Sunday, 31 March 2013

Three Strikes: Week 18

These blogs are getting a little desperate now. I'm locked into a routine of blogging about achievements, yet this week I haven't “achieved” much per se- I've seen friends, I've fixed a software problem on my computer, I've enjoyed some Annual Leave and have watched a LOT of films, and in a reasonably successful attempt to combat insomnia, I've done quite a lot of reading.

Meanwhile, at the gym, my 10 minute run is up 3 speeds. The first of these runs was incredibly hard after running the 5K Park Run in Barking, London, a few days prior. Blog to come. 

I don't know whether this is an achievement as such, but I now weigh 70kg, which is the heaviest I've EVER been. Question: fat or muscle? Answer? Possibly both. I'm running faster than I've ever ran before and I'm lifting more than I've ever lifted, so I must be getting stronger. I must also be burning a lot of fat with the running, so is the weight purely muscle from the protein shakes? Or are the shakes making me fat? I don't look fat.

The shakes will be a factor for sure. The other factor will be the speed of running- the faster I run, the more calories I burn.

Or it could be that the flapjack I'm binging on to keep me off chocolate actually has more calories than chocolate itself. Fail. I might eat more fruit and stay off the other two, and see if I tone up.

Here's to more gym smashing!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

The Hangar

Try this writing exercise at your group.

Open a dictionary on a random page.

Ask your group to shout a number between one and twenty. Count the words down from the top of that page and stop at the chosen number. That word is your prompt for a fifteen-minute writing exercise.

Here's our word, and my piece:


On the border of Surrey
there's an aircraft hangar
where underneath is buried
all the causes of anger
blueprints of construction
that were hidden from danger
he'll have to retrieve them
if he's going to frame her
so he pulls in a team
who he knows is dependable
and brave and tough,
but ultimately expendable
they enter the base
under the cover of night
and dispatch the guards
one smothered, one knifed,
they drill through the doors
and spray black on the lenses
to damage the compound
and smash their defences,
and find their way in
to the cavernous tomb
and the unoccupied space
says something's happening soon...

It cannot be denied that I had no idea what I was thinking when I wrote this, which is why there's zero pay-off by the time the bell rang on the exercise. You might make something a bit more fruitful (i.e. generally better) than I did.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Spanish Chicken Bake

The biggest meal that I've cooked out of The Hairy Dieters cookbook so far is this continental meat-feast. It was pretty simple, to be fair, although it took ages to skin and bone all of the chicken legs. Whether you can buy pre-boned, pre-skinned chicken thighs in Tesco I have no idea. I normally just buy breast.

The only real problem I had was that my oven takes ages to heat up and never quite reaches the temperature it suggests from the dials. It's a second-hand gas-ran affair, but I got it for free so I'm not complaining. I've just got to remember to up the time a little from THD's recommendations. As a result of this, the potatoes were a bit crunchy but the rest was cooked through- and damned tasty. The chorizo, which was hard to slice up, was the best part.

And then came the turning point in my life.

I invited my parents 'round for a meal. This has never happened before. They gave the meal the thumbs up.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

More Free Night-time Parking in Manchester

The Corporation Street area of Manchester City Centre has been redesigned, re-assimilated and reopened. The much-needed makeover is still under operation on the edge of the Northern Quarter, largely due to the construction of One Angel Square, the Cooperative Group's new headquarters.

Now that the shell of the building is complete, the roads around the new skyscraper have been modernised and are open again for free night-time parking. (Cooperation street starts on the edge of the Mancunian Way, just outside of the parking zone. See here.)

So thankfully there is no need to spend EIGHTEEN FUCKING POUNDS in an NCP if you happen to be designated driver for the night. Just drop it on the street after 8pm- there'll usually be a space, whereas further into the city, (Deansgate/Quay St for instance) there usually isn't. If you're parking there during the day, you also aren't restricted to the 3 hour maximum parking time enforced inside the zone.

