Friday, 26 September 2008

Friday Blues

I feel like crap! Sorry to be blunt and sorry to foist this upon you. Mind you, saying that, I am under no illusions that people actually read these blog entries. I write them for little more than cathartic purposes - a way to get things off my chest.

Okay maybe I am being a bit of aman complaining about a little cold, but to be honest it's not the cold that's getting to me. I'm just tired. I'm working too much. I need to do it and I want to do it. I enjoy the job I have now and I believe in it. But I am hoping that the long hours are only short term.

It feels too long since I've had a serious break, a chance to recharge.

I know things just went this way. My wife lost her job and so the summer holiday had to be cancelled. Plain and simple - happens to a lot of people.

So I worked long hours in the last weeks at my previous job - including weekends to make some extra money. And then I cashed in my holiday days remaining to help the family finances. End result by year's end I will have worked more weekend days than I've taken weekday holidays. Scary and a tad depressing.

At least there is some rugby on the TV as I type. Not the best game but one of the teams is Leicester - the team I support.

I guess I will feel better tomorrow. Sleep does wonders.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Thank you Desmond Carrington (I Never Thought I'd Say That)

My musical tastes are a little diverse. However I never thought I would ever find something on Desmond Carrington's show on BBC Radio 2. He plays oldies usually - fifties crooners and show tunes. I don't even listen to his show normally.

Today though I did by mistake. I left work late (go live - different story) and switch on the radio. I listen to BBC Radio 4 a great deal. When I left work today I was listening to Front Row - the station's nightly culture show. Well I was briefly, as I switch on it finished and it was about to go into the nightly serial. That didn't sound interesting so I switched to Radio 2 wondering if tonight was the night they have a Blues show - that's usually quite good.

It wasn't - I missed that by a day. It's on Mondays. However when I clicked over I heard some very pleasing Irish folk music with female vocals. I'm a long time Clannad and Maddy Prior fan so it instanly appealed. What he was playing was a song by American folkies Cherish the Ladies. Well I got home, logged on and found a few samples of their music - just to check whether this one track was the aberation and most of their music wouldn't interest me.

That wasn't the case. Every single song sounded good and after listening to samples of maybe four or five I have placed my order. Chose three including a Christmas CD - we like having a new Christmas CD each year so it seemed appropriate.

They should be turning up in about a week or so - looking forward to that.

Of course this doesn't mean I am going to stop listening to Metallica or Dream Theater - or the Rush that is playing as I type. But it will give me a pleasant change from time to time. And it will be one the whole family might enjoy.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Lincolnshire Plum Bread

This weekend I went to visit my mother. She lives in Lincolshire - about half way between Skegness and Grimsby. We popped over to Alford whilst we were up there with the intention of picking up some lavender oil - my mother likes scenting her house with lavender. Unfortunately the shop where we used to buy it is closed and seems to have been closed for a long, long time. It had been a while - last time we bought her a large bottle of the stuff and it lasted over two years.

Fortunately though just around the corner from where the oil shop used to be is a deli, one that sells some of the most wonderful things - cheeses, pastes, oils, james, meats (the in-laws are carnivorous after all) and breads. And oh, the breads. Wow! Lincolnshire Plum Bread is absolutely heavenly. If you ever in that part of the world try to find some. You won't regret it.

What's the point of blogs?

They're odd things. I guess a lot of people just use them like diaries, or maybe to keep family members up to date with events and the like. Some people use them to put forward outlandish thoughts - conspiracy theorists and the like.

(As a side thought I never overly get conspiracies. Not that I don't believe that conspiracies never happen, just the at the popular ones seem unbelievable to me - Marilyn Monroe, President Kennedy, Diana, Princess of Wales, the "fake" moon landings and Roswell. I just can't fathom them. There are times when the obvious reason to me is the right one. Just because you don't like the official version of things don't mean they are wrong. I digess anyway - back to blogs.)

Others use blogs to highlight their point of view. And they are becoming increasingly listened to.

I mean the US political parties are allowing some bloggers access to their candidates during this election campaign. This new media is becoming very important.

So should I do something like this with mine? Should I use it as a platform. I have beliefs -and no I am not talking religious beliefs here, I think I will keep this kind of belief out of this post and this blog (at least for now). I have political views and principals. I vote. I listen to the politicians. I have things and ideas that are important to me. I've even mentioned some of them on this blog - packaging comes to mind.

But is this my intention here? Well no, not really. I guess I might from time to time rant and rave about some things that seem important. I've been a bit of a greenie for years - I've recycled since long before it became trendy (not looking for kudos points here, just explaining who I am). I don't like buying food that has racked up large numbers of miles before finding its way into my shopping trolley. I am a vegetarian. I am teetotal. I am a dedicated reader and would like to see more people read but I am not going to try to force my views on anyone.

