Thursday, April 30, 2009

Highs and lows

Let's start with the lows, shall we? And by low I mean without a doubt *the* worst point of the year so far: without going into too much detail, Clubbie got massively smashed in the back while stationary in traffic on the way to work on Tuesday, and is currently in Mini hospital undergoing rather thorough repairs.

Beyond that I'd rather not, and probably shouldn't, go into any specifics.


And highs? Well, my subsequent utterly foul mood was lifted for a couple of hours the day after the accident by a wonderful performance from Priscilla Ahn. I got tickets to go see her headlining gig at Bush Hall after seeing her support Jason Mraz at the beginning of the month (where I was won over by her boob song) - and I was not disappointed by her full-length show. First of all, not only were the tickets an absolute steal for 12 of your English squids, but she is a supremely talented singer - a beautiful voice, wonderful songs, some lush acoustic guitar goodness, and a brilliant thing where she records her voice on stage and loops it back to make it sound like she's got a whole bunch of backing singers on stage with her. She had to cut her first song short a few seconds in after breathing in some dust, and swiftly apologised for being "unprofessional"; unprofessional? Far from it - it was actually a rather endearing moment from a performer who engaged wonderfully with the tiny audience (around a 100, I'd guess), and appeared somewhat humbled by the fact that we'd actually bothered to go see her.

I didn't get too many photos, but here's a couple.

Here's Priscilla with her guitar

…And here she is with her ukulele.

I really recommend you go check out her Myspace page, and may I be so bold as to suggest you get her album in your life? I bought it off iTunes at the weekend and it's fantastic - perfect for sunny, chilled-out summer days. And just to encourage you, here's The Boob Song (which sadly isn't on the album).

Secondly, Bush Hall - awesome venue! I'd never been before, and was stunned to find that it is located in startingly close proximity to the Nandos I've frequented rather too much over the last six years or so. It's an old Edwardian dance hall (a phrase which makes me imagine a crowd of people in their Sunday finest rather sedately doing the ol' 'big fish, little fish, cardboard box' dance routine) hidden behind a rather innocuous-looking shopfront, and there are proper tables and chairs for you to sit at while you watch the performance. It was well sophisticated.

Check out the chandeliers. There are even cherubs above the stage if you look closely!

If you're interested, you can check out some more information about the venue and its history, and see some better photos, HERE. I definitely want to go see some more gigs there - and next time I'd be tempted to wear a jaunty hat, a cravat, and a monocle so I appear as sophisticated and upper-class as the venue itself.

Monday, April 27, 2009

An open letter to anyone who wishes to preach doorstep religion

Let's be frank, based on the fact that I've been suffering from pig flu, everyone's favourite, topical, pork-based illness, this weekend has not exactly been the best couple of days in recent memory, topped off by the fact that I appear to have lost the ability to sleep. To make matters worse, having only gotten to sleep at around 5:30 am on Sunday morning (the sky had started getting lighter and there were tweeting birds in the trees), I was rudely awakened at 9:00 am by someone ringing my doorbell.

Although I woke up in a shot, I made the executive decision to ignore whoever it might be, mainly because unless it was Autumn Reeser come to whisk me away on a Caribbean holiday I'd probably have started my day with a tirade of four-letter words directed towards the little bastard who was insisting on jabbing away at my doorbell like it was Lindsey Lohan's crotch and they were checking to see if she still had any feeling down there. If it wasn't for the fact that I felt clammy and gross (as a result of pig flu, I hasten to add) I probably would've gone at them like a complete mentalist, but instead I shut my eyes and hoped they'd go away.

Only later did I discover that the perpetraitors of this most heinous of crimes was - brace yourself - some f**king Jehovah's Witnesses.

*deep breath*

OK, I like to think that I'm a very tolerant and understanding chap, and my general feeling towards most things is that as long as you're not hurting anyone you should pretty much be allowed to do what you want. But banging on MY front door stupidly early on a Sunday morning to try and engage me in conversation about YOUR religion is overstepping the mark. It's overstepping the mark BIG TIME.

As an extension of the tolerance noted above, I like to think that I'm respectful of other people's religions (except, perhaps, Scientology, because that one's bat-shit crazy). That doesn't, however, preclude me from pointing the finger of blame for many of the world's problems at organised religion. Don't believe me? Just look back through history - the Crusades, for example; the work of missionaries sent to foreign countries to convert people to a religion other than their own; the ongoing problems in the Middle East - just a few examples of how religion has caused problems rather than solve them.

That being my take on things, I'm happy for everyone to get on with their own beliefs while I formulate my own (if you're interested, I am, strictly speaking, Church of England, but my family is not at all religious, and I've only ever been to church once - when I was in Beavers and they threatened to chuck me out if I didn't go to Church Parade. Bastards). So, as you might imagine, I was a little bit pissed off that some Jehovah's Witnesses thought I might like to waste some of my time listening to them try and tell me why their views are better than mine.

In hindsight, I really wish I had gotten up and started talking to them - mainly because I would've been shouting at them from my bedroom window and I probably would've succumbed to temptation and thrown a shoe at them or something. Anyway, they left evidence of their visit in the form of a cheapily-printed leaflet telling me how I should get involved in Bible study in order to live a better and more rewarding life free of sin. Well, I hate to break it to you, chaps, but I already have a bible: it's called the Star Trek Encyclopedia, and while it is in dire need of an update (rather like the Bible, I s'pose), it's a damn sight more entertaining, and, dare I say it, less fictional than the one you want me to study. It's also full of pretty pictures of starships.

Anyway, if I know anything about Jehovah's Witnesses it's that they're persistent little buggers, and will no doubt be back. And if they do, I think I'll argue with them for at least an hour, then slam the door in their faces before discretely following them to their home. I shall then return to their abode later that evening at a time that is - god forbid! - greatly inconvenient to them, armed with a full 13 binder set of The Official Star Trek Fact Files, at which point I shall begin lecturing them on the concept of Sto-vo-kor and Gre'thor, the Klingon equivalents of heaven and hell. Let's see how they like them apples, eh?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Notes from my sick bed

And when I say 'sick bed' I really mean it. I've spent an unnaturally long period of time in bed this week.

