8 Bit Symphony and Hull Itself
On Saturday morning myself and The Seats In My Carriage headed north to distant HULL where we were due to attend a CONCERT called 8 Bit Symphony at the invitation of the organiser, Mr C Abbott. It's AGES since I was last in Hull, so I was looking forward to going back. As it turned out, I was RIGHT to do so.
We had our first inkling that it was going to a fun weekend when we were on the way to our hotel. We stomped through Old Town heading for what we thought was a standard issue, possibly Millenium-related, pedestrian bridge, only to find it not only gently CHIMING, but also MOVING! As we approached it looked like some weird structure was moving down the river, but when we got there it turned out to be The Scale Lane Swing Bridge, a moveable bridge that sort of ROTATES round to allow boats down the river, and is the only one in the whole world that lets people SIT ON IT while it does so, while chiming a little tune. This only happens once a day on Saturdays so we felt entirely BLESSED to happen to be there just as it was in motion!
The Premier Inn we were staying in was perched right on top of a multi-storey car park, which meant that the lifts and staircases were all a bit, well, car park-y, but also that we had an AMAZING view out over the Humber. Once we were ENFRESHENED we headed back into Hull for TEA and then to the Hull City Hall for the concert.
The idea behind "8 Bit Symphony" had been brewing for YEARS, and you could see the amount of THOUGHT and PLANNING that had gone into it right from the start. There were stalls inside the (hugely impressive) building, merchandise, illustrated title cards for each piece of music and also specially commisioned VIDEOS which played along with the different tunes. The actual music was supplied by The Hull Philharmonic Orchestra, performing adaptations of classic 8-bit computer game theme songs. When I say "8-bit" I actually mean Commordore 64 theme songs, so I didn't really recognise any of them, but it sounded FABULOUS, and there was an ENORMOUS amount of love in the room, both for the nostalgia and for the HUGE team effort that had gone into it all. It was GRATE!
We had bumped into various chums, including Mr A Fisher and Mr W Pilkington, and in the morning at breakfast we also saw Mr C Abbott again, which gave us the chance to tell him what an outstanding achievement he had achieved. I do hope he gets to put it on again somewhere else, it was amazing!
Once we had reached the point in a Premier Inn Breakfast where NO MORE FOOD is possible we checked out and went to do some SIGHTSEEING. We started off at Hull Minster, where we were lucky enough to catch the last ten minutes of the current Vicar's last service, in which he very tactfully acknowledged that people in Hull are a lot more "self-effacing" than where he's going next i.e. Liverpool. This was very true - everywhere we went the people of Hull were friendly and welcoming and mostly self-effacing, although the spokesperson from Hull College, who sponsored the event the night before, did say that Hull is forever being put down by people who have never been there, and that it deserves a lot more praise as a Unique Place than it gets. I agree!
We had a look round the Minster, which is GORGEOUS, and then headed to the Ferens Art Gallery. This turned out to be an excellent example of the way Hull doesn't seem to promote itself very well - it was BRILLIANT, yet I'd never heard of it, and it didn't appear anywhere when we tried to google Things Of Interest In Hull before we set out. We only thought to pop in because we'd passed it on the way to the hotel, but we were VERY glad we did.
There were two highlights for us, the first being a chalk sketch of Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein the Younger which was a) oddly MOVING as it was so REAL and b) dead interesting because you could see lots of little DOTS around the outlines, which apparently was for an MEDIEVAL version of TRACING. The second was an exhibition of contemporary art called Is This Planet Earth ESPECIALLY the stuff by an artist called Dan Hays who did big canvas made up of painted DOTS, like pixels, which transformed into pictures as you moved away from them. Saying it like that makes it sound BORING and OBVIOUS, but being in the room with them they were AMAZING things. I recommend having a look if you get a chance!
In fact I recommend Hull in general, if and when it is available to you. We had a bloody brilliant time there, I hope it's not so long before I get to go back again!
The Down The Road From My House Fringe
There was a miniature THEATRE FESTIVAL in The Olympic Village Where We Live last week - they'd hired a "Pop Up Theatre" from Paines Plough and booked a bunch of SHOWS to put in them and, being less than five minutes from our front door, it seemed RUDE not to go to at least one or two shows, so that is what we did!
Once we got inside the theatre for our first show on Sunday we found it to be LOVELY, surprisingly so in fact. From the outside it looked like it was going to be a HOT TENT, but inside it was Actually Comfortable teired seating in the round with proper facilities and not BOILING HOT. The only downside was that it didn't have a bar in it!
The show we saw that night was Not Very Good. From the blurb it looked SUSPICIOUSLY like a two-man musical featuring general titting about, which FOR SOME REASON appealed to me. Unfortunately for all concerned, however, it was just a bit rubbish - I had had cause to listen to a little bit of Moon Horse earlier in the week, and I can tell you this: It was NO MOON HORSE.
It started off OK, but it soon became clear that this was very much a Work In Progress. This would be FINE if it had been advertised (and charged for!) as such, but if definitely wasn't. Actually, saying it was "in progress" would have been charitable anyway, as they gave the distinc impression that they'd not done it ANYWHERE before. The "Work" bit was questionable too, as we both thought it needed A LOT OF WORK doing to it. There was no proper story, the songs were a bit boring, and there just weren't enough GAGS in it.
We DID enjoy slagging it off on the way home though, which is always a big part of the fun of going to the Edinburgh Fringe anyway! When we got back I did my usual thing when I see Rubbish Comedians In Fancy Venues: I googled them to see if they went to Oxford or Cambridge. INVARIABLY they will turn out to be one or the other, and I was not disappointed this time, especially when I got the BONUS RESULT of discovering that one of them is also the POSH SON of a POSH HUMOURIST!
The next day's show was MUCH MUCH MUCH BETTER, when we went to see a double-bill of Rob Auton and Rhys James. Again, this was a Work In Progress and again it wasn't advertised as such, but a) it was a double bill so basically HALF PRICED and b) it was GRATE. I've never seen Rhys James before, but he was very good indeed - I mean, he's very much a young white male stand-up comedian doing stand-up comedy, but he was EXTREMELY good at it and had A LOT of Actual Jokes, although it was a bit unsettling hearing him talk about the 1990s as a long time ago and MEAN it.
Rob Auton was something else altogether, he is ACE. We've seen him before and thought similar thoughts e.g. that what he does is very close to being POETRY (especially this time as he was reading most of it out!) and also THOUGHTFUL with INTERESTING IDEAS and NEW OBSERVATIONS. On top of that though he is SUPER-ENGAGING and has, again, LOADS of Actual Jokes. It was, in short, a FAB night out which more than made up for the night before!
It also kind of made me want to pop up to the Fringe again sometime. A Day Return's doable, right?
Staying Up For The Results
On Sunday evening The Numbers In My Poll and I did our usual exercise of Staying Up For The Election Results, for LO! it was the night that the results were announced for the European Elections, and we had WHISKY in the cupboard!
As is traditional on such events I was also in communication with my long-term ELECTION NIGHT BUDDY Mr T Pattison, who commented that it was very nice to have an election where the results came in EARLY. Not long after midnight most of the UK Results were in, which was EFFICIENT even if not particularly encouraging for the wellbeing of our NATION.
Having said that, there was a surprising amount of happiness for me in the results, especially when the people on telly FINALLY LISTENED to me shouting at them through the screen, and pointed out that a) the Br*x*t Party had actually NOT gained 31% from NOTHING as they were basically UK*P and had just taken all their votes and b) if you added up the Definite Remain votes then we had MORE than the Definite Brexit ones. Also, as a lifetime Lib Dem, it is always nice to see them doing well again, and ESPECIALLY so when that happens alongside The Greens. It was at least SOMETHING to maintain good cheer in the face of the UTTER LOONIES who were BRAYING all over the television otherwise.
Having it all get mostly announced before 1am meant that we had some WHISKY left to put back in the cupboard, but I am not resting on my BOOZE LAURELS as yet - we've got the Peterborough by-election to get through soon, and then I suspect we may have at least one more WHISKY NIGHT before the year is out!
A Festival Band
On Saturday afternoon I headed back to Derby, where only a few short months ago The Validators and I had played at A Beer Festival. This time we were going to play at... a beer festival!
For LO! The Furnace Inn (AKA Frankie's local) was having its Annual Beer Festival, and we had been invited to play! Well, I say "invited", it had actually come about due to the aforesaid Frankie fancying doing a gig at the end of his road, and so negotiating with a member of the Brewery Staff there to get us on the bill i.e. his own FIRSTBORN SON. What on earth they think they're doing employing a SIX YEAR OLD to brew their beer I am sure I do not know, but it certainly worked out for us!
