Sunday, August 24, 2008

North Then South

The week ahead promises to be a busy one, with a spot of jet-setting preceding a weekend of music and pear cider in Argyll.

Tomorrow I fly out to Stavanger with five colleagues for the Offshore North Sea conference. I've never been to Norway before, so the novelty factor alone will make it an interesting trip, although the fact that I have to work while across the North Sea will take a little of the shine off.

Still, it's another corner of the world I'll be seeing for the first time, and it certainly beats three days stuck in the office.

I'm home alone at the moment as I prepare for my trip, Mrs Wife having left Dungroanin' on Thursday bound for Edinburgh and Cardiff, the former to take in some festival shows and the latter to see REM for the first time.

I'll arrive home from Scandinavia late on Wednesday night, and after a day in the office on Thursday, I'll be away to Inveraray for the second Connect Festival, where the bill this year includes Kasabian, Manic Street Preachers, Gomez, Franz Ferdinand and, most exciting of all from my point of view, Elbow.

Last year's festival felt like a well-kept secret, but I would imagine that this year's line-up will mean that a bigger crowd turns out. Still, as long as the weather holds and the pear cider is flowing, I'm sure it'll be another weekend to remember.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Season 2008/2009: Match 6: Montrose v Annan Athletic

Now, four games into the new season, I can confidently predict exactly how many points Montrose will finished the season with: 36.
Four games in, four games drawn. Montrose were so determined not to win this one that they smacked a penalty against the post instead of scoring and had a central midfielder sent off for swinging an elbow 10 minutes from time.
Annan looked dangerous, as befitted a team top of the league three games into their debut season at this level. They brought with them a vocal fanbase, and two flags that can be seen in the photograph above. I thought that the stewards were going to ask them to take the flags down, or stop climbing on a wall that generally doesn't look 100% safe, but they were merely asking that travelling Borders support move the flags higher so that they didn't cover the advertising hoardings.
Once again, Montrose's inability to kill games off when ahead cost them. In all four league matches this season, they've taken the lead. They've drawn all four.
The referee was useless. But that goes without saying in the Scottish Third Division.
Today's matchday programme provided some pre-match entertainment, with star striker John Baird taking part in the Players' Quick Eleven feature - 11 questions to help the fans understand the man beneath the shirt. I repeat a few of Baird's answers here verbatim with no comment other than it's just as well he can play football.
Q: What is your favourite cheese?
Baird: Tesco
Q: What is your favourite book?
Baird: Paolo Di Canio
Q: What players do you admire and respect in the division (ie Scottish League Division Three)?
Baird: Carlos Tevez

Friday, August 22, 2008

No Slow Train Coming

At some point yesterday afternoon, there was a landslide that covered a section of the East Coast Mainline between Stonehaven and Montrose.

As I understand things, ScotRail became aware of the problem around 4pm.

I arrived at Aberdeen railway station at 4.30pm, intending to catch my usual 4.41pm train home to Montrose. I was allowed to board the train as normal, and as usual it was fairly close to being full, with only a few seats free.

No announcement was made to tell passengers there was a delay until 4.50pm, and at that point we were informed that this was simply a delay.

At around 5.30pm we were told to get off the train as substitute buses would be running from Dundee onwards, and that separate buses would transfer passengers to Stonehaven, Montrose and Arbroath as required.

The announcements made over the station tannoy system were inaudible, leaving hundreds of passengers milling around the station concourse, joined each minute by new arrivals unaware of the problems.

Finally, all passengers bound for Edinburgh and Glasgow were urged to move outside (into the pishing rain) to queue for substitute buses. Everyone else was informed they should wait in the station.

Having waited until 6.30pm, I went out to seek further information. I asked a ScotRail employee whether any buses were running to Montrose, to be told "Oh, it's just left".

No announcement was made to the scores of passengers inside the station. There were still hundreds of people queuing on Guild Street in the rain, waiting for buses they were assured were "on the way".

I decided to stay in the queue, in case another Montrose-bound bus should appear unnanounced. While waiting, I got talking to the three people beside me, who were trying to get to Edinburgh.

At around 7.45pm, one of the women I was talking to set off to find more information. She returned around 8pm to inform me that a member of ScotRail staff was gathering a group of Montrose-bound passengers to travel in a taxi.

Thankfully, I managed to grab a space in the taxi, which left Aberdeen at 8pm, three-and-a-half hours after I had first arrived at the station, and I finally got home just after 9pm.

It is safe to say that I have never had the misfortune to deal with a company as disorganised, poorly managed and generally useless as ScotRail. At least three members of staff in Aberdeen station were truculent, moody and sarcastic when asked for information.