It all started when I got back from the Star Trek premiere on Monday. I'd developed a little bit of a sore throat throughout the day, but figured it would go away with a hot drink and an early night. Um, how wrong could I be? I woke up on Tuesday morning and *really* felt like I wanted to take the day off work. But, because I'd taken the previous week off as holiday, I thought it looked really bad that I'd take sick leave so soon - almost like I was struggling to get used to the whole work thing and, y'know, just needed a couple more days or something. So, I struggled into the office, drank two bottles of Lucozade, and generally looked a bit miserable. Tuesday evening I got home at around 17:40, and went straight to bed. I woke up four hours later with a temperature and decided this whole sleep thing was probably for the best and nodded off again.

Wednesday morning I woke up feeling a bit better, but still not exactly top-of-the-shop, but headed into work again because I still figured the whole holiday/too-soon-to-take-time-off-sick rule applied. I even worked longer in the evening to make up for the fact it took me three hours to get into work on Monday because of bad the worst traffic jam I've ever experienced in West London. And when I got home Wednesday evening seemed to be going OK until about nine o'clock when I plummeted off the healthy cliff like Wily Coyote taking a tumble down a gorge in a Roadrunner cartoon.

I didn't really sleep at all well Wednesday night because my throat was so sore I found it difficult to swallow. I considered using a pint glass as a spittoon at one point, but the idea of disposing of a pint of spit the following morning kind of put me off; I mean, what do you do with it? Flush it down the loo? Tip it down the sink? Drink it?

Having only gotten to sleep at around four Thursday morning, I thought screw the holiday/too-soon-to-take-time-off-sick rule. At about 9:30 I called work to tell them I was gross and ill and not coming in. Unfortunately, I'd not taken into consideration the fact that I might not be able to talk, and I basically responded to my colleague who picked the phone up by honking at him like a mix between a goose, Pingu, and Dierdre Barlow from Coronation Street. I eventually got my message across, after being reassured that I sounded "horrific," and went back to bed.

I eventually got up in the afternoon, caught up on the episodes of Heroes and Gossip Girl that I'd recorded, then went back to bed.

I went back to work on Friday because although I was still feeling rough, someone was leaving and I thought it would be nice to say goodbye. Anyway, long story short, we spent a lovely afternoon down the pub, had a great lunch, and I was admonished by lovely boss lady for my whole concept of the holiday/too-soon-to-take-time-off-sick rule. She also instructed me to take some Echinacea because apparently it's a miracle cure, so I'll probably give that a whirl. On the downside, about 17:30 I started feeling uber rough again, and headed home as quickly as I could for round four of high temperature, night-sweats (nice!), and generally feeling crap.

Anyway, the one saving grace of this whole thing is that I woke up this morning tightly wrapped in my duvet, with a sterling idea for a new short story. I'm not entirely convinced that I'd like all my story inspiration to come after feeling horrific for a week, but on this one occasion I'll take it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Stalk Trek

I don't know whether you know or not, but there's a new little independent art house film coming out soon that's got a few folks a little bit excited. It's called Star Trek, and if you've been reading this blog since, well, it began, you'll know that I'm a wee bit excited about it.

OK, a lot excited about it.

OK, on the verge of needing to wear a man-nappy excited.

Does the term 'nerdgasm' mean anything to you?

Anyway, today was the UK premiere of Star Trek, and since all my efforts to get tickets to actually stroll down the red carpet and then watch the film with the celebs failed (despite lovely boss lady offering to buy me and my colleague in all things Star Trek tickets if we could find them - don't they know who I am!?), I had to make do with hanging out with the rest of the civilians safely cordoned off behind the barriers.

To be honest I was very blaise about the whole thing; I rocked up town just before six, then headed to Foyles to buy a book (The Lie by Chad Kultgen, if you're interested), at which point I almost had a go at the till monkey - first of all because he was monosyllabic and I actually like to hear people tell me how much cash they want me to fork over before I fork it over, and then because when I asked if I could have a bag to put it in he half-shoved it into one and then pushed it towards me. Outrageous! Put it in properly - isn't that what you're paid to do? I read a column by Mary Portas the other week where she criticized Foyles' staff and I tend to agree with her.

Where was I? Oh yes, Star Trek. So, after buying my book I strolled back to Leicester Square, met up with Marcosy, made a crack about how I hoped this Star Wars movie would be better than the last three (tee-hee - it's funny because it's a Star TREK movie!), and then stood behind a huge wall of tall people - and within mere minutes the stars began to arrive. Now, the last time I saw people at a film premiere was when I stumbled upon the X-Men 2 premiere a few years back. Somehow then I managed to get pretty close to the front and ended up seeing loads of stars. This time? Not quite so easy. I seriously think that at these sort of events the old school photo rule of thumb should come into play - y'know, tall people at the back, shorties at the front. We're all civilised, intelligent people, right? It shouldn't be too difficult to work out. As it was, I spent about half an hour on tippy-toes, and poor Marcosy saw practically nothing - because he's a midget.

Anyway, despite the hustle and bustle of the crowds and the inherent limitations of the iPhone's camera, I did manage to take a few not so bad pictures - and here's a selection of them just for you.

The Empire Leicester Square all decked out in Star Trek finery!

Here's director J.J. Abr- oh, it's the back of his head. Hmmm… J.J.! Turn around!

That's more like it. Here's director J.J. Abrams!

New Spock Zachary Quinto turns up. Sorry about the shaky-cam - I was really stretching for this one.

And here's new Kirk Chris Pine. I was very tempted to whack a massive arrow on this to point him out, but I can't be bothered. He's the dude in the suit standing side-on.

