Sunday, 30 December 2012

Three Strikes: Week 5

Guess how many times I've been to the gym this week? Go on, guess.

Yep. Not once. I'm having an awesome Christmas break though: The 25th I spent at my sister's husband's parent's place. She got married in the summer, so it was the first Christmas with them. A good day. I've had a few decent nights out with friends through the week, despite previous fallouts here and there. The best friends remain so, though, and I intend to keep it that way.

I finished Antony Burgess' Tremor of Intent, a novel so good it's sickening. Written in the 1960s, it tells of a spy sent abroad to bring back a defected colleage. There's just a couple of problems- he's utterly crap at keeping his cover and is revealed numerous times by a plethora of equally unscrupulous characters, most of whom are possibly spies themselves. Also, he has a tendency to chuck his lunch up for numerous reasons. It's brilliantly written, although I had to look up words on nearly every page. This was either because of my own apparently insufficient vocab or because these words have now fallen out of the lexicon.

While we're on the subject, check out the app on the Google Playstore. Very handy for definitions on the go. But back to the script: Tremor is well worth a read if you want to sample Burgess' NadSat-free prose. 

One thing I'm learning on this Three Strikes project is the art of spontaenity. I try to write these posts on Sundays and upload them on the same day, without “sleeping on them” first. There's always a little hesitancy within me, a feeling that I'll spot some glaring error tomorrow morning with fresh eyes- after I've uploaded it and shared it over social networks. But I'm learning that, “so what if I do?” I can still change it. I'm finding I don't actually make that many mistakes, and that there just isn't the time to worry about these things. I'm 30 and there's too much I need to do in life.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Still Waiting

Here's a poem I wrote a few years back during a period of longing. Let's just say I no longer am.

I think about it every day.
It's supposed to be an amazing experience.
I'm twenty-eight, and I still haven't done it.
Everyone I know already has.
Some say it's not as good
as people make it out to be.
But I don't care.
I just want to know for myself.
I really must get to Nando's.

Thursday, 27 December 2012


Taking Fluffy's advice, I took on Delia Smith's How to Cook, supposedly much simpler than Keda Black's Classics. I had a go at the first recipe, “Egg and Lentil Curry with Coconut and Pickled Lime.”

Contrary to Fluffy's suggestions, this recipe was hard. Incredibly hard. Largely because the numerous obscure ingredients weren't stocked by Tesco. (What the SHIT is “lime pickle juice”? And which oil is flavourless?) Or at least, the Huddersfield Road branch, the largest in the North West, didn't have any of these oddities. They also had no creamed coconut, and tyically I forgot to write down every bizarre ingredient necessary for the meal. Fennel seeds, coriander and groundnut oil all got left off.

If Delia had laid out her recepies with not just a list of ingredients but a list of untensils required as well, this would have been easier. I don't own a zest peeler, so getting said shavings from the lime was a huge ballache. I'd have gone and bought one before starting cooking, instead of clumsily using a cheese grater.

Towards the end of the recipe, Delia drops this phrase in- “serve with rice.”

Thanks, love. You could have fucking put it in higher up in the instructions. It's a bit late now.

I also felt that Delia's method of instruction to be awkward. A full paragraph of how-to information is difficult to read, especially when you're to-ing and fro-ing from book to hob to ingredients. Why not put the instructions in bullet points like Keda Black does? Am I the only person who'd find this much easier?

I'm just pissing and moaning about the process now. The eggs cracked mid boil. Shelling them took ages and I still left bits of shell on, as I found mid-eat.

The verdict? Too dry. Too spicy. So bad I actually couldn't finish it.

So, an all-round disaster of a meal, basically. Not least because I scratched my balls after handling the chopped chillis. You do not want to do this.

I've had a look at the next meal in How to Cook and it looks considerably easier (and tastier). So I'll stick with it for the moment. But even including secondary school home-ec abominations, this was by far the worst meal I've attempted to cook.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Three Strikes: Week 4

It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.

I made a few steady improvements at the gym this week:

Cable crunch with rope up 1 notch to 13.
Pec deck up 2 to 14.
Squats with weights up 1 to 18.
Pulley cross (punching outward with the pulley machine) up 1 to 4.

Got a free haircut at Oldham College. Check out Salon 7, the college's Hair and Beauty department, if you're local. If you're not, why not get a free / heavily reduced haircut at your local college, and give something back to your community? The chance of them “doing a Britney” is pretty minimal, and life's about taking risks.

