Tuesday, 30 June 2015

RIP James Horner.

Composer of the music to the film Titanic and many other films, James Horner, died in a plane crash last week. He was 61.

I was a big-time fan of James Cameron's movies in my teen days, and I was more than aware that Horner's scores added emotional impact. So much so, in fact, that I went out and bought The Aliens soundtrack (at a whopping £13.99, which is horrific when you're 16 and you're not working, and it's 1998).

I was on an intermediate level Media course at the time, and we were working on a radio project that was to be transmitted live to the college canteen. I wrote and produced a show about James Cameron, Director of Titanic and Aliens. I thought it was fascinating material, but it bored the shit out of my coursemates. My voice was a little dull too, and the presentation skills I developed later in life weren't showing at all.

Along with the docu on Cameron's movies and directorial style, I threw in some music to break it up: this track, Ripley's Rescue.

I introduced it by explaining that the the track was named so as it's from a scene in which heroine Ripley rescues the marines from the aliens. I couldn't see from the canteen store room that we were using as a makeshift studio, but apparently it bored the students so much it cleared out the seating area.

Technically, my show wasn't too bad and I got a decent grade for it if I remember rightly. But it was admittedly nerdy and dull, banging on about Cameron's “directorial style” and some blue light that I'd read he used a lot in his films (can't say I've noticed it to this day though).

For a further 2 and a half years, my coursemates would rip me for playing Ripley's Rescue, banging on about how I'd apparently said it was named so “because Ripley gets rescued”.

Sigh. I still stand by it being a BADASS track though. The whole album is incredibly freaky to listen to and will make you jump if you're just playing the CD. It goes from silent to shrieking, high-pitch string chords in a flash.

Horner has an impressive filmography on IMDb, including a much broader range of films and shows than I'd realised. 


Monday, 29 June 2015

Prospective Mondays

I thought a weekly post detailing upcoming events might be helpful for readers, particularly in Greater Manchester. So what's going on this week?

As always, The Milton Club's Marquee night will land on Thursday. A classy-but-fun cinema-themed night of RnB music, King Kong, The Pink Panther and the odd celebrity. Pics here.

Reasonably new group Young Professionals in Manchester has meetups planned, including one to new Spinningfields restaurant The Kitchens tomorrow.

My Saturday will be busy with 3 meetups in 1 day. I'm starting at 13:45 in The Alchemist in Spinningfields with Manchester High Life for some cocktails. My final meetup with the 20s and 30s group starts at 7pm (I'll be too old next time) over in Portland St's Missoula (a good event last time I was there) which I can dive into for an hour or so. Then I'm hosting a trip to the reopening of swanky celeb haunt Bijou, starting in Sinclairs Oyster Bar. There's one space at the time of writing. Take it!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Winner, Winner, Steak Dinner

Of course, it'd only be in the heat of summer when you lose your hay fever eye-drops and your eyes go red and raw and itch like you're a crack addict. God knows what I've done with them. But that's the worst of my week. The rest: I retweeted a tweet from Manchester Cars, a taxi company, to see if I could win a free meal for two at swanky restaurant 47 King Street West. I totally forgot about it, but a few days later...

Manchester Cars came to get me on Thursday night, and they chauffeured me to the restaurant's door in a Toyota Avensis. Nice.

I started with the chicken parfait, and moved on to the T-bone steak (huge). The chips were so big that they'd basically made the biggest possible cuboid out of a whole potato, four times, and roasted them. All of it was delicious. Peppercorn sauce: spot on. The apple crumble dessert rounded it off brilliantly, and I washed it all down with Amaretto sours, a first for me. Not normally a cocktail person but I liked it.

I'd like to thank 47 King St West, Manchester Cars (who also dropped me off at home again) and VG for coming with me. A superb evening.

