Wednesday, February 28, 2007
I've got nothing.
Nothing at all.
Sorry folks, but my knees are creaking, my eyes are barely staying open and I just want to stare mindlessly at the TV.
So, as way of an apology, let me point you in the direction of a fellow blogger who's never short of a word or two: Mirk.
Like my (occasionally) good self, he's Scottish, with a slightly withering outlook on his own country.
Oh yes, and he's a Bogle. Drop by and say hello, and tell him I sent you.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
One of the most memorable pieces of dialogue in The Matrix comes from Agent Smith.
Discussing the history of The Matrix with Neo, Agent Smith says: "Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from."
I've seen the movie a good few times now, and that speech always gets me thinking. Is mankind's default setting misery?
Like all other creatures on Earth, are we simply designed to ensure that our basic biological needs are catered for, at the expense of fun and enjoyment?
Some evidence certainly backs that theory up: there are countless tales of lottery winners who blew their vast fortunes in the space of a few years, returning to the poverty that they were more acclimatised to, as if their natural inclination was to strive for better, not have it thrust upon them.
Personally, I don't think that humans define themselves through their misery, but that mankind has a strange habit of seeing the silver lining on even the darkest clouds.
In Britain, this was shown in the post-war years, when people spoke fondly of the 'Blitz mentality' and of the fun they had in air raid shelters, ignoring the fact that London was being flattened by the Lufftwaffe. Subsequent television series such as Dad's Army also painted a rosy image of the 'fun Britain had during the war'.
Having said that, one of the key aspects of living in modern society is that we spend most of our waking hours doing things that we don't want to do.
There may be some people who proclaim to love their job so much that every hour at the coalface is an hour in Heaven, but for most, work is what they have to do to pay the bills.
Very few of us would actively choose to work if we could get away with it. And it is the knowledge of a forthcoming day off, holiday or weekend activity that encourages us to continue working, rather than dropping out of society and becoming a castaway on a desert island.
And so, I don't believe that human beings define themselves through misery and suffering, but through the knowledge that better times are ahead.
Monday, February 26, 2007
This weekend, whilst most devout football fans tuned into to the Carling Cup Final and the stramash that concluded it, I was driving through the Perthshire wilderness. As Inverness Caledonian Thistle came close to a hat-trick of Scottish Cup wins over the forces of evil, I was unloading a life's worth of clutter from two Renault Clios.
And the more I ponder it, the more companies I remember I have to write to in order to let them know where to track me down.
But I am certainly looking forward to The Day We Get The Keys, and having a garage and three bedrooms to fill with my various forms of clutter.
Mrs Wife isn't keen on my 'pool table and drum kit in the garage' idea, but I'll work on her.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Mrs Wife and I have found our new home, and have begun the process of emptying Groanin' Towers.
In a shock twist, I am deserting my Brechin roots and moving to Montrose, to a charming, almost-new three bedroom bungalow with a garden big enough for a battalion of dogs and babies, or even dog-riding babies. The fact that it is a bungalow with thick double-glazed windows in the corner of a cul-de-sac lends itself to the prospect of cranking up the volume on the surround sound system and letting the complete works of Messrs Tarantino, Pacino and De Niro reverberate around the lounge.
Admittedly, there are a few hurdles to be, emmm, hurdled between now and then. The big one is packing up the contents of Groanin' Towers and preparing them for the move to Dungroanin'.
I hate moving house, and having done it too often in my first 26 years striding around this planet, I sincerely hope that this will be the last move for many a year.
Friday, February 23, 2007
1: F.E.A.R. (with Dann) by Ian Brown (B-side): Remixed version of Ian Brown's strongest post-Stone Roses track. Brings in a female vocalist, who gives a more melodic interpretation of the lyrics. Doesn't really compare with the album version.
2: Magic Pie by Oasis (from the album Be Here Now): The first respite from the thunderous guitars that signalled the start of Oasis' third album. Magic Pie was unfairly maligned, as was much of the album, but stands up well when revisited 10 years on. Includes one of Noel Gallagher's best lines: "An extraordinary man can never have an ordinary day". Too long at seven minutes.
3: Wasted Little DJs by The View (from the album Hats Off To The Buskers): Jingly-jangly indie from Dundee's finest. A fine blend of Libertines-esque guitars and Scottish accents.
4: Sweetness Follows by REM (from the album Automatic For The People): Like most of this colossal album, Sweetness Follows is a downbeat, lyrically perceptive track built around Michael Stipe's almost shy drawl. I haven't listened to the album for years, but this track reminds me just how huge it was.
