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December 31, 2011

Hollyzone's Albums Of 2011 1–10

And here’s the top 10! These are the ten albums I would take if I could only have ten from this year, although why anyone would be so cruel as to only allow me ten albums from any given year is beyond me…

1. Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi


It’s actually illegal in most countries for the under-18s to listen to albums are sexeh as this one, so be grateful we live in an enlightened nation where a woman cooing/bellowing about desire/the devil over Spanish-influenced guitars and occasional bouts of lush strings is totally acceptable. Oh yeah, this is bloody good. It’s all lyrical gender swapping, and bursts of thrilling sound. Heck, it starts with a guitar solo without making you want to frisbee the record right out of the window.
Best bits:
- ‘Suzanne And I’ – everyone loves big, ambiguous anthems about lesbonics/friendship/who knows.
- ‘Desire’ – ecstatic chorus alert.
- ‘Love Won’t Be Leaving’ – kitchen sink outro of joy.

2 Austra – Feel It Break


Do you like a bit of chilly 80s-style synth music? How about it with an ex-opera singer, ex-punk, ex-singer-songwriter in charge? Yes, that is a good plan. That is Austra’s plan. Lobbing lovely glacial synths onto a live rhythm section gives the songs quite a lot of heft and crunch, so even if the album’s a little one paced it’s a good pace, like the march of an army of sad robot penguins. There’s also the matter of Katie Stelmanis’s vocals – it’s pretty standard in chilly synth pop world to have singers who can’t really sing, but she can. So it’s all dizzying harmonies, wordless pizzicato bleeping and big stentorian bellowing, although thankfully none of that diva, singing-more-notes-than-is-necessary shit. Marvellous stuff.
Best bits:
- ‘Darken Her Horse’ – the best ‘big soaring chorus’ of the year, hands down.
- ‘Lose It’ – sounds a little like those Lloyds adverts but is really really good.
- ‘The Beat And The Pulse’ – juddering, Knife-ish, chug, one of the singles of the year.

3 Suuns – Zeroes QC


An ominous drone, a sinister groove, vocals drifting in on a distorted yet still human-sounding wind. Who are Suuns and what do they with our computers and guitars? They’re the twisted, sinister end point for all that indie-electro-dance stuff which has been around in varying degrees of palatability for the last few years, and they have made a damn fine album which isn’t as hard to listen to as it might seem at first. Its ideas are kept brief and breezy, nothing outstays its welcome. It invites us to dance, but in the style of a close second place in the Turing test – these robots have almost made a record which sounds human, but not quite. And that’s why it’s so good.
Best bits:
- ‘Arena’ – a real grower, in that it grows from nothing in a danceable number.
- ‘Up Past The Nursery’ – sparse but still funky, quite a feat in itself.
- ‘Armed For Peace’ – the only track serves as a pretty much perfect introduction to the rest of the album in just three and a half minutes.

4 Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact


Gang Gang Dance are one of those special bands who can release an album where the first track is eleven minutes long and mostly ambient noise, and yet the album is still their most poppy. There’s a duet with him from Hot Chip, which sounds like a sad nerd serenading a crazy witch. Y’see, Lizzi Bougatsos has a voice like a tiny, eight year old serial killer, which makes it doubly unnerving when she starts singing lyrics nicked from nursery rhymes or ditties about “mindkillas”. It helps that all the tracks are brilliantly buzzy electro stompers, sometimes with thrilling guitar solos, sometimes with basslines you can feel from space.
Best bits:
- ‘Thru And Thru’ – best closing track on any album this year, bar none.
- ‘Mindkilla’ – shaking the foundations with that bassline.
- ‘Adult Goth’ – a floor-filler from a dimension where floor-fillers are made by super-smart computers not slavering morons.

5 PJ Harvey – Let England Shake


Oh come on, of course this was going to be in here. It’s ruddy, bloody marvellous, with the emphasis on blood because this is one of those albums where EVERYONE DIES! It is, frankly, the best album of the year. Why is it not at #1 in that case? Only because it’s heavy as anything, and I sometimes can’t listen to it for the same reason I am not always in the mood to watch Grave Of The Fireflies. EVERYONE DIES!!! But yeah, you’ve read a million reviews of this, it’s visceral, it’s heartfelt, it’s brilliant.
Best bits:
- ‘All And Everyone’ – the way the track builds and threatens a cathartic release but then… doesn’t. Only more misery. Brutally effective.
- ‘The Last Living English Rose’ – swaggering and proud musically, broken and crushed lyrically, a beautiful juxtaposition.
- ‘The Glorious Land’ – for those painful lyrics – “What is the glorious fruit of our land?/Its fruit is deformed children”.

6 Nicola Roberts – Cinderella’s Eyes


Yeah, that’s right, a Girls Aloud solo album. Nicola was clearly always the best member of GA, and by making an album with Metronomy, Diplo and Dragonette she’s shown that it needn’t be death by Will.I.Am and auto-tune robot vocals. What Nicola has realised is that all the best pop music is really really sad. And god, taken purely on its words this is a contender for the most misery-filled album of the year, with lots of lovely minor key synth pop and occasionaly shonky piano ballads driving it forward so you don’t end up wanting to kill yourself just by listening.
Best bits:
- ‘Gladiator’ – surprisingly lyrical dexterity and freakiness (Nic can apparently fire bullets from her chest, who knew?) with a nice martial guitar strut.
- ‘Yo Yo’ – top notch sad pop.
- ‘Beat Of My Drum’ – initially disorientating but after a few listens it’s great in a MIA-without-the-edge-or-the-bouts-of-cringey-stupidity way.

7 Young Galaxy – Shapeshifting


Young Galaxy are a bit hard to describe. They’re not really electro but they use a lot of synths to twinkle and parp. They’re kind of indie, in that they make songs of conventional structure and use guitars to jangle sometimes. They certainly like their percussion, and some songs are just a single guitar or synth line over an array of claps, whacks and other percussive sounds (castanets, steel drums). They have moments of small-scale Arcade Fire-ness. Ok, they have quite a few Arcade Fire style moments, albeit with fewer instruments going off at once. Then again they are Canadian. Must be in the water up there.
Best bits:
- ‘Peripheral Visions’ – if only for the big sing-a-long at the end which is quite affecting.
- ‘Blown Minded’ – stately march which nicely shows off the whole epic-but-kind-of-minimalist vibe of the whole album.
- ‘We Have Everything- – unashamedly anthemic.

8 Those Dancing Days – Daydreams And Nightmares


Adorable Swedish scamps who look like a bunch of off duty Brownies and sing sweet little ditties about… threatening violence against crap boyfriends and bitchy girl rivals alike. Wait, that can’t be right. Oh but it is, TDD serve up ADHD nuggets of joyful indie-pop, none of which overstay their welcome. It’s as if they need to wrap it up quickly and get home for tea and biscuits. I always find myself loving one album a year purely because it does a simple trick very very well, and this year it’s TDD. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but they have a scary mastery of their chosen form. Plus they’ve split up now, so no more fun for us. :(
Best bits:
- ‘Fuckarias’ – there’s no way this track should sound as muscular as it does, like being chased by a big pink truck.
- ‘I Know Where You Live pt.2’ – brilliantly huge chorus.
- ‘Can’t Find Entrance’ – breakneck speed sugary indie joy.

9 Washed Out – Within And Without


As the man who spearheaded the terribly named ‘chillwave’ invasion of the music blogosphere a couple if years back, there was a good chance that Ernest Greene, aka Washed Out, might have left it a year too late with this debut. The good news for Greene, and us, is it’s never too late for good albums and this is a very good album. It sounds suitably fuzzy, as if you’re remembering these songs rather than listening to them, with vocals floating around in the ether. But it’s not indulgent, and it doesn’t lack melodies, Greene grasping that lovely sonics mean little if they’re just tapering over a lack of decent tunes. There’s even a couple of sing-a-longs if you can decipher the words. Maybe it’s more fun to sing along in a fuzzy, distorted style.
Best bits:
- ‘You And I’ – simply gorgeous diet with Caroline from Chairlift, which just oozes class.
- ‘Amor Fati’ – gorgeous jangler.
- ‘Eyes Be Closed’ – keyboards splashing around like the ocean.

10 Harrys Gym – What Was Ours Cannot Be Yours


More sad songs from the melancholic Norwegians. Harrys Gym like to bring along a dash of electronics to their eleagic little epics, each building up and spiralling down, like tides. The record is centred around Anne Lise Frøkedal’s beautiful voice, all poised sadness or restrained sexiness, harmonising over herself. It’s an album which seems fixated on the inability of humans to be strong or heroic all the time. Musically there’s a lot of heft to the surroundings, tricks stolen from dance, trip hop and rock are peppered around the place, rhythms juddering or basslines crunching underneath Frøkedal’s latest missive about someone having the spirit crushed out of them by age or feckless partners or the weight of expectation. Heavy and light at the same time.
Best bits:
- ‘Sailing Home’ – specifically at 1:34 when the bass and the drums pile in properly.
- ‘Old Man’ – for one of the most heart rending vocals of the year.
- ‘No Hero’ – the slightly odd pairing of the indie guitars, the wobbling synth bass and the vocals shouldn’t work but does, very well.


December 30, 2011

Hollyzone's Albums Of 2011 11–28

For part one we have 11-28, the albums which were very good, but not quite good enough. Except for some which were good enough only someone else made something which was even gooderer. Anyway, there are 28, which isn’t a nice round number unless you have 14 fingers in which case it is. Sorry. I couldn’t be arsed to write about any of the other albums I’ve heard this year which means that they either weren’t very good, they were disappointing, or I haven’t heard enough of them (Ghostpoet, Lanterns On The Lake, I Break Horses and Soft Metals need to be filed under this category). Part two with a more numerically coherent top ten is tomorrow. Lucky you. You’re welcome.

11 St Vincent – Strange Mercy


Annie Clarke is a rock queen! No really, she is. She may not be death metal, but she’s throwing some guitar shapes here, alongside the stories about smalltown American scandals, sex, angry young women, sex, and lovers being shitty to each other. And sex. It’s a pretty lush album, each track a little wall of sound in itself, with strings, brass, wobbly electro basslines, and choirs of Clarkes all jostling for space alongside the guitars. Oh the guitars. This is more proof (alongside Wild Flag, below) that you don’t have to play every note on the damn guitar super fast to show you’ve got a mastery over it. Fun, thrilling, primal, sophisticated riffs are allowed too. Maybe it helps being a girl with a guitar, and if so, St Vincent is the head girl.
Best bits:
- ‘Surgeon’ – for that spiralling outro of layered vocals and the dizzying bassline.
- ‘Northern Lights’ – fuzzy chug-a-long rock out.
- ‘Cruel’ – starts orchestral then gets its claws out.

12 Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes


Lykke Li has the sort of voice you’d expect to hear in an old 60s recording, and there’s a lot of almost retro sounding instruments and songs on display here. “Almost” retro because they’re not. This isn’t yet another album with a tedious obsession with olden days music (as so many of those desperate to touch the greatness of Winehouse have attempted) but one where those old style sounds are moulded into lovely, up to date numbers. It’s classy in the way that everyone pretends pop used to be (it wasn’t) hence why it doesn’t really sound like pop any more. So if you want to pretend that things were better in the old days slap this on and pretend its 1965 and we’re all so hip and happening and things are better. Just don’t look too shocked when she sings about prostitutes and other things which would have ensured this record would never have been released in 1965.
Best bits:
- ‘Youth Know No Pain’ – wurlitzer whirls, everyone gets up and dances.
- ‘I Follow Rivers’ – the percussion on this alone is worth the price of the album (unless you downloaded it for free in which case it’s worth more).
- ‘Sadness Is A Blessing’ – how was this not number 1 all year? It would have been if Adele had released it.

13 Metronomy – The English Riviera


Apparently it’s a concept album about the English seaside except it really isn’t. Instead it’s more falsetto harmonies, more quirky little ditties, and more evolution for the band who still sound like they’re recording everything in their bedroom, in a good way. There’s more heft in the rhythm section this time around which is welcome without detracting from the charm, and it’s a thoroughly well-crafted piece of sophisticated pop elegance. It nicks from 80s smooth pop but without sounding like it should be soundtracking wankers snorting coke in yachts while wearing white jeans. No, it’s geek-indie at its best.
Best bits:
- ‘She Wants’ – sinister slap bass pushing everything forward.
- ‘The Bay’ – smooth as hell pop which strays dangerously close to 80s wanker-pop without falling into those deadly waters.
- ‘Everything Goes My Way’ – all Metronomy albums must have a wonky duet crammed full of charm, this is it.

14 Cold Cave – Cherish The Light Years


You what’s wrong with most 80s influenced bands these days? Irony. Now don’t get me wrong, I love irony, but the best things about 80s music was that everyone took themselves very very seriously, especially the synth pop brigade. Cold Cave take themselves insanely seriously. It’s proper synth pop iconagraphy ahoy with lyrics about graveyards and anguished lovers either facing impossible odds together or breaking up in melodramatic waves sadness. It’s all delivered with the subtly of a North Korean military parade, waves of drums and keyboards and bellowing. There’s not a lot of light and shade, just a juggernaut of seriousness, but the sheet sincerity of it all is infectious and endearing. I can’t resist its silliness and I advise you don’t either.
Best bits:
- ‘Catacombs’ – totally seriousface, very silly to start with, but by the end it’s sucked you in so much that the payoff is quite emotional.
- ‘Underworld USA’ – very 80s, nice guitars, silly serious sing-a-long chorus.
- ‘Alchemy And You’ – best use of trumpets 2011.

15 Wild Flag – Wild Flag


Ah, y’know what, let’s not even begin to pretend this doesn’t sound loads like Sleater-Kinney. Wild Flag have Carrie and Janet from S-K, plus mates, and they have made a record which sounds an awful lot like S-K would have done had they decided to follow up The Woods with an album featuring more big, raw rock songs with twiddly (but not fretwanky) guitars, raw and zesty vocals, and retro, kind of 60s sounding keyboards. It is big, it is clever, it is endearingly life-affirming, with blasts of handclaps, 60s girl-group style backing vocals, and a pleasingly punkish edge to everything.
Best bits:
- ‘Romance’ – exactly two minutes in when the music drops out and it’s all handclaps. That.
- ‘Boom’ – for the breakneck crunching guitars.
- ‘Future Crimes’ – the contrast between the track’s general urgent heaviness and the twinkling keys.

16 EMAPast Life Martyred Saints


Droney, fuzzy, scuzzy, it’s like Past Life Martyred Saints is making a case for “dirgey” to be reclaimed as a positive rather than negative adjective. Quite a lot of the album is heavy, not in a heavy metal way, but in an oppressive and all consuming way, like a humid evening. That’s another word which is appropriate here if we can accept it as a positive not a negative – oppressive. There’s something enveloping about Erika M Anderson’s world, with its tales of small town freaks, angry geeks, and ominous metaphors. There are also plenty of squalls of guitar noise, some of it stately, some of it pure rocking out. It’s shit. Sorry, it’s THE shit. Now there’s a negative adjective turned positive for you.
Best bits:
- ‘The Grey Ship’ – an epic in two parts, a swaying acoustic beginning and a massive rockout ending.
- ‘Milkman’ – distorted glam stomper.
- ‘California’ – fuzzy rant, less a song, more a thrilling sermon with guitar noise.

