Sunday, 30 March 2014

Atlas Bar Takes Off

Currently crusading through a mysterious blogging project. Writeup imminent. Smashed past the 200K page view mark this week, thanks in part to this, but also due to the sudden and bizarre surge in popularity of this blog post about a man talking to animals, and to me about cooking.

Went to Atlas Bar's new weekly house music night last night, with music provided by DJs Bini, Lewis Barlow and Jon Fitz. Good vibes and atmos.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Paxman, Pratchett, Popbitch

I really need to check my emails more often. 4 weeks ago celeb-based gossip E-rag Popbitch referenced some information I sent them about Jeremy Paxman, and how he recited a poem about poo at his book signing event. I got my initials at the bottom of the email. I'll get them to link to this blog one day, Goddamnit.

Also: I read a Discworld novel for the first time in about 16 years. Sir Terry Pratchett's comedy fantasy universe and book series has become somewhat of a cult in the UK and beyond, with over 80 million books sold. I read a few in my teens and I loved them, but then moved on to other material as I stumbled into adulthood. I had another bash at Pratchett recently, with a second-hand copy of The Fifth Elephant, about a police chief running from werewolves whilst trying to diffuse a potentially devastating disagreement. Think Iraq in 2003, only Saddam's forces are dwarves and oil is fat. Oh, and Dick Cheney is a Frankenstein's-monster-reanimated-type called Igor. Relentlessly inventive and surprising, the book constantly uses the fantasy genre to its advantage, turning the everyday into ridiculous, colourful scenarios.

Shame a lot of the jokes fall flat. I suspect I've just outgrown the franchise, in favour of more serious, hard-boiled stuff.

Also: happened to spot the new Bulmers ad being filmed in Castlefield on Friday night.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Manchester Central Library Reopens


The city's largest and most impressive public library has reopened after a 4-year, £48 million restoration, and it's every bit as modern as impressive as you might hope. Today saw the official reopening, so I darted in (during another typical Mancunian downpour) to dry off and have a wander around.

On entering I found a historian dressed as a Somme solider giving a very believable speech about the horrors of the first world war, describing the sheer weight of his backpack. When emerging from the WWI trenches, he describes, a soldier carried so much gear that it was imperative he stayed on his feet. If he fell, his pack would stop him getting back up. Nobody else would help. Also, the soldiers' training taught them to stoop low when advancing on the enemy to duck high-flying bullets. The Germans, however, positioned their turrets close to the ground, and the “crouching running” style favoured by the soldiers meant that they were taking bullets to the face. Hence the disastrously high fatality rate during the First World War.


The library is now part museum in its presentation. Old book archives and notes are displayed behind glass; perspex cases show old student notes found stuffed under desks from decades ago, unearthed during the library's recent huge restoration.

Manchester City Council have grasped that people search for information in a multitude of ways, and the new library caters for a variety of learning styles. There are books aplenty, as expected, but there's also a healthy supply of bookable computers, scrolling LCD displays, information touch screens cordoned off in circular booths, interactive digital signage and librarians on hand.

Manchester Library is much more in touch with what people today need from a library. A room full of books hasn't been the correct resource for research for decades (although that IS one method). Different strokes for different folks, as the saying goes. An impressive and promising redesign.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Roast Pork and Apple Gravy

Took a lot of preparing. The cutting off of the rind was easier than I thought it would be. The pork itself came pre-wrapped in kitchen string, which I made the mistake of cutting through on each spiral. I needed this string for later, so halfway through I had to dart to the local newsagent to buy some more.

The Hairy Dieters cookbook crucially misses out a section on each recipe for the equipment we will need, as opposed to ingredients. I also found, for instance, that I need to buy a cornflour shaker to make gravy with. The gravy came out lumpy because of this. Although, having said that, maybe I should actually read the instructions thoroughly before starting...

I've found that the book doesn't always present instructions to create a full meal. The pork was just that- the meat, and the gravy. No carbs. No veg. They suggest “throwing out” the drained-off fat. I happen to already know not to pour fat down the sink, but what's the alternative? I had to phone the endless well of knowledge that is my mum. Her advice: Pour it into a mug. Let it set. Cut it out with a knife and throw the gelatinous lump into the bin.

Cooking time: 90 mins. I got a gym session in whilst it was in the oven.

The pork itself was delicious, a testament to how far I'd come from a complete inability to cook a couple of years ago. I think now it might be time to start trusting my intuition and not rely on the recipe word-for-word.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Pistorius prediction

Sentence: 30 years.