5: Depression by Black Flag (from the album Damaged): Noisy, uninhibited and extraordinarily powerful live, Black Flag were a major influence on Kurt Cobain, as demonstrated by the uncomprising Depression, which even covers a theme later broached by Cobain.
6: Northenden by Doves (from the album Lost Sides): Doves have never really reached the level that their talents suggest they are capable of. I think I've seen them live nine times since they first burst on the scene with debut album Lost Souls in 2000. B-side Northenden is typical downbeat indie fare, with exquisite guitar work throughout.
7: Pro (Your) Life by Arab Strap (from the album Elephant Shoe): Falkirk's Arab Strap are an acquired taste; their tales of misery and woe, backed by plaintive guitar and electronic drums, are never going to appeal to the masses. In this song, Aidan Moffat gives an alternative (male) view of abortion.
8: Submarine by Black Grape (from the album It's Great When You're Straight...Yeah): That Shaun Ryder was able to put the heroin-fuelled disintegration of the Happy Mondays behind him and re-emerge with Black Grape is testament to his never-say-die spirit. Their debut album was packed full of bouncy, feel-good party songs, all set off brilliantly by Ryder's acidic wit.
9: Space Invaders by Arctic Monkeys (Unreleased demo): Hinting at the genius that would become evident on Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is standard Arctic Monkeys fare; world-weary lyrics delivered in a Sheffield drawl by Alex Turner, whilst the band rattle through at break-neck pace.
10: Biting The Soles Of My Feet by The Electric Soft Parade (from the album Holes In The Wall): The ESP's debut album, recorded when brothers Alex and Tom White were just teenagers, gave us the concept of "prog indie", bringing an archetypal indie sound to songs typically eight minutes long or more. Biting The Soles Of My Feet is typical of the band's sound at the time.
It seems that the Magic Tune Box was in a very indie mood today.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
My fitness levels have steadily crept downwards since I left school eight and a half years ago, and I had feared they would never be recovered.
My time in Argyll did not help, as I was in a tiny town where few people played football, and those who did played on Saturdays, generally when I was working. The constant rain didn't exactly encourage me to head out for a run or a cycle either.
But now, back in home territory and working in the city, I find myself practically fending off offers to play football and recapture that lost magic.
In the past two days, I have played two hours of football - more than I had played in the previous two months. Next week, I am line to double that amount - so the weight will be dropping off in no time.
Now I just need to remember whether I can play the game as well as I can talk it.....
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
As I'm covering the oil industry in West Africa, I've had to phone people in Angola and Nigeria. But because the big players in the industry are based in the US, I have also been calling Houston.
Nigeria and Angola are six hours ahead of the UK, whilst Houston is six behind. So my working day is going to have to be structured around the times on three continents.
It's all so different from my previous job, which covered a relatively small area of Argyll (although it sometimes felt as if Tarbert and Ardfern were in their own personal time zones).
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
I am mystified by how infrastructure around the world is put in place - how drawings and blueprints become roads and railways and power lines a couple of years down the line.
I can see that massive machinery has made the task infinitely easier than in days gone by, but trying to compute how long it would take me to lay down one square metre of serviceable road makes me wonder - how on Earth did the Romans manage to build a Europe-wide network of roads?
For more insights onto things that mystify the weird and wonderful people of the worldwide interweb, follow the links below.
Blue Sloth Assignment III: Things That Mystify Me
Hooray For Saturday
Rayne of Terror
Monday, February 19, 2007
Friday was my leaving night from my old job. After stuffing our faces with far too much Indian food and consuming a bottle of vodka and bottle of champagne between six of us, we spent the remainder of the evening hastening our move towards drunkenness with vast amounts of beer and vodka, including my first ever taste of ginseng vodka (I don't recommend it).
Friday evening ended at around 5am on Saturday morning with drunken PlayStation tournaments, cack-handed acoustic guitar 'interpretations' of Oasis songs and a heated debate on whether Flea or Mani is a better bass player.
After around five hours' sleep, three litres of fresh orange and a bacon roll, Saturday involved driving for 200 miles to an engagement party in Aberdeen, which gave me a chance to catch up with a lot of people I haven't seen for a long time, a lot more beer and half-baked plans for trips to the casino, football matches at lunchtimes during the working week and further nights out.
So Sunday was spent tiredly walking around Aberdeen's shops before driving 'home' to Brechin.
Today should have been spent lazily recovering from the weekend's excesses, but Mrs Wife and I are going househunting. Oh the joys!