It's safer, cheaper and more aesthetically pleasing than a lot of the city, and with the Northern Quarter bars and the Printworks just around the corner it's a win-win for all concerned. The only down side is that if you're driving, you shouldn't drink.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Three Strikes: Week 17

And then, as he slides into the back of the limo and before the driver shuts the door, Rip looks up at me and says, “You have a history of this, don't you?”

-Imperial Bedrooms, Bret Easton Ellis

I started this project to discuss achievements. To talk about things going well. To describe the way my life is moving forward through hard work- set against the backdrop of working out. Well, I may have ballsed that up last week by losing my trainers- possibly in the gym- on the Monday.

I certainly have a history of that kind of thing.

So in that week I only got the one session in, beating two PBs:

10 min run up 1 speed
Cable crunch with rope handle up 1 notch

However, in that week I've been to Essex to see relatives, I've been to London to see my sister (full post later) and I've slept reasonably well as well. I also got a good reception on a screenplay at Writers Connect on Sunday, and rounded it off with a meal at the impressive Indian restaurant Swadesh, on Manchester's Portland St.

So it's all good.

On the journey down south I polished off Ancient Gonzo Wisdom, a compilation of transcribed interviews with Hunter S Thompson. Edited by Anita Thompson, his widow and former assistant, the book offers a chronological exhibition of magazine articles, TV appearances, radio discussions and more, all laced with Thompson's manic, fearless anecdotes and insights. Captivating stuff for the fans of the man.

On the way back up I smashed through Imperial Bedrooms, Bret Easton Ellis' latest offering. The sequel to his first novel Less than Zero, Imperial finds our vacuous but nevertheless successful protagonist, Clay, has now carved a niche in screenwriting. Unfortunately, he's being stalked by an actress with a vendetta... and possibly someone else too.

The book's tone and themes are engaging enough but the same stock Ellis characters are no more surprising in their narcissism than in any of his other books, and the lead-up to the effectively violent climax is too familiar for any real praise. Worth the entire 50p I bought it for.

Backlog of posts incoming. Stay tuned for more history.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Bad Attitude from Venus Staff

Manchester club Venus is flying the flag for house music in the city. It’s incredibly popular with fans of the genre and seems to be packing out every weekend- unsurprisingly as many former house music venues have now changed their music policy.

Unfortunately their monopoly seems to have gone to their heads. I went on Saturday with a couple of friends and the check-in girl charged me more than the 2 girls I was with. I politely asked why this was.

Do you have a membership card?” she asked.

I didn’t.

Right, well,” she snapped. “Shut up then.”

This isn’t appropriate. My friends and I pay a lot of money to come to the club, and we behave ourselves when we’re there. I’ve asked the club over Facebook about this incident, but 24 hours later there’s been no response.

If you work in an expensive venue, I’d advise you not to let it go to your head. Social media can be a powerful and damning tool.

Otherwise, it was a really good night…

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Three Strikes: Week 16

Achievements in life this week:

Fixing meals. Fixing fixtures. Fixing life.

Achievements in working out this week:

10 minute run: up 3 speeds
Cable crunch with rope handle, 40 reps: up 1 notch.

Thad'about it.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Re Cardinal Wilfred Fox: is paedophilia an illness?

The Catholic Archbishop of Durban, Wilfrid Fox Napier, has described paedophilia as a psychological "illness, not a criminal condition". He goes on to state that “I don't think you can really take the position and say that person deserves to be punished. He was himself damaged."

I've been meaning to- very carefully- put forward my opinions on this issue, and this news story presents the perfect opportunity to discuss paedophilia properly.

Like most people, I have no sympathy or empathy for the average paedo. When stories of child sex abuse hit the news, I feel the same sense of anger at the accused and the same sense of pity for the child as the average person. But surely, emotions towards the subject may cloud our judgement, particularly if we have children of our own or if we personally know a victim. Let's not lose sight of the most important issue in the middle of this: the safety of children. What can be done to keep our children away from sexual abuse?

