Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Days 15/16

Sorry everyone.

I can't do this right now.

Normal service will hopefully be resumed as soon as possible.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Day 14: You might not ever get rich...

Today's soundtrack: James Brown - Live at the Apollo

...but let me tell you it's better than digging a ditch.

But only just. Yes, Sunday, sun shining and 'Car Wash' day at Waring Towers. It's actually not so bad a job when the weather's like this, and we've got one of those pressure washer things which takes a lot of effort out of the job. Just Mrs W's car today - mine can stay dirty.

Watched the England game last night - had to watch it on t'internet as it was only being shown on Setanta. Actually got a pretty good quality stream of 'Star Sports' from somewhere out in the Far East - strangely all the pre and post match analysis is in English, but the commentary is all in foreign. Very difficult to work out exactly what, or who, the commentators were talking about at any point in time, the only thing I could pick up was the references to Peter Crouch, who the commentators seemed to be calling 'Crouchy' in a very familiar fashion.

Very disappointed none of the Everton lads got on the pitch - in fact, apart from the second goalie sub, they were the only subs who didn't get a run out. At least they didn't pick up any injuries - unlike the forward line, who were dropping like flies. Also nice to see Martin Skrtel have an absolute nightmare. Pleased to see The Boy picking up a couple of goals as well - thought he ran the match and was by far England's best player. See, I'm over it now.

Then up early this morning to watch the Grand Prix. Luckily, I went by the time on my phone rather than the alarm clock, as the whole 'clocks going forwards' thing had completely passed me by. Entertaining stuff - well as entertaining as the motor racing ever gets, I suppose, and always good fun to see a couple of the leading cars bang into each other with just a couple of laps to go. And also nice to see Jenson Button winning - and in some style as well. This being Formula One, there are apparently all manner of appeals and counter-appeals going on at the moment which may affect the final result, but it looks like the racing may be a lot more competitive than it's been for a long time.

Recipe watchers - not too much to report today I'm afraid - Mrs W picked up some cordon bleu chicken from Marks & Sparks today, although I shall be preparing a cauliflower cheese to accompany said chicken. If I remember (and if it is suitably photogenic) I may take a picture for your delectation later.

Today's soundtrack is generally accepted to be one of the best live albums recorded - ever. And it is a mighty fine disc, with the Hardest Working Man In Show Business at the height of his game. Recorded at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in 1962, James and his band, The Famous Flames (who are tight as a gnat's chuff throughout) play a wonderfully well judged and paced set and carry the audience in the collective palm of their hand throughout. The album is here on Spotify - and below, a clip of Mr Please Please Please himself in action. Nice footwork sir! Shake and Shimmy!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Day 13: Not convinced...

Today's soundtrack: Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Punch the Clock

"Not convinced" was Mrs W's verdict on last night's 'experiment'. Not that she tasted any of it, you understand. A look was enough. I kind of understand where she was coming from (you can be your own judge...it's the creamy-looking stuff in the wok on the back burner) but it tasted fine to me. Not that I'll be cooking it again anytime soon - at least not without a few adjustments to the recipe!

So what was it then? I know you're all dying to know. Well, it was a lamb curry, basically. Involving fruit. Specifically, lime, mango and coconut. I wanted to try something different - and there was a (very) old tin of mangoes lurking in the back of the cupboard that needed eating, so...

Bear with me on this. I did do a quick Google search and I did find a recipe using these ingredients - so, with a bit of artistic license, I went for it. Couple of lamb steaks, cut into bitesize chunks, left in a marinade of finely chopped onion, red and green chillis, olive oil, juice and zest of a lime, fresh ginger and some brown sugar for an hour or so. Everything then chucked into the wok and fried rapidly, to seal the meat. I added some powdered coriander at this point as well. Tin of coconut milk added, and the curry left to simmer until cooked, and the liquid reduced to a thick sauce. About halfway through the cooking time, a finely sliced lime (including skin) and the tin of mangoes added. Just before serving, some fresh coriander chopped and sprinkled on top.

You're not convinced either,are you?

Next time, I'd swap the lamb for a white meat - probably chicken - and either drop the mango altogether or insist on fresh rather then tinned.

Somehow I don't think I'll be getting any phone calls about this delicacy!

Enchiladas tonight. Recipe - buy an El Paso enchilada kit and follow the cooking instructions on the box. Actually don't, because that would be a bit dull. Add some green and red peppers and an onion to the chicken because chicken by itself is a bit naff.

Lazy day today - well it is the weekend - mainly sat around reading, and not getting involved in Mrs W's (successful) attempt to get her money back on a big sack of peanuts she bought to feed the birds in the garden. The nuts were 'shrivelled' and the birds were turning their noses up at them. Very picky, the birds in our neighbourhood. And we've already had the jokes about shrivelled nuts, thank you.

There's a lot in the music press at the moment about Woodstock - apparently it was 40 years ago this year, and a bit of fuss is being made about the anniversary. I dug out my DVD of the Woodstock film and watched, fascinated. And not just by the hippy chicks dancing around with their tops off. I know it was the first festival of its kind, and no doubt everyone has learnt from the mistakes they made at Woodstock, but it makes Glastonbury look like a well-drilled military operation (which I suppose it is, these days). But in the midst of all the chaos, there was a clear sense of community (and peace and love, man) and some fantastic music. A pity it all went to hell in a handcart at Altamont a short time later - but for a time, the hippy dream became reality.