The lovely new Uhura, Zoe Saldana… (and, to the extreme right, a dude in a TNG era Starfleet uniform)

…And the new Dr. McCoy, Karl Urban (not to be confused with Mr Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban). Note also that Chris Pine is taking a photo of the crowd - yes, the new Kirk has a picture of my outstretched arm taking a picture of him; good times!

Here's another pic of J.J. - he was working the crowd good and proper.

The new Scotty, Simon Pegg, turned up in a kilt. I'm actually amazed how well this picture turned out because I just reached out and snapped it blind.

New Sulu, John Cho, was there too, but I didn't get a picture of him, perhaps because I was laughing too much at the guy behind me who kept saying "look - it's Harold from Harold and Kumar! What's Harold doing here? HAROLD!"

I also didn't see ex-Hulk Eric Bana, but I discovered later that I'd somehow snapped a pretty decent picture of him. This is what happens when you stand behind tall people and just wave your iPhone above your head like a mentalist.

Eric Bana plays the villain Nero in the new Star Trek movie. Don't make him angry - you wouldn't like him when he's angry!

All in all, then, a not too shabby effort. I'm glad I went - glad I got a chance to see the new stars of Star Trek even if it was from afar, and it was exciting for me - a Star Trek fan of 25-plus years, who has stuck with the franchise through the good times and the bad - to see a big crowd of everyday, non-Trekkie people hyped up about a new Star Trek movie. I was a little bit disappointed that the promoters didn't make the security guys wear red, though.

Anyway, to sum it up, I'm *really* excited about the movie now … Only 18 days to go!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


You know how I was saying in my last post about what a great day I had on Friday? Well, truth be told, it didn’t actually start out too well; in fact, I had a bit of a disaster.

Let’s back up a bit.

About two years ago, well over a year after I’d moved into Sparky Towers, I finally got round to decorating the bathroom. It had been a manky lilac colour that the silly bitch who lived here before me seemed to be utterly obsessed by (I kid you not - the only part of the house that wasn't coated in it was the bedroom), and I painted over it with a classy white. I was very pleased with it, and with myself for having the enthusiasm to actually do it. The thing is, though, that I didn’t quite finish it; I’ve never gotten around to putting down any new flooring (it still has the old grey carpet), and I’ve never gotten around to putting a towel rail up (making do, instead, with the airing cupboard door handle). Worst of all, though, is the fact that I’ve never replaced the horrific roller blind that was put up in front of the window; it was green, which was totally out of place with the rest of the decor, and had turned a bit gross after getting damp when I showered.

You can see it HERE, in a video clip I made about a year and a half ago. Note how I said then that I intended to replace it “sooooooooon.”

Bizarrely, I’m actually wearing the same hoodie as I was in that clip. I didn’t realise I’d had it that long. Hmmm…

Anyway, let’s get back to Friday.

So, Friday morning, I get up and wander into the bathroom ready to carry out my ablutions before heading out for the epic shopping expedition. I reach for the cord to roll the blind up, but as soon as I pull it I hear a bit of plastic snap, and feel the cord go slack. The next thing I know the blind is unravelling before my very eyes like a cat unrolling a toilet roll. By the time it reached it’s full length there was a huge excess of material looming out over the bathtub. I rolled my eyes, decided that nothing was going to ruin my day, and left it.

When I got home in the evening I decided I’d better do something about it. It was quite clear that there was no way to fix it, so I decided I’d find a way of securing the fabric in place so I could shower without fear of putting on a nudie show for the neighbours, and probably get round to replacing it properly in about six months. Unfortunately, the moment I touched the fabric it literally peeled away from the roller, leaving me with three separate components: a roller (attached to the window frame), the cord that was formerly used to raise and lower it but which was now effectively just a bit of string, and a metre and a half of manky green fabric.


Knowing that I needed to do *something* to get the fabric back up over the window so that I could at the very least have a shower, I eventually decided to drape it over the roller and tape it to the window frame so that it wouldn’t fall away. It wasn’t a pretty solution, but it worked.

Look with your eyes! It's manky, it's green, and it's taped to the window frame. Ugh.

Problems arose on Saturday morning, however, because I quickly discovered while showering that tape doesn’t like moisture, and it started peeling away. I subsequently spent the duration of my shower squatting in the tub while hastily reattaching bits of tape as they peeled away. Knowing that I didn’t want to have to go through that every time I needed to wash my bits, I decided that something needed to be done. So, Saturday afternoon, I headed down to the Staines Massive, and bought a new, white, venetian blind, and this morning Sparky Pa popped over to help me put it up. I was very impressed; we did it in a little bit less than an hour, and he didn’t swear once - even when he knocked the bath tap with the blind and we both got damp shoes.

Look with your eyes! *Claaaaaarrrrsy.*

So, good times, over two years after decorating my bathroom, another phase is complete! Just got to sort out that towel rail and flooring now…

Friday, April 17, 2009

A week well wasted

Hello. I'd intended to be watching Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home right about now as part of my prep work for the opening of the new Star Trek movie, but I decided I'd put my own needs aside for the time being and write a new post for you. Why? Because I love you. Yes I do.

Patronising, eh?

OK, so I don't know whether I mentioned this or not, but I've had this week off work. To be brutally honest, I actually haven't done much with it at all. Let's have a quick run-through:

Easter Monday, to be precise. Accepted an offer from Big Bro to help me wash Clubbie. Big Bro recently bought a new car too, and because he loves his new car with something approaching (and subsequently zooming waaaaaaay past) utter obsession, he's turned into some sort of car washing guru. No longer is a mere bucket and sponge sufficient! No! There are stages. Many, many stages. Mind you, after two hours, Clubbie was gleaming so strongly that three kids who live down the road were treated for seared retinas and are currently sporting heavily-bandaged eyes.

And despite Big Bro's sweatshop-style car-washing technique I still found the time to lark around.

Although I was quickly admonished for slacking and forced back to work under threat of violence.