Friday, February 16, 2007
Thursday, February 15, 2007
No other band of my generation has made anywhere near the same kind of impact on my life and those of thousands or millions of others.
When Oasis first launched themselves on the UK music scene in 1994, British music fans were still in thrall to the wave of grunge bands that had dominated the charts for the best part of four years.
But, as Noel Gallagher pointed out, whilst Kurt Cobain was telling us that he hated himself and wanted to die, Oasis' music has always been about living forever, being rock'n'roll stars and striving to be the biggest band on the planet.
Oasis arrived at the exact point in my teenage years when I started seriously listening to music, and their influence on almost everyone in my year at school was phenomenal.
Almost overnight, people started growing their hair into an 'indie bush', dressing like Liam Gallagher, talking like Liam Gallagher and even walking like Liam Gallagher.
A whole host of bands emerged at my school, all inspired by Noel Gallagher's ethos that anyone could be a rock'n'roll star.
They also acted as a means of finding out about other music – through listening to The Beatles and other acts from the sixties, or listening to the T-Rex riffs that Noel Gallagher had pilfered for Definitely Maybe, or investigating Paul Weller's music, his time with The Jam or his love of soul records.
Oasis may never have scaled the same heights that they did on their first two albums, but they are still the biggest band in the country. When Oasis release an album, it is still an event, and everyone has an opinion on the band.
Although seemingly obsessed by The Beatles in their early days, Oasis failed to ascend to the same heights as the Fab Four, but no band could. Few bands have a back catalogue as strong as Oasis', and their latest reward is much deserved. Long may they continue.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
This article, sent to me by email by my friend Mike, seemed appropriate on Valentine's Day.
Sooty the guinea pig is clearly a super stud - having his wicked way with 24 women one after the other, producing 43 babies in the process.
My favourite part is the last paragraph: "He was absolutely shattered. We put him back in his cage and he slept for two days."
A man after my own heart!
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Monday, February 12, 2007
I've actually stayed with the company for longer than I intended - I had always planned to limit my time in Argyll to less than two years, but it's been more than that since I first started.
Whilst working weekends and evenings has sucked, I've gained some valuable experience during my time here, from learning the art of taking photographs for publication to single-handedly producing a weekly tabloid newspaper.
But, when it came down to it, the prospect of having every weekend to myself, working regular office hours and living nearer the cities was always going to win me over.
And because work here is always so busy, I don't suppose it will really sink in until my last day that I am actually going for good.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
It has been bitterly cold all week, a biting cold that is at odds with the blue sky and sunshine.
Mrs Wife drove from Angus to Argyll last night, and she told me that the snow cover stops almost exactly at the border between Argyll and Stirling.
I like snow. Even though I'm 26, there is still something exciting about waking up and seeing fresh snow covering everything.
That childlike promise of a day spent sledging and playing snowballs has never left me, and is just one of the many reasons why I am looking forward to moving back to Angus - it snows there much more than it does in Argyll, and when it does, it's proper snow, deep enough to make snowmen and snowballs.
Friday, February 09, 2007
It's strange that, the day after I wrote that I didn't want either band to risk damaging their legacies by reforming, I interviewed Geoff Ellis, CEO of DF Concerts, the group behind T In The Park and the new Connect Festival taking place this summer in Inveraray.
He told me that the thinking behind Connect was that it should attract a more mature audience than T In The Park. He explained that he viewed T as a 'rite of passage' for Scottish teenagers and students - that you go along for the weekend with your mates, see loads of bands and have a great time.
He then said that he expected Connect to appeal more to people in the 25-35 year-old age group. Although none of the bands performing have yet been announced, he did say that anyone expecting metal acts, emo bands or girl bands would be sorely disappointed, and that the new festival is for the 'discerning' music fan.
So at what stage does an act pass from being suitable fodder for T In The Park to being at home on the Connect bill?
Geoff wouldn't give away much about the Connect lineup, although he did say that at least two of the headline bands were American. So who could that be: Sonic Youth? Soundgarden? Dinosaur Jr? Or are they too noisy for Connect?
Clearly, 'mature' music fans have some clout, as they're soon going to have a festival aimed solely at them. Perhaps some of those acts on the lineup will be bands that peaked when audience members in their 30s were still teenagers, hoping to recapture some of that spark on a reformation tour.
Thankfully, it's unlikely to be The Smiths or The Stone Roses.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
Even the patronage of Noel Gallagher at Oasis' commercial peak did little to bolster The Smiths' reputation. But now, with Morrissey performing his former band's songs on sold-out tours, it seems as though everyone is a fan.