And here's Jimi playing the Star Spangled Banner for the few remaining punters at the end of the festival...

Off to watch the England game shortly - I note none of the Everton trio are in the starting lineup but would be disappointed if none of them made it on to the pitch at some stage - especially Leighton Baines, who has really deserved his call up after some remarkable performances this season. And up early in the morning to watch the Grand Prix. Looks like it could be remarkably competitive this season, and Jenson Button's best chance of a decent shot at the World Championship.

Given the number of Costello albums I've got, it was only a matter of time before one of them came up on the soundtrack. A shame it's one of his poorer efforts, the marvellous 'Shipbuilding' notwithstanding. Off to see Elvis in April at the Bridgewater Hall - with the Brodsky Quartet, so it will be slightly more cultural than my usual fare.

And speaking of culture, if anyone is looking for a cheap fix of the classics, Amazon's download store has Simon Rattle's performances of all nine Beethoven Symphonies available at the moment for three quid. That's right, £3 for nine symphonies. Get over there and fill yer boots.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Day 12: The pressure!

Today's soundtrack: EMF - Schubert Dip

When I started this blog, the intention was partly to ensure I did something creative, that required a bit of thought and effort, and, frankly, to give me something to do. I assumed I would be largely 'howling into the void' - not for one minute did I think people would start reading the thing.

Now, I find, I am developing a small audience for these ramblings. Not only that, an increasingly vociferous and demanding audience. I am now getting requests - and demands - for namechecks and for particular content in the blog. The pressure!

So, firstly, a big 'shout out' to James and crew in Manchester. Thank you for keeping me involved in stuff - whilst I have given up on the fantasy football as a bad job, I intend to keep my position at the top of the leaderboard for the calendar quiz.

And secondly, the recipes. I try to theme this around the job search, the music and the football - but no. It's recipes you want. So recipes you shall have - but not today I'm afraid. Tonight's tea is currently on the go - it's curry night tonight at Waring Towers - with three separate dishes bubbling away gently.

Dish number one, a sag aloo - potatoes and spinach simmering in a spicy tomato base. I'm still amazed at the way spinach cooks - the bag of spinach that went into the pan was as big as a pillow - now, you can just about discern a few green strands in amongst the spuds.

Dish number two - a chicken tikka masala (for Mrs W, who knows what she likes). Chicken cooking away in its sauce, just waiting some fresh coriander and cream before serving.

Pictures opposite and yes, Mark, 'genuine' pictures!

The third dish is the interesting one - a bit of an experiment involving lamb and certain other ingredients. If it's any good I'll give you the recipe tomorrow. If not, I might just pretend it never happened.

Oh, by the way - the broccoli and Stilton soup yesterday - is absolutely to die for! Make it now!

Right then - other stuff. The inevitable happened today. You try and avoid it - look for excuses, other things to do - but eventually you just can't put it off any longer.

I did the ironing.

Bloody hell, it's hard work. But strangely satisfying - when you've finished. Up to now, we've sent the ironing out - bag it up, it gets collected, ironed and dropped off. All we have to do is hang it up. But in these straitened times, this is probably an expense we can avoid, so I volunteered. Mrs W, bless her, suggested we keep on sending it out - but no, I can do this. And I can. And did.

I did learn one thing today though - 'Easy Iron' Shirts.... don't believe it. It's a lie.

Obviously, I had the music playing in the background while I was dashing away with the smoothing iron. For some reason, iTunes decided to play a compilation of easy listening music from the '50s and '60s. So I'm ironing away to Perry Como, Matt Munro, Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones. It was like being whisked back in time, listening to 'Two Way Family Favourites' (ask your mum) on a Sunday.

Right now though, we are listening to EMF. Remember them? One hit wonders from the early nineties - 'Unbelievable' was the hit single (which is on this album). No idea why I bought the album in the first place - probably on the strength of the single and some good reviews in the music press. It's actually not bad, but very much 'of its time'. I went off EMF very quickly, actually, following an article in the old music magazine 'Select', which seemed to have quite a soft spot for the band. The journalist was accompanying the band on tour and took great delight in describing the merry japes that the band got up to...including, in particular, the antics of the keyboard player, whose 'party piece' was to insert various fruits into, er, 'unusual' parts of his anatomy. You wouldn't want to go near the fruit salad on this tour, I promise you. Put me right off the band and, for that matter, the magazine.

Today, Brian says "What are you really thinking about just now? Incorporate"

Ok Brian - I will. I'm actually thinking that Schubert Dip is not that bad of an album. So if you want to investigate further (and took my advice and downloaded Spotify) you can listen to the album here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Day 11: Cooking. Doesn't get. Tougher than this.

Today's soundtrack: Interpol - Our Love To Admire

You'll have to forgive me if this is a bit disjointed today - I'm writing this in between trips to the kitchen to stir my pots. Big pan of broccoli and Stilton soup on the go and I need to check it's not boiling too vigorously on a regular basis.