So it was that I met my fellow Validators in the beer garden, where the main band (we were on at 6.30pm - they had got in a proper local covers band to do the headline set!) were setting up their MASSIVE PA system beneath the GAZEBO. We had a DELIGHTFUL ninety minutes of CHAT, during which Tim was presented with The AAS Football Trophy for his success in The AAS Football Competition, and we hammered through some THORTS on our forthcoming recording session(s). The upshot of the latter was that The Validators are going to have a practice WITHOUT ME, as this is "easier to organise", apparently. I am sure it is not a COUP.
The beer garden filled up with a wide range of lovely people, even including some who were not directly related to Frankie, and we took to the stage and did THIS:
To be honest, I do not think I was at my GLORIOUS BEST for this set, as I couldn't really hear myself so SHOUTED to start with and thus lost VOICE towards the end, but everyone else was GRATE and people seemed to like it, which is very much The Main Thing!
With the all done with we settled into a DELIGHTFUL rest of the evening which featured much discussion and MANY and various types of BEER, which was flipping delicious. As I always say, the GIG bit of Validators gigs are all well and good, but I mostly turn up for the hanging around before and afterwards!
It was a lovely evening, although when Tim suggested going for a curry I had to excuse myself as being "too pissed for curry". I was actually too pissed to a) stay awake and b) communicate with other humans, but I made up for the lack of curry by joining The Pattisons and Chums next morning for a GINORMOUS Premier Inn breakfast! HOORAH! More of this sort of thing please!
It's been a long long time coming, but I'm happy to say that there will be another Plinths EP out in a few weeks time. It's called "Plintshmania" and you can see a thrilling trailer for the lead track HERE:
It's good isn't it? Originally I was going to have a go at making something vaguely similar, but after approx 900 hours of trying I realised I had absolutely no idea what to do. Luckily Mr J Dredge had been talking to Jeff from Popaisy Productions who had a a) similar b) much better way to do it that invovled c) actual ability and competence. PHEW!
"Idiots Run The World" is the first track, but there'll be three more available on Bandcamp, iTunes and all that. We recorded them WAY back in September last year alongside Pancake Day, so it will be a DELIGHT to finally get them out in the world!
Game Of Thrones
I got up at 6am in the Actual Morning on Monday, not for Work Reasons but to watch the final episode of Game Of Thrones. I did something similar a couple of weeks ago when I went to see Avengers: Endgame for exactly the same reason i.e. to avoid Annoying Sods Doing Spoilers, and this was the only way to do it!
It's not the IDEAL way to watch the conclusion to ANY long-running franchise, but it did mean I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen, and I enjoyed it a LOT more because of it. In fact I enjoyed it quite a LOT - it wasn't packed with ACTION but then the best bits of the series have always tended to be People Saying Things In Rooms, and there was a LOT of that about. Also, there were several JOKES which I particularly enjoyed!
Having got to the end I'd really quite like to go back to the start and watch the whole thing again. I haven't read the books and I've never re-watched an episode - I watched the first three seasons at HIGH SPEED on DVD boxsets, so there's LOTS I'll have missed along the way. Whenever I read a review it's always full of references to PROPHECIES or STATEMENTS from past issues that I have absolutely no memory of, so I'm sure I'll get something out of it. The only problem is that I've been watching it on the Now TV box, which DOES have all of the episodes on it at the moment, but only for another four weeks or so. I guess I COULD watch the lot between now and then, but I don't think I can face getting up early EVERY day to fit it all in!
The London Mithraeum
This weekend The Provenance Of My Artifacts and I went to The London Mithraeum. It was DEAD GOOD!
A mithraeum is a Temple Of Mithras i.e. a Roman church, and this one was discovered during an archeological excavation of a former bomb site in 1954. It's a bit like what you get at Vindolanda i.e. the layout of the walls up to about 3 feet high, and it's contained in a specially built museum underneath the new Bloomsberg Building. When it was first uncovered it was moved down the road to a new site for display, but when Bloomsberg bought the original site they decided to put it back (almost) in its original place, and build a museum around it.
The Squares On My QR Code had heard about it when she'd been to a Thing at the building a little while ago, so we booked our (Free!) tickets and rolled up. I am on record as saying that my favourite sort of museum is a Museum Of One Thing, and this was NEARLY that - they had an art exhibition on the ground floor, but otherwise it was ALL Roman Stuff, including a really clever display of artefacts found on the site, shown in a vertical glass cabinet.
Downstairs from that was a darkened room, which the aforesaid Text In My Caption suggested was to prepare our EYES for a darker room to come. She was correct, and we remained there for a while as we waited for our turn to go in, reading some VERY good computer display screens that told us all about the MYSTERIOUS cult of Mithras. Actually, it didn't seem all that mysterious to us - it was an all-male sect made up of ex-soldiers, civil servants and building contractors who met regularly for secret rituals and then a lot of booze. Surely that's The Masons isn't it?
When it was our turn we headed down another level to the mithraeum itself, seven metres below current street level. This is something that always bothers me - why is Old Stuff always so far underground? I know about rubbish and rubble and dust and all that, but surely that stuff must COME from somewhere? Did the world used to be populated with gigantic mounds of Loose Earth that gradually blew over everything? Or did there used to be Old Stuff that would now be hanging in mid-air?
When we all got into the room it was indeed a bit dark. A member of staff said "The EXPERIENCE will begin in a couple of minutes," and then clsoed the door. Sure enough we could soon hear VOICES engaged in some sort of ritual which was a) very cleverly done, especially as they used the Quadrophonic Sound to make it seem as if the voices were moving around the room, but b) a bit daft, as they'd just told us upstairs that nobody knew what went on in these rituals! The BEST/CLEVEREST bits though were the way that they made it seem like much more building than it actually was - there was MIST all around the room which was lit from above, so it looked like a BOX, but there were seven little dangling SHELVES along the sides which created shadows that looked like PILLARS all around it. It's hard to explain, but it looked REALLY good!
The whole thing lasted, as we'd been promised, about 20 minutes, after which we went back upstairs, looked briefly at the ART, and then went to the new (ish) branch of TIBITS round the corner, which was FAB. The entire endevour was, in fact, GRATE - I do like a Museum Of One Thing!
posted 21/5/2019 by MJ Hibbett (click here for permanent link) (0) comments
Going ON In A Meeting
Being in a job that I Actually Find Interesting is still a bit of a novelty to me, even after being IN it for over a year, so when I went to a meeting on Friday that was Quite Good I was a bit surprised. When it turned out to involve a certain type of academic behaving like a certain type of academic, however, I was less so!
The meeting was all about research data, and gathered together a bunch of people from the London area who deal with it in academic environments. Rather than have presentations we were put into groups on tables and given a series of QUESTIONS to discuss. For each question we got about 15 minutes, and then at the end each table fed back to the group. I always DREAD this sort of thing, largely due to my long history of working in subject areas that I neither know much about nor am hugely interested in (sorry, all my previous jobs) but this time around I was delighted to find I was not only interested in what other people had to say, but had some remarks of my OWN to make! Even better, I was able to access the BRANES of people who were significantly more experienced than me in such matters who were VERY happy to share their knowledge. What made this especially handy was that the FORMAT of informal chats meant that they were able to share the SECRET knowledge as well about e.g. How To Get People To Archive Their Data and How Not To Fall Out With The Library Forever. It was DEAD good!
Most other people were from the Library, Scholarly Communications or Research Department at their relevant institution, but one person there was an Actual Researcher, a fact which he seemed to think we would all find FASCINATING. "This is your chance to talk to one of us!" he joked, apparently unaware that Talking To Researchers is approx 40-60% of most of our JOBS. I could hear this chap talking in his Loud, Confident, Posh voice behind me throughout the first half of the meeting, and ended up sitting on the same table as him when we came back after a break - we had all been told to move around, and it was VERY NOTICEABLE that every single person who'd been on the same table as him before had gone to one of the other two instead!
I soon found out why as he entirely DOMINATED the conversation for the entire rest of the session. MAN ALIVE but it was frustrating, but everyone was TOO POLITE to call him out on it, so what had been an Interesting Conversation turned into an unasked-for monologue, with two people gently trying to move things along when they could get a word in and the rest of us fairly quickly giving up. He had that way of talking where a sentence never ever ends, just pauses very briefly before the next bit starts, and a voice that seemed to have an UNDERLYING DRONE like a SITAR or something so there was always SOUND going on even in the gaps, so there was no space for anyone to jump in. At one point, after a series of ANECDOTES about Times He Had Been Proven Right someone LEAPT in and quickly asked "But how is this different in the Arts?" Others amongst took up the conversation and we then got about 60 seconds of discussion before The Researcher smiled and said "I'll give you another example..." and then smilingly carried on from exactly where he'd been before, completely ignoring what the rest of us had just said!