Got my hair cut by usual lady for the first time in aaaaaaaages, and it looks awesome; badgered some delightful lady in the bank and wasted 10 minutes of her day by asking her inane questions about how the drop in interest rates will affect my mortgage when I come to renegotiate it.

Big Bro's birthday - huzzah! Though he had a dickie tummy, so it wasn't quite so huzzah for him.

Whipped Clubbie in to the Mini dealer to have a fuse replaced. It was done in the time it took me to read the Daily Mail (i.e. about three minutes), and then I headed over to Sparky Ma and Pa's where I somehow succeeded in convincing Sparky Pa that I was an iTunes genius by helping him move his library from one computer to another.

A-ha! Friday - the day I'd been looking forward to all week! Why? Because today was the day that Sparky Ma and I had scheduled in our traditional raiding party shopping expedition to Kingston - and for the first time in a long time we both went there with money, not so much to burn, but definitely to spend. And spend we did. After 7-8 hours (according to the car park pay machine) my haul consisted of the following delightful items (and the reasoning behind said purchases):

Ode to Sunshine by Delta Spirit: I can't remember where I first heard about this band, but I really like their slightly ramshackle sound having had a listen to their Myspace page and downloading their session on Daytrotter. Mum bought this for me as the traditional 'thanks-for-taking-me-to-Kingston-gift,' bless 'er! It's a great album, though I'm not to sure about the slightly dodgy-looking chap on the cover…

• Two Topman Deep-V t-shirts: Yes two; a white one and a grey one. I bought a black one last summer and wasn't sure I actually liked it for a long time because it shows off quite a lot of the ol' chesticals, if you know what I mean. Just recently, though, I've really grown to love it in all it's chestical-bearing glory, and seeing as you can get two for a tenner, I thought I'd pick up a couple more. The white one was a complete bitch to find, though, as it was rammed on a single rack alongside white round neck tees, white regular V-neck tees, white baseball tees, and white notch tees; it was like looking for an albino something-or-other in a blizzard. The grey one was equally difficult to locate, but for entirely different reasons; I initially didn't think they had any, and in sheer desperation grabbed for the one grey t-shirt on a rack of many-coloured t-shirts - and what were the chances, it was the one I wanted in my size! The serendipity!

And if you're wondering what they look like on, think something along the lines of this:

Altogether now: KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!

• A G-Star bag: for ages now I've been looking for a new bag for work; the one I've got at the moment is perfectly fine, but it's become apparent that I actually don't need to take that much stuff to work each day and I've only really stuck with it because it carries an A4 writing pad easily enough. But on those occasions when I want to do some writing at lunchtime it's a bit, well, cumbersome to lug around. Anyway, I saw this bag and thought it was nice, but quite expensive. Sparky Ma soon talked me round, though, and before I knew it I'd bought it. It's waaaay smaller than old work bag, but will be far more convenient for if I'm heading out up town and want to carry a few bits with me. On the downside, it's not big enough for an A4 writing pad, but as I've just about filled my latest one up, I thought I'd go for…

• A Moleskin 240pp ruled notebook as used by Earnest Hemingway: I've wanted one of these for ages, because what's good enough for Earnest is good enough for me, and it fits in new bag PERFECTLY. It was £12.75, which is a bit steep but I figure it'll make me look more sophisticated and authoritative when I'm jotting story ideas down.

• iPod headphones: I've come to the conclusion that my ears secrete some kind of unnaturally toxic ear grease when I go running because I consistently have to buy new headphones every year after the rubber bit turns all manky and drops off, which in turn means that my headphones keep falling out. So these are the latest in a long line of headphones, and will undoubtedly require replacing sometime around April 2010.

• Some Lush soap: because I dropped the last bit down the plug hole this morning.

Today also marked the three week anniversary of me owning Clubbie (we're going steady), and Sparky Ma's first trip in Clubbie (she was a bit freaked out about the whole stop/start thing at first, but that soon turned into thinking it was cool, then getting so used to it that it totally became a "meh, whatever" sorta thing).

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm still feeling the effects of the phat Nandos we had for lunch, so I'm going to go lie on my bed like a python that's eaten a hippo or something.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Coffee'd out of my face

Remember a few weeks back I regaled you with the tale of how I obtained a load of samples of Starbucks' new VIA instant coffee? Well the story kind of didn't end there. A few days after nabbing all those samples, I picked up a card in Secret Starbucks that gave you the URL for a survey about the new instant coffee, and promised a free £10 gift card and box of VIA to the first 500 people to fill it in.

I'll have some of that, I thought.

Unfortunately, the questionnaire was a rather long-winded affair, and when I got to the end after 25 minutes (yes, I said 25 minutes!) I got a message that said something to the effect of "sorry, we've met our quota for this survey, no freebies for you young sir!"

I quietly uttered a very specific, somewhat colourful response, and continued on with my day.

Last week, however, I received a phone call from a market (I said market, not meerkat) research company asking if I'd like to take part in a focus group for Starbucks.

Is the pope catholic?

Before I could be signed up for the group, however, I had to answer a lot of inane questions, most of which I'd already answered for the online questionnaire. I'm sure these questions are very specifically designed to glean an insight into Starbucks' customer base, but to give you an idea of the sort of thing I was asked, the final question was: if you could choose a superpower, what would it be, and why?

(If you're interested, I chose the ability to fly because it would make it so much easier getting around town, although in hindsight some sort of sexy pheromone secretion to make me irresistible to the ladies might've been a good idea; at the very least it would have skewed their research in a new and interesting direction.)

After noting down all that exciting information, the guy at the research company mentioned almost inconsequentially that I'd be paid for my time: BONUS! Ha! The fools - talking about coffee with like-minded caffeine addicts? Do they not know that I'd do this sort of thing for nothing?! On the downside, I had to do some homework. Poop.

My homework assignment turned up in the post towards the end of the week, under the guise of a 'coffee diary.' I shan't bore you with a complete run through of what I needed to do, suffice to say that it actually wasn't too much of a chore and I didn't have to take my clothes off. Two assignments did stand out for me, however.

