Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Days 98-100: The Excitement is Building....

Today's soundtrack: Sigur Rós - Ágætis Byrjun

Where has all the time gone these last few days?

I'll tell you where. Getting giddy about Glastonbury - checking weather forecasts, planning where to go and when, checking the weather again, sorting out clothes and stuff - oh, and just having one more check on the weather front.

Sunday however, I did the decent thing and went down to see my old man on Father's Day. Well, that was the plan. Of course I got down there and he was out. Apparently he'd called me at home and twice on my mobile...none of those calls actually reaching me for some reason. He's old, and he was using a mobile phone. He could have been calling anyone.

Still, had a quick chat with him on the phone, left his card there and had a chat with my Mum instead. Which was nice.

For my part, I had a card off Son No 2 and a present from Son No 1 - a Van Morrison CD that he'd somehow divined that I wanted - I must have put it on my Amazon wish list...either that or he's telepathic! All good stuff, just glad they remembered!

Watched the Grand Prix and, naturally, as soon as we get to the UK, the wheels (not literally, thankfully) come off the Button bandwagon and he is well beaten by the Red Bull team, who appear to be running into a bit of form and consistency. Might be a 'season of two halves' which would liven things up no end come the final few races!

After moaning about the general flakiness of my home computer, I ordered a new box from Dell which arrived on Monday. Just the box, all my other accessories - monitors, keyboards, mice etc - are all fine. Spent most of the day copying stuff from my old machine onto my new machine, via an external hard drive - with variable success, it has to be said - email and web bookmarks came across like a dream, but iTunes was a nightmare - looks like my ratings and play counts have been lost forever, although most of my playlists seem to have transferred ok.

The new machine is running Vista, which looks very pretty, but I can't say I'm convinced by some of its quirks - quirks that seem to have been eradicated in the early version of Windows 7 that I have seen. Still, will give it a go and - touch wood - it seems pretty robust at the moment. No doubt while I am away it will stop working for Mrs W. And that will be my fault.

Early post today for Day 100 (is it really 100 days already? Where has the time gone?). Just back from the supermarket, having done the booze shopping for Glastonbury. It breaks down like this:

Cider: 6 litres of Weston's vintage organic (7.3%).
Wine: 3 litres of chenin blanc/chardonnay
Gin: 1 litre of Sainsbury's finest (43% and delicious)
Vodka: 1 litre of cooking vodka.

Plus various mixers, tonics etc, including 4 litres of Sainsbury's own brand Red Bull equivalent.

Oh, got some wet wipes and bin liners too. Food? Cereal bars, sweets and peanuts, most of which will come back unopened.

The booze should see me through to Friday though.

Early start tomorrow to pick up Son No 2 in Trowbridge as early as possible, then off to Wells to pick up a couple of his mates. Hopefully camped up before midday, and cracking open the first cider around lunchtime.

So it's going to be quiet for a few days - but full, extended Glastonbury report will follow early next week.

If I'm still alive, that is.

Soundtrack today - Sigur Ros, who are not touring this year but who headlined Latitude last year and were totally excellent. Bit of a 'Marmite' band, but they'll do for me. Ágætis Byrjun is their second album, and the one that brought them to mainstream attention. They opened Latitude with one of the standout tracks on the album, Svefn-g-englar. And here it is, not from Latitude unfortunately, but from Bonnaroo on the same festival circuit.

Wish me luck all - see you when I get back from Glasto!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Day 97: Glastonbury - let planning commence!

Today's soundtrack: Doves - The Best Of Doves

Son No 1 headed off back down south today, after a detour to pick up Son No 2 from Huddersfield - so with the house quiet it was time to start the planning for next week in earnest.

First job: Print off the Glastonbury Clashfinder and do some preliminary planning on who to see and when. A plan that will probably last until Friday afternoon, then to be consigned to the back of the tent as I make it up as I go along.

For what it's worth,there appears to be an unhealthy focus on the Pyramid this year - that will have to be rectified on the fly I think. But at the moment the highlights are looking like this:

Friday - White Lies, Steel Pulse, The Specials and Neil Young
Saturday - Tinariwen, Eagles of Death Metal, Spinal Tap (oh yes!), The Gaslight Anthem, CSN, Tindersticks and Brooce
Sunday - Easy Star All Stars, The Status Quo, Amadou & Miriam, Glenn Tilbrook, Madness, Nick Cave and Blur

Next job: Start piling up all the essentials in the spare room. Shorts, t-shirts, bandanas, beads, ponchos, hats, the usual stuff. Take a long look at the pile of stuff and then put half of it back in the cupboard. Root out torches, cameras, batteries etc. Going to risk taking the expensive camera this year - it's bigger and heavier, but takes far better pictures in low light than the cheap compact one. Defeats the object really, taking a small and light camera if you can't take any decent pictures with it!

Finally today - give the booze shopping a bit of thought. It's looking like a serious booze run on Tuesday - a run that will involve the purchase of a vodka drink, a gin drink and a white wine drink. And some cheap red bull substitute (got to keep my energy levels up!) At the very least. Oh, and some cereal bars to take away and bring back, uneaten.

One band I won't be seeing at Glastonbury is Doves - saw them last week as reported, and will see them at Latitude next month - and they clash with Neil Young as well. The 'best of' I'm listening to now was a download, and I don't think was ever an official release by the group - I'm guessing it's a 'fan compilation' put together and uploaded to a music blog. No matter - I've got all the official albums anyway, so the group's not losing out due to this bit of downloading. The compilation pre-dates 'Kingdom of Rust' but cherrypicks nicely from the group's first three albums. Definitely suits a relaxed afternoon's listening.

Here's 'There Goes the Fear' recorded live in 2002.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Day 96: We Built this Village on a Trad. Arr. Tune

Today's soundtrack: Fairport Convention - Nine

Maybe the first signs of some light at the end of the tunnel?

Or just wishful thinking?

Had a meeting today at a firm of accountants about the possibility of a position in the future. Not an interview, we're not in that position yet - just some exploratory discussions over a plate of sandwiches and a coffee.

But quite productive discussions all the same. I had previously met the guy I was meeting, in 'interesting' circumstances that I can't go into here, so there was no need for too much introductory chit-chat. Anyway, the long and short of it is that there is a possibility that a suitable position may open up - probably post-September, and there may also be the possibility of some contract/secondment work in the intervening period. This, coupled with the potential contract I mentioned on Day 94, might be enough to keep the wolf from the door until a permanent position comes up.

Or it might be another false dawn. Who knows, but for the first time I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Or maybe as Wirral funsters Half Man Half Biscuit would readily point out - The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train)...

