Tag Archives: holidays

Gregorian calendar year 2014: R.W.C. stylee

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You’ve probably got used to me typing this, but jesu crisco, did this year zoom by! It’s been a bit of a weird one, to be honest – not particularly for me, but world events-wise. I’m not sure what anyone’s got against various Malaysian airline companies, but they’ve lost not just one plane, but two, in the space of 8 months – not counting another which was shot down over Ukranian air-space (which was either the fault of pro-Russian rebels, or the Ukranian government military, depending on who you talk to). The only thing I can be certain of is that the insurance affiliates of those airlines are going to busy with claims for the next five years.

Things kicked off again in the Middle East: the Syrian civil war is still raging, with thousands of refugees fleeing to Turkey and Jordan. Meanwhile, in northern Iraq, which has been left as a power vacuum, after the botched invasion and occupation by U.S. and UK forces, a curious army of hard-line Islamic militants managed to defeat the ‘trained’ Iraqi military, seize a lot of their equipment and rampage through most of the towns and villages in their wake. Calling themselves the ‘Islamic State’, they threatened the Turkish border and moved into parts of Syria. Once again (as in Libya) – a Western coalition was formed to “bomb the crap out of them” (in layman’s terms). Has that been effective? Time will tell. Meanwhile, Pres. Obama authorised 1500 more U.S. troops to head back to Iraq in the fight against I.S. – hmmm, I suspect it’ll be “Iraq Invasion – Part III” in 2015. Happy Happy Joy Joy. Israel also had its own conflict in the summertime, as it’s government decided to launch another attack on Hamas. As always, hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed, along with some Israeli soldiers. Most of the human rights abuses appear to be on the Israeli government’s hands, as shown by an Amnesty International report. There seems to be a cease-fire on at the moment – how long it will last is anybody’s guess.

Back in Blighty, things looked pretty grim as well – the coalition gubberment continued its austerity bullshit. Scotland had a vote to determine whether the people wanted to remain in the UK. Both sides campaigned fiercely – even “Dave Scameron” had to make a grovelling speech, sounding like a jilted lover. In the end, the Scots said they’d stay…for now. That bunch of clowns UKIP gobbled up air-time and web-space for winning a parliamentary seat in a by-election. It almost became impossible to look at anything without seeing Nigel Fart-age’s rictus grin plastered on it. The fact that some critters are entertaining an ex-banker’s notions as their own (as ‘one of the regular folks’) just shows how much that ‘this shit just got real’. I just hope people get some sense for the general election in May. We shall see…

I don’t want to be a total downer, so here’s a list of things I enjoyed this past year:

I had a brill holiday in Amsterdam in April – my first trip to mainland Europe. The missus and I stayed with a friend, which saved loads of cash, so we were able to check out the Reijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Hash Marihuna and Hemp Museum and a few more. I walked by the famed Paradiso (didn’t get to go inside, however) and I saw the Concertgebouw, too. We checked out the Cat Houseboat, which was a highlight (well, if you’re a cat person, it is) and did a boating tour of the canals and the harbour outside the city. I met up with my MLA pal Steve Fly at the 420 Cafe and we had a laugh. I was even allowed to do a bit of record-shopping and I picked up a few goodies. We covered so much in a week that it was actually quite exhausting. I loved it, though, and I want to go back sometime soon.

TV: I didn’t watch many series this year – I haven’t seen any Breaking Bad or Game Of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire. Other than a few BBC Four history docus, the only show I watched regularly was the excellent Toast Of London, with comedian/musician Matt Berry in the title role. The second series was shown in November and December and it’s even more surreal than the first series. Nice to see Berry’s Garth Marenghi cast-mate Matthew Holness in a bit part in one of the episodes. I also watched the Black Mirror X-Mas special. I didn’t catch the second series (still want to watch it sometime), but when I saw an ad for “Black Mirror: White Christmas“, it looked intriguing enough to me to see it. It seemed quite clever to me, with the three stories intersecting each other, though that wasn’t fully revealed until the very end.