Very nice recipe and actually quite easy - fry off a couple of onions in some butter along with a finely chopped potato for around ten minutes until the onion has softened (but not browned). Add a couple of heads of broccoli (just the florets, not the stalks) and toss round until all the butter has been soaked up, then cover with stock (I'm using chicken, but use vegetable if you want to be purist about this. Also, use liquid stock, not cubes. If you can't/won't make your own, you can buy cartons of stock from all good supermarkets - and probably from some bad ones as well.) Add a spot of water if the stock does not cover the veg, then cover and simmer gently until all the veg are suitably soft and breaking up. Take off the heat, then give the mixture a good old blend with one of those hand blender things. What do you mean, you haven't got a hand blender thing?

When the soup is blended to your satisfaction, put back on a gentle heat and break up a big lump of Stilton into small chunks. (How big a lump? I don't know - as big as you like but probably not one of the big round ones. I'm using about 250g today.) Add the Stilton gradually to the soup, stirring as you go, until it has all melted. Taste and season to your liking. Finally, add a couple of tablespoons of double cream and stir in gently. Don't let the soup boil once the cream's in!

There you go - job's a good 'un. You learn stuff reading all this - and all for free!

So yeah, all quiet on the job front today. Went out early for groceries and bought a copy of the FT, but nowt of interest in there. Spent some time registering formally with the recruitment agency who have been most attentive so far, and sending that back to them.

Also managed to pick up five tickets to go and see Depeche Mode in Manchester in December - Kevin and his mates coming up from Birmingham, looking forward to what should be a good night. Depeche are one of those bands that (for me, anyway) have got better and better as they've matured - from what were quite lightweight synth-pop days to a very dark and intense band in their middle years. Dark and intense obviously loads better. Whilst I'm glad Dave Gahan has got over his various addictions, I hope he's managed to do that without losing the 'edge' to his performance.

Interpol currently playing in the background - another quite intense band who have spent a lot of time listening to Joy Division and their ilk. Saw them live at Latitude last year (see opposite), where they headlined the final night to great effect. On the first few listens, they can sound a touch samey, but perseverance uncovers a band with a good ear for a tune and a nice line in lyrics. "Our Love To Admire" is the most recent album, but I would also recommend "Antics"to you.

Started a new book last night - Anathem, by Neal Stephenson. Bloody hell, it's big. 900-odd pages big. But it comes with a good reputation and pedigree - I read his 'Cryptonomicron/Baroque Cycle' books last year and enjoyed them a lot, although they are heavy going at times. The books are densely plotted with a lot of technical and historical detail included, and can be difficult to get into, but if you persevere than they are a very satisfying and rewarding read. Let's hope Anathem is equally rewarding. Looks like I've plenty of time to find out...

So what's Brian Eno got to say to us today?

"Only a part, not the whole"

Well I only used the broccoli florets, not the whole head - is that what you mean, Brian?

Right, off to crumble Stilton...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Day 10: Of Toads and Strategies

Today's soundtrack: Various Artists - Beatlemania Vol. 2

If ever you needed proof that iTunes selects the day's soundtrack at random, today's choice should give you just that. The second of two freebie CDs containing cover versions of Beatles songs, I'm currently grooving to Cheap Trick covering Magical Mystery Tour. In the next hour we will be going from the sublime to the ridiculous, from Wilson Pickett's version of Hey Jude to Harvey Averne (who?) doing I Feel Fine. With many other delights in between.

Well, the toad in the hole was probably a '6/10 - could do better' last night. I should have trusted the recipe and left the (slightly runny) batter alone - the extra flour I added meant we ended up with a 'hole' that rose in all the right places, but was a touch rubbery in the middle. In contrast, the 'toads', Tesco's finest Pork & Leek, were excellent - very meaty with just a hint of herbage on top. Onion gravy more than acceptable although the ratio of onion to gravy needs to be revisited! (That's not mine opposite - mine looked better - especially the gravy!)

Jekyll continues to impress - half way through now, and looking forward to the rest. Will definitely keep us going until the next series of Dexter drops on the mat.

Lousy night's sleep last night due to the wind (no, nothing to do with the toad in the hole...the wind outside), the bang of a gate keeping me awake. Cursing the neighbours, but of course it turned out to be our garden gate causing the problem - despite the bolt being padlocked across, the supporting post had moved sufficiently in the wind to dislodge the bolt from its moorings. So a quick fix this morning with some plastic cord that will hopefully keep the thing shut tonight. And hopefully the neighbours will not be cursing us tonight!

In my new role as booking agent to the gang, it's looking like Latitude might be a goer, and also Depeche Mode in November (depending on the presale rush tomorrow). Coupled with Glastonbury, Elvis Costello and the Pet Shop Boys, it's already looking like another good summer on the gig-going front...always assuming new working arrangements don't interfere!

On that front, one of my fellow redundantees tipped me the wink about an opportunity in Manchester that has been duly applied for today - thanks Graeme! - so we'll see how that one pans out. Salary somewhat lower than previous, but a decent high profile role that fits well with stuff I've done in the past so could be a goer.

Those of you who are familiar with the work of Brian Eno may be aware of a technique he uses in music production called 'Oblique Strategies'. Essentially a set of cards with gnomic instructions written on each card. The theory is that you select a card at random, and use that card to inform your work that day. Inevitably 'Oblique Strategies' are available online and, more specifically, as an iPhone application that I have downloaded. So let's, just for fun, see what today's pronouncement is.....

"Make it more sensual"

Hmmm....perhaps using Oblique Strategies to help me find a new job isn't the way to go... might revisit this approach though!

