Friday, July 31, 2009

Epic WIN: The Wedding Day 7k

In all honesty my running has taken a bit of a funny turn this year; I started the year pretty darn well, and was doing about three 10k runs per week up until early April. Then I got in that car accident and was all ouchy and miserable for a couple of months - and then I signed up for sweaty yoga and have since dedicated a lot of the time I used to dedicate to running to getting almost nekkid and putting myself in bizarre positions. Despite my lack of running over the last few months, I'm nothing if not a stickler for tradition; having done the Dysart Dash for the past few years, for example, I couldn't imagine not doing it this year - and even ended up with a new personal best time. Similarly, there's the Wedding Day 7k.

I was talked into doing this last year by my erstwhile running pal, Sweatband, and a good time was had by all. Despite the fact Sweatband has moved away, we made plans to enter again this year, both for the run and as an excuse to meet up and catch up. Unfortunately, things didn't quite go according to plan, though…

Earlier this week I got a text from Sweatband telling me that she'd twisted her ankle and wasn't going to be able to take part. This saddened me a bit, because every single organised run I've taken part in I've done with Sweatband. OK, we don't exactly run together (I'm much faster then her these days, heh heh), but the pre- and post-race banter and mutual congratulatory back-slapping are every bit as important to me as the actual run itself. And on top of that, I realised that I'd not received my race number and timing chip.

With this in mind, I kind of thought about not bothering. I fired off a half-hearted email to the organisers asking what I should do if my number didn't arrive in time, and when I didn't receive a response I sort of started thinking about alternative ways of occupying my Friday night.

Because the Wedding Day 7k starts at 19:30, though, if I'm doing it I feel compelled to take a half-day's holiday from work simply so I don't have to rush home, sort dinner out, then have to run on a full stomach. And when I found myself leaving work at lunchtime today I knew that I was going to do it. Like the Dysart Dash and the Richmond to Windsor bike ride (which I did on my own for the first time last year), the Wedding Day 7k has become one of those events that is firmly fixed in my iCal; I knew I couldn't just sit at home while the race was going on just a few miles away.

And so, an hour before the race was due to start, I got myself ready, hopped in Clubbie, and headed for Bushy Park. It's lucky I set out so early because the roads around Hampton were jammed, and I actually ended up parking about half a mile from the park. Still, this gave me the opportunity for a little warm-up jog as I headed for race HQ, where I presented myself to a jovial looking lady and informed her that my number and chip seemed to have gone astray in our increasingly crappy postal system. She didn't say anything, nor respond to my slightly flirtrageous demeanour, but she did give me a new race number and timing chip. Good times.

With about 10 minutes to spare I headed to the start line, where I bumped into a few people from the running club that I attended for a few months last year, one of whom was a lady mooted as a possible Sweatband replacement at last year's Wedding Day run; we shall call her Sweatband 2.0 here.

So I caught up a bit with Sweatband 2.0 for a while as we waited for the countdown to begin, and like Sweatband Classic she was very modest about her expectations for the run. I took everything she said with a pinch of salt, though, because we were in the same group at running club last year and she was really rather fast. And then, after a moments silence for a runner who tragically passed away this week (which, with so many fellow runners in attendance I thought was a lovely gesture to honour his memory), we were off.

I hate starting runs. Not because I dread what's ahead of me, but rather because I have the irrational fear that my iPod might crash, thus corrupting my Nike+ data and impacting on my overall time while I stand around waiting for it to reboot, and because it's always such a crush as the entire pack surges forward. Immediately Sweatband 2.0 was in front of me while I got stuck behind a bunch of … well, slow people.

Fortunately, as everyone spread out I was able to put on a better burst of speed and wind my way through the pack like Luke Skywalker piloting his X-Wing down that trench on the exterior of the Death Star at the end of Star Wars. I also overtook Sweatband 2.0, and wondered if maybe she wasn't being modest after all…?

Anyway, I was really pleased with how things went; I wasn't attacked by any deer, nor did I step in any of their poo, and unlike last year I didn't peak too early and was a lot more consistent overall. I put a lot of this down to my breathing, which is a lot more controlled these days thanks to, I suspect, the pranayama breathing we do at sweaty yoga. This has the added benefit of meaning that I don't gasp for breath through an open mouth like a cow having an asthma attack, which in turn proved useful as Bushy Park was full of massive flying ants, and I really didn't want to swallow any of them. I think the only problem I did encounter was some bloke who kept swerving in front of me as I tried to pass him; he was from a club called the Sheen Shufflers, which to my mind sounds more like a saucy massage parlour than a running club. Fortunately I got past him eventually.

