On Live Music

This evening I am planning to go to the Godiva Festival in Coventry, which claims to be the UK’s largest free family music festival (because if you chuck enough adjectives at something you can be the biggest/most/best whatever you like).

I last saw live music in May (Charlotte Church in Birmingham) but the last time before that, unless I’m forgetting something, was in the vicinity of four years ago (Skindred, also in Birmingham).  Which is sort of a shame, because I used to go to a lot of concerts and festivals and I had a lot of fun, but also not a shame because fuck staying up until 2am and spending a ton of money on something that, really, I could do without.

I have a bit of a question mark over the Godiva Festival because a) it’s probably going to be full of an awful lot of awful people (sorry Coventry) and b) it clogs up traffic in the whole city for the whole weekend which is quite annoying.

On the other hand, it’s free, I live within walking distance of the park, I like to try new things, the Stranglers are playing, I’ve got nothing better to do, and it’s free.  So what’s the worst that can happen?

 

Advertisements

On Cycling (to Work)

I have recently started cycling to work.

It’s something I’ve been eager to do ever since I moved within realistic cycling distance, which is a little over two years ago.  The main reason I’ve put it off so long is just that I was unwilling to shell out a couple of hundred quid for a bike and all the requisite equipment (and I didn’t really even know how to go about it) but after a generous gift from my partner I have finally been convinced to make it happen.  I tried walking to work a few times earlier in the year and it’s manageable but it takes an hour which is too bloody long for me.  The bike cuts that in half which is much more manageable and comparable to the time it takes to drive in.

IMG_20170601_180056627
My (so-far) faithful bike – as yet unnamed.

I’ve been struggling a little with the road/pavement dilemma, but I think I’m close to working out a compromise.  I don’t really feel all that safe cycling on the road but the surface is so much nicer, and I also don’t really think that it’s fair to pedestrians to cycle on the pavement.  So now, since buying a helmet, I cycle on the smaller roads and take the pavement when the roads are big and scary.  I think that’s about fair.

Here are the pros and cons of cycling I have discovered so far:

PROS

  1. It’s good for the environment
  2. It’s good for my health
  3. It will probably save me money in the long run.  No way am I going to get rid of my car completely, but the money I save in petrol just by leaving the car at home three days a week will (presumably) add up eventually to pay me back for the bike
  4. I never have to worry about a parking space
  5. My combined journey to work and back is actually quicker than driving, since I don’t have to wait in traffic any more

CONS

  1. The initial outlay was quite a lot of money (for me), having spent around £150 on the bike and another £150 or so on accessories/safety equipment
  2. I don’t exactly feel safe on the bike, particularly on the road
  3. I have to worry about the bike getting stolen
  4. Cycling is difficult when the weather gets too extreme in any direction (hot/cold/wet)
  5. Sometimes my knees hurt, which is presumably from cycling since they weren’t hurting before
  6. If I want to do anything outside of my normal routine (go shopping, carry any sort of package, go out of my way on an errand) I can’t really do that on the bike
  7. As with most things in life, I don’t really know what I’m doing.  I’m probably making glaring mistakes and look like an idiot.  But fuck it, I’m managing

As I say, I’m fortunate enough to have a car too and to be able to afford to maintain my parking permit in case I need to drive to work for some reason.  In fact, due to various circumstances, I haven’t managed to cycle in more than three times in a single week so far.  But I’m not going to worry about it.

On Volleyball

Volleyball is fun.

It’s one of those things that I’m not actually any good at, but I get an unfair advantage by being tall.  Maybe I could be good at it with practice but that’s never going to happen realistically.

I miss playing sports.  I have recently taken up running, cycling, and going to the gym, but I wish I could play more team sports, particularly football.  I used to play football at least a couple of times a month with friends but not for many years now.  There are opportunities to play team sports (including football) at work and I would definitely like to do that at some point, but what’s stopping me more than anything is the time commitment.  There’s too much to do, god damn it!

Anyway, it was refreshing to play volleyball for an hour or so today with a load of people who are as bad at it as I am.  Same again next year!

On Coffee

I like coffee.

