Saturday, 10 April 2010

Feeling the Burn

There's a very valid reason for the delay in this latest blog post. I've been busy. Doing something I never thought I'd do. Exercising.

It all started when I got made redundant from my shiny new job two months ago. I underwent a period of careful reflection and contemplation. The concluding thoughts? I should aim to become ripped like Beyonce. And so, the journey has begun. Using my not-very-hard-earned redundancy cash, I splashed out on joining the smartest gym that is not by invitation only. It's so smart that the staff refer to it as a 'health and wellbeing club'. But basically, it's just a really kitted out gym - where you get a robe and Molten Brown goodies in the showers. Of course all of these pleasantries are just sweeteners to the bitter pill that is ACTUAL exercise. So, I took a deep breath, and set foot on the treadmill.

Whoever says that exercise is fun, is just kidding themselves. The physical act of running on a treadmill or pedalling furiously on an exercise bike is, to put it bluntly, the opposite of fun. It's boring, painful and makes your T-shirt soggy. The only good thing about doing all of this, is the feeling you have afterwards. A feeling of achievement and calorie-burning success and for me a feeling that I am getting progressively closer to looking like Beyonce. Because let's face it, who wouldn't want to look like Beyonce? So I've been going four times a week for the last six weeks. Impressive eh? I haven't actually lost any weight, but that's because I'm (apparently) substituting fat for muscle and (apparently) muscle is heavier than fat. But I am definitely slimmer and my jeans are looser. So I'm convinced something must be working and that in another 6-8 weeks the effects of all this gyming will be obvious. Let's hope so.

One other good thing about the gym is that you get rediscover some true anthems on your iPod. I've been compiling several workout playlists since I began this new challenge. So here is the cream of the crop - my top 10 workout songs.

1. Ok, it's not a single song but rather the supremely awesome 'As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt 2' by 2Many Djs. Pumping, brilliantly mixed and lasts about the length of a workout.

2. Enter Sandman by Metallica. Because you run faster when evil is coming to claim your soul.

3. Black and White Town by Doves. The beat perfectly matches my running stride on the treadmill.

4. Fighter by Christina Aguilera. Good for motivation, especially when you really can't be arsed with the crosstrainer.

5. Muhammed Ali by Faithless. Gives you a Rocky-esque sense of mental ascension, without actually having to listen to the Rocky theme tune. Or Eye of of the Tiger.

6. What you Waiting for by Gwen Stefani. Keeps your self esteem high with the words 'You're still a super hot female' - even if I'm not Beyonce yet.

7. Even Flow by Pearl Jam. Because it's an awesome track.

8. Hey Boy Hey Girl by The Chemical Brothers. Hypnotic, and nicely repetitive so you zone out and don't get distracted.

9. Survivor by Destiny's Child. Beyonce gives an important lesson in toughness. How else can I aspire to her greatness?

10. Thrill Me by Junior Jack. Builds up and then drops hard. Bit like me in the gym.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Incredible !ndia

I've been reflecting for some weeks now on my recent visit to India - four years since my previous visit. Every time I go, something always astounds me - either the fact that youth drinking culture, however clandestine, is taking off or that street vendors are now selling copies of the Harvard Business Review or US Vogue instead of animal shaped balloons or plastic toys. I've named this blog entry after an advert that prevails on every international channel shown in Indian hotels including my preferred channel - BBC World. The ad, colourful and slickly shot aims to showcase some of India's greatest treasures. It features a sprightly twenty-something Caucasian male flitting between the Taj Mahal, getting covered in Holi colours, strolling along a Kerelan beach and tiger-spotting in one of the national parks. It's also accompanied by a convincing Cafe del Mar meets Nitin Sawney soundtrack. If you've never actually been to India, the ad would get you there in a flash. It encapsulates the cultural variety, natural beauty and warm welcome commonly associated with the country and, my brown bias aside, these things do exist there. I myself have done most of the things that the guy in the advert has done and in that respect India is indeed incredible. But incredible is a word loaded with ambiguity. One dictionary defines 'incredible' as 'beyond belief or understanding' and while India is incredible in the many positive ways depicted in the advert; there are serious issues in India, both old and new that I'm trying very hard to get my head around.