Music: There were loads of albums released this year which I haven’t checked out yet. Hell, there’s still albums from 2013 I haven’t added to the collection. Flying Lotus released “You’re Dead” and Sunn-O))) teamed up with Scott Walker and released “Soused“. Mike Oldfield returned with “Man On The Rocks” and Beck‘s “Morning Phase” was rumoured to be pretty good. Karl Hyde (out of Underworld) and Brian Eno released two collaboration albums, but again, I haven’t heard anything from them. Pink Floyd (or ‘Pink Three’, really) released “The Endless River“, culled from sessions in 1993 and ’94 – it’s the final recorded appearance of Rick Wright and, according to David Gilmour, the last P.F. album ever. Peter Hammill (of Van der Graaf Generator and a long and varied solo career) and Gary Lucas (mostly known for being a member of Captain Beefheart‘s Magic Band and Jeff Buckley collaborator), got together and produced “Otherworld“. Those are just some of the albums I meant to buy. I did buy the newest Mastodon record (on disc – I don’t have the space to buy everything on LP), “Once More ‘Round The Sun“. I’ve only listened to it once and the verdict so far is pretty good, but I need to give it a few more spins. There were also the usual hundreds of reissues, but the ones that got the most attention were the release of the complete “Basement Tapes“, by Bob Dylan and The Band and the massive Led Zeppelin box set reissues, for each Zep album (the first five have been released so far). Luckily, the albums are also available in 2-disc sets, so you don’t have to shell out for the super-deluxe boxes, to get the extra tracks. The Quietus website published an excellent article on what they consider to be the epitome of psychedelia at the moment, which led me to check out The Cosmic Dead, Demdike Stare and UK stoner/doom merchants Electric Wizard. There’s a great D.S. DJ set from the Boiler Room in 2012 that you can watch here. I’m going to listen to more from those bands in the new year. Concert-wise…well, I saw Kate Bush in September – ’nuff said there. I also saw The Orb in November, which was a treat as I hadn’t seen them since 2001. I hope to see more shows in the coming year, provided I can afford tickets.

Film: The only film I watched in the cinema was Wes Anderson‘s latest, “The Grand Budapest Hotel“, which I enjoyed, possibly even a bit more than “Moonrise Kingdom” and definitely more than “The Darjeeling Limited“. I’m not usually a big fan of Ralph Fiennes, but I thought he was excellent as ‘Gustave H’. The supporting cast were great as well, including Jeff Goldblum and a very sinister Willem Dafoe. I meant to watch “Gravity” in the cinema, but I waited too long and the run finished. “Interstellar” looked interesting as well – a decent sci-fi flick amongst the usual Hollywood dross. One cool thing I discovered is that The Filthy Critic is back in business. I used to read his reviews all the time in the early 00s – but a few years ago, he seemed to give it all up. I happened to check his site a couple of months ago and found he’s back at the movies – seeing a lot of shitty Hollywood films, so I don’t have to (though he and I disagree about “The Grand Budapest Hotel”). Good times!

Theatre: I only watched a few plays this past year. I saw “Strangers On A Train” at the Gielgud Theatre in London in February. It was pretty good, though Hitchcock‘s film still seems the definitive version. This stage adaptation covered more of the psycho-sexual aspects of the story and characters. Jack Hutson was especially good as ‘Bruno’. I also saw “Dial M For Murder” at the Oxford Playhouse in March (yet another Hitchcock connection). The staging was quite clever and the cast were competent and didn’t try to be slavish to the film. The Oxford Shakespeare Company put on another of their brill outdoor productions this year at Wadham College. It was “As You Like It” this time and we watched it in early September, on the final night of the run. I also caught “Electra” at the Old Vic in November, featuring Kristin Scott Thomas in the title role. She did pretty well, though the cadence of some of her line-reading seemed a bit strange. The rest of the cast were quite good, too (though I would have rather seen Amanda Drew as ‘Chrysothemis’, but Liz White was O.K.), aside from Tyrone Huggins (as ‘Aegisthus’), who seemed to want to be a bit too “actorly” in his part.