I felt so good, in fact, that I had sufficient energy to shout a complement at one of the marshalls; she had massive florescent gloves on, which I thought were awesome.

With 2k to go though, I glanced to my right and who should I see smiling back at me? Sweatband 2.0, that's who. This freaked me out a little bit because she'd said that she planned on taking it easy and didn't think she'd get a good time, and yet here she was level-pegging it with me. At least when Sweatband Classic says she'll be lagging behind she actually has the decency to lag behind. As a result I summoned a spurt of energy and shot ahead a bit.

As we neared the finish line, though, Sweatband 2.0 made another push for victory, and with about 300 metres to go SHE. OVERTOOK. ME.


And so, with every fibre of my being I brought to bear what Sweatband Classic used to refer to in our Richmond running days as my miracle sprint finish - or what I refer to as my 'oh-god-let-it-be-over-I-feel-like-I'm-about-to-die-sheer-effing-desperation-sprint-finish.'

Punch it, Chewie.

Within seconds I was back alongside Sweatband 2.0. She noticed this, and kicked it up a notch also. By this time we were both sprinting, weaving around people who were gently slowing down as they neared the finish, neither of us giving an inch to the other. We kept glancing across at one another, wondering who would fall first.

With less than 100 metres to go and genuinely feeling like I might fall over at any moment, I finally powered past Sweatband 2.0 and reached forward for the line. I'd done it - and in a time of 34:22, a new personal best that shaved a massive two minutes and two seconds off my time from last year. I was exhausted and extremely happy.

My Nike+ graph for the Wedding Day 7k 2009. I don't know why fancy new Nike+ Beta makes it look like I was constantly slowing down, because I wasn't, and old Nike+ agrees with me. Note the symbols under where it says '22 sec'; those mean that I felt 'awesome,' that the weather was 'cloudy,' and that I was running on a 'trail.' That's the bonus of new Nike+ for you.

After finishing I headed straight for the water stand and grabbed a cup for me and one for Sweatband 2.0. She deserved it, having put up a valiant effort and proved herself to be both a worthy opponent and substitute Sweatband. Shortly afterward, I queued up, handed in my timing chip, and collected my congratulatory Wedding Day 7k t-shirt.

This picture does not do justice to the seriously vile colour of this t-shirt.

To be honest, I'd kind of prefer a medal like they hand out at the end of the Dysart Dash, because people are impressed by medals, but on the other hand, this t-shirt actually fits pretty well so unlike last year's I might not consign it to the back of the wardrobe, and may actually wear it now and again.

Anyway, having collected the t-shirt and after a lady drew a big red cross on my chest (I thought it was because she hearted me, but it turns out it's so I didn't try to snaffle another tee) I headed out of the park and back to Clubbie. There's a big barbeque-party thingy after the run which I hung around for and had a great time at last year, but this time I was proper knacked, so, exhausted and elated I decided to head home to put my feet up.

That and the fact I've got sweaty yoga at nine in the morning!


And for anyone who's interested, here's my 2009 Wedding Day 7k stats:

• 7.09k
• 34:22
• Average pace 4:50 min per km
• 488 calories


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An old con

I've been sitting here over the last few days (not literally, mind; I have been peeling myself out of my chair for toilet breaks and snacks) reading all the exciting news coming out of the San Diego Comic Con as it hits the interwebs. There's some awesome looking things on the horizon (Clark wearing a Superman costume in Smallville? Where The Wild Things Are?? And I'm inexplicably intrigued by Tron Legacy…), and I think I'd like to go to the Comic Con sometime. Which is strange, because aside from the Collectormania thingies that used to take place in the middle of Milton Keynes' shopping centre (so you could handily escape wander off to do some shopping in Topman or HMV if you got bored of leering at Katee Sachoff) I've avoided them like the plague for the last nine years.

Y'see, I've only ever been to conventions - proper conventions, I mean, not ones in shopping centres - about three times, and on all three occasions work paid for me to go. Bless them. Now, I'm not dissing the whole convention thing; I think it's a grand idea in theory, but the general execution - at least of the ones I've been to - has been sadly lacking to say the least. I mean, you look at pictures of Comic Con and it looks exciting and awesome and what you'd imagine geek heaven would look like, but with smaller conventions, at least in my experience, the reality is that you spend hours stuck in some godforsaken hotel, wandering aimlessly between the bar and the merchandise room where some bored looking fellow is hawking ill-fitting Star Trek uniforms and overpriced models of the Enterprise-E which only have one working illuminating warp nacelle*, all the while glancing at your watch because Robert Picardo is doing a talk in four hours, and Robert Picardo genuinely is a funny guy.