I am also as contradictory as anyone else. I find my environmental bias doesn't prevent my holidaying in Italy (and yes I fly there). It does give me feelings of guilt but I love Italy so much and it relaxes me so greatly this wins over my guilt. Sitting in a boat slowly making it's way along Venice's Grand Canal is so marvellous, so miraculous I need to experience it time and time again. I hope I never bore of it.

So I find I can't overly sermonise on these matters - although I will tell you and everyone else I meet that you should avoid buying things that are unnecessarily overpackaged. I might mention it's a good idea to sort your waste and re-use or recycle as much as is possible - cut down the amount that goes into landfill as well as the obvious energy/resource savings of the recycling of glass, metals, plastics etc. I might even mention the need to improve the lives of those born in less rich countries than mine.

But I realise to make this blog a soapbox without mentioning my own failings would be very hypocritical. So I won't, at least not exclusively. And when I do I promise to be completely p[en and honest. But for the most part I will just type whatever comes into my head - comments on music, books, films, TV shows, events and more. Basically whatever I feel like. And if anyone ever reads it well they are likely to find this a completely disorganise mess. It might be madness but it is my own personal madness. And I like it.

Age Darkens

I know tastes change as you age. I accept this - in many ways I look forward to it. I have always enjoyed new things - okay new to me might be a little more accurate, this can involve discovering musical artists I'd previously overlooked, old films, re-runs, classic novels and the like.

But one thing I have noticed recently is that my tastes have edged darker and heavier. In many ways they've gone back to the type of things I used to watch and listen to when I was a kid. Musically my favourite bands at the moment are Metallica, Rush, Iron Maiden and Dream Theater. I still like The Who, Yes, Pink Floyd, Suzanne Vega and the like. It's just I prefer something a little heavier these days. When I feel like some music I'm more likely to put on Nick Cave, Disturbed or Stonesour than REM or U2.

My reading tastes have darkened too - I'm reading horror as the norm, rather than sf. I'm watching horror films and crime and horror TV shows like Dexter and Bones and my old faves Stargate, Star Trek and others are notably absent from my viewing.

Life's odd. It throws curveballs at you. I'm enjoying these recent ones. Hell, I'm actually enjoying life.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Bernard Hamandcheesetoastie

This is cathartic. It's a chance to remind myself that I want to be a writer. I've done. I've sold eighty pieces - heavily weighted though that number is in the direction of reviews. But I've not done any real writing for a little while. I've tried. I've half started a number of reviews - for Kevin Anderson's The Ashes of Worlds, for Thomas Disch's The Word of God, for Mike Resnick's Stalking the Vampire, for Nigel Suckling's The Book of the Vampire and for Tim Lebbon's The Reach of Children. I guess I can add Brian Keene's Ghost Walk to the list too as I finished reading it last night.

They are all good. I need to get them all reviewed. It's just my mind's been out of sorts. When I finally came to the conclusion I had to leave my last job it was a jolt. It threw me off balance. When I received the job offer (from my now employer) I bucked up a little. I began writing again - polishing off a couple more comic horror tales (which have gone the way of the others and are unsold) and some reviews - one of which has just sold to nossa morte, yahey - an article on Witchhunting -which is still being considered, promising though as the editor has told me he liked it. It's just he's not sure whether he wants to include any non-fiction in his mag. His call. I'll wait, I am a patient man.

It was the move that launched the latest schism in my head. I had been at my last employer for nine and half years. For most of that time I liked it there. I never really wanted to leave but events went in a direction I didn't want so...

There's been a little bit of guilt. Add to that an edginess, a desire to impress that I suppose is natural in the first weeks of a new job. End result my writing muscles are cramped. I half start things, re-read them, delete all and close the file. Repeat this endlessly and you have another wasted night.

So I decided to leave it. Wait, concentrate on the day job - after all it pays the mortgage and buys me nice things (mainly books). And this is the mindset I find myself in, sitting here at my desk, on a reasonably comfortable chair typing, listening to Paul Weller's album 22 Dreams, and relaxing.

I may not have typed a single word of review, of non-fiction, poetry or fiction. But I am happy. I think everything is good. And the CERN project hasn't got us yet.

There's always time.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Happy-slapping Eeyore

It's Tuesday - day two of my wife's new job. Good thing too - money is always helpful. Only problem is it's in Peterborough. Nothing wrong with Peterborough - except if you live in Ashby de la Zouch. It's a good two hours drive there and back so it means she is staying in a B&B nearby and is away between Monday morning and Thursday evening.