17 Grimes Geidi Primes/Halfaxa


It was quite odd seeing NME calling Grimes the future of dance music, if only because it’s not that easy to dance to. At all. Yeah I tried. I’m being cheeky and lumping these two albums together which probably isn’t fair. Also she released them as free downloads in 2010, but as they only came out on record this year I am counting them. They’re worth counting too, two albums of dreamy, fuzzy electro. That’s ‘dreamy’ as in the full range of dreams, from twinkling brief half songs, through to terrifying nightmares of sinister little-girl-lost vocals and disconcerting waves of synth. Both albums are hodge-podges of ideas in the best possible way.
Best bits:
- ‘Weregild’ (from Halfaxa) – if only for the bit where the drums kick in.
- ‘Swan Song’ (from Halfaxa) – Crystal Castles if they were dreamy rather than furious.
- ‘Rosa’ (from Geidi Primes) – almost a proper song, twangy guitar and nearly intelligible lyrics, but what’s best about it that it’s groovy.

18 tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L


Ah, the unmistakable sound of drums and a car horn. A ragged guitar accompanied by the sound of falling wood. A raw voiced and angry woman harmonising with a police siren. Who knew Little Mix’s album would be so adventurous? Jokes, Merrill Garbus wouldn’t get past the first round of X Factor, if only because rather than some dirgey ballad her audition piece would be like one of the tracks off W H O K I L L, a righteous but often funny rant about the complete shitness of modern life, backed by a percussive cascade. Under Garbus’s command all instruments, including guitars, saxophones and, yes, sampled sirens, are merely shards of percussion to be used like some modern approximation of tribal rhythms.
Best bits:
- ‘My Country’ – a cascade of instruments and vocals, all falling down a hill.
- ‘Gangsta’ – strutting, jerky barrage of noise which somehow resolves itself into a cautionary tale with a sing-a-long chorus.
- ‘Bizniss’ – the lyrical and vocal dexterity here makes it a winner.

19 Zola Jesus – Conatus


Lots of heavy percussion, thudding towards the listener like a relentless army of goth girls, each with a cryptic story of vague sadness to impart. And yet, there’s also a lot of arms in the air rave moments, albeit slowed down from the high tempos of dance music, giving the whole album a weirdly underwater mood to it. Dark and mysterious but still inviting all the neighbours around for a party with black cake, black balloons and black party bags.
Best bits:
- ‘Vessel’ – the mechanical percussion is great.
- ‘Ixode’ – spiralling, layered vocals lead to a thoroughly ecstatic conclusion.
- ‘Seekir’ – this could almost be a pure pop song if it weren’t for the weird backing vocals, but when the drums kick in the dancing’s good.

20 Katy B – On A Mission


Ok, so she’s pop as anything, this isn’t edgy dubstep, and there’s the end of the last track where she goes off on one like an Oscar winner thanking her parents, cat, local lollipop lady for making it all happen, but hey, here’s a good dance record in a year of bad dance records. It helps that Katy has a good voice, distinctive even if the lyrics are a little banal, albeit in a sassy way. Thing is, when this album is good, it’s very very good, exhilarating to dance to, and fun to listen to. And yes, it’s not an album of great lyrical insights, but it’s nice that the overall theme is a girl being confident and honest about wanting a good time on her terms.
Best bits:
- ‘Katy On A Mission’ – huge wub wub wub anthem, resistance is futile.
- ‘Witches Brew’ – captures all the worst keyboard parts from late 90s trance and makes them good again using bleepy bleeps.
- ‘Broken Record’ – the last 45 seconds are possibly the best fade out ending in ages.

21 British Sea Power – Dancehall Valhalla


In which British Sea Power make another British Sea Power record. If that means anything to you then it’s an endorsement. If not then let me explain briefly – someone forgot to tell British Sea Power about any and all developments in indie since 2001. Therefore they make quirky guitar led songs about esoteric lyrical themes (this time round is more military themes, more star gazing, and more celebrations of music itself). These songs are then polished with big epic guitar riffs, and occasional deviations into slightly leftfield areas, but always returning to the slightly unfashionable indie underneath. And then they stick an almost 12 minute wigout at the end. Typical.
Best bits:
- ‘We Are Sound’ – top notch outro, classic BSP tactic of piling more and more sheer stuff in til the song pops.
- ‘Mongk II’ – twisted vocals over a driving insistent beat.
- ‘Observe The Skies’ – the most BSP song on here.

22 Chelsea Wolfe – Apokalypsis


Super-sinister, droning, hypnotic, it starts with a 23 second cover of a death metal song, and then soundtracks the most nightmare waltz through a haunted house you could imagine. Even the songs which don’t sound like nightmares are a bit off, love songs about being weirdos freaks. Glacial beauty, but only if the glacier is made of black ice.
Best bits:
- ‘Mer’ – guitar riffs strangely reminiscent of Brand New at their most haunting.
- ‘Tracks (Tall Bodies)’ – the most unnerving love song of the year, without being at all explicit.
- ‘Moses’ – builds around an unending creeping guitar riff into a woozy finale.

23 Bjork – Biophilia


A very sparse album which actually requires some concentration, but it’s worth it for the rewards. Of course Bjork would never do something as dull as simply release an album of songs you can sing along to, and this isn’t really a collection of songs per se, more some interesting sonic experiments with moments of startling beauty interspersed between moments of “WTF?” and “huh wuh?”. Guaranteed not to be to everyone’s tastes.
Best Bits:
- ‘Crystalline’ – surprise drum’n’bass outro.
- ‘Cosmogony’ – like a really really weird Disney song.
- ‘Mutual Core’ – I love the ‘chorus’ (insofar as there is one) on this.

24 Neon Indian – Era Extraña


Could Alan Palomo have made it more obvious than starting this album with what sounds like Space Invaders launching? I wasn’t that impressed with his debut, but this follow up is a great slice of electro-pop, layering 80s computer game noises over Palomo’s chillwave-ish vocals. It sounds like a distant Wayne Coyne trying to seduce a room full of retro-gamers, probably unsuccessfully because they’re all trying to beat Donkey Kong and save the princess.
Best bits:
- ‘Polish Girl’ – chillwave with bleeps not woozy guitars.
- ‘Fallout’ – see above.
- ‘Suns Irrupt’ – see above… look, they all sound the same but I like it.

25 Lady Gaga – Born This Way


It’s too long, there’s too much filler, one track sounds like Shania Twain, but in the end there’s a reason the Lady is a pop juggernaut crushing all before her and that’s because when she gets it right, she gets it righter than most. The sheer OTT-ness of the album sometimes works a total treat and it is nice to hear a pop star wanting to talk about more than just being ‘in da club’. We all know what it sounds like, and I am cool with that.
Best bits:
- ‘Government Hooker’ – precision engineered for the dancefloor.
- ‘Judas’ – pop as if made by evil robots who will crush and enslave us all, but in a good way.
- ‘Edge Of Glory’ – we’ll regret it in a few years time when they are everywhere, but here is a sax solo which is great!

26 True Widow – An High As The Highest Heavens And From The Centre To the Circumference Of The Earth


Slowly slowly the downtuned guitars and sludgy bass unfurl into… something. Not really songs because they’re more like funeral grooves, as if someone decided to slow down a load of danceable songs then cover them using only guitars dug from prehistoric times. Whack a load of floating and distant vocals on top and voila. An album of gloom which isn’t oppressive. An album where all the songs seem to sound the same, but they aren’t, and besides too much variation would ruin the mood. Which is one of futile despair. One for dinner parties and social gatherings.
Best bits:
- ‘Jackyl’ – for the droning guitars and spooky vocals.
- ‘NH’ – for the droning guitars and spooky vocals.
- ‘Boaz’ – for the amazing drum and bass meets opera bit in the… kidding, it’s for the droning guitars and spooky vocals.

27 Maybeshewill – I Was Here For A Moment Then I Was Gone


More heavy rock meets post-rock from Maybeshewill, the band who like to make post-rock songs but either cut out the first five minutes of build up and just slam in the bit with the loud guitars and drum fills, or they condense it all down into four minutes. It’s definitely worth it for people who like waves of uplifting guitars to wash over them, and I am one of those.
Best bits:
- ‘Red Paper Lanterns’ – for the best in guitar riff and xylophone interactions.
- ‘Critical Distance’ – the lovely cascading piano could have been Coldplay at their best but instead it gets to play with with skittering drums and big guitars and souds all the better for it.
- ‘Farewell To Sarajevo’ – stately and pretty.

28 Yacht – Shangri-La


DFA’s oddballs return with another album of strangeness which could be self-help motivational indie-dance, or an ironic act of such subtlety that it’s impossible to know who the joke is on. Whatever they’re on (and I think they’re being sincere) they’ve added some decent tunes, all in typical DFA style. It’s not up there with LCD Soundsystem, but in that vein cowbells are whacked, beats are dropped, basslines are wobbled and the pair have a giddy enthusiasm which means you’re about halfway through the album before you realise most of what they’re saying is bollox, but it’s danceable and fun bollox.
Best bits:
- ‘Dystopia’ – for sheer balls at nicking the chorus from elsewhere and the lolling rhythm.
- ‘I Walked Alone’ – for using autotune in a way which isn’t irritating.
- ‘Tripped And Fell In Love’ – the longest track, a Juan Maclean-ish groove.


August 12, 2011

Collective Punishment And The Riots

Writing about web page http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/councils-set-to-evict-rioters-2335878.html

Is anyone else slightly scared by the threats from several councils to evict people found guilty of rioting this week from their council homes? In a statement picked up by the Independent, Councillor Paul Andrews, Manchester City Council’s executive member for neighbourhood services, said:

“If you are a tenant of any of our properties, and you or your children are found to be involved in the looting we will use whatever powers are available to us to make sure you are thrown out.”

Does this not strike anyone else as being a bit, you know, collective punishment-y? Specifically the way Andrews goes out of his way to say that even if it’s not the adults in the house but their children, it could still lead to eviction.

As we’re living in one of the more hysterical periods of public opinion I suppose I am obligated to point out the obvious, namely that I don’t condone the riots and think anyone convicted of looting should be punished in accordance to the law (attacks on the local community deserve jail). But I feel distinctly uncomfortable with the idea that we can punish people who might have had no idea that their relatives were out causing trouble, or who might have had no power to prevent their relatives from doing so had they known.

Yes, good parenting will often lead to kids who won’t do this sort of thing, but this does not mean that everyone whose kids took part is a bad person, even when in some cases they might not be top notch parents.


A little levity from the wonderful Photoshoplooter blog.

The idea that doing this will lead to people self-examining and deciding to be better people is also something of a gamble. When I first heard about the proposal it put me in mind of the Israeli policy of last decade whereby the houses of suicide bombers from the Palestinian community were bulldozed as collective punishment. It didn’t stop the suicide bombers from coming and the Israeli army recommended it end in 2005 as “the policy had little deterrent effect and inflamed Palestinian hatred”. Or the Intolerable Acts, passed by the British in America in 1774 as a reaction to the Boston Tea Party and other acts of defiance from the colonists, which provoked mass outrage across the country and lead to the American War of Independence. I find it hard to think similar won’t happen in the cases of some of the looters. They already feel detached enough from regular society to not care that they are smashing it up, making them homeless would surely only lead to more resentment and stored up trouble?

The rioters almost certainly knew they risked jail for their actions, but few would probably have anticipated losing their homes. The powers to evict clearly exist, otherwise they would not have been mentioned as an option, but it sounds like they are being called up as an extraordinary option rather than a usual part of the due process of the criminal justice system. This means anyone subject to an eviction has been specially singled out by the authorities, and this is quite likely a recipe for future antagonism and refusal to engage from the evictees.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find idea of collective punishment is somewhat gross in itself. It doesn’t even follow the judicial convention of innocent until proven guilty as it is essentially inflicting punishment on people who are innocent, alongside the guilty. We need to punish the guilty in these riots, but we need also to avoid making a whole new set of problems, both by fostering further resentment and by escalating the viciousness of our response. If the state can’t behave in a civilised way, why should the people?


July 23, 2011

Offensive Times Cartoon

Writing about web page http://yfrog.com/kh6omcj

I know I am a couple of days late on this but did anyone see the Times cartoon from last week commenting on the Somalia famine situation and the phone-hacking scandal? In case you didn’t here’s a shot of it:


Via twitter.com/SaiPang

It’s amazing on how many levels this is a bad cartoon, several of which spill over into being actually offensive. The editor should have sent it back with multiple revisions requested, and ideally it should have been spiked completely.

Whenever I see political and satirical cartoons I am always bearing in mind something Martin Rowson of The Guardian said in a talk I saw five years ago. Commenting on the recent controversy surrounding the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, Rowson said he felt it was the cartoonist’s job to attack those worthy of attack, and that these were the people in power, the people more powerful than the cartoonist. In the case of the Mohammed cartoons this hadn’t happened – as Mohammed is dead it wasn’t him (a powerful religious and military figure) being attacked but followers of his religion, ordinary Muslims who would be in a position of less power than the cartoonists were. Drawing George W Bush as a chimp, as Steve Bell is wont to do, is fine because Bush is a powerful man, but ordinary people with no recourse to reply are not.

And so to the Times cartoon. Obviously it is not a direct attack on the Somali people themselves, but look at the depicted children. Each identical in appearance, and looking like caricatures at that. There are almost overtones of ‘all foreigners look the same’. It doesn’t take much to make people look different in cartoons, and it doesn’t take much to make the people you are drawing look like, oh I don’t know, actual humans.

Then there’s the comparison of the famine with the phone-hacking case. Obviously both are serious. Endemic corruption in a country’s government, press and police can’t be easily dismissed as trivia and fluff despite the efforts of some, mostly journalists associated with News International and its outlets. I am not going to argue, however, that it is more serious than the famine because, quite simply, it isn’t. On the surface this makes the cartoon’s heavy-handed and poorly drawn sentiment agreeable.

But there’s more to it than that. This week only saw the declaration of famine. Official bodies have admitted this was a last resort. As the BBC reported -

The BBC’s Africa correspondent Andrew Harding says the emotive word “famine” is used rarely and carefully by humanitarian organisations, and it is the first time since 1992 that the word has been applied to a situation in Somalia.

The situation in east Africa hasn’t suddenly crept up on us. The Today program was reporting on the imminent announcement of famine a week before it was official, and the crisis itself has been developing for years in a country with no proper government and with militias keeping international aid efforts out.

Yes, the media has been awash with the phone-hacking scandal over these last few weeks, but can it be argued that it’s not a hugely important event? It’s certainly more important and more significant than the Royal wedding or Cheryl Cole’s ongoing problems with X Factor USA/Ashley Cole/breaking a nail. A truly honest cartoon would take this into account, and a truly attentive cartoonist would have highlighted the Somalia situation earlier. As it is it just comes across as a News International employee trying to divert attention from the serious wrongdoings of their bosses.