Books: I started the massive published version of Philip K Dick‘s “Exegesis” (whittled down to 1,000 pages from a much, much larger archive) – but the sheer volume of ideas and concepts in it caused me to put it down a few times, to let my brain process what I had read. In between, I read a crime thriller (“The Bat” by Jo Nesbo), an atheist call-to-arms (“The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins) and several weirdo/speculation books (Charles Fort‘s “The Book Of The Damned” and John Michell‘s “The Flying Saucer Vision“, among them). I actually finished more books than I thought I would this year, which I’m happy about – squeezing reading time in between work, making mixes and internet time. I even read a couple of online ‘books’ on my phone on the work commute: Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and David Keenan‘s “England’s Hidden Reverse” (which, like the Quietus article, turned me onto a few artists I hadn’t heard of and re-introduced me to Nurse With Wound). I’m looking forward to starting on David Mitchell‘s “The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet” and “The Bone Clocks“, Nick Awde’s Mellotron” and my friend Matt Bartlett‘s “Gateways To Abomination“. If you want to see all the books I read last year – check the Goodreads widget in the margin of the blog.

Well, kids – that was my 2014 – as a last note, I’d like to shout out to my pal, Singing Bear, who’s also a co-author of this blog. He had a pretty rough year. I won’t go into detail, but he had a shocker. I wish him the best for 2015 and I’ll try and cajole him to maybe post once or twice here in the next twelve months. In the meantime, check out his own blog, Grown Up Backwards.

Onward and outward, friends!

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One Of *Those* Posts – Things I Enjoyed

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I usually avoid doing those “year end” kinda things – ‘cos really, it’s only the year-end in the Gregorian calendar, not in loads of other calendars. Anyway, here’s a list of some things I liked this past spin around the sun. In no particular order or category:

The Summer: Even though I left my job at the beginning of June, I had quite a good summer this year. I visited my family back in the U.S.A. for two weeks – I hadn’t seen them in nine years, so it was a treat to see all the nieces and nephews and my cousins and their little’uns. I also met a friend and did a bit of record shopping, too. Back in the UK, it proved to be a decent time, as the weather (mostly) brought sunshine and warmth. Compared to last year, this year was a model season.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II: I first heard this band through Marc Riley‘s 6Music show a couple of years ago. I kinda liked their strange, psychedelic R&B-influenced sound, but not enough to pick up the first record. Riley started playing the first single off of the new album, “Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)” and it became a near-instant earworm. The album was released in February of this year and I bought it shortly after. I find there’s not a bum track on it – though for those with short attention spans, “Monki” can probably overdo it a bit.

A Field In England/Kill List: Pixie and I watched “Sightseers” early in the year and I really enjoyed it, particularly for the performances of Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, as the main protagonists. “Sightseers” was released in 2012, but we missed it in the cinema. Director Ben Wheatley was finishing up “A Field In England” even as were sending the rental DVD of “Sightseers” back. I was back in the UK in time to watch A.F.I.E. on BBC Four in early July and it blew my mind. Set in Civil War-era England, it involves some deserters who are tricked into helping a necromancer into searching for a ‘treasure’ hidden in a deserted field. There’s madness, psychedelic mushrooms and magick thrown into the mix. I thought it was brilliant and I’m definitely buying the DVD. I watched “Kill List” shortly after and while it wasn’t quite as visually arresting as A.F.I.E., the story, in places, seems far more intense. A soldier-turned-hitman gets lured back into the business by his friend and ‘associate’. At first, it seems like a routine mission, but things get progressively weirder as the film goes on. The ending scene is a shocker and it’s wonderfully played and is a genuine “Holy shit!” moment when you realise what has happened. Superb.