India has always been a country struggling with poverty. The continuous population growth, persistent government corruption, lack of welfare system and the suggestion that only 3% of Indians pay the correct amount of income tax means that it's near to impossible to try and change the fortunes of those at the bottom. Even after a fleeting moment of glitz and glamour at the Oscars, the child stars of Slumdog Millionaire still ended up back in their slums. If you're at the bottom, chances are you will always be at the bottom. Having said that, the slightly-less-than-poor, i.e. the people a couple of steps up from the bottom have started making things of themselves and have consequently been changing the demographic shape of India. If you can rustle up enough cash to get a decent degree or college qualification and then work your socks off 6 days a week for many years, it is possible to make a good life for yourself. And lots have - leading to the unprecedented growth of India's middle class (even though 'middle' refers to a lower standard than in Europe or the US) and consequently the growth of India's economy. This class is now said to consist of over 300 million people - more than the entire population of America. But it's debatable just how positive this rise of India's middle class is. While it's admirable that India's economy grows steadily while Western democracies sit in recessionary slumps, the growth in spending power has fostered a culture of neo-yuppyism which, it seems, no one in India seems to notice. People in India are now very serious about owning Stuff. They want to go to American style shopping malls and spend their money - buying everything from flatscreen TVs to designer sunglasses and the latest mobile phones. They shun some Indian brands for posher European counterparts. I was laughed at in one cosmetics shop for wanting to purchase the apparently backward Fair and Lovely facecream given that Garnier and Neutrogena both had 'better' products - better meaning that they weren't Indian. But the realities of this new consumerism only came to a head when I was taken to lunch at Emporio - a new mall near the district of Vasant Kunj in south Delhi. It was here that I realised some people in India had become so rich that they can afford to buy stuff that most in England would have trouble affording - Louis Vuitton handbags, Armani suits, Jimmy Choos. This mall had nothing but designer outlets of the highest degree. You couldn't really buy anything, even a basic top for less than 100. But as you drive into the haven of marble, mahogany and the mega-rich you see what those who approved the mall probably wouldn't want you to see - a shanty town, the ultimate symbol that things in India still haven't changed for so many people. I could see two young women with babies sitting under a cloth canopy held up by two uneven wooden poles surrounded by dust and debris from the newly constructed mall. That was their home. I was heartbroken. The Nouveau Riche of Hindustan have become so obsessed with their new found wealth that they have forgotten what it's like to have very little. Worse still, quite a lot of them try and block out the signs that India is still poverty-stricken. They don't want to see or know that it still exists. Maybe this is in part due to guilt, but quite often I think it's to do with the fact that they want everything to be shiny and new, like the things they're purchasing from the malls. This being the case, it's highly unlikely they're going to give any of it up to help anyone else, after all a lot of them came from very little too. Redistribution of wealth through a proper system of taxation would be a complete turn-off for them.

As you can see, the discrepancies between India's highest and lowest is a huge concern for me. During my visit, I actually felt a heavy cloud of greed across Delhi. There's immense pressure for people to prove that they can buy what they want and live how they want to live, even at the expense of those who have nothing. Over a third of people in India live under the international poverty line, surviving on less than $1.25 a day and if the middle classes continue to behave as they have been, this won't get any better despite India's overall economic growth. Maybe this is a chance for India's old money - those that have been sitting at the top of the tree for decades, (most probably on pre-colonial wealth) to follow some philanthropic role models from the West - Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and give some of their cash to help those who can't even feed their kids or educate themselves to get a menial job. Maybe then the new money will follow suit and the government might be able to implement some sort of poverty eradication policy. It's all well and good for the Incredible !ndia ad to portray the nation as a cultural paradise, but the consumerism eating away at India's romantic soul may well prevent future visitors from seeing it through rose-tinted glasses as they previously did. With the Commonwealth Games being held there in October, Indians need to become more self-aware. They want to be seen as citizens of a modern country that can complete economically with the rest of the world but until the impoverished can have a chance in life, the rest of the world will start seeing through their inner selfishness.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

RATM vs X Factor Joe

I am sitting here, gleeful. For the first time in about 15 years I listened anxiously to the UK Top 40 and the result was music to my ears - Killing in the Name Of, a track which reached a mid-20s position in the chart over 16 years ago had achieved the unthinkable - Christmas No 1. I'm not a massive Rage Against the Machine fan and I'm sure lots of people who bought their single this week are the same. But this outcome is a victory on many levels and I cringe when I hear 15-year old girls talk about how this campaign was an attempt to 'sabotage' Joe's success. Sabotage would have entailed burning the warehouse housing Joe's single or barricading HMV. It wasn't really about Joe. It was a battle for musical democracy, a battle against Cowell's media monopoly and a lesson that no campaign is too ridiculous in the age of social media.