Anyway, if you only click on one link from this post, make it this one: https://www.donate.bt.com/DEC/dec_form_eaca.html?p_form_id=DEC01 Aid agencies may not currently be able to get into the affected areas, but they need to be prepared in case they do, or if the people in these areas can escape from the combination of environmental and human hostility.


April 07, 2011

31 Films In 31 Days

So I decided to watch 31 films in March. Deciding to this on the 5th meant I had to cram them in at various points, so I would advise if you do do this to either start on the 1st of the month, or pick a shorter month like February, June or Glovember. Oh, and don’t watch five Almodovar films in two days, it really messes with your perception of reality.

The films:

The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Dr Strangelove (1964)
Dark Star (1974)
Warriors (1979)
Pepe Luci Bom (1980)
Dark Habits (1983)
Blood Simple (1984)
Tie Me Up Tie Me Down (1990)
Desperado (1995)
Live Flesh (1997)
Taxi (1998)
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Hero (2002)
Sky Blue (2003)
Lost In Translation (2003)
Appleseed (2004)
Saving Face (2004)
Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (2005)
Helvetica (2007)
Elite Squad (2007)
The Duchess (2008)
Gomarrah (2008)
Wall E (2008)
Sunshine Cleaning (2008)
A Prophet (2009)
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Up (2009)
The Infidel (2010)
RED (2010)
Submarine (2011)

31 films, 31 days, ten conclusions.

1. European crime films are much harder hitting than American ones, but American ones have more guns.
2. Pixar make amazingly beautiful films with excellent plots.
3. Amazingly beautiful Japanese/Korean animations usually have a pile of fluffy sci fi bollocks where the plot should be.
4. Katharine Hepburn is amazing.
5. Helen Mirren + machine gun = good times.
6. Eleven of the films were subtitled, three were partially subtitled, Dark Star was so mumbly it should have had subtitles, and Wall E showed dialogue wasn’t entirely necessary anyway.
7. Documentaries about typefaces can be fun.
8. Keira Knightley isn’t that irritating when she’s allowed to be sassy.
9. Three of the films featured directors acting, although I would never voluntarily watch a film directed by Eli Roth.
10. Submarine has the best mullet ever in it.


March 16, 2011

Bone Marrow IV – The Five Year Gap

Sign up to donate marrow here – www.anthonynolan.org/

Later in 2006

The razor sharp amongst you might have noticed that much of this story so far took place in 2006. Signing up, getting told I was a partial match, and giving test samples of blood all took place over a relatively short period five years ago. And then… nothing.

I didn’t donate marrow in 2006.

After the samples were sent off I waited and waited, albeit in a very passive sort of way. As so often in the process I simply shoved it to the back of my mind, although it crept forward occasionally. Each step forward was harder to shake, harder to ignore. Signing up to a register is ultimately a very impersonal act, but getting tested to see if you’re a match to another person, there’s nothing abstract about that. Somewhere out there is a person who is sick, and though I don’t know them, I’m not so totally incapable of empathy that I can’t appreciate that theirs is a desperate state to be in.

No one I am close to has, to my knowledge, had leukaemia. People have had other cancers. It’s shit, shit and unfair, and strikes people who don’t deserve it, don’t need the pain and the danger. But I don’t need to tell you that. You know. It makes people very very ill, and both the treatment and the disease itself are harsh and painful.

And so it was that when I got the letter, I assumed the worst.

I was never officially told I was the match. There was no phone call or piece of paper saying “Congratulations, your jelly is just the flavour our party requires”. Or perhaps there was and I managed to miss it. The tendency of students to move around constantly, have a new address every few months means post is often lost or left on the floor of a house you used to live in, whilst the incumbents walk past it daily, each time promising they’ll sort it out tomorrow. I don’t know. I do know I got the follow up letter.

The follow up letter was addressed to a match. It was addressed to me and presumed I knew I was the match, that I knew I was the one with the marrow that offered the most. But it wasn’t telling me to get ready or to start preparing to produce stem cells or any of that. It was a relatively short letter which seemed to speak of a tragedy I was only peripherally aware of. It informed me that the transplant recipient was too ill to have the transplant.

Everyone I have ever told this story to reacts in the same way at this point. There’s something in those words which strikes a chord with people. The great unspoken between the lines. If you are ill enough to require a life-saving transplant, then you are really ill. If you are too ill to have a life-saving transplant, then things must be even worse than that. Without the bone marrow, went my thought process, this person will die, but they cannot have the bone marrow. Not unreasonably I assumed they had died.

Three people a day die in the UK because they need a transplant and the organs (not just bone marrow) aren’t available. It’s a statistic used in drives for organ donation because it says nothing of the personal tragedies behind the stat, but it doesn’t need to. It’s a lot of people, and some of them may well have lived long lives if they’d had a chance.

It didn’t feel good to have that letter. Neither myself nor the people at Anthony Nolan had done anything wrong, hell, no one had done anything wrong. The enemy was that blasted disease, and it seemed it had outpaced us all.

March 2011

I sometimes tell the story of the bone marrow donation which wasn’t. Ok, I tell a lot of stories, I talk a lot. But that one is one I tell because I kind of hope it might have a positive impact. It’s not particularly funny and it had a sad ending. It won’t get people into a partying mood, or raise spirits, or make good dinner conversation. But it sometimes felt right to tell it because they need those men and those non-whites to sign up. If my experience was anything to go by they need white girls too.

I told the story again in the middle of February 2011. Just another recital. Nothing too serious. Then on the evening of 28th February my phone decided to play silly buggers and refused to receive any calls. I didn’t know this until I got home from work to find it hadn’t rung and someone who had then left a message. The message started somewhat unexpectedly, “Hello, this is a message for Holly Cruise, this is [name] from the Anthony Nolan register, the bone marrow register, can you please give me a call on [number] tomorrow, thank you”.

Twice? The white girl no one wanted was needed again? For another person? Was I a really good match cos Celtic women were particularly prone to leukaemia or was it coincidence?

Naturally the next day couldn’t come soon enough, I needed to know what was going on. So I rang back and spoke to the lady from Anthony Nolan. I was needed. I was a match in 2006 (which I’d worked out) and I was needed because the patient was sick again and needed the transplant this time.

Wait. The patient was sick again. The girl (I think I heard them referred to as “she” during the conversation) had been too ill for a transplant five years earlier, but was now in need? Had she been that critically ill for five years, too sick for a transplant the whole time? Had she recovered suddenly to the point of not needing the marrow but had now slid back into a bad state? I wouldn’t wish either on anyone, although I hoped it was the latter. Five years of being critically ill is a nightmare no one deserves.

It wasn’t even a question really when the lady asked if I was still willing to go through with it. Of course I was! I thought this girl was dead. I didn’t even know her and I was delighted she wasn’t. I would definitely help out. Definitely give what I could, which in this case was more than just platitudes and wishes, it was actual, useful jelly. Was I willing to help? Yes/ Was my health still good? Yes. Was I aware of what it would involve? Yes (stabbity stabbity).

The lady said it was up to the surgeon now to set the dates. I would receive more information in time. She emailed me the information leaflet. I read it, then panicked that I’d made a mistake and that the liver ‘condition’ I was diagnosed with in 2008 might be a problem. Yeah, I’m a teetotalitarian with a liver condition. Said condition is Gilbert’s which has virtually no symptoms and rarely impacts on the lives of those who have it, but I was worried it might impact here. I needn’t have worried, it wasn’t a problem.

So now I’m just waiting for dates. I keep thinking maybe I should tell them when I’m on holiday, or that if illness on my part will cause problems that we need to avoid September/October, the months which take quite a toll on those who work at universities, as the students come from all over the world bringing as many versions of the cold/flu as they can muster. I even decided to write about it, here, because I thought it might be interesting.

I don’t know if I will get as far as donating this time. I hope so if only because I don’t want this mystery person to die. It could be months before anything happens, I’m sorry I have no more narrative than this to give you at this time. But if anything more comes up I will write about it. There might even be pictures this time, or at least pictures of the actual process rather than the slightly random ones I’ve used so far. I might use the word “stabbity” a bit more as it has proven strangely popular. Or I might not. It might go no further once more. But in any case, I want at least one of you reading this to sign up to the register. Please.

It’s the least we could all do.


March 09, 2011

Bone Marrow III – The Big Needle

Need I include the disclaimer that I don’t normally write about my real life? Well, I don’t, but I don’t normally let people take my internal organs out for use elsewhere…

Sign up to the registerhttp://www.anthonynolan.org/

2006, summer and 2011, March

People are fascinated by the Big Needle. The Big Needle is a symbol. The Big Needle is a celebrity. The Big Needle is only part of the bone marrow donation process anyone seems to know about. Both in 2006 and now in 2011 it’s what I hear most often from people when I tell them what I am doing.

“Doesn’t that involve a Big Needle?”
“I hear it hurts when they use the Big Needle.”
“Wow, I wouldn’t do that, not with that Big Needle.”


Stabbity.

The Big Needle appears to be the iconic element of the process, a sharp, stabby certainty, headed straight for the hip bone of those willing to give. I knew about the Big Needle when I signed up for the process, but like all the unpleasant elements of donation I blithely ignored it because I really didn’t think I would ever be called upon to donate and thus worrying about the specifics wasn’t worth it. I do a similar thing with my legs – I have one leg longer than the other and my hips are out of alignment. A doctor once told me there was a good chance I might need a hip replacement at a relatively young age (40s?!) but they weren’t sure. They could be right, but there’s no point fretting about it if it’s not certain. And merely being on the bone marrow list wasn’t a guarantee that Big Needle would be part of my life so I ignored it.

And when I couldn’t ignore it anymore, I discovered that as with so many icons, the Big Needle had lost relevance in recent years.

Ever had tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis? Probably not, it’s more commonly known as scrofula, and is the sort of disease which modern historians get to read about and modern doctors don’t get to treat very often. When it does pop up it gets beaten down with antibiotics. In the old days the cure was more elaborate, the monarch of the day was required to touch the sufferers. Scientific advances ensure that we don’t need Elizabeth II to high five the contagious, and funnily enough scientific advances have resulted in the Big Needle losing some influence in the world of bone marrow extraction.


“I cannot believe I have to touch you scrubbers. Helen Mirren wouldn’t stand for this shit.”

I found this out courtesy of the booklet Anthony Nolan sent me. It was full of happy smiling pictures of donors and recipients. How can anyone refuse a process where the outcome is glossy smiling photos, complete with inspirational captions? Ok, I’m being flippant, but these booklets will have been market tested and designed to perfection, they are precision tooled to make the donor feel less apprehensive about the process, to banish Big Needle.

There are two ways of donating.

I didn’t know this. The other way was even presented as the preferred method. Above Big Needle. The fearsome beast wasn’t even first choice, it was sat on the medical substitute’s bench, kicking its heels and periodically running up and down the side of the hospital, waiting to be called on. A plan B.

Plan A was much more futuristic. The donor would be injected with human growth hormone to make their marrow overproduce stem cells. The spongy mass of the marrow is less important than the tiny parts of marrow yet to come. After a few days the recipient would travel to a hospital where they would be hooked up to a machine, one tiny needle in each arm, with blood drawn out via one tube, filtered through a machine to remove the stem cells, before being put back into the donor’s body via the second tube in the other arm. I may or may not have made this up, but I came away convinced the process involved a centrifuge, with the prospect that my blood would be spun around, with stem cells flying out of it into the collection point, before being returned. The idea that my vital fluids might enjoy a ride as part of the process sounded fun.

The Big Needle was for when this didn’t work. No problem, I thought, if it happens I’ll just produce lots of stem cells. I’ll sit at home, producing really hard. In 2006 I figured I could study in the library, but produce stem cells at the same time. Essays and stem cells. Not a problem, and you don’t even have to footnote the stem cells. Now, in 2011, I’ll produce them while I work, or while I stand outside as the fire alarms go off, a strangely frequent event at work right now.

And hey, even if the Big Needle was needed, there was general anaesthetic for that.

stabbyneedle
Actually, the Big Needle is pretty big when you put it like that…

Knowing the procedures made them less scary. Is this what my ancestors felt the first time they found a dead boa constrictor and thought “Wow, I know it’s eaten half the tribe, but look, it’s just a tube with a silly face, that’s not scary”. Mind you, my ancestors ended up in Ireland, one of only two countries worldwide with no native snake species, so perhaps that’s a bad example.

Whatever, even if it did involve the Big Needle the equation was simple: stabby needle-induced hip pain for a week is less painful than dying of leukaemia. There is no other way to look at this. If I was a match I would do it, no matter what the short term pain. The person who needed marrow needed it more than I needed a pain free week.

But I would probably whine about the pain anyway. I’m not a saint.

And in the ebbing days of summer 2006, the last really good summer I remember us having in Britain, I waited to see if that one-in-four chance was going to come in. Was I the match? Would I meet the Big Needle or have to sit in the library producing stem cells?


March 07, 2011

Bone Marrow II – Twelve Small Pots

Once again I must protest that I’m not keen on blogging about my actual life but after the first of these posts it turned out a friend had made it to this stage too, so maybe it’s more common than I first thought. I dunno, it’s never been the topic of any polite dinner party conversation I’ve been part of to talk about marrow donation, although I’ve been to about two polite dinner parties in my life (once by mistake) so it could be common.

Do not lose sight of the importance of this linkhttp://www.anthonynolan.org/

2006, a few weeks later

I’m scared of donating blood. Yes, I know this is about the other donation, the one with the HUGE needles, and I know donating blood involves small needles. I have no issue with needles. I wasn’t the kid in my secondary school who reacted to their BCG jab by turning green and passing out. I used to watch the injections as they went into my arm, fascinated by the vanishing liquid. No, it’s not the mechanics of blood donation which bother me.

No one knows what causes migraines for sure. Like all migraine sufferers I know roughly what triggers them, but how extreme stress or not-so-extreme food deprivation translate into blindness, splitting headaches and projectile vomiting is a mystery. All a doctor has ever been able to say to me is that it might be related to chemical levels in the blood.

So far, despite my massive clumsiness I’ve never lost a significant amount of blood in any incident. Even the time I sliced my thumb in half (yes, I am an idiot, I know this) it wasn’t a bloody as it could have been. Well, it didn’t cause my blood-phobic housemate to pass out, so it can’t have been too bad. It wasn’t Ichi The Killer levels. The upshot of this rambling is to say that I’ve never donated blood because I’m worried it might set off migraines. It’s irrational, it probably won’t, but I don’t know. Perhaps once I’ve given marrow I should make it a target to give blood within six months to prove it. Who knows.

Thumb and Blade
The aftermath of my thumb slicing incident. Blood all cleaned (except the stuff we couldn’t clean so we put furniture over it so the landlord wouldn’t notice.

But my other worry is I don’t have enough blood. And this is where I find myself back in the summer of 2006.

When people need bone marrow donations their family is screened first. It makes sense, you’re more likely to find a match with close relatives than random strangers* like us names bobbling around on the Anthony Nolan register. But sometimes it doesn’t work out and then it’s pot luck. To the register. To sign up we gave small pots of blood, not enough to run more than a couple of tests. So when a person in need of a transplant comes to the register they tend to test a few partially matching people more closely to find the best match.