Friday: a Meetup with Social Creatives, for filmmakers and other artistic types. A good opportunity to meet people, chat, get drunk and plan collaborations. We started in The Bridge on Bridge St off Deansgate, then moved on to Atlas Bar at the Castlefield end of Deansgate. It has a perfect terrace for summer drinks, which we utilised. We finished at Sakura on Deansgate Locks, where I managed to get my hip flask past the metal detectors. (A hip flask of the strongest possible alcohol- in my case 70% West-Indian white rum- is a great way of reducing costs on a night out.) Quiet (as was the whole recession-battered city), but with great house music and a well-maintained gents' room. The girl selling Jagerbombs needed to go to management to get change for a the £20 not I paid with, but that's a minor issue.

In essence, there are two parts to a night with Social Creatives: the discussing of creative media in The Bridge, and the getting pissed and developing further ideas in other bars. In the latter half, we certainly got pissed. If you're a creative type, you should join us.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

I Gave Up Takeaway Food for a Month

Not appealing

I mentioned a month ago that I was cutting out takeaway food- particularly Chinese food, but everything else fast with it- for a month. Well, I managed, just about. This morning at about 1am, after a Social Creatives meetup, I strayed into Burger King and had a solitary bacon double cheeseburger. I regretted it immediately after finishing it.

It didn't taste as good as I remember them doing. I felt guilty, like as soon as I'd given myself an opportunity to eat fast food, I took it. But this is good- I don't feel the urge to eat Burger King again, and the pull of Man Ho Chinese chippy just isn't there for me- I'm happy to not eat it. The recipes I've cooked- few and far between though they were- have helped me to appreciate good food more, and disregard lazy options.

How did I do at the gym, considering the improvement to what I was eating? Here are some records (27/5 - 27/6)

Cable crunch with metal handle: 20 more reps
Cable crunch with rope handle: 20 more reps
Leg press: up 1 notch

Along with these gym sessions, I've also done lots of classes at the gym and boxed regularly. I've felt much sharper in all of these. I may not have got much stronger but my stamina has improved considerably.
I've done some research into dietary habits. My old pal and adviser Fluffy Oakes mentioned a year or so ago that there are ways of breaking habits.

When you get into a habit of doing something, you're doing it because you actually get pleasure from it,” he described. “When you feel pleasure, your bloodstream is flooded with endorphins, pleasure chemicals. These make the brain feel good. Healthy people get a certain amount of endorphins on a daily basis and it helps them to feel positive. However, if someone has depression, which I am suggesting you have, Matt, their level of endorphins are lower. As a result, the individual searches out pleasure from the world and may find it in a whole host of things, which may or may not result in bad habits.

Frequently, when an individual finds something that they like, the brain latches on to that particular endorphin and requires more of it. Hence, to break that habit, you need to distract your brain by offering it pleasure from a multitude of sources. That way you don't latch on to any one thing.”

He's right- I've done a lot to enjoy myself in the last year, with boxing, nights out with Meetup groups to places that I like, (rather than places that people were going to that I felt obliged to tag along to) lots of reading and writing, watching a few films, cooking a few recipes, developing typing skills... the list goes on. I didn't latch on to any one thing, I kept busy, and because of that when I cut out fast food it wasn't too hard to give it up. The first few days were tough, but I moved on well. Last night's Burger King confirmed that particular obsession is done with. I can enjoy eating healthier now for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Reading and Planking: The Long Haul Take 2

After trying planking whilst reading the sprawling American novel The Corrections, or failing to, more accurately, I figured that using another large book might be easier to read this way. Something that's a little more “my thing”. So I've picked out Irvine Welsh's weighty Skagboys, the prequel to the iconic Scottish novel, Trainspotting.

I read the original book in 2001 when I started uni, and I'd never read anything quite like it. The film's great, but there's no way they could have made a movie that's loyal to the entire plot. In '08 I met Welsh when he released Crime, and I read it not long after. In about '09 I read Trainspotting's sequel, Porno, a good follow-up. Then in '12 I met the author again. He was signing Skag Boys, which he'd just released. At 450 pages it dwarfs Trainspotting and Porno, so should be a serious endurance challenge. I'm quite curious to see what Renton was like in his university days, and how he slipped into addiction.