Possibly my favourite convention memory is when I found myself sitting alongside Stargate SG-1 star Amanda Tapping in an autograph room before the crowds were allowed in. She was utterly delightful and we chatted away like old friends. What made this moment even more memorable, though, was another television actor - who I won't name - who was sitting at another table and downing double scotches like his life depended on it. As the doors opened and the fans swooped in he knocked back the last of his drink and glanced over at me with a 'please kill me now' look on his face. It was priceless.

And this leads me onto my worst convention memory.

About 10 years ago, shortly after I'd joined the company I'm with now, I hatched an idea for a new magazine with a colleague of mine. We were rather excited at the prospect of it, and generated a whole load of page mock-ups as proof of concept. As they say, though, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we decided we needed to find out what real people in the real world thought of it. There were two ways we could do this: the first was to arrange a focus group of people recruited off the street, and the second was to take our idea directly to our target market and go to a convention.

We decided on the latter, for a variety of reasons, one of which was that it was actually more cost effective to send a couple of us away for the weekend than it was to drag some people in off the streets and ask them some questions for the best part of two hours.

And so we booked two tickets for a weekend-long science-fiction convention in Torquay in mid-October, and arranged to do a presentation of our work.

Now, I was rather looking forward to this because a) I love science-fiction, and b) it was very exciting because it was my first business trip, which meant that it had the added bonus of the fact that c) everything was being paid for by the company. Good times.

Anyway, the convention started on the Friday, but while my colleague headed of at midday on the Friday (quite possibly to get out of doing an afternoon's work), I didn't set out until the following morning. I arrived in Torquay at around two in the afternoon, amazed that my little white Fiesta had completed the journey without exploding, and that I'd manage to follow Sparky Pa's directions without ending up in Glasgow (these were the days before sat-nav, after all). The hotel where the convention was being held wasn't actually in Torquay, however, and was in fact a fair few miles away from the city centre, nestled atop a hill, and only accessible by very narrow, windy country lanes.

When I eventually found it I pulled into the car park, parked up, and got out to stretch my legs and take a good look at where I would be staying.

No word of a lie, it looked like Fawlty Towers.

Laughing at the resemblance, I turned back to my car only to notice that I'd parked about half a metre away from a sheer drop that was neither marked by a sign, nor fenced off. I gulped, retrieved my bag from the boot, and prayed that my handbrake would hold over night.

A couple of minutes later I got my key from reception, and found the room in which both myself and my colleague were staying (OK, so the company were paying for everything but they weren't springing for two rooms). A bit tired from the drive, I plopped myself down on the single bed/cot that had been designated as mine (in addition to getting out of an afternoon's work, I think my colleague set out on the Friday specifically to snag the double), and flicked on the telly. The reception wasn't great because we were in the middle of nowhere, but I started watching the 1993 movie The Adventures of Hucklebrry Finn anyway. It was actually quite good, despite the fact that the static made it look like Huck was in the midst of a blizzard.

About half an hour later my colleague returned to the room. For some reason she needed to use something like a hairdryer, but as it turned out the room only had one plug, so I had to turn the telly off. To this day I have never seen the end of that Huckleberry Finn movie, and still don't know if Huck escaped that blizzard. After she was done, she offered to show me around the convention.

Let's sum it up in a few words: it was rubbish.

There were lots of 'viewing rooms' set up to show classic science-fiction series, but they were actually just small rooms with a portable TV set up on a table and a VHS player off to one side. There was no merchandise room. The stars of the convention were, I believe, someone off Blake's 7 and a British television presenter who had a background in comedy, and I'll be quite frank, a rather rowdy body odour issue. There was someone there who was dressed like Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, from the blond hair to the long leather coat, who remained in costume THE ENTIRE WEEKEND.

Dinner was served only between six and seven, and it was a set menu of some foul-smelling stew that resembled something a cat with dysentery might produce. I took one look at it and decided I was going to find something else to eat even if it meant gnawing on the chipboard cabinet beside my bed. Fortunately, someone informed me there was a McDonalds a few miles down the road.

Around this time, however, the south-west of England had begun to be battered by a storm of rather biblical proportions. The winds had picked up, and rain was lashing down. I can clearly recall very carefully engaging reverse gear as I set out, conscious of the fact that there was that sheer drop just a gnat's crotchet in front of me, and the car park was slippery from mud and rain.