Since it's a bit quiet today, I'm going to bore you with the details of a newish music tool on t'internet that might just change the music industry forever. Or not. Anyway, it's called 'Spotify' and you should all download it immediately. Essentially, you download a piece of software that looks and feels a bit like iTunes, and once it's on your desktop (or laptop), assuming you have a half-decent internet connection, you have searchable access to a vast amount of music - all on a legitimate basis. The basic model is totally free, but will interject adverts on an irregular basis. You can pay a subscription to avoid the ads, but (currently at least) they are very unobtrusive. Can't quite see how the business model works (if at all) but enjoy it while you can. It's like having an iTunes library with literally millions of albums in it.

Back on the bass today - happily mastered the (admittedly easy) bass line to 'Summer Lovin', on the Grease soundtrack. 'She Bangs The Drums' by the Stone Roses will, I think, take a little longer...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Day 9: Sign on, sign on.....

Today's soundtrack: The Who - Quadrophenia

Well, that could have been an awful lot worse than it was. I parked up well in advance of my signing-on time (what happens if you're late?) in the retail park over the road, and had a quick browse round Borders before heading across to the Job Centre (although mine is actually a Job Centre 'Plus', whatever that signifies). Pitched up ten minutes early, and to my dismay entered a crowded waiting area - it looked like a long wait was in order.

The system is a little bit Heath Robinson - basically everyone has a little plastic wallet with their paperwork inside, which you put in a box placed on the edge of a desk, then you wait until your name is called. It feels almost like a raffle - you half expect the wallets to be shuffled then drawn out with a flourish by a minor celebrity....but no. After being moved around by a security guard ("you can't stand there, sir") I eventually got a seat and people began to get 'processed'. Whether by chance or design my name was called just about on the appointed time, and I took my seat opposite a very nice lady who asked me a few questions about my job search, apologised for the confusion around the waiting area (apparently they have recently changed systems so now people have appointed times to turn up - rather than just turning up when they felt like it on the appointed day).

So after about ten minutes of this, I got to sign my name on a slip of paper and that's it for another fortnight. Still not a pleasant experience, but nothing like as bad as I was expecting.

Earlier in the day I finally submitted my application for a job over in the Leeds area, and spoke to a recruitment consultant about the possibility of some temporary work. The same firm had called me last night to talk through another opportunity but unfortunately the level is too junior to be of interest....yet! Still, they are happy to talk to me and do have me in mind for opportunities out there.

The daily trawl of the web produced little of interest, but there's one other role that I'm going to go after that was advertised in the paper last week. Bit of a long shot, but still....

Loads of messages today from ex-colleagues up and down the country, which was nice. Well, better than nice, actually, good to know that I've not been cut adrift and that losing a job doesn't mean losing friendships as well. It would also appear these daily ramblings are attracting some attention as well!

Initial lineup for the Latitude festival announced yesterday - well, just the headliners, really. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Grace Jones and the Pet Shop Boys, with Editors, Doves and Bat For Lashes also announced. Not one to immediately set the pulse racing, and I'm seeing the Pet Shop Boys in Manchester in June anyway (and saw Nick Cave in 'Grinderman' guise at Latitude last year) but still tempted. Can afford to wait, can't see this being anything like an immediate sell-out. Latitude was superb last year, loads to do and an excellent set of bands right down the bill on each day so I might yet put my money down. Might be on my own though, the boy isn't interested this year and my attempts to cajogle a couple of ex-colleagues along have been stymied by their general lightweightedness (you know who you are, chaps....). Still, done that before and it's not a problem. In any event, Glastonbury is already bought and paid for, so the festival itch will still get scratched this year!

Yet to be let down by the random soundtrack to my typing (although since I'm only playing music I've chosen and bought myself, what would it tell you if I didn't actually like what was playing?) I've liked The Who from way back - Who's Next was the second LP I bought with my own money and I saw them for the first time in 1975 when Keith Moon was still alive (and no doubt before half of you were born). Quadrophenia is a particular favourite and is even pretty well served by the film of the album, even if it does have Sting in it. Excellent turn by the very young Phil Daniels, long before Parklife and latterly his stint in 'stenders. Also a very young Ray Winstone and a pre-trout Lesley Ash. But however good the film is, it would be nothing without the music it was based upon (and the concept it was built around).

Toad in the Hole tonight, I've decided - and the batter is mixed and 'resting'. Bit of an experiment, not cooked this before and the batter looks ominously runny at the moment (even after a flour top-up) but we'll give it a go. I can always pull the sausages out and chuck the batter away. Oh, and onion gravy. Yummy! Mrs W will have a fit.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Day 8: Our Day Out

Today's soundtrack: Various Artists - Music inspired by 'Oh! Brother, Where Art Thou?'

Off we go again, to the strum of a banjo and a sprightly 'Yee-hah!' Can't beat a bit of bluegrass. Currently listening to Leadbelly covering that old acoustic Nirvana song, 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night?', with The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and Gene Autry all comin' up in the next half hour. Don't touch that dial now....

Anyway, the day out didn't quite go as planned - blustery winds and the promise of heavy rain put paid to any thoughts of a day out in Conwy, or even to a trip out to Southport. We were determined not to stay in all day, so where else but the Mecca of the Modern Shopping Experience, the Trafford Centre?

