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Shanks' Pony

Yesterday I needed a bike in order to ride around my nan's house.  The parents had "bought" nan a new mattress, which is to say that they'd bought themselves a new mattress and were "kindly" giving her their old one.   I needed to go around nan's to be there when "it was delivered", which, again, was shorthand for the only person we knew with a white van, namely our uncle, who would take the role as the delivery driver. 
So I needed to get around her house, which is under a quarter of a mile away.  Not a problem, but I needed transportation.  Dad brought out a little girl's bike.  It looked like a 1:4 scale model of my normal bike, which was at my house.  It was the sort of bike that pink handlebar tassels were made for.  All I can say is: I'm glad it was dark.   
I have been on this earth for 26 years and it was only yesterday that I discovered the term "Shanks' Pony".  
"You can either ride that bike," my dad sai…

51.899681°N latitude / -2.075110°W longitude: street view

We left the theatre in high spirits, 
passed the bars that hold the town
in surrender of its daytime elegance.
We were guided around the reds of
a crime scene - pocked, curtsy-fresh.
I pull my scarf tight around me, fix 
my coat, turn to my uncle and say,
'Britain is awash with contradictions,'
our eyes immunised to the drunken 
hoards as we pass. We tell each other
what we know of his trial.  'Much simpler,'
I said, 'if it had been Queensberry Rules.'
We moved through the revellers in silent
contempt, nod past the police officer,
turned left onto the High Street at the
beggar on the corner.   


And the Winner of Sports Personality of the Year is...

Sports Personality of the Year. The short list is chock-full of future Sirs and Dames. For the winner of this prestigious award, it will round off an exceptional year of sporting achievement amid an unprecedented number of British success stories. I think I know the surname of the athlete who will win. As humble and as self-deprecating as I am, the odds speak for themselves: the bookies are now calling it evens. So who will win? Bradley Wiggins, who won Le Tour de France and won an Olympic Gold in one year, or Tom Wiggins, who, earlier today, managed to run the two miles back to his parents' house in under twenty minutes without stopping.






The Romanian New Wave

Having a friend who's a Romanian filmmaker has its perks.  For one thing, I can get her own perspective and opinion on the Romanian New Wave, which brought films such as 'The Death of Mr Lazarescu', '12:08 East of Bucharest' and 'If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle' to a worldwide audience.  Since then, we have seen this veritable wave move onto Iran and Greece with films such as the highly-acclaimed and Oscar-winning 'A Separation' and the twisted world of 'Dogtooth' riding the crest of their respective waves.
'4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days' is arguably the best of Romanian wave riders, winning the prestigious Palm D'Or at Cannes in 2007.  Cat tells me its representation of Romania is a little off and the dialogue is a little clunky in its original form, but she also acknowledged the need for films seeking international recognition to economise with the reality of a Romania in the final years of communist dictatorship.
I myself thought…

A Christmas Monologue

I was almost sick when I saw the Christmas decorations down my parents' local.  Beginning of November it was.  Straight after Halloween.  It was a straight swap: goblin for Santa.  I'm not one of those - you know - those who drone on about things just to fill a silence.  I try to remain open-minded about modern Britain and its hankering for Christmas in early Autumn.  I don't even mind the commercialisation of it all.  If you want to blow your savings on crap, you might as well do it with good intentions.  It all funds the economy.  But it's the by product of a Christmas mindset in November that gets me.  People who wish you Merry Christmas before Advent are as dead to me as the people who take the tabloid's view as the gospel.  Like it was some sort of daily forty pence-a-hit scripture, with a brief respite from The Absolute Truth for a copaloadofthosedave on page 3, because Lucy, 23 is absolutely not a slut, even though her boyfriend sent in the picture she'd…

