Wednesday, I felt bloody awful all morning. I was struggling so much I went home from work, and missed the Fulham vs Juventus game that everyone's talking about. My dad says it was the "best atmosphere he's ever seen at Craven Cottage". N was 'so happy he felt dizzy'. I was at home alone. HOW IS THIS FAIR? I am so full of regret. And woe, I am also full of WOE. Still, well done Fulham for reaching the quarter finals. C'mon you whites!

I ended up taking Friday off too (although this was less because of my cold and more because of the intense depression missing Thursday's game put me in).

So it's been a week of highs and lows. I'm in Italy next week, with work, so I'm off to buy some new stuff to wear now.

I hope everyone has a great weekend!


Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Just Finished: Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

This book is so good, I decided I had to take a picture once I'd finished it, to commemorate the moment. I jest not - this is one of the best books I have ever read and thoroughly deserves the high praise splashed all over the inside covers. This is why it's taken me so long to write this, I can't do it justice. But I've given up. I won't do it justice, but I have to write something. I have to recommend it!

Everything is Illuminated follows a Ukranian student called Alex. An American Jew named Jonathan is visiting the Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather's life during the Nazi occupation. To help him find her, he's procured the services of Heritage Tours, Alex's fathers company; Alex will be his translator, and Alex's grandfather, their driver.

The story is split into three alternating arcs. One part is written by Jonathan; a novel he's working on describing the trials and tribulations in the lives of his Ukranian ancestors. He paints a colourful picture of life in the town of Trachimbrod from its foundation in the 1700s, right up to the Holocaust. These chapters are full of odd twists, turns and bizarre happenings and read a bit like Garcia Marquez; it's impossible to predict what's coming next. Foer has an amazing imagination, I wish I could think like that.

Whenever he finishes a chapter, Jonathan sends it to Alex, who responds with his thoughts or comments on it. These chapters are written in Alex's own special English - which he admits is less than 'premium' but his use of a thesaurus is second to none. As such, he will find things 'rigid' rather than difficult, and will 'repose' rather than sleep. His grandfather's guide dog is referred to as his 'seeing-eye bitch'. When I first started reading this, I didn't get it, but it doesn't take long to figure it out, and the humour Foer gets out of this really makes the book something special; I laughed on the Tube, a real hearty laugh I tell you - not just a mere snigger.

My tolerance of Alex's written English wasn't the only thing that changed; I initially hated Alex, finding him arrogant and boastful and uninteresting. However, with each chapter I read he became more and more impressive, and by the end I loved him. Loved.

After he comments on Jonathan's work, he'll then describe the events of their quest together; their search for Augustine, who saved his grandfather from the Nazi forces who occupied the Ukraine. As it's written by Alex, you sometimes have to read sentences twice to figure out what he's getting at; but again, this is one of the things that makes this book so good.

I don't want to say much about the story as I don't want to spoil it, but it's fantastic. It's funny, moving and at times completely off the wall - five stars from me :) My best book this year...
Next up: Amnesia Clinic by James Scudamore

Sunday, 14 March 2010

On Not Having a Clue

"I'll have another mojito please Bovary"
"Coming right up Chatterley."

I woke up this morning covered in mud. My head was throbbing and I appear to have bruised my rib. A morning of toilet hugging began.

I'm no stranger to hangovers, but this one's a bit of a brute. What makes it worse is that I remember very little. Most of the night is a complete blank. In the few episodes I do recall I'm sitting on the sofa, making pleasant small talk with one of N's friends. However, it's unlikely that I continued in this vein for the rest of the night - in fact I know I didn't. I know this because I woke up to three texts telling me how 'awesome', 'on form' and 'sweaty' I was. These aren't adjectives you'd use to describe my usual, softly-spoken, 'I'm going to chat in the kitchen' party persona, so I imagine I was making a massive arse out of myself. N explained why I was covered in mud - in the 20 second walk from a cab to his front door I managed to fall in a ditch. This could also explain the rib. The Jack Daniels is accountable for the headache and toilet-hugging.

It's a horribly uncomfortable feeling this - I have absolutely no idea what I was doing and I know that in a few hours the photos will start appearing on Facebook. I'll have to wait until then to find out what level of foolishness my behaviour reached, and swiftly detag.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Just Finished: The Masque of the Red Death (and Other Stories) by Edgar Allan Poe

I should admit that 'just finished' is a bit of a lie, I finished it about a week ago and am already halfway through my bloody brilliant new book.