Subsequent to the trial, and despite the attention, South Africa's mental gun laws and social attitudes will remain unchanged. The trial should illustrate the issue of gun violence in the country, (16th highest murder rate in the world, 540 gun deaths in the month after Reeva Steemkamp's murder) and should encourage a change, but the country will be too stubborn to even breach the subject, let alone alter gun laws.

Oscar Pistorius is a trigger-happy, paranoid fool who lost everything. He deserves prison.

South Africa must update their gun laws- and their attitudes- or risk more international condemnation. (Although possibly not from the USA, where gun laws are similarly lax.)

Saturday, 15 March 2014

How Long Does it Take to Do the Splits?

Between 18 and 25 I trained in the 500-year-old noble martial art of Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing. For those that put in the time and effort, the sport develops incredible levels of strength, speed, stamina and flexibility.

I'm now 31, and I still use the gym and have recently got into boxing. My cardio and hand speed is creeping back to a standard that I once had, but my flexibility is nothing like it was. I would attempt the splits twice a week in Muay Thai training. When I was 19, I had about 30cm between my crotch and the ground. This was at the peak of my flexibility. Obviously, in boxing the lower body's abilities aren't as important as it is when training in Muay Thai. Also, when you get into your late 20s, your flexibility plummets. I thought that process would be largely irreversible... until I saw this.

Van Damme was 53 when he filmed this. I'm curious- could I get my flexibility back to my 19-year-old state? Could I surpass it and stretch more than I've ever done?

It's possible. It might take years of practice for some, but let's say that I work on this for the next month. I could do this standing, as Van Damme is in the video, or sat down with legs apart. The latter would be a much easier (and safer) way. The more time you spend on the edge of your flexibility, with your legs as wide as possible without too much discomfort, the more you'll be able to coax your legs further apart. Keep the room warm so your muscles are soft, use a wall or a couch to push your feet apart on, and let your legs adapt to an unfamiliar position.

As this will take lots of time, and I'll basically be sat eye-level with the seat of the bottom of my kitchen door for a few weeks, I may as well get a good book in as well. Review post in 1 month will be split (pun intended) between book review and project review. I'll be able to extrapolate from that data how long it would take me to complete the splits.

Current stretch: 1m 37cm.

How long it would take me to afford 2 Volvo trucks for me to do them between: who knows.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Sleep Well-being

Saddleworth Leisure Centre played host to an incredibly popular series of seminars on sleep last weekend. Oldham has a LOT of insomniacs, me being one of them, so the local authorities funded the information sessions to help the town's people. I took one of the places on one of the 20-minute slots, where the presenter Nick gave us a taster of what we can learn on a 4-week programme. He demonstrated his advice using a mattress laid out on the floor of the room- Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy's bed. Dropping by to see how the session unfolded was Debbie Abrahams, MP for Saddleworth. Here's Nick's information and advice:

  • Men sleep heavier than women, as women are genetically wired up to listen for babies at night.
  • During work, tailor the jobs you have to do to the time of day. If you're more productive in the afternoon, if possible tend to more taxing jobs then and work on simpler tasks in the morning.
  • Sleep is repair for your mind and body. You're not sleeping in your “bedroom”- you're sleeping in your “sleep repair room”.
  • Going to sleep is a process, not an event. Think of it as climbing stairs. You're at the bottom of the stairs. Don't jump to the top. Climb them one at a time.
  • Fruit juice speeds up the process of digesting food, so this kind of drink is good for before bedtime.
  • Light from a lamp will keep feeding your body with light as if it were daytime. So reading by a lamp will keep you awake.
  • Lamp lights are necessary for getting to bed in the first place, though, so in the bedroom try switching your lamp light from a white bulb to yellow or red.

  • A shower before bed will raise your body temperature. This will help, provided your bed is cooler. Your bed should help your body to cool down. Don't be too warm.
  • De-clutter. If you can't drop off without thinking about the little jobs- tidying up, doing the dishes, hanging up the ironing- do it before you go to bed. Allow time for this. Think, what will I be thinking about when I go to bed?
  • If you have a late night- you come home after a night on the town, or have been working late for instance, keep the routine. Don't just go to bed.
  • Wake up with a Lumie body clock These alarms will wake you with light instead of sound, steadily illuminating the room.
  • The best bed products are like trainers- you're not just using them, you're wearing them for 7-9 hours. They are soft, not hard or aggravating. Memory foam is the general term for many types of density of mattress, many of which are soft in this way.
  • Melatonin is a chemical that aids sleep. This is currently available over the counter in the US, but not the UK, according to Nick. Google shows some UK distributors. Can anyone shed light?
  • Although it is ideal to get a full stretch of sleep for 7-9 hours, short bursts of sleep with regular wake-ups is more normal than you might think.
  • In the office, you may find that having meetings straight after lunch can make your colleagues / employees lethargic. Try moving the meeting time to around 2:30pm, after we've all digested our food, and you'll find people are much more attentive.