The first idea to come to mind may be to keep paedos out of our society, to jail them all. Well, most people caught in possession of child porn will get hauled off to prison very quickly, like Bulger killer Jon Venables

But they won't serve a life sentence over it. They'll be released at some point. Herein lies the problem: prison does not reform. It doesn't cure criminals of any nature, particularly not paedos. It keeps abusers away from children, but upon their release, they'll still be a paedophile.

Take Roy Whiting, for instance. Whiting abducted and sexually assaulted an eight-year-old girl in '95. He should have received 30 years, by law. He served only 4. 4 years later, he raped and murdered 8-year-old Sarah Payne.

What this goes to show is that the only benefit to jailing a paedophile is that they are kept away from our children. Prison, clearly, does not reform anyone, especially not paedophiles. Would it not be fair to say, in that case, that to stop someone from being a paedo they need a different kind of treatment to being arbitrarily bunged in a prison cell? Yes, we could jail them all for life. All 2000 people. Every year. Do you know how much of your taxes would go into building the prisons to house them all? Indefinitely? Impractical.

So. We can't set them free with the system as it is, as they are a danger to the public. We can't keep them in prisons as there are just too many offenders, and prison won't reform them anyway. So what can we do? The Telegraph recently reported that chemical castration may be the answer

Evidence from Scandanavia suggests chemical castration can cut the rates of reoffending from 40 per cent to 5 per cent... The treatment is being piloted by psychiatrists at HMP Whatton, Nottingham, a specialist category C prison which holds male sex offenders.”

As much as we want to punish those who harm the innocent ones of our society, we mustn't lose sight of the paramount issue: safety of children. If it works in Scandanavia, why can't it work here? Of course, whether this is really what Archbishop Fox Napier really had in mind is debateable. Castration will change a man physically. Wouldn't coupling this with psychiatric treatment, as Napier suggests, reduce further the chances of paedos re-offending?

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Roasted Cod… with a Brain Defect

One of the factors that make cooking such an ordeal for me is something that I’ve left largely unmentioned in these cooking posts. I have memory difficulties as a result of a head injury at birth. Hence, performing a multi-step operation involving many food products- something that takes lots of stages and involves doing different things at the same time- has always been a challenge. But it’s a challenge I decided to undertake regardless, and since November '11 when I cooked a cheese soufflĂ© of all things, I’ve documented every recipe I’ve cooked right here.

I’ve rarely been explicit about why I’ve blogged up these meals. I’ve not made it particularly clear that making a meal is- or was- a major struggle, and I’ve not been open about the process of how someone with a memory difficulty goes about the act of cooking. Until now.

So, I’ll detail the process in the hope that it might help others with memory difficulties who are trying to attain the kind of independence that I’ve strived for.

First up, you’ll need the cookbook. I’m using The Hairy Dieters. You’ll also need an Android phone to do things the way I’m doing it. Download the Notes app and create a new list inside this app. Title the list “shopping” and list out all of the ingredients you’ll need to buy.

Go shopping. As you buy each item, the app will allow you to “strike” them off, so you can still see what you’ve picked up and what you still need to find on the shelves.

Second, lay out all of your ingredients at home. Open the cookbook on the relevant page and bookmark it. Use your phone to photograph all of the ingredients. 

Keep a notebook and pen nearby. (Not too close to the ingredients, though- don’t get food stains on your notes.) Follow the instructions. Make a note of any problems that you have. Was the recipe clear? How did you find juggling tasks? The more detailed your notes, the easier it will be to correct mistakes. It will also be easier to write up the process later, like I do.

Photograph all of the stages of cooking, as shown. 

Take the meal, the notebook and the pen to the table. Eat. Review the meal. Does it taste good? Was it worth the effort / money? Were there any other thoughts you had?

To answer: yes, yes, no.