Inevitably, this has led to calls for the band to reform. Given that Morrissey and Johnny Marr were sued by Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke only a few years ago, a reconciliation seems unlikely.
In truth, I'd rather that The Smiths didn't reform. They were a band of their time, and their musical legacy is strong. To attempt to recapture that feeling would probably have a detrimental effect.
The same rule applies to most bands: never go back. Though both Mani and John Squire have said that they are in favour of reforming The Stone Roses, Ian Brown has wisely rejected the idea at every opportunity.
To me, The Stone Roses were the one of the greatest bands ever, behind only The Beatles. Their self-titled debut, released when I was only nine, is the best album in musical history. By the time of their second, John Squire's cocaine use had changed the Roses' sound from rich psychedelia to thunderous blues rock. It wasn't a change for the better, and essentially tore the band apart.
That Squire and Brown haven't spoken since the former quit the band in 1996 speaks volumes. Don't get me wrong - if they do reform and announce that they're going on tour, I'll be first in the line for tickets.
But I think it's better to leave their legacy intact and unsullied by a cash-fuelled reunion in middle age. The Beatles never reformed, neither did The Clash. Does anyone really think that recent performances by Queen or The Doors are the same as seeing the real thing?
Hopefully The Smiths and The Stone Roses will have the good grace to see out their retirement without feeling the need to patch up their differences for unnecessary reunions.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Not only should it act as a preview of the side we'll face in Alex McLeish's first match in charge of the national side next month, but it is also Georgia's first chance to defend their title as Unofficial Football World Champions.
Should the Georgians skelp the Turks, their next defence will be against the mighty Jocks in March.
Which will give us a chance to reclaim the title that is ours by birthright.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Thankfully, the limited space available in Groanin' Towers, and Mrs Wife's more ruthless streak, mean that I amn't now surrounded by great piles of what I would call valuable possessions, but that others would term 'useless crap'.
Inspired by this post at Erica's site, I recalled a hoarder of even greater ability than even myself.
Edmund Trebus, the most famous star of the TV show A Life of Grime, was one of those rare people who was happy to live his life in the way in which he chose, regardless of how it was perceived by others around him.
Upon his death, a lengthy obituary in The Guardian said:
'At first, his obsession took the form of mild eccentricity. He filled the upstairs rooms of his four-storey Victorian house with the spoils of hunts through local builders' skips and junk shops. One room was packed with vacuum cleaners, another with cameras. Trebus bought every recording he could find by Elvis Presley.
'As time passed and his children moved out, the collections piled one on top of the other, like sedimentary layers, until each room was full to the ceiling. Trebus would push a small cart around the streets of Crouch End, gathering discarded building materials, which he carefully arranged in the garden, doors in one corner, windows in another. There were washing machines, wood, motorcycles and bicycles. There was even one of musician Dave Stewart's old synthesisers, retrieved from the back of his recording studio. Like all the objects, it came to be forgotten about and covered up over time.'
I can imagine that, left to my own devices in my dotage, I could become a 21st century Edmund Trebus. Whilst I may not have a penchent for discarded doors and windows, I could seriously see myself surrounded by vast mountains of magazines and newspapers, CDs and DVDs.
I can imagine this all too well, as Mrs Wife and I have begun the process of emptying Groanin' Towers ahead of our move eastwards. And in every nook and cranny, under every bed and in every wardrobe, piles of magazines wait for the day when they will once again be read.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect is that, in our quest to find New Groanin' Towers (or Dungroanin'), Mrs Wife and I are looking at properties with twice as many rooms as our current abode - which is room for a LOT more magazines.
Monday, February 05, 2007
Mornings like this always remind me of my days as a paperboy in the village of Edzell, seen here in the photo.
During the summer holidays back in 1996, which I seem to remember as a never-ending summer of sun, I actually looked forward to getting up and heading out to deliver the news to the sleeping folk of Edzell.
At 6.30am, there was still a chill in the air and dew on the grass, but not a single cloud in the sky. And as I wandered or cycled around the village, reading the sports pages of every paper I delivered, it was plain to see that the day was going to be a scorcher. By the time my round was completed at 8am, the village had awoken and my parents were off to work. The great unfillable vastness of a seven-week holiday stretched before me.
Practically that whole summer was spent playing football and swimming in the river by day. In the evenings, the attentions of my group of friends would turn to music, primarily The Beatles and Oasis, who played at Knebworth that August, a concert broadcast live on Radio One.
It was also the summer of Euro 96, watching Scotland draw with Holland, lose to England and beat Switzerland, only to miss out on the next round by a single goal.