What the Swedes Call Jul

Foals @ Gloucester Guildhall - 4th December 2012

One gig to rule them all, one gig to find them,  One gig to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
Chock-full of indie youth it was, but there will come a day far, far in the future when last night's Foals gig will be a half-forgotten memory to all who attended.  Facts about the event will blend with folklore.  Some half-truths will creep in, others will creep out; events will be spun more than Alistair Campbell at a clay pot-making class.  
I once heard that in the eighties, a late friend of my dad's busted Bono in the chops right up on stage.  Admittedly, the details were hazy and lacked the necessary corroboration for me to take his claim to fame seriously.  He was a drunk with a Napoleon complex so he may have just clobbered an Irishman with long hair, sunglasses and the ego the size of Kent.  The point I'm trying to make is this: spin and subjectivity is everywhere.
However, spin and subjectivity can take a walk on this occasion.  This is the cold, hard truth: Foal…

What the Italians Call Natale

What the French Call Noël

Let it snow, let it snow, let it... (4)

Something tells me that I have yet to fully enter into the Christmas spirit.  The rest of the crossword was fine, but I seemed to really struggle with 3 Down.   


What the Germans Call Weihnachten

Why Aye, Bro!

My brother was told today that he's secured an interview to study Postgraduate Medicine at Newcastle University.  Out of a thousand entrants, only two hundred were accepted for interviews.  I don't want to jinx it, but it's some very good news after he worked so hard on his personal statement.  Here's how I congratulated him over text: 


A response poem or a silly game of word association?  The half rhyme of Grove/Cole was a  happy coincidence.

and finally, Reason #100:

without mum,
our cousins in Westcliff-On-Sea
would just be dad’s sister’s boys;
though seen in photographs,
nothing more than a passing reference
when somebody mentioned
Essex.

Instead
- and because of mum’s influence –
our lives were intertwined,
a join at the hip 
from birth
that still stretches the length of the M4 corridor.

The only difference
is that we’ve become closer: 
a reunion proves again
the glow, the warmth – the whatever;
the kind of calm familiarity
that comes from having grown up together.


(the final two lines were taken from Gail Tsukiyama’s The Samurai’s Garden)



On the Fourth Day of Christmas, Gloucester Guildhall Will Give to Me...

On the fourth day of Christmas,  the Guildhall will give to me,
One Jack Bevan, One Jimmy Smith,
One Walter Gervers, One Edwin Congreave, and a Yannis Philippakis.


For the uninitiated, these five chaps make up Foals, NME Award Winners and floppy-haired indie rock extraordinaires.  Only the great Laura Marling can claim to have crooned more frequently in my Peugeot 206.  To come second only to the great Marling should be celebrated; such is my obsession with female singer-songwriters that if Foals' second album, Total Life Forever hadn't been so damn good, my Top Five Most Played would consist entirely of the fairer sex. 

So when I found out that Foals were playing Gloucester Guildhall - a venue that is less than a mile away from where I live - I almost fell over.  My excitement was by no means an isolated incident; the county went berserk when word got around.  When tickets went on sale at the Guildhall box office, they sold out in 20 minutes.  I was lucky enough to have heard about…

Who Knew?

The Savile Row tailors knew it, 
the Martini drinkers knew it, 
the Aston Martin Owners Club knew it, 
MI5 secretly knew it, 
Her Majesty knew it, 
her corgis, cocking their heads, knew it, 
He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named knew it, 
the femme fatales knew it, 
001, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 knew it, 
Q knew it, 
M knew, 
even J and K from Men in Black knew it, 
Ian Fleming most certainly knew it, 
Sir Connery and Sir Moore knew it, 
in fact, every incarnation knew it,   
heck, even David Niven knew it, 
while all those who had every crossed him knew it,
and all the women who had ever loved him knew it.



The Giant Public Storage Cabinet

Council Chairman: All those in favour of passing a motion to commission the design and build of a giant public storage cabinet intended for permanent placement in the centre of town, say I.  

-

Council Chairman: This microphone must be faulty.  I said, all those–

Council Board Member: Derek, we heard you the first time.  And you've never had a microphone.  