The thing is, I know many people will think "AHA! Welcome to my world! This is THE PATRIARCHY in action!" which, of course, it surely is, but this sort of behaviour is surprisingly Not That Common in my line of work - not to this INSANE DEGREE anyway. Most academics I meet are, if anything, PAINFULLY AWARE of the fact that they COULD be like that, and do at least TRY to remember that other people sometimes need to be heard too. That also gets a bit frustrating after a while, but after Friday's meeting I will hopefully appreciate their efforts a bit more - there are some people who have a propensity to GO ON A BIT and think themselves FASCINATING, but it's a lot easier to forgive if they at least recognise this fact about themselves and try to temper such behaviour.
A Practice In The Wasteland
On Saturday morning my alarm went off at 7.20am, just as it does on most other mornings when I have to go to work. On this occasion, however, I was heading not to a desk but to ROCK, for LO! I was bound for Leicester to meet The Validators!
As recorded previously on this blog, I tried out a whole HEAP of new songs whilst I was on tour with Mr M Tiller, and now The Validators were getting together to see if we could turn them into BAND songs. We'd originally booked 1pm-4pm in Quad in Leicester, but then the unexpected elevation of Derby County to the play-off finals necessitated moving it to 12-3pm so that our resident Derby season ticket holder could get back in time!
Annoyingly for me there were WORKS occuring on the trains, so instead of zooming straight to Leicester from St Pancras I had to go round to Euston, get a train to Nuneaton, hang around Nuneaton Station (REVIEW: "Not worth hanging around in") and then get another train to Leicester, where I met the aforesaid season ticket holder on the concourse. We got a taxi and ZOOMED over to the studio, which is based in Frog Island. It's a WEIRD bit of Leicester almost entirely comprised of abandoned, disintegrating factories. It basically looks like about half of the UK did in 1979 - an as yet un-redeveloped wasteland of bombsites and industrial decay, so that you expect to trip over an early indie band having moody promo shots taken.
Talking of which, once we got inside we discovered the rest of our own indie band already there getting everything set up. Or, in Emma's case, CROCHETING. It was, as ever, BLOODY LOVELY to see everybody again, and we had a LOVELY few hours of conversation, occasionally interupted by ROCK. After revisiting Two Blokes One Pub we delved into I'm Doing The Ironing, which took a LOT of working out. Over the years we have all assumed specific roles in the band, with Mr FA Machine taking on the mantle of "Musical Director", which basically means that whenever we try a new song everyone looks at HIM to tell us EITHER what we should do OR what we were doing wrong. He is very good at it, not least in his willingness to politely listen to people going "Can we do the bit that goes EEEE for a bit longer, and maybe sort of stringier?" or similar without murdering them (me). We tried several different ways of doing it, and ended up with a PRETTY GOOD version that involved some STRUMMING in the chorus that was a bit complicated for me i.e. different to the way I always do it otherwise, but ACE.
We then moved on to I Don't Have To Worry About That which was MUCH eaiser, before tackling You're A Tory Now which sounded GRATE, although sadly REALLY SHORT, so we had to do it again. Here our Musical Director had made a couple of suggestions for adjustments which I had put in (an extra "you're a tory now" to a slightly different tune at the end of the second and last choruses) and which WORKED!
The PLAN is to record SOME songs and then release them as SINGLES, hopefully backed with b-sides. The idea here is that it means we get to release something during THIS century, rather than having to wait to put an album out, and I proposed an IDEA to The Validators about how we might market these as PHYSICAL ITEMS. I will not reveal details of the idea here, lest THE MAN steals it before we can enact it, but suffice to say that we all had a good think about reasons why it might NOT be an ASTOUNDING IDEA THAT WILL CHANGE MUSIC FOREVER, and could not think of any.
It was soon 3pm so we sent Frankie off to catch his train while the rest of us ventured out into the RAIN to find a PUB. We ended up in The Salmon which, weirdly, is a pub in Leicester I have NEVER been in. That, I suppose, explains why it has not yet been knocked down. After a pint the Pattisons had to go, leaving myself and Mr T 'Tiger' McClure to have a RIGHT old chat about Diverse Subjects, which was FAB. Why do they all insist on not moving to London so that we can do this sort of thing more often?
It was a LOVELY day only slightly marred by my return journey. On the way to the station I checked the times on my phone and saw an ALERT saying one of the connections on the journey back had been cancelled. I went into the Customer Services office to check and MY WORD but the staff there were HORRIBLE. They GLARED at me with completely undisguised CONTEMPT, almost SPAT at me in their DISGUST that I was asking them for information, tutted at my question, gave me WRONG info, and then claimed that THEY had said exactly what I had said all along. It was most DISCOMFITTING, but then was very much made up for by the staff at CORBY, where we had to get off the train and change to a BUS. They were BLOODY LOVELY, with lots of information and clear guidance off the train, a bus driver who walked down the bus saying hello and explaining the toilets in a JOVIAL fashion and another member of staff who came aboard to apologise for us being there and explaining what would happen next. They were a DELIGHT!
The Validators gather again in a couple of weeks, for the Furnace Beer Festival in Derby (with us onstage at 6.30pm). I've checked and it's all proper trains that weekend - I can't wait!
Meditation and ASMR
You find me in a rather unusual state for me: that of Not Having Too Much On The Go. There is ROCK stuff ongoing (we have a Validators practice this weekend and a gig in a couple of weeks), I'm working away on the PhD, and waiting to hear about The Book, but otherwise a gentle quiet has fallen.
Rather than sit around and be BORED I have investigated some of that MINDFULLNESS what the young people talk about. Part of this has been via MEDITATION, what has turned out to be BLOODY GRATE. There's a weekly session at work and, it turns out, loads of Guided Meditations on YouTube, so most days I sit down and do 10-20 minutes of THAT, and CRIKEY but it is good stuff. For most of my life my BRANE has chuntered on pretty much NON-STOP with worrying about things, but doing meditation seems to lead to a CALMNESS that is like being on HOLIDAY, without having to spend a whole day getting even more stressed in airports to get to it!
I've also had a little look at all this ASMR (Autonous Sensory Meridian Response0 stuff. For most of my childhood I thought that a) everybody felt super relaxed and vaguely tingly while getting their haircut or at the optician's and b) I possibly had a MAGNET in my forehead like a HOMING PIGEON, as I got a weird buzzing up there if I put everything close to the spot between my eyebrows. It's a bit hard to explain if it's not something you've experienced, and as I got older I started to think maybe it was just me. Imagine then my DELIGHT when John Allison mentioned EXACTLY these sensations in Giant Days #1 and I finally had a NAME for it!
So it was that last night I ended up watching the first ten minutes of an HOUR LONG YouTube video that was a Pretend Optician's Appointment from the patient's point of view. It was all a bit odd. It certainly WORKED - I felt INTENSELY relaxed and fizzy round the back of the neck - but I also felt like maybe I should feel a bit GUILTY about it, like it was some sort of weird PORN or something. There was no RUDENSS of any kind, just a woman doing a pretend eye examination, but still, I stopped it before she got to the "is it better with this lens? Or this lens?" bit which, at the best of times, turns me into the DALAI LAMA of prescription glasses. Maybe another time!
I Have Seen Avengers:Endgame
I have two vital and important things to say right from the start about "Avengers: Endgame". Firstly, I shall be disclosing no spoilers of any kind WOTSOEVER in this blog, and secondly, and most importantly of all, I HAVE SEEN "AVENGERS:ENDGAME"!
The thing about spoilers always really winds me up, ESPECIALLY when ARTICLES think they're being really clever and say "No spoilers, but CHARACTER X does not appear in this film", as that IS a bloody spoiler. Or "No spoilers, but watch out for the bit with ITEM Y" because, OBVS, that tells you ITEM Y will flipping be in it. I really REALLY wanted to see this film without a clue what was going to be in it, and THUS the only way TO do that, I reasoned, was to go and see it as SOON as I possibly could.
So it was that I got up at 5.50 AM in the morning on Thursday to go to the 6.30 AM in the morning show at my local VUE cinema. When I booked the tickets several days before I thought this would be a) a bit KRAZY but also b) BLOODY GRATE and I have to say I stand by both opinions. Walking through Westfield Shopping Centre with most of the lights off felt a BIT like going on holiday on an early flight, and also a bit like going to a temp job when I was in my 20s, except instead of going to e.g. sweep up on a building site I was going to THE PICTURES!