Half an hour later I'd found McDonalds, and duly spent the next couple of hours sitting in there like a complete tramp surrounded by the remnants of a meal I'd wolfed down in about 42 seconds.

I returned to the hotel at about 10pm, parked up very carefully (I hadn't seen the drop in the daylight, let alone at night), and headed back to the room. My colleague was there looking a bit worse for wear. Turns out the stew was having a reaction somewhat akin to a warp core breach at both ends. We turned in for the night, ready for our presentation in the morning.

I awoke on Sunday at about 8:30 as my colleague was returning to our room. She'd gotten up feeling a little bit better after the previous night's stew incident, and headed down to the dining room for some breakfast with Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Apparently stew wasn't the only thing the kitchen staff weren't very good at preparing, though, and her breakfast had thus consisted of two slices of toast so black that they looked like they'd been through some sort of thermonuclear war. She'd somehow eaten them anyway, and within two minutes of returning to our room was once more praying at the porcelain altar.

When she came out of the bathroom, looking a bit green and wiping the vomit from her chin with the back of her hand, my colleague informed me that we might need to rethink our presentation strategy based on her current predicament. The original idea, y'see, was that she, being the more senior and experienced of the two of us, would give the presentation while I stood to one side looking pretty and gesturing at mocked-up page layouts on display boards like I was some sort of cheap gameshow totty. Now, though, I was being asked to step-up and do the lion's share of the work in case she felt like she was about to go all Linda Blair over the crowd. I nodded once, certain I could do it.

Our presentation was set for 10:30, and by 10:15 we'd set up our display in a reasonably large room with seating for about 30-odd people. By 10:40 we found ourselves looking back at a crowd of about eight people, at least two of which were there because the VHS in the room showing 'Genesis of the Daleks' had broken and they had nothing better to do. My colleague was still looking rough, but she turned to me, looked at her watch, and said "I s'pose we better begin." I nodded again, turned to the, um, crowd, and said "welc-"

And that's pretty much all I said throughout the 45 minute presentation, because somehow my colleague had weaved some sort of mad-spell that completely reenergised her. You would seriously not have believed that just an hour or so earlier she'd been painting the bathroom in technicolour hues. There was one point where I tried to interject to add something, but she paused, glared at me a bit like Zuul from Ghostbusters until I shut up, and then carried on as if nothing had happened.

Three-quarters of an hour later, and with a reasonably positive response to our idea, the, um, crowd dispersed, and my colleague let out a deep sigh before promptly turning green again. I subsequently packed up the display boards and retrieved some mocked-up page layouts showing a fembot from the Austin Powers movies from a large man who tried to make off with them while she went off in search of the nearest toilet.

Fifteen minutes later we'd packed our stuff in our cars, checked out, and were ready to hit the road. Unfortunately, the other thing hitting the road at that time was massive hailstones; the storm was in full-force and the driving conditions were absolutely treacherous. We left just before midday, and I finally got home at eight o'clock that evening (at least twice as long as the journey should've taken). I'd actually given serious thought to pulling over around the halfway point and booking into a travel lodge for the night.

Anyway, to top it off we never went ahead with the bastard magazine either.

*If anyone would like to buy/have a model of the Enterprise-E with only one working illuminating warp nacelle, please drop me an email. And yes, it's boxed.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Joseph Arthur was awesome **UPDATED**

The last few weeks have been crazy mad-busy for me, primarily because I've been trying to squeeze in yoga sessions whenever there's been the slightest gap in my schedule. But five successive days in which I did yoga, yoga, badminton, a 9.5k run, and another yoga, was probably pushing it just a little too much. I was pretty much pooped by the time I got to that last yoga. So pooped, in fact, that I couldn't quite lift my arms up sufficiently during full locust pose (that's Poorna* Salabhasan to those in the know) and ended up accidently, albeit rather tenderly, caressing the vulumptuous arse of the young lady next to me.

And, of course, being typically British, neither of us acknowledged this in the slightest. Good times.

Anyway, after so much exercise, I definitely needed a few days off to recuperate, so it was just as well that I was heading off to the delightful Bush Hall on Thursday to see a gig. After my previous visit to Bush Hall to see Priscilla Ahn, Marcosy had said that he'd like to go there - not necessarily to see anyone in particular, but rather to wallow in the glory of its ornate chandeliers and Edwardian splendor. As a result, I kept my eyes on the gig listings in the hope that something awesome might appear.