I can't remember for the life of me where I heard about the Masque of the Red Death. I do know it was referred to in a book, a reference that flew unimpeded straight over my head. To ensure I grasped the full meaning of the sentence, I looked it up and thought "Hang on one minute - that's sounds a bit interesting!" and so added it to my list of books for 2010. Being a man of a short attention span, I didn't really read into it too much and as such I was unaware that this is a book of short stories. This is a good thing; had I known, I probably wouldn't have picked it up. I've never really been a big reader of short stories, and the words "And Other Stories/Tales etc" normally cause me to put the book back on the shelf and walk on by. I like to get into a story you see, to get to know people. However, as I said, it was a good thing I didn't know, because it meant I gave the book a chance.

And it was worth it, I'm pleased. Poe is obviously a rather large deal in American literature, and it's not hard to see why - the stories were wickedly gothic, twisted and dark, which is just how I like it. They do seem to follow a quite rigid, almost predictable formula*, but I suppose the man knew his art and his audience and, well, if it ain't broke - don't fix it.

  • Beginning - "you won't believe me/I'm mad"
  • Middle - "Something funny's going on here old have taken a rather odd turn!"
  • End - someone dies.

They don't all follow this pattern, and I like I said I do understand that this has a purpose; each piece is finely tuned to shock or to spook, but after a few stories it had almost the opposite effect - I started to feel like I knew what was coming. I think I read, however, that at least some of them were originally published in magazines and I reckon that if you were reading them monthly or quarterly this wouldn't be a problem - it's because I was reading each one immediately after finishing another that I became acclimatised to Poe's writing style.

I won't bore you with all of the stories, but here's my top three:

  • The Mask of the Red Death - while a plague ravages his country, a nobleman locks himelf and his friends in his castle for a giant rave up. However, bricks and mortar can't stop the Red Death, and events take a worrying turn. There's also a very odd clock.
  • The Pit & The Pendulum - a prisoner is tormented by the clerics of the Inquisition who use a series of imaginative methods of torture in attempts to kill him. One of the stories that breaks free from the formula above, but is spooky nonetheless.
  • The Cask of Amontillado - lulls you into such a false sense of security you forget the beginning, and are shocked by the ending.

Overall I'd say this was a rather enjoyable read. I like most things gothic, Poe is obviously a master craftsman and I got to experience a form of prose I wouldn't normally consider. However, I'm heading back to not-so-short stories for a while now, I need something juicy to get my teeth into.

Now reading: Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Thursday, 11 March 2010

On Happiness

...and most of all, I'd like to thank Kisekae @ Diary of a Doll - not just for passing on the love, but also for introducing me to the mad world of chatroulette, which has provided much merriment since I first discovered it through her blog.

And, following her lead, I'm going to list 10 things that make me happy;

1. GIVING PEOPLE NICKNAMES. If I meet someone and we become friends it's rare that I'll call them by their first names. Most of the people close to me have extra special names, just for them. These nicknames might not make the people they're intended for that happy, but it's all in the good name of Banter, and thus excusable.

2. VIOLINS. It doesn't matter what genre - play me a song with a violin solo in it and the chances are I'll play it on the Pod for weeks. I'm not sure where this started - I've never played a violin, it just strikes a chord (good one...) with me that other instruments don't. Patrick Wolf's Damaris, for example, is currently my most played song, followed closely by the Langley Sisters' Sing for My Supper.

3. WAKING UP EARLY, really early, and realising I can go back to sleep for ages before I have to drag myself up. Alas, this happens rarely these days - it's a wonder I ever make it into work on time (despite having my alarm go off every ten minutes from six until half seven...)

God this is hard. I'm struggling at four - does that make me a miserable person?

4. GOOD BOOKS. The books that make you look forward to the long commute, or the ones you can't put down when you get home, and especially the ones that colour the way you look at the world after finishing them.

5. DECEMBER. It's my birthday, and everyone is full to the brim with festive cheer. It gets dark early, which I like, and everything is sparkly. This is a good month.

6. STRONG COFFEE. Without it I'd barely be able to function, and it tastes so nice...

7. STRANGERS FINDING THE SAME THING FUNNY. Recently I was on a train, a late train back from the City. The man sitting opposite me was dead to the world, snoring like nothing I've ever heard before. Out. Of. This. World. At first it really grated on me, I considered moving seats. But then I caught the eye of the person sitting next to him. She was trying to stifle a laugh. Seeing that put my irritation into perspective, and by the next station I was caught in a giggle loop.

8. POINTY SHOES. I love them. My brother bought me a shiny black pair for Christmas, and although they literally cut my ankles to pieces I don't care. They look to chuffing cool for that to matter.

9. BUSY PLACES FULL OF PEOPLE. In particular, I love stations. Big stations, like Kings Cross and Paddington. Not because I'm a trainspotter, honest, but because of all the different people going their different ways, journeys starting, ending or just continuing. I could sit in a station for ages and people watch.