My plan is to book on to this course as I'm tired of being tired. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014


Feedback group Writers Connect arranged a homework exercise a month or so ago: write a rap verse to perform at the next meeting. I whisked this up and "spat it" at the group two weeks later. It seemed to go down well, so I decided to make a music video of it. I wanted to make it as decent as possible, so I rehearsed it a few times, checked pacing, breathing, saliva control, gathered a few props, practiced with sound levels (a bit)... and then my computer broke. 2 weeks later, it's fixed and the verse is complete. Just a bit of fun. I'm not the next Immortal Technique

Or am I...?

0:20- snare starts
0:40- beat starts
From early beginnings on the outskirts of the city
I always bring unlikely circumstance with me
pick out a moment in space and time
on a radio show at the age of nine
Baloo arranges to take the club out
to commemorate the founding of the cub scouts
The group in their uniform are very well-dressed
But out of a sense of rebelliousness
I rock up in T-shirt and jeans
I figure we're there to be heard and not seen
everyone else is in woggles and scarves
leaving me looking the one who's half-arsed
An older cub, he was the type born to lead,
had numerous badges adorned on his sleeve
The presenter he asks what each one of them means
and the kid explains symbols supported by seams
He spoke with charisma aged only eleven
a popular jock who was known as Kevin
Or Sinny, a kid whose name you might know
was picked to play rugby for Leeds Rhinos
and later he rose to the top of his field
This kid, his name was Kevin Sinfield
Now I don't need any form or type of citation
As captain, he's one of the best in the nation.
But wait, let me take you back to '92
Cos with telling this story I'm not even through
The presenter agrees that uniform's irrelevant
as with radio, you don't have the visual element
It's liberating knowing that a city can hear ya
Then afterwards we darted to a little cafeteria
A floor or so up from the station's studio
We walked in the room, and what do you know?
Who do we see sat huddled there? (SWALLOW)
It was Peter Simon from Double Dare!
An opportunity we out not to pass
So Kev Sinny walked up and got us autographs (SHOW PIC)
I expect today that if the two were to be found
together that it would be the other way around!
The fate of the rest of the team is a mystery
So I'm signing off now from this scene of Oldham history.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Buster Wanksniffer, the Cross-Dressing Teenage Archaeologist

To clarify, the following is a work of fiction. This writing exercise involved a group of people writing along the same outrageous premise. We passed around one sheet of paper allowing each person in the group to contribute to a premise from which we would write. We folded the sheet back after adding each section so no-one could see the other details of the story we'd be writing. Between each pass of the sheet, a group member added one of the following elements:

Something they are doing
A problem they are facing

Our premise was as follows:

Buster Wanksniffer
14 years old
In Chester Zoo
At 4:55pm
He's an archaeologist
He's smoking a cigar
He's a transvestite.

For the record, I did not put forward the “problem” section. Some of the group are a bit “old-school”, and although being a transvestite would probably come with its problems, we agreed that the fetish is not a problem in itself. Also, I acknowledge that a transvestite is someone who cross-dresses for sexual thrills and a transsexual is someone who wants to change, or already has changed, their gender. I got this wrong during the exercise.

Gently, gently, like the woman he wishes he was, he brushes the sand away from the crevice emerging stubbornly in the pit.

Buster is fortunate that a kid his age got the placement at all- professional archaeologists have been denied entry to the zoo as to not disturb the colobus monkeys. Mating season or not, Buster has a deadline. The primates are cordoned off in another enclosure as Buster digs, scrapes and tentitively brushes against the bone structure, emerging proud from the floor. It's an emergence, a transformation.

Just like he is.

He pushes the wig's blonde fringe away from his eyes again, noting the smaller details of his life changing- beyond the dress and the knee-high boots, regardless of the lycra and mascara- even his brush-strokes were becoming more effeminate.

He felt the cigar balanced him out- he is not a transexual, nor does he want to be. He's not a man either, yet. He's a boy with a tool, in a number of ways.

He sucked on the cigar, lost in thought. The ribcage of the find- a mere 65 million years old- was protruding now, like his own in his crop-top.

The patrons may have stared, but the monkeys were indifferent, free from prejudice. And they were the ones put out by his intrusion, displaced by Buster's foray into the zoo's Jurassic past.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Tomato and Basil Soup

Made with the Morphy Richards Soup Maker. Tasty stuff. Simple. Good for work lunches.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Can you write without using the letter E?

How many Es are in TREE?

