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.

Recipe: Pork Belly

As part of my goal to cook more I had a go at doing pork belly tonight. This was using a recipe my sister cooked for us a few months ago, which I’ll share here. This is for 1-1.3kg of pork belly, which should be enough for at least four people (pork belly is very filling) and it takes about 3 hours to cook:

  1. Pre-heat the over to 180c. Chop up five large onions into large pieces and lay over the base a flat, over proof pan.
  2. Score the rind of the pork belly lines 1cm apart, you can ask your butcher to do this for you as it’s pretty tough going. Luckily for me my local butcher (the amazing Ginger Pig) were one step ahead of me. Lay the pork belly over the onions, then pour oil over the top and rub in sea salt and crushed peppercorns to taste.
  3. Put the pan in the lower part of the oven for 1 hour, then remove and baste the pork belly. If there’s not much juice add some water.
  4. Continue cooking at 180c for another 1 1/2 hours, basting every 15 minutes. During this time, peel the potatoes and start them boiling near the end of the cycle if you’re having mash.
  5. Rub 2-3 teaspoons of honey over the rind and put back in the over at 200c for 30-40 minutes. At this point you need to baste every 5 minutes or so keeping an eye on it to make sure the rind doesn’t catch fire or burn.
  6. Remove the pork belly and cut into reasonable size portions and serve over the potato, with the onions & juice over the top.

Mmm.. delish. Also more of a winter dish than a balmy spring night light meal, but in my defence it was quite cold at the market this morning when I decided to try it.

Une bonne journée

Today has been a fun day, with a dash of gallic flavour. C’est bonne, ca.

Around midday we headed down to the Secret Cinema at Leake Street, the tunnels underneath Waterloo. As usual with Secret Cinema we had no idea what film was going to be shown, just general instructions on what to wear (50s/60s European with a white scarf) and where to turn up. I knew that Secret Cinema involved re-enactments of the film around seeing the film itself, but not much more than that. So, looking a lot smarter than usual for a Saturday afternoon, we rocked up to Leake Street to find a large queue of people entering, and lots of soldiers herding people along, all talking French. I was ‘lucky’ enough to be singled out by the soldiers, and made to stand with my hands against the wall as my identification documents were confiscated. Then after some minutes myself and the other detainees were taken to a dark room, followed by an indoctrination talk with spotlights in our eyes where we were asked to sign out name as belonging to a terrorist organisation. Even knowing that this was all an act it was pretty unnerving, especially when a planted audience member was taken to one side, beaten and thrown in a prison cell to be tortured. Magnifique!

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Kyoto, May 2010

Click here for more photos of Kyoto

Ah, the sudden flurry of uploading strikes again. This time for the amazing Japanese city of Kyoto, home to geisha and temples, plus it ranks highly on quality of life and when you visit you’ll see why. Unlike nearby Tokyo, Kyoto mostly stays low to the ground, a few stories high. There are fast moving major streets, but people and bikes take priority on the back roads – and even bikes stop to let people and cars past, there’s something you never see in London. All of which combines together to make an enchanting city that is well worth a visit.

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Osaka, May 2010

Pictures from Osaka, Japan 2010

Finally, some pictures from last year’s Japan trip. Osaka was the first town we stayed at in Japan. It wasn’t a planned part of our trip, but due to last year’s major event of this time – the volcanic dust cloud – we ended up in Japan over Golden Week. Sounds pretty doesn’t it, but it’s not a pretty experience for anyone wanting to book a hotel in Japan as Golden week is the one week in Japan where everyone goes on holiday. Literally everyone. So Kyoto had no hotels available and Osaka was the nearest town worth visiting on the way. Such is life.

Footnote: A year ago the volcanic dust cloud seemed like a major disaster in our lives. This year, tens of thousands of people have died in Japan due to the earthquake and tsunami and much of the country is still affected by this tragedy with many still missing. You can donate here if you want to help. In the meantime my thoughts are still with those mourning their loss.

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…