More to the point, I want to get my abs back. My planking record stands at 4:02. Let's see if I can beat that- and finish the book- in 2 months.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Elixir and Lola Lo

Saturday: stopped by the fragrant and atmospheric Elixir on Deansgate for a night out with Manchester Social Group. An intimate starting bar with fantastic house music. Although there are 800+ members in the group, you'll still recognise familiar faces from other meetups even when there's only 8 spaces per event. A great crowd.

We then moved on to Lola Lo on Deansgate Locks, where the organiser had got us all on the guestlist. We were served cocktails by Sean Penn and David Arquette lookalikes. Lola's, the largest and nicest of Manchester's tikki bars, is split between 2 floors- one for dance and one for R'n'B. Showing my age here, but it used to be Loaf. I thought it was better back in the day, but hey. I'm old. It's still full of good looking people.

It's the third time Manchester Social Group has ran that night, and it's still popular. So by all means keep your eye on the group- it may reappear.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Manchester Day Parade 2015

Sunday 14th: I joined people from Manchester Social Group for a look around the sixth annual Manchester Day Parade, a celebration of all things Mancunian. There's a little about the tradition here.

For the last 2 years I've dropped by on my own to see what's happening and take a few pictures and shoot some video. This time I was with others, thanks again to the Meetup site.

I contributed my pictures to a group album on Meetup. The event is here. The pictures are here.

The Manchester Evening News has a few more pictures here.

A very eclectic and original parade. Around the city centre there were a number of events taking place. We ventured to Albert Square outside the Town Hall and saw an impressive display from a troupe of youth aerial silk acrobats.

We rounded the day off with a burger in Byron on Deansgate (my suggestion), which allowed a chance to get to know the group a little more and swap events ideas. (Oh, and they loved the food.)

Good to be doing it with some people for once. They were a good crowd too.

Friday, 19 June 2015

After Work Drinks Launches

A new Manchester Meetup group may have broken the record for becoming the most instantaneously popular group on the whole site. Or certainly in Manchester. After Work Drinks,  in the space of 3 or so weeks, gained 500 members. Around 160 of these piled into Dukes 92 in Castlefield for the First Ever Meetup on Friday 12th.

Organiser David really seemed to have hit the nail on the head in regards to what the people of Manchester want from Meetup- a nice, spacious bar, a relaxed atmosphere, a group with no particular agenda or stipulations- as long as you're over 18 and dressed smart, you'll get into the bar and be welcomed into the meetup.

Dukes, like the whole of Castlefield, comes alive in the sun. You rarely hear of people going for drinks in the canal-side bar area unless it's a clear summer day. But when it is, it's stupidly popular, and Friday was no exception. Quite a few people at the event were regulars of the Meetup site and this cluster of people, myself included, agreed to head further into town as a group of maybe 10. After we'd moved on from the venue there was some drizzle but it only dampened the pavements, not our spirits. We got an Uber taxi to Tiger Lounge, a small but plush retro bar on Cooper St near the Town Hall. Good funk music but I had no phone reception in there. After this one of the attendees hosted an after-party at their flat just outside of the centre, which ran on until around 7am. Suffice to say, I went to bed as soon as I got home.

The only downside to the night was being stalked by a gay guy who tried to buy me drinks and followed me to the toilets at least once. A few people noticed there was something odd about him. No biggie though.

I can see the members list of this group doubling over the next few months. There's a meetup in the works for July, so it looks like the group could be a monthly affair. Get involved!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Cooking on Gas: Review

I spent a month trying to cook as many recipes as possible. I managed 5. They were:

The Winner: Cajun Chicken. The Binner: Winter Lamb and Lentil Broth.

I didn't cook as many meals from cookbooks as I'd hoped, but one a week isn't too bad. It's more creative than I was doing, which was mostly banging chicken breasts into wraps with a bit of salad. I was also hammering takeaway places with alarming regularity- I've cut down on that too (but that's another blog post).