And for those who missed the reference - today's blog title also comes courtesy of HMHB in honour of the Fairport Convention soundtrack. But you knew that, didn't you? Oh.

In the excitement of yesterday's concert report, I forgot to tell you about my latest culinary exploits! Yes, folks, it's recipe time!

I'm told it was delicious - I wouldn't know because I never got to taste the thing. But Mrs W and Son No 1 both gave it the thumbs up.

What was it then? Well I'm sure it's got a proper name, but in Waring Towers it goes by the name of 'Guinness Casserole'. That's all you need to know really, isn't it?

Anyway, in your big casserole pan, brown some stewing steak in some oil, until cooked through. Dry the meat as much as you can, so it fries rather than boils. Remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon, then fry some chopped onions until translucent in the oil and meat juices. Add chopped carrot, celery and mushrooms and cook through. Finally stick some chopped garlic in. Add Oxo if you want.

Return the meat to the pan and (this is the good bit) cover the meat and veg with Guinness. Original, in cans or bottles - not the fizzy faux-draught stuff. Drink all the Guinness that is left over. I find it best to buy too much Guinness in preparation for this bit.

Season with some salt and pepper, then leave to simmer for hours, until the meat is tender and the sauce has reduced to an acceptable thickness (thicken with cornflour if you need to). Serve on rice or with baked potatoes.

Bit of hey-nonny-no on the soundtrack today. I have quite a low tolerance for folk/folk-rock, but the Fairports are ok in relatively small doses. 'Nine' is, quite literally, their ninth studio album (see what they did there?) and is not their best - both Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson had moved on by this stage. Whilst the 'Trad. Arr' stuff is fine, some of the original material plods a bit. You'd be far better off with 'Unhalfbricking' or 'Liege and Lief' if you want to investigate the Fairports.

Anyway, here's 'Polly on the Shore' from Nine - Trevor Lucas on vocals:

Friday, June 19, 2009

Day 95: Opportunities (let's make lots of money?)

Today's soundtrack: The Wedding Present - Peel Sessions

My God, Canal Street must have been quiet tonight!

Impressive turnout for the Pet Shop Boys at Manchester Apollo, and whilst the crowd was actually quite mixed, there was no denying the prominent presence of designer jeans, tight t-shirts and expensive aftershave in the crowd.

And that was just me.

The place was rammed (NB: please don't look for double entendres in everything I type today - they are all either unintentional or figments of your own overenthusiastic imaginations) which was no surprise really - they had already sold out the O2 Arena in London for the following night, and are already selling tickets to their natural Manchester venue, the MEN Arena, for later this year.

Too late to get down the front, so hung about a third of the way back, with a great view that was unfortunately blocked late on by a group of four young lads who seemed slightly overexcited by the occasion. Managed to manoeuvre into a decent position for most of the set though.

Support band were called 'Frankmusik' - a synthesiser band led by Vincent Frank who, despite appearances, is currently dating Holly Valance. Remix duties for the Pet Shop Boys led to the tour slot, apparently. Not really my cup of tea, although the bass frequencies set my designer jeans flapping rather pleasantly.

As you would expect with the Petties, it was less about the two group members and more about the visuals, which had a very interesting 'cubic' theme - lots and lots of white boxes. Obviously there were dancers - three girls and a big black guy who got a very enthusiastic cheer from the audience - and very clever and varied projections and stuff. And costume changes and silly hats.

But what about the music, Paul? Well it was fab, actually. Obviously mostly pre-recorded and sequenced, although Chris Lowe did seem to be playing something most of the time, whilst stood behind his desk, obligatory sunglasses in place throughout (Chris. A word. You're indoors mate, and it's already dark.) Again sonically superb, and Neil Tennant can definitely carry a tune in his own inimitable way. And they've got a very deep and high quality back catalogue to call upon. Highlights? Lots of happy singalongs to Go West (a bit gay, that one), Domino Dancing, Always on my Mind and Left To My Own Devices amongst others, a quite moving 'Jealousy' (with dancers on stage) and a fine encore of Being Boring and West End Girls. It says something about the quality of the set that I thought 'Oh yeah - forgot about this' when West End Girls started.

Was it rock and roll? Probably not. Was it fun? Oh yes, probably as much as I've had (on my own) for a very long time.

So a good end to a day that could have been quite difficult. Following his interview 'success' yesterday...and my final understanding of just what the job entailed, Son No 1 and I needed to have a chat about one or two things. Potentially awkward, as I felt the role was completely wrong for him - but I wanted to get this across to him without pissing on his firework, as it were, or influencing him unduly - he's old enough to make his own decisions. In the end it proved ok - I think he had his own reservations deep down, and his girlfriend and Mum also gave him the same message. So he's (rightly, I think) turned down the role, and his search (alongside mine) continues. Doesn't detract from the fact he was mature and motivated enough to explore the opportunity, go through the interview and assessment, and even be prepared to take on the role as a route to asserting and gaining his own independence, despite his reservations. Hugely proud of him for all that.

In stark contrast to the Petties, it's the Wedding Present and John Peel on the soundtrack today.

Bet the Pet Shop Boys never did a Peel Session.

The Weddoes did plenty, and they are all collected on a six-cd box set that my iPhone and iTunes is totally infatuated with. It's all good stuff in a gruff, indie sort of way, but I find a little goes a long way.

Here's a pretty ropey clip of them performing 'Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now?' from back in the day. A title that could just as easily belong to a Pet Shop Boys tune, now I come to think of it.

I don't just throw this blog together, you know.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day 94: The Deluge

Today's soundtrack: The Clash - The Magnificent Seven ep

Off to Manchester today for a couple of reasons - Son No 1 had his second interview for his job, and I had a meeting with one of my ex-colleagues about a potential interim role that might arise from some work they have been doing.

Dropped Son off at his interview location and wandered across town to Spinningfields, where my old firm has just this week moved to posh new offices. I got down there and realised I didn't actually know which building they were in, but eventually found where I needed to be. Very pleasant new surroundings from what I could see - and I hope the move has not impacted adversely on the cost savings they obviously had to make three months ago(!) - would hate to see further personnel fallout as a result of an unfortunately-timed move to new premises.

Walking across town, I managed to get drenched to the bone as rainclouds gathered, and unloaded, over Manchester. Hopefully this will get June's required rainfall out of the way this week, leaving next week dry and sunny so I can sit in a dry Somerset field chillin'!

Met up with my ex-colleague, who I'll call Mark (since that's his name) and we hot-footed it down to Wagamama for noodles and a chat. Very interested in the project he described to me, and I've confirmed he can put me forward as a potential candidate for the proposed 'troubleshooter' role when they present their report at the end of the month. Obviously can't say any more than that at this stage. Delighted they are thinking of me, and shows the benefit of not burning your bridges.