It had been only a few months since I had left the students’ union after signing up. I’d already put it to the back of my mind and can you blame me? I was a white female. They didn’t need white females, they’d said so. Had there been any men or any non-white people I would have been sent away. I’d have gone home to Leamington and wondered why I still had no feeling in my thumb (the sliced in half one, the feeling still isn’t more than 40% today, five years later). I’d have watched TV, done my essay, eaten. I wouldn’t have been one of the four people on the register that were a rough match to an ill person somewhere in Britain.

I laughed when I found out I was a partial match. “They said I wasn’t needed!” I told blood-phobic housemate, “And here I am, a partial match”. It was a one in four chance I might be the best match, which are good odds if you’re betting on horses and bad odds if you’re betting on football (yeah, I worked in a bookies for a while).


Like these but twelve of them.

To find the best match involves tests. Tests require blood. I was sent a box of twelve small pots, like the first small pot from signing up day. Only this time there was twelve of them. I took my box of goodies to the doctor’s clinic to be filled and the nurse laid them out. They had different coloured tops. They looked like pieces from a strange boardgame which only served to make it even more surreal as the nurse put a needle in my arm and filled them one by one until all were fu… no, wait. The last three or so weren’t full. We couldn’t fill them. She prodded my arm once or twice but for the last three (look away squeamish folk) my blood merely dripped in, rather than leaping forward with enthusiastic abandon as it had done initially. The nurse smiled and assured me it was normal, and maybe it was. Maybe twelve pots is a lot to ask. But my irrational side was in its element, “Look! You can’t possibly donate blood, you don’t have enough for yourself! How could someone as pale as you possibly have enough blood”. I am very pale it’s true. Even other Irish people think I’m pale. I tried to ignore the irrational voice, especially as the nice, rational nurse said it was quite normal not to fill all twelve pots.

My blood was posted to London to be prodded and probed. I didn’t have a migraine. I didn’t feel any change at all, which at least reassured me that no one was performing any voodoo on my platelets which was nice of them. So I went back to work. It was summer and time to work my arse off because that’s the lot of many students these days. Work work work whilst they bleed you dry. At least I’d been bled (slightly) dry for a slightly better cause.

And now it was time to wait and see who was the best match…

*Reading about family matches and donations I found the fascinating case of Karen Keegan, an American who needed a kidney transplant. When her children were tested to see if they were matches the results said they weren’t even her children. It turned out she’s a chimera, one person with two sets of DNA made when two fraternal twins fuse in the womb to grow as one person. Her womb and her blood were produced from different embryos but lived in one body. Biology is interesting.


March 04, 2011

Ideas For New Bank Holidays

Writing about web page http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12640636

The government wants to move the May Day bank to either St George’s day a week or so before, or to ‘Trafalgar Day’ in October. Now there are some who might suggest that targeting the May Day holiday, a strongly socialist and pagan linked date, rather than the other May bank holiday is a bit ideological. Perhaps it isn’t. but it ignores one simple and undisputable fact – we don’t get enough days off compared to the rest of Western Europe.

The TUC have complained about this for years, saying in 2001 that with a European average of 10.8, Britain still only had 8, a number which would have been part of the European average, thus dragging it down.

So why not let us have another bank holiday without ditching an existing one? Some suggestions:

Pankhurst Day, 14th or 15th July

“Votes for my homegirls or else!”

Emmeline Pankhurst’s birthday. Why not pick a suffragette? Was her struggle, and those of the 50% of the population she fought alongside and for, any less significant than that of Nelson at Trafalgar? The uncertainty of her birth date means we can choose, shall we synchronise with France or strike out on our own? Plus mid-July is a good bet for some half decent weather.

Armada Day, 18th August

“Michel Pez said the weather would be lovely, what an idiot!”

Why Trafalgar Day? Why not another battle? Most WWI and WWII events were over longer periods of time, or are rather more international in flavour, so why not pick a military event which really sums Britain up – the Spanish Armada whose defeat was a combination of British blood mindedness and the weather. Mostly the weather. 18th August is the New Calendar date of Elizabeth I’s “heart and stomach of a king” speech, which is one of the best in British history. The downside is it would be quite close to the existing August holiday.

Reform Act Day, 7th June

George Cruickshank’s depiction of the Peterloo Massacre, a significant event in the history of democracy in Britain (and a possible contender for a bank holiday in its own right).

We don’t really do revolution in Britain, do we? The one time we did, overthrowing Charles I and the ructions that lead to Cromwell taking over, it was reversed within a few decades. Britain has long been the country of incremental changes, so why not celebrate one of the most major incremental changes? The Reform Act 1832 wasn’t perfect, it left a lot of people still disenfranchised (women and poor people mostly), but it was a significant step away from the still borderline feudal world we lived in, towards a slightly more democratic future. We could celebrate the day by going to Old Sarum and pelting effigies of crooked politicians with eggs.

First Association Football International Day, 30th November

Scotland’s 1872 team, great moustaches.

If we want major events that happened in the last three months of the year, currently underserved by bank holidays, forget Guy Fawkes Day (might upset Catholics), Halloween (might upset non-pagans/people who hate costumes and having their houses egged), or my birthday (apparently I am not significant enough, humph). What we need is something which celebrates Britain’s biggest cultural contribution to the world. Which celebrates British innovation and ability to apply rules to anything, even something which essentially used to be an excuse for a fight. Which celebrates the way England and Scotland just love to get one over on each other. The first ever official football international match, a 0-0 draw between England and Scotland. Considering the game involved men with amazing names like Cuthbert Ottaway and Reginald de Courtenay Welch, it seems rude not to celebrate it. (Wales and Northern Ireland can have a day off on the day of the first Wales vs Northern Ireland match).

Any other similarly genius/insane suggestions?


March 03, 2011

Bone Marrow I – Signing That Register

I don’t normally blog about my personal life for the simple reason that my personal life is really rather dull. But at the moment it isn’t. It’s not extraordinary, but it’s not dull, and I think it needs to be told because what I’m currently doing could and should be done by others. Maybe even you.

This is the (sort of) diary of a (potential) bone marrow donor.

These are the people you need: http://www.anthonynolan.org/

2006, one afternoon

Campus universities are a great source of bodily fluids it would seem. No, get your mind out of the gutter; I am referring to substances like blood and marrow. At one stage during my time at the University of Warwick it was a weekly occurrence to see the blood donation lorry parked in the grounds waiting for passing students to drop in. A worthy cause, it almost seemed a shame that they would come on Tuesdays as many of the sports teams played on Wednesdays and I knew of more than one sporty student who wanted to donate but didn’t want to do so on a Tuesday – “I can’t be weak for the match!”. You would sometimes also see members of Warwick Pride protesting at the ban on blood donations by men who have had sex with men, often accompanied by a groups of lesbians who would go and give their blood, whilst commenting loudly that their male friends couldn’t. It was a good way to protest.


From www.warwick.ac.uk

It wasn’t just the blood people who came to visit. Anthony Nolan would come too.

Anthony Nolan is a charity that supports research into leukaemia, and which runs a register for bone marrow donors. As with all such charities it relies on volunteers to join its register and be matched up with sufferers of leukaemia and other blood disease who are in need of a transplant. Interestingly, in light of what I observed about the blood donation truck at Warwick, Anthony Nolan allow gay men to join the register and donate with the same restrictions as heterosexuals. As one Anthony Nolan representative said “If they are practising safe sex with a trusted partner then we are more than happy to accept them.”

And so it was one afternoon that Anthony Nolan nurses took over a couple of rooms in the students’ union at Warwick.

Students make a great target market for such drives. One could flatter the altruistic nature of students by saying their increased social awareness and tendency towards idealism makes it likely that they’d sign up for this sort of thing, to positively intervene in the lives of others. One could also point out that they have a lot of free time and a tendency to be distracted by anything which looks vaguely interesting and unusual, like a queue with some nurses at the end of it. For me, it was a combination of the two.

su
Warwick Students’ Union, image from Wikipedia

There was a queue of people in the students’ union building. I was on a free afternoon (in the sense that I probably should have been in the library somewhere, reading something important and relevant and historical) and with mates. A queue leading to a room which wasn’t usually occupied was an invitation to go and join it. Is there any act more British than joining a queue just because it’s there? Who knows, I’m only half British so maybe I should have only half joined it.

It turned out to be a queue to sign up for the Anthony Nolan bone marrow register. At this point we could have wandered off again, in search of queues with less bloodletting at the end of them. But we didn’t. Call it that student conscience or whatever, but we decided a bit of queuing, form filling and blood sample giving was a good use of our time.

By this stage it was late in the afternoon, and the nurses were anxious that they would have to leave soon. One stuck her head out of the door to the room and announced to the queue that they were finishing soon, and that they would be prioritising certain groups of people.

Men and ethnic minorities.

She explained briefly that there weren’t enough of either on the register, and that they were wanted for this reason. From their website I later discovered the following:

It is a priority for us to recruit more male donors because men can generally provide greater volumes of blood stem cells than female donors. This helps faster engraftment and the reconstitution of the immune system post-transplant. If there is a choice of donor for a patient in most cases a male donor will be preferred.

Ethnic origin is important when matching donors and patients. The ‘markers’ that are tested when searching for a suitable stem cell donor are genetically inherited and often unique to a particular race. A patient in need of a transplant is more likely to discover a suitable donor amongst groups of people who share a similar genetic history to them. In practice this means that an African-Caribbean patient, for example, has the greatest opportunity of finding a donor within his or her own ethnic community. There are still too many patients in the UK from black and ethnic minority communities for whom we are unable to find a compatible donor.

The nurse looked up and down the queue. A queue made up entirely of white females. Resigned to the fact she couldn’t get any more of the rarer groups that day she indicated for the next girl to come into the room. Jokingly I turned to my mate and wondered if being Celtic (as in I have three Irish grandparents, not that I am a football team) was enough of an ethnic minority to make a difference. Probably not we concluded. There’s so many British people with an Irish grandparent that it must be pretty common. How else do you explain the 1994 Irish World Cup squad?


Ray Houghton scores for Ireland against Italy at 1994 World Cup. He was born in Scotland. Watch the glorious video here.

The rest of the process was speedy. In we trooped, one by one, to give a small sample of blood and fill in some forms to say we weren’t injecting heroin into our eyes and having unsafe sex with as many hookers as we could (even though the University of Warwick is located in Coventry, it’s hardly close to any particularly mean streets). And we left. It didn’t feel particularly significant. The whisperings about how they get marrow (“a HUGE needle”) didn’t really seem that pressing. The lady had said they weren’t really looking for white females and we were all white females. They wouldn’t need us, surely?

Surely?


January 10, 2011

Is Babel A Twit Or A Menace?

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2011/jan/09/ryan-babel-howard-webb-manchester-united-liverpool

It seems to be a bit of trend at the moment for footballers to launch their toys directly out of the pram (do not pass go, do not blackmail your club for £200,000 a week) about refereeing decisions affecting Manchester United.

Now obviously in some cases these tweets are just inane and gormless. Wojciech Szczesny, a man who desperately prays every night that he’s at Arsenal because he’s capable of breaking their crap goalkeeper tendency rather than being another exponent of it, tweeted after the West Brom game about Gary Neville’s foul “How can you not get frustrated with decitions [sic] like that going ALWAYS Man Utds way?! Its a clear pen and sending off!”. Bless, you cannot really blame him for having completely failed to notice that mere days earlier United had had to settle for a draw after a Birmingham goal which involved a foul, a handball and a marginal offside decision from Brum. Or the many decisions which have gone against United in recent games with Chelsea. It’s really not been a particularly good 18 months for lovers of the ‘United get all the ref decisions’ conspiracy.

Anyway, so Ryan Babel’s the latest to have a go, tweeting several tweets (thus expending more effort on whining than he has done playing for Liverpool since they signed him) including this good-idea-poor-execution picture of Howard Webb MBE.


He’d still have been better than half the Liverpool players out there on Sunday.

Now the question is, are the FA right to charge him with one of their arcane rules about saying things and being interesting? They didn’t pick on Szczesny, although as he has to play behind Koscielny and Squillaci you have to wonder if this was the FA thinking “He’s suffered enough, leave it”.

It’s tricky, cos Twitter’s just a run of ephemeral ramblings, does it matter what people say on there? But on the other hand no one likes it when players rush up and surround the ref, is Twitter another way to harass the official, albeit one where the can’t respond with a quick red? Plus lots of people were, rightly, outraged by Glen Johnson’s dreadful remarks about Paul Merson on his Twitter page, so is Babel’s comment really harmless banter or should it slapped down?

It’s a hard one – I hate the media managed, say nothing nature of players, but at the same time I also hate the way they surround and harass refs. Is the post match social media thought-blowout an extension of the pitch or not?


January 04, 2011

Cocktails For Teetotalitarians

My friend Dawn of 101 Wankers fame and awesomeness is considering giving up alcohol for the entirety of 2011! This is either the best idea ever or the most crazed scheme ever, more crazed than invading Russia or leaving the economy in the hands of George Obsorne. Oh.

Anyway, with this in mind, I wish to offer my 26 years of teetotalitarian experience with these exciting, non-alcoholic cocktails.


That’s not a natural colour for a drink, surely?

Mixer Surprise

Ingredients:
Whatever soft drinks are available at the party you are at
Other people who are drinking

To make Mixer Surprise arrive at the party early and pour yourself a cup of mixer. And another. And another. Feel free to mix it up a bit, have a glass of lemonade, then a glass of coke, then some fizzy orange. Repeat until all the mixers are gone. This will surprise the alcohol drinkers who will then drink even faster until they are drunk at 11pm and pass out in a heap whilst you spend the evening going to the toilet every 15 minutes.

Alcopop Emulator

Ingredients:
A soft drink or fruit drink (depending on whether you want it fizzy or not)
16kg sugar
Cough sweets
11kg sugar
Food colouring – neon if possible
21kg sugar
A subscription to a Hoxton fanzine

First take the soft drink or fruit drink and add some of the sugar slowly, being sure to mix it in. Melt the cough sweets over an open fire, mix them with sugar, and add it to the mixture. Add some more sugar, then introduce the food colouring slowly, mixing it with sugar as you go along. Finally make a label using pictures of twats and words from the Hoxton fanzine. Drink until the sugar absorbs all your internal organs and you vomit your innards over you skinny jeans.

Squash Roulette

Squash – any flavour
Water
Clear lemonade
Sugar infused water (lots of sugar)
Salt water
Water with a drop of fish oil it it

Pour out a glass each of water, salt water, sugar water, fish water, and clear lemonade. Turn your back whilst a mate adds squash to each then mixes them around. How many do you dare drink? Vary amounts of each type for added drama.

Tequila Sub

Ingredients:
Grape juice
Tabasco
Cabbage (boiled)
Lemon juice
Celery
Gummi bear

We all know what tequila represents. A chance to torture yourself, your tastebuds and your stomach in search of a mythical good time. No, all tequila ever induces is a headache, a burnt throat, a slight vommy feeling and a sense of mystery as to why the faff with the salt and the lemon. For the none alcoholic version, mix grape juice and tabasco with lemon juice and a hint of celery (healthier than salt) and glug it down in one. Then take a fistful of cabbage to simulate that just hocked up your dinner feeling and celebrate with a gummi bear instead of the worm at the bottom of the bottom. Repeat until amnesia.