I'd have cooked a lot more meals, only the motivation to shop, prepare, cook and eat a meal for four (splitting the finished item down over a few days) is hard to muster after you've been at work all day and then been to the gym. And speaking of the gym, I started this project to be healthier and get back in shape. So how did I do? Well, I boxed a lot and I feel a lot sharper and fitter than I used to in these classes. I've done a few gym classes as well and haven't done to badly there either. I didn't spend a great deal of time in the actual weights gym, but I did hit a few PBs between 12/5 and 12/6.

Cable crunch (rope handle) with 15 plates: 20 more reps
Cable crunch (metal handle) with 15 plates: 30 more reps
Dips: 10 more reps
Horizontal grip chin-ups (backs of hands facing face): 1 more rep

So: a few improvements. My body weight is still hovering above 70kg though. To bring this down, I propose that, once a week, I cook a new recipe from the Hairy Dieters' cookbook rather than rely on staple meals like chicken stir fry. I've cut so much junk out of my diet that Ive got to replace it with something better- these recipes are as good as anything else, if not better.

More recipe blog posts to come. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015


As part of a month of cooking, I fired up my soup maker for the first time in, well, quite a while. The next recipe in the book: Winter Lamb and Lentil Broth.

The recipe included a turnip, which were discontinued in both Tesco and Co-op. My Asian colleague suggested that Asian cash-and-carry shops would probably stock them as they are staple ingredients used to thicken up dishes like curry. My parents' friends suggested a swede would have a similar effect.

After sourcing for a few days, I started to prepare the ingredients. The cutting board got a bit crowded with everything on it, but I managed that far. I followed the instructions, putting in the required amount of each ingredient, but the total food ready to go into the soupmaker was around three times more than the soupmaker could take. I put in a certain amount and set the soupmaker to begin cooking, but after a few seconds the power cut out. I tried again. No luck. I Facebooked Morphy Richards. Their page was awash with complaints from people trying to use a whole range of their kitchen equipment. The brand eventually got back to me telling me that the device has sensors that will cause the machine to cut out if too much material has been put in. They also suggested that I put in the stock first and then add the rest of the food, so that it doesn't fry and stick to the bottom of the appliance, that being what may have caused the outage.

I started Take 2.

The recipe wanted 650 mls of stock, but my pyrex jug only went up to 500. I had a plastic jug that went up to 900, but boiling water isn't great for plastic in the long run, is it? I risked it anyway.

When it came to filling the soupmaker, the amount of stock the recipe asked for came to way more than the machine could handle.

I cooked a portion of the mixture in the soupmaker for the required time on the suggested setting of “chunky”. When the device beeped to say it had finished, I poured out a bowlful.

It smelled and tasted utterly foul. The chunky setting had done no additional chopping- I'd had to chop the ingredients myself before I added them to the mix, and they were the same size when they came out of the machine. The vegetables were still hard, so I poured it back into the soupmaker and gave it another 30 mins. By the end of the second run the lamb had been tenderised but the veg were still tough. None of the dish was tasty.

Suffice to say, I binned the excess mixture.

My mum is planning to borrow the soupmaker and give the same recipe a shot to see if it's just me not getting it right, or whether it's genuinely a shit recipe. In all fairness, this is one of the few recipes I've attempted that straight-up didn't work out. Everything else I've ever followed from a recipe has pretty much been edible and usually tasty.

Monday, 15 June 2015


I went for my second meetup with Manchester High Life, a group that visits the smarter-end bars and restaurants in Manchester. This time we dropped into the new, incredibly opulent body-art-themed Chinese restaurant Tattu. See their website for impressive visuals and their Twitter for the latest info.

The Gartside St venue opened last month, and we dropped in on a reasonably-busy Thursday night. The Spinningfields venue's nautical-themed entrance welcomes you into the ground floor bar area, providing long tables for groups and great service, accompanied by light chillout vibes. I started with a non-alcoholic Virgin and Glory cocktail before we were led upstairs into the plush dining area and seated at a circular table under an impressive whole dried blossom tree. The music, I realised, was provided by a DJ as opposed to an automated playlist, an interesting feature.