I didn’t always like coffee.  I remember specifically the first two times I bought coffee out, although I don’t remember what order they were in.  One was in a Gregg’s in my hometown and the other was in a Starbucks the next town over.  Both times I went along with it because I thought it was mature-seeming, and both times I hated it.

To be honest, that hasn’t really changed all that much – what has changed is that I realise what I like, which is not actually coffee, but coffee and sugar.  I can stomach a straight coffee these days but it’s just too bitter for me.  I will take a black coffee with two sugars all day long.  White coffee with no sugar isn’t quite sweet enough and white with sugar is too sweet, so I prefer to just leave milk out of the equation.  Although my go-to Costa drink is a mocha latte (I never managed to reconcile myself with Starbucks).

I first really got into coffee in about my second year of university, when I drank cups and cups of it to stay up all night revising (or learning for the first time) before tests.  I didn’t drink hot drinks with any regularity before I came to university and then in my first year I fell in with the tea crowd.  I’m fond of tea but I hardly drink it any more – it’s just such a hassle compared with coffee!  All of that stirring and squeezing and disposing of teabags; give me a spoonful of instant coffee any day.

Which brings me on to my next point(s).  First, I greatly prefer instant coffee to filter coffee.  People look at me funny when I admit it, but it’s just nicer.  Sorry.  And second, I have no idea if I’m making instant coffee properly.  Every packet of coffee assumes that you know what you’re doing, and I’m too embarrassed to ask.  Which means for five years of coffee-drinking I’ve literally been guessing.  Hell, it tastes good and I’m not dead, so it’ll do.

On Books, Part One

Have I ever mentioned that I love books?  I also love reading.  Which do I prefer?  That’s a hard question to answer, probably because I don’t really understand it, so I’m not even going to try right now.  Maybe one day.

As hard as I fight against the tide, I constantly buy more books than I read.  It’s really annoying.  It doesn’t help that I have all of these reading goals, like “read a book by an author from every country in the world”, so if, for example, I see a book by a Fijian author it’s incredibly difficult not to buy, because when am I ever likely to see one of those again?  It also doesn’t help that it’s much easier (faster) to buy a book than to read one.  Finally (for now), it doesn’t help that I work in a bookshop one day a week.

I used to hang onto books after I finished them, but I really try not to any more.  The question I ask is “am I ever going to read this again?” and if the answer is “probably not”, which it usually is, I get rid of it somehow.  I started a (criminally underused) book swap box at my office and joined a book-swapping website and have had great success in passing on books.  One of the most important things to me is that everyone should be able to read whatever they want, and giving books away is my small contribution towards that goal.  It really helps my bookshelves too.

book swap
Clip Art lives on!

By the way, if you ever happen to see me reading a book that you would like to read, let me know – you can probably have it.

I called this post part one because I will certainly write more about books in the future.  Have I ever mentioned that I love books?

On (not) Writing

Here’s the truth: I’m not a writer.

I wish I was a writer. (Was? Were? I think was).  I love reading, especially novels but other stuff too.  I love language, particularly English with all of its infuriating irregularities which, when you understand them, make perfect sense.  I like to share my thoughts and I’m quite fond of the process of writing.  I’m also rather keen on the idea that if I could get something published it would be literally out there making money for me of its own accord – not that I truly believe I’m ever going to be able to make a living from writing, but a man can dream.

But I have a problem: I’m not creative.  At least I don’t feel like I am.  You read about people with stories in their heads just burning to get out and onto the page, and that’s not me.  I have some ideas that I reckon would make decent stories. Is that enough?  I think I would really struggle to write something of novel length but I suppose I won’t know until I try.

I also have the issues of being both a perfectionist and highly self-conscious, meaning that it would be very difficult for me to consider something good enough to share with the world.  Then again, maybe that’s why pen names exist.

One time, at school, I had a flash of creativity in an English exam. We had to write a story about a photograph (with some prompts) and I remember as I wrote that I knew I was going to get a good mark. To the utter surprise of my teacher I think I came second overall out of about 150 pupils.  I don’t know where it came from and I’ve never recaptured it since, but it’s in there somewhere.

Anyway, I read something yesterday that said writing something every day, even as little as fifty words, can really help your creativity in the long run.  So that’s what I’m doing here.  Hopefully I can keep it up and maybe one day I’ll write something worth reading.  You never know.

