Thursday 30 July 2009

The good, the bad and the ugly

No, I'm not going to write about Clint Eastwood films, or Sergio Leone. Instead, there are three unrelated matters that I want to draw to your attention, for very different reasons.

The good
A young lady by the name of Annelie Simmons is taking part in the Mongol Derby, officially recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the longest, toughest horse race in the world. She'll be riding 1,000km in under two weeks, on semi-wild Mongolian horses with no marked course, no roads to follow and no back-up, support or assistance. Why? Well quite apart from the massive achievement this would represent for anyone, let alone a 27-yr old PA from London who, by her own admission, has an "appalling ability to navigate and [an] alarming efficiency at losing things", Annelie is also raising money for charity. The event's official charity is Mercy Corps, and Annelie's personal chosen charity is Help For Heroes. What I would do if I were you is read the feature on Annelie in Sport Magazine, then read more about this remarkable woman on her Mongol Derby "Adventurists" profile page, then head over to Just Giving to sponsor her.

The bad
I wrote about how bad an idea the government's national ID card scheme is some time ago, and I don't really want to repeat it all again. But I've got to, to an extent; the look and content of the proposed card are in the news today. It's going to be trialled in the Greater Manchester area soon. But then - and this is the really bad bit - when the card is introduced nationwide, it will not be compulsory. Now admittedly I'm starting from the perspective that the whole idea is terrible, but surely even the scheme's staunchest supporters must admit that the claimed benefits to national security will be zilch if you don't have to have one? What's the point in having a new, biometric and (supposedly) hard to forge single source of common identification if it isn't common? A very bad idea just got a whole lot worse, and really should be scrapped before more money disappears into this cavernous black hole.

The ugly
Now I like The Guardian; it's my newspaper of choice, generally. So I was more than a little disappointed to read their "new offenders of standup comedy" article earlier this week. Yes, it was lazy journalism but it also drew conclusions from decontextualised generalisations, was ill-conceived and, most of all, was just plain wrong. According to the article, respected, award-winning comedian Richard Herring "argues that racists have a point." No, he doesn't. Don't be so bloody ridiculous. What Herring does is begin a segment of his current show with a rhetorical question along the lines of "let's suppose that racists have a point" before going on to shoot any such point down in well-observed, carefully thought out, logical, rational (and still comedic) flames. I've never met the guy, but I'll happily tell you and anyone else that will listen that Richard Herring is not a racist. And I'll also tell you that Brian Logan, the journo/hack who threw this ugly article together, needs to go home and take a good, long look in the mirror and see if he's proud of himself.

Friday 24 July 2009

Back of the net

Not sure I'll get much chance to blog over the weeks and months ahead, so will nip in quickly now, whilst I can.

I'm not a huge football obsessive - it's depressing to be that way when your team's languishing in Division Three (sorry, League One). But I do enjoy the rib-endangeringly funny satirical football blog written by comedian Mark Watson and his brother, Back of the Net News (aka Extravagant Nonsense). It's properly funny - go on, have a look, see what I mean. And don't worry, you don't have to be a football obsessive to enjoy it either - all you need is the kind of passing familiarity with the footy world that you get from the occasional cursory glance at the back pages of the tabloids.

I know, just when you were enjoying a couple of footy-free months...

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Latitude and epiphany

After going to the Latitude Festival last year, I came home and wrote a little summary of everything I'd seen, and it proved to be the most popular post I'd ever 'blogged. Since I've just been to this year's, let's see if I can repeat the trick - here's my 2009 Latitude diary...