10. SHARING A HANGOVER. There's a unique bond created by two or more people suffering at the same time after a night of excess. At university we'd gather round the tiny TV and watch T4 over a massive fry-up and tea by the gallon, piecing the night together with photos and text messages to supplement the little we could actually remember. It's even funnier if there's a journey involved.

So, they are my ten happy thoughts for today. I hope they're not too bizarre. I'd now like to pass this little ray of happiness onto the following:

London Girl @ London Town & Me - on a quest to make London smile, one hug-needing stranger at a time (although she's literally just posted a 'things that make me happy' post. Spoil sport).
Patti @ For When My Head Gets Full. - who has a lot to be happy about now she's off for like, ages...?

Monday, 8 March 2010

On The Menu

"You simply must try the dickled octopus - it's to die for."

I found myself in an unusually charitable mood this evening, so when N picked me up from the station after work, I suggested we go out for a bite to eat. He chose an Italian down the road. We went in, were shown to our table and ordered our drinks. All was going swimmingly - I even bumped into a friend in there, which made me feel like I was in Cheers.

The waitress, a friendly Italian woman, left it just the right amount of time before asking whether we were ready to order our food. The starters were ordered without a hitch. For my mains, I chose an unadventurous Spaghetti Carbonara - I was in the mood for something simple. N, however, wasn't;

"Can I have the pasta marinara..."

'Good choice,' I thought - but alas, there was more.

"...but I'd like a carbonara sauce instead of the tomato sauce please."

The waitress was speechless - and it wasn't her level of English, which was impeccable - nothing could have prepared her for this. I sat there in silence, aghast. It got worse. She had to check with the chef. Check. With the chef. I implored N to chose one, or the other, and not to insist on this mash-up, but he was adamant. She was gone for what seemed like ages - a time probably spent forcing the chef to cast aside his culinary pretentions and cook whatever pig's swill this mad customer wanted. She came back to tell us that the chef could prepare the meal but...wait for it...he wanted us to know he would not be held responsible for how it might taste. Too right - if my career was built on cooking good meals for customers, I'd have N banned from my restaurant and distance myself as much as humanly possible from his insane gastronomic inventions. The meal arrived and N ate it. He made it out it was delicious, but I'm not sure I believe him.

The situation exposed a difference between us - I am of the opinion that menus are not lists to mix and match with. Of course if you have an allergy or other dietary requirement, or would like a meal without mushrooms, for example, go for it. But I draw the line at pick n' mix pasta. If someone has gone to the trouble of creating a menu of fine food - with ingredients carefully selected and included in the right proportions, who are we to waltz in and crap all over it? Would it not be more...proper to choose one of the options offered? (Proper - another word I love. Proper). Surely that's part of the experience of eating out?

N, however, is of an entirely different viewpoint, i.e. you're paying for the meal, so you should be able to have exactly what you want. While I do see some reasoning behind this, I refuse to change my allegiance. I will forever belong to the 'You-get-what-you're-given Camp'.

I'd be interested to know whether I'm alone in this. Am I being a food snob? Should I try to ditch this reliance on the menu and create-my-own?

Sunday, 7 March 2010

On Time Slipping Through My Fingers

Since around Chinese New Year, it's felt like my life has been hurtling along at the speed of light.

I've not been exceptionally busy, so I don't really know where this has come from. Perhaps it's a symptom of growing up. Quite a lot of the blogs I read have touched on nostalgia of late, and it's got me thinking. Have I left my best years behind? Am I passed my peak?

I remember hearing my dad complain that there didn't seem to be as much time between Christmasses and birthdays as there used to be, and dreading the day it happened to me. Well, I think it's here. I think I'm now officially grown up and my hopes of being a real life Peter Pan are crushed. Weeks and months are flying by, bringing with them new worries linked to all the responsibilities of my adult life, more grey hairs and the awful realisation that I'll never, just never, be able to pull off an Emo haircut.

However, I refuse to let the rest of my time, no matter how fast it's moving, be spent looking back. I did have immense amounts of fun at uni, and when I lived in Italy, and at school even - but did I have more fun then than I do now? I'm not convinced that I did - in fact, my nostalgic daydreams are often tinged with a kind of guilt or regret at opportunities missed or difficult situations.

True, I don't have a collection of traffic cones in my living room anymore, and my time spent frolicking under the Meditteranean sun is well and truly over - but at the same time I don't have to lie to people about who I am now, I do tend to remember nights out and don't need a cigarette to wake me up in the morning. My early twenties were brilliant, but I'm not sad to see them go. They both taught me and amused me, and thanks to those hectic, fast-living years I'm going into my late twenties a more sane, sorted and stable person than I've ever been before.

So here's to growing old disgracefully - without an emo haircut.