London 2012: Why Britain Should Be Oh-So Proud

One or two posts ago,  you may have read as this flag-waving patriot waxed lyrical over how Britain was restored to its natural Britishness in 2012.  The Queen's Diamond Jubilee and The London Games ticked all the right boxes in terms of what the events had set out to achieve.  The year 2012 silenced even the most pessimistic of pessimists.  The glass-fully-empty types had to concede that they enjoyed 2012 as much as the rest of us.  If they said they didn't, then they're lying.    
I had watched highlights from the opening ceremony of the London Olympics from a hotel room in Miyajima, Japan.  I returned to  England on the Tuesday following the opening ceremony, so I hadn't really missed very much.  London Heathrow was buzzing with the salutations of track-suited volunteers.  Helpfulness was projecting out of mouths like pea soup from Linda Blair.  Everyone was falling over themselves - possessed, should we say - to help their visitors.  It was a wonderful sight.  The l…

The Student Knock

Untroubled, unhurried, loyal to the knock, 
silent - they waited.  Time took leave of itself.   James rolled on his heels, stopping at intervals. 
Will watched a plane and he did so open-mouthed  and that’s all he did.  A bush rustled somewhere. Should we go? I asked.  James turned his head, looked at me.  
What for? We haven’t spoken to them yet.  We’ve knocked, I said.  Yes.   And they’re not in.  He looked at Will. Will looked down, looked at me.  
I looked back at Will.Will turned to James.   I thought you said they go to City.  
You said the thing said they went to City   They do go to City, James said.   The thing did say it. Will smiled, relaxed.  Don’t worry, he smirked.  They go to City.  The thing said so.  Another knock.   They’re in,James said.They go to City.  They’re always in.  


2012: The Year of the Britain...But Is There More to Come?

What more can you say about a year that will be remembered so fondly through red, white and blue?  The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and London 2012 was the double bill that the British people needed: the veritable chap stick that softened the stiffened upper lips of a Britain in recession.  Even those who would otherwise have complained about buying Union Jack bunting would have had to acknowledge its timeliness.  Has there been another period in British history in which we could use such a patriotic street lining, not once, but twice, and within two months of each another?  To line the streets would be to give back to the people what the rioters of 2011 took away.  We came together to restore the image of a truly Great Britain.  


So how do you sum up a year so steeped in glory?  Its pinnacle was arguably 4th August 2012 – the aptly-named "Super Saturday".  It was Britain’s most successful day in the Olympics for more than a century and saw our athletes take home three gold medals…

Mumford & Sons Influenced by Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall

Marcus Mumford of indie folk outfit Mumford & Sons hit the headlines earlier this week when he revealed the source of a line featured in a song from the band's latest album.  In an interview with BBC 4's Front Row, he admitted to 'lifting' a line from Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize-winning novel, Wolf Hall.  The line features in the band's second album and follow up to their wildly successful 2009 debut, Sigh No More - itself a reference to Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.  The title track's opening line begins "serve God, love me and mend", which was a line spoken by Benedick in the Bard's comedy of manners.  

Mumford played down suggestions that their literary influences exceed those of their musical contemporaries, but says references to books appear regularly in their songs, with influences ranging from Shakespeare to John Steinbeck. In spite of John Wilson's best efforts, the 25 year-old remained tight-lipped as to the parti…

The Night I Dreamt of Joanna Newsom

Last night I dreamt that I found Walnut Whales, Joanna Newsom's self-released debut EP in a second hand record shop.  I was so overwhelmed by the find that I felt my hand shaking as I took it to the counter.  Fans of Newsom will testify that this is the most sought-after album in her catalogue, pre-dating The Milk-Eyed Mender - her official debut - by two years.  When I woke, I felt the pang of disappointment to find that it was only a dream.    
I've seen Joanna Newsom perform both indoor and out.  The first occasion was in 2008 when I saw her perform in the truly spectacular neo-classical setting of Somerset House.  She didn't play Ys - her second full-length album - from start to finish as she had done as part of the Ys tour, but we were treated to some highlights from The Milk-Eyed Mender, Ys, as well as Colleen (from her 2008 EP, Joanna Newsom & the Ys Street Band) and some early versions of songs such as In California and Baby Birch that would go on to appear on h…