Fuck Buttons: I’d heard about them a couple of years ago, but I wasn’t quite sure I’d like their music. I checked out a couple of clips on You Tube, but I filed them in the “kinda interesting, maybe check them out later” dept. This year, they released their third full-length album, Slow Focus. I listened to a few of the new tracks and really liked them – so I bought up the back catalogue (not tough, as it’s only two records so far). At the moment, “Tarot Sport” is my fave, though “Street Horrrsing” has it’s ace tracks, too. I also found out that Blanck Mass is Benjamin John Powers‘s (of F.B.) ambient side project. Blanck Mass’s track Chernobyl was used to excellent effect in “A Field In England”.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time (the stage version at the Apollo Theatre, London): You can read my longer review in the last post. Excellent staging and cast – highly recommended. You won’t be able to see it until the beginning of January, as part of the ceiling in the theatre collapsed during a performance – luckily there were no fatalities.

Leonard Shlain – The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess: I didn’t get to read quite as many books this year as I wanted to – but “The Alphabet…” was quite entertaining and enlightening. I read it while on holiday in the States. Shlain’s theory posits that while worldwide literacy has been very beneficial on the whole, it has also brought subjugation of women in almost every culture in which it’s been introduced. You may not agree with it, and find his research lacking – but I find it quite compelling and very possible. Copies are still available – I bought mine quite cheap off of eBay.

Horrible Histories/The Wrong Mans: H.H. finally finished this year, after it’s fifth series and it’s a shame, because it got better and better as it went along. The song/band parodies were ace and their send-up of “Masterchef”, ‘Historical Masterchef‘, was seriously funnier than most adult sketch shows, to me, anyway. “The Wrong Mans” is a series on BBC Two, that was shown in the early autumn. It stars Matthew Baynton, who was part of the H.H. cast and James Corden. I’m not really a fan of Corden’s, so I thought it could go either way. Luckily, Baynton held his own and Corden’s usual antics were limited to just a few scenes. I thought it was good, for a modern Hitchcock pastiche. There’s not much wiggle-room for a second series – but then, teevee writers can come up with some convoluted shit in order to keep a franchise going. We’ll see…

The World’s End: The final film of Edgar Wright‘s “Cornetto Trilogy” (featuring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) was released this past year. To me, it didn’t have quite the gut-bust laugh quotient of “Shaun Of The Dead” or “Hot Fuzz“, but it’s still a quality flick. Part 90s nostalgia, part sci-fi and part “you can never go home again” story – it makes a fitting end to the trilogy. I won’t go into plot specifics, in case you’ve not seen it, but I will say that “Fuck off back to Legoland, cunts!” is one of my fave film lines of the last ten years.

Matt Berry – Witchazel: I’d been meaning to pick this up for a loooong while and was given the CD as an X-Mas gift this year. It’s as good as I’d anticipated and for anyone who digs early 1970s psychedelic/progressive folk and English whimsy, this is a must-have. Berry is a comedic actor who’s appeared in some of the funniest shows of the past five-to-ten years: The Mighty Boosh, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace…and (the somewhat patchy) The IT Crowd. The guy’s also a solid musician and I’ve got his second album “Opium” as well (his first album, “Jackpot“, is waaaaaay out-of-print and you most certainly won’t find it on the interwebtubes or eBay – trust me, I’ve looked). Berry’s newest series, “Toast Of London” was broadcast in the autumn and it looks like a second series has been commissioned. “T.O.L.” uses “Take My Hand“, from ‘Witchazel” as it’s theme tune.

There’s loads more music, some teevee and books I enjoyed – but then this post would be mammoth and would stretch your reading patience to it’s limit. Hope your year was near what you wanted it to be and roll on Gregorian calendar year 2014!

December Will Be Magic Again

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Caveat: If you don’t wish to read about pets…and cats in particular….look away…..NOW!