As I walked through Westfield I saw various other people heading the same way, and when I got to the Vue it felt like a communal activity, as we presented our tickets to the one member of staff who appeared to be on duty. I'd booked my seat in the very first row as I was aware that the film was THREE HOURS long and so I would require an easily accessible LOO BREAK, but as the (many, many) adverts rolled I thought "I really don't want to spend all that time craning my neck like this," so when we FINALLY got to the trailers (honestly, it was 6.30 AM in the MORNING, couldn't they have just got ON with it?) I went and sat a few seats back, which was MUCH better. The screen was about half full, which is pretty much perfect I always reckon, as there's SPACE but enough people to make the LARFS and the GASPS audible.
And MY WORD but there were LARFS and ESPECIALLY gasps - the latter ESPECIALLY with the bit involving CHARACTER X and ITEM Y! There were also a LOT of TEARS. Good LORD I practically SOBBED my way through half of it, and LARFED some more and then, towards the end, sat clutching my VERY BRANE for fear of it EXPLODING through the things I was watching. As I said the other day, when I saw the first "Avengers" film I could not BELIEVE I was actually watching a film with Iron Man AND Captain America AND Thor in it, but this made THAT look like WAITING FOR GODOT.
Basically, it was completely and utterly BRILLIANT and quite possibly the best film I have EVER seen at the cinema. Yes yes I'm sure there are much more cleverer/funnier/insightful or whatever films that work as a standalone, but as the culmination of over TWENTY FILMS over the course of a DECADE this was bloody astonishing. I still keep THINKING about bits of it and LARFING/GASPING/SNIFFLING over 24 hours later.
The only downside of the whole thing really was that seeing it SO early means that nobdoy else I know has been yet. So please, can everyone go this weekend so I can talk about it? You will not regret it!
Wednesday was a big day for me, as I had my CONFIRMATION for my PhD. This is a sort of mini-VIVA, where you hand over a sample of what you've been up to and talk to somebody about it, so that they can assess whether what you're doing actually IS a PhD project, or an MPhil, or something you need to have a bit of a THINK about before asking again. It's one of the main STAGING POSTS along the way, and though different Universities call it different things, it generally happens about halfway through the research.
It's a big deal, basically, but I must say that I was remarkably SANGUINE about it beforehand. This may in part be because I had been to see a DERMOTOLOGIST earlier in the day about my PSORIASIS, and discovered that I only rank as 4/10 on The Scabby Scale (NB not actual terminology) after lying FULLY NUDE (apart from my socks) on a table and chatting about SUNBEDS. After that a fully clothed discussion of French Philosophers And Why I Don't Think They Apply seemed quite straightforward!
Another reason I was quite calm was that I was actually rather looking forward to it - this was a chance for me to TALK UNFETTERED about Doctor Doom and Transmedia to a room containing people who HAVE to listen and, indeed, ask questions, which seemed quite appealing. The aforementioned people were my two supervisors, Professor R Sabin and Dr I Horton, and the EXAMINER Dr D Byrne-Smith. Before Dan turned up Roger and Ian both asked, a couple of times, if I was stressed about it. I replied, quite truthfully, that I wasn't, and it was only later that I realised that maybe THEY were!
The interview was, for me at least, GRATE fun. Dan asked some Excellent and Pertinent questions, most of which I could answer (at some length, and with INSIGHTS emerging as we discussed them), and when some arose that I couldn't answer I said "I don't know." This is SUCH a better way of doing things than panicking and trying to make stuff up that I wish I could ALWAYS remember to do it! Dan also gave me some THORTS, IDEAS and also CRITICISM about what I was doing, which was ACE - apparently some people BRIDLE at this sort of thing, but if there is one thing that doing my MA a few years ago taught me, it is... well, it is "Go To The Pub Afterwards", but if there is ANOTHER thing that it taught me it was How To Receive Notes. Doing CREATIVE WRITING stuff involves a LOT of listening to other people's opinions of what you have written, and the best way to deal with it is to just sit there and TAKE it, whether it is BRILLIANT, DAFT, or somewhere in between. What I got yesterday was heavily skewed towards the brilliant end of the spectrum, which does make it easier!
When we'd finished that bit Roger and Ian had to leave the room so that I could discuss how it was going privately - this didn't take very long as I have been having a WHALE of a time, so then it was my turn to go out while the three of them discussed how I was doing, and then a few minutes later we ALL sat in the room again, and they told me it had all gone FINE and that I am now (nearly) officially CONFIRMED as doing a PhD. PHEW! Obviously, this being a University, there are approx 700 committees this has to go through before it is OFFICIALLY official, but those are meetings that I do not have to go to!
When it was done we all popped downstairs for a celebratory PINT and a surprisingly in-depth and THORTFUL discussion on The Nature Of Practice Research. Working at a University Of Interesting Things and simultaneously STUDYING Interesting Things at the same University is ACE!
A Tourist Trip To That London
Over the weekend The Sights On My Tour and I went round That London looking at SIGHTS and having GOOD TIMES. It began on the evening of Good Friday, when we went to the new Mother Kelly's craft beer place near us, to meet The Hewitts and drink Kolsch-style (not Kolsch-actual) BEER and then go a couple of doors down to DINE IN at our local chippy. I tried some of this here "Banana Blossom" stuff that is meant to taste like fish - it DID a bit, which was weird as I've not eaten it in about 25 years, and I'm not sure i liked it! What I DID like, however, was walking into the shop and most of the staff saying "HELLO!" to me. I felt like NORM!
On Saturday we went into London town for a wander around. We started off in Westminster, where we saw the Extinction Rebellion protests. They had closed off the whole of Parliament Square, which was LOVELY as it meant there was no traffic but lots of happy people wandering around, including several Tour Guides who seemed to be REVELLING in their sudden freedom from traffic watching. We then went to The Tate Britain to see the Van Gogh And Britain exhibition, which was dead good but CRIKEY it was a bit LONG. The actual famous Van Gogh paintings that were in it were GRATE, and some of the Early Stuff was interesting too, but the curators seemed to have decided to pack it out with other stuff as much as they possibly could, which I guess is OK from a Value For Money point of view, but did make it a bit hard going. The daftest example of this was the room where they had one of the Sunflower paintings, surrounded by some other paintings of sunflowers "in dialogue" with it. The ACTUAL Van Gogh Sunflowers was AMAZING - crumbs, you get a real sense of What All The Fuss Is About when you see it "in person", it is LUMINOUS and ASTONISHING - but the other paintings just looked a bit rubbish in comparison. Similarly, towards the end, there were some other paintings by other artists using "strong colours" that just looked wishy washy in comparison. Having said that, there WAS a Constable which was ACE, and as I say, the Van Gogh Actuals were ACE.
We then had a stomp via some sunny PARKS across town for LUNCH in Tibits, popping for a look at the old Apple Building on Saville Row on the way, then went round to The Royal Academy to see the Renaissance Nudes exhibition, as the aforesaid Tickets In My Raffle had won us a couple of free entrance to see it. This one was MUCH more sensibly sized, filling five small rooms which I could happily WHIP round in half an hour, which to be honest is about my level of concentration for this sort of thing. The best bit was the room of SKETCHES by Leonardo, Michaelangelo (and all the other turtles etc etc) which were GORGEOUS. As the NOTES gently hinted, there were a LOT of pictures of Pretty Young Men Without Many Clothes On, notably a LOT of pictures of Saint Sebastian, who seems to be the saint of being penetrated (by arrows) and not seeming to mind. WOT can it all mean eh readers?
Then on SUNDAY we headed out to our old stomping grounds in Wanstead Park, where we went to look at the BLUEBELLS. We weren't sure if they'd be in full bloom yet but MY GOODNESS they were. The "Bluebell Wood" area has had WALKWAYS set out on the ground for the past couple of years, which has had the result of making everywhere else a stomping-free-zone, so that the flowers have MULTIPLIED so that it is an Ecstatic SHOCK of purpley blue as soon as you are among them. If you are in the area I would HIGHLY recommend a visit, if possible taking in a trip to the tea hut along the way - it is ACE!
Marvel Movie Madness
A couple of months ago I got all excited about Game Of Thrones coming back on the telly, and decided that the time was ripe for a REWATCH of the whole series! This thrilling idea got somewhat derailed by me having loads of other stuff to do, so that all I'd managed before the new series started was to read one of those "here is who everybody is and who they have killed/shagged previously" articles.