Literary Pop: Is it Just Me?

Author: Miranda Hart
Nationality: British
Year: 2012

The next book in my month of entertainment autobiographies was Is it Just Me? by Miranda Hart.  Miranda is an actress and comedienne I’ve got plenty of time for – I’ve never really seen her self-titled sitcom, but her increasingly-fleeting appearances in BBC’s “Call the Midwife” are always appreciated in our household. I picked this up in a charity shop a couple of years ago (Oxfam in Banbury I believe – if only I could remember other things as well as I do book purchases) and I’d been looking forward to reading it ever since.  Oh, how sweet anticipation is often crushed by miserable reality.

Is it Just Me
Is it Just Me who couldn’t stand this book?

So as it turns out, Is it Just Me? Is not an autobiography.  I repeat, not an autobiography.  The book is in fact a series of discussions of various aspects of life, such as love, family and growing up, in Miranda’s quirky style – as in, “Is it just me who thinks x about y?”  The book mainly takes the format of conversations with the reader in addition to numerous interruptions from Miranda’s “younger self”.  Through witty anecdotes, Miranda presents her thoughts on how the world might be a better place.

What a disappointment!  Maybe it’s a decent book but it was really not what I wanted and was therefore a big let-down.  The interludes from “young Miranda” were incredibly annoying and the anecdotes seemed, frankly, like something out of a sitcom – I would be surprised if a single one were true.  Heck, maybe Hart has led an unbelievably embarrassing life, but I doubt it.  The worst thing of all was that I learned practically nothing about Miranda’s life.  Instead of finishing a book and feeling smarter/culturally enriched/well-informed, I pretty much felt duped.  It won’t really change my opinion of Miranda as a person or an actress/comedienne – it was fully in keeping with her persona, and as I say might be a happy read if you know what you’re expecting.  But still.  Not for me.

 

My rating: 4/10

Literary Pop: My Shit Life So Far

Author: Frankie Boyle
Nationality: British (Scottish!)
Year: 2009

So having concluded January’s theme of “published in 2015” with the ordeal that was A Brief History of Seven Killings, I was faced with the decision of what to do for February.  Being interested as I am in many areas of popular culture, I settled on “entertainment biographies” to give me a little more insight into some of the figures who rule our screens.  I happily already had a store of these to delve right into, with the intention of alternating male and female personalities (soon to become difficult).

shit lifeThe first book of the month turned out to be Frankie Boyle’s My Shit Life so Far.  My mother bought this for me for a present many years ago, convinced as she is that I’m a big fan of stand-up comedy.  I started reading it at the time, but for whatever reason I stopped about half-way through and promptly forgot everything I’d read so I thought it best to start again from the beginning this time.  After fighting to the end of Seven Killings I was after a much easier read to rest my poor brain, and this was an ultimately successful mission.  Frankie Boyle, for those of you who don’t know him, is an oft-controversial comedian best known for his appearances on topical panel show “Mock the Week” and his expletive-laden rants against political correctness, the nanny state, etc. etc. (hence My Shit Life So Far).  He announced his departure from the show which made him a household name the day after the publication of this book in 2009 and has since faded into relative obscurity; such is life.

As it turns out I’m finishing this review a long time after I read the book.  I guess I’ve been busy.  Anyway, it’s pretty much a chronicle of Boyle’s life up until joining “Mock the Week”, from his moderately-poor Glasgow upbringing through the early stages of his stand-up comedy career at dingy bars and on strange tours.  It also discusses his use, abuse and subsequent disavowal of alcohol and other illicit substances along the way.  I might be forgetting some of the content but I suspect there wasn’t an awful lot more to it.

frankie-boyle-glasgow2
Frankie Boyle – Where is he now?

It’s worth a read if you know who Frankie Boyle is, if you’re a person who reads autobiographies, and if you’ve got a couple of days to spare.  I put it in my work’s book-swap box when I finished it at the beginning of February and it’s still there.  But hey, I’ve read worse.  Go figure.

 

My rating: 6/10

Literary Pop: World Book Day

Happy World Book Day!