Off we set, blown backwards and forwards (but mostly sideways) down the M56 to a relatively quiet Trafford Centre. One of the small pleasures to come from my current situation is the ability to get out to places like this when they are 'off-peak', ie not lunchtimes or weekends. So a nice gentle browse round the shops on my own (we split up, of course, Mrs W doing the lady shops and me doing the boy shops) with no real intention of buying anything - just having a stroll away from the wind and rain.

Met up with Mrs W an hour later, wallet no lighter than it was when we'd started despite spending plenty of time in the den of temptation that is the Apple store - my, those iMacs are sooo beautiful - one day, one day - and we wandered into the food court for a quick spot of lunch, which my good lady wife treated me to. Shared plate of nachos and a Jalapeno burger, since you ask.

By this time, the weather had brightened up considerably, although the wind was as strong (and cutting) as it had been previously. We toyed with the idea of a run out to Southport, but decided against it in the end.

Back home, found a cd of Franz Ferdinand's live gig at the Manchester Academy waiting for me on the doormat - made by one of these companies that specialises in recording gigs (legally, and under license) and selling cds immediately after the event. Picked this one up because Matt had gone along to the gig - no doubt I'll be able to hear him roaring along to 'This Fire' or some such in the background if I listen hard enough. I think it's a nice idea, and certainly better than trying to hunt down an dodgy snide recording on t'interweb. Waiting for a cd of a Richard Hawley concert to turn up as well - really looking forward to that one!

Twittering along in the background while writing this - still to fully understand the point of Twittering, but it's probably its very pointlessness that makes it fun. Currently eavesdropping on the saga of the animal infestation of the Word office...

You will have gathered from the tone of today's blog that the job hunting has gone a little bit quiet of late. And you'd be right. The daily trawl of the usual websites has turned up a blank, as did the weekend papers. Still, one or two things are progressing slowly through the pipeline, and one of my mates (and ex-colleagues) has tipped me the wink about something that might come up for grabs in the not too distant. But not a lot to tell them at the Job Centre tomorrow, when I go to sign on. That'll be fun, won't it?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Day 7: Family time

Today's soundtrack: Björk - Selmasongs

Family day today what with it being Mothers' Day and all, so not a huge amount to write about. Probably.

Up and out first thing, to pick up some flowers for my Mum and to buy the Sunday Times (part of my Jobseekers' agreement, don't you know. Bet I can't claim the cost back.) Flowers from The Hollies Farm Shop on the A49 - if you're in the area, then I recommend a visit - it's not the cheapest, but the quality and diversity of the stuff they sell is fantastic. Sunday Times from the garage.

So home for coffee and newspaper - quick review of the appointments section revealed nothing suitable, but at least I looked. Papers of course all missed the big news story of the day - Jade Goody's death. Very sad and all, but is this something the Prime Minister really needs to be commenting on? Hasn't he got an economy to fix?

Then out for dinner with the family - this year at Gusto in Heswall. Again happy to do a bit of free advertising - had a really nice meal in lovely (if warm) surroundings - very pleasant staff as well. Currently digesting the penne arrabbiata as I type. Big thanks to our kid for footing the bill this year - my turn next year when I'm working again!

News came through while we were in the restaurant of Big Red's demolition of Aston Villa. Liverpool worryingly on fire at the moment, but Villa happily in freefall seemingly. At least there will be some pressure on ManYoo that might lead to them fielding a weakened team in the FA Cup - not that I'm clutching at straws or anything.

Selmasongs is the soundtrack to the Dogme film that Björk was in a few years ago called 'Dancer in the Dark'. Film did very little for me and, to be honest, this isn't the first Björk album I would have reached for but hey, iTunes does the selecting - I take what it gives me! That said, it's a decent enough album and am quite enjoying her wailing along in the background.

So, day out at the seaside tomorrow - Mrs. W has taken the day off so we're heading out for the day, probably to Conway, but wherever the mood takes us. Hopefully the sun will shine but I'm not sure the forecasts are great....

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Day 6: Gizza job eh?

Today's soundtrack: Curtis Mayfield - Superfly

Well the prawn stirfry was delightful, although the film (Saw V) left a bit to be desired. Not really concentrating to be honest, although gave myself brownie points for spotting Chloe's husband out of 24 in the DVD menu before the film even started. Mrs W refusing to be impressed. I was convinced Mr Saw himself died in one of the earlier films, so slightly surprised to see him upright and, if not the picture of health, certainly alive. Still, it's not unusual for supposedly dead characters to reappear in later films (or even in the same film) in the 'splatter' genre, so I shouldn't be too surprised I guess.

So off to the Jobcentre this morning to go through the formalities of registration. And what a deeply dispiriting experience that was. Everyone involved was pleasant and couteous but there is a deep sense of being processed rather than being treated as an individual. And processed into a system that isn't really designed to meet my needs - finding an equivalent job to mine on the system was a challenge, as was discussing and documenting the ways in which I will be looking to find work. At least the chairs aren't bolted to the floor like they used to be back in the day. Anyway, the paperwork now disappears into the system - apparently it will take four weeks for the claim documentation to be processed, which reflects the recent surge in applications for benefit (sorry, "Jobseekers' Allowance") that are hitting the system.

In the meantime, I have to go back on Tuesday to sign on for the first time - can't wait.