E is the most popular letter in the English language. It appears in the majority of our words. Trying to write without it is HARD- your staple words like “the”, “he” and “she” are out. Past tense is impossible, as all verbs ending in “ed” are banned- unless you write “did” before each verb (e.g. “Matt did ban that symbol from his writing.”) Glance back at this paragraph and you'll see what I mean. I haven't even engineered it this way, but I've used “e” a lot.

Entire novels have been written this way- even in past tense. So it's possible, but emerges very clunky.

We tried this for a 10-minute exercise at a local writers meeting. Before I told them what we were doing, I asked the group members to think of their own word, that didn't include an “E”. This was the title and theme for their piece.

Here was my forced effort:


It works!” Alan says. “My contraption is working!” Alan, though, works solo, no assistant to throw around his thoughts or plans with.

Buttons turn and grills hum, functions working from within that iron box. Static shoots across Alan's workshop floor, startling Oscar, his tabby cat.

Sorry,” Alan says. “You should go, Oscar”.

Oscar slinks out as iron grinds, forcing history through.

So. 64 words. Incredibly hard. There were a lot of crossed-out words on the page, and a lot of exasperated sighs coming from me and the rest of the group. I found that, when thinking of a word, I'd realise the word contained “e”, so I'd think of a synonym. But the synonym would also contain “e”, so I'd have to think of a way of rearranging the entire sentence. Hence, the construction of the whole piece didn't get very far before the deadline. 2 out of 8-or-so people at the group managed to pull it off.

An exercise like this is great for stretching your vocabulary, for thinking of alternative ways of writing what you want to portray.

Friday, 7 March 2014

London, Ft. Paul Smith, David Lynch and William Burroughs

Shot down to London with the family, seeing more family. One particular other purpose: to check out the work of filmmaker David Lynch, experimental author William Burroughs and modern artist Andy Warhol, in three exhibitions held at The Photographer's Gallery.

I've been a big Lynch fan since I was 16, when I got into surrealist film at college, so I was really curious to see what his photography work was like.

It's not exactly as engaging or as eerily engaging as Blue Velvet, or as absurd and unnerving as Eraserhead, but you can see that his early photography work- and interest in industry- influenced the visual choices made in his films.

I've only been familiar with Burroughs' work in the last few years, when I read Naked Lunch. I'd seen the movie (weird in another way altogether) but it was nothing like the book.

Spent a small fortune in the gift shop.

Next up: Greenwich's Design Museum, featuring an exhibition of objects paused during their creation. Making the ordinary fascinating.

The second exhibition featured the works of the master of stripes and some of the most expensive clothes in Britain, Mr Paul Smith.

Just chillin' with my homie Paul.


The curators had put together some informative behind-the-scenes video footage of a day at Smith's office, featuring his team making decisions, and weaving business acumen with artistic flair. Well worth a look. Again, spent a further fortune in the gift shop.

We then nipped over to the House of Commons to watch a parliamentary debate. The Houses of parliament are open to the public, for reasons of transparency, and spaces are usually available with short queues, depending on the day you arrive.

When the usher escorts you into the viewing gallery, the first thing you notice is how small the house- or room- is in real life. The unmistakeable green pews were mostly visible as quite a few MPs were out in their constituencies, but we did see Shirley Williams in the corridor on the way up there. Present at the debate was Jacob Rees-Mogg and Stephen Twigg, among others.

I'll be honest- try as I might I didn't understand what was being said. The sound was fed through the BBC Parliament channel, playing on a screen in the corner of the gallery, to a few seconds' time delay, so it was totally audible but largely incomprehensible.

We then passed by Charing Cross train station, where it is rumoured that Roman queen Boudicca's body has lay for nearly 2000 years.

We visited the world's smallest police station at Trafalgar Square. It wasn't manned, but there were bobbies floating about.

We then dug out last year's passes to St Paul's Cathedral, and climbed up the stone-and-iron staircase to the top of the observatory. Nerve-wracking stuff but offers some of the best views in the city.

Next door to the grandiose of the Cathedral is a tiny but classy coffee shop called Apostrophe, where I had the thickest, gloopiest but awesomest hot chocolate known to man.

I saw this...

...and thought of this.

Yeah, mate, just on me walkie-talkie.

Portcullis House.


Today home of the newspaper-producing sector, Fleet Street is renowned for its legal-field-orientated history.

187's lawyers have recently defended in high-profile cases such as that of Lost Prophets singer Ian Watkins and the Bedfordshire slavery trial.

Brilliant weekend. Plenty more planned for future trips, especially after the purchase of the Secret London guidebook, offering you alternative ideas to fill your trip- locations and events that you might not be aware of. I certainly wasn't.