When I was in Year 6 at school (aged 10 or 11) we had a “dress up as your favourite literary character” day.  I have no recollection of this being for World Book Day, but in retrospect it probably was.

legolas_logo
Me, basically.

I went as Legolas from the Lord of the Rings, which at the time was probably my favourite book series and definitely my favourite film series (this would have been 2002-3ish).  With my parents’ help (mostly my mother I seem to recall, although she would have had zero interest in LotR) I pulled together an amazing costume featuring lots of Elven components (I don’t remember completely, but there was definitely a verdant velvety cape held on with a leafy brooch, some leather trousers, and I believe a green corduroy waistcoat).  I was pretty much perfect except for a wig, which would need to be bought new and would cost more than the rest of the charity-shop-sourced costume put together.  I even had a bow and arrow set I’d conveniently picked up some weeks earlier at Leeds Castle in Kent (nowhere near Leeds) – naturally a result of the same Legolas admiration.

When I got to school after weeks of preparation it was clear I was completely overdressed and nobody was really that bothered.  Philistines.  I didn’t care, I looked fabulous.  Needless to say I didn’t win the coveted “best costume” award – it went to some teacher’s favourite who didn’t put in a tenth of the effort I had, while the so-called judge didn’t come within fifty feet of me all day.  In fact, I spent most of the afternoon sitting on my own in the corner of the classroom as punishment for firing my wooden (sucker-tipped) arrows across the crowded room (which looking back was clearly overcompensation for bad supervision – what did the teacher think I was going to do if she left them in my possession?).

All in all, a pretty big disappointment on the day.  But digging the memories up today, I remember it fondly.  I’m still proud of that costume, god dammit.  I did a good job (and so did my mother, who was at a tough point in her own life).   My LotR nerdiness continues to this day – I should really read those books again some time.

So the moral of the story?  Don’t let them grind you down, kids.  If they don’t like/notice/appreciate your effort, it’s probably because they don’t understand.  And that’s their problem, not yours.

Literary Pop: A Brief History of Seven Killings

“If it no go so, it go near so. —Jamaican proverb”

Author: Marlon James
Nationality: Jamaican
Year: 2014

briefhistWhat eventually turned out to be the last book I read in January was A Brief History of Seven Killings, winner of the 2015 Booker Prize.  I had been becoming a little concerned that I would run out of 2015 books, having finished three already by the 16th, but honestly I needn’t have worried.  More about that later.  This was naturally a priority for January even though it soon transpired that it was actually published in 2014 (I’m willing to overlook the discrepancy if you are).   It’s the third novel by Jamaican author Marlon James, following 2005’s debut John Crow’s Devil and the well-received The Book of Night Women from 2009.

Take Trainspotting, transport it to Jamaica, double the number of characters, double the number of pages, add in an assassination attempt on a world-famous singer, and you’ve got A Brief History of Seven Killings.  The novel, told from the perspective of at least ten different characters in about five time periods, revolves around (and around and around) a fictional account of the planning, failure and aftermath of the real-life 1976 attempt on the singer’s life.  In a Kingston ruled by warring gangs and their devious leaders, nobody who plays a part in the plot is safe from the recriminations of one who wishes to keep his name out of the mud for good.

It was a decent book, but the combination of the facts that a) it was very hard to get into, and b) it was very long, made me seriously consider whether it was really worth it.  It’s against my moral fibre to abandon a book once I’ve committed to reading it but I can imagine many people putting Seven Killings down long before the end.  Unlike Trainspotting, which continues in the same vernacular and allows you to become accustomed, different characters in James’ novel speak with varying degrees of Jamaican patois which never allows you to feel comfortable (although maybe that’s deliberate). It’s probably telling that since finishing the novel at the end of January it’s taken me the best part of a month to gather up the strength to review it.  It’s not that it’s a bad book, just that it was a lot of work.  Indeed, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn lots I didn’t know about Jamaican language, history, and culture as well as the life and death of Marley.

I’m not one to recommend anyone against reading a book.  It wasn’t really for me at this time, and will probably remain not really for me because I don’t envision myself reading it again.  Nevertheless I think, all things considered, that it’s just about worth a read.  It did win the Booker Prize, after all.  But make your own mind up.  One thing I will say: be prepared.

 

My rating: 6/10