With it now being Christmas, there's another risk I'm likely to take: not hitting the gym at all and becoming monstrously obese. I think you know what the Week 5 post will read like... I'll have to take Confucius' advice and do a few press-ups between the pissups.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The 'Dam

Here's a writing exercise that I performed back at the end of October. I subsequently lost the hand-written copy under a pile of mail and paper- until this week.

Organiser Oz brought in a series of photographs from glossy magazines as prompts. The pictures had been folded in at the edges, showing only a part of the picture. We picked one from which we took inspiration and scribbled out a vignette. I picked this picture:

I guessed (correctly) that it was a shot of Amsterdam. I didn't get as far into the scene as I'd hoped before the 10-minute timer blew, but I scribbled out this:

It looked like a stamp, only a little bigger. It had been perforated before it was torn off a bigger sheet and slammed into my hand. I would never do this kind of thing back home.


You just put it on your tongue,” Murphy said.

I looked around for police, some of whom would have been British I think. It might be the 'Dam, but it's not a free-for-all out here.

No police were around as far as I could see, although I'd already sank numerous Goldschlagers, so that was questionable. Just the canal, not looking that different to Saddleworth or anywhere else back home if you dropped in a few crumbling office blocks.

And on the subject of dropping, I thought...

I pressed the tab onto my tongue and sucked. It tasted like brown paper.

Okay,” I said, and zipped up my coat. “To the pub.”

Reed and Chan were already sniggering, waiting for me to do something more ridiculous than usual. We started walking, the November air startign to feel like cold fingers smearing something on my face.

Don't let me fall in the canal,” I mumbled, although I already couldn't tell if my voice was audible.

The buildings were starting to distort, like someone had sprayed a hosepipe over the window of my vision. I pictured the yuppies stumbling down their melted staircases on the way to work.

Try picking out a few unusual pictures and cropping them to obscure the scene portrayed. See how your group interprets the reduced pictures.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Blade Runner Inspires Freemasons

The Freemasons' new house track Tears sounds like an absolute blinder. Only the preview is available right now.

Notice that the lyrics appear to be inspired by Ridley Scott's SF masterpiece, Blade Runner. Have a listen to Roy Battye (Rutger Hauer) and his classic unscripted monologue about his well-travelled replicant memory.

That is, of course, unless it's some really well-known phrase that I only know of in these two examples. Anyone?

The track will be out in February on Freemaison. I'm looking forward to hearing it drop.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Three Strikes: Week 3

Hmm. Here are the week's minor improvements:

Pec deck up 2 notches

Squats with weights up one weight.

Isn't clear how much each plate or dumbell weighs at Oldham Sports Centre as every plate / dumbell is numbered and doesn't appear to reflect the actual weight- in kilos or otherwise.

Away from the gym, I've helped a student with a week-long survey about what I eat, I've visited relatives in Essex and I've finished my Christmas shopping surprisingly early. There are still big challenges ahead (I'm still learning to cook new meals and, erm, don't have a girlfriend) but, clearly, things happen one step at a time.

Oh, and I finally put the star ontop of my Christmas tree.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Three Strikes: Week 2

Positivity is key to this project. Yes, there are machines I've hit three strikes on. But shit happens.

My 10-minute cross trainer record is up from 0.52 to 0.54. Pec deck is up one notch to 11. Small steps.

I STILL need to eat more protein and less sugar. Tomorrow I will learn how to cook curry the Delia way.

I'm getting connected gradually: last Wednesday I went to All About The Music, a Meetup group in Ancoats Manchester. They're a good crowd, consisting of fans of music and local musicians. If that sounds like you, and you fancy meeting like-minded musicphiles, keep your eyes on the profile page for further meetups.

I've also got my Christmas shopping done in record-early time! I am on fine form at the moment!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Square One Studios Hits the Blogosphere

I've recently been helping out at a dynamic local sound recording facility called Square One,  “a community recording studio that provides training, services and facilities to young people, communities and local artists”.

I dabbled in voiceover work at uni back in the early naughties, and have found an opportunity to get back into using my voice- with Square One. Through dropping into the office once a week, I've had an opportunity to write copy for blog posts and Christmas cards, help to plan the launch of Square One's blog and also to write and record the voiceover to a very professional-looking video.

The Square One blog is now live and is raking in hits. 

If you know anyone in Oldham between the ages of 13-19, and they have an interest in music- be it singing, rapping, producing or playing an instrument- get in touch here and help them to get involved!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

What's Safe to Tell You About my Trip to Belfast

Belfast on a Budget. A friend's 30th.

As most of us now are reaching the end of our 20s, and have mortgages and bills and other expensive shit, we wanted a weekend away that didn't cost the Earth. Easyjet had a good deal on Belfast (£38 return), so we jumped on it... and each spent hundreds and hundreds of pounds in a plethora of Irish boozers.