Pixie and I adopted three kittens three years ago. The litter belonged to a co-worker’s relative’s cat. The mother cat was naughty and got out of the house one night, met up with a tom….and well, you know the rest. There were five in the litter: three boys and two girls. Another co-worker took in two. We were originally only going to take in two as well – but one of the boys had hind legs that sort-of stuck out at angles, possibly due to being cramped in the womb. Our other co-worker was worried about vet bills and declined to take him. I thought it would be a shame to separate him from the litter, so I convinced Pixie to take him as well. We called him “Orson”, as he was the third boy, or ‘third man’, if you will.

The other boy was called “Gryphon”, after the groovy 1970s British medieval/prog-folk group – and the girl we called “Parsley”, after Howard Moon‘s hippie transformation in the Mighty Boosh episode, “Call Of The Yeti“. Sadly, Gryphon was killed by a car when he was a year old. Orson really missed him, as they used to play wrestle and explore the car park behind our house together.

We talked about adopting another male cat for Orson for ages, but couldn’t really decide on when to do so. In the last month, we’ve started looking and even made a trip to the Blue Cross centre in Burford, to see if they had any suitable cats. Our main dilemma was that we needed one of a similar age to ours and one that can live with other cats. It turns out that our description is very tough to find, as a lot of cats need to be the only one in the house. We also found many pairs for adoption, who needed to be kept together.

In a cool synchro-mesh, Pixie received a message from our co-worker who had adopted the other boy and girl from ‘our’ litter. She had adopted a couple of dogs a while back and relations between the dogs and cats in their house were getting strained. She wanted to know if we could take “Magic”, the boy, in permanently. Misty, the other girl in the litter, was tragically killed by a car as well. After a family meeting and lots of thought, we said O.K.

He arrived last weekend and has been getting used to the house and Orson’s hissing and growling (to show his ‘top cat’ status in the house), as well as Parsley’s hissing (she doesn’t like anyone). We kitted out the spare room for him, complete with litter tray, food and water dishes and scratching post. Slowly, and I mean very slowly – he’s bonding with the others. They’re able to sit and sleep on opposite ends of the sofa and Magic’s even been sneaking food from Orson and Parsley’s dishes without much repercussion. He’s not been outside yet – we’re waiting until his vaccinations are up to date. It’s been really brilliant having three cats in the house again…with their personalities.

Since the ‘jolly season’, is fast upon us – here’s a festive tune, combined with a tribute to our new family member (ooooh, aren’t I the clever one):

Hols In The Highlands

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Bear’s been handling the posting duties lately, so I thought I’d get with the programme. Pixie and I finished our annual long holiday last week–we got away for two whole weeks this time. The original plan was to take the Swansea to Cork ferry and cruise around Ireland. Unfortunately, the ferry company looks as if it’s not taking any bookings for quite a while.

With that in mind, I mentioned that I’d never been to fair Caledonia. Pixie was up for a trip there, as she hadn’t been in ages. The new plan was to spend a week on the Isle Of Mull, then drift through the Highlands, stopping in Fort William, Pitlochry and Perth.

We made our way up ‘norf’ and stayed in Moffatt, one of the half-English/half-Scot border towns. It’s a nice little place, but the birthday party raging right below our hotel room made it a bit difficult to grab some sleep. The next day, it was off to Oban to catch the Caledonian-MacBrayne ferry to Mull. It was quite a pleasant jot and I snapped a photo of a seagull that would fly parallel to the ferry, then land for a bit. I loved the way it looked motionless, keeping speed with the boat, almost hovering in the air.

We made to Tobermory, the main village on Mull. We were pretty lucky with the weather, though on the first Sunday we were there, torrential rains prevented us from doing much but walk around the village and get drenched. Ulva is a small island off the coast of Mull, so we visited there one day. Quite a fascinating place and very, very peaceful. It’s too big to traverse in an afternoon, but we did make it to the south coast. On the way back, Pixie spotted something in the water to the right of us. I thought it was an otter at first…but it turns out there were four Atlantic seals swimming just away from the beach. I tried to get closer to them to get a good photo, but they would swim farther from shore. I got a couple of decent photos before we had to set off back to the ferry jetty.