My first time at Wagamama, and enjoyed it a lot (although Mrs W had something to say about the resulting garlic breath). Spicy noodles, chicken, duck dumplings (which were ace) and some 'black' Japanese beer went down a treat. Couldn't finish my plateful, which as many of you will appreciate is not typical Waring behaviour!

Wandered back into a (slowly drying) town centre, to get a text from Son No 1 that his assessment would continue until 8:30 in the evening at the earliest, so headed back home, planning to pick him up later.

Duly drove back into Manchester for 8:30, and (after a few 'holding' texts, finally picked Son up at around 10:15. After a long and intensive day - the process started at one o'clock, he'd been given the news that he'd passed the assessment and had the job, if he wanted it. Which in itself is great news, and I'm proud of him for having the drive and initiative to go out looking for work well away from his current Southern base. What he has to do now, on the back of what he learned today, is decide whether the proposed role actually reflects what he wants to do and is a role he will be comfortable with going forwards. And if, after due consideration (and discussion with friends and relatives) it is something he wants to do, then we'll support him all the way.

Downloaded the latest version of the iPhone software this evening, and my phone can now do all sorts of wonderful things like...send picture messages! And support cut and paste! And record voice memos!! All things of course, that cheaper, less trendy phones have been able to do for years.

It's still ace though.

Got The Clash back on the soundtrack today - I'm sure we've had them before. Today's waxing is a single from the 'box set' of singles, which includes each single released by the band in a facsimile of the original sleeve. The Magnificent Seven comes from Sandinista!, at a time when the group were diversifying into rap and other musical forms some distance from their original punk roots, and this single contains eight (count 'em!) tracks including a number of 'dance remixes' and dub versions of this and other tracks from Sandinista. Not all of them work, but the fact that the group was prepared to stretch itself and explore new avenues is one of the things that stands them out from the rest of the punk massive. a recent debate on the Word blog asked whether The Jam or The Clash were the better band and, while they were both wonderful, it was The Clash's desire to experiment and stretch, within the group context, that swung it for me. Paul Weller had to break up The Jam to realise his musical ambitions, he couldn't do it within that context. The Clash could.

Here they are in June 1981 performing The Magnificent Seven on the Tomorrow Show in the States. How good is this?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Day 93: Start of a busy few days

Today's soundtrack: Patrik Fitzgerald - Safety Pin Stuck in my Heart ep

A very busy few days in fact! Main job today (after signing on) was to drive over to York for an Audit Committee meeting at the second of my two Universities, York St John. YSJ (as it will henceforth be abbreviated) is a relatively small (and new) University, on the edge of the city that grew out of two teacher training colleges that date back to the 19th century. After developing close links with Leeds University as early as 1920, it became a full college of the University in 1990, achieving its own university status in 2006. It now has four faculties; Education & Theology, Business & Communication, Health & Life Sciences and Arts.

The compact campus has a nice mix of old and new buildings, and recently opened a new facility extending the University's capabilities even further.

Right, that's the advert over, how was the meeting? Well very successful really, I managed to persuade management and the auditors to effect some specific changes to the plan for the coming year that I thought were necessary, and by close of play (at around 6:00) it felt like we'd covered a lot of ground diligently and productively. Naturally i took the opportunity to talk to the auditors about my situation - just so they know if they are looking....

Left the meeting to find out that Son No 1, on his way up for his second interview in Manchester, had broken down and was awaiting 1) the AA and 2) his mother, so he could transfer cars and continue his journey in his mum's car. More news on the outcome of the interview process tomorrow - suffice to say I am more nervous for him than I have been for any interview of my own, and far more nervous than he is. He's surprisingly (I hope not too) calm about the whole thing!

Chippy tea tonight, for convenience and, well, because sometimes it's just what you need. We've a few local chippies, none of which are perfect, but the fish tonight was especially good. Pedro agreed too. Chips could have been better, mind.

Punk poet Patrik Fitzgerald on the soundtrack today. One of the more unusual backwaters of the punk revolution was the emergence of a number of 'punk poets' - the estimable John Cooper Clarke probably the most famous, but there was also Mark Miwurdz (see what he did there?) in Sheffield, Attilla the Stockbroker and the aforementioned Patrik Fitzgerald amongst others. In Reggae, artists like Linton Kwesi Johnson and Michael Smith came to the fore, and in the States Patti Smith and others brought poetry into the punk arena.

Anyway - Patrik Fitzgerald. I kind of lost track of him after his first three eps, on the Small Wonder label, but his Wikipedia page suggests he's had a long and varied career without ever troubling the mainstream. I bought his first two records, Safety Pin Stuck in my Heart ("a love song for punk music") and Backstreet Boys, the title tune of which perfectly captures the violence and paranoia of the era.

Here's 'Safety Pin...' with some images from the era. Ok, the guitars a bit shaky and the vocals a bit wobbly, but the charm is self-evident...to me anyway!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day 92: I Remembered This Year!

Today's soundtrack: Mogwai - The Hawk is Howling

What did I remember? Our kid's birthday, that's what! For whatever reason last year (probably Glastonbury excitement) his birthday completely slipped my mind...I quite literally woke up in a cold sweat sometime in July wondering what the hell (if anything) I'd gotten him for his birthday. The answer was, of course, absolutely nothing.

How bad is that?

He was fine about it, thankfully, although that probably made me feel worse instead of better. Reparations were duly made, some time after the event, and I vowed to get it right this year. So out first thing to find something suitable, and to pick up a birthday card too. Oh, and a Father's Day card for the arl fella as well - I'm really on the ball this year!

Got my brother sorted relatively quickly, and then (it being the week before Glasto) picked up a couple of non-essentials for the festival - a lightweight long-sleeved top (merino wool, don't you know) and some karabiner clips (to clip things to my belt - I've got this 'utility belt' thing that would put Batman to shame. Some might call it a bum bag. I wouldn't) . Also picked up an essential - some antibacterial handwash. Alcohol based, it cleans and disinfects your hands and then evaporates.

Further alcohol-based essentials will be purchased nearer the time.

I went out first thing to avoid the bad weather that was supposed to be rolling in during the day. Despite thunderstorms elsewhere, it stayed dry and sunny around Waring Towers today. Whilst the nice weather is good, I'm a bit worried that it's going to break eventually - and I'd rather it broke now than, say, in the middle of next week...