It has lead to odd conversations. We have them at times - most often when we are driving and just passing the time. So we have a new medium for them - the nightly telephone calls.

Tonight's conversation lead to one of the bizarrest concepts yet - hence the title. And all because of the need to buy a coffee cup. Her new employer has a coffe machine - nothing unusual so far. It dispenses plastic cups and my wife prefers real mugs and cups. So a quick visit to a supermarket and (apparantly - I wasn't there) the choice was between two - Tigger and Eeyore.

It came down to one thing - the fact that my wife always found Eeyore to be annoying and in need of a (metaphorical) slap - pretty much a wake-up call, "come on get real". And onto happy-slapping Eeyore. It's a bizarre world.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

100 Things to Do Before You Die

I am a sucker for lists - and UK newspaper The Independent has posted a list (with pictures) of 100 Things to Do Before You Die. Here's the link

And for the record - I've not done any of them - although I have been in Venice whilst the Biennale was on - but we didn't go anywhere near it as we wanted to see the town itself.
And we've not been there during the Carnivale either.

Detached from Reality

I've never been a fan of football (soccer to any Americans reading this). When it comes to sports I like rugby and cricket - and I will admit American Football. But for some reason soccer never got me. When I was a kid I never minded it all that much - although any attraction I had for it melted away as my childhood ended.

But in recent years I've grown in despair more and more about it as a sport. And the reason for this is nothing to do with it as a sport. It's the fact that football seems to have become a glamour sport. From the outside it gives the appearance of being more about hairdos, tattoos and image. Oh, and money.

And today I saw something that appalled me - and before anyone criticises what I am about to type I realise that the following is just a rumour. The BBC website is reporting that Manchester City's new owner will make an offer for their neighbour Manchester United's star player Cristiano Ronaldo said to be in the region of GBP 135 MILLION.

This is obscene in my opinion. Even if it is not true it is the fact that people are talking about this kind of sum as a transfer fee that makes it obscene. Never mind any mention of the number of people in countries around the world who are starving, have inadequate health care, no access to clean, safe water etc etc etc. In the UK there are thousands, if not millions, of people who are struggling in these days of high fuel and food prices, so the talk of paying over one hundred million pounds for a single player devalues the whole sport (for me).

Now I am not saying soccer is alone in this. Cricket is starting to see a massive influx of money. The Indian Permier League offers players hundreds of thousands of pounds for a few short weeks of work. And this autumn sees the Stanford matches in the Carribean with a ten million dollar winner takes all set up. I can see the sense in the argument that top players must be rewarded for what they do. I get it that sportsmen's careers being short and that they need to make a lifetime's worth of money. But top footballer can earn five, six or seven times the average UK yearly salary in a single week. And this is before any consideration of sponsorship deals - or publishing deals.

And it's not just sport that worries me with money. Art is another area. I like art - I have a large collection of books on art. I like the Old Masters, I like Impressionism, the Surrealists, Modern Art etc etc. However every time another painting goes up for auction I grimace. When the headlines hit saying tens of millions have been paid for a Monet, a Turner, a Jackson Pollack, Klimt, Picasso, Rubens etc.

It just seems mad.

Good Food - in Derby

Yesterday we went into Derby to take of the regular stuff - banking, picking up magazines etc. What we found there was a wonderful surprise. All through the middle of Derby was a market - lots of French/Italian/Greek/German food stalls (with some smattering of craft stuff).

Being a family full of avid foodies (or greedy types if you want us to be honest) this was something we simply had to indulge in. And the reason is simple. When it comes to it our European friends do the basics of food so much better than the English. That and there is not quite the culture of fast food over on mainland Europe. I've seen Burger joints in France and Italy but they don't seem to be as much in the mainstream of culture as in the UK.

I'm not saying saying that the English cannot produce great food, quite the opposite. The best of English food can be up there with the best in the world. The problem is that it is not all that good if you are a vegetarian (and I am).

However if you talk Mediterranean food then there is so much stuff available. Every time we head over to Italy we find so much regular food that we can eat. We're not talking of a made up meat-replacement meal - the reason we usually choose an Italian or Chinese restaurant when we go for a meal in England.

All of our favourite tastes and ingredients are European - Olive Oil, Pesto, Balsamic and so on. So stall after stall selling wonderful ingredients, pastries, olives, breads, jams etc was an idea of heaven. We raided every French or Italian stall they had - a given really with our tastes.

But the real joys for us were two stalls from other countries. The first of these was a Greek stall from where we bought a pesto bread and a number of Spanakopita - savoury tarts made with filo pastry. Together with some olives, feta cheese, cheese stuffed sweet peppers (which were simply heavenly) it made the four of us very very happy - wonderful. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.

