A Moment In History

While I was over in New York this Easter it was reported that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. I was in a bar in Williamsburg when it happened, everyone seemed to pick up on it pretty quickly even though no TV was on. Such is the way of news in these modern times. Later I was asked why I hadn’t rushed down to Ground Zero to witness the ensuing celebrations, the end of the long search for the perpetrator of the atrocity that happened almost ten years ago. The answer was simple, his death didn’t really mark anything any more, in fact his death rather than capture made things arguably less clear.

Spin forward to today, and the whole of England, if not the world, is heading towards a real sea change. Arguably one of the people who really put the ‘terror’ in the ‘war on terror’ was facing his own trial of sorts. Rupert Murdoch and his son, answered questions from British MPs regarding his newspaper’s apparent repeated and callous disregard for the law in the pursuit of a story. The owner of the biggest propaganda machine in the US if not the world, Fox News, sitting front and center as the story himself. This may not seem like much, but the number of influential people this looks to be impacting is fascinating and disturbing. It shows that with our modern, connected, social media rich communication there is no way for a story to be kept under wraps, under the control of media cartels who only seem to answer to their bottom line not the public’s best interest.

So as I got ready for my usual run along the Thames Embankment this evening, I thought maybe I should avoid Parliament. Stay away from the melee. Then I realised that this was a moment in history that I did not want to miss. One of those times you remember always and tell your grandchildren about. As I ran through the crowds gathered around the streets, and the media tents brightly lit on the lawn, I could feel the sense of excitement and anticipation. A buzz as people saw the moment happening, when a brighter future emerged.

A Memory of Gerard Smith

A few weeks ago Gerard Smith, the bassist from TV on the Radio, died from lung cancer age 34. I found this out in New York, sitting in the flat of my friends who live above Union Pool – the very place I’d first seen TV on the Radio play with Gerard in a small, intimate, sweaty and fun filled gig. Sad news at any time, but especially so in that situation, and my thoughts immediately turned to his friends, family and bandmates and the shock of someone dying so young.

Like most TV on the Radio fans, I never knew Gerard as anyone other than a member of the band, playing wonderful music that made us smile, dance and sing. but one moment will stay with me that I wanted to share. In July 2009 TV on the Radio played Brixton Academy, shortly after playing a more intimate gig at Shepherds Bush. In coming out from the plastic cup strewn hall, we found a crowd of people gathered around a t-shirt vendor on the street. The t-shirts, bad knock offs of official merchandise, were laid out on the ground to catch happy fans on the way out of the gig. What made this scene so different from every other time, was that this time two of the band members themselves were helping sell the t-shirts. Jaleel and Gerard were laughing, smiling and trying to convince their fans that these were the best t-shirts ever much to the enjoyment of everyone around, especially the t-shirt vendor. A beautiful moment. Gerard, sorry the photo isn’t worthy of it, but the memory you left is one of the very best. Happy travels.

Misty Black Mountain Hop

Weekends round here seem to oscillate between fun adventures outside of town and homebody sessions. This weekend is very much homebody, catching up with errands and geek activities such as installing new computer operating systems, watching the entire extended edition of Lord of the Rings (classic being ill recovery movie) and finding out that Crucial seem to have run out of MacBook Pro memory right now – what with that? Guess my ageing laptop will have to wait for its final upgrade. All this is in stark contract to last weekend, where a group of us headed off to celebrate Miette’s birthday at the lovely Castle Farm in Capel-y-Ffin right in the Black Mountains.

Castle Farm is a lovely location, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, although as we arrived on a windy, almost moon-less night it seemed less than idyllic – no small thanks to Tom suggesting a recently escaped psycho from a local prison and the wind trying to throw everything at our windscreen as we crawled up pitch black, windy country lanes avoiding fallen branches. All this city-folk fear subsided once we were inside the large, but cost house and had a roaring fire lit. Oh, and after a few drinks. A few hours later, everyone else arrived and the weekend’s party began in earnest with many more logs being burnt.

The next morning was still overcast and windy, but we could now see the epic view out the windows. Nestled in a valley between two spurs of the Black Mountains, the farm has a stunning outlook, green fields dotted with windswept trees and sheep. Although it was less than perfect walking conditions we took a ‘brief’ (four hour) constitutional up to Lord Hereford’s Knob where the wind tried its best to blow us off. The hill that is. Mountain scaled we pushed through the wind, back down in the rapidly fading afternoon gloom to the warmth of the fire, where everyone else was enjoying Britain’s Got Talent, pretty much in the same place we’d left them four hours earlier. For some reason they all seemed pretty sure this was the better choice… The evening passed in a haze of good food, cake, board games, possibly some vino and enjoying a roaring fire as the wind howled outside the window. Perfect.