Something awesome appeared.

Back when The OC was on telly I bought all the soundtrack CDs, and, through them discovered lots of rather wonderful singers and bands who I'd not previously heard of; Sufjan Stevens, Modest Mouse, and Imogen Heap being just a few examples. Also on that list was Joseph Arthur, whose song 'Honey and the Moon' featured on The OC: Mix 1. A few years after that another of his songs, 'Even Tho,' got a bit of airplay on the radio over here and I bought it on iTunes. I loved both tracks, but strangely never bought any of his albums.

Any-hoo, on one of the Bush Hall gig listing emails I got a few months back I noticed that Joseph Arthur was playing there on Thursady July 23rd, and I thought that would be the perfect way to a) introduce Marcosy to the delights of Bush Hall, and b) have a damn fine evening. So I emailed Marcosy and Yazzle Dazzle; Marcosy got back to me in about 15 seconds with an affirmative. Yazzle Dazzle took slightly longer, but after about two weeks she said that, yes, she'd like to come too. That's how she rolls.

So, Thursday came around, and we all met up in Shepherds Bush. Before heading down to Bush Hall Marcosy and I decided we needed to grab some food, and plumped for a KFC because it was nearby, cheap, and tastes like a close approximation of chicken. After an initial problem where Marcosy's relatively simple request for a Zinger burger was answered with a bag of boned chicken (two words which quite possibly should never be linked together due to the horrific images it brings to mind), we ended up on Shepherds Bush Green munching our fries and close approximation of chicken.

Now, for those who've never visited Shepherds Bush Green, let me tell you that it has the potential to be a really lovely part of West London. Unfortunately, in order to help it fulfill its potential the vast number of winos who congregate there on a daily basis to down two litre bottles of White Lightning and lurch alarmingly at passersby would need to be encouraged to move somewhere else. Were I on the local council I'd maybe suggest a tag-and-release scheme whereby they were tranq-darted and relocated to a new habitat.

Anyway, we're sitting in one of the few wino-free areas of the green when I notice that Yazzle Dazzle is staring off into the distance, like she's in the midst of some sort of Scrubs-style fantasy. She was in fact, being incredibly conscientious and fretting about someone who was curled up and, she thought, possibly dead in the middle of the green.

It was about this time that I wanted to walk down to Bush Hall so we could start queuing, but Yazzle Dazzle was really quite concerned about this corpse chap and was looking around for a policeman she could alert. Unfortunately, like buses, none were about when you needed one. I insisted that it was just an old drunk passed out from too much booze, but she argued that even if that was the case he could choke on his own vomit if he was unconscious. I countered by noting that he'd rather intelligently passed out in the recovery position (possibly as a result of a previous experience) and we really should be making a move. She was undeterred, however.

That being the case, to ease her concerns I huffed a bit and said if it would make her hurry up I'd walk over with her so she could poke him with a stick or something. Marcosy giggled and continued eating his Zinger burger on the bench while I stomped over to the centre of the green with the concerned Yazzle Dazzle. When we got within about five metres of the wino I stopped and refused to go any further because a) I didn't want to go anywhere near a dead person, if he was in fact dead, and b) didn't want to get too close incase he was still with us and decided to hurl himself at us like a startled raccoon as we loomed over him. Yazzle Dazzle looked at me in a somewhat disgruntled fashion and tentatively stepped closer.

After about 30 seconds of scrunching up her nose and peering down at him she scurried back to me. "He's snoring," she said. I rolled my eyes, gestured towards a couple of kids sprawled out on a bench, and asked if she wanted to go check them for a pulse too, or could we please just get to the venue? She shouted "RUDE!" at me, and after collecting Marcosy we headed off to Bush Hall.

So, Joseph Arthur - there's a musician with no pretenses. He and his band, The Lonely Astronauts, strolled genially past us while we were queuing rather than jump out of a car and scurry in without acknowledging us civilians, and then about half an hour after we'd gotten inside - and with no support act - he ambled out onto the stage alone and just started playing his guitar. And it. Was. Awesome. He did that cool thing where he played something, recorded it, then looped it back (I think it's officially referred to as 'that cool loopy thing') so by the time the song was reaching its end it sounded like he had a full band up there with him.

Here's Joseph Arthur doing the weird-but-awesome loopy thing.

After about five or six songs playing solo The Lonely Astronauts joined him on stage, and the gig was kicked up a notch. Seriously, I actually couldn't quite believe how much noise four people could make - and by 'noise' I mean 'really fantastic music.'