One of the issues that arise because of memory difficulties is not that you particularly forget something; it's that you just don't think of something to begin with. Take, for instance, the cheese soufflĂ© where I didn't know what “separate the eggs” meant, or the quiche that I only eight a third of as my parents were away and I had no-one to share it with. In this instance, it never occurred to me that I could cut the quiche into sections, box them up separately, freeze the boxes and take each box out one at a time for meals. I've got to make these mistakes (and throw half a meal away) to learn. But it's also important to document that somewhere- perhaps on a blog like this one. This might help the technique to become “crystallised” in your brain. This means what you've learned will ingrain, and you won't have to rely on notes for every little thing.

This week, I cooked Roasted Cod with Parma Ham and Peppers. It served 4, but as I'd only be taking it to my mum and dad's to eat and they'd have cooked something themselves as well, I cut the ingredients in half. Or at least, I tried to.

Constantly halving every instruction is a bit of a test, and I ended up cutting up too many peppers. Also, I bought actual cod instead of cod fillets. The only fillets I know of are those that are already boxed and breadcrumbed and ready to bung in the oven. I suppose I could have looked for a third kind.

This became a problem when The Bikers ask to “remove any bones you see with tweezers.” As I hadn't bought fillets, this would have taken hours. Also, the only tweezers I own come from my Swiss Army knife, and they're so small that the bones snap off when I'm trying to extract them. So I gave up with that. The parents and I would just have to take a bit of care when eating.

It tasted good. I took the remainder to my parent's house the next day. We couldn't mic it up again because of the shape of the food, and also the texture would have been ruined. But reheating it in the oven worked and didn't dry it out as badly as we'd suspected. They liked it too.

In conclusion, the constant documentation in photograph and hand-written note form allowed me to pinpoint what went well and what didn't go so well. And on the whole, it was a successful meal. Knowledge is power, as Sir Francis Bacon reportedly said.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Sing Date!

I was on TV (again) last month! Last November I took part in Sky Living’s cringe binge show, Sing Date.

I saw a tweet asking for people to take part. I don’t actually have Sky, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But I figured, I’m young, single and one hellufan attention-seeker, so I had nothing to lose. I told the producers my singing style was like Brian in Family Guy, and my dating style was, well, disastrous frankly. I discussed the array of crazies I’ve dealt with throughout my adult life (see here, here and here) and the large periods of time when I had neither nutters nor normal women on the scene.

Suffice to say, they were fascinated, and after doing a bit of singing over the phone, I was narrowed to one of eight men to be chosen from by the mysterious picker, Bella, to sing a duet and possibly even go on a date with.

Next up was a spot of home webcam singing, using the SingSnap karaoke package. This was hard on numerous levels. Figuring out how to open and start Sing Snap required Bill Gates-level computer literacy, or at least over-the-phone tuition from the producers at Princess TV. Once we’d overcome this hurdle I sang alternate lyrics for a duet with Bella, to be edited together at a later date. Bella had picked You to Me are Everything, by the Real Thing, which was a HARD, high-pitched song. 

My voice cracked a few times, but I gave it my best shot. After this, I sang a song on my own. I chose You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling by The Righteous Brothers, largely because I think it’s an awesome song. I’m sure most Top Gun fans will agree. 

Having said that, a colleague of mine did point out that such a sad song is probably not the best one to pick if you’re trying to encourage someone to get "that loving feeling” for you.

Sending the recorded file also took a few attempts, but we got there in the end.

Despite Righteous Brothers not being the most ideal choice, Bella still picked me out of the eight guys to sing the duet with. I had a date... in London!

I asked if the lyrics for the London section could be put up in the studio somewhere as there was no way I could hold them all in my head.

Days later, the crew came up to Oldham to film an introductory segment- a little glimpse of the crazy world of Matt Tuckey. At their request, I’d written a love poem- a sort-of rap verse about Sing Date. We then darted across Oldham to various locations so I could recite this poem on camera. We found a few places near Scouthead in Saddleworth, known for its impressive views of the whole of Greater Manchester. So there’s a scene of me rapping sat on a field gate, whilst a horse looks nonchalantly on, rapping on some Victorian-era stone steps and rapping with Heartshead Pike in the background.