In the same way that tension builds up in a country before a political or social revolution, the threat to dethrone what has seemed like a benevolent dictatorship of mediocre music has finally come to fruition. Despite being a massive X Factor fan, I'm not actually interested in the music produced by the winner. I watched it because there's nothing more satisfying than sitting and passing judgement on people who are trying to 'make it' in the music business. As a bit of a music snob, watching an 18-year-old singing Elton John songs (no matter how good he is) is never going to convince me that such an act is worth spending money on. I like bands. Bands who have struggled, who have gone from nothing to something through years of constant songwriting, playing small gigs and probably ditching a drummer or two. Bands who actually create music, using instruments and who can make you mosh when you watch them live. The X Factor represents the exact opposite of this. The winner's single appeals to those who have no real grasp of what it takes to write an awesome song and have probably never played an instrument in their life. It's for musically fickle glory supporters. I actually said in the office this week that whoever voted for Joe should be forced to pre-order his album a year in advance - I bet only half would actually want to listen to it by the time it was released. Joe is a good singer, but he's not cut out for a career as a pop star.

This whole campaign also proves that (despite most people's assumptions), Facebook is actually controlled by people in their twenties and thirties, not teenagers. RATM were a band of the nineties - in the era of Seattle grunge, the Beastie Boys and properly hard hip hop. The people who bought Rage's single this week are the same people that were teens in this bygone era - where guitar-based bands ruled the charts and saccharin ballads only cropped up once in a while. In the last few years it was thought that these particular consumers of music had no part to play in the shaping of the Top 40 - a thought which has now turned on its head. As I get older I always think music was better back in the day. Lots of people think the same - hence why a 1992 song could become No 1 in 2009. Joe was still in nappies when Rage first released Killing in the Name of, he probably had no idea who they were before this race kicked off. He's only ever known the chart music of the Noughties - lacklustre, over-hyped and hidiously commercial.

At the end of the day, despite all the allegations by Cowell's people of 'hijacking' and 'sabotage', one fact remains - RATM sold more copies of their single than Joe 'I look like Cheryl's little brother' McElderry. If the Monster Raving Looney Party suddenly stole a general election because they got more votes than Labour or the Tories, there would probably be an equal amount of outrage but nothing concrete to disqualify them. In Britain we live in a democracy - musical, political or otherwise and there will always be 'upsets' when only one winner can prevail. I just happen to be on the winning team this time!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Personal vs Professional

Hello. Yes, I know it has been almost a month since my last blog. The reason for this is because I started a new job. That's right. Yours truly has found a new purpose. The job, is in fact very much like my old job, in a similar office and doing the same old fannying about with press releases, sending mindless emails and pretending to look busy and important on the phone. My experience over the last 2 weeks since starting my new post is not unlike that of starting school. Notepad and pen, check. Fully-functioning computer, check. Nice ironed shirt and polished shoes, check. The difference is, at school, your aim (high grades aside) is to make friends. You want to find people you will actually socialise with outside of the school gates. People who you can confide in and feel comfortable around. People who you don't mind being yourself with. At work, it's a different story. I think it's near to impossible to be FRIENDS with people you work with. The general nature of today's modern work environment means that while you need to get on with your colleagues - collaborate, discuss, formulate ideas with them; they're still colleagues, not friends. Colleagues can get drunk at Christmas parties and slag you off to your boss, they can think your idea is crap and not tell you, they can even steal your stapler and not own up to it. Why? Because they're not your friends! I might be painting a negative picture of work colleagues, but the truth is, if you start trying to be friends with them, it's hard to command respect when circumstances demand it and it's hard to be taken seriously if everyone knows that what you really care about in life is gin, dogs and listening to Ben Folds.

So I got thinking about me, the person i.e who I am with friends and family. And me, the professional, savvy and hugely (cough) efficient professional. Those who know me, will know that on an average day my favourite pastime is doing very little. I like to sit, study a variety of media, eat, drink and pratt about on the Internet. It may sound insanely nonchalant but achieving this state of being is actually quite hard work. I need to ensure all my personal admin is complete, the food shopping is done, the kitchen is clean and then some. Only when these banal tasks are finished can I reach my true state of being - that of a fairly lazy yet introspective watcher of the world. Someone who only talks to people they want to talk to rather than talk for the sake of talking. This persona is something only my friends should know. Imagine if this is how my work colleagues knew me? I'd be considered an ineffectual and unmotivated 'blue sky' thinker rather than doer. The kind of person that spends more time organising their inbox just so they don't have time to send important emails. When I'm at work, I am a different person, no doubt about it. I talk to people because doing so will get me ahead, I ruthlessly plan tasks so when I execute them I'm confident in doing so. I prepare thoroughly for meetings so I don't come across as flaky. These are traits a boss wants to see an employee, they're not qualities that people necessarily want in their friends. Some people might say it's deceitful to not be yourself at work - but I think that the personal 'you' and the professional 'you' can happily co-exist. Why? Because there are still core elements of 'me' that exist across both persona - the things that really make me, me. When I left my old job, my leaving card said things like 'we will miss your dry wit', 'I won't have anyone to curtly dismiss my taste in music and men' and 'who will I chat to about Jack Bauer now?'. The personal clearly left it's mark, even though at work, I have been, and will continue to be, professional.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