If the company is stripped of its operator's licence, it won't be a moment too soon.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

So Has She

Yesterday's post on Rachel Hylton reminded me of the only other TV talent show singer who's blown me away - Fantasia Barrino.

I first saw this performance on Australian television in 2004, and I thought it was sensational. But I don't think I've heard anything from Ms Barrino since then.

Monday, August 18, 2008

She's Got It

I'm not generally a fan of the Popstars/Pop Idol/X Factor style of show, but very occasionally a contestant will come along that really does come across as a genuine stellar talent.

Rachel Hylton is one of those incredible few:

Am I the only one who thinks that's actually better than Amy Winehouse's version?

Friday, August 15, 2008

My Favourite Albums: Number 1: The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses

There are some records that define certain years for me - Oasis' Definitely Maybe was the soundtrack to 1996 for me, despite being two years old at that point.

There are records that I heard early on in my musical development, and which acted as stepping stones into new worlds - an appreciation of Paul Weller's solo work acted as a starting point for my forays into punk, soul and r&b.

And there are records that have had such a cultural impact that they are inescapable, and are as much a part of living in Britain as the Queen, Coronation Street and Tetley's tea.

But my favourite album is none of these. It doesn't define any specific point in my life, having remained a constant source of joy since the first time I heard it. It never encouraged me to find out more about any other bands, primarily because I was already well versed in the works of The Beatles, The Jam and The Rolling Stones by the time I came to The Stone Roses.

And while The Stone Roses is most definitely a British album - and Her Majesty is the inspiration for Elizabeth My Dear - the Roses never reached the heights scaled by Oasis and Blur in their wake.

But, since the age of 18, I've been unmoved in my assertion that The Stone Roses' debut album is the greatest ever made. Given that I regard The Beatles as the greatest band ever, it's a bold statement.

I was only nine when the album was released in 1989, and I didn't really discover it until it was almost 10 years old. It was actually the third Roses album I acquired, having received a copy of the compilation The Complete Stone Roses as a birthday present and purchased a second-hand copy of Second Coming from the magnificent Dundee institution that is Groucho's.

The Stone Roses grabbed me immediately. The opening bass rumble and nimble finger-picking of I Wanna Be Adored's intro sets the scene, and even Ian Brown's foghorn voice can't impact on vintage pre-Britpop psychedelia.

I could attempt to explain why each of the songs on the album is a classic (with the possible exception of Don't Stop - just Waterfall played backwards with new lyrics whispered over the top), or why the whole package transcends the sum of its parts.

But I can't, and I won't attempt to. All I can really do is urge you all to buy a copy of the album and give it a listen. And I'll leave you with the album's final track, the euphoric, climactic eight-minute burst that is I Am The Resurrection.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Groanin' Jock's Chinglish Adventures Volume IV: Let Me Care You

It's been a while since I wowed both of my regular readers with an example of Chinglish, the exciting language that bolts English words together in ways no-one from an English-speaking country (or Scotland) would ever have thought possible.
Today's example is from the giant panda enclosure at Shanghai Zoo. It's nice that the panda in question wants to care me, just like he cares himself, as we're the same age. And he gets to spend all day eating bamboo and picking his arse. I can only aspire to that kind of career.
For further examples of Groanin Jock's Chinglish Adventures, take a look here. And here. Oh, and here as well.

Broken Household Appliance National Forest

Is nothing built to last any more?

In the past few days, the dishwasher at Dungroanin' has packed in, and this afternoon the Jockmobile refused to start after a hard day of sitting doing nothing in the Montrose railway station car park.

The car I can understand - it does a lot of miles and sheer wear and tear over its seven-year life span is obviously going to take its toll eventually. Hopefully replacement of the starter motor will be quick and comparitively cheap.

But the dishwasher is more irritating. I'm fairly certain it was installed when the house was built, which is around three years ago. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I expect a £450 piece of equipment to last more than three years.

The same can be said of MP3 players - I'm now on my third Magic Tune Box, and I only acquired my first in late 2004.

We've become an unnecessarily wasteful society, where nothing is built for the long-term. If something breaks, it can often be cheaper to replace it than repair it.

In what world does that make sense?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Season 2008/2009: Match 5: Montrose v Berwick Rangers

Scottish football can be a sadistic bitch.

It's rarely inspiring, and seldom drags itself beyond the the barest levels of entertainment.

In fairness, I expected little from Saturday's matches, given that I'd been out the night before, finally leaving an Aberdeen night club when the house lights were switched on at 3am.