Assignment the first was to write a short story based on my first time drinking Starbucks VIA. Bearing in mind that I was getting paid for this, you could actually say that it's my first commissioned story. What an auspicious start to my novel-writing career. Anyway, I didn't just want to write something boring like "I poured some water on it and it made coffee and I drank it and it was good." No; I decided that I'd try and subvert it a little bit. My initial thought was to write some kind of epic Starship Troopers-style science-fiction story in about 200 words; I had it all planned out - the opening lines were going to be:

I had to stay awake - I could hear the Pytherion sneeze-beast looking for me in the distance, and I knew that if I fell asleep it was more than likely that I'd wake up to find a leg missing. All I had in my ration pack was a sachet of VIA and a small camping stove. This little packet of coffee was all I had to see me through to dawn - all I had to keep me going until reinforcements arrived.
It's even more hella-cool if you read it in the voice of Cartman.

Ultimately I decided to go with a less fantastical style just incase they thought I was a mentalist, although I did give it a little bit of a film noir-twist. So, ladies and germs, may I present to you my coffee story:

It was not the best of times nor the worst of times; it was not a dark and stormy night. It was just an average day, and all I wanted was a decent cup of coffee. I looked at the small packet in front of me, picked it up and squeezed it gently, feeling the consistency of the powder within. This couldn’t make a good cup, could it? This little thing? I tore it open and breathed in the warm aroma that I’d freed from its confinement. It sure smelt good, but I still had my doubts. I heard the water in the kettle bubble to its boiling point, dropped the VIA in a mug, and poured the scalding liquid on to it. The powder and the water swirled together into a rich dark form spilling up to the rim of the mug. The smell I’d been entranced by just seconds before intensified and I found myself holding the mug close to my face as I drew in long, deep breaths. But now it was crunch time. I raised the mug to my mouth and took a swig. It was rich, bitter, smooth - everything I like in a cup of coffee. I settled back in my chair and took another mouthful. A guy could get used to this…
Awesome huh?

Assignment the second was to make a collage of what VIA means to you. Yes, you read that correctly: a collage. I've not made a collage since I was about seven, and seeing as I'm not in the habit of keeping copydex glue and glitter in the house, I decided to make mine in PhotoShop.

Good innit?

Actually, no it's not, but it served its purpose. Let me walk you around it:

• There's a picture of Hammersmith, because I drink coffee there every lunchtime.
• A smiling cat - because coffee makes me smile. I don't know why I picked a picture of a cat smiling, but I'm sure it'll have an interesting effect on their research data.
• The Rolling Stones - because I often equate drinking coffee with listening to music.
• A couple hugging - because a hot cup of coffee is something to snuggle up with.
• A coffee postcard that I found a few years back. I think it speaks for itself.
• A pic of Yazzle Dazzle hiding behind a coffee mug, because drinking coffee is a social thing and it's a vital part of our friendship.
• Some books. Coffee shops/book shops - they kind of go together, right?
• Some woman writing - because I often have a cup of coffee on the go when I'm writing.
• A contented Panda - because I like to chill out with a cup of coffee.
• Some dude running - because coffee perks me up (not like that, saucy).

Anyway, I did all this, and this evening I headed off to the focus group, which was very conveniently being held in a Starbucks I'm familiar with because I drive past it on the way to work everyday. I was the first to arrive, and told the woman conducting the group that I was quite pleased with my collage. She looked at me and asked if I was being facetious.

Without going into too much detail, the group was quite interesting (I've done one before, and experienced them from behind the scenes as well) and we had a bit of a lively debate about the pros and cons of instant coffee. We also had a coffee taste-test in which we sampled a cup of VIA versus a cup of Kenco, and although we all thought from our previous experience with VIA that it was at the very least OK, it was only when we tried it against a competitor that we realised just how good it actually was (and before anyone says that they tampered with the Kenco to make us favour the VIA, they didn't; they opened the jar in front of us, and we actually had to make our own).

Bearing in mind how much time I spend in Starbucks and how much cash I throw their way, it was good to feel that my thoughts on the brand were both valued and important. There were two representatives from Starbucks present, and I felt like hugging them and asking them to give Howard my best. Unfortunately, I didn't get to show off my collage (they took our coffee diaries to laugh look at later), but on the other hand they did bung me an envelope full of cash, so swings and roundabouts, eh?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Smuggler's luck

There are some people in this life who get caught if they do the slightest thing wrong, while there are others that have the luck of the gods and can get away with pretty much anything. And then there is my plucky friend Yazzle Dazzle.

You know how when you go to see a movie there are signs in the foyer that say something like "ONLY FOOD AND BEVERAGES PURCHASED HERE MAY BE CONSUMED ON THESE PREMISES"? Well that means nothing to Yazzle Dazzle. In fact, it taunts her - it challenges her! Pretty much every time we go to the cinema she ends up smuggling something in. It's usually nothing more innocent than a bottle of coke, but I don't think she does it because she actually wants a bottle of coke; I think she does it because she's been explicitly told not to.

This deviant behaviour has led to much hilarity on occasion. I think my favourite example of her - I think the word is – chutzpah, was when we went to a gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire a few years ago. I don't remember who we saw, but I do remember that Yazzle Dazzle stopped off on the way there to buy a bottle of Diet Coke with a lemon twist; it was a special edition at the time and she'd developed rather a taste for it. So anyway, after queuing for a few minutes we shuffle into the Empire where Yazzle Dazzle is stopped by security for a bag check (she carries a very big, very heavy bag stuffed full of lord-knows-what; I do believe she actually has a full set of cutlery in there). The security woman (and I use the term 'woman' very loosely) opened Yazzle Dazzle's bag, saw the bottle of Diet Coke with a lemon twist, and said in a gruff, decidedly unfeminine voice "Ya can't take that in there."

Yazzle Dazzle looked very unhappy about this, and told the security beast that she'd only just bought it.