I have a problem. I fact I KNOW... that I'm addicted to pork products. The reasons for this are twofold. One, I grew up in a predominantly vegetarian household and now comes my gastronomical rebellion. Two, as a non beef-eater, all of my red meat intake must naturally come from pork. And the thing is with pork, is that it comes in many guises and can be consumed at all times of day in these various guises. Which is why, when I think about my diet for the last couple of months, there is a hell of a lot of pork involved. Which is probably why I've failed to lose any weight despite my good intentions of walking home from work and eating leaves for lunch. Take breakfast - a hearty English breakfast contains bacon and sausage - PORK. Then lunch - ham and cheese sandwich, BLT, gammon and chips - PORK. And for dinner - spaghetti carbonara, sausage and mash, roast PORK. It's no wonder that I'm turning into a little pork pie (mmmm, pie). And then there are the really good things in food life - pepperoni pizza, beautiful cuts of meat on a charcuterie board, delicious chorizo tapas. I mean seriously, there's no escaping the porky goodness of today's culinary world. And it is this world that I blame for my addiction. Everywhere I look, pork products are there, ready for consumption - morning, noon and night. It's a good job swine flu can't be caught through eating pigs - I'd be in big trouble. And there's no substitute for pork - no one wants lamb sausages in their fry up or cuts of chicken in their antipasti. No. Pork is king and I am its humble queen.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Kings of Convenience: Barbican Hall, London

I have just returned from an enchanting evening at the Barbican where I spent almost two hours listening to the effortless harmonies and sublime guitar riffs of Erland Oye and Eirik Boe a.k.a Kings of Convenience. I'd been lucky enough to catch them at the Royal Festival Hall five years ago when they released Riot on an Empty Street and knew that I was in for an understated but sincerely enjoyable musical treat. They started at the very mellow end of their repertoire, introducing us to some of the material from their forthcoming album Declaration of Dependence. The two of them stood neatly on stage in perfect harmony, seamlessly interweaving sweet threads of guitar. The fourth song was the one that struck a chord (yes, pun intended) with me - the melancholy, spellbinding and tearjerking I Don't Know What I Can Save You From. And I did jerk a tear because this particular song took me back to days lounging around in the smoky, sunstreamed living room of the house in which I lived during my 'coming of age' second year at university. It was the year I realised I didn't have a clue how I was supposed to proceed in life and that success is something that you have to attain and is never, ever, inevitable.

The second half of the set was suavely upbeat, to the point where everyone was standing up, swinging their hips and singing along. The duo were joined by guest musicians - an Italian double bassist who looked remarkably like a compressed version of Liverpool manager Benitez, and a very talented violinist who went by the name Tobias. The ambiance metamorphosed: away from the serene duetting of guitars to a geeky but chic 'hey we're your friends come and party in our living room' vibe. Across the two hours, the musical build-up was perfect, with everyone getting more and more involved - cheering, dancing, clapping. Not what you would have expected from a pair that have often been described as a modern day Simon and Garfunkel. And they had great banter - mellow, precise and perfectly pitched, just like their music. Basically, as Scandavian folk music goes, these guys are at the top of their game and (on a personal note), I'd happily marry them both.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Guitar Hero: Sheer Awesomeness

For a girl, I am fairly adept at video games. At the age of 9 I had mastered Tetris on the Gameboy and Sonic the Hedgehog on my beloved Megadrive (RIP Sega consoles). More recently I find myself constantly beating boys at Mario Kart, especially if I'm Yoshi in the Nostalgia Kart. This makes me about 6/10 on the scale of awesomeness. But now, I have discovered that I've reached a hearty 8 on the aforementioned scale through my immense capabilities on...Guitar Hero.

The brilliance of Guitar Hero lies in the fact that a) you need to have a good sense of rhythm and musicality and b) you need to be super dexterous . This latter point makes it an especially good game for slender-fingered girls who admire attention to detail and have super sharp concentration levels. Boys who play the game generally lack these skills and tend to hammer away at the strangely buttoned guitar fretboard, missing notes fairly often and are thus not able to rack up scores that would make Metallica proud or five star performances. Basically, my point here is that girls should start playing this game (despite the hideously degrading advert featuring Hugh Heffner and a bunch of guitar wielding models in their underwear). Everything that usually makes us 'losers', i.e. being overly diligent, being able to unwittingly multi-task, being sticklers for accuracy is what will make us triumphant over our male counterparts with this particular game. More importantly, it rocks hard. Playing riffs to classic tunes is an excellent way to pass the time. The new game - Guitar Hero 5, even has some modern schmindie in the mix. I have been playing it so much recently that my eyes are constantly frazzled and my hand is a misshapen claw. But it's worth it - and I hope the rest of you ladies give it a go.