The fact that my writing has- in theory- made it onto TV is possibly what I’m most proud of out of the whole thing. I'll post the poem up here soon.

The next step in my foray into televisual entertainment: I got booked onto a £200 last-minute train and fired off on a 2-hour journey to London, courtesy of Princess TV.

Princess had arranged a taxi for me at Euston, but it hadn’t occurred to me that Euston would be HUGE and there would be four long streets that the taxi could be waiting on. I managed to get in touch with the driver eventually by phone, and he took me to the very swanky media area of the city, where Princess’ offices nestled alongside their competitor companies. They took awesome care of me, offering me LOADS of food and bottled water. I was kept away from Bella throughout the day whilst events took place, until the last minute. I was shown the new song I’d be singing as a duet in the studio: Everything I Do (I Do It for You) by Brian Adams. 

The staff set me up in the office with a computer, headphones and the Sing Snap application, so whilst they got on with their office work, I sat in the corner blasting my lungs out to early-nineties pop. Bizarre.

Next up: voice coaching. Female Voice Coach, a professional and knowledgeable woman, taught me how to hit notes by twisting my accent to a country-singer style. She had an array of unusual techniques to get me to hit high notes, including miming a game of basketball. Once crouched and moving around, my voice could perform things it couldn’t when I do rigid, upright. Pretty effective stuff!

When Female Voice Coach went to train with Bella, she swapped with Male Voice Coach, who taught me to access my abdominal muscles when hitting high notes. We used sit-up machines, practised the higher parts of the song and avoided going into “football supporter mode”, i.e. wailing the hard parts. Fascinating. People pay a fortune for this kind of thing, and I got it for free!

Eventually, the studio deadline landed and I changed my shirt (one of a number I brought which the production staff had ironed). All I had to do was step into the studio with the mic, sit on the stool next to Bella and read from the flat-screen TV behind her head. Female Voice Coach told me I’d do great. I was given the mic and got a tap on the back as Bryan Adams kicked in, and I walked into the studio… but the screen wasn’t on!

Bella’s first real sight of Matt Tuckey Esq. was a bemused-looking bloke with a microphone, looking out into the darkness of the control room saying, “I’ve got no lyrics. I can’t do it without lyrics.”

So we started again and the lyrics were supplied. I sat on the stool next to her, and we serenaded each other until the final bars. Then I was like, “So anyway, I’m Matt…” and we started talking. It’s a strange concept for a show, but life is strange sometimes.

So what do you do?” I asked.

I’m a police officer.”

I felt my eyeballs pop out of my skull slightly. Then I composed myself, and we carried on talking.

After this, we ran through the song-and-chat again as a “safety take”- another version of the segment for the editors to work with. And then that was a wrap! We agreed to go for a drink in the local area and, after checking in at the local Ibis hotel (courtesy Princess TV again), found a pub- a proper cockney boozer- ‘round the corner from Princess TV. We stayed there for a few scoops before heading back to the hotel. Princess had booked us a double room each.

Although Bella’s an awesome girl, I think we both felt the spark was missing this time. But the experience of being part of the show was brilliant. If you’re single and you like singing, get involved.

Although I’d advise not leaving your phone charger plugged into the wall when you check out, like dickhead here did. Ibis most graciously posted it to my work address. Legends.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Three Strikes: Week 15

Massive improvements this week.

Abs machine, 50 reps with 3 additional discs: up 1 notch
10 minute run: up 5 speeds. I'm amazed at how fast I'm running at the moment.
Cable crunch with the rope handle: up 1 notch.
Prediction: within a month, I'll have the kind of abs I had before I moved out of my parents in 2010 and ate rubbish for weeks on end.

The fact that I'm getting 7 personal bests in a week shows that the Magnum protein shake, which I've been taking for nearly a month now, is working. A GP once told me that protein shakes are a waste of money. Clearly, they're not. But then, that GP told me a LOT of things. I once spent £40 on 4 pills, that I had absolutely no need for, under his advice. Lesson: don't believe everything you're told.