The security beast shrugged and told Yazzle Dazzle that she'd have to drink it there, on the spot, or else just chuck it away, so Yazzle sighed, walked over to a nearby bin, took the top off the bottle, and with the security beast watching, took a mouthful. Satisfied that Yazzle Dazzle was doing as she'd been told, the security beast turned her/its attention to the next person in line. As such, she/it did not see Yazzle Dazzle pop the top back on her bottle, stash it back in her bag, and fish an empty coke bottle out of the bin.

"Yoo-hoo," she called out, waving the empty coke bottle in her hand. "I'm finished!"

The security beast nodded and several minutes later Yazzle Dazzle was comfortably ensconced in her seat, watching some great live music, and casually swigging from her bottle of Diet Coke with a lemon twist.

More recently, we went to see Watchmen. Our original plan had called for us to have a cup of coffee prior to seeing the film, but for some reason or another we didn't really have time. Now, we could've bought coffee in the cinema, but I know from previous experience that cinema coffee is, um, not terribly good, so instead we bought our tickets and headed across the road to Starbucks, where Yazzle Dazzle issued very precise orders to the barista about how she wanted a grande coffee in a venti cup because she needed the extra bit of room at the top. Knowing what she was planning, I ordered a Frappuccino because it's that little bit more solid, and I didn't want to be responsible for what I guessed would come next.

What came next was that Yazzle Dazzle fashioned a small compartment within her bag that was spacious enough to fit two Starbucks cups in an upright position. With her coffee and my Frap wedged inside, we calmly and innocently walked back into the cinema, took our seats, and enjoyed our beverages. Oh, and the film.

So, this whole smuggling thing has gotten to be quite exciting - proven by the fact that Yazzle Dazzle was most disappointed at the Jason Mraz gig when the security guy barely looked in her bag. "He only touched the bottom," she said, which raised a whole lot of other questions in my mind.

Anyway, this week we decided to go see a film, and my thoughts soon turned to what I could get Yazzle Dazzle to smuggle in. My initial idea was a small Albanian child, but as we were walking through Shepherds Bush I was rather taken by a diminutive middle-aged oriental woman.

"Get her," I said. "Put her in your bag - now!"

"No," scowled Yazzle Dazzle. "Although she'd definitely fit."

In the end, she resorted to the usual bottle of coke, which I felt was a bit of a let down. Greater disappointment was to come, however, as it seems smuggling stuff into the cinema is a dying art. Within seconds of us taking our seats some couple strolled in carrying two bags of food from the supermarket. By the time the movie started they'd already downed a chocolate croissant each and had moved on to a multipack of cheesy Wotsits.

We quickly decided that we wanted some cheesy Wotsits too.


The movie we saw was The Knowing, starring Nicolas Cage. Now, I hate Nicolas Cage, but I was intrigued by the idea of this movie (in which a strange girl writes a list of numbers that predict when a series of disasters are going to happen). I briefly thought about turning away every time Nicolas Cage was onscreen, but realised that this would mean pretty much missing the entire film, which would be a waste of money. Turns out, though, that it probably would've been the more sensible course of action.

What a stupid movie.

As I said, the gist of the film is that some girl in the 1950s writes a list of numbers that accurately predict when a series of disasters are going to take place, which is then popped in a time capsule before falling into the hands of Nicolas Cage 50 years later. Shame she didn't predict the movie was going to be rubbish, because I'd sure like those two hours of my life back, please. What really made it stupid, though, was the fact that it was chock-full of hardcore Christian imagery. Now, I'm down with people being into their religion and everything as long as it doesn't a) hurt anyone, or b) get rammed down my throat, because lord knows enough of it gets shoved in my letterbox*. But this movie … geez. Talk about overt. I'm going to go into spoiler territory here, so I'll hide the following bit using my text-based cloaking device (highlight if you want to read):

The gist of it is that the Earth is going to be wiped out by a solar flare, and these aliens (who in their natural form look like angels - with WINGS and everything) come to save a bunch of kids so that the human race can continue on another world. No one stopped to think that they could use Nicolas Cage's massive forehead to reflect the solar flare. Anyway, at the end the aliens take the kids off on their huge spaceships, but leave Nicolas Cage behind, because there's no room on their massive spaceships for him and his forehead. They do let the kids take a rabbit each, though, and I do like the idea that the aliens value a rabbit's life over that of Nicolas Cage. Good times.

Anyway, the Earth gets razed by fire, and the kids end up on this beautiful paradise world where there is a single massive tree of life. No one is disturbed by the idea that the aliens are just dumping a bunch of kids on a planet with no homes, no food, and the expectation that they need to start going at it - like their rabbits will undoubtedly do - to repopulate the human race. Mark my words, if they ever do a sequel (unlikely, I know) that planet is going to be home to shitloads of rabbits and tribes of hungry, dirty, promiscuous teenagers.

And so you get the idea with that.

In hindsight, I should've just clicked on to youtube and watched this:

*Sparky Ma and Pa had some Christian propaganda put through their door a few weeks back that basically listed all the ways you can be damned to Hell, and inviting them to a local church to wash away their sins. I read the list and quickly decided I was guilty of the vast majority of these sins on a daily basis. As such, I'm stocking up on some mega SPF suntan lotion, because it's going to be hot down there.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

One Amrazing night

A couple of months back I noticed that Jason Mraz was going to be playing at the Hammersmith Apollo, and as I hadn't been to a gig since … ooo … last October, I thought I'd get some tickets and go along. I asked regular gig-based partner in crime Yazzle Dazzle if she fancied joining me, and although she wasn't too familiar with the Mrazzle she was soon won over by the swoony delights of 'I'm Yours.'

I mean, how could you not be?

After two months of looking forward to the gig, however, I woke up yesterday morning with a massive hardcore pounding headache. It was so bad, in fact, that I stayed in bed for an extra two and a half hours in an attempt to shake it off, but to no avail. It was like little head dwarves were stabbing me in the back of the eyes.