The second of the best stalls was a Portuguese stall selling cured meats (we bought one for my wife's parents - they are carnivores but we don't hold it against them), wonderful strong cheeses and jams. Now I am not a big fan of jams. I rarely eat them. But when I do I like good jams and the description of these was irresistable. 60% fruit and half the added sugar of a UK jam. That sounded good. Add to that the flavours were different, no blackcurrant or raspberry here. I chose two pots Pumpkin and Gourd.

Well I've tried one of them now - I had some of the Pumpkin jam on toast for breakfast this morning. And wow! These jams are superb. And from the looks and oohing of my in-laws at lunch today when they were trying the Portuguese cured ham I guess there is a new country to add to the list of food-heavens. France, Italy, Greece and Portugal. All I can say is wow.

And all I can say is we are now more determined that ever to buy good food, proper food.And I will be keeping an eye out for similar markets in the future.

We collectively made a decision yesterday. Even given these difficult times when food prices are increasingly almost daily we are not going to economise, not going to scrimp at the expense of quality. Okay it might mean we have to make economies elsewhere but food is one we are determined these economies will never, ever again happen.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

One last though - Black Sheep

Before I head off to read my book I though I'd better just mention a truly wonderful (or awful, not quite sure which) movie. It's a spoof horror film from New Zealand called Black Sheep. It is the first film that has had me, my wife and both of her parents laughing out loud at. A truly rare thing.

It combines a bit of moralising (against genetic engineering in farming and various environmental issues) with a boy-comes-home tale, totally wonderful scenery, a love story and the most ridiculous horror imaginable. Great stuff - well worth a laugh.

Underneath it all

I am an intelligent and educated man. I studied astrophysics at University so I feel this boast is backed up by some evidence. I can speak Italian (reasonably well) and some French. I like theatre (although not musicals), I visit castles, cathedrals and country houses for fun - even venture into the middle of nowhere to see stone circles and other prehistoric sites. I have a fondness for cairns, dolmens and other stone age structures. I read science books, history books, archaeology, mythology, politics, art etc etc etc.

I consider myself a cultured fellow.

So why is it then that I have just watched, and thoroughly enjooyed, bull-riding on the TV. What gets me especially is that, on top of everything mentioned above, I'm English. I've never been to Texas (I know, I am implying this is a purely Texan sport - let me off on this one, I'm on a rant).

So bull-riding, hmmh! I might pretend to being all high-brow and superior (remember ranting, I'm honestly not too bad - I hope not anyway) I guess I am just like many people - low-brow works. Give me a man being trampled by a bull, sports accidents, outtake shows etc and I'm a sucker for them.

In my defence though I don't think I could ever be a regular viewer of any of these shows. I'd get restless, and want to do something else. I get this way in front of TV even if it is one of my favourite shows anyway. I'm not one for vegging all night in front of the box. I like reading too much.

Talking off which I'm going to head off and finish that Kevin Anderson book. It's getting near it's conclusion - after seven thick volumes. I need to know how it's all going to end...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Wonderful pedantry

I am a pedant. Many of my friends would say it is one of my defining characteristics. I cannot help being pedantic. Most often I see it as an intolerance on my part to growing incorrectness.

It's a debate I have with myself from time to time - mostly when it concerns the English Language. I make mistakes in it, but I try not to do so. I know which is the correct version of its/it's to use. I know their vs. they're vs. there. I can differentiate between two, to and too.

I also have dislikes apart from simple misspellings (and I am not talking typos here - this editor doesn't spell check so some may get passed me).

My main bugbear is "try and". To me that suggests you are going to try AND you are going to do it. Surely it should be "try to". I am going to "try to" write grammatically correct English. Second in my pet-hates list comes "should of". I know it sounds like that but it's quite simply wrong. "Should have", "could have" - it's not difficult.

So tonight when a friend emails me a link to a page on the BBC website with twenty examples of grammar it brought a smile to my face. She obviously knows me well.

Here's the link...

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

And talking of music

Back in the 1908s I watched, like many others, the mini-series "V". One of the characters (Robin) was played by a young actress called Blair Tefkin. That was that, so I thought.

Well Tefkin is also a musician. Or rather these days she is mainly a musician -I don't think she has acted in years. And I have a copy of her CD Shocked and Devastated. I love it, reminds me a lot of The Throwing Muses - another of those bands I liked back in the 1908s. S+D sounds a little out of its time when you consider it was released in 2000.