Back home then, to trawl the jobsites and come up empty-handed yet again. Had confirmation of a slight change in time to my meeting on Friday, but it's still going ahead and, flaky as it is, represents my best chance of something happening sooner rather than later. We are three months in now, approaching 100 days, and something does need to happen pretty soon or it's going to get a bit hairy.

But I'm not going to dwell on that here, this blog is for the nice things in life, like...Peggle!

If you have an iPod or an iPhone, I warn you - don't buy Peggle. It's addictive as crack cocaine. Just a little game, shooting balls at coloued pegs, but my, the time just flies by.

Don't do it kids - Just Say No.

Soundtrack today - and it plays very much like a soundtrack - is the latest from Mogwai, a Scottish band named, of course, after the little furry creatures in Gremlins.

Described unhelpfully as 'post-rock', they tend to play long, guitar-based instrumentals that owe a debt to My Bloody Valentine and other 'shoegazers', but there are also bits of Joy Division and the Jesus and Mary Chain in there. The Hawk is Howling is their sixth album, and was released to generally positive reviews back in 2008.

They also soundtracked a film about Zinedine Zidane, which Mrs W bought me for my birthday and is due an outing soon. The film essentially focuses solely on Zidane during the course of one game, played out to no soundtrack other than Mogwai's music. I should give it a viewing soon and will report back!

This is 'BatCat', from The Hawk is Howling. No, I don't know what it's about either.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Days 89-91: Where did the weekend go?

Today's soundtrack: Jeniferever - Choose a Bright Morning

Apologies for the slight break in service - must've been busy for the last few days!

No idea where Friday went - sitting here three days later I'm struggling to remember a single thing I did...which probably means I spent the whole day sat in front of the computer 'fannying about' for want of a better expression.

The computer gets a fair amount of hammering in our house, largely due to me it has to be said, and is beginning to show signs of wear and tear. It occasionally decides to freeze on us, and has a tendency to present me with the 'blue screen of death' and turn itself off from time to time as well. It has also started to show graphical problems on occasion when I turn the thing on, with "artifacts" (which I think is the technical term) appearing on screen. This can be fixed using the 'turn it off, then turn it on again' technique that has served me well over the years - but for how long? More worryingly, one of the fans inside has begun to make a horrible whining sound and to spin more slowly than it should. The thing seems to be welded to the motherboard as well, so may not be easily replaceable. I've picked up another fan to mount inside the case for a fiver, but don't think this will be a long term solution. We'll see.

Son No 1 had another interview in Bristol on Friday - not yet heard whether he's through to the next stage but good experience nonetheless.

Off to Huddersfield on Saturday to pick up Son No 2 and bring him home - Doves in Delamere Forest! Every summer around this time the Forestry Commission put on a series of outdoor concerts in the middle of the woods. This year, Doves are sandwiched in between Paul Weller on the Friday and Katherine Jenkins on the Sunday. Two years ago I went to see The Feeling there (I know, I know) but gave it a miss last year. A shame, because I missed out on seeing Elbow and I Am Kloot, both bands I was lucky enough to see later in the year anyway but it would have been a grand night out.

As it proved to be on Saturday. The forest is quite literally on our doorstep, but unfortunately there is no direct walking route from home - otherwise we'd walk. So there is a need to drive round three sides of a square and park up - a three minute drive, followed by a ten minute walk from the road to the stage.

Interesting dynamic at this concert - it's all very middle class and comfortable, parties taking tables, chairs and hampers. It's the only concert we've ever been to where the arena fills up from the back as people stake out little campsites with their rugs and such, leaving a big empty space in front of the stage.

So naturally, after a beer and a baguette we took up position on the barrier at the front.

Support band were called 'Delphic', a Manchester band in a kind of New Order/Klaxons style - lots of synths and sequencers combined with traditional guitar, drum and bass. And pretty good they were too - a short (30 minute?) set with individual songs running together. Not the most 'visual' of bands, especially when playing with their synths (oo-er missus) but not a bad way to spend half an hour.

By the time Doves came on, the space in front of the stage had filled up to an acceptable level and a bit more atmosphere was being generated - even some half-hearted crowd surfing a bit further along from us. Good band Doves - and they put on a good show with a decent number of encores and all the 'hits'. They are on in the second headliner slot at Latitude so will definitely catch them again. I've recently said nice things about their new album, 'Kingdom of Rust', which is definitely worth your consideration. Nice bunch of blokes too.

So Sunday was largely taken up with a trip back to Huddersfield to drop the boy off, and with the conclusion of the first series of 'The Shield', again something I've talked about recently in glowing terms. The climax of the series didn't disappoint either - so now on the lookout for Series Two. Still got a couple of boxes of CSI and The Corner to watch though.

We also started to catch up on Celebrity Masterchef, which is a bit of a guilty pleasure for Mrs W and myself. Cooking doesn't get tougher....

Speaking of which, the second attempt at bread rolls was a resounding success on Saturday. This time, I progressed to a 'wash' with beaten egg and a sprinkling of grated cheese on top before baking, which gave a nice savoury tang to the crust. And hot from the oven, split and filled with grilled bacon, they were a joy.

Jeniferever - you've never heard of them either, have you? Great name though, you have to admit. Swedish band, although they sing in English, in a style most closely reminiscent of Sigur Ros without being as 'otherworldly' as their Icelandic counterparts.

'Choose a Bright Morning' is their first full album, released in 2006. It has recently been joined by Spring Tides, and both are worth a listen. Not on the festival circuit this year as far as I can tell, which is a shame.

This is 'Alvik' from Choose a Bright Morning.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 88: Interview Success! (but not mine...)

Today's soundtrack: Pet Shop Boys - Introspective

Minor bombshell this morning with the announcement that the shy and retiring Mr Ronaldo was on the verge of moving to Real Madrid for a piffling £80 million, and a salary that could amount to half a million a week by the end of his contract. Now whilst it would be easy to say that it is an obscene amount of money (which it is) and that no footballer can be worth that much money (debatable - Real anticipate the move generating around £500 million in wider income - shirts, sponsorship etc), I can't deny that I'm looking forward to the impact of the sale on the shape of the Premier League next season.

For a start, what impact will it have on ManYoo? With a potential transfer kitty in excess of £100m (assuming Siralex gets all the Ronaldo money), they could add four or five world class players to their squad, which should more than compensate for the loss of one (albeit exceptional) player. More interestingly, this may now give The Boy the opportunity to play in his natural position, rather than being stuck out wide to accommodate Ronaldo. Thus allowing him to finally develop into the player he can be.

But then throw Man City into the mix. It looks like they have tempted Tevez away from Utd and will no doubt spend big (if not wisely) elsewhere. How will they perform - will Hughes (or his successor) be able to mould a team from a collection of talented, wealthy egos?