HOWEVER, in the week before Easter I realised that there was ANOTHER long running series FINALE coming up which I COULD do a rewatch for i.e. The Marvel Cinematic Universe! We have ALL THE TELLY in our house, so I knew it was do-able, and a glance at my diary showed me I actually had some FREE TIME available in which to get it done. So it was that I sat myself down on the sofa and over the course of the Easter weekend watched a total of FIVE Marvel films i.e. "Avengers", "Avengers Age Of Ultron", "Captain America Civil War", "Thor Ragnorak" and "Avengers Infinity War". The three Avengers films were chosen because OBVIOUSLY they are Avengers films, with Civil War and the Thor one basically being two halves of another Avengers film. I have now completed this re-watch and have the following INSIGHTS to give:
They are ALL much better than I remember them being, ESPECIALLY "Age Of Ultron" which I was a bit disappointed by at the time but which actually ROCKS along like nobody's business.
The whole thing REALLY works - it's amazing how COMICS it all is, and how it all ties together so (seemingly) effortlessly. If I'd had time I would have definitely also watched "Black Panther" and "Ant Man" (as they are ACE) but even without them the whole thing flows beautifully. It was like watching one INCREDIBLY EXPENSIVE series that also had huge chunks of MASSIVE ACTION every ten minutes.
It is LUDICROUS that "Civil War" is meant to be a Captain America film when CLEARLY it is an Avengers film from start to finish.
Tom Hollander as Spider-man is UTTERLY GRATE.
The Black Widow film cannot come soon ENOUGH.
Thor Ragnorak is probably my favourite because it a) is dead funny b) looks FAB with all the Kirby stuff and c) is probably the closest it gets to The Actual Comics without actually BEING like the comics.
I love the way that, in "Infinity War" the bits with Doctor Strange in are like the Doctor Strange FILM, and the Guardians Of The Galaxy bits are like THEIR films, and the same for everyone else AND YET it all mixes together so well.
Flipping heck, I thought it was INCREDIBLE that the first Avengers film had Iron Man AND Thor AND Captain America AND The Hulk in it, and could never have DREAMT that a few years later I'd be watching a film with them AND The Vision AND The Black Panther AND The Scarlet Witch AND Spider-Man AND Doctor Strange AND so on and so on.
As you can probably gather I REALLY REALLY enjoyed it, much more than I thought I would, and have now booked myself a ticket to go to the 06:30 showing at my local mega-cinema on Thursday. I am pretty sure that this is a BRILLIANT idea - I can't wait!
A Day In The Countryside
Yesterday I headed out to WILTSHIRE for a work meeting. It was a lovely day to do such a thing, both because of the weather (which was SPRING-LIKE) and the fact that it is the week before Easter which, in an academic setting, is basically one long Friday afternoon with hardly anybody about, so you can do other stuff without worrying (too much) about DISASTERS occurring while you're looking the other way.
For some reason Academic Types always seem to think it is a really good idea to book meetings at 9.30am so that those travelling have to get up at half past awful to get there, and I very nearly fell into this trap myself when organising this trip. However, sense prevailed and we arranged to meet just after lunchtime, which meant i was able to get my train at an EXCEEDINGLY sensible time. The train was one of the new high-speed GWR trains which have ACTUAL LEGROOM in them and functionining toilets, it felt like EXTREME luxury the whole way there!
I was meeting somebody at Bath Spa University's Corsham Court campus, so instead of going to Actual BATH I got off at Chippenham and then STRAIGHT into a bus. I was very impressed with Chippenham's Integrated Transport - the bus stop is DIRECTLY outside the station and there were buses WAITING when the train pulled in.
Twenty five minutes later I got off the bus in CORSHAM which looked like something off the TELLY - I deduced later that it had been in POLDARK, largely due to all the shop window displays that said "We Was On POLDARK". I walked along streets that seemed to have come straight out of Jane Austen, and then into Corsham Court itself which looked EXACTLY as you would expect a manor house to look. It even had its own LORD living onsight! As I walked up to the house I thought "What is that horrible noise?" and then turned a corner to see a) GROUNDS that looked like Mr Darcy would come wandering through at any moment in his soggy undergarments and b) a PEACOCK!
I went inside for an Actually Dead Good meeting about a system which Bath Spa use called FIGSHARE which we currently HAVE and are trying to work out what to DO with, and then the people I'd met very kindly took me for a guided STROLL around the grounds where OH MY WORD we saw an Actual Peacock Actually Peacocking i.e. its ginormous TAIL was up and fanned out. It was ASTONISHING - it's one of those things we see so much in BOOKS or ILLUSTRATIONS but I don't think I've ever seen one in real life before. It was RUDDY HUGE!
And so I made my way back, through fictional Truro, a bus ride in the sunshine, and then the train home. If you ever get the chance to go and talk about computer systems at another institution, I would highly recommend Corsham Court!
Touring - Lessons Learnt
It's now a fortnight since the end of the 'No Headliner Tour' with Mr M Tiller, which I think is sufficient distance to examine what LESSONS we can LEARN from the experience. I have identified FOUR (4), as follows:
The first, as detailed previously (and indeed throughout the tour), is that ROCKING around the country with Matt was GRATE fun. I would highly recommend him as a TOUR BUDDY and officially Would Tour With Again if consent was given!
The second is that doing gigs once a week is RUDDY GENIUS. The driving principle behind it was that Matt and I are both MATURE ROCKERS and so cannot be doing with the TREADMILL of doing gigs on subsequent days, and this turned out to be very wise as even playing a gig once a week was KNACKERING. This is partly because of all the travelling, late nights and early starts, but also because we ROCK SO HARD that it takes about a week to recover.
Another truly excellent aspect of weekly gigging is that you know there's always another one coming up, so if one gig doesn't quite work out how you expected in some way then it doesn't really matter as it's NOT the only gig you're doing. For instance, when the Leicester gig wasn't the SELLOUT SMASH I'd hoped for it didn't spoil the evening, and I was able to actively ENJOY the very lovely people who HAD come.
The other aspect of weekly gigging that I really enjoyed, and that brings us on to our THIRD lesson learnt, is that it gives you plenty of time to learn DIFFERENT songs for each show. In the past I have tended to fall back on an "uberset" of GUARANTEED BANGERS, which is good for Actually Remembering The Words Most Of The Time, but is less good for VARIETY and, especially, for writing new stuff. I'd also found it a bit embarrassing in the past when I'd play with people who DID change it up a bit - I especially recall being vaguely ASHAMED when I toured with G Petrie and, especially, G Osborn, who were forever introducing new songs into the SUITE, while I was basically doing the same set every night. Thus I wrote up a list of about 45 songs to have a go at and, in the weeks leading up to the start of the tour, diligently went through trying them out. Some of these songs were abandoned, some got straight into the set only to never return, others took several weeks of practicing before I was confident enough to actually perform them in front of people, and some even got written along the way. In the end I did THIRTY FIVE different songs, as listed below, with number of gigs in brackets:
Crumbs, that is a LOT of songs, and a LOT that only got done once too! Initially I had MAD ideas about doing entirely different sets from night to night, but it quickly became clear that there were some songs that I WANTED to keep doing, notably the newer ones like Two Blokes, One Pub and You're A Tory Now which both got played on six out of the seven dates, so I let myself off and DID them.
FORCING myself to play different songs also forced me to practice a bit more too, and made me more LIKELY to because it gets VERY DULL trying to practice the same songs over and over again. It also made me think that, without wanting to blow my own trumpet or anything, some of these songs are PRETTY GOOD. Clubbing In The Week, for instance, could be wheeled out a lot more, even though it has basically now become FOLK MUSIC, with the previously HILARIOUS idea of going into a nightclub and feeling as if "Everybody in there looks like they are half your age" now passing ACTUAL FACT and heading instead towards WILD OPTIMISM.
The fourth and FINAL lesson I learnt from all of this is more of a reminder really, that going and doing gigs is not just about, well, going and doing gigs. The thing I loved most about the tour was the fact that I got to travel around meeting up with some of the EXTREMELY lovely people I have got to know in almost thirty years doing this ridiculous thing we call ROCK. Doing gigs irregularly, and especially doing them mostly in London as I have done lately, makes you forget that sometimes really nice people that you LIKE will sacrifice a perfectly pleasant night IN and come OUT to see you, and that once the business of the GIG is over you can sit around with them and have a chat. This is clearly the BEST bit about touring, and the main reason that I would like to do it again!
Not just at the moment though - I'm still worn out from this one!
Cologne Part Two: Mini-Break!
Saturday in Cologne began at an exceedingly pleasant, leisurely pace, although it did feature one of the most terrifying natural phenomenons known to man over breakfast. The hotel we stayed in had a BUFFET system, and goodness me but you do NOT want to get in the way of Germans In Search Of Breakfast. They are a delightful and charming people, but Quite Determined about the morning repast.