To me elements of it sound like 1960s early psychedelia era stuff, all jangly and upbeat. But more than this it sounds like the US-Indie stuff of the 1980s - hence the Throwing Muses reference.

All the same I think it's great and I wish she would release a second album.

Que Te Quiero

Talk about missing the boat (musically here).

I have always been a passionate fan of music - and not afraid to pick my tastes purely on the grounds that I like things. In fact I will always consider any person's musical taste to be equally valid compared to mine. That is, if they have a defined musical taste and don't just sheepishly follow a trend. I accept some people like the current club-scene dance music stuff. I don't but if they have a passion then that's all to the good. It's not having musical taste that I don't get.

Mine results in a core set of likes (NWOBHM, Prog-Metal, Prog-Rock, Folk, some rock - Springsteen end, etc) but it does mean I have odd bits thrown in to the mix.

Most of this comes from my formative years being at the very end of the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s. As a result I quite like some bits of 1980s pop. I like Ultravox, The Jam, The Style Council, U2, Simple Minds, Suzanne Vega etc. Nothing to gain me odd looks at all. But there are also odd ones that just stuck in my mind and I just like, no apologies given.

Amongst these less "honourable" choices would be T'Pau's China in Your Hand and Nik Kershaw's Wouldn't It Be Good. Now I see no reason why I shouldn't like these songs. They are good and they make me smile. I'm not looking for approval, I'm not treating this page as a confessional. There's no bearing of guilty secrets in the hope my shame will "cure" me of such dodgy musical taste. I like these songs and I intend to continue liking them.

So recently when I was spending my way through the Amazon voucher my, now ex-, colleagues bought me as a leaving present from my last job, I had a few pounds at the end of it and added in a Katrina and the Waves greatest hits. It was only about 3 quid so I figured what the hell. I didn't have a copy of Walking on Sunshine and I felt I might need a new brand of cheer-up.

The CD arrived and I played the desired track. It had the effect I wanted. My foot started to tap. I smiled. So I thought I'd try some more of the collection out. I knew Do You Want Crying - a good 1980s style pop-rock bombast. Good, more than one track I like on the CD. Going Down to Liverpool made it three. So CD worthwhile.

Then I played a song I didn't know called Que Te Quiero - and it has just stuck with me. I think it's great. Good funm great catchy sing-a-long chorus, upbeat - makes me happy. Okay it's your typical love song, but it's a feelgood thing. I need these in my life.

I can't listen to King Crimson and Tom Waits all night after all - I would go mad. But it's the fact that the song was recorded 23 years ago and I completely missed it. I really should've bought the Katrina and the Waves album back then - I would have been able to have many, many repeated listens, each producing a smile, over the years.

Then again I would not have had my recent wonderful revelationary moment. Perhaps it's just as well I didn't buy it in 1985.

Monday, 1 September 2008

One of those books

Every now and again a book clicks. It hits me at just the right moment. Often these are books I wold consider amongst the best ever written (Clifford Simak's City, Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, Ward Moore's Bring the Jubliee, Frnak Herbert's Dune etc etc etc). But as often it's just because the book is the right one for the frame of mind I find myself in.

This is where I am now. Although I would say the book is superb, there is more of the right timing about it than it being in the list of ultimates.

Anyway, enough procrastinating, the book in question is Kevin J. Anderson's The Ashes of Worlds.

This series started six years ago with Hidden Empire and right from the get-go I was completely and utterly hooked. It's odd in one respect. My normal tastes are for single volume short novels or preferably novellas. (And yes I realise Frank Herbert's Dune is not particularly short at 600+ pages and Asimov's Foundation Trilogy is, well, a trilogy.)

But Anderson's series just got me. It is epic in scale beyond anything I have ever read (even including Dune and Foundation). There are at least eight different races all in various states of war with each other (and often themselves) all at the same time. And action takes place all over the galaxy. It's difficult to sum up (which I will prove when I try to review this seventh and final volume).

But it is superb. And I will miss it when there are no more tales in the series left (in about 200 pages).

It's Groundhog Day...Again!

I have a number of favourite films, one I can watch over and over. They usually fit into two categories.

The first type comprise the action films, the science fiction and horror films - the ones everyone would expect from me - Highlander, Terminator, Die Hard, Scream, Starship Troopers, Robocop, Star Treks and so on.

The second type seems to surprise a lot of people when they find out. I like sentimental and feelgood movies - It's a Wonderful Life, Love Actually, The Fabulous Baker Boys and Fried Green Tomatoes being typical examples.

But above all other films there is one I can watch over and over, and you could say it spans both areas. The film is Groundhog Day. It is simply wonderful, and always guaranteed to make me smile.

And yes I am watching it again right now!!!!