I was up again at 9am, catching a train home in time to be parked on the couch for Falkirk v Rangers, the opening match from the SPL.

Having watched Rangers sleepwalk their way to an undeserved victory over a far livelier Falkirk side, I set off to my fifth live match of the season, in the vain hope that Montrose would defeat Berwick to record their first win of the season.

It all started so well for the home side, Chris McLeod rising unchallenged to head home Stephen Black's free kick in the seventh minute.

But the expected flood never came. Montrose dominated the match, but couldn't find a second. And sure enough, the visitors equalised with six minutes remaining, David Grant poking the ball over the line following a goalmouth scramble.

It was harsh on Montrose, who have now taken just two points from their opening two matches - hardly the form expected of title favourites.

I now demand a steward's inquiry - Berwick shouldn't even be in the SCOTTISH Football League - unless the borders have shifted slightly....

Thursday, August 07, 2008

It's Worth It

A week ago, I was ready to hang up my football boots, having endured one on-pitch hiding too many.

With the works team a man short last night, I pulled on the kit once again.

And found a different world. We played well from start to finish, controlling the tempo of an ill-tempered match in which the tackles were occasionally high and late, and in which at least two players were lucky to stay on the pitch after a heated exchange that came close to blows.

I came off the pitch having suffered no new inuries and felt no ill effects from the previous knocks. I even scored as we recorded a 9-6 win in what amounted to a six-pointer.

A week's a long time in football.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Season 2008/2009: Match 4: Montrose v Cowdenbeath

Four games into my live football season. Just four.

Montrose have only played three competitive matches this season. Just three.
Rangers have only played two competitive matches this season. Just two.

Tonight, Montrose were knocked out of their second cup, and we're only five days into August.

Rangers were sent out of Europe with barely a whimper.

Football, so often my source of unbridled joy, doesn't feel much fun at the moment.

I really don't want to talk about Rangers any more at the moment, so I'll concentrate on the match I attended this evening, Montrose's CIS Cup First Round tie with the Blue Brazil (who, conversely, played like a yellow Wimbeldon.)

Aside from a faint glimmers in the second half, Montrose never looked like winning this match. A sixth minute header saw them fall behind and an 81st minute, 30-yard free kick finished the job.

Montrose started in a 4-5-1 formation, attempting to utilise Paul Stewart's pace wide on the right. The plan didn't work, with the diminutive John Baird given little to work with up front on his own.

Later, with Stewart pushed up, Montrose looked livelier, but Cowdenbeath never looked truly flustered.

Montrose's captain, central midfielder Keith Gibson, toiled in the middle of the park. Though big, forceful and determined, he lacks both pace and subtlety, and was frequently his own worst enemy.

Pass marks for the home side could only justifiably be awarded to Stewart and to defender Jamie Buchan, one of the few players on the artificial pitch who genuinely looked like a footballer.

Along with my fellow press corps members, I was asked to vote for the official man of the match. I was the only one to vote for a Montrose player, picking Jamie Buchan. But the award went to former Scottish youth international Joe Mbu, seen below receiving his award.

So, four matches in and I've not seen a Montrose win yet - in fact, Montrose haven't won since the end of last season. 2008/2009 could prove to be a long 10 months of football.

Monday, August 04, 2008


Mrs Wife and I watched the movie Cocoon last night.

It's the first time I'd seen the movie in what must be at least 10 years, but is probably considerably more.

There's something about family-friendly American movies from the 1980s that I just can't get enough of, and I've never quite been able to place my finger on it.

Maybe its the cheesy 80s pop that blares from every car stereo - a curious blend of pop hooks, synths and watered-down faux hip-hop beats.

Perhaps its the fashions that taste forgot, brought back into our sitting rooms as though from another world.

But most of all, I think it's the simplicity of the sets and the action. No CGI-assisted action; no computer animation; just wholesome family fun in a world before Pixar.

The list of those films is, I think, nearly inexhaustible. In addition to Cocoon, the films I'm thinking of are Batteries Not Included, Jaws, TeenWolf, Ferris Bueller's Day Off (perhaps not quite so family friendly), Home Alone, The Goonies, Weird Science, The Karate Kid and Back To TheFuture.

I was born in 1980 and therefore didn't hit my teenage years until the mid-1990s. So I grew up with those family films. And they showed a different world, which although broadly similar to mid-1980s Scotland, still looked alien to me eyes. America was a land where it never seemed to rain, where the toys and sweeties were different from those available on this side of the Atlantic and where aliens could feasibly be found living in your garage.

I doubt we'll ever see their simple likes again.