Water

Ingredients:
Tap
Intricate system of sewage, water transportation and processing which represents arguably one of the greatest achievements of the Victorian era
An ISA

Pour yourself a glass of water. Drink. Repeat. Invest money you have saved from this free venture in an ISA which will yield a paltry rate of interest due to economic crisis but which will stand as a monument to your good intentions. Don’t buy bottled water because this will make you a twat and an environment trashing one at that.


December 30, 2010

Albums Of 2010 – 1–10

Ok, what’s this here? Two joint number 1 albums? Yeah, I honestly couldn’t call it between them, so different are they in style, place, time and arms-in-the-air-ability, that it was impossible to find a way to compare them in order to establish which, if either was better. So there you go. Just know that both are reasons to conclude that 2010 was a good year for music, no matter how much the charts made us cry hot salty tears of pain. Bah.

=1. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs


This is one of many options you can choose unless you’re mental and want to get them all.

Too obvious? Sod that, yeah they might be in almost every top ten of the year, in every magazine and newspaper, but far from being a sign of everyone being unimaginative and boring, it’s for the simple reason that this really is a stormer of an album. And an album it is. I honestly think that the best albums have, at most, 12 tracks worth having. This has 16, and 15 are worthy of a place in an album which works as a cohesive work, one which should be listened to in order and in one sitting. It’s something of a rarity these days, when skip functions and albums packed with ‘singles’ rather than a flowing set of songs are the norm. I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to finding albums and listening to just the tracks I like best, but this one positively demands to be listened to in order. It’s also classic Arcade Fire, more like their superlative debut than the bitty and slightly dissatisfying Neon Bible which had individually good songs but lacked the feeling of a complete piece. The Suburbs has big choruses in unexpected places, the brief bellow of “Now I’m ready to start” or the jaunty loping “Sometimes I can’t believe it/I’m moving past the feeling”. Less frantic than earlier albums, it unfolds neatly, changing gears but always full of heart, perhaps too much of a slow burner for those seduced by the punch of the first two albums, but worth the time and effort. Lovely.

=1. Robyn - Body Talk


Robyn is the first pop star made of car air freshers.

At a time when every American pop and r’n’b star seems to have decided to put a bit of the Euro-pop thing in their records, it takes an actual European from the nation which pretty much owns pop, Sweden, to do it better than anyone else. Robyn’s grand experiment, releasing music as it was ready rather than to anyone else’s schedule has paid off in style. Body Talk is a pop record which pop fans can use against any accusations levelled at it. Shallow and plastic? How can you argue with the way she stalks and cries her way across the dancefloor during ‘Dancing On My Own’. Empty and meaningless? Try telling me that ‘Call Your Girlfriend’ isn’t packed with years of experience and insight into that most difficult of actions, breaking up with someone. Formulaic collaborations with bored rappers in a bid for credibility? ‘You Should Know Better’ is probably more a case of Robyn giving Snoop Dogg a credibility kick than him bringing her one. It’s also one of the funniest songs of the year. That’s what this album’s all about, the songs are either sad ones with arms-in-the-air moments, or smart arse ones which genuinely smart lyrics. Messing with the form when it suits (the metronomic ‘Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do’ isn’t far removed from a psychedelic drone record) or just doing something simple (‘Hang With Me’, ‘Indestructible’, most of the others). Plus it contains the lyric “I gotta lotta automatic booty applications” which is some sort of twisted genius. No really. It is.

3. Warpaint - The Fool


Ooooh, a mystical magic eye.

There’s little more tedious than guitar-bored asserting that girls can’t play guitar as well as boys. Give them this album. Give them the sparkling riffs, the intricate interplay between the guitars and bass. Give them Warpaint, who’ve melded the reverb soaked, fret climbing, late-night jangle of Interpol with the harmonious-but-tough girly vocals of Au Revoir Simone. But with better drumming than either. They’re the sort of band that make a mockery of the “radio edit” versions of singles. Yeah, so their songs are long and often take a while to unfold, but this is music for those who have time to invest in songs with layers and intricacies. Beautiful songs. Songs to lose yourself in. The guitar riff which kicks in part way through the eponymous ‘Warpaint’ the outro to the slow burning ‘Undertow’, the vocal interplay during ‘Composure’, these all give the impression of band who like to take their time in coming up with something special.

4. 65daysofstatic - We Were Exploding Anyway


Wait, neither of you are in the band! Get a room!

They’ve been mixing postrock guitars with techno rhythms and synths for a while now, but 65daysofstatic might just have done something very retro – making a truly great third album. Remember when bands were allowed three albums to get it right? Well it might not be the industry norm anymore, but this is evidence that it maybe still should be. Enormous tunes come crashing through the record; so confident are the band that they feel able to leave an excellent Robert Smith (yes, of The Cure) collaboration, ‘Come To Me’, towards the end of the record, and indeed the last track, ‘Tiger Girl’ might well be the best of the bunch, a thumping techno undercarriage bringing stabs of guitar along with it. Postrock without the slow build (the quiet bits) might sound like it has robbed the music of the essential contrast which gives it heart, but 65daysofstatic have found a way around this, via the dancefloor.

5. Foals - Total Life Forever


It’s important indie bands learn how to swim in time for the next downpour at Leeds fest.

If there was one complaint you could make about Foals’ pretty damn good first album Antidotes it’s that it was a bit cold, a bit remote, a bit hard to relate to emotionally. Enter Total Life Forever which is warmer, more ambitious, more elaborate and more intricate. Just more. Unafraid to let songs build from quiet, almost silent openings (‘Spanish Sahara’) Foals have taken all the elements of postrock which 65daysofstatic have discarded, and applied them to their jerky indie template. The result is lush guitars, bouncy rhythms, and expansive sonics. Oh, and nice vocal harmonies everywhere. And it does a fantastic line is endings. I love a song with a great ending, one where the whole song has been building towards that last minute or so. It explains my love of postrock in general. Total Life Forever has the best endings of any album this year. If we were judging albums solely on the last minute of each track then this would be top – ‘Black Gold’, ‘What Remains’, ‘Spanish Sahara’, all end in awesome crescendos of sound. If only this tiny review had a comparably good ending. But it doesn’t. Bah.

6. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles II


Emo kid finds no sympathy from the dead.

My mate Bun hates this lot. He likes the Eagles and other beardy guitar bands, so it’s not really a surprise. And his main complaint, that Crystal Castles trade in ear bleeding noise, aren’t quite as fair on this album as their were on the first one. Yes, two of the first three tracks – ‘Doe Deer’ and ‘Fainting Spells’ – do sound like the first album’s main formula of throwing an Atari down the stairs onto a banshee, but it’s the track they sandwich, ‘Celestica’, which is more typical. It is, surprisingly, beautiful, ethereal, floaty… it’s not what you’d expect after listening to ‘Alice Practice’. It’s a good formula too, bringing dreamy, crackling synths, but still keeping some of the menace of previous records. ‘Year Of Silence’ perfectly sets the mood, taking one of Sigur Ros’s more upbeat vocals and layering them over a martial synth thud. It’s all still as unintelligible as ever – Alice certainly sounds like she’s singing “This is your potato” on ‘Baptism’, a track which sounds like something the KLF would make today – but if that puts you off then you’d probably prefer the clear diction of the Eagles, and that’s no fun.

7. Sleight Bells - Treats


Bet you didn’t know cheerleaders grew on trees.

Sleigh Bells could have been a sweet, melodic lo-fi band with a cutesy sounding lead singer, in the vein of the many boy-girl bands around at the moment peddling whispy but jaunty tunes. They could but for one thing – apart from Alexis Krauss’s cheeky, chirpy vocals, everything is loud to a point which would cause sonic nerds to collapse into gibbering heaps. That guy complaining that the age of the Loudness War http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war is causing music to become distorted and painful? He will hate this. So will most people, but it’s actually a thing of beauty, noise twisted in on itself until it because pure pop again. Kind of like what Crystal Castles did on their first album, only with electric guitars and a singer who wants to lure you in, not batter you over the head and rip your limbs off. Oh yeah, and then there’s ‘Rill Rill’ where they show they can do a quiet but beautifully tuneful number, as if to prove that they know what you’re thinking – “All noise and no tunes? No, we have tunes, you just have to come to them, we won’t serve them up to you so easily”. Worth every sore ear.

8. LoneLady - Nerve Up


“Where’s the feckin’ light switch?”

If there’s any downside to the ever expanding cloud of success which has enveloped The xx it’s that they might have occupied too much of the same space as LoneLady to give her a chance of getting heard more widely. Sparse instrumentation, lyrics loaded with abstract emotional punches, and the voice of a vulnerable angel, ingredients which might sound familiar to those who follow the Mercury Music Prize winners, but Julie Campbell is no copyist. LoneLady constructs her songs with just a few pieces, a voice, a guitar or two, some drums. No bass, no fripperies. Just her sparkling cross of minimalistic indie, PJ Harvey and the terse atmospherics of many of the historic totems of Manchester music. Yes, it seems trite to bring her hometown into it, but this really is the most Manchester album released in quite some time, if by Manchester we mean the forward looking Manchester of the early 80s, not the retrogressive lad-rock bilge of the 90s. Deceptively danceable, music made for Julie Campbell by Julie Campbell which conveniently manages to be awesome for those who aren’t Julie Campbell.

9. Caribou - Swim


More mystic bollocks. Seriously, mystics have multicoloured bollocks, check it out next time one flashes you.

Ah, sad dance music. Kind of. Is this really dance music? Sure it can be danced to, but it’s almost a surprise to find it’s not from DFA such is that label’s formula of sad vocals, thumping bass, and arms in the air like you just do care in evidence here. That Dan Snaith decided to give away opener ‘Odessa’ as a free download earlier this year is impressively ballsy as it’s a strong contender for best song of the year and frankly if people won’t pay for something this brilliant then we should abandon money and live in a hole in the ground. Whilst listening to ‘Odessa’, natch. It’s all fairly similar in a sense, hypnotic and rhythmic, songs loop around themselves and wind their way to wistful places where bits of percussion float in and out of hearing on waves of sound. Yes, I know this makes me sound like a wanker, but it really is that good. Songs about divorce and upheaval never sounded so good.

10. Kelis - Fleshtone


Kelis takes her defeat to Janelle Monae in Hat Of The Year stoically.

Hey up, Kelis has discovered dance music. She’s got the chops for it, or specifically the voice for it, her husky tones languidly poured over some good quality dance. This isn’t David Guetta teaming up with some second division American r’n’b diva to do a big poo in your ear canal, this is at times understated, at times thumping tunes for waving your arms around to. There are songs addressed to her newborn which don’t make you wanna throw up (‘Acapella’ although I’ve heard people reckon it’s about God), and even some old school Kelis shouting (‘Emancipate Yourself’). ‘4th Of July’ is certified sultry dancefloor banger, even giving pounding house piano a good going over. Funny how it took an American to show European dance music how to occupy the dancefloor without being diabolical, although I’m not sure it’s quite enough to erase memories of ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’, damn you Black Eyed Peas!


Albums Of 2010 – 11–20

11. Marina And The Diamonds - The Family Jewels


Do you think she thinks she’s sexy? Is she?

Self referencing in the first song on your debut album? That takes some stones, and Marina Diamandis would appear to have those. Diamonds in fact. Whilst not the best pure pop album of the year (it’s two, maybe three tracks too long), this is a good debut made by someone unafraid to be both pop and smart. Clever clever wordplay, some of Kate Bush’s best vocal tics, and a great way with a song, she’ll wind up some, but for fans of pop with personality this is a definite album of the year (in years where Robyn doesn’t release records).

12. Delphic - Acolyte


Defy the smoking ban, get dropped from a building.

You know what, I couldn’t be bothered being clever clever and not referencing Manchester when talking about LoneLady, and I’m not going to try here. This sounds like a modern take on New Order. I bloody love New Order. And in parts I bloody love this. Yeah, like other albums here, it’s a bit too long and could lose a track or two, but my goodness they have some bangers up their sleeves. The only weak point is the slightly nondescript vocals, but when so many of the songs make you wanna swoosh your arms around why complain?

13. Yeasayer - Odd Blood


Horrible 80s graphics are horrible.

Confession, I really didn’t wanna like Yeasayer. They looked like twats and were pretentious as hell in interviews. But they’ve also made an album which dared to take all the worst bits of 80s music – slap bass, bad drum production, over emoting vocals – and make a good album from it. Loping and louche, it doesn’t seem to care how cheesy it is in parts, which is pretty much how you should revive the 80s, shamelessly.

14. Fan Death - Womb Of Dreams


Hmm, elephants do have very long pregnancies, it’s true.

It’s not often that NME’s habit of saying all new bands sound like x + y (and yes I am aware that I’ve already done an x + y comparison in this post) but they actually managed to get it spot on with Fan Death = Florence And The Machine + Hercules And Love Affair. It’s disco night down the goth club, and all the girls in floaty lace dresses are singing paeans to lost or impossible love (one song’s about Jesus and Pilate’s wife, but not in a blasphemous way) over stomping disco beats and stabby disco strings. Tastefully groovy.

15. Holly Miranda - The Magician’s Private Library


Why are you sleeping? We have Stella Artois for you.

Girl sings swoonsome modern folk songs as walls of sounds ebb and flow? Possibly, but it’s also quicker to say girl sings TV On The Radio songs. Ok, so Ms Miranda wrote these herself, but with Dave Sitek’s producer paws all over, this is a TV On The Radio album in many ways. What Holly Miranda has going for her is a willingness to let Sitek be a dictator and infuse her songs with a hum that is at times sad-happy (‘Forest Green, Oh Forest Green’, apparently not about the non-league football club), sad-sexy (‘No One Just Is’, the album highlight with its eastern strings), and sad-sad (pretty much everything else). She has a great voice and some great friends.

16. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening


James Murphy can also defy gravity.

Why mess with the formula when you’ve cracked it? Sure, this isn’t as good as its two predecessors, but I would be using the fingers of just one hand if I had to list albums from this century which are better than Sound Of Silver. Instead James Murphy serves up more of the same where the same is brilliant dance music, wry lyrics, and occasional doses of dancefloor heartbreak where hearts are broken not by partners but by the sheer elation of waving your arms in the air until you have to leave. And with that LCD Soundsystem leave us. Sniff.

17. Two Door Cinema Club - Tourist History


Generic indie band 2010 imagery #1 – a bloody cat.

TDCC don’t do anything revolutionary, and if their influence list includes anything beyond Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads and Bloc Party then they’re lying. But they just so happen to write really good songs. Simple 00s style indie, it is probably easy to hate if you don’t rate the hit-hat friendly rhythms and wiry guitars, but I like that sort of thing when it’s good, and this is. ‘I Can Talk’ is one of the songs of the year, fact.

18. School Of Seven Bells - Disconnect From Desire


Runic bollocks. No really, they look like bollocks.