And then back home to watch the Everton-Portsmouth game. And what a deeply dispiriting experience that was. No Cahill, debut for Jacobsen (finally) and a start for Saha. Average age of the bench - 19. The game started well, Everton taking the lead through a Baines free kick and then dominating possession for a decent spell. Portsmouth then came back into the game with a Crouch goal from a corner erroneously given by the referee, seeing a 'deflection' that never happened. Be that as it may, the defending from the corner was pretty poor.

Second half, Everton again started the brighter, but never really looked like scoring and eventually, the lanky streak of piss got on the end of another corner to make it 2-1. After that, we huffed and puffed but if anything, Portsmouth were the more likely scorers. Can't complain too much - Portsmouth just wanted to win more than we did, and again we failed to impose ourselves on a strong, physical team. No doubt Crouch will get the overall Man of the Match award (although I was more impressed with Glen Johnson, who seems to be turning into a class act), but for Everton it's difficult to call the best player. Pienaar played very well in patches and Baines again impressed, and Jacobsen did ok on his debut, but overall it was a lacklustre performance. Now in the unhappy position of looking for favours from Arsenal and Liverpool!

No music practice so far today, don't want to upset Mrs W unnecessarily!

Nice to listen to Curtis, and the Superfly soundtrack is probably his best work for me, standing up as an excellent soundtrack to the film and a wonderful piece of music in its own right. iTunes has selected the second disc of the set to play, which means I'm listening to instrumental versions and demos of the centrepiece songs, along with instrumental versions and elements of the film score, but not once does the standard drop below excellent.

Off to the kichen shortly, to rustle up a pasta bake, which will give me the perfect opportunity to investigate the bottle of red that I managed to pass over on Thursday night. Think I deserve it!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Day 5: Adam Clayton eat your heart out...

Today's soundtrack: U2 - October (Deluxe Edition)

Watched Hancock last night and the bottle of red remained untouched. Good man, Paul! Film was a load of old rubbish really, but entertaining old rubbish for all that. Without giving away the plot, there's a twist about halfway through that's just a touch contrived and takes what is already a barely believable premise into the outer realms of unbelievability. Even in the context of a film about a drunkard superhero with an attitude and a body odour problem. Will Smith actually manages to play it reasonably straight without the odd knowing glance to camera, and Charlize Theron is quite frankly excellent eye candy.

Up early and off to Tesco to fulfill my househusbandly responsibilities. Oh dear. Think it was half price for pensioners day today - don't they move slowly? And why do the ladies have to bring their husbands with them - they only get in the way? Forgive the grumpiness - victim of my own fuckwittery this morning - Mrs W specifically left the Tesco Clubcard to pay for the groceries so I could use the £7 off vouchers that expire on Sunday - the vouchers that I managed to leave next to the computer. That are even now looking accusingly at me as I type. Have to watch the pennies these days!

Still, all the ingredients bought for a nice prawn stirfry tonight despite the trauma. For those of a culinary disposition, this will involve fresh (uncooked) king prawns being stirfried along with some garlic, ginger, chilli, spring onions and pak choi, flavoured with some thai fish sauce and sweet chilli sauce, and served on a bed of noodles dressed in sesame oil and sprinkled with fresh coriander. I'd give you the recipe but I tend to make it up as I go along.

No phone calls today (apart from the job centre checking I'm actually planning on turning up tomorrow) but I made some progress with one of my job applications, tailoring my cv and preparing a very detailed covering letter to meet their specific requirements. Also completed the claim for unemployment insurance, incorporating some elements completed by my ex-employer. Interesting to note that they believe the date I was informed of my redundancy was the 4th December - the date the consultation started, rather than 11 March, the day the consultation process effectively finished... What was the consultation process intended to achieve, then?

Aaaanyway.....the bass guitar. Decided that the way forward was to look up some bass lines for one or two popular tunes and was pleased to discover that this is a good way of convincing yourself that you are making progress. It helps if you choose the bass line for Ramones songs of course...and it has to be said that the learning curve for the U2 repertiore is not the steepest. Within You Without You knocked off in about ten minutes. Which all goes to prove that Adam Clayton (for it is he who plays the bass for the '2) is possibly the luckiest man alive.

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for U2. I know Bono tends to get on a lot of people's tits with his holier than thou attitude and his pontificating on the use to which our taxes should be put, whilst keeping his own tax bill as low as possible, but musically - when they are good, they are very, very good indeed.

And this is the perfect opportunity for me to regale you with my favourite (albeit possibly apocryphal) Bono anecdote. Stop me if you've heard it before....

Bono's doing his starving kids in Africa bit. Onstage, silence - apart from the slow click of Bono's fingers. "Every time I click my fingers, a child in Africa dies," he says.

"Well stop fucking clicking, then" comes a shout from the crowd.

I'm here all week, tombola up next, you've been a lovely audience etc.

So off to the dole office tomorrow, then back for Everton-Portsmouth on the telly. Or on the snide Asian channel if it's on Setanta.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Day 4: Could get used to this...

Today's soundtrack: Squeeze - Frank

Kicked back and watched the first episode of 'Jekyll' last night, with a cheeky mid-week bottle of red on the go. I'll have to be careful that the midweek drinking doesn't get out of hand - if only from a cost point of view - but at the moment there's a bit of 'I can, so I will' about it.