We also went to Iona, the place where St. Columba founded an abbey way back in the Celtic golden age. The ruins of the abbey are still there now. Iona is a fraction smaller than Ulva, but you’ll still need a couple of hours to see most of the good sights.

The rest of the week was spent checking out Calgary Bay, going on a whale-watch cruise and getting more acquainted with Tobermory. We did see the ‘famous’ Tobermory Cat a couple of times, but he evaded my attempts to get a photo. We also missed King Creosote and Jon Hopkins by a week, as they played the Arts Centre after we had left. D’oh!

After arriving back on the mainland, we headed off to Fort William. It’s a nice place–but a bit strange in that it’s almost one looooong high street, with residential areas branching off of that. I chilled out in the hotel room, while Pixie had a recon. She found a funky little place called The Grog & Gruel, which had quite a few veggie items on the menu, so that was our dinner spot. I had the quesadillas and Pixie had the same, after trying the veggie haggis–you read that correctly. That’s right, the place serves a mixture of Tex-Mex and trad. Scots fare. I had a brill crannachan ice cream for pudding. Deee-lish!

The next day it was off to Pitlochry, but on the way we stopped at the Monessie Gorge. It takes a bit of patience to find – we drove up and down the road a bit, until we finally stopped at a campsite and asked exactly where it is. You need to cross a very rickety wooden bridge to see the gorge and waterfall–which can be somewhat harrowing, as it sways when you’re about halfway across. The river just before the falls is quite calm and the water has cut various curved shapes into the rocks on the banks. It looks eerie, like an alien landscape, or something Roger Dean would imagine. I couldn’t believe how clear the water was, either. Really lovely place!

Pitlochry’s another small-ish town with a long high street and the residential areas spiralling off of that. There’s loads of shops selling tat to the tourists, along with cafes and pubs. I admit to buying a T-shirt and shortbread for my fellow wage-slaves back in Oxford, but hey, I was on holiday, yeah? We found a good hotel on one of the side streets–complete with pool, jacuzzi, sauna & steam room. Ahhhh…that was a brill treat after the self-catering and cold winds of Mull.

Our final day in Scotland was spent in Perth. Remembering the episode of “Coast”-geek Nicholas Crane‘s spin-off show “Town“, featuring Perth–we thought it would be interesting to actually visit. We were blessed with another sunny day as we made our way around the shopping district. I found an Oxfam music shop and picked up a couple of Mike Oldfield LPs and a few 7″ singles (Oldfield’s “Portsmouth” among them). We also stopped by the art gallery/museum, which proved to be a lot more fascinating than it sounds. My fave bits were the stone with the Celtic cross on one side and some Pictish carvings on the back, the 30-foot Iron Age ‘log-boat’ (made from the hollowed-out trunk of an enormous tree), and the photos of winters gone by in Perth.

We ate dinner at a French-themed place, called Cafe Breizh. The weather was nice enough to eat outside, which was fortunate, as all the indoor tables were booked. I had a “Popeye” galette (a kind of square-folded crepe), minus the spinach and Pixie had a “Chevre” galette. Mine was very tasty and quite filling, for something that looked a tiny bit insubstantial when it arrived.

The next morning found us going back to England, with a stop-over in the Lake District. We stopped in Keswick, for a quick go-round of the shops. Again, there’s an Oxfam shop with a decent vinyl selection. I bought Tomita‘s “Pictures At An Exhibition” LP. Grasmere was next on the list, to pick up some of the world-famous Sarah Nelson gingerbread–then on to Ambleside, where we stayed last year. Dinner was at the superb Zefferelli’s, where we witnessed a very strange and demanding customer making life difficult for the poor waitcritter. We chatted with her afterwards and found out she’s a transplant from South Wales–nice lady and we gave her a big tip, for her troubles with the other customer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The holiday came to an end as we shot a few more photos of Ambleside, then made the trip back to Oxford. We picked up the cats at the cattery and un-packed. I had a super-groovy time and I definitely would like to visit Scotland again. Maybe visit Edinburgh next time!