Swooshy guitars and punchier percussion than last time around, this isn’t a great leap forward, more a purposeful step in the direction of yet more lush soundscapes and indeed Lush soundscapes (mid 90s indie, not lovely soaps, duh). And if it occasionally sounds less like those mystical shoegaze and more like Donna Lewis’s ‘I Love You Always Forever’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7NV52UApGY (I’m looking at you ‘I L U’) then that’s grand, a lazy summer afternoon in album form. Nice.

19. Skream - Outside The Box


FACE!

Have I got this wrong? Am I supposed to like Magnetic Man more? Well I don’t. I do like that album, but this one’s just a bit more engaging, especially the superb run of tracks at the end taking in ‘Listening To The Records On My Wall’ and ‘Finally’, the latter being one of the best things La Roux has done. Ok there’s no Katie B, but she’s only on a couple of Magnetic Man’s tracks anyway.

20.Beach House – Teen Dream


Zebras, Elton John style.

Bare with me on this as I admit now I might well be wrong. This could be much better than this placing. I came to it late, but it’s lovely, all dreamy but with hints of steel underneath. And Victoria Legrand has a great voice, which raises it where sometimes it feels like it might float away. So yeah, perhaps with more time I’d have placed this higher up. Sorry. Despite all evidence to the contrary I can’t listen to everything. Sadface. (A same conundrum exists with Janelle Monae’s album, which also sounds quite fab but which I need more time with).


December 29, 2010

Albums Of 2010 – 21–30

21. La Roux and Major Lazer – Lazerproof


Ripping off Iron Man is the quickest way to good artwork.

Huh, a remix album mashing up La Roux’s debut with Major Lazer’s arsenal of sounds, raps and tunes? Well yes, and it’s better than the sum of its parts. No really, sticking together the two has produced mashups like ‘Keep It Fascinating’ which are less shrill but still tense and nervy. Plus it can be downloaded for free – http://sub.maddecent.com/lazerproof/

22. Blood Red Shoes – Fire Like This


That’s a lot of hair gel.

In pretty much the same way as their debut, Fire Like This shows Blood Red Shoes only really have one trick, but it’s a good one. Frantic guitars and drums, you wonder what they have to do which is so urgent that everything has to be played at breakneck speed. Is the oven on? No idea, but the wide eyed mayhem of ‘Don’t Ask’ and ‘Heartsink’ rush along with glee regardless.

23. KT Tunstall – Tiger Suit


Washed out photo = srs bsns.

Confession: I’ve been hoping for this album for a good while. Y’see ever since that performance on ‘Later…’ I’ve suspected that Ms Tunstall has had a genuinely good album in her. Not a whimsical female singer-songwriter-fest as with both her previous albums. She’s got a great voice, and seemed in touch with the idea of looping and fiddling with her acoustic sounds. So rejoice, here’s an album which is 66.67% what I’ve been waiting for! Ok, it tails off a bit into mimsying, but the opening barrage of tracks – ‘Uumannaq Song’, ‘Push That Knot Away’ and ‘Fade Like A Shadow’ in particular – are punchy and danceable whilst still being largely acoustic. Nice one growly-voice girl.

24. M.I.A. – /\/\ /\ Y /\


M.I.A. is watching you watching Newport on repeat.

Hmm, it’s a bit like the LCD Soundsystem record again, listening to this I cannot help but think “The previous albums were better”. Still, in ‘XXXO’ she has an electro pop anthem which Gaga, Rihanna et al would kill for, and the balls to leave it unattended on an album of shouty noise pop (‘Born Free’) and unexpected shifts in gear. It’s disjointed but worth the effort. ‘Space’ is pure beauty.

25. Hundred In The Hands – Hundred In The Hands


Did you let a child fingerpaint over your photo again?

It happened again! Another late one, but this is lovely stuff, a little bit Fan Death, a little bit Warpaint, a little bit Beach House, it’s girly voiced indie but with a wide ranging remit and a strong melodic touch. And lastfm justifies its existence with one recommendation. I’m listening right now, in fact.

26. Everything Everything – Man Alive


Oh shit, that fox is about to get run over!

Why so low? I was a bit disappointed with this album. Having caught them live a couple of times and been very very impressed with the rush of ideas and silly vocals, and then hearing the brill singles ‘Suffragette Suffragette’ and ‘My Keys, Your Boyfriend’, it was a bit of a shame that the album seemed to lack… something. Hard to say what really. Individually most of the songs are strong, ‘Photoshop Handsome’ is hilarious, so it’s not a bad album. Oh well, best just see them live again.

27. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid


Hat of the year.

As I mentioned, I think this is probably a lot better then its placing suggests but I am, for shame, a late comer to it. Forgive me. On the other hand it means I do get to listen to it now, with its rich imagery and captivating variety of styles. ‘Cold War’ is great too. Give me time. For now be reassured that it sounds good on first listen and we should all stick to it. It’s about robots, forcrissakes, it cannot be bad.

28. Fight Like Apes - The Body Of Christ And The Legs Of Tina Turner


With a title like that the cover could have been totally shit and it wouldn’t have mattered…

I didn’t really like this when I first heard it, it felt like a disappointment after the debut. My main complaint was that all the songs sounded like two tracks off that debut – ‘Tie Me Up With Jackets’ and ‘Battlestations’. Of course all I needed to do was remember that those two tracks are ace, and an album of sound-a-likes, whilst not as good as the debut, was still good enough for me. And that’s the best album title of the year, nay ever. Ever.

29. Jonsi – Go


Technicolour dandruff.

In which he… sings in English. It feels so wrong, the elves shouldn’t be singing in the same tongue as Liam Gallagher. Ah well, here’s a bunch of songs which sound like Sigur Ros speeded up, right down to being slightly higher pitched than those roaring postrock guitars. It’s all very sparkly, if a little lightweight, but good fun all the same. Put it on your ipod when you so to Mt Doom to dispose of troublesome rings.

30 Salem – King Night


Possibly trying too hard.

It’s hard to listen to more than a few tracks without the dark sludginess leaving you in need of some light, but if for no other reason than the title track this is worth dipping your toe into the darkness for. Vocals rinsed through a million evil effects, everything slowed down to a lurch. Embrace the darkness, if only for a track or two at a time. Rarr.


December 09, 2010

A Letter To My MP

I just wrote a letter to my Liberal Democrat MP, John Leech, who today voted against the tuition fee bill. I am glad he did, glad he kept his promises, and heartened that in his speech on the matter – he recognised that education can benefit the country as well as the individual, and that large amounts of debt are a bad thing. I wrote the letter for two reasons, one to communicate my pleasure that my representative in Parliament did as he said he would in order to get my vote, and secondly because I want to know where he goes from here. I want to know what those Lib Dems who kept their promises are thinking. I don’t know if I will get a response, but I thought it worth a try.

Dear John,

First of all I wish to congratulate you on sticking your election promise, and recognising that the raising of tuition fees in conjunction with the massive cuts to university funding will harm this country on many levels, leaving the young of today facing obscene amounts of debt, hurting our institutions’ abilities to deliver world class teaching and research, and damaging the knowledge economy which remains probably the only thing this country truly excels at now the financial sector has been shown up as a house built on false promises.

It is encouraging also to see that not all politicians will sacrifice their promises, and by extension their electorate, at the first sniff of power.

However I would like to ask a question – how can you continue to be a part of a party some of whose leaders and members have shown themselves to be spineless and treacherous? As things stand, despite my admiration for your stance, I do not feel able to vote for the Liberal Democrats ever again. The trust is gone, and whilst individuals such as yourself have shown that there are those who will keep their promises, I feel distinctly uncomfortable that my vote in a way helped contribute to the passing of a policy which I think is wrong by giving the Liberal Democratsthe clout in Parliament to form this coalition with the Conservatives which has clearly turned the heads of a large number of your colleagues.

How do you intend to proceed knowing your leader is new widely, and in my view correctly, viewed as a two-faced liar? What reassurances, if any, can you offer your constituents about your future stances and that of the Liberal Democrats? If this party is asking you to vote against what you think is right, and you are willing to defy your leadership on a matter they deem to be crucial, can you see yourself continuing as a Liberal Democrat MP?

I do respect what you have done on this matter, which why I feel able to write this letter to you as I think your vote shows you are one of the Liberal Democrats still willing to listen to the people who elected them in the first place.

Kindest regards,
Holly


December 07, 2010

The Rules Of Cricket

My dear friend and lover of such things as knitting, ATP and cricket, Ms Dawn has been following the Ashes with me on my short-thought page (www.twitter.com/Hollyzone) and would like me write up a guide to the rules of cricket seeing as my explanations on the short-thought page were so enlightening or something. So here are the rules of cricket.
 
By “cricket”, I do of course mean International Test Cricket! This is the longest form of cricket and can take up to five days to complete a match, after which there will always be a winner, even if that winner is the weather and not one of the team playing. Other forms of cricket include:
  • County Cricket – look at the word “county”, it’s like “country” but small, and this applies in County Cricket which is only allowed to last up to four days, unlike International Test Cricket’s five, because countries are bigger than counties and deserve more attention (warning, do not point out that the county of West Yorkshire is bigger than actual countries like Lichtenstein or the powers that be will leak all your embarrassing photos to Wikileaks).
  • One Day Cricket – this lasts one day, except it actually only last half a day because 24 hour cricket would be hard on the cricketers who are clearly made of less organised and stern stuff than, say, racing drivers who can manage 24 hours at Le Mans.
  • 20/20 Cricket – this form of cricket is hated by purists, and is rather like 5-a-side football except without the bunching and people running into walls.
     
    The rules of International Test Cricket are pretty easy to follow.

The Pitch

The pitch is big and green. This is because it is covered in grass. The grass serves two purposes, it is cheap, and it makes hilarious stains on the cricketers’ white clothes so you can identify which cricketer has done the most spectacular diving/sliding catches.

In the middle is the Main Bit. This is where most of the stuff happens. At each end of the Main Bit is a pile of twigs with a small and very important twig placed on top. The teams will take it in turns to defend these twig piles. If the very important top twig falls off bad things will happen.

Cricket appears to involve breaks for tea. I am unsure if this means a cuppa or an evening meal. It also has a lunch break. These are clearly signs of civilisation.

There are two teams. They each take it in turns it to throw balls and hit the balls with sticks.


From the BBC – the Blimey Bouncing Cricket people.

The cricketers with sticks each stand in front of a twig pile. This means only two at a time get to be on the pitch and shows the importance of patience in the modern cricketer, although these days the other members of the team are probably playing FIFA or Halo on their X Boxes. This seems plausible as sometimes the TV camera will pan to the side of the pitch and you’ll see three of them sat there, pretending the rest have nipped inside for a pie and will be back any minute.

The other team then spread out across the whole pitch. There lots of names to describe the bits of the pitch, like Silly Mid Off, which sound so obviously made up that you suspect it’s all a joke. Suffice to say if they think the stick man has strong arms they will stand far away, whereas weaklings they will stand near. Sometimes they will make nasty comments to the stick man. This is called sledging which makes sense as sledging, luge, bobsleigh and skeleton are the sports most likely to induce swearing in those who practice them (“I’m sliding down a hill at 100mph, chin first…. SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!”).

One of the spread out team gets to throw the ball at the stick man. If he takes a very long run up he is a Fast Bowler even though his throws will take much longer than a short run up, or Slow Bowler, and so the game will not proceed very fast after all. There is a good explanation for this but it involves physics and the Large Hadron Collider.

The Scoring System

  1. You get 1pt for a mad, arm flailing, run from one set of upright twigs to the other. If you run back again you get 2pts, and so on. In theory you can run infinitely, but the throwing team don’t normally allow this unless they have been bribed by a dodgy betting syndicate (this only happens in about 30% of matches).
  2. You get 4pts if you express your disgust at the commercialisation of the sport by hitting the ball into an advertising board.
  3. You get 6pts if you give demonstrate a socialist attitude and liberate the balls from the grips of the authorities by hitting it to a pleb.
  4. You can also score 1pt if the thrower has a Victorian style attack of the vapours and hurls the ball in the wrong place, like America.


This man did not score enough points and nor did his friends. Sadface.

Unlike in rounders you don’t score a half rounder if the thrower guesses your height wrong and throws the ball at your knee/face.

Out

The stick men continue until they are out. There are over eight million ways to get out but these are the recognised ones. The other ways are kept secret for fear knowledge of them could destroy the world as we know it.

  1. Knocking the very important top twig off the twig pile. If you hit it with your stick or the other team hit it with their ball then you are deemed not sufficiently caring of the twigs to continue. This happens a lot when people run with their arms flailing wildly but the ball reaches their destination pile of twigs first. This is because balls travel faster than humans so one must deceive the ball and convince it one is not going to run rather than risk a flat race.
  2. When a field cricketer catches a ball hit by the stick man then the stick man is out as it’s probably not safe to hit a ball so close to a person, someone could get hurt.)
  3. LBW – no one knows what the letters mean but they are believed to relate to the practice of putting one’s leg before the wicket and letting the ball hit it. The leg is not a stick and should not be used as one. Stop it. Now.
  4. Hitting the ball twice with your stick will get you out. Kind of like volleyball, but fewer tiny shorts.
  5. Taking more than three minutes to get ready to face the thrower. This is common at junior level as it helps weed out youngsters who would be better off playing football as they will take over three minutes to gel their hair, adjust their snood and have an affair with a team mate’s wife.
  6. If the stick man handles the ball they are out. Why they would do this when they have a nice stick is unclear but it takes all sorts. People who do this should be redirected to tennis where handling the balls is acceptable and the balls are fluffy and nicer to touch.


It is not a requirement to look like you’ve shat yourself when you catch a ball.

Winning

When a team is all out, i.e. ten out of eleven of them have managed to fanny it up by doing one of the things above, then the other team gets to use the sticks. Sometimes a team with a really big score might decide to let the other team bat without all getting out – this is called Declaring and is basically the stick team saying “Your turn now” but in a really condescending way.

Each team gets two goes unless time runs out in which case the sun goes supernova and we all die. The team with the most points wins. This isn’t normally the end as there will probably be several games in the series and it’s important to win at least two of these, although five is best. If you win all five this is a Whitewash which is good because it means you can get all the grass stains out of your clothes.

These are the rules of cricket. Now go forth and care about it, at least for as long as England are any good.


November 29, 2010

Ferrero Rocher's New Advertising Campaign

I should work in advertising… or not…


October 13, 2010

How Many Millionaires Does It Take To Run The Country?

So benefits are being cut, and public sector pensions are being cut, and jobs are being cut, and students are to be charged more… One recurring theme to be found in much of the invective unleashed by those who oppose the government as it merrily slashes its way around the place is that this financial pain is being inflicted by a bunch of millionaires. Until today I hadn’t quite realised the extent of this. Yes David Cameron and George Osbourne have the sort of histories (and faces) which scream “excessive money in the family” but I didn’t realise how deep it ran.

Depending on who you ask either 18 of the 23 full time senior cabinet members (The Times) or 23 of the 29 members entitled to attend cabinet meetings (The Daily Fail) are worth more than a million pounds. Indeed, according to the Mail article only Vince Cable, Andrew Lansley, Eric Pickles, Baroness Warsi, Patrick McLoughlin, and Danny Alexander don’t have a million pounds stashed away somewhere from property, shares, inheritance, publishing or wallpaper.