Anyway, determined to shake it off I got up and had a hot shower (didn't work), then settled down to watch Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles with a cup of tea (also didn't work). I even rubbed some 4Head all over my face. Knowing that I wouldn't have time for dinner pre-Mraz, I cooked up a meal for lunch, but it ended up making me feel a little bit nauseous; I had to dump a chicken kiev that I'd been looking forward to, but on the otherhand the pile of greasy chips I'd cooked went down a treat. Go figure. After that I returned to bed.

When I awoke, again, I was actually feeling a whole lot better, and a couple of hours later I headed off to meet Yazzle Dazzle. Upon meeting, however, just one look told me that the Yazzle-meister was not exactly top of the shop herself. I asked her what was the matter.

"It's like I've got something pounding away behind my eyes - like-"

"Little stabby head-dwarves!" I exclaimed.

"Yes!" she shouted in agreement before wincing a little. Like me, however, Yazzle was prepared to power through any pain to enjoy the gig. Our first stop was one of Hammersmith's alternative Starbucks (Secret Starbucks being closed at that time on a Saturday evening). Good times ahoy, though, as the Starbucks we chose just happened to be staffed by one of our favourite former baristas from Secret Starbucks! I'd not seen him since last December and had wondered what had happened to him. Turns out he'd been transferred against his will, and was so pleased to see us that he gave us our mistos for free as "his special guests." Bless him; we've now decided to split our lunchtimes evenly between Secret Starbucks and this branch. I may even start a Facebook petition to get him reinstated.

After that we headed off to the Hammersmith Apollo. On our way we passed a big poster for the Michael Jackson concerts taking place in London this summer (and through to next spring) and still a little bit bitter at not getting tickets, I joked that it would be cool if Jason Mraz covered a Jackson song. This caused Yazzle to fall about laughing as she pictured Mraz Earth-songing it up on stage.

The Hammersmith Apollo has recently been taken over by HMV, and it looks like they're doing a bit of restoration work to it (I love the venue, but lord knows it kinda needs it). I decided to get a photo of the building, the huge Jason Mraz posters adorning it, and the massive crowd waiting to be let in.

Sadly my first attempt ended in me getting a picture of the pavement and Yazzle's shoe.

Let's try that again.

That's more like it!

After that we joined the queue, and marveled at all the people wearing little trilby hats in honour of Jason Mraz, which made us feel a little left out; we decided that we wanted little trilby hats, and thought that the merchandise people were definitely missing a trick in not selling official Mraz hats. We subsequently pointed out anyone wearing any other kind of hat as wearing "the wrong hat," something that led to no end of inexplicable amusement.

Once inside the Apollo we were confronted by a woman selling a CD that was recorded the previous night at Jason's gig in Manchester. For a tenner you got the CD and some sort of download thingy; to be honest I actually still don't quite understand what I'm getting for my money, but I wanted the CD and the whole thing seemed like a bargain for 10 quid so I paid up.

After that we headed to our seats, where we discovered they'd been appropriated by two teenaged girls. "You're in our seats" I said, at which point they jumped up, telling me that they'd "stopped for a rest." Yes, because the circle seating at the Hammersmith Apollo is at such high altitude. Cheeky bitches.

Just a few minutes after taking our seats by force Jason Mraz took to the stage to introduce the first support act, which I thought was a nice gesture as not many headliners do that. The first act was a young lady with a guitar, harmonica, and what sounded like a kazoo (which led to no end of excitement from Yazzle Dazzle), and her name was Priscilla Ahn.

Unfortunately the limitations of the iPhone camera mean that you can barely see Priscilla Ahn, and what you can see does kind of make it look like her head is on fire.

Anyway, I quickly decided that I rather liked Priscilla Ahn; she had a beautiful summery voice, was a bit quirky, and her set included a song about a dog getting shot in the head by a policeman in her hometown, and another that was called 'The Boob Song' which was about … um, well, I think you get the idea with that one (it's on her myspace if you fancy a listen). She's playing a gig in Shepherds Bush at the end of the month and I might just toddle along.

After that Jason introduced another support act, Jonny Taylor, which was completely different to Priscilla Ahn, but equally enjoyable. It was a bit Ska-y, and a bit "alright geezer"-ish, which isn't usually my cup of tea, but I actually really enjoyed it.

For some reason you can actually see a bit more of what's going on here.

After Jonny Taylor finished Yazzle Dazzle and I were amazed to find that the music playing out over the PA was some sort of 80s power-ballad megamix, and we soon found ourselves discussing the merits of such songs. Our discussion was briefly interrupted when I full-on lip-synced to 'Eye of the Tiger,' Jenson Ackles-stylee. It was a glorious moment, let me tell you. After that I was trying to remember who sung 'Total Eclipse of the Heart,' and could only describe the performer as "blonde, looks a bit rough." "Bonnie Tyler!" said Yazzle without missing a beat - and just moments after that Bonnie Tyler's 'Holding out for a Hero' came on. I'm not afraid to say that if Jason had had to cancel for any reason, I would've quite happily listened to power ballads for the rest of the evening.

Fortunately, Jason did not cancel, and he came on soon after 'Africa' by Toto had played over the PA to perform a stunning set. It really was a joyous experience that totally removed all memory of stabby head dwarves. I think my favourite moment was when he sung 'Dynamo of Volition' and he had the entire audience air-high-fiving; it was a sight to behold.

This wasn't the air-high-fiving moment, but it is Jason Mraz on stage - and you can even see him (just about).

And to top it all off, he even sung the bit from Michael Jackson's 'Wanna be Startin' Somethin'' where it just goes "ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa." Pure. Genius.

Fully Mrazed up, Yazzle Dazzle and I stumbled back through Hammersmith, stopping off briefly along the way so she could blag a free apple pie in McDonalds (the manager claimed there weren't any left, and she just pointed at the counter until one magically appeared - he was so embarrassed he gave it to her for free), and to stare at a magnetic poetry kit that was stuck on a fridge-freezer that had been dumped on a street, where I was amused by the fact that someone had combined the words 'tiny' and 'sausage' to make the phrase 'tiny sausage.' Sadly my photo of tiny sausage did not come out too well in the dark, but if it's still there on Monday when I head to Hammersmith for coffee I'll definitely get a better picture.