What of Chelsea? Yet another new manager, unproven in the English game - a Scolari or a Hiddink?

Will Big Red across the park be able to find any money down the back of the sofa to attract nine quality players to add to the two man team they've latterly overperformed with?

Oh yes - this close season and next season could be fun.

Good news on the job front, for Son No 1 at least. Took him into Manchester for his interview, which has resulted in a second interview/assessment next week. Coupled with a parallel interview with another company in Bristol tomorrow, his future is looking reasonably bright - without underestimating the hurdles he's still to climb.

While he was undergoing the interview process, I headed into town for a coffee with Kevin and Alison from the previous employer. Nice to meet up with old friends again and pick up on the office gossip - and nice to be one step removed from it as well. Think they're missing me though. Like a hole in the head, no doubt, but missing me all the same. Bit of celebrity spotting as well - one of the actresses from Corrie was having a coffee on the next table. Now whilst it's sometimes difficult in Manchester City Centre not to be bumping into actors/actresses from Corrie, I do still get a mild frisson to be breathing the same air as our local minor celebrities.

I am nothing if not shallow.

In a whirlwind day for those around me, Mrs W dashed in and out of the house after work, rushing to get ready for a charity do in Frodsham supported by her employer. Not really her cup of tea, a bit too much pressure to put your hand in your pocket, but she got a decent meal and a night out out of it. More than she gets from her husband.

In Pedro news, we have adjusted his diet from sachets of food to tins of food. Basically, to try and fill him up a bit. Initial signs are good, although he's still hoovering up everything put in front of him. It worries me to speculate how much food would be too much food - not sure we'll ever get there! We are reliably informed this is not a new thing, he's been this way since birth, so we are working on the basis it's not worms - he's just greedy!

Petties on the soundtrack today - a group with a huge pop sensibility that sometimes hides the quality and depth of their material. Like Doves yesterday, I'll be seeing them a couple of times this summer - next week in Manchester, then on the Friday night at Latitude. Their live show is supposed to be stunning, and would think that, outdoors especially, it should be a night or two to remember.

One of the areas where the Pet Shop Boys excel is in their remixes, and today we are listening to the 'Further Listening' disc of Introspective, including disco and other mixes of their late '80s material. Excellent stuff.

The album contains a demo version of Nothing Can Be Proved from the film 'Scandal' (about the Profumo affair), with Dusty on vocals. Here's the video - any excuse to see Joanne Whalley as well...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 87: Interview prep (but not mine!)

Today's soundtrack: Doves - Kingdom of Rust

Self-selected soundtrack today, using Spotify. Son No 1 is on the main computer which has all the music stored on it, so I'm typing this on the netbook and setting my own soundtrack. Need to do a bit of research anyway, as we are seeing Doves at the weekend and I need to familiarise myself a bit more with their oeuvre!

Son No 1 is busy researching for his upcoming interview tomorrow - he finally managed to make contact with the relevant company and get details of time and place, so he's all set. I'll take him into Manchester and meet up with old colleagues while he's being grilled. It'll be an interesting experience for him, whether successful or not. It scares me to see my kids making their first tentative steps into the 'real' world - there's a temptation to do too much to prepare or advise them, but to be balanced with a need for them to be making their own way in the world, standing on their own two feet.

Makes me feel bloody old, as well...

Out early this morning, to get the weekly shop in. With Son No 1 up, we need to do a bit more menu planning to feed the extra body, and we'd decided on a chunky turkey curry tonight - memories of a turkey curry from the dim and distant past for me to try and replicate!
I do cheat a bit with my curries - not wanting to go to the trouble of grinding and mixing my own spices, I do revert to Patak's curry pastes, which always seem to hit the mark. So Turkey Tikka Masala tonight, accompanied by a Vegetable Balti and a range of breads and rice.

With the son and heir up to stay, my life would not be worth living if I did not take him down to see the grandparents, so off we headed to deepest Birkenhead for a spot of lunch and chat. She puts on a decent spread, my old mum, and I feared for my appetite later in the day, especially after slaving over a hot stove and juggling copious numbers of pots and pans!

Having done our filial duty, we then headed off to the local farm shop to pick up some 'Cheshire Farm' ice creams, the 'Coffee Mocha' flavour being a particular favourite of Son No 1. We also picked up some 'Malt Tease' and 'Honeycomb' Ice creams as well....guess which particular sweets are incorporated into these particular tubs? The Cheshire Farm range are well worth seeking out, and as a 'home grown' alternative to Ben & Jerry's and Haagen Daas, are just the ticket. Not cheap though!

Back home to slave over pots and pans and, despite a concern that the potatoes in the veggy curry would not cook through quickly enough, everything came together quite nicely in the end.

We watched 'Best in Show' while chowing down on the curry, another of the Christopher Guest semi-improvised films (I blogged about 'Waiting for Guffman' recently, another from the same stable). Best in Show does stand repeated viewings though. Bit of a cliche, but the stars of the show are undoubtedly the dogs themselves!

So Doves. Over the last couple of years they have slipped into the shadow of local rivals and mates Elbow, and there are a lot of similarities between the sound and profile of the two bands. This year however, following the release of 'Kingdom of Rust' and a high profile on the festival circuit, it might just be Doves' year. Kingdom of Rust is a fine album, indeed all their albums are worth a listen, and the have slightly more of a dance sensitivity than do Elbow, which I'm sure will go down well with the big outdoor crowds. as I said, seeing them in Delamere Forest at the weekend and also at Latitude later in the summer. They are headlining the John Peel tent at Glastonbury as well, but given I'll be seeing them elsewhere, Neil Young will get the nod this time.

There's an interesting clip of Doves performing Kingdom of Rust here, along with many other tasty (and not so tasty) bands. The conceit of this little website is that all the bands are filmed performing in the back of a standard black cab, driving round the streets of (I assume) London. Yes really. Well worth a look, the Doves clip in particular is very good.

And here they are on Jools Holland, performing the same song...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Day 86: The Men Machines

Today's soundtrack: John Fogerty - The Blue Ridge Rangers

Titling today's blog 'The Men Machines' and then having John Fogerty's Blue Ridge Rangers on the soundtrack is a touch incongruous, to say the least. The title refers to Kraftwerk, of course, and it is difficult to think of a greater contrast between their electronic music and the good ol' country pickin' that appears on the Blue Ridge Rangers album.

Still, we are nothing if not catholic (with a small 'c') in our music tastes, so there is definitely room for both in my music collection.