Lend us a fiver!

Apart from the curious situation where two of the three men tasked with tackling the economic state of the nation (Cable and Alexander) aren’t in this rich club, does it not strike people as a bit… exclusive?

I’ve nothing against millionaires in theory. I only know two millionaires and both earned their money through hard work and graft. Yes, I grit my teeth at the unfairness of those born with silver spoons and rich parents, but if there’s one thing history has taught us, it’s that money can be lost as well as gained – just track down Rupert Everett’s apperance on ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ to see someone encountering the evidence of an ancestor who frittered it all away. The rich should pay more tax and take more personal responsibility and that, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with having more than a million pounds.

However, if virtually the entirety of a country’s leadership is comprised of millionaires doesn’t that suggest that the national leadership is lacking a perspective or two? Like those of people who have less than a million pounds, aka the vast majority of the people of Britain? After all, the median wage in Britain is smidge over £25,000pa, a rate which would require nearly 40 years in order to accumulate a million pounds, if the recipient didn’t spend a penny and wasn’t taxed.


From the BBC, 2006/07 figures give an idea of the shape of British earnings.

So here’s my completely unworkable and insane idea for the week.

You might have heard of Labour’s women-only candidate lists. It’s not new news, here’s an article about it from 2002, and whatever its problems it does come from a well intentioned position – the desire to bring about equal representation of women and men in parliament. The idea, amongst those who advocate it, is that this equality is a good thing as it brings a proper representation of the British people. I am sympathetic to this, even if I am not 100% certain that single gender candidate lists are the best way to achieve it. Harriet Harman has also made it one of her aims to get half the shadow cabinet roles to go to women.

But if we’re trying to move towards equality in one area, why not another, just as pressing – financial status? I’m sure the massed ranks of millionaires in the cabinet can do a most excellent job of understanding how things affect millionaires, but I don’t believe they have enough insight into my position, or that of the family struggling at the poverty line, or even the upper middle class family with the doctor on £80,000 and the head teacher on £70,000. If we take it as read that a cabinet full of men cannot act in the best interests of women (and I believe they couldn’t, and vice versa), how can a cabinet of millionaires act in the best way for the massed ranks of non-millionaires?

So the madcap idea of the week is this – force the cabinet to represent the population in general. With 29 positions there might be space for as many as two millionaires (not because this is proportionate, but because it’ll be hard to wean ourselves off our addiction to excessively rich people right away) and then 27 people from a variety of financial positions, although the majority would earn between £18,000 and £30,000. Why not? A list of people for the 29 slots from which the cabinet will be decided, and then when elected they will all have to work together to decide who gets which role and how to run the country. Of course it would be almost totally unworkable in reality (because if there’s one thing people cannot do, it’s work together), but it would bring voices to the table which are flat out ignored by all major parties.

Otherwise we’ll just go on being run by an unrepresentative group of people who won’t feel the pain we’ll feel in the next few years. And that cannot be healthy, surely?


September 29, 2010

E–Mil, Illegitimate Sprogs And The Mail's F Grade In History

Writing about web page http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1316129/Ed-Miliband-I-dont-believe-God-I-WILL-married.html

The Mail, today:

[Ed Miliband’s] personal set-up has caused consternation since he became the first major political leader in British history not to be married to the mother of his children.

First major political figure in British history not to be married to the mother of his children?

Poor Charles II. Forgotten again, and by a very Royalist newspaper. :(

Still he probably had a good time having kids (well, having the attendant sexual intercourse) with Lucy Walter, Elizabeth Killigrew, Catherine Pegge, Barbara Palmer, the Duchess of Portsmouth, Moll Davis, and of course, Nell Gwyn. What a randy monarch (but apparently not a major political leader despite being, y’know, a pretty major political leader and figure).

Of course there was also Henry I, William IV, numerous other male monarchs.

And Ken Livingstone, who clearly much be a major leader based on the amount of bile the Mail and its London mini-me The Evening Standard throw at him.

And what about David Lloyd George? Prime Minister from 1916-22, of whom a newspaper wrote in 2008 “there are no politicians today who could ever think of getting away with the uber-sexed personal life, peppered with illicit lovers and illegitimate offspring, that Lloyd George led over 14 years in Downing Street, first as Chancellor, then as Prime Minister, from 1908 to 1922.”

The newspaper in question? The Mail.

Still, they might be historically ignorant and internally inconsistent, but check out their page three totty:


Phwaor! David Lloyd George!


February 07, 2009

April–June 2008 – about time to catch up!

I’m starting to write this entry on the way home from France, on a quick trip home for four days off before I actually start flying again. It’s just under two weeks since I moved over to live on the French/Swiss/German border and to be honest I’m ready for a few days break. [Edit – it’s now over a week later and I’m only just finishing it…!]

It’s been a busy 24 hours, because as I start to write this (29 January), this time yesterday I was in the FSC Flight Simulator Centre in Amsterdam, undergoing by 6-monthly recurrent check which all airline transport pilots have to do. To the vast majority of pilots it’s a non-event, it’s just something you have to do every six months and you just get on with it. Without getting too technical, it’s basically to check that if anything goes wrong during flight we know what to do, in the safe confines of the simulator! It’s actually good fun because you get to practice things and come across new scenarios that you shouldn’t – and virtually never – come across in the aircraft, and there are numerous aspects that the trainers have to check us on; for example, do we understand the aircraft’s systems correctly? The A320 is a pretty complex piece of machinery, and it takes masses of experience to know every little detail in intricate detail. Also, are our CRM (crew resource management) skills up to scratch – i.e. can we work together well as a crew? Do we share the workload properly? And, in the unlikely (but possible) event of something like an engine exploding on takeoff, are our manual handling skills up to scratch? Then there are specific scenarios we have to train for; for example, flying into specific airports that are known to be complicated and require specific training – Mykonos and Ajaccio, in this case – and do we know exactly what to do if our Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) starts shouting at us and we have to perform an evasive manouever? It’s not something you can really practice for in the aircraft, for obvious reasons, so we need to know what to do, instantly, from memory.

I was a little apprehensive beforehand because I’ve never done simulator training with an experienced captain before, only trainees of similar experience to me, so I was expecting the CRM aspect to be a little different. The captain doing his check with me was one of the most experienced in the company and an examiner himself, so it was pretty much the other end of the scale to what I’m used to, but the whole point of the training we undergo is so that we can work well as a crew whatever the experience levels, and it does work. I’m pretty glad that I’ve got 6 months to wait until my next one, but overall it was good fun and a good learning experience. From here, I start flying again on Monday (a nice short Basel-Amsterdam and return) and then have to go to Geneva for a few days of line training flights before being released to the line again!

Anyway, as it’s been so long since I wrote anything proper on here, there is a big gap which needs filling for much of what I’ve written above to make sense. After I finished the AQC course which I wrote about some time early last year – the part of my training programme which taught us the basics of moving up to a passenger jet from a light aircraft, before moving on to the aircraft-specific type rating – I then had about 7 weeks off before actually starting on the type rating course. For this, after going to the company induction day at Luton, it meant another trip down to Southampton for another few weeks at CTC, where the course would be conducted. Familiar territory! (Apart from the accommodation, which, due to the company’s normal residence being full, meant being put up in a posh country hotel for a few days.)

Those of us on the type rating course (10 or 12 in total, I can’t quite remember) had received the welcome pack in the post a few weeks earlier and I’d been completely unable to fathom what on earth it was on about. A full-motion flight simulator session on day 2? Before we’d even learned anything about the aircraft?! And two more on consecutive days afterwards?! Surely not! But it turned out a few of us had been assigned to a new-style type rating course the CAA were trialling, the so-called FORCE (Flight Operations Research Centre of Excellence, or something) course. Rather than take the traditional approach of two weeks’ classroom study of the aircraft followed by 12 or so simulator sessions, the new approach was to throw us into the simulator on day 1 and then do the ground school half way through the course. The intention, I believe, was to introduce the automation in a different way to normal. The Airbus is a very clever aeroplane and the automatics can do all sorts of wonderful things to make your life easier that older aircraft can’t do, but if you don’t understand them then you’ll find yourself digging yourself very quickly into a big hole. So the idea I believe was to build us up gradually from fully manual operation (including manual thrust, which I’m ashamed to say I didn’t use in an entire six months on the line in summer) towards an intermediate level of automation to build up our understanding before finally letting us get the aircraft to look after certain things itself. It was hard work and those of us who’d done the AQC course on the A320 a couple of months earlier definitely felt like we had a bit of a head start over those (including some reasonably experienced guys) who’d never set foot in an Airbus before. It’s not really up to me to say whether I thought it was the right way to go about it, but suffice to say that the company only ran a few courses that way before dropping it a few months later and reverting to the traditional type!

The course I did consisted of six 4-hour flight simulator sessions, followed by 2 weeks’ ground school, followed a further six 4-hour sim sessions – these at Burgess Hill, just north of Brighton – of which two were devoted to the LST – Licence Skills Test, the bit you have to pass to have the A320 qualification printed in your licence. It’s pretty intense to get everything you have to do actually done in the time you have available; the course requires an intense amount of study to ensure that where there is a procedure for something, you have to know it off by heart and then be able to do it more or less first time in the simulator, before moving straight on to something else. There is a form about 4 pages long with all the different scenarios and exercises that must be covered before being put forward for the test and each one has to be signed off by an instructor to say it’s been covered. In the test itself, the examiner then has some specific things which must be tested and has a plethora of options to choose at random to throw at us. At this stage of the course you don’t want to have to be repeating stuff – it’s not like the early stages of basic training where if you messed up a few circuits you could just get back in a Cessna the next day and go and do them again; at this stage, you really need to be able to do everything first time (with training and guidance, obviously, otherwise there would be no point in actually training!) Fortunately I did pass everything first time, despite messing up quite a bit in the final session before the test and a few “errrrrrr…” moments during the test itself, but by the end of it I was pretty shattered! It was about six weeks long in total and I finished the test on 2nd May 2008. Despite finishing the test session at around midnight and not getting to bed until gone 1:30am, we’d been told to go back in the next morning (a Saturday) for another unrelated training session. By the time I got back from Burgess Hill on Saturday evening I was absolutely shattered, and just to temper the feeling of euphoria at passing a difficult test on something I first set out to do 18 months earlier, City went and lost 8-1 at Middlesbrough…!

It wasn’t over, however, because to actually fully qualify, six take-offs and landings are required in the real thing, so a day is spent on what’s called base training – where the airline will take an aircraft out of service and fly it round and round an airport all day training us newbies and check we know how to land properly; and before that, we had to spend two days back at Luton doing the airline’s safety and security courses. This is basically a much shortened, abridged version of the full cabin crew course which teaches us just what we as pilots need to know. One of the first things we did was the ‘wet drills’ where we learn how to use the lifejackets. Naturally, as this involves getting in a swimming pool with lots of lovely young trainee cabin crew, it’s a part that many of us looked forward to quite a lot! We also had got to practice jumping down the emergency slides (in a nice, calm, slow, health-and-safety conscious manner which doesn’t really reflect what having to use them for real would be like), put out fires using BCF extinguishers (well, replica ones containing water at the behest of the health and safety people), find people in a smoke-filled cabin, learn to operate the aircraft doors – all sorts of stuff really. Unfortunately the attempts of Skeelsy and myself to get chatting to some of the aforementioned cabin crew in the hotel bar were scuppered slightly by the fact they all had exams coming up, but it wasn’t for want of trying!

After that course I then had a week or so off before base training day. The day itself, when it arrived, involved a lot of travelling around as the departure point was Stansted. Annoyingly, at the time I was still officially based at Stansted so despite me not actually having started with the company, I wasn’t put up in a hotel so had to make do with a cheap-and-cheerful Travelodge type place while my colleagues were all enjoying the delights of the rather more flash Radisson SAS at Stansted. Anyway, I arrived late the evening before, having been stuck stationary on the M11 for an hour and a half and eventually resorting to putting my seat back and playing Champ Manager, while waiting for the remnants of someone’s crashed caravan (absolutely hate the damn things) to be removed from the road. I didn’t sleep too well but made it into the airport nice and early the next morning. As a new first officer, base training is the first time you get to wear your uniform and you do feel quite a sense of pride in doing so in public! After I’d met the other boys fresh from their posh Radisson full English breakfast with smoked salmon – a little more substantial than my apple and a cup of tea – we headed to the Stansted crew room and met the training captain running the day. We would be doing the circuits at East Midlands and I was to go in the second session, once we’d picked up a second training captain at East Midlands. There were six of us and we each had to do six take-offs and landings, so we were in for a long old day and were pleased to see the caterers had loaded us up with plenty of food! Most importantly we were shown how to work the brew-maker, probably the most used piece of equipment on the aeroplane all day.

I was number 4 out of the 6 to go, so the first in the ‘afternoon’ session. Sitting in the right hand seat of the real thing for the first time was a little bit daunting but the training captains were great – they took a lot of the pressure off. Once we’d started up and called for clearance we headed out for runway 09, and the first thing I noticed was that taxiing the aeroplane is a bit easier than doing it in the simulator! The sim is too responsive and sensitive to ground movements, and in trying to replicate cornering/braking forces and bumps can sometimes end up making you feel a bit sick if you have too long a taxi. The real thing is much smoother as long as you’re gentle with the nosewheel tiller! Anyway once we’d completed the before take-off procedures and checks, we were told to line up and cleared for take-off.

The circuits themselves passed fairly quickly, which was a shame as it was great fun! As it’s probably the only time in a pilot’s career that they get to do touch-and-goes in a jet aircraft, it’s really something you have to savour. It’s a little difficult to describe it fully without going into lots of technical detail but the A319 is a joy to fly and in the end, with a helpful and experienced instructor, it didn’t feel particularly difficult! Of course now, 9 months later on, any take-off feels just like any other really, but those first few were quite special – getting to fly a passenger jet, hands on, is what the entire course which I started 21 months earlier was training us for, so actually getting to do it for the first time really gets the adrenaline going. Likewise, any landing now is totally routine, but on that first day, as a newly-qualified novice, it was a good feeling getting off the aircraft later on, looking back up at the Airbus and thinking “wow, I just landed that!”

The next day we had to make our way back to Burgess Hill again, not for a simulator session this time but for a couple of days’ Line Training Ground School, i.e. classroom sessions on flying the aircraft ‘on the line’, in normal passenger service rather than in the set scenarios we’d become accustomed to in the simulator. During this time we were also supposed to get the Airbus rating added to our licences by the CAA but due to a series of admin balls-ups it wasn’t possible to do it that day, which meant spending an extra night down south and heading to the CAA building first thing the next morning. Fortunately my good friends living in Finsbury Park were more than accommodating but it still took about 2 hours to there from Gatwick (and an hour and half the following morning) and the drive across London, just like every time I visit, merely reinforced my opinion about how much I can’t stand the place and how I’m infinitely glad I’ve made my way into a career which doesn’t involve having to live there to go to work. By this point I’d already had confirmation that my transfer to East Midlands would be going ahead before I started my line training programme, so fortunately I could go back up north!