Weekend’s away, whether in Britain or abroad, are always so much fun – and though I’m sitting here somewhat wishing we had a roaring fire to enjoy, or a new place to explore, it’s the contrast of the two states that really make things pop in my mind. Every weekend enjoying the comforts of home can become deathy dull, conversely spending every weekend somewhere new is rapidly over-whelming so it becomes hard to fully appreciate the new wonders in front of you. Creating your own perfect preferred blend of experience and reflection is arguably part of what life’s all about. Or maybe just having an open fire everywhere you go. Mmmm… burny.

The New York Glow

Red Glow

Another marathon session of going through photos clearing the backlog. Always fun to look at photos you took over three years ago to work out which are ‘good’. When I filter photos I’ve just taken I always find it really hard to abstract my emotions from the event as opposed to what’s there in the photo. As Terry Gilliam says, if it’s not on the screen it’s not on the screen. Given the number of photos still to go through I should be pretty good at it sometime soon – or at least I’ll be more brutal about it.

A Space Invader Memory from 2010

This cute little Space Invader used to live near Hoxton Square, alas no more. He’s gone along with pretty much every other recent invader in this area in something that, if tweeted, would likely be called #shoreditchspaceinvadermageddon. Or maybe something shorter. This trend of disappearing Invaders seems to be rapidly spreading across London, no idea the cause is ‘art lovers’ or Council officials ‘cleaning’ but either way it’s a sad loss to the modern landscape. So make sure you get out and find your local invader before it’s too late.

Why Hullo There, 2011. You’re Looking Mighty Fine.

Yes, for those of you who haven’t slept through the start of this year (thanks, iPhone) a big Happy New Year to you all! Just got back from a few days up in Edinburgh, enjoying my first ever Scottish Hogmanay celebration. Good fun, and I highly recommend a hike up Arthur’s Seat on New Years Day as a way to shift a hangover. Other key tips – bugger all happens on the Royal Mile at midnight, it’s all in the ticketed parties that happen on the streets below the castle. So a very very very big thank you to the lovely gentleman who just strolled over and gave us his tickets. You, sir are a true gentleman.

Before I move onto thoughts for 2011, the traditional review of 2010 is in order. Highlight of the year was likely the trip to Japan and Korea – an amazing whirlwind two weeks that gave a taste of two beautiful countries that has only whetted my appetite for more. Following quickly on from that was an unexpected visit to Israel. Most of this was spent in Jerusalem, a stunning city of amazing contrasts and well worth a visit – though you may want to avoid August heatwave season. Just a thought. Outside of travel 2010 has had some splendid gigs, from Flight of the Conchords, through Tom Jones and Robert Plant, to Charlotte Gainsbourg and Interpol. Union Chapel in Islington has become one of my new favourite venues, although the fixed up Garage in the same neighbourhood is really quite splendid too. According to my Lightroom I’ve taken roughly 20,000 pictures over this last year.. Flickr would disagree with that, having hardly seen any uploads in that same time for which I apologise and promise to do better this year. Honest. Other than that have been some lovely times with friends and family with many a good chat over a bottle or two of vin rouge. Oh, and I also grew a beard for the first time. I quite like it, so it’ll be around a while.

So onto 2011, what do I see for the year ahead? Fear not, this isn’t going to be a long list of resolutions, mainly because I’ll just look at my list for last year and then get stressed out about how many I’ve yet to do. Basically this is going to be a year of having fun, spending more time with friends and just getting on with stuff. There may also be a smidgin of more specific goals in there, such as right now I’m trying to go a month without wheat, but I just think there is just so much amazing stuff out there to try, learn, do and sometimes fail epically, as well as people to meet that there’s no time to lose. In summary, less telly. Well, at least until the new season of Mad Men comes on…

Merry Boxing Day!

In traditional fashion my post wishing you all a very Happy Christmas is a bit late… So Merry Boxing Day everyone! Hope you all had a splendid Chrimbo full of fun, family and food.

Boxing Day is always a bit of a strange one to me. Being British I’ve grown up with having two days off around Christmas, but having lived a good few years in New York I came to realise this was just us and our more friendly colonies (I’m thinking about you, Canada). Then again in the American world the very phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ is loaded with potential insult and hence the non-religious form ‘Happy Holidays’ is normally used. This bland greeting insults everyone in equal measure, no one group gets a big bee in their bonnet and everyone can continue with the business of loving one another and/or getting rich as appropriate. In America the only two day holiday is the non-religious Thanksgiving, sensibly always placed on a Thursday and Friday thus guaranteeing a long weekend for all. If only baby Jesus had had such forethought, but I digress.

Back to Boxing day and in Britain and there seems to be no real hard and fast agreement on what this is or how it came about. Even the ever useful Wikipedia shakes its head, asks for some more money like a disreputable Uncle and then deftly points us towards Snopes. At Snopes various possibilities are laid out, mostly involving some levelling of wealth between people of different strata of society – nominally from lords to serfs. So perhaps we should consider Boxing day like the Robin Hood of bank holidays, or to be more up to date a sort of ‘Tobin Tax’.