Saturday was technically the start of the Weekend Mini-Break segment of our trip, so we then moved to the traditioanl first point of business on a mini-break i.e. going on an Open Top Bus Tour. As mentioned many times before, Open Top Bus Tours are BRILLIANT, and a FLIPPING SUPERB way of getting to know a city. We had a lovely 90 minutes sat on the top deck learning many Fascinating Facts about Cologne, getting our bearings, and also realising that Cologne is a BIG place. When I came before with The Vlads we only really saw the centre of town and the area between the Ibis and The Blue Shell, but there it turns out to be HUGE!
Once off the bus we popped into a bar for some more Kolsch (it is ACE) before attempting to get a bus out to Ehrenfield, where there were apparently some nice places to eat. Unfortunately our tram didn't come - it spent about 15 minutes being stuck at 9 minutes away - so we decided to abort that mission and instead go to Sattgrun, which turned out to be FANTASTIC. It's an all Vegan restaurant a bit like Tibit's, but instead of WEIGHING plates you just pick the size of plate you want and fill it up. There was a very small sign asking people not to PILE UP grub although, this being Germany, people didn't need to be told not to take the piss, so didn't. It was all very sensible, and also RUDDY DELICIOUS. We had CAKE too!
Next we went to had a look at the inside of the Cathedral, but could only get into a small section at the front as I think they were closing. This was not really a problem - the main attraction is the FRONT anyway, and my dears once you have been in Peterborough Cathedral you have pretty much experienced Cathedral Perfection anyway - and instead myself and The Cloisters In My Quadrangle went for what turned out to be a LONG and FAB walk alongside the Rhine and out to the 'Crane Buildings'. By the time we got back to the hotel we were DONE for the day, and ended up having our tea, and some more BOOZE, back at the hotel. It was lovely!
Sunday began somewhat earlier, as we had more to do before our plane left, but we discovered that the aforementioned Germans In Search Of Breakfast were still stomping determinedly towards the bread rolls. Once we'd eaten we packed, dropped our bags at reception, then headed over to the other side of the city centre to join the Free Walking Tour. We got there slightly early so had just enough time for another Kolsch and some pretzel sticks (an EXCELLENT combination) before setting off on what turned out to be a HIGHLY informative and also VERY FUNNY stomp with a guide called Sidney. I now know a LOT more about how and why people in COlogne are, basically, cool and groovy, and also why the city's coat of arms has three crowns and eleven black tails, AND what the "Chunkel" (sp?) dance is. We went off for lunch halfway through but, when Sattgrun turned out to be closed, went back to find the group again, and we were glad we did, otherwise we would have missed the BUCKET SPEECH at the end. This was just like the one we were all meant to do on the Free Fringe, and included a section in which he clearly mentioned 10 Euros during a joke which, he said, his boss said they "had" to do. His boss was right to say so!
After that we found ourselves back at Heumarkt so went to our favourite pub (the same one we'd been to on Friday) and were amazed to discover it also did VEGAN SOUP, so had some of that alongside... more Kolsch! We are are nothing if not committed to experiencing other cultures! We then went back to the hotel and headed for the airport (on a double decker train!), where we discovered our plane back was PACKED, so we didn't get a row to ourselves, let alone one EACH, but apart from that the journey was FINE.
In summary then, Cologne was BLOODY BRILLIANT. Can we go again please?
A Conference In Cologne
Thursday morning began for me at the truly APPALLING hour of 5am, for LO! I had a plane to catch, to the wonderful German city of COLOGNE, where I was to attend a conference about comics fandom.
All right, it wasn't JUST to attend a conference, it was ALSO to have a weekend there with The Kolsch In My Glass, who was coming a day later. We had taken a bit of a RISK booking it, as at time of booking the UK was meant to be leaving the EU while we were there, so there was a good chance we'd have some HEFTY delays, or even NO PLANES AT ALL, on the way back. Still, Cologne is a nice place to be stuck, and the aforesaid Clauses In My Contract had LONG predicted there would be no Brexit anyway, so we took the chance. NOTE: she is usually right about this sort of thing!
My journey went SUPER SMOOTHLY - I got the high speed to St Pancras, the tube to Paddington, then the Heathrow Express to the airport, which was all FAST, if not CHEAP! I only had hand luggage, so it took 10 seconds to check-in with a machine, and I found myself through security with an HOUR to spare! The plane was not full, possibly due to more cautious people than us NOT booking, so I got a whole ROW to myself (so even had a NAP!) and then I walked straight off the plane onto a train, and was in Actual Cologne less than an hour later. It was amazing!
It was all so PEASY that I had time to pop to the hotel and drop my bag off before getting a U-Bahn to the conference at Cologne University, where I FINALLY got a bit lost finding my way round campus. I popped into a building and a VERY helpful German gave me a MAP. Germans are GRATE!
The first day of the conference itself was dead interesting, with a FASCINATING session about The Gift Economy (the idea that fans share their work with each other for free for the love of their subject matter) and how that is disappearing, to be replaced by PLATFORMS (e.g. Patreon) which allow fans to pay each other for what they're doing. There was also one about nostalgia and "anti-fandom" and then a keynote which pretty much brought all the THORTS of the day together.
I also saw some RABBITS sitting on a mound in the middle of the campus. We don't have THAT at UAL!
It was dead good, but it didn't finish until 8.30pm, by which point I was KNACKERED, so decided to head home. I got to the tram stop to see nobody waiting and a message going across the message boards, which I used Google Translate to discover said "No trams from here". I then used MAPS to walk home, and discovered that there'd been an accident up the way, so it was all shut. "Thank GOODNESS for Smartphones" I thought as I stomped along, although WEIRDLY my route took me to the area round the hotel that The Validators stopped in for Popfest last year, so for the second half of the route I knew where I was!!
The next day dawned MUCH later as I was KNACKERED. The first session was a meeting of an academic society, to which we were all invited but which I felt I could probably miss without worrying too much (and also without forcing people to speak English!). The second was about Gender which is officially an Interesting Topic but a) not vastly relevant to My Research Interests b) something I'd been to several times before and c) not as appealing as a much needed LIE IN an hotel breakfast.
So it was that I left the hotel at a very leisurely 1pm to stroll down to the University, taking a slight diversion to see The Blue Shell, site of last year's COlogne PopFest, as I went. I arrived at the venue at 1.35pm to discover that the afternoon session, which was meant to begin at 2pm, had already started. One does not wish to reinforce national stereotypes, but surely only in Germany would an academic conference session start EARLY!
There were two REALLY interesting talks in this bit (and one not so interesting one), about FASHION and then HIP HOP. The former used Chris Claremont's run on the X-Men to talk about the meanings of costumes, uniforms, dressing, visual systems, othering, and narrative use of clothing. In other words, a whole lot of FASCINATING things I had never really understood/thought of before. The latter basically explained why Hip Hop is a) the way it is b) a superhero narrative, and CRIKEY it was compelling, to the extent that when the speaker said "Grandmaster Flash" (as an example of Hip Hop artists giving themselves superhero-like stage names) I had to suppress an "AHA!" It also VERY MUCH convinced me that the Doctor Doom really IS a hip hop character - the poor beginnings, the oppression, the personal injury, the rising up against his enemies, the fights, the regrets, and especially the castle and visible signs of success. Move over Noah Hawley, I feel a SCREENPLAY coming on!
As everything finished I did manage to actually SPEAK to a couple of people (very brave) before heading off to the hotel and then to the railway station, where I was just in time to meet The Times On My Timetable, freshly arrived from the UK. She too had had a whole row of seats to herself on the plan - we both realised that this might have been because hardly anybody else in the UK had advance booked seats on what was meant to be Brexit Day!
We trundled off through the streets of Cologne and, again thanks to Google Maps on my phone, found Heumarkt and the very same pub where The Validators had first sat last year. The Beer In My Glass was VERY impressed by the system of bringing many small beers to your table, and we did indeed enjoy MANY small beers, all while discussing how BRILLIANT the Germans are. I reckon that we should put the whole March To Leave on a plane/high speed train to Cologne for the weekend, then they would happily agree that these are people we very much SHOULD be in a club with!
Last Of The Summer Winos
On Sunday night I headed into London's glittering West End... well, London's glistening Bloomsbury, which is quite close, to see Mr B Fischer and Mr AT Smith in their show Last Of The Summer Winos at The Museum Of Comedy. ABSTRACT: it was dead good.