Due partly to cracking through the Hairy Dieters cookbook, I'm eating better, toning up at the gym and feeling pretty fucking positive, it must be said.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Three Strikes: Week 14

Any idiot can face a crisis- it's this day-to-day living that wears you out.
-Anton Chekhov, Russian playwright

There's been only one thing noteable point in my day-to-day living this week.

Local rock venue Jackson's Pit held a movie quiz on Tuesday night. I went down there with some mates from the sound recoding studio I've been volunteering at. The quiz was split into rounds, such as “guess the film from the still image”, “find the film title from the anagram” (surprisingly hard) and “guess the movie from the theme tune” played over the club's speakers. Being a bastion of movie knowledge, I guided my team, The Pimps of Square One, into a clear lead and we absolutely dominated the competition. Here's the prize we won (I'm a whisky drinker. I donated my share back to the group.) 

Other than that, I've just been watching movies like the excellent Frost/Nixon (watch this. Incredible performances) and City of Lost Souls (tyipcally bizarre but thrilling Takashi Miike gangster movie, ruined by a familiar ending.)

Gym records smashed since Since 25th February:

Floor-to-chin pullups: up 2 notches
Abs machine, 50 reps with 3 additional discs: up 2 notches
10-minute run: up 5 speeds

So. No major crisis on the cards. Day to day living occasionally takes its toll, but on the whole, I'm not doing too bad.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Does Reading Cure Insomnia?

Slip into silent slumber
sail on a silver mist
slowly but surely your senses will cease to resist
-Kaa, The Jungle Book

Due to a ridiculous bout of insomnia, I went to see Fluffy Oakes in hope of further advice. I’ve now been prescribed a course of Zopiclone, a hard, knockout drug. I’ve been warned- don’t take it unless you absolutely need to. Further advice- no computer 2 hours before bed. The glare of the screen can delay sleep.

As a gym and blogging addict, this is a slight conundrum. I get out of work at 5, hit the gym for 45 minutes straight from work, and head home. By the time I get home it’s usually 7, meaning I will now get 2 hours to cook and eat tea and write before the 2-hour stop-gap begins. I go to bed at 11 normally, but this will have to change to save my sanity.

If I go to bed at 9, I can give myself a chance to read. According to Fluffy, reading from a book, lit by a lamp, can steady the mind and allow it to prepare for the act of sleep. My “normal” sleeping pattern (if we can call it that) allowed me to drift off at 11pm. If I aim to get back to this, it means a possible 2 hours of reading before there’s the slightest chance I’ll fall asleep. Or, it might come early in one massive lump and I could be sleeping for 12 hours WITHOUT the aid of Zopiclone. If this technique DOESN’T work, then it’s pill time again.

Essentially, if I'm IN bed, there'll be less chance of me getting up and going to the computer, thus keeping myself awake.

So. There’s another monthly challenge here. Lots of early nights. No alcohol (in accordance with the instructions on the pills). Lots of reading. Along with a plentiful supply of book reviews, expect to find out if any of this really works right here on the blog. Either way, I MUST sleep.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Year of Making Love: 4

I was on TV for ANOTHER 1 second last Monday, in BBC3's matchmaking / cringemaking extraordinaire. I was stood behind the subject of the episode, Joe, just before we were called onstage. It was a really entertaining show.

In the programme's introduction, however, the narrator tells us that “more couples joined the experiment in the weeks that followed”. This speaks volumes. Why did more people join in? Did they miss the advert for contributors? It's possible. Or is it more likely that the majority of people that “science” matched up just weren't that into each other and the producers needed more subjects to follow? Because that sure seems to be a recurring theme in the show! Most of the subjects split up as the months went on. Some lasted for a few months, others didn't hit it off at all. The latter was definitely my situation!

Mondays, 9pm, BBC3. Trending on Twitter.