Marcosy disagreed, but I thought the bass player, Sibyl Buck, looked a bit like Angelina Jolie dancing the robot. She was very cool.

About halfway through the gig they off-handedly mentioned that they were recording the gig and we could buy it on CD when it finished (according to wiki Joseph Arthur does this at every show). I decided I was definitely going to buy one, but we had about two or three encores to go before the show was over, so I kicked back and enjoyed it.

When the show did finish, I headed out to the merchandise table. Note the word 'table' there rather than 'stand' - it gives an indication of exactly how small Bush Hall is. I would use the word intimate, but seeing as the initial reasoning behind going to this gig was so Marcosy could check out the building I think it might infer a level of inappropriateness. Anyway, as I was hanging out there the bass player, Sibyl Buck walked past me and stood behind the table. Then, before I knew it, Joseph Arthur appeared with a guitar, took up a position beside her, and started playing some more songs while the gig CDs were being burnt. It was a really rather wonderful and (OK, I'm going to use it here) intimate moment.

Here's Joseph Arthur playing some tunes at the merchandise table. Yazzle Dazzle is the pixilated figure on the stairs; she was most surprised to come down from a brief sojourn to the balcony to find this going on. I've pixilated her to protect her identity as a botherer of unconscious alcoholics.

I think he played about three songs, and while he was doing so batches of the gig CDs started filtering down. I bought mine off Sibyl. It was a simple affair - two CDRs in a white CD envelope - but a fitting reminder off a fantastic evening. Oh, and did I mention that Joseph Arthur personalised it for me with his autograph and a sketch?

Cool huh? I scanned it in to use as the cover art in my iTunes library! Unfortunately, at the moment no tracklisting is available for the gig, so apart from 'Honey and the Moon,' which I know, all the songs are merely listed in my iTunes as Track 01, Track 02, etc. Let me tell you, though, Track 07 is bloody amazing; I've had it on repeat since Friday morning and it makes me well-up a bit. Just a bit, though, because I'm well 'ard.

Of course Yazzle Dazzle had to go one better by getting all of the band to sign hers. RUDE. I think she was flirting with the drummer as well. Actually, Joseph Arthur was doing a lot of personalising; posters, CDs, people's arms … he clearly has a lot of time for his fans. And he can count me as one of them now: I went into Bush Hall knowing two of his songs and came out wanting to buy his entire back catalogue and wondering when he would be playing London again.

I recommend you catch him if you can.


Some enterprising person has uploaded one of the merch table songs to youtube. I was standing just to the right of this mysterious stranger and I think that's my hand you can see waving a £10 note at Sibyl around the 1:16 mark. I salute you, mysterious stranger - nice video!

*Porno!? WTF!!!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ha ha ha

I'm inordinately proud of my new Facebook profile pic.

Although why is it Heath Ledger looked dangerously cool as the Joker, and I just look like I should be fronting My Chemical Romance or something?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Being Bret

I found myself wondering around Westfield again the other day, and came to the conclusion that someone in Topman's purchasing department *must* be a fan of Flight of the Conchords.

Here's Bret in an episode of Flight of the Conchords' second season.

And here's a sweatshirt I spotted in Topman on Wesdnesday.

How awesome is that? I would've bought it, but while I do think I could probably get away with a hot pink jumper, I seriously don't think I have the cahones for this wondrous item of clothing.

(For those with sufficient cahones, you can buy yours here)


Ladies of West London! Having some … downstairs issues? Well why don't you visit…

And let's not forget the gentlemen! If you're having problems, why don't you call…

I'd guess they do house calls by the looks of things!

Friday, July 10, 2009

A book, some movies, two fashion dilemmas, and a mad car

Aside from all the underpants-based action seen in my last post, I've had a crazy-bonkers week, people. I often think my life is unexciting and a little bit dull, and that I don't actually do much, but I've been out and about every night this week, and quite frankly I could do with putting my feet up. Do you know I've only sat on my sofa for 26 minutes and 57 seconds this week? I only know that because the only programme I've watched on telly this week was Flight of the Conchords, and according to iTunes that's how long the episode 'Wingmen' was.

Darned good episode it was, too.

OK, so let's crack on with the stuff I promised you in the title of this post.

The Book:
I don't often talk about the books I'm reading because I tend to hoard it all up until the end of the year when I do my reading list, but I've just finished a book that I was really rather disappointed in. It was called Starbucks Nation, and yes, before you ask, my interest was piqued by the fact it had the word Starbucks in the title. Forget the cover, I should learn to never judge a book by its title.