The Museum Of Comedy is a RIGHT funny old place, tho possibly not ENTIRELY in the way intended. It's the CRYPT of a Church and it is FULL of comedy memorabilia, which altogether gives it the air of a rather odd Church Jumble Sale. There seem to be a LOT of over-sized papier-mache heads of long dead comedians seemingly dumped on the back of chairs, and vaguely remembered props dangle from walls. I think a guided tour would be a MAGICAL thing to do, but failing that it's a tiny bit creepy!
It's still a GRATE place to see a show though - the sense of being in a damp cave makes it feel like you're in Edinburgh, and the room where the gig actually happens is fab. This show began with Bob and Drew coming in and shaking hands with everybody before offering round a tin of biscuits and then making cups of tea for those who wanted it. They also clearly indicated that this was NOT the official start of the show, which I am very much in favour of!
The basis of the whole thing was their BLOG where they have been watching every episode of 'Last Of The Summer Wine' from the very start, considering the growth of the characters and even, as the show itself pointed out, the wider transmedia aspects of the universe created. I mean, it all sounds MAD to me - what kind of LOONIE would want to spend years blogging about an entire fictional series in the original order to investigate character development and transmedia? KRAZY!
It was an extremely interesting, also funny, and especially AMIABLE evening in which they argued very forcefully for 'Last Of The Summer Wine' NOT being the boring, claustrophobic, OLD PEOPLE's show that I remember it as (largely due to watching it as a teenager round at my Nan's) but instead a British comedy classic with much richer THEMES and characters. It is the greatest tribute I can pay to this show that it actually made me want to go back and WATCH the programme again on purpose!
The most INTERESTING FACT was the SHOCK REVELATION that there was NEVER an episode with the three main characters going downhill in a tin bath! The idea that there WAS comes from a) an episode where Compo went downhill ALONE in a PORCELAIN bath and b) a BBC licence fee advert starring Reeves & Mortimer (and Matt Lucas) as "Three Blokes In A Bath". Well I never!
Also excellent was the fact that they had an INTERVAL halfway through - a normal Fringe show lasts for an hour which is just about fine when you're a) a gentleman of a certain age who b) has had a pint, but for an EXTENDED show like this one it was essential, and looking round the audience, most of whom were a) gentlemen of a certain age who b) had had a pint, it was very grateful received!
In summary then this was a funny and INFORMATIVE show that CARED for its audience by supplying refreshments and regular comfort breaks. If there is a higher recomendation for an evening out I have yet to hear it!
We Went To See England
On Friday after work I went to the PUB to meet my Step-Father Mr CM Smith, for LO! we were FINALLY going to redeem the VOUCHER what we gave him for his 70th birthday some NINE months ago, and go to Wembley to see ENGLAND!!
We had a pint and then some tea before heading off to get the Metropolitan line to Wembley along with approx 9,000,000 other people. I thought we had PLENTY of time to get there, but the train took AGES and then it was the usual slow stagger down Wembley Way to get to the ground. Halfway along there was a big sign saying "BAG CHECKS" so I dutifully went over to get someone to check mine, and was told that it was "too big" and would have to be placed in the special Bag Storage Place. This, apparently, was "in that car park" but when we went to look the car park contained only cars. "Sod this", I thought, and put my rucksack on UNDERNEATH my coat. As we got closer to the ground I felt a bit NERVOUS about getting DONE, but also quite relieved when I heard other people complaining bitterly about having to pay a TENNER to put a bag in the "cloakroom". When we got to the gates I leant backward, thinking this would make me look like a fat man with unusually forward legs, and continued in this pose while I was FRISKED by security. I felt quite the REBEL when I got through, although it did make me wonder QUITE how good security is.
The game had already been going for a couple of minutes when we got in, so it was a rush to get sat down, which meant that it took a while to fully appreciate WHERE we were. I've been to Wembley TWICE before, both times to see Posh, both times VICTORIOUS, but I'd never been right down at near ground level before. We were 17 rows back from the pitch, more or less in the same spot we sit when we go to Posh, and the pitch looked WEIRDLY the same size. I mean, I know it IS the same size, but when you see international football on telly it looks MUCH bigger, but here there were a bunch of normal sized blokes haring around who, every so often, you realised were REALLY famous. "He's got a Dele Alli haircut," I thought. "Oh. He IS Dele Alli."
In retrospect the game itself was GRATE, but at the time I had assumed my usual attitude at The Football of sitting there unimpressed. This is because I have been to a LOT of unimpressive football matches, often with the aforementioned Mr CM Smith, during which we sit quietly, occasionally go "What was THAT about" and more often try and work out why the referee blew the whistle just then when we weren't paying attention. THIS time however there were Actual Silky Skills on display, and the team WE were supporting were the ones that HAD them! I was very much hoping Raheem Stirling would score, because I think he is dead good, and CRIKEY he scored THREE of them! There was much cheering, and indeed some jumping around.
After it was all over and we'd eventually got back to Kings Cross to catch our respective trains there was time for a Swift Half in the station pub, where they were showing a replay of the match on telly. It was weird, because it LOOKED like what it always does on the telly, but NOT how I remembered it. Also, it looked REALLY EXCITING - and I realised that I had actually BEEN there, and suddenly got a late delivery of all the excitement that had accrued over the evening. I mean, COR! We actually went to see England!
People's Vote March
On Saturday The Words On My Placard and I headed into central London to do some ACTIVISM by attending The People's Vote March.
The aforementioned Stops On My Tube Line suggested that instead of going for the announced NOON gathering at Marble Arch we instead aim to get to Green Park just after 1pm and join the march there, thus avoiding the usual interminable waiting about and then AGONISINGLY SLOW shuffle down Park Lane. This turned out to be a GRATE idea, and one shared by several hundred other people, who all came out of the station at the same time as us!
The march itself was ENORMOUS. We are more used to going on Anti-Badger Cull demoes, which have a slightly more SELECT crowd, but this felt like half the country was there. We had out "I (heart) EU" banners ready, and it was fun to look around and see all the creativity that had gone into everybody else's. Doing "funny" banners seems to have become a THING at demos over the past few years, and it is something I SUPPORT, not least because it gives you something to look at while you're trudging along. It was also VERY noticeable that there were no SWP or similar banners this time (as I guess they are, for reasons I am obviously too FALSE CONSCIENCED to understand, pro-Brexit) but instead a wide array of anger and GAGS. There was also a wide array of PEOPLE (and children, and dogs) of all sizes, shapes, colours and backgrounds. The weirdest thing about the day was when I kept seeing POSH people and I'd assume that they were somehow lost, but then one of them would turn out to be carrying a "Piss Off Farage" placard.
We shuffled along to Trafalgar Square and then stopped on Whitehall to eat our sandwiches, which meant we got to stand and watch as LITERALLY THOUSANDS of people marched past us. It was remarkable what GOOD HUMOUR everybody was in - Billy Bragg has said that the point of a demo is to remind everyone that they are not alone, and GOODNESS ME but that was certainly the case here. We were ALL doing this together and it was lovely!
We got up to as far as Downing Street, but couldn't get any closer to Parliament Square where the main speeches were being given. However, we DID get close to a video screen, where we heard Caroline Lucas be ACE, and then got close enough to SEE Tom Watson be... well, let's say "slightly disingenuous" about whose fault it all was. I'm PRETTY SURE he voted FOR Article 50 and AGAINST the People's Vote didn't he? Still, at least it was NICE to see SOMEBODY from the Labour front bench there.
THAT, however, was pretty much the only slightly sour note in what was otherwise a LOVELY afternoon's stroll amongst like-minded and DELIGHTFUL people. I don't know if it'll do any good - I have no doubt Express Columnists will claim we were all RUSSIAN BOTS, and I was amused to see twits on twitter saying we were ALL MIDDLE CLASS just for being there - but it's heartening to know that at least we made our opinions known. In the words of so many poets, FUCK BREXIT!
The Tour Is Over
After our Cocktails And Pie exploits in Sheffield the other week Mr M Tiller went looking for Pieminster Pie Outlets in That London, and was delighted to discover that The Hope in Fitzrovia, just a few minutes round the corner from The King & Queen, was one such purveyor. So it was that we met at half past five (or half past PIES as he said!) for a celebratory end of tour PIE. I had mine with Swede and Carrot Mash - goodness knows what me aged 8 would have thought if he'd known I'd ever eat such a thing by choice, but it was DEAD nice!
We then went round to the King & Queen where Totally Acoustic was scheduled to happen, and were extremely pleased to find Mr S Hewitt already there. The three of us went upstairs, got the room set up, and then settled into waiting for our audience to arrive. To my GRATE delight the audience DID arrived, and so at around 7:40pm Matt went on and did his FINAL set for the tour.