I mention Kraftwerk for two reasons; firstly, I've been reading the autobiography of Wolfgang Flur (there should be an umlaut in there but not sure how to do that...) called 'I was a Robot' about his time in the group and, latterly, his legal battles with the two main Kraftwerkers, Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider, to get the first print of the autobiography published in the first place.

Essentially there was a clear divide in the group between Hutter and Schneider, and Flur and Karl Bartos, the other key band member. To all intents and purposes, the former two were Kraftwerk, whilst Flur and Bartos were essentially hired hands, on a salary throughout their membership of the group. The legal battles seem to centre on Flur's assertion that he was instrumental (sic) in the development of the group's sounds -particularly its early experiments with drum machines and their design and construction...designs apparently patented by Hutter and Schneider without Flur's knowledge.

Despite a rather idiosyncratic writing style (which mat be due to the translation from the German) it's a fascinating read, and prompted me to download a few Kraftwerk albums that I didn't already own, including the classic 'Autobahn' that introduced me to them in the first place, thirtysomething years ago. At the time, it sounded like something from another planet, and has aged reasonably well. Expect to see them popping up on the soundtrack over the next few weeks.

Fun and games continue with Pedro, the feline food processor, who definitely has a screw loose (in the nicest possible way). I can understand him climbing into the dishwasher to investigate the dirty plates and cutlery and scraps. I can even understand him climbing into the freezer when I was taking some stuff out for tea. However I have no idea what possessed him to jump feet first into the toilet this morning. Daft as a brush. But in a nice way.

Son No 1 duly turned up around lunchtime, ready to make friends with Pedro - easy when you are chomping on a tuna sandwich, it has to be said. He is up north for an interview on Thursday in Manchester, although some crossed wires with the agency means that we are still awaiting firm details of time and place and a distinct possibility that the interview may not actually happen. Still, he's made a few phone calls and sent a couple of chasing emails, so we'll see what transpires. In any event, details of his second interview, in Bristol on Friday, are confirmed so that one is a definite starter.

Son No 2 seems to have been lucky so far with the weather up in the Lake District, notwithstanding all the lousy forecasts, as he happily texted me from a pub in Coniston. Let's hope his luck holds out for the rest of the week and for Glastonbury as well.

Following the announcement about Thom Yorke, further good news for Latitude comes with the announcement of Of Montreal, Maps, Lykke Li and Camera Obscura. Names that will probably mean little to you, but who are all bands worthy of your investigation and time. It's a little gem of a festival, is Latitude, and a fine summer dessert after the Glastonbury main course. Tickets still available - £150 if you want to join us.

One of my favourite Glastonbury performances in recent years was John Fogerty, back in 2007. Fogerty was, of course, the leading light behind Creedence Clearwater Revival, responsible for some of the greatest songs (and albums) of the late '60s and early '70s - many of which he delivered to an adoring crowd. He retains a fine head of hair for a relatively elderly man, as well, which is nice.

Creedence imploded in the early '70s amidst a welter of legal battles and recriminations, and for many years Fogerty was unable, and unwilling, to play his own songs - a situation that was gladly resolved in later years. In 1973, however, his response was to release today's featured album - essentially a pure country album, mixing originals with covers. It's by no means the best album of his career, but that said, it's a fine example of early country rock and Fogerty's too talented to produce sub-standard work, whatever the genre. Not a massive seller at the time, but worth a listen.

Here's 'Blue Ridge Mountain Blues' performed in 2008. Check the hair out.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Day 85: Over the Pennines

Today's soundtrack: Various Artists - The Complete Motown Singles, Volume 5 (1965)

You know what I was saying yesterday about hidden bargains lurking amongst the box sets? Well that's what iTunes has thrown up today. In its 'physical' format, the Motown Singles volumes are individual box sets containing 5 or 6 CDs, including all the Motown singles and b-sides released in a particular year. Cost? Around fifty quid each. Paul found them on the 7Digital site, each listed as a single album (albeit a single album with 166 tracks on it). Download cost? £7.99 each.

Anyway, more on Motown later - actually got off my backside and out into the real world today. Over to Leeds for a chat with on of the bigger professional firms about my situation. I wasn't expecting a great deal from the meeting as they'd made it clear that - at the moment - they have no vacancies, but at least by getting over there, I get myself at the front of their minds if/when circumstances change, or if they become aware of any suitable vacancies at any of their clients. I think the meeting went well - I have known the guy I met with for a good number of years now, it was good to touch base and I genuinely think he would seek to help me out if the opportunity arose. Naturally he tried to do a bit of 'intelligence gathering' about my previous employer, but I think I was suitably circumspect!

So after a good hour in their offices, I headed back home to feed a no doubt ravenous pussy cat and to tinker with my new 'festival phone', which had been delivered just as I was leaving the house. The phone is real 'old school' - no camera, no Internet, no Bluetooth - just calls and texts really on offer, and a phenomenal amount of battery life. Just what I need to see me through a week in a muddy field.

So you'd think there wasn't a right lot to set up, wouldn't you? Well you'd be wrong. It's a Pay As You Go phone, that came with a credit card top-up card that I need to register with the phone. Which I did - however I have no idea how to get the credit off the card and onto the phone. I tried to register the phone with Orange, but they wanted a four digit 'registration code'. Could I find any such code in the stuff they sent to me? Could I buggery. I did, in fact, find two potential codes in the packaging, both of which were incorrect - and of course my (failed) experiments on the website with these codes managed to lock me out of the registration process. So onto the customer service line to sort things out. Eventually fought my way through layers of pre-set options and persuaded the thing to ring through to a real person located somewhere east of Delhi, who was very nice and helpful, sorting out a couple of options for me and re-setting the necessary code to a four digit sequence I could a) remember and b) use to get the phone registered. Except I can't do that now for 48 hours, which is the time the website needs to re-set itself.

Isn't modern technology wonderful?

Festival preparations continue, with the excellent news that Thom Yorke is playing a solo set at Latitude this year, in the Sunday lunchtime slot filled by Joanna Newsom last year. A real coup for the festival and a set I'm really looking forward to.

So back to Motown. The Complete Motown Singles boxes now run to, I think, twelve volumes, over 60 individual CDs, covering 1959 to 1972, and they include everything. As implied, I guess, by the word 'Complete'. Now you might expect there to be a fair amount of dross amidst the gems, but really, there isn't - and in fact one of the nice things about the sets is the discovery of loads of unheard/underappreciated tracks among the well-known favourites that have been anthologised to death previously.

So alongside the Supremes, the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye etc, you also get Earl Van Dyke, Dee Mullins and Howard Crockett, amongst others. Makes for fascinating listening and more variation than you would expect - there is even some country music lurking between the smooth soul.