  • Queued for ages to get in.
  • Put up the tent in scorching sunshine.
  • Having seen the weather forecast, drove back home.
  • Slept safe and warm in my own bed whilst thunderstorms and torrential rain battered the festival. Yes, I know this is not in the festival spirit, but there really is very little on at the first night of Latitude (except a recording of the always-excellent Now Show that would have been impossible to get into), and I saw no sense in getting pre-drenched for the start of the festival proper on Friday. Yes, I am getting old.
  • Amazing Baby : Obelisk Arena. Amazingly ordinary, I have to say. Too small for such a big stage.
  • The Temper Trap : Uncut Arena. Really very good Aussie rockers who deserve your ear.
  • Watson & Oliver : Cabaret Arena. Intriguing sketch-based double-act. Their Boris Becker/Steffi Graf skit was properly funny.
  • Phil Nichol : Comedy Arena. One trick pony? Only his "Only Gay Eskimo" song raised proper laughs.
  • Tim Vine : Comedy Arena. Tried very hard to be Tommy Cooper. Failed. Not to everyone's taste, by any means.
  • Ladyhawke : Obelisk Arena. Made a nice noise and impressed lots of people (like me) who were mainly there waiting for the Pretenders to come on.
  • Pretenders: Obelisk Arena. After a couple of newer songs, quickly opted for a crowd-pleasing greatest hits set, with the incredible Chrissie Hynde acknowledging that we didn't "want to hear that shit." Amazing voice too. Best of all, for me at least, they even played "Talk Of The Town", which was the first proper record I ever bought for myself.
  • We Have Band : Lake Stage. Great name. Band... not so great. We Have Noise would have been more accurate.
  • Little Boots : Sunrise Arena. Why, oh why, was this pop pixie squirrelled away on such a small stage? She would have been better served by Amazing Baby's slot on the main stage earlier in the day. Excellent. All Kylie comparisons seemingly justified.
  • Pet Shop Boys : Obelisk Arena. Despite not being the biggest fan, I was impressed by their show. Lights, dancers, visuals, theatre... and again, lots of their bigger hits to wow the crowd. "Jealousy" was the highpoint for me, in no small part thanks to the dramatic choreography of a couple of dancers, acting out the turbulence of a couple's relationship. "West End Girls" closed the set, and reminded me how much I love that song.
  • Tim Turnbull : Poetry Arena. A great voice for delivering poems, and rhyming couplets are always seductive.
  • Hannah Walker : Poetry Arena. A late replacement for the advertised act, Hannah did well.
  • Marnie Stern : Uncut Arena. Apparently voted the world's greatest female guitar. Well she can play a bit but she can't sing. Shouty. Repetitive. Boring. Screechy. Loud. Avoid at all costs.
  • St Vincent: Uncut Arena. Better but still nothing to write home about.
  • Pick of the Pleasance - 6.0: How Heap And Pebble Took On The World And Won : Theatre Arena. A play that started out very humorously, but the environmental message wasn't always clear, plus it went on too long.
  • Mika : Uncut Arena. After a trio of disappointing acts, Mika restored Saturday. With a stripped-down band and playing acoustically, Mika really got the crowd going and put on a great show, all sparkling ticker tape and giant, Prisoner-esque balloons. Again, might have been better on the main stage, though the claustrophobia of a rammed Uncut Arena probably helped pump the atmosphere up still further.
  • Vivenne Westwood : Literary Arena. Expecting this to be a bit bonkers, I wasn't disappointed. Not sure she knew what she, or her supporting cast, were doing. Some kind of grand unifying theory of life, Westwood-style. Odd.
  • Doves : Obelisk Arena. Brilliant. Great tunes, good interaction with the crowd, "Pounding", "Kingdom Of Rust", "Black And White Town" and, best of all for this boy, all topped off with "There Goes The Fear". Excellent.
  • Newton Faulkner : Uncut Arena. Just him and his guitar. Newton wins the non-existent award for best crowd participation. The good vibes were radiating out of the Uncut tent by the end of his set.
  • Danny Wallace : Literary Arena. I couldn't face watching a 60-year old Grace Jones in a thong (it happened, really). Much better to watch the likeable and funny Danny read from his latest book, and talk about what it is to "grow up" (i.e. turn 30 and own display cushions).
  • Robin Ince's Book Club - Crazed Preachers & Weird Religious Nutjobs : Literary Arena. The beauty of this is that religious fundamentalists surrendipitously write all the material for you. Robin Ince: hardest working man at Latitude.
  • Marcus Brigstocke presents The Early Edition : Comedy Arena. Fun spin-off version of Marcus's Late Edition radio show. Lots of people left before the end though, because they all wanted to see...
  • Thom Yorke : Obelisk Arena. For me, the highlight of the whole festival. Advertised as a solo slot, it really was just that - no backing band at all, Thom did it all himself, occasionally looping a guitar or bass part and then playing over it. Beautiful, fragile songs, including plenty of Radiohead material, delivered to an appreciative, almost reverential crowd, it was the perfect performance for noon on Sunday. If they came out alright (and if I get time), I'll post photos and a video clip of Thom on here in the week ahead.
  • Frank Skinner in conversation with Sylvia Patterson : Literary Arena. You've got to love Frank Skinner. He's funny, genuinely quick-witted and his autobiography is as searingly honest as any you'll ever read. Met him afterwards and had a brief chat - a good guy. Let's start a campaign to bring back his chat show!
  • Brendon Burns : Comedy Arena. A bit strong for some tastes but very funny nonetheless. Amongst all the comedy, made some surprisingly subtle and well-observed points about racism too. And roasted Michael Barrymore. No, not in that way, you perv.
  • Molly Nyman & Harry Escott and the Samphire Band: Film & Music Arena. Caught just a little bit of this lovely orchestral work. That's the beauty of Latitude - you can go from the in-your-face comedy of Burns to sublime classical music by taking a few short steps from one tent to another.
  • BBC Poetry Season short film : Film & Music Arena. Okay, I was killing time a bit but the BBC's poetry season is worthy of support, so no harm done.
  • Robin Ince's Book Club - Love Sunday : Literary Arena. An afternoon of Mills & Boon, and an example of bad literary sex courtesy of a reading from one of Alan Titchmarsh's books.
  • Afternoon Tea with Stuart Maconie and guests Jonathan Coe and Mark Billingham : Literary Arena. I missed out on the free biscuits, but this was an interesting discussion on what represents, and is represented by, Middle England.
  • 9 Bach : Lake Stage. A late, and therefore unnoted, addition to the programme. 9 Bach are a Welsh band whose music can best be described as haunting, ethereal and, er, Welsh. Alright though.
  • Tom Stade : Comedy Arena. Started very slowly, his brash comedy struggling to win over a crowd largely just waiting for Jo Brand to come on. He got there in the end though.
  • Jo Brand : Comedy Arena. Refreshing in that Jo's comedy doesn't really target anybody - it's not at anyone's expense (except, perhaps, for her husband and herself). A real crowd pleaser, as evidenced by the fact that this was the most squashed tent I was in all festival.
  • St Etienne : Uncut Arena. Any chance to hear the glorious Sarah Cracknell cannot be missed. Also, the sight of Fox Base Alpha placards in the crowd made me reminisce (for which, read "feel my age").
  • Editors : Obelisk Arena. Musically excellent, with the front of the crowd going crazy and the 60-something directly in front of me keeping time by beating along with the snare drum on his wife's bottom. Such a shame the band couldn't find it in themselves to interact with the crowd though.
  • Magazine : Uncut Arena. Having seen Buzzcocks here last year, it was pleasing to mop up Howard Devoto's other band this time around.
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds : Obelisk Arena. I try and try to get into Nick Cave, I really do. I even took lovely hot chips along in an attempt to get me in a better mood for this. But all to no avail - apart from "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!", this just doesn't work for me (sorry). I gave up after half an hour and went to watch...
  • Nathan Filer : Poetry Arena. One of an increasing number of poets at Latitude (and in general, actually) who clearly think they are stand-up comedians. Listen carefully - you're not. Accept it.
  • Ross Sutherland : Poetry Arena. Duetted "Silent Pylons" with that poem's author, Chris Hicks, but why, oh why, can't Ross pull his trousers up properly? He's 28, for god's sake, not 16.
  • Lenny Beige & The Fickle Hand Of Fate : Cabaret Arena. What better way to end the festival than with a cabaret recap of the musical highlights of the weekend? Lenny and his band performed tracks by the Pet Shop Boys, Squeeze, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and more. Good fun and a positive note on which to head back to the tent.
So, Latitude... brilliant again. You probably won't see me there next year though, at least not for the whole thing, for reasons I won't go into here. You should go though - it's the best festival you will find.

