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.

Thursday, 17 September 2009


It was only a matter of time before I started unpicking Gordon 'Fucking hell' Ramsey's empire. A few months ago I had a rather lacklustre experience at The Narrow - his gastropub in Limehouse. After reading an article in one of the London freesheets about how his gourmet fishcakes are in fact made in a Clapham warehouse, I was weary of the food. I needn't have been. The food was fine, it was the service that was below par. Sketchy waiters who didn't know the winelist and took a lifetime to bring a plate of runner beans was a bit lame. But hey, Ramsey himself probably has little to do with the place. The Boxwood on the other hand, is a different beast. It's a slice of Gordon's soul - big flavours, bold presentation, poncy but hearty food and an air of elegance and elitism in the restaurant itself. And from experience, it was all those things.

My starter of garlic and herb encrusted scallops came in almost fake looking shells (the kind of thing you would see in hotel lobby toilet). They tasted good - extremely succulent with a pleasant crunch. Some sort of puree might have added a bit of oomph, but I was more than satisfied. My companion (the boy), on the other hand said of his starter "It could not have been better". What was it? A taglioni of brown and white crab with chilli and parsley. Being a non-fan of crab, I didn't sample the dish, but it looked impressive and from the buttery grin of my companion, it delivered. For mains, I ordered an extremely rich dish of poached AND roasted chicken with parmesan risotto and a thyme jus. Every mouthful packed a punch. As I was getting to the end of the dish I felt like I'd run a culinary marathon. I had to sit for a good 45 minutes and let it go down before I could even fathom getting up again. Mmmm. The beau ordered a plate of classic unethical Ramsey - veal and fois gras burger. To me, it looked just like a dish from GBK. But again as a non-cow fan, I wasn't the best judge. I did try a chip, and that was pretty awesome, so I'm guessing the rest of it was too.

So, the service. It was far from the shambolic affair of The Narrow, but I was still a bit miffed at the mediocre English language skills of the French waitress and the fact that I had to make eye contact with another waiter to get my wine glass filled. I'm guessing that because it was a Monday lunchtime, the vibe was that of wannabe creative business lunch. A Saturday night might have seen more a feisty, Ramsey spirit. But I went for the food, and got what I wanted.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Tonight Matthew, we're all going to be Michael Jackson

It was my birthday of late. Grappling with the idea of a theme for a party, there was really only one that was appropriate this year - Michael. Jackson. On hearing of his death, I was gutted. The man was a genius. Crazy, but a genius. But there's a very fine line between the two anyway. Since he died there has been a constant stream of television programming that (often badly) hash together his life, trying to include all the elements: the family, the Jackson Five, the rise to solo fame, the album sales, the marriage to Lisa Marie, the kids. The only things I ever cared about were the tunes and the showmanship. No one could, or will ever be able to dance like that man. No one has transformed themselves through the eras of funky disco, 80s powerchords/guitar solos, geeky early 90s pop and (although it's the worst of his stuff), R n B.

So in honour of the man (and my birthday) a few close friends and I celebrated the spectrum of his musical existence, with costumes, alcohol and cheap imitation moonwalking. The result was brilliant, side-splitting and often ironic. We had 'Don't stop til you get enough' Michael with bow tie and mega-fro. We then had late 80s Jacko complete with fedora hat, sparkly glove and aviators. Representing the 90s we had 'Earth Song' MJ, whiter than white with an even whiter vest/shirt combo. It was a quality state of affairs - so many representations of The King of Pop (and yes, he fucking WAS!) in one room that we totally blew the lame party in the flat above clean out of the water. Michael, I hope we did you proud.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Jamie's Italian, Canary Wharf