An Expert Analysis of Michael Fassbender's Running Style From the Film 'Shame'

Tom Wiggins: What are your first impressions of Michael Fassbender/Brandon's running style? Paul Whittaker: He's running nice, smooth and relaxed. He seems like he has a good amount of fitness and he is running well within himself in terms of pace.   TW: What improvements could he make to his running style? PW: The main improvement I'd make is his foot plant.  He lands heel first and this causes a 'breaking' effect when travelling forwards.  If he landed on his mid-foot/forefoot, this would be a much better for impact stress and propulsion going forward into the next running stride. TW: Regarding his speed, how many minutes per mile is he running? PW: I would say he is running approx 7-7.30 minutes per mile. TW:  What do you make of his stride lengths?  Is he overstriding/understriding? PW: The actor is definitely overstriding in this clip.  It would help if his feet landed underneath and below his centre of gravity. TW: What's his posture like? PW: A slight forward le…

The Fruit & Veg Man

The bags on the ground a pound! The bags a pound on the ground! The bags on the ground a pound! The bags a pound on the ground!
Wow, I thought.  I pointed.
Those bags
Those bags Those bags
Each a quid?
Yes, mate.
Good lord.
You can’t fault the fee of the fruit on the floor! You can’t fault the fruit of the fee on the floor! You can’t fault the flaws of the fruit on the floor! Your fruit is free as I flee from your stall!

So What If I Cried At Bambi?

Did you blub at Bambi?  Get Extremely Tearful over E.T?  Did you melt at the sight of The Snowman?  If the answer to any of these questions is 'yes', please look away now.

For many of us, the memory of crying over cartoons is as much soaked in nostalgia as the event itself was soaked in tears.  Now we've grown up, we're over our childhood cinematic losses.  Sure, there's always a few hiccups: Marley & Me may quiver a lip, but Disney's deer, home-phoning aliens and sweating snowmen no longer have the emotional pull as they once did.  But that's fine.  They were fundamental in our emotional development and we're now the better for it.  We can move on.    

And yet, there are two children in America who have been stripped of this basic human right.  The trauma of a tearjerker was one thing, but like any trauma, its aftermath should not - I repeat, should not - be filmed.  Parents are within their rights to tell an embarrassing story of how their young so…

Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep

Will you marry me when you're 70 and have nothing to lose?




10 Songs from 10 Female Singer-Songwriters of the Indie Scene

Sea of Bees - Willis




Camille - Wet Boy




Regina Spektor - Somedays 




Tiny Vipers - Dreamer 




Feist - Service Bell



Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Maps




Sia - Soon We'll Be Found




Joanna Newsom - Does Not Suffice



Laura Marling - Blackberry Stone




My Brightest Diamond - All Things Unwind 


Usain Bolt & The 100 Metre Final: An Hour to Go

We've got under an hour to go until the Olympic 100 Metre Final.  Ever since Bolt dismantled the competition in Beijing, I've been intrigued to find out whether he can do it in the same fashion again in London.

On paper at least, Bolt was none-too impressive in the 100 metre heats, winning the race in 10.08 seconds, but he did what he had to do to get into the next round.  The semi-finals revealed a Bolt of old: a Bolt capable of dismantling the competition and having enough time to look around to see their reaction.  In the BBC analysis afterwards, Michael Johnson said that he could have run two tenths of a second faster if he hadn't slowed down.  His winning time in the semis was 9.87 seconds, meaning he could have run the race in 9.67 seconds.  Not even Yohan "The Beast" Blake would be able to compete with that.  They finished the analysis off by saying "Blake was fantastic, but Bolt was Bolt."  That says it all: Bolt seems to be on-form, and an in-fo…