And what was the epiphany, you ask? That sources of happiness and unhappiness can be exactly the same thing. Don't ask.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Rain, rain, go away...

On Saturday, I got up at 2.30am to drive to the airport to catch a flight to Dublin with ConAir (aka Ryanair). I did this with the express intention of going to day 2 of the Oxegen festival. And I did that with the express intention of seeing Kings of Leon.

A shame, then, that the weather should get the better of us. Yes, we took waterproofs and hats. Yes, one of us (not me) had the foresight to take wellies. And no, neither of us are averse to a bit of rain...

But a bit of rain is one thing. The deluge that fell on Punchestown Racecourse on Saturday is another - it had Noah scrabbling for his carpentry gear. After a couple of hours of torrential rain, biting wind and pissed-up kiddies kicking/throwing mud around at complete strangers, we'd had enough and bailed out. Yes, we saw a bit of James Morrison. Yes, we saw The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But no Kings of Leon for us. At least we were able to redeem the trip with a couple of nice days in Dublin.

We're off to Latitude later this week. The forecast for that doesn't look stunning either. Bollocks.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn't try it on

Some time ago, I wrote about the brilliance of tea, and pointed you towards a couple of tea-related websites. Well, now I can point you towards one more - Great Tea is a slow-burn endeavour to capture good and/or unusual (preferably both) tea shops that the author encounters. It's worth a look if you like a decent cuppa in interesting surroundings... and, frankly, who doesn't?

Footnote: the title of this post? A quote attributed to Billy Connolly, of course...