Friday, 31 January 2014

Vegetable soup

I've finally put my soup maker Christmas present to use. It's a simple, quick way of getting healthy food inside you and means you've got something to take to work for lunch the next day.

What I like about it is its simplicity- I can throw in all the ingredients, leave it to cook for 20 mins and after that it's ready to serve. No messing around, no adding different ingredients at different times, no lengthy preparatory procedure- just weigh and chop your veg, launch it in the jug with a stock cube, add your water, close the lid, choose your setting (chunky or smooth) and let it do its thing. It's a world away from the complexity of minestrone

I must get back into cooking. I'm getting slack!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Separated at birth?

Both found fame early in life. Both are currently total fuck-ups. Any other similarities?

Sunday, 19 January 2014

I Finally Made it into Popbitch.

Popbitch is a weekly email released by Popdog, a company trading in celeb gossip, rumours and comedy. Last week they mentioned that Piers Morgan has a life-size cut-out of himself in his house. In response to this, I sent them this joke:

I went out with a cardboard cut-out once. She dumped me though, because I stood her up.

They used it, which is great! But they didn't credit me. Not so great. Still, for years I've sent them whatever bits of celeb gossip or humour I can trawl up in the hope they'll stick it in the newsletter. So at least they have done. You'll have to take my word for it that it's mine.

I finally made an improvement at the gym too, slamming an extra 30 metres onto my 10-minute cross trainer record. Seriously, download the PC Radio app onto your smartphone, buy some headphones with hooks in for the ears and put your favourite internet station on and you'll train that little bit harder. Ibiza Global Radio did it for me.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Book Month: Take 2

During last month's book month, I attempted to read as many short books as possible for the duration of December. I didn't get a great deal of books read due to the whole Christmas thing, and- whilst shopping- bought more books.

The reason I started the book month was to make space in my cupboard, the place where I store all of my unread books. So I read as many short books as I could, in size order, smallest first. I've filled that space again buying books in the January sales and, with a handful of book signings that could spring up at any minute, I'll be out of room. So it's time to bury my head in the sand again and be a massive bookworm geek. It shouldn't be too hard: January always comes hand-in-hand with nobody having any money, the bars and clubs being empty and the social calendar pretty sparse.

This time, I'll go for books that are unnecessarily large: the double-spaced autobiographies, the hardbacks, the books with thick photo-print pages interspersed arbitrarily at the 1/3rd marks.

Deadline: 14th Feb.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Goodfellas / Wiseguy

Nicholas Pileggi's biography of New York mobster Henry Hill was first published in 1985 to critical acclaim. The intro of the 2009 paperback edition by Bloomsbury- penned by Total Film Deputy Editor Jamie Graham- describes how a number of people “waved it under the nose” of Mean Streets director Martin Scorsese, who was sick of the sight of gangster films by that point. Eventually he succumbed to pressure and was awed in much the same way as I was.

It's a gripping tale of a poor teen kid thrilled by the mob, who lives the dream once he has his foot in the Mafia’s door- until, of course, he gets busted. Through Pileggi, Hill, his wife Karen and various law officials, we follow the ups, downs, romances and dodgy dealings right up to his submersion in the US government's Witness Protection Scheme. As in many adaptations, there's a lot in the book that they just couldn't fit in the film or wouldn't have passed over well so those familiar with the film will still be in for some surprises. Addictive, opulent and brutally honest.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Are You in this Oldham School's Interpretation of Peter Pan?

Putting up old pictures of your schoolmates to embarrass them is sooo last week. Instead, why not dig out old videos of school plays and upload them to Youtube? I played John in this interpretation of Peter Pan, in St Agnes Knolls Lane Primary School in 1993.

I struggled a lot with learning the lines, but I made it through 95% of the play without screwing up- until I delivered Peter Pan's line for him and we had to backtrack. Impressive that we managed to pull it off at such a young age. Respect to Mr Kerr for orchestrating this. He was a good teacher.

The year before this, St Agnes held a stage presentation of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, with none other than England rugby captain Kevin Sinfield- aged 11- in the title role. I think the same cameraman filmed that play. Does anyone have this video? I know I don't, but I'd love to see it.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Here's a Video of Me and an Irish Bloke Beating the Crap out of Each Other

I trained in Muay Thai between 2000-2007. In 2005, after finishing university, I was looking for a job and a sense of direction. I struggled to find the former for a good few years, but the latter came in the form of a place in the inter-club competition held at the gym I trained in. I'd turned down opportunities to compete in the past out of a lack of confidence, more than anything, but also a lack of desire- I trained for fitness, which it definitely gave me.

Once I was out of education, however, I found I needed to prove a competitive streak just to apply for jobs in the first place. There were always more applicants than jobs, and the jobs were usually sales, which I'd never done before. So when the instructor asked for names for the tournament, I put mine on the board.

I trained hard for the fight, but the instruction and tuition just wasn't there. The club's syllabus missed out huge parts of the art of Muay Thai, and certain elements they taught completely wrong. Look at the stance that both my opponent and I use. Not quite how the Thais would teach, is it?

Not only is the skill lacking, but the opponents were too. Dermot, a polite Irish bloke in his 30s, was from my gym. We were both due to fight other people, but we were at the bottom of the list of fighters. There were maybe 30 under-18s fights taking place first, and the gym's tattooed mothers and other spectators had largely left having after seen their own kids fight. I was due to do a “demonstration of skill”- light sparring- with another gym's instructor, but this was now so late in the day that his whole team- himself included- had gone home.

One of the instructors, a hefty bloke called Cotty (accurately described by one member as “like sparring a fucking bull”) took me to one side. “Do you and Dermot wanna jump in and beat the shit out of each other?”