Really enjoyed Jekyll as well - not a massive fan of James (I keep wanting to call him Rab) Nesbitt, but certainly in the first episode he's handling the different elements of his 'personality' pretty well. Also enjoying watching Gina Bellman (remember Blackeyes?) and Zoe Out Of Eastenders!

Anyway, far too nice to sit in and write job applications this morning, so off to Cheshire Oaks for a bit of retail therapy. Started the day with cappuccino and muffin again, sat in the sun reading the papers, not missing the daily grind one little bit! The justification for going out was to get Anniversary/Mothers' Day cards for the weekend (which I did) but a couple of other little things slipped into my bag - just necessities, you understand. I also picked up a tent pole repair kit to put right the little mishap we had with Matt's tent at Glastonbury last year...

Back home, and finished off the Carrot and Coriander soup I'd made a while ago - no more homemade soup left in the freezer, so I need to experiment a bit more, I feel. Will keep you posted.

And then back to the ukulele. C, F and G7 chords nailed, and perfectly acceptable versions of Happy Birthday and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star performed to the cat's bemusement. Available for weddings, parties, bar mitzvahs etc.

The bass may take a little bit more time to fully come together.

Squeeze must be one of the most criminally underrated bands of the last thirty years or so, and Frank one of their most overlooked albums. Just listening to 'She Doesn't Have To Shave' - possibly the most sensitive song written by a man about PMS. In fact, possibly the only song written by a man about....

That and 'Can of Worms' (about the new man in a single mother's life) are the standout tracks for me - grown up songs about grown up things, handled sensitively and intelligently. With tunes and melodies to die for.

Not so sure about Dr Jazz though, Jools....

I saw Squeeze very early on in their career, third on the bill at Sheffield City Hall supporting Eddie and the Hot Rods and Radio Stars (it was a very long time ago, ok?). I think it's fair to say that they were still finding their feet at that stage, whereas Eddie and the Hot Rods were about 12 minutes through their 15 minutes of fame. We had all really gone to see Radio Stars, who we were all convinced would be The Next Big Thing - but with hindsight, a couple of novelty singles and a patchy first album were not the best grounding for a massive career in rock. And so it proved.

So here I am writing concert reviews from thirty years ago. Back to more important matters, then!

Another call from a recruitment agency today - possible opportunity at a company in Cheshire that is being discussed tomorrow. May or may not be a goer - certainly a company I'd like to work for - but in any event it's nice to be getting these calls and to know that there are things out there. We'll see.

Mrs W dining out this evening so the remote is mine! Hancock is sitting there unwatched, so might give that a go - whilst polishing off a chunk of Tesco's finest pizza and resisting the siren call of the second bottle of red...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Day 3: First steps

Today's Soundtrack: Aretha Franklin - Queen of Soul

Well, the Jobcentre called me today to complete the initial registration process, and to invite me to a meeting on Saturday morning at the Warrington branch to complete some further formalities. It seems a bit ironic that the one time I don't actually need a weekend appointment, that's what they give me... I would have thought the dole office was the one place that would be perfectly happy to insist on weekday appointments and to take the weekend off, but there you go.

The whole registration process seems a bit disjointed as well. Today's phone call followed the submission of an on-line registration process that took some (but obviously not all) the information they needed from me - the questions the nice lady asked me this morning could just as easily been included on the on-line questionnaire, negating the need to wait 48 hours for a phone call at all. Be interesting to see what they ask me on Saturday and whether that could have been covered on-line as well. Mind you, I do need to see a real person at some stage as I've got a form for them to fill in relating to my unemployment insurance, so all's well really.

Oh, and just to interject - Aretha's version of 'Young, Gifted and Black' is surely a work of true genius!

While I was on the phone to the doley, I missed a call on my mobile. Called back and spoke to another very nice lady about a potential vacancy in the Leeds area - formal recruitment process to go through, but she sounded very positive so definitely one to push forward. But that's a task for tomorrow I feel.

Gave the bass guitar (and my left pinky) a rest today (for now anyway - the day is still young) but in a bid to do something practical every day, picked up the ukulele for a spell. Yes, the ukulele. The uke came about as a consequence of a giddy spell on the Sunday at Glastonbury last year. The sun was shining, the music (including the mighty Amsterdam in the acoustic tent) had been wonderful and, yes, strong drink had been taken. It struck me that the one thing that would make the occasion absolutely perfect was for me to buy a couple of ukes for me and for the boy. And so I did. Not really sure (with the benefit of hindsight) that Matt was as keen on the idea as I was, but never being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, he humoured me. And so we got uke'd up. Bit of a waste of time, as we had no idea how to tune the buggers (or anything to tune them against) but we strummed happily if tunelessly until something else distracted us.

Anyway, it could have been worse. What I really wanted was a big fuck-off African drum to hit. Well, there's always this year.

Just back from Tesco's with the makings of a spaghetti bolognese for this evening - and a microwave. A nice, dainty, microwave to replace the stainless steel behemoth that has dominated the kitchen for the past few years. The old one will do for one of the boys if they need a microwave at any time. And if they don't need a microwave, they could put some furniture in the thing and live in it.

And still no daytime tv.

Aretha got a bad press at the Obama inauguration the other week - and with good cause. But in her day she was untouchable. The present day selection of 'divas' (the Celines, the Mariahs, the Leonas) should be dragged into a room and forced to listen to Aretha non-stop for a month. To understand what constitutes a good song selection. To learn that just because you can stretch one syllable to include twenty-five notes, doesn't mean you should. To realise that singing loud does not mean singing with emotion.