In my defense, the back cover of this book was filled with advance praise from such luminaries as Penny Marshall (the director of the movies Big and A League of Their Own), an executive producer of South Park, and some guy who compared it favourably to A Confederacy of Dunces, which is my favourite book.

All of these people should be sanctioned under the mental health act.

There are very few books I read where I feel as if I don't get at least something out of it, but really, *nothing* happened in this book. It was billed as a "devastating, hilarious satire of coffee-swilling, celebrity-obsessed Southern California pop culture"; it wasn't.

What did strike me about this book is that I felt it suffered from the same problem as a novel I read last year entitled I Love You, Beth Cooper. In last year's reading list I noted:

The debut novel by former Simpsons writer Larry Doyle feels like little more than a padded-out screenplay, and is thus greatly disappointing. Maybe the forthcoming movie will be more satisfying: C+

And as chance would have it, Starbucks Nation is … the debut novel from a screenwriter! Which probably explains why it read like a script.

What we've learnt here, then, is that I should never read another book written by someone who writes for film and TV. Please do remind me of this if you ever bump into me in Borders.

Some Movies:
Unlike pretty much everyone else who's seen it, I was never really that taken with the movie Little Miss Sunshine, although I loved the soundtrack because it was full of Sufjan Stevens songs and was thus awesome. Undeterred, I nevertheless headed off to the cinema this week to see Sunshine Cleaning, the latest film from the producers of that movie. What is it with the whole sunshine thing, though?

Anyway, in its favour, Sunshine Cleaning stars Amy Adams who I've liked since I saw her in Junebug a few years ago. Not 'liked' as in 'I want to share a jacuzzi and some rohypnol-laced margaritas with her,' but rather that I enjoy watching her in films.

So it was an enjoyable little movie. Nothing groundbreaking, but a nice contrast to the typical summer blockbuster fare (i.e., Amy Adams didn't turn into a car and destroy half a city). It's one of those quirky little indie comedy movies where nothing much happens - two sisters go into business together cleaning up crime scenes and learn a little bit more about each other in the process - but it was nicely done and it passed a couple of hours quite easily. I enjoyed it more than Little Miss Sunshine, although it did feel like it had been edited a bit too heavily in places; there's a hint of a romance with a one-armed shop owner (played by Clifton Collins Jr, last seen getting totally pwned by new Kirk in Star Trek), for example, that went absolutely nowhere, which was a bit of a shame. Maybe there'll be a director's cut DVD or something?

Worth catching if you get the chance, though.

In related matters, there was an unbelievably high number of awesome trailers before Sunshine Cleaning; of the six trailers I saw, only one, a film about Coco Chanel entitled Coco Before Chanel, didn't appeal (I think this is because it should've been called I Should Coco after the Supergrass album).

The ones I do want to see are helpfully displayed below for your viewing pleasure.




The Proposal (Betty White on the big screen - yay!)

500 Days of Summer

And I also want to see Away We Go. So many awesome looking movies coming out…

Two Fashion Dilemmas:
I popped to Westfield after work one evening and almost bought - can you believe this? - a bright pink knitted jumper. In my defense it was £20 (half its original price). I was going to try it on, but when I wandered back over to where it was hanging some other bloke picked it up, put it on, then began to pick out some other clothes that he was clearly just going to put on and walk around the shop in. I hung about for a minute or so in the hope that he might, y'know, take it off or something, but he seemed to be enjoying it rather too much. And it was the only one in my size.

Anyway, I've since found it online for the same price, and I'm dithering over whether to buy it or not. I'm undecided as to whether I could, or indeed should, try to carry off such a look.

Elsewhere in fashion news, after resisting for well over six months, I've finally succumbed to the realisation that I really don't mind, and in fact actually quite like the white plimsoll style shoes that everyone's wearing this year. This revelation has incurred the wrath of Marcosy, who hates them with a passion, but then they're not his feet they'd be wrapped around, and I'm pretty sure I could take him in a fight if push came to shove.

Fortunately, I've managed to placate Marcosy somewhat by stating that should I ultimately decide to purchase some plimsolls, my preferred choice would be the Superdry version. This is slightly more acceptable, because Superdry stuff is cool. I'm hesitating slightly, though, because I'm a bit worried they might make my feet look ever so slightly clown-like, just like my Converse do.

Pink jumper and potential clown shoes - thoughts?