As we arrived as a party of around 10 we were split into 2 adjacent booths, which wasn't ideal but was workable. We started with a little sake, a Japanese fermented-rice-wine drink- not something I'd choose to drink again but it was interestingly-strong and didn't taste like anything I'd tried before.

We ordered a few extra side dishes alongside our starters. I accidentally ate something with a mushroom in it, but I soon washed it down with water and leveled the situation with some tasty prawn balls. I had the delicious baby chicken main with a side order of duck rice, and finished this off with Queen of Fruit, a picturesque but eye-wateringly sweet dessert with liquorice and mixed fruit, including mangosteen, a tropical fruit I'd admittedly never even heard of.

The group was much more varied in age range in comparison to the last meetup at 47 King Street West, with some attendees in early 30s, and others older.

After paying (my meal came to £36, which isn't bad for the quality of the food and venue and location, and without a discount of any kind) we were escorted back down to the bar area again (good marketing tekkers there) where I polished the evening off with a superbly unique hot chocolate with an added hint of orange flavouring. I needed mine replacing as a part of the drinks machine came off in the mug, but it was no biggie. Staff were polite, and service was immaculate.

Every corner of the restaurant contributes to the body-art theme, from the bar entrance with ship's wheel door handle (weren't sailors among the first westerners to get tattoos?) to tattoo photography (or incredibly realistic paintings, one of the two) and uniquely decorated busts.

A grand venue and a powerful contributor to the Spinningfields' burgeoning leisure scene.


Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Reading and Planking Fail

Last week I wrote how I planned to plank my way through the enormity of Jonathan Franzen's critically acclaimed The Corrections

Well, I've powered through the first 100 pages. I'm just not getting into it. Maybe the act of planking, and the effort it seems to take, is hampering my appreciation of the literature. Or maybe it's just not my kind of novel. I dunno. So far I've established that Franzen is a capable writer. But if you ask me, his characters are dull to the point of fading into middle-American obscurity and the plot- once-rich people struggle with middle-class 90's financial difficulties and Alzheimer's- depresses rather than engages.

Possibly because of this I didn't have the strength nor the willpower to hold plank longer than 2:24, way below my 4:02 record.

I will try another reading and planking project soon with an equally large but more promising novel.

Monday, 8 June 2015

The New Male Sexuality

Every once in a while a book comes along that you read and think, shit, why did nobody tell me to read this AGES ago? The New Male Sexuality, by leading US therapist Bernie Zilbergeld Ph.D. is one such book.

Describing itself as “the truth about men, sex and pleasure”, the book is a guide for men of any age who want to know more about their sexuality. Sexuality, in this sense, means less your sexual orientation (it's a book for hetero men) and more your life as a sexual man- your thoughts about yourself, women and sex.

I'm not going to go too much into the detail of the book, as the reviews out there will say more than I ever could about its content and how incredibly reassuring it is to read. Consider this as a comparison if you can: there's an old Woody Allen film called Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask).

It's a bit of a misleading title, considering its content. Instead of asking “what is normal?” it shows you people and situations who definitely aren't. (I have never wanted to know what it is like to fuck a sheep.) It's a funny film, but not an educational one.

The New Male Sexuality is as close as I've found to a resource that fulfills that need so far. If you want to know something sex-related, it'll more than likely be detailed in explicit but light-hearted form somewhere in this book. If I had read it when I was 18, things could have been much different and much better.

Read it now, before you get any older.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Manchester Creatives

Friday: a meetup with Manchester Creatives, a group of people involved with- or looking to be involved with- the creative industries. Think TV, film, art, writing, advertising. I went to meet people who might be interested in screenplays or blogging. The venue: The Bridge pub on Bridge St, off Deansgate. A bit of a shithole, but served a purpose. The people were nicer than the venue.

Most people the group were professional filmmakers with a tech background trying to carve a niche in a dreadfully competitive and overpopulated market. A good group of people, so if you're a struggling media graduate like me (there are more than a handful of us in the city) this is a group you should get involved with.