No summer since has been the same - since then, I've spent every summer working. Full days can no longer be spent lying in the sun or recreating the mercurial talents of Brian Laudrup on the local football pitch.
Perhaps it is true that schooldays are the best of your life - not necessarily on a day-to-day basis, but in the comparitively commitment-free way in which you can live your life at 16.
Friday, February 02, 2007
As far as I can remember, I've only been to church five times since I left school -twice for funerals and three times for weddings (including my own).
So it came as quite a shock to discover that I'm still fairly clued up on the scripture.
74 per cent - that's a definite pass. My colours may not be as flying as Erica's, but I'm just an amateur - she REALLY knows her stuff.
I've spent the best part of a week helping to 'fix' a friend's computer. Initially, it looked as though it would be a simple case of swapping out a damaged hard drive for a fully-functioning one.
But this laborious quest has instead involved performing a Frankenstein treatment on two separate machine and installing three different operating systems.
The desired result, that my friend should end up with a basic machine for a six-year-old to play games on, has finally been reached.
It all seemed so much simpler back in the days of Windows 95 - you stuck the CD in, the operating system installed and that was you ready to go.
Now, with online registration of operating systems, Microsoft has really upped the ante in a bid to stamp out piracy.
Which all just makes me very glad that I chose to turn my back on being an IT professional and pursue my career in the media. I no longer have the patience to sit in front of a computer that won't work and attempt to solve its problems.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
1: A Strange Arrangement Of Colour by I Am Kloot (from the album I Am Kloot): Typically downbeat Scouse indie. I'm a big fan of the band, especially Johnny Bramwell's lyrics and deadpan drawl.
2: Falling Away With You by Muse (from the album Absolution): Muse's ascendancy to one of the biggest bands in the world has taken a while, but each successive album has built on their skyscraping, over-the-top blend of Queen, Radiohead and Pink Floyd. This, from their third studio album, is a characteristic combination of an almost leisurely verse and bombastic chorus.
3: Shoot To Thrill by AC/DC (from the album Back In Black): Few bands in the history of rock'n'roll could follow the tragic death of their frontman by recording their greatest ever album. There are no weak tracks on Back In Black, and Brian Johnson's gravel-voiced roar, whilst different from Bon Scott's drunken drawl, helped carry AC/DC to the stadium-rock level.
4: The River Curls Around The Town by Hood (from the album Cold House): Using cut-up vocals over backwards-masked guitar lines may not be a new trick, but Hood use it to good effect on this track, although it meanders along throughout its three minutes without ever really progressing too far.
5: C Note by Body Count (from the album Body Count): Guns'n'Roses-tinged instrumental from one of the most intentionally antagonistic albums ever recorded. Amongst the other tracks on the record are KKK Bitch, Evil Dick and the infamous Cop Killer, which was removed from later releases of the album.
6: Zip...Just Gone by Lo-Fidelity Allstars (B-side from the single Lo-Fi's In Ibiza): If Lo Fi's In Ibiza is the sound of a big beat Balearic rave, then Zip...Just Gone is the after-show comedown, combining jazz horns with an almost spoken vocal. Very chilled.
7: Guide My Hand by Driveblind (from the album Driveblind): One of the slower numbers from the Aberdeen band's debut album. It still seems strange to hear of Driveblind playing sold-out shows in LA, as I know a couple of the band's members fairly well, having worked with them in the office of an Aberdeen engineering company. Guide My Hand isn't one of the stronger tracks from the album, but does carry the band's hallmarks of strong vocals, faultless guitars and magnificent production.
8: Skeptics and True Believers by The Academy Is... (from the album Almost Here): American indie-punk by numbers from the Chicago band. Whilst I have nothing against them as such, this track does sound indistinguishable from Fall Out Boy, All-American Rejects and their ilk.
9: Bully Boy by Shed Seven (from the greatest hits album Going For Gold): In which Rick Witter - whose name became unfortunate Britpop-era rhyming slang for shitter - recalls a beating he received. Not the band's finest hour, with Witter's foghorn delivery failing to gel with the poor man's Stone Roses backing track.
10: I Don't Know by Beastie Boys (from the album Hello Nasty): I didn't really get into the Beastie Boys first time around - it wasn't until the release of Intergalactic and Body Movin' that I sat up and took notice. I've subsequently discovered their Beatles-sampling masterpiece Paul's Boutique, and whilst Hello Nasty doesn't quite compare with that record, it's still a very strong set. I Don't Know is one of the record's quieter moments, eschewing the Beasties' electro beats and triple-pronged rap attack.