Aretha Franklin. Queen of Soul. Because she is.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Day 2: The Househusband

Today's soundtrack: The Clash - Sandinista

You know those jobs you always mean to get round to - but never do? Well, I started getting round to them.

Nice start to the day - up and out into town, to sit in Costa with a cappuccino and a chocolate twist playing iPhone games for half an hour, before going to the hairdressers for a 'light trim'. This is something I could easily get used to.

Hairdressers have moved on a long way since I used to sit on a plank of wood laid across the arms of the barber's chair, the plank necessary to get me to the right elevation for Archie Stubbs to administer his 'short back and sides'. Archie always used to perform some magic round the back of my head with a lit taper, to 'seal the ends' of my hair, I believe. Why don't they do that anymore?

Anyway, I digress. The modern hairdressing experience involves a willowy blonde, a shampoo followed by a head massage, fresh coffee in my own personal cafetiere, and (ahem) an eyebrow trim. I recommend the eyebrow trim to gentlemen of my vintage, lest you begin to resemble Denis Healy (or, indeed, Mark Ellen).

Took a call from a recruitment consultant - an ex-colleague had kindly passed my details on. Nothing doing at the moment, but at least it's one more person who knows I'm out there, looking...

Back home for pork pie, yet more coffee and bass practice. I can pick out the notes to the odd riff, but getting my fingers to go where I want them to is proving problematic. No mind, perseverance will pay off in time. He said, hopefully.

Then chores. I have known for a while that there have been foodstuffs lurking in our cupboards for quite a while now and a rationalisation of the stocks has been long overdue. The winner in the 'longest past the post' competition was the coffee whitener that passed its sell-by date in 2001, but it was not the only contender for most disgusting discovery on the shelves. Some instant coffee that had somehow turned into a solid indigo block probably took that prize.

On a roll, I then did a massive 'chuck-out' that has freed up plenty of space for us to hoard the next ten years' worth of junk.

All in all a very satisfying day. And still not turned the telly on before sundown.

Anyway - Sandinista. iTunes has thrown up the second half of the double CD set (sides 3-6 in old money) and after a sound start (Police On My Back through to Charlie Don't Surf) I'm now struggling with Mensforth Hill and Junkie Slip. There's a great double and fantastic single album lurking in Sandinista, but my God, there's some self-indulgent crap as well.

Stop press from Twitter: "Nevin: 'Fellaini is Best In World'". On closer inspection, Pat Nevin has stated that he believes Marouane Fellaini has the potential to be one of the best players in Europe....not quite the same thing....

So tomorrow - should be hearing from the Job Centre, 48 hours having passed since my on-line application. Best stay in for that. Few more cupboards to get through as well....

Monday, March 16, 2009

Day 1: What next?

Today's soundtrack: Noel Gallagher - The Dreams We Have As Children, courtesy of The Sunday Times

And so it begins: a period of enforced leisure courtesy of the credit crunch and an employer forced into some tough (for me, anyway) decisions. Inevitably I've been through a range of conflicting emotions but, above all, there is currently a surprising feeling of calm. It helps that there is a nice redundancy payoff swelling (temporarily, at any rate) the coffers, and the foresight to take out unemployment insurance to cover the mortgage provides a touch more breathing space - but I'm still unemployed with no immediate prospect of a job. Why am I not panicking?

I'm amused by the irony of this blog title. "Stuck Between Stations" was originally a nod to my refusal to grow old gracefully - stuck, if you will, between the kid I was and the 'grown-up' I refuse to be. And, of course, a reference to the wonderful Hold Steady - a group of musicians who act no older than they need to. The song itself refers to being stuck between stations on the radio - when things are not as 'crystal clear' as they might be. Something else I can relate to at the moment.

But now, I'm stuck between two other stations - the job I had and the new job I've yet to find.

I can't allow myself to sit around feeling sorry for myself, so I thought that I should resurrect this moribund blog to document this period in my life - partly to pass the time, but also to keep me thinking and creating something. Not a diary as such - just a record of my thoughts and actions, and a discipline to make sure I do something constructive with my time off.

So what have I done with myself so far? Well, made a start on the paperwork and admin. Insurance claims, Jobseeker applications (online - no queueing up at the doley so far) and a trawl around the web for the elusive new role.

Buggered if I'm not going to enjoy the fact I'm not stuck in the office though. I've also finished Watchmen, read most of this month's Word, entertained the cat and struggled with the bass guitar that my workmates got me as a leaving present.

Watchmen - enjoyed it greatly...not convinced it's the literary masterpiece some believe it to be...at the end of the day, it's a comic, isn't it? A good one, no doubt, but still a comic.

The Word - still by far the best magazine on the market today, and the print magazine is just one element of the full Word experience - I commend the website and the podcasts to you all as well.

I'll keep you posted on the bass - suffice to say that I need to develop biceps on my fingers before I'm going to make any real progress here!

Oh, and the Noel Gallagher - I like Noel solo a lot, and the covers on this CD are especially entertaining - 'Butterfly Collector' and 'All You Need is Love' with Weller are fine, as is the version of 'There is a Light That Never Goes Out' that I'm currently listening to. And it's all for the Teenage Cancer Trust, which must be a good thing.