All in all then, it was an amrazing evening. I'm off to download some live Jason Mraz albums off iTunes, and just for you, here's a bit of the man in action (duetting with Priscilla Ahn) that some enterprising person popped up on youtube after the gig. Good times!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Other stuff

Since last we spoke (well, since last I spoke and you rolled over and looked at me through half-glazed eyes like I was a shame shag or something) things have been, for the most part, super fu-fu. Me and Clubbie have been getting on like a house on fire, and I've actually been going out for drives simply because I want to go for a drive. I haven't done that in *years*. I'd driven 120 miles after only two days of ownership. And - BONUS - Clubbie is super frugal; I was sat in traffic on my way to work yesterday and it was amazing to just hear the engine cut out and know that I wasn't wasting a single drop of my precious, precious petrol. In my Cooper S I'd sit in traffic and literally watch the petrol gauge drop while I cried a little inside. I just hit 210 miles on my way home tonight - the point at which I'd have to go fill up my old one - and I've still got half a tankful left. I told Sparky Ma the other night that I think Clubbie could be my favourite Mini so far.

Anyway, it's not all been Mini adventures over the last few days - some other stuff has happened too!


It had to happen. I've gone cold turkey, and drawn a line under it; I am no longer Gilwhoring. Having started watching Gilmore Girls last August when E4 was halfway through the third season, I've come full circle and caught up with where I began. Well, actually I carried on a little bit further than where I began, which seems to indicate that I'm a little bit addicted. Addicted and incensed, because E4 have not only been editing some episodes VERY BADLY by loping off the pre-credits teaser, but they also just missed out the season three finale completely! Outrageous! Anyway, I've gone cold turkey because I think if I didn't I'd just keep watching it forever and ever until the end of time, and it will actually be quite nice to reclaim an hour each day when I'd usually be found watching it.

I'll miss my daily dose of Stars Hollow shenanigans, and will probably cave massively and end up buying the the first three seasons on DVD at some point (tragically, that's all that's been released over here) in the near future.


As if I'd ever forget, I was reminded that a certain person (and I use that term in the loosest possible sense) who I've been unfortunate enough to have dealings with in my life is even more morally and creatively bankrupt than I originally thought they were. There's a special place in hell for people like this.


I went for a run last night, and for reasons too ridiculous to go into here, I ended up doing the longest run I've ever done; so long, in fact, that the voice of Lance Armstrong emanated from my Nike+ kit through my iPod to congratumalate me. Thanks Lance. Anyway, when I got home and uploaded my data, my little Nike+ Mini Me dude (the leaping chappy over there on the right-hand side) went totally mentalist (more so than usual).

This is all very well, you'd think, but, um, he's wrong. I don't feel amazing; well, actually I do a bit. Everything but my right leg from the knee down feels just great. And WTF is a 'runometer'? He totally made that up, didn't he?

Where were we? Oh yeah, right leg. OK, so to be honest I've been feeling a little twinge in it for a few weeks now; nothing serious, just what feels like muscle pain. I've tried resting it for a bit, but it sort of kicks back in - rather subtly - after I've been for a run. It was a bit more twingy than usual last night, so I rubbed a bit of ibuprofen gel on it and went to bed. It was still a bit achy at work today, which led me to-

OK, let me pause there: can I just say that I get really annoyed when people self-diagnose things on the tinternet. As great as the tinternet is, I suspect it's responsible for a vast increase in the number of hypercondriacts out there, and that is not a good thing, because hypercondriacts are really annoying and generally need a slap.

Anyway, I Googled several variations of the words 'leg,' 'pain,' 'running,' and 'ouch' which resulted in me spending several minutes reading up on stress fractures. Stress fractures, let me tell you, are not good things to have, especially when you've been running the best you've ever run and are really looking forward to this year's Dysart Dash, and, potentially, the Grim Challenge in December. Having read about them, though, I can't get rid of the nagging feeling … for the time being, I'm going to go on the assumption that it's just muscle fatigue, but if it carries on much longer I might go pay the doctor a visit. Hopefully he won't make me get nekkid or something.

Oh, and do you know what one of the treatments for stress fractures is? Those ridiculously massive boot things. I inwardly laughed at some woman on the street who was wearing one of those the other day. This is clearly some kind of payback. DAMN YOU KARMA!


For some reason I've decided that I need to listen to all the unlistened to songs in my iTunes library. I've actually been striving to do this since the beginning of the year, but I've only just decided that I need to share my OCD tendencies with you. To be honest it's going rather well, and I've filled in vast swathes of unlistened to tracks simply by ruthlessly skipping through any that I have listened to while I'm sitting at my computer. Along the way I've found some true gems, and rather tragically, the occasional turd. My mission has not been helped, however, by the fact that I added a load more songs to my library last Thursday night in anticipation of Clubbie's iPhone/iPod integration, but on the plus side, all the songs I now listen to on my journey to and from work get saved in my library and the gaps are slowly but surely getting plugged. This whole in-car iPhone thing is also going to have an interesting effect on my top 25 listened-to tracks … I might have to post them up if anyone's interested…


Oh, and if I may be allowed to return to the subject of Clubbie once more, I picked up my new rubber car mats today, which look awesome, even if they did come with exceedingly and unnecessarily complex instructions. I mean, whatever happened to:

1. Take carpet mats out of car.
2. Place new rubber mats in car.
3. Drive car.

I'm going to be worried that I installed them incorrectly for at least the next two weeks. On the plus side, it's been such a lovely day that I drove home with my awesome twin panoramic sunroof open, although the pleasure I derived from the glorious weather was somewhat counterbalanced by my paranoia that a bird was going to poo in the hole. I mean, there is precedent…