It was, as ever ACE, if only slightly spoiled by some berk singing along quietly with every song hem hem. Halfway through the set Matt presented Jann, TOUR SUPERFAN, with a bottle of 7-Up to mark the fact that he had been to all SEVEN gigs, and also the promise of a TOUR MUG! He'd done one for me too but they hadn't arrived yet - they look FAB!
As I said several times last night, touring with Matt has been BRILLO. I have been blessed - BLESSED - over the years to have toured with some Very Good Eggs, many of whom even turned up to see us on THIS tour, and Matt is very much welcome within that particular pantheon of HEROES. The FABNESS of his sets is only a tiny part of the joy of this tour, especially compared to the Excellent Organisation, Ongoing Chats, and of course PIES that have been such a part of it. Several people last night asked if there was anything that had happened that WASN'T on the blog - they claimed that sometimes on my blog they can read between the lines and see where I have OMITTED certain things, which I of course could not comment upon - but for this tour there honestly hasn't been. It's all been fun! HOORAH!
Anyway, after Matt we had a short break and then I done THIS:
There was a WHOLE LOT of new songs in there, and a COMPLETELY re-written version of Rock & Roll Mayhem which I wrote especially for the evening (with an A3 sized lyric sheet to help me through it!). I started off with a BIT that I'd thought of that morning, saying that I had listened to the British people and heard them when they said they were TIRED of me forgetting my words, that I was on their side, and blamed it all entirely on the bar staff downstairs. I mention this now because I'm pretty sure that in a few weeks we will all have entirely forgotten Theresa May's speech and have no idea what I was on about!
The rest of the gig seemed to all go well and when I'd finished the main set Matt very kindly encouraged an encore. "Come back and do a few more," he said. Steve, I feel, spoke for the Will Of The People by saying "Do ONE more", which was very wise. We all needed a wee and/or another drink by then!
All that remained was to sit around having a natter, try out some whisky (turns out they make ACTUALLY NICE whisky in the Cotswolds, who knew?) and then say our final farewells. It has been a BLOODY LOVELY tour all round - thanks to everyone who came, and especially thanks to Mr M Tiller who suggested it. Let's do it again some time!
One of the (many) GRATE things about doing a weekly tour, I am finding, is that you get into a right good RHYTHM. Last Thursday night I packed my bags with the usual assortment of clothes, toileteries, MERCH and laptop, took it all to work on Friday, and then just after lunchtime left for Paddington where I got the train to Bristol, got slightly lost (as is THE LAW when arriving at Bristol Temple Meads), found the Premier Inn I'd booked in, had a shower, and then set off for the venue. I have done much the same on SEVERAl gigs so far, and it is a lovely way to travel!
The venue this time was the New Bristol Brewery, which was ACE. I was told when I arrived that I shouldn't worry, it was much nicer inside than it looked from the outside, and it WAS. Outside it was an industrial unit on a dark street, inside was a lovely warm bar that was part of an Actual Genuine Real Brewery. Everyone was VERY friendly too, even giving us a LOT of free beer through the evening - the 'If Bristol Could Talk' beer was described as FRESH and it really was, it was delicious!
Matt and I soundchecked, then we were joined by the ever delightful Mr Gavin Osborn, who I had not seen for AGES. We were ALSO joined by a LOT of other people - the bar had a 75 person capacity, and we'd sold 68 (!) tickets which, with door sales and guests, meant it ended up being a SELLOUT!
Gav went on first, and as it was his first gig in about three months he decided to do a HITS set and OH MY but what hits they were - singing along with 'Albert' and all the others reminded me of just how GRATE he is, to the extent that I worried about following him. Still, on I went and did THIS:
It went pretty well I think - I was very pleased to do TWO (2) songs that I'd not done before, and there was much happy singing along throughout, but there was some Heavy Lifting for me. I think it was because of the venue's TIN ROOF, which meant that ANY talking ANYWHERE, even at the bar, got amplified, which meant that anybody else who wanted to say something to their neighbour had to SPEAK UP, and so gradually throughout the set the volume of talking got louder. It wasn't like people were being RUDE or anything, but by the end it did make it difficult to be heard - as in so many cases, I believe DRAPES would be the answer here!
I was followed by the MAGNIFICENT Mr Tiller, who was GRATE as always, even including a song that I had not heard before, on this tour or elsewhere, and a proper actual encore too! It all finished WELL before closing so there was time for YET MORE beer, including a BROWN ALE that tasted a) a bit like cola and also b) DELICIOUS, and also some CHAT with the lovely people who had come down. I think I must have caught a cold, or possibly been hit on the head with a heavy object at some point though, as when I left the building I found myself slightly CONFUSED, and it took about twice as long to get back to the hotel as it did going. I can think of no other explanation!
In summary then, gigs in Breweries a) are GRATE though b) may require DRAPES, while touring is just FAB in general. Only one date left now, at Totally Acoustic on Thursday. I'm going to miss all this when it's done!
Talking about Spectrums
I was up and about early on Saturday morning to head to SURBITON which, despite my suspicions, turns out to be an actual place rather than a comedy made-up name. I don't know, first Croydon turns out to be real, now Surbiton - perhaps that package holiday to Narnia wasn't such a daft idea after all?
I was there to meet Professor Will Brooker and a couple of other Gentleman Of A Certain Age/Inclination to talk about people's memories of ZX SPECTRUMS for a film what Will is making. He said in his email that we should meet in reception and that we'd recognise each other by being the oldest people there. He was not wrong about this.
We spent the next few hours walking from floor to floor in the building. Kingston University (where we were) has colour coded FLOORS, and each room has at least one wall painted the colour of its floor, I guess so you always know where you are, as otherwise they all look exactly the same. His cunning idea was to film each of us talking against the backdrop of one of these coloured walls, again (I imagine) to make us (mostly) middle-aged white men look a bit different to each other, and also to echo the screen colours of the Spectrum. Having seen some screen shots later on I must say this was a GRATE idea!
We each did a brief interview on a different floor, keeping the three of us together throughout. This made it all feel a lot more comfortable, especially when you were the one talking as you could see the others nodding along with you. In between the interviews there were LENGTHY periods of us all just talking about ZX Spectrums, and most of THAT was someone saying the name of a game and the rest of us REMEMBERING. Saying "Dun Darach" or "Pyjamarama" OUT LOUD felt incredibly DECADENT, as these were SECRET WORDS that none of us had spoken out loud for DECADES. My BRANE started to hurt after a while as it was continually being forced to go and dig out information it hadn't accessed this entire century, but it was all a LOT of fun, and made me want to dash home and get an emulator running!
Once we were all done the four of us popped round the corner for a coffee, where much the same thing continued. The only sad thing really is that the film isn't due to be finished and shown until the futuristic space year 2022 - I don't know if I can wait that long!
Latveria In The Cold War
I took the day off work last Wednesday, to go to... well, to go to UAL, where I work, but for a different reason than usual. For LO! I was heading to the London College Of Communication to spend the day at a conference about Transnational Comics.
It was DEAD GOOD - there were lots of interesting talks, my favourite being the keynote given by Dr Ian Horton about Donald Duck in The Netherlands. Walt Disney comics are still hugely popular in Europe, and he showed how in a single issue there were stories taken from four or five different countries, also different time periods, with different backgrounds showing markedly different places. He talked about the weirdness of Donald sometimes clearly being Dutch and knowing how things worked, and sometimes clearly NOT, as well as how the different time periods all seemed to happen simultaneously. It was MOST INTERESTING, and I reckon gives a pretty good idea of what this Transnationalism is really ABOUT.
I was doing a presentation myself, about how portrayals of Latveria (Doctor Doom's fictional homeland) changed over the course of the Cold War. It was an adaptation of a talk I did nearly two years ago, and it was a VERY different experience doing it this time. The original version had been my first comics presentation, so I STUFFED it full of quotations and footnotes, and read most of it off a piece of paper. Since then I've realised that it's actually better to SUMMARISE and express the BIG POINTS from a place of KNOWLEDGE i.e. have an idea what you are on about and what you want to say, but instead of working it all out like a SPEECH, use the SLIDES to guide yourself through it, more like a GIG.
This way is a bit more NERVE-WRACKING but does involve a lot less LEARNING of text, and also tends to be a lot more entertaining to watch, I reckon, and it all seemed to go pretty well. The only downside of it was that, originally, I was meant to be doing a PAPER based on the original presentation but, after getting EXTENSIVE feedback from the peer reviewers, I'd decided not to. Now I'm thinking maybe I should! CURSES!