After this we moved on to The Moon Under the Water on Deansgate, the biggest pub in Manchester. It's also one of the chavviest, but hey. We trekked further down Deansgate and into Liars Club on Back Bridge St, an aptly named “Tikki dive bar”. I won't be back.

I may meet up with the group again, and I'll probably bump into some of them at other meetups too- at least 2 I recognised from previous meetups at different groups like 20s and Early 30s. What this shows is that the site is bringing people together, and is helping people find their people, but more importantly it's showing that people are actively trying to get out and expand their social circles and enjoy themselves, which is pretty fucking important in my book.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Meetups You Missed Out On Last Week

Socialising social media site Meetup has come alive in recent months, with group after group being set up in Manchester and, more than likely, the rest of the world. Last week I used the group to continue meeting more people and to explore more places in Manchester.

First up, on Thursday I visited swanky new restaurant 47 King St West, with the group Manchester High Life Club. See the event here.

The relatively new restaurant was offering 3 courses for £25 during the week, which for a venue of its stature is a great deal. The offer applied to any of the starters and desserts, and to any main under £21 (which ruled out all the meat dishes). A sample menu is here. I went for the pate- sorry, parfait- on toast to start with (a generous portion), followed by a spicy seafood linguine main washed down with a complimentary glass of Prosecco. I polished this off with an Eton Mess dessert, possibly my first.

The food was great with fine service and atmosphere (kudos for the low-level chillout music), although nobody beforehand mentioned anything about the service charge, which bumped the price up to £30. Still, a good price for a meal in this venue, considering. Get on this offer while you can. It's quiet during the week, so service is fast.

The Meetup group itself was interesting. I was the youngest there at 32, with at least one of the group a retiree. I don't mind meeting older people. They're wise and have good stories to tell most of the time, as they did on Thursday, but they did all have a few years on me. It may be ideal, if you're checking out a Meetup group for the first time, to glance through a few attendee's profiles and gauge the age of the average member before RSVPing.

Most people went home after this, but the younger ones among us dropped into Elixir on Deansgate, a small and fragrant cocktail bar playing deep house. Well worth a look. I had a few “No-jitos” (non-alcoholic Mojito) and got to know the group members a little more before moving on.

Most people were in work the next day and went home- I'd booked off the morning so I lone-wolfed it in to The Milton Club for their Thursday Night party, Marquee. A Much more fun atmosphere with a younger clientèle than Milton Club's weekend nights, Marquee offers a little more to look at and to soak up while you drink. Pics from the night are here

Coronation Street's Brooke Vincent (Sophie Webster) will be celebrating her birthday there next week, if you fancy checking it out.

Saturday: Cocktails at The Botanist with Manchester Social Group. This was the first time I'd been out with this group, a cool and varied collection of people with a good knowledge of current and historical Manchester. They also like getting drunk in cool bars. Win-win, as far as I'm concerned. And other than a few characteristically-wobbly stools, The Botanist is a class act of a bar- good top row, good clientèle, and soft-rock live music, which isn't normally my thing but was a good touch.

Just as it started chucking it down in Manchester as per, I dived into the newly refurbished Lawn Club with some people who had just finished at another Meetup across town. More spacious and pleasantly whitewashed, the bar seemed to have improved not only in appearance (which I honestly thought was fine before) but now has quicker service.

To finish the night off we checked out The Milton Club, where this scenario unfolded:

Bloke: You look like someone.
Me: Is it Gareth Barry?
Bloke: Yes!
Me: Funny that, you look like Conan O'Brien.

The bloke immediately walked off after this. Well, don't give it if you can't take it...

Good people and music, overall. Glad I could introduce people to the venue. Further Meetup nights planned. Be on them!

Monday, 1 June 2015

Reading and Planking: The Long Haul

My third and final attempt to read a book in plank position starts today. After trying this with the shortest book in my pile, and then again for the period of a full month, it is now time to complete the trinity.

The biggest book in my to-read pile is The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, described by Pulitzer prizewinner Michael Cunningham as “a major accomplishment”.

My current planking record is 4:02. I'm hoping to double that by the time I've finished the book- hopefully in 2 months time.