We saved on accomodation, as you could see.

This was essentially a place to get our heads down at the end of a night out, so we ditched all morals and put our stuff down, changed, and headed out. The reviews on Google for The Linen House speak for themselves.

Traded numbers with an Annie Lennox lookalike in some club somewhere. An Annie Lennox theme emerged in Apartment Bar, the classiest of the venues we found, when the DJ dropped this awesome remix of Little Bird.

If anyone recognises the mix, please get in touch.

On the flipside, here's a Robinsons pub, in which we spent about 7 hours steadily getting pissed the next morning. A whole city of culture at our fingertips, and we sat and got smashed in a grandad boozer for pretty much a full day. It was a good catchup, mind!

Here are a few apparent souveniers I found in my belongings when I made it home.

This is a short blog because the majority of utterly classic memories I have are not the kind of things I can put on here these days. Make of that what you will. This relates not just to my experiences but to the chaotic endevours of the whole group. Also, I can't remember half the names of the clubs we went to. But seriously, if you fancy a lads' weekend away (or girls'), keep your eye on Easyjet's deals. We flew from Manchester and our flights were £38. The accomodation wasn't much more than that, as you can imagine. (I spent a few hundred on “general expenses”- mostly booze- when we were out there, mind.) The women, the nightlife and the city as a whole are all impressive.

Belfast, you ruined me.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Bricks are crumbling / Beeb don't live here any more....

The BBC have moved their Manchester operations from Broadcasting House, their 70s-built location on Oxford Road, to the glassy metropolis of Salford Quays. The old building has now been flattened to make way for a hotel and leisure complex

I stopped by the demolition site on a number of occasions over the last few months and took a few action shots (okay, just “shots”) of the former media complex. I figured it would be helpful to share these.

p.s. I have visited the new BBC building recently. No pictures, but I can tell you it is reminiscent of the office in Men in Black. Minus the aliens.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Three Strikes: Week 1

So, I'm a week into this self-designed workout programme

I've upped my pec deck record by two notches, and gone two plates up on cable crunch using the rope handle. Cable crunch can take it out on your hands and wrists at the same time as working your stomach, meaning you burn out before you put your abs under serious pressure. The upside is that your grip strength starts to improve along with abdominals.

I've hit three strikes on the abs machine, so that's the fist machine to go from the routine. As I'm so massively obsessed with abs, I think I'm going to do more sit-ups and medicine ball work to compensate.

I've also hit three strikes on cross training in reverse, the first cardio workout I cut from the routine.

There's a number of things I can do to stop from gassing out on these machines. Getting earlier nights for more sleep is one. Eating less sugar is another. Eating more protein is an obvious one. Before I moved out I was eating LOADS of meat, and I was getting ridiculously strong. Time to regiment my diet a little. So there's a plan for the next week.

And what achievements have I made away from the gym?

I've been volunteering at a sound recording studio recently- a centre for developing musical creativity in young people. I have written and recorded a voiceover for a promotional video advertising the studio's recent achievements. I'm pretty proud of it in all fairness! Expect a detailed blog post very soon.

I've got somewhere with Christmas shopping, and even found something that both me and my mum found interesting- the new Bond film.

Skyfall gets the thumbs up. The franchise is starting to edge back to serious espionage rather than the ridiculous action fiascos of the naughties, fronted by Pierce Brosnan.

There was a bit of a discrepancy in that Bond seemed to recognise the Aston Martin- presumably the exact vehicle used in 1964's Goldfinger. Wouldn't this mean Bond was about 85 years old? It kind of ruins the suspension of disbelief. But what a Goddamn awesome car. I think, like myself, the majority of men in the audience shared Bond's volcano-level feeling of fury when the bad guys blow the car to smithereens.

As Lance (Eric Stolz) says in Pulp Fiction, “It's chicken shit. You don't fuck with another man's vehicle.”

Oh, and I did NOT recognise Albert Finney with a beard.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Meeting Ben Elton

In 1956 and 57, there was an explosion in the music charts,” says Ben Elton. “We took black music back to America. They put Elvis in the Army to stamp out Rock ‘n’ Roll, but then the Beatles came along and rejuvenated it.”

Mr. Elton knows his history. He’s here in Waterstones on Deansgate, which he describes as “one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world”, to launch his WW2 novel, Two Brothers. It’s 6 November, and the book doesn’t officially come out for another 2 days. Despite the fact that this is his first book event in “ten to fifteen years,” there are a few spare seats in the arena. I still pick the front row, for some reason.