That’s probably quite enough for one entry, because it’s going to take forever to finish. I know all this probably doesn’t quite explain how I’ve ended up living in France and working abroad; that’ll come in a separate entry which I’ll start writing soon! There’s a lot to catch up on yet with all the flying I did out of East Midlands between June and November so what’s above is only really half of the story, but at least it’s a start having not written anything for so long.


January 25, 2009

It's been a long time…

For anybody who still checks this blog occasionally, which I suspect might be a grand total of 0 these days; as promised, it will reappear over the next few weeks, and I’ll try to update anybody interested on what I’ve been up to over the last year since I qualified. There’s quite a lot to tell.

My career took an unexpected turn in December and has taken me to Switzerland. It can get pretty quiet out here at times in the little French village where I live, therefore I forsee lots of blogging time.

I’m currently studying for my 6-monthly LPC/OPC (basically a 6-monthly check we have to pass to be allowed to keep flying). Once I’ve got that out of the way and I’ve briefly popped back to England next week, I’ll get on with it.


January 20, 2008

Finally – officially a Commercial Pilot!

As I’ve got a few hours free, here’s the next update of how things are going, which I promised in my previous entry. When I started this I was on the train on the way down to Southampton to start the intermediate phase of training, so I had a couple of hours to collect my thoughts and think back to November to remember what I was doing! As ever when I write entries of this length, 2 hours wasn’t enough so it’s now six days later and I’m sat finishing it off in my hotel room having finished the first week of the Airline Qualification Course (AQC).

Unfortunately (for me anyway) in the last couple of weeks of November, the south of England had a very large high pressure weather system over it which just wouldn’t go away. This meant about three weeks of very nice weather. For me, having passed my 170A assessment before the Instrument Rating Test (IRT), this wasn’t good news because it meant the guys waiting for their CPL tests got priority with the exam booking slots. Ironically, having only just finished the course in time for AQC after being delayed by bad weather, it was good weather that put me about two weeks behind in November! Eventually, after a frustrating wait, I did take the IRT on November 21st. I can remember being pretty nervous about it beforehand – the IRT is apparently known to be one of the hardest flight tests to do. Once I was round at the exam centre and getting on with the planning, however, the nerves started to wane a bit. There was one slight moment of panic when I realised I’d forgotten to take my CRP-5 planning computer round to the exam centre with me and therefore would have no way of planning an accurate heading compensating for wind, so thanks are due to Shane for nipping it round to me within about 5 minutes of my frantic phone call to base. My route was a fairly simple one – northwest out of Bournemouth, along a radial from the Southampton VOR to the reporting point EXMOR, south along the N866 airway towards Exeter, radar-vectored ILS approach to Exeter and then back to Bournemouth for the NDB hold and approach. As I was climbing out of Bournemouth and tracking the NDB out to intercept the SAM radial, things started to look like they were going a bit wrong – the Bournemouth NDB was giving a completely useless reading, constantly swinging through about 30 degrees and going nowhere near the actual bearing I was flying on. This threw me a little bit, and it took a bit of dead-reckoning, a few glances at the GPS track read-out (which the examiner said I could use) and a lot of luck to end up right over where I was meant to be. The examiner had quite rightly disabled the moving map display on the instrument panel so I didn’t have the GPS map display to help me out.

Anyway I ended up in the right place at the right time, and in the end the leg along the SAM radial was quite relaxing – use of the autopilot was allowed and I had over 35 miles to go before joining the airway at EXMOR. Of course there was a fair bit to do in the meantime but it did put me in a relaxed frame of mind. ATC predictably left it right until the last minute to issue my clearance into their controlled airspace but in the end there were no problems. Everything after that went OK, my ILS approach wasn’t the best in the world but it was within limits so still passable and all the general handling went pretty well. It was as I was attempting to get my clearance back into Bournemouth for the hold and approach that things started going a bit pear-shaped – the ADF, which had worked fine when tracking the Exeter NDB, was still playing up when tuned into Bournemouth. After watching it for about five minutes, the examiner decided that it was nowhere near good enough to use for a hold and approach so, frustratingly, he terminated the test at that point and it was left incomplete. We instead got another radar-vectored ILS to land and this time, not being on test, I was able to relax a bit more and also fly it with the screens down. This is something I personally feel should be allowed a bit more during training (if the weather is bad.) Obviously if the conditions are fine then the screens are necessary for training on the ILS, but it is possible to go all the way through an instrument rating course flying every single ILS approach behind white screens and only being given any visual references just before decision altitude – the first “real world” ILS could be when you’re flying an airliner. Of course most of my attention was still on the instrument panel but I was quite surprised at how it looked from in the clouds, it felt very different to suddenly having the screens yanked down 200ft above the runway.

Annoyingly, I had to wait another six days before I could go up and do the re-test but fortunately managed to get the Saturday off to go home for my birthday and go and watch the City v Reading match. Celebrating Stephen Ireland’s injury-time winning goal then turning round to find myself being photographed at close range by a Thai photographer was a bit weird considering the action was on the pitch, but winning 2-1 courtesy of a brilliant goal with the last kick of the game is always welcome. I went back down to Bournemouth on the Sunday afternoon, a journey which didn’t go smoothly thanks to some idiot activating the emergency alarm on the train to St Pancras, making me miss my connection at Waterloo and then having to deal with an extremely arsey South West Trains customer “service” staff member when trying to get my ticket changed. It took me about 7 hours in the end. The following Tuesday – the 27th – I went back to the exam centre with the aircraft to complete the IRT (incidentally, the aircraft had flown over the weekend and experienced no problems whatsoever with the ADF.) The NDB hold didn’t go particularly smoothly but it was within limits, and the approach was OK until right at the last second. Once again, the screens came down right at the last second but this time a big bank of cloud had settled right over the threshold for runway 26, a few hundred feet below minimum for the NDB approach. That meant we couldn’t land so still the test carried on! After the asymmetric go-around the examiner, needing to see only an asymmetric landing now, took control and got us an ILS approach instead, giving me back control at about 300ft when we finally did break cloud. Finally we got on the ground and the feeling of relief when he told me he was happy with it and I’d passed was immense.

Of course, from being ahead to going two weeks behind, there was no rest the next day – it was straight into the CPL phase and flying visually for the first time since the last time I flew the 172 in NZ last May. Going back to flying VFR and having to get back to grips with visual navigation, after spending the last six months focussed on the Twin Star’s big screens, felt a bit weird at first. It took me a while to get fully comfortable with the navigation side because a couple of flights had to be cut short due to bad weather, but generally it didn’t go too badly. Time pressures meant our course became a priority on the schedule, and it makes a marked difference being able to fly for 4 or 5 days on the trot. It does get tiring when the standards demanded are so high that every flight feels like a mini-test, but it’s well worth it for the improvements it makes to your confidence. The CPL flying generally went well; of course there were certain issues that cropped up as there always are, but the navigation element, in my opinion, is much easier in the UK than in NZ. There are some more complicated aspects, such as the much more complex airspace layouts and boundaries and the fact that the south of England is some of the busiest airspace in the world, but the task was made a whole lot easier by one thing. In New Zealand, when your instructor points to a place labelled on a map and says “take me there”, the place in question which looks like a small village on the chart invariably turns out to be a couple of sheds and a barn hidden in the middle of a bunch of trees and hills which, even if you fly right over it, can be very hard to see. In the UK, the VFR maps are far better and when you’re told to fly to a point, that point is far easier to spot and positively identify. That, of course, frees up your capacity to do other things. Unfortunately, I got to my F170A flight a couple of weeks before Christmas and was confronted, as we all were, by two weeks of low cloud and shocking visibility. One of the most frustrating things was taking the decision on one day to cancel a flight because of low cloud, both forecast and actually over the airfield at the time; half an hour later, after the aircraft had already gone on an IR training flight with a different cadet, the sky was absolutely clear. To make matters worse I caught that horrible cold bug that was going round before Christmas and ended up spending a few days feeling horrible and sorry for myself. Aside from the fact it’s difficult to concentrate and fly properly when you’re not well, it’s not clever to go flying in a confined space like the DA-42 and pass on your germs to an instructor especially just before Christmas, so after cancelling the flight about 5 days on the trot – three for weather, two for illness – I was told I wouldn’t get it in before Christmas and would have to wait. This was annoying, because I was relying on having a couple of weeks break after Christmas before the AQC started on January 14th.

So, after trekking all the way back down to Bournemouth and enjoying a very fun New Year’s Eve party in Ferndown, I got back to flying on 2nd January and promptly made a complete hash of the 170A. Fortunately, because of the lack of currency and because I had to come back early due to not feeling too well, I was given another crack at it the next day and the navigation was absolutely spot on apart from some dodgy altitude keeping. Once again, however, poor weather was hampering attempts to get people pushed through the tests and, having originally hoped I’d get mine done on 4th January, I eventually got a slot on Wednesday 9th. Someone up there somewhere was being very kind to me because having had even more crap weather for nearly a whole solid week, Wednesday was suddenly beautiful, with great visibility and hardly any cloud. I was given a nice route for my navigation by the examiner – directly up to Sedgemoor Services on the M5 just south of Bristol. During the flight I was given a diversion from overhead Glastonbury over to a little place called Bampton in Devon, a route which was massively assisted by flying right between the unmissable and relatively massive (from the air) towns of Bridgwater and Taunton. It really couldn’t have gone better and that set me up for a reasonably good flight from then on. As it happened, the navigation ended up being the best element, the circuits were pretty good and the general handling wasn’t a problem as it hadn’t been all the way through the course. After landing, unlike on the IR the examiner didn’t tell me whether I’d passed or not until we were back in the briefing room, leading me to presume I’d failed on something until he actually said “that was a pass”. As it happened, I had passed but still received a slight bollocking for being a bit slow in reacting to various emergencies and not showing enough urgency to get back in to Bournemouth despite having had a simulated engine fire and shutdown. Still, a pass is a pass and I’d finally completed basic training.

Unfortunately, due to a slight cock-up in NZ I was still short of 1.1hrs pilot-in-command time for the issue of my licence so I had to go round to a local flying club on the airfield and go up to do just over an hour in an old Robin 200. Again it felt quite strange going back to single-engine flying on what we DA-42 pilots like to refer to as “steam driven” instruments but actually it was great just going up and being able to enjoy flying without the pressure being on. I eventually got the flight done when we got a break in the weather on Friday (which had gone bad again on Thursday morning) and, being the first solo flight I’d done since mid-May, it was great fun. The Robin, despite its age, was actually quite nice to fly; there were things to think about like mixture leaning, carburettor heat and a wandering direction indicator, things which are all taken care of for you when you’re flying the Twin Star, but overall it handled really nicely and was much easier to land properly than the Robin aircraft in NZ due to the lack of a massive strake under the rear of the fuselage. Eventually I got finished with all the paperwork about 6pm, by which time I was earlier hoping I’d have been home, and set off back up north.

Two days later and I was on the way back to the south coast for the AQC, the intermediate stage of training which has to be passed before going on to the airline. At the moment, things are looking good. The first week has been all classroom based. Despite being a multi-crew co-operation course designed to teach us how to work in a multi-pilot environment rather than a type-rating course as such, the second week is still carried out in a jet simulator – the Airbus A320 in our case – so we spent the first two days learning about the technical and operational aspects of the A320 we’d need to be able to fly it properly. For the purposes of the course it’s a generic jet, but of course it’s so complex that you need to be able to operate it properly to succeed in it.

On Monday and Tuesday evenings, after we’d finished the ground school at about 4pm, we did go in to the A320 simulator to familiarise ourselves with it. It was a great feeling, stepping into it and sitting down at the controls – the sheer size of it compared to something like the Twin Star, and the size and relative complexity of the panel, really makes you feel like you’re taking another massive step forwards towards where you want to be. Getting in it for the first time is a real morale-booster. On the Tuesday we all had a quick go at flying it, just a couple of turns with and without the Flight Director indicators, to get a feel for how it handles before we go into the first 4-hour session on Monday. I obviously wasn’t able to get a true feel for it in five minutes but even so, the sheer amount that it can do is amazing. Even the average Joe Bloggs might know the A320 series is fly-by-wire and that it has six big screens instead of the older style array of instruments, but when you actually study what it can do and what’s available to you it makes you realise just how great it is. I’ll be able to say more about it when I’ve had a week of sim sessions next weekend, but I’m really looking forward to getting to grips with it.

Speaking of the Airbus, I got a bit of good news through this week. I don’t want to make a big thing of it at the moment because things can and do change, particularly dates, but I have now finally got a provisional date for starting type rating on the A319 (a slightly shorter version of the A320, for those who aren’t familiar) with a well-known, predominantly orange airline that flies a lot of them. I’ve got to pass the assessments on the AQC first, obviously, but assuming it all goes fine then it’s onwards and upwards! Also, I’m now in possession of my CPL/IR – I was quite surprised at the CAA managing to have it back to me 4 days after posting off the application, but manage they did and the coveted little blue book is sat right beside me on the desk here! So, there we go – I’ll try and get another entry in next week once I’ve had some time in the simulator, and if not then in two weeks when I’ve finished here and gone home. I’ve got some good photos to put up both here and on Facebook as well, but I’m struggling to get them off my phone. Annoyingly, I left my USB cable at home, I can’t get Kev’s USB Bluetooth adaptor to work, and I did try transferring stuff via the infra-red port but gave up on that pretty quickly after discovering it’d be faster to walk the 500 mile round trip home and get the USB cable than wait for the infra-red transfer. So they’ll probably be up in a couple of weeks.


January 13, 2008

Still here

I know a few people have asked me what’s happened to the blog of late… no, it hasn’t died a death and I am still here. The houses provided for us in Bournemouth generally don’t have internet access and that, coupled with the stress of flight tests, has meant blogging has had to take a back seat for a while. I am happy to report, however, that I passed the IR on November 27th and the CPL last week and have finished flying the Twin Star. Later today I’ll be heading back down to the south coast for the next stage, three weeks of multi-crew training and jet handling skills in the A320 simulator. I’ve been assured by the course ahead that it’s really interesting and good fun. The hotel down there does have net access so I’ll endeavour to get a proper entry about the Bournemouth phase of training sorted out soon.

PS. I just noticed this is my first entry of 2008 – a belated happy new year to everyone!

PPS. I’ve just noticed it’s also my 300th blog post. A milestone I would have passed ages ago if I’d had more regular internet access…!


November 20, 2007

Waiting

I’m still here, honestly. Entries are a bit few and far between at the moment because I was going to wait until after my Instrument Rating Test (IRT) before writing another one; unfortunately it’s being dragged out and further out. I was ready to take it just over a week ago but got delayed because the course ahead needed to get their CPL flights and exams done while the weather was good, as they needed to be out of their houses to allow the next lot to move in. Unfortunately that’s meant sitting around doing nothing very much for a week. Then the IRT was scheduled for today, and of course we have the worst weather we’ve seen for months. Unfortunately we’re not allowed to fly the Twin Star when thunderstorm activity is forecast, so today’s test was reluctantly cancelled. Hopefully it’ll be tomorrow but the weather is still looking pretty bad – a big trough of bad weather is going to be sat off the south coast, so I don’t know whether I’ll be going yet. It’s just getting so frustrating, having it dragged out for so long.