Dermot was our own team member. We agreed- we did that twice a week in training anyway, for longer than the three rounds we were about to endure. Here's what it looked like.

So. That's a draw, against someone 10kg heavier than me. Watching it back I can see a few moments when I could have stepped forward a bit more, but it wasn't a bad fight. Good times.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Obligatory New Year Blog Post

Saw in the New Year in Greenwich, a close-enough distance from the centre of London to see the prolonged and expensive but impressive fireworks display. Did you know you could go ice skating in the grounds of the Tower of London?! It's been a good Christmas with the family. It's great seeing my second cousins growing up, and reading them stories has given me a sense of maturity and fulfillment. I've wanted to read a book to an infant for a long time.

Just a few minor things to report: I've joined my site's two blogrolls into one again, seeing as the majority of Greater Manchester blogs seem to have stopped updating. I boot blogs off the 'roll if they stay un-updated for over a month, so if you're on it and you want to stay there, keep writing!

I've started using a really handy add-on site for Facebook. Who Deleted Me? will notify you when your friend list changes. As I write this, I realise I've been removed by a former colleague I worked with 10 years ago after an online debate about whether gyms should allow instructors to work if they are fat. Oh well! The site won't tell you, however, whether they've removed you or they've shut down their account or been shut down.

Also, Scottish author Irvine Welsh favourited my tweet about Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro. What a week!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Book Month: Review

A month ago I vowed to spend December reading as many books aspossible. I gave it my best shot, whilst also working on this blogging challenge

Given I was working on two projects, AND it was the run-up to Christmas, I didn't really have much time to make the progress I wanted to. The space I intended to make in my cupboards wasn't made. That said, I still saw the back of 5 books.

Cocaine Nights

JG Ballard's tale of a quintuple homicide on the Costa Del Sol was- when first published in 1996- “dazzlingly original', as the Independent called it. A club owner confesses to the crime, and the owner's brother flies out from the UK to untangle the mess. He's quickly embroiled in a world of deceit, leisure and violence. An interesting precursor to Fight Club in a way, the book shares the same nihilistic values as Chuck Palahniuk's shorter, more brutal novel.

I didn't find it as original as the Independent claimed it was. Ballard's influences seem to include Hitchcock: a scene involving a hand-glider was heavily reminiscent of the crop-dusting scene from North by North West.

Well worth a read.

Falling Man

Bill, an office worker stumbles out of the wreckage of the Twin Towers on 9/11. He's holding a briefcase given to him by a now-dead worker from a neighbouring office. He follows the address on the briefcase and starts an affair with the dead man's lover. As the weeks and years after 9/11 pass, we see their story juxtaposed with that of Hammad, one of the hijackers taking part in the attacks on 9/11 (this character appears to be fictional- there was no-one known to be involved with that name).

DeLillo frequently exercises a very skilful blending of hypothesis, fact and fiction with his novels, and Falling Man is no exception. With intuition you'll pick up that the novel follows a non-linear pattern- Hammad's story intersects with that of Bill's, starkly contrasting attitudes, time, motives and culture.

Contemporary yet classic DeLillo.

Cliff Notes on Shakespeare's Hamlet

Hamlet is regarded as being Shakespeare's finest play. As, like all of the bard's works, there are multiple layers, there is no point a bloke like me reading the original text. I just won't pick up on the sub-contexts unless someone explains it to me. So I kept my eyes peeled for guide notes.

These Cliff Notes were published in 1971 and have dated badly. The introduction is vague and discusses only the play's creation back in 1603. After that, the book dives into a description and analysis of the opening scene. There's no synopsis, no introduction to the characters, no glossary (something more necessary than ever when analysing something written in a 400-year-old language) and no analysis of the themes you'll find present along the way. The author also jumps to the conclusion that you understand Latin, making comparisons in a now untaught language. I finished the book feeling like I didn't really understand the play, meaning the book had failed in its very purpose. I looked the plot up on Wikipedia. It's a story you're most likely familiar with, even if you've never read Shakespeare. It's been lifted in more recent years by a famous film company.

Stick with York Notes, or even better, Letts.

York Notes: Notes on Julius Caesar

This is more like it. Longman York Press deliver a bite-sized, manageable account and investigation of many classic novels and plays. Julius Caesar is a fictionalised account of a historical Roman general and his downfall at the hands of conspirators, led by the plotting Cassius. York Notes author Sean Lucy describes Julius Caesar in several stages. After an introduction to Shakespeare and the way drama companies performed his plays, Lucy offers a 500-word summary of the play before investigating each scene one at a time. This includes synopsis of the scene, a “notes” section detailing the sub-contexts and elements you may have missed, and a detailed glossary featuring- on occasion- definitions of words that you thought you knew, as well as the obscurer terms. (Remember, words' definitions have changed often throughout the history of the English language.)

An interesting play of doubles: two sides in conflict, and two crescendos towards the end. The play also has two halves, separated by the title character's assassination.

A well-explained York analysis.

The Great Gatsby

Recently stocked in HMV due to the new DiCaprio / Maguire movie, F. Scott Fitzgerald's most famous novel details a world of 1920s decadence, of wealth, opulence and violence. Its story of a mysterious character and his extravagant parties- driven by Gatsby's desire for the narrator's girlfriend- is the original voice which has been echoed by the likes of Bret Easton Ellis and countless others detailing the lives of the young elite. Perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I made December a “Book Month” for two reasons: Out of enjoyment, and to make space in my “to read” cupboard, a place for the books that I've habitually bought and not yet read. I enjoyed reading them all, but I didn't make a lot of space by what I read. A third benefit: December is an expensive month. To avoid spending more money, I figured I would keep myself away from temptation by burying my head in books. This didn't work: during Christmas shopping I found more books, and spent more money. Oh well!