But if it's Motown and it's 1965, then it has to be Smokey, and The Tracks of my Tears. One of the best from one of the best. Nice steps, Miracles!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Day 84: Another Lazy Sunday

Today's soundtrack: Beethoven - Symphony No. 3 (Simon Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic)

Wow! Finally, a bit of culture! Told you there was some lurking about somewhere...

Stymied by the continuing lousy weather, we did very little today, if truth be told. We continue to be entertained by the antics of our little furry friend, for whom the word 'yampy' would have to be invented if it did not exist already. Which it does, sort of. Ignore the spellchecker and trust me on this.

I've never known a cat with such a 'healthy' appetite and a complete disregard for the social niceties. Such as stealing food from real people's plates, mid-meal. Such as rooting around in the rubbish bags for something - anything - that's had the merest contact with foodstuffs. Such as eating seed and nuts put out for the birds.

Not wholly sure what to make of this - he's as skinny as a rake, so whatever he's eating is not currently sticking to his ribs. He's relatively recently been de-wormed, so I doubt it's that. I can only assume that his bowel problems mean that he doesn't get as much nutrition from his food as it passes through his guts, so he needs to eat more to compensate. Hmmm - quick word with the vet to test this theory?

Bit of sporting entertainment from the Turkish Grand Prix today. Initial threats of a multi-team walkout over something or other narrowly averted/laughed off (depending on who you believe), all teams lined up on the grid with young Sebastien Vettel on pole, having for once stolen a march on Jenson Button. Not for long though, as a cock-up on the first lap allowed Button to pass him and once again dictate the race from the front.

A poor start and subsequent gearbox problems kept Rubens Barrichello at the back of the field until his eventual retirement, leaving Button almost unassailable in the World Championship. Good on him too - nice lad and he's served his dues in some lousy cars before now.

The rest of the day passed without too much to report. Went back online to butcher a few more goblins in Middle Earth (levelled up to 28 now, fellow geeks) and checked up on Son No 1, who is coming up to stay for a few days in the coming week. Son No 2 off camping in the Lakes for a week, just as the weather turns lousy. Ah well.

So what's with the culture, Paul? Well I have already stated that when in the mood, I'm happy to enjoy a bit of Classical music, and they don't come much better than the Beethoven symphonies. I can't pretend to be an expert (so I won't), I'm very much in the 'like what I like' camp and will pick up bits and pieces when the mood takes me. As far as this is concerned, the mood took me whilst browsing on the Amazon download site, and spotting all 9 Beethoven Symphonies for three quid all in. Possibly a pricing error, and quite a common one that is worth looking out for on all download sites - the occasional pricing of a box set as a single album. I've picked up a couple of bargains that way, on iTunes and 7Digital as well as on Amazon.

So how does YouTube help us illustrate our classical tastes? Pretty well, actually. Can't find any Simon Rattle performances of the third symphony, but here's the first movement, conducted by Herbert Von Karajan. Powerful stuff!

NB: Expect normal service to be resumed tomorrow...

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Day 83: Is nice!

Today's soundtrack: Jess Roden Band - Blowin'

World Cup qualifier in Kazakhstan today, but no evidence of extravagantly moustachio'd gentlemen in improbable swimming costumes trying to force Pamela Anderson into an arranged marriage, carrying around jars of gypsy tears...

Just a game of football on a pitch that looked like the squirrels had been at it, next to a building site. No Everton players in evidence today, Joleon Lescott on the bench as close as we got today. Ultimately it was a stroll for England, although there were a couple of early scares as Robert Green tried to justify his self-proclaimed role as 'England's Number 6'. Blushes saved by a goal line clearance and an offside flag, England eventually settled down, and ran up a two goal lead by half time, which they doubled in the second half to complete an extremely satisfying 4-0 victory.

Most of the time I find it difficult to get too excited about the successes or failures of the England football team, largely I suppose because I expend loads of energy in the domestic season berating the very players I'm supposed to support when they put an England shirt on - it just doesn't feel right to applaud a Cole tackle, or a Gerrard shot, for example. Nevertheless I continue to watch and occasionally, just occasionally, when the team flatter to deceive in the latter stages of an international tournament, my latent patriotism does begin to stir. Not to the extent of sticking flags of St George on to the car or anything like that, you understand.

I have to say though that, whilst it was 'only' Khazakhstan, Cappello has finally got England playing some quite classy and elegant football and I remain cautiously optimistic that - finally - we might do ourselves justice at the World Cup next year.

Not subscribing to the waste of time that is Setanta, I was forced to turn to the Internet to watch the match, using Sopcast to pick up an Asian feed, albeit with English commentary. The quality of these feeds seems to be getting better (whether due to faster Broadband or better compression, I don't know) and I could comfortably watch a full-screen, flicker-free broadcast in the comfort of my study. Not sure about the actual legal status of what I was doing, or that someone else was doing at the other end of the internet, but it's no wonder Setanta are in trouble. Oh, and with it being an Asian feed, the adverts made for entertaining viewing as well, young kids drinking the delightfully-named 'Pocari Sweat' with gusto.

Earlier in the day I'd planned to watch some real football, as my nephew was playing in a tournament down the road in Frodsham. However the torrential rain meant that I chose to give it a miss. Sorry nephew! Maybe if my Glastonbury poncho had turned up in time....

Watched the Derby earlier on as well. The Derby has never gripped me the same way the National does, although BBC were giving it the full treatment. I know it's a Major Sporting Event but, really, it's just another race, albeit with the 'best' 3yo horses on display. Anyway, the pre-race favourite, Sea The Stars, romped home, bankrupting scores of bookies and (having also won the 2,000 Guineas) no doubt soon to retire to enjoy a lifetime of 'servicing' a procession of young fillies.

Nice work if you can get it.

Now - Jess Roden - there's a name that few of you will recognise, and it's one of the great musical injustices that a man who is surely one of the greatest vocalists the UK has ever produced should be so unknown and underappreciated. I bought Blowin' back in 1977 when it was released and immediately fell in love with the man's voice...before my attention was diverted by the sound of snotty, disaffected youth and the three-chord energy rush that was punk. But it was an album I kept coming back to over the years. It's a live album, recorded in Birmingham and Leicester back in '76. My vinyl copy includes a stunning version of The Eagles' Desperado, which strangely doesn't appear on the sprinkling of copies now to be found on the internet, where it is replaced by an equally stunning version of I Can't Get Next To You.

Here's that version of Desperado, however, found courtesy of You Tube. Great Sax solo before the vocal kicks in, as well.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Day 82: Glastonbury shopping!

Today's soundtrack: Neil Young - Prairie Wind

Thoughts turned to Glastonbury today, as I started my preparations for the big event. This, naturally, involved a bit of shopping.