I don’t know whether people are sat in watching the US election,” he says, “or whether they’re just stuck in traffic like I was.”

Mr. Elton bucks the book-signing trend by not reading a segment his work. “Books are so intimate,” he says. “Reading a novel is intensely private- all there is is words. The images are entirely the gift of the reader.” That’s also why, he says, his books haven’t been made into films. Keeping his work in novel form, he says, “leaves almost everything to the imagination… Oh, and the other reason I’m not doing a reading is that every Nazi guard would have a cockney accent.”

Besides,” he says, “Two Brothers is a big book- too big to be a film. Take Bonfire of the Vanities, for example. It’s a great book, but it’s a terrible movie. But then you can take the 39 Steps, for example, which is a great book and a great film. But they’ve got absolutely fuck all in common!”

At this point Mr. Elton breaks his presentation to-

Excuse me- are you a journalist?” he asks.

He can only be talking to me. I’m sat in the front row furiously scribbling as much as I can of the presentation. I don’t have shorthand skills, but my handwriting is bad enough to pass for it.

I look up from my notebook. “No, I’m a blogger.”

Oh!” he says. “I’ll be careful what I say then!”

Mr. Elton’s presentation, which has been twisting through a number of different subjects since the opening, takes another detour- via Twitter. After a quick show of hands to gauge numbers of Twitter users in the room- about half of us- he explains his problem with “the tweet”, or as he puts it, “the modern haiku”.

Sometimes news on TV will have a little ticker at the bottom of the screen, and it’ll say, ‘John in Bristol has tweeted saying, “I think this is appalling…”’ Why?! Why show this? This is when I hate Twitter- when it starts to share news. I’ve got no problem with the site itself, but I do when it becomes a news story. It’s either that or reporters will ask the opinions of what we used to call ‘psycho fans’, y’know, the obsessives.”

Mr. Elton’s stream-of-consciousness presentation then lands on a statistic he saw, suggesting that there are more homeless on the UK’s streets than ever before. He then admits, “But this has nothing to do with anything.” He moves on, through Strictly Come Dancing, which he has avoided participating in against his children’s wishes, and asks why politicians try to pass off as celebrities in the jungle. “The holy grail is to be watched all the time,” he says. “To seek privacy these days is actually a perversity.”

The speech covers an eclectic range of subjects because he’s “spent eleven hours talking bout Two Brothers, and I don’t fucking want to, frankly.” And so he moves quickly on to George Harrison and Paul McCartney, whom he describes as “the greatest pop artists of the century,” and on to Olympic medallist Jessica Ennis (“cute and intimidating at the same time.”)

When he lands on the war on drugs, which Mr Elton dismisses as “a rout”, he divulges that he was in fact invited to talk to a group of Scottish MPs about drug abuse. Mr. Elton told these MPs that, had he the power, he would legalise crack. The amount of time and money spent fighting drugs, he suggests, would be better spent fighting other forms of crime.

I’d have to agree.

After talking to these MPs, one of those present approached Mr Elton and admitted they all knew that legalising crack was the answer. They all want to slacken off drug prohibition, but they all know it would be a nightmare if they did.
Eventually, Mr Elton HAS to touch on the novel, which he describes as “simple fiction”. The book is actually dedicated to his two uncles- one a member of the Wehrmarkt, the other in the British Army, and the story focuses on an adopted Jewish child who is dropped when Hitler comes to power.

It’s inspired by my family, but it’s not about them,” he says. Then to me, he says, “There are 30 witnesses here, so you’ve got to get it right!”

The Q and A session brings some fascinating revelations, including an amusing impression of his Mancunian editor.

He first immersed himself in reading at a very early age, starting with Beanos, Dandies and war comics like Epiphiny. He cites Egg Beans and Crumpets as a favourite, stating PG Woodhouse as “the greatest British comic writer. His timing is perfection.”

Growing older, he dabbled in Conan Doyle and Simon Woodhouse.

His favourite fictional character is Sherlock Holmes.

His mum read George Orwell’s Animal Farm to him when he was 7.

When starting a writing project, he stays motivated by creating a deadline with his editor and writes into the night to attain it. In his words, “You have to keep on keeping on.”

He finds novels easier to write than screenplays, a format he has dabbled in. With novels, he points out, you don’t have to find locations.

He’ll be back up north filming a sitcom at Salford’s Media City at Christmas, so if you’re in the area, keep your eyes peeled…

The night ends like this:

Mr Elton gets my blog card. I get the book signed. If the author is reading this, please remember that I don't have shorthand and I did give it my best shot. If I got anything wrong, please get in touch and correct me.