A Mad Car:
I popped Clubbie into the garage yesterday for a little bit of work - don't panic, nothing major; just a slightly misbehaving electric window and interior light. Still needing to get to work while Clubbie was being fettled, though, I found myself with a Mini Clubman Cooper D for the day.

I always enjoy borrowing other cars for a day whenever mine goes in the garage, and while this Mini was understandably similar both outwardly and inwardly to my pride and joy, it had very different oily bits. As the 'D' might suggest, this was a diesel Mini - like the one I test drove last year - but adding to the fun was the fact that it had an automatic gearbox.

Now, I've only ever driven an automatic car once before, and that was only a 20 minute test drive of a BMW z4 with a BMW chappy sitting alongside me; I had no intention of buying a BMW z4, but the dealer rather foolishly invited me to sample it and I wasn't about to say no.

Anyway, so the guy looking after Clubbie for the day wanted to pop his car in the space where the Cooper D was parked, so he asked me to back it out and park up on the side of the road. Not being used to an automatic, I bunny-hopped the car out of the space like a special because my left foot kept trying to get some clutch action going on the brake pedal.

And the fun didn't end there. The car was given to me with only 18 (yes: 18!) miles worth of fuel in it, so I had to go fill it up if I actually wanted to make it to work. I managed to do this, without putting petrol in it, but then went and stamped on the brake pedal while reaching for the gearstick as I pulled away. I subsequently made sure that I secured my left foot on the foot rest provided, and my left hand underneath my left thigh, and after that everything was fine and dandy. Well, I say fine and dandy; until I got used to how it worked, the automatic gearbox always made it feel like the car wanted to be moving and you had to keep restraining it like it was a mental puppy or something. It also had flippy-flappy gearshift paddles on the steering wheel which I didn't use because they scared me.

Visual evidence that I did indeed make it to work in a car equipped with an automatic gearbox.

So, in the time it took me to drive from the garage to work, and from work back to the garage to collect Clubbie, I came to two conclusions: one, the diesel-automatic combo is a surprisingly effective one in the Mini, and two, I'm glad I ended up buying a petrol Clubman. The diesel was fine, but it was noticeably louder than Clubbie, and according to the reading on the trip computer, no more fuel efficient than mine is in West London traffic (the auto version doesn't have the stop-start technology that cuts out the engine at traffic lights).

All in all, then, I was glad to have Clubbie back - gleaming, no less, thanks to a once over with a couple of wet wipes from the BMW boys.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

I'm your private dancer, a dancer for coffee…

… and any old latte will do.

Yes, what you see above are a couple of Starbucks vouchers tucked in the waistband of … *sigh* … my underpants. I'm clearly *that* addicted to my daily dose of caffeine that I'll do pretty much anything for its sweet, sweet taste.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Help me

You may have noticed that when I post pictures of my car I obscure the number plate. I don't know why I do this, because anyone who sees it in the metal can see the number plate, but I just do.

But here I'm not going to.

One week before I bought Clubbie, Big Bro bought this: a new VW Scirocco, registration number LM58 NNC. It's been his pride and joy for the last three months, and on Thursday 2nd July it was stolen.

Between six and seven in the morning, someone broke into my parents' house specifically to find the keys to Big Bro's car. It looks like it was a professional job - that they'd scoped the house out and took every precaution against leaving any identifiable evidence. And when they found the keys, they took it.

I don't live there anymore, but I feel absolutely violated; I can only imagine what my family feel like. Big Bro worked long and hard to save up for this car, and I'm outraged that - and I don't use such language often here, so please excuse me in this instance - some fucker would take it from him. Not only that but they broke into our house - I might not live there now, but that house will forever be my home. God knows what would've happened if they'd been disturbed. The thought of anyone putting my family in danger makes my blood boil.

So I'm going to ask a favour because I cannot just sit here and do nothing. I want to find that car and those responsible for taking it. I'm under no illusion that I'll succeed - but I cannot help but think that those of you that read this are spread so far and wide around the country - and the world - that maybe we can try.

So here we go: it's a red Volkswagon Scirocco 2.0 litre GT - there aren't many of them around in that colour - with the DSG semi-automatic gearbox and a full black cloth interior. Please, please, please - if you see a red Scirocco would you do me a favour and just do a double take? Just give it a couple of seconds of your time; if the number plate is LM58 NNC (yeah, I know that's probably been changed by now, but on the off chance it hasn't…) please call the Police and report it.

And I'd be doubly grateful if you would repost this on any other forums or blogs just so it spreads as far and wide as possible.

If this doesn't work, well, at least we tried.

Many thanks to you all,