Suffice to say Boxing Day is the day after Christmas and it’s another day off. That sounds good enough to me. In our family it’s a day for eating cold turkey, sampling festive spirits that may or may not be presents from the year before, and taking a long constitutional along the cold Norfolk coastline looking at baby seals. This year the seals were particularly cute and abundant at Sea Palling, and I believe my youngest nephew won the seal spotting contest with his, as yet unverified, claim of ‘a gazillion’ seals. Perhaps he’s angling for a job in the Treasury…

16 Shopping Days to Christmas

I’m old enough to remember the time when working out how many shopping days it was till Christmas required some thought. Now it’s just a case of how many days till Christmas Eve, unless Amazon starts doing Christmas morning deliveries of course. Would that ever happen? One would hope not, but then Sunday’s sacrosanct, shopping free self went the way of the Dodo many years ago and though I do love a Sunday shop, there’s part of me that wishes we still had that day of rest – albeit not for religious reasons. We spend so much time rushing about getting things done these days that forced rest and family/friend time sounds like a good idea to me. Plus it would be a positive step towards a global four day work week, something I’m very much in favour of.

On the subject of weekends, this one bought an early ‘Christmas’ present – a new fridge freezer. It always amazes me how over excited I get with every new domestic purchase these days. The tabletop dishwasher is still an object of adoration, small and perfectly formed. As soon as the new chill cabinet had settled down from its move from St Albans (two days of waiting) it was switched on and every near finished condiment from the the tiny fridge was transferred with loving consideration of where it would live in the new fridge equivalent of a luxury high rise. So much space! Having a proper freezer is the biggest excitement, with the thought of making food and freezing it rather than having to eat it the next day something of exotic wonder right now. Who knows what other joys await… perhaps a new mop?

And of course what post today could be written without acknowledging the sad loss of John Lennon thirty years ago. To commemorate this tragic event I struggled onto the HMV website to try and get tickets to see one of his last remaining band mates at the Apollo. No joy unfortunately, so it looks increasingly unlikely that I’ll see any Beatle in action before they all pass into history. Ah well.

Not all bad news on the band front though. Monday night say the splendid Autolux at the re-vamped Garage, now ‘Relentless Garage’ in Islington. This was courtesy of the ever lovely Amy who was over on a flying visit from LA with the band. The venue was hardly recognisable from my previous visit years back to see Sir Real hit the decks. Back then it was literally a black box, with low ceilings and chronic acoustics. Now, a new arched ceiling and splendid sound system has transformed the place – apparently the new owners found the ceiling hidden behind the low suspended ceiling when they took over the place and had to repair the roof. Good job! Then last night we saw perennial favourites Interpol at Brixton Academy, a smoke machine filled night full of dark indie rock and low lights. A highly enjoyable night, even with the epic chill of the bus ride home afterwards.

Wait. Does that mean I didn’t quite get through a whole post without mentioning how flipping cold it is over here for a change? Yep, England is finally having a proper winter, -2c across London for a few days and right down to -20c in other parts of the country. To be honest I’m loving it. Cold, brisk days are much preferable to the usual British damp. Now if only we could manage some of the glorious, sharp winter sunshine that makes New York winters so magical.

Recent Things of Note…

Yes, another post where I quickly mention all the stuff I’ve been up to but haven’t blogged about for various reasons (mostly time related). Today’s post is extremely lazy, so I’m going to do it in bullet point form… Guess who wasn’t an A Student in English?

  • Saw Mike Leigh, talented director of some of my favourite films (Naked, Topsy Turvy) give a Q&A about his latest piece ‘Another Year’. The movie is wonderful and well worth seeing, just don’t expect Hollywood happy endings, and as for Mr Leigh himself – an interesting, creative and talented chap.
  • We went to Toronto for a week. So got to hang out with Miette’s lovely family, enjoy a splendid Canadian Thanksgiving and catch up with lots of my favourite Canadian folks; Jason and his new band Sunfields play an excellent gig at the Dakota Tavern – plus they bought some St Viateur bagels (thanks, Phil!) , Jon who very kindly gave me a copy of his excellent graphic novel – The Executor, plus Mathew, Micah and Oscar – as well as seeing Micah’s new shop in the Junction – Russet and Empire. Well worth checking out if you’re in the area. Sad we didn’t get to Montreal again this trip, and felt a bit emotional as we flew over it at night on our way back to London. C’est la vie.
  • Went to the excellent White Michief Halloween party. Great fun, but we need to up our costume game for next time we go.
  • Finished reading Surface Detail, the latest Culture novel by Iain M Banks. Great stuff and I now find I have a hole in my reading schedule for something that keeps me as engrossed.

Sure there’s plenty more I’ve forgotten about.. and as I go through my backlog of photos I’ll likely blog more. That backlog is only about four years long now. Jeebus!