So to the internet, source of all goods Glastonian. I've already ordered a new army surplus rain poncho, as an alternative to the regular raincoat which is really only showerproof and a bit bulky to be lugging round all day, and if it's good enough for the American army, it'll be good enough for me, too. When I placed the order, a shemagh (look it up!) also found its way into the virtual shopping basket - I'll look a bugger in that!

So what pieces of essential kit were sorted today? Well I've been wondering what to do about my iPhone - the battery life is way insufficient to see me through a festival, and I don't want to run the risk of losing it. Solution? A cheap, basic 'pay as you go' phone for £7.95 and £10-worth of airtime....with a stand-by battery life of 18 days! Also, it's on the Orange network, the festival's 'official partner', so you'd expect reception to be pretty good as well.

Next, I had a look at the mattress options. I've lent my airbed to Son No 2 for his camping trip this weekend, and kind of thought he might want to keep hold of it. I also thought that something a little less bulky might suit my needs better so I had a look at some self-inflating camping mats. I couldn't decide how suitable they'd be just looking at pictures on a screen, but noticed that the camping warehouse was actually based in Bootle, so decided to take a trip out there. The upshot? One double-size self-inflating mattress (I like to spread out) with matching pillow. Now although this is actually bulkier than the airbed, it does compress into a more manageable package and should be more convenient to set up, inflate and cart around. That's the theory, anyway.

Back home, and onto iTunes to convert the Glastonbury itinerary into the 2009 Glastonbury playlist. Given the nature of the lineup this year, I expected this to be a biggie, and so it proved - loads of Bruce and Neil Young bulking out the playlist to a massive 2,400 tunes (compared to 1,900 and 1,300 last year and the year before). So plenty of listening to be done between now and the festival itself!

And purely through happenstance, it's Neil Young on the soundtrack today. Prairie Wind is one of his more recent, and mellower, albums, recorded essentially live and launched through a live performance in Nashville (at the Ryman, home of the Grand Ole Opry) captured on Heart of Gold. Both the the album and the DVD are worth a listen/viewing, sparkling performances and great tunes. Excellent supporting band, including Emmylou Harris, who seems to get better (and prettier) with age.

Here's the trailer for the 'Heart of Gold' film, directed by Jonathan Demme and available in Fopp last time I looked for the giveaway price of a fiver. Go on, fill yer boots!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Day 81: Democracy at work

Today's soundtrack: Steve Earle - Train a-Comin'

Not the most restful night's sleep last night if I'm honest, young Pedro deciding to venture upstairs and join us. And whilst he was extremely lovable and affectionate, he purrs when he's happy. Loudly. And I've already mentioned his bowel problems, which means we have to add fibrous supplements to his food.

This makes him fart. Not loudly, but my God. They smell. Badly. Oh, and on occasion, they are slightly liquid.

Too much information, I know.

Despite the above, I was out early today, to do the weekly shop. I'm getting good at this - shopping list set up on the iPhone (yes, there's a specific application for just that), early start while it was quiet, 'bags for life' taken with me, logical progression up and down the aisles - and only one or two 'little extras' thrown into the trolley from off-list.

Today's shop was made for me by a really nice checkout lady who paused to have a long chat with me about the quality of Sainsbury's own brand gin compared to Gordon's, her tipple of choice ("but only at weekends, I'm not really a drinker - unless my sister's about"). I was happy to tell her that the Sainsbury's brand (actually from their 'taste the difference' range, I think - ie it's supposed to be decent quality rather than cooking gin) is a winner, robust and tasty with tonic and a slice. 43% alcohol compared to Gordon's rather pallid 37% as well.

It helps when the supermarket is quiet, but being able to take time to have a chat like that makes such a difference to the quality of the 'supermarket experience' and it was very pleasant. In retrospect i wish I'd clocked her name and dropped the store a line. If only as a counterpoint to Mrs W's 'Ann Robinson' approach to supermarket correspondence...although to be fair her latest missive about 'tough steaks' to Sainsbury's did result in a £12 gift voucher. It was the steaks, of course, not the chef, that was the cause of the toughness...

Stayed out after the supermarket sweep to wander round Cheshire Oaks. Leisurely coffee and muffin, then round the stores. With Glastonbury approaching, my annual trawl to find the ultimate in camping/festival wear/gadgets is on. Today I picked up some new tent pegs to replace those lost/bent, some aluminium "water" bottles (which are unlikely ever to be filled with water, let's be honest) and a big bum bag-type affair with two holders for said bottles and enough space for cameras, torches and the paraphernalia you need to carry round all day.

Back home, and after a bit of umming and aaahing, I went out and exercised my democratic right to vote. I was sorely tempted to exercise my equally democratic right not to vote, or to go and write 'none of the above' at the bottom of the ballot paper, but in the end I did my civic duty. How sad to see the BNP at the head of the ballot paper, along with other charlatans trying to drag the country down a route of hatred and isolationism. And how sad that I could find no enthusiasm at all to vote for any of the major parties, who have proven themselves to be morally and intellectually bankrupt in recent months (and years). I did find a party I could vote for on the long list however. A wasted vote in all probability, but a vote I could make and remain relatively true to my own conscience.

And no, it wasn't the Monster Raving Loony Party either.

Had a second go at pizza tonight, and it was a distinct improvement on the (actually pretty successful) first attempt last week. I'm a lot more comfortable handling the dough, and got two almost round discs of dough that were relatively equal thickness throughout. I also got the toppings right this time, so that the ratio of sauce to dough didn't cause everything to turn into a soggy mass but still gave the right amount of tomatoey taste to the pizza. Yum!

Pizza downed in front of The Shield, which is our current DVD box set of choice. Can't remember if I've mentioned The Shield before, but whilst it's not The Wire (what is?) it is both entertaining and intelligent. A hugely unsympathetic main character, who still manages to have you rooting for him through the twists and turns of his personal and professional life. Wonderful stuff and highly recommended. Think there's a good few series to get through so will keep us going for a good while yet.

Soundtrack today - Steve Earle, continuing the alt-country flavour introduced yesterday. Train a-Comin' is one of Steve's more rootsy offerings, and none the worse for that. Steve Earle himself is a fascinating character - married any number of times, through a range of addictions and a prison term, coming out the other end a (hopefully) wiser and stronger man. And he had a decent role in The Wire as well. Strongly political, and not afraid to rail against Southern orthodoxy in his views and his songs. Redneck he's not.

Less political, and recently used to sell cider, I give you Steve performing 'Galway Girl'. Just because it's a great song. Love this performance as well.