Canary Wharf. Metallic, corporate, souless. A haven for fat cats and misguided tourists but close enough to my house for me to consider it OK to go there - for food (and shopping) only. So on Sunday I trotted off to 'The Wharf' with the beau and some friends to sample the delights of Jamie's Italian. On the website, Jamie describes his restaurant as delivering the flavours of rustic Italy. Simple, wholesome, tasty food. On the whole, this is what we got - and very reasonably priced. We started with antipasti for four - which came on massive wooden plank supported by two very retro looking cans of tomatoes. It was Meat. It was Cheese. It was great and we devoured it. Between me and my companions we then ordered a carbonara, sausage pappadelle, spag bol, seafood linguine, crab and steak. Mine was the pappadelle and I was impressed. Proper al dente pasta with a ragu that was nicely textured without being too watery or overly gristly. I'd certainly believe they serve similar in rural Italian villages. Another nice touch to counteract the hidiously decadent ambiance surrounding the Wharf was that the most expensive bottle of wine on the menu (Prosecco and Champers aside) was a mere £22. Hard to believe I know. It was a delicious Valpollicella - full bodied but with a clean aftertaste. Perfect for the wide variety of foods we ordered.

While the food was chicly rustic, the atmosphere was less so. They have a no booking policy which means having to wait on a bland, non-smoking, open-air terrace which faces Barclays HQ with a neon green pager/table alerter. The front of house woman was stern and told people that the waiting time was an hour just to get rid of them. We in fact only had to wait 25 minutes, and they did give us some complimentary bread and olives which softened the blow. Inside, it was buzzy and youthful, but one thing that did shock me was the music. Having worked for a company that makes bespoke soundtracks for prestigious restaurants I was baffled by the choice of, essentially, cheesy 80s arseness. It wasn't even the good stuff like Phil Collins or Chaka Khan - it was Bananrama. Yeesh. Violins and singing fat men in the endearing trattoria fashion would have done nicely. Or just some non-gay jazz. Or anything really, except the Rama. Anyway, I wasn't there to judge the music, I was there to eat good food. And I did.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Money Money Money, not really funny

I'm awake at 9.30am on a Sunday. This is an extremely rare occurrence and only happens when a) There's the prospect of a free breakfast b) I'm so hungover I need to get Alka Seltzer out of the medicine cabinet. Neither of these are the reason for today's early arising. Instead, my mind is riddled with financial woes. Now, despite it being the credit crunch/recession/era of the staycation where everyone is growing their own fruit (Gemma!) and cutting back to save money, I still feel my financial position is a pretty bad one. For several reasons:

1. I earn considerably less than 90% of the people I know despite being well educated and fairly skilled in my profession.

2. I still have to borrow money from my parents once in a blue moon to stay afloat.

3. I have paid off a negligable amount of my 10k student loan having graduated 6 years ago.

4. I spend pretty much what I earn every month, which means I can't save anything. Ever.

5. I have no assets except my CD collection.

Now you're probably reading this thinking either 'Don't worry about it, you're in your 20s, just go with the flow and everything will be OK', or 'Don't be such a selfish bint, there are starving people in the world and you're worried about YOUR finances - at least you have clean water and a roof over your head'. My response to both these thoughts is: a person's financial woes are relative to their peer group and social circle. Yes, I am lucky not to be living in the third world, but not everyone in the third world is unhappy - because they have no outside frame of reference; everyone they know is just like them financially or otherwise. When I was at university, I didn't have any money - but that was OK because none of my friends did either. When we were all young graduates, I was earning pittance, but again it was OK because everyone else was too. The difference is now is that I still earn pittance relative to what everyone else is earning. A couple of weeks ago I told my brother what I earned and he laughed - unsure that I was telling the truth. He then (both helpfully and unhelpfully) said 'When I was your age I owned my own flat in Highgate and had a BMW'. Thanks dude. The thing is, if I did want to try and save money, I would have to cut back to the point where I would FEEL a lot worse of on a day-to-day basis. There's a great episode of Friends where Joey, Rachel and Phoebe are at odds with Ross, Chandler and Monica over their respective earnings. Monica wants to go to a fancy restaurant to celebrate a promotion and Rachel ends up ordering tap water and a side salad. I don't want to be that person. If I go to a restaurant I want to be able to order (within reasonable means), the thing that I actually want to eat, otherwise what's the point of going? But if I want to save I won't be able to do this, or even go to restaurants in the first place which would be disastrous because eating out is one of the greatest personal pleasures in my life.

I could, on the other hand, become richer by getting a job that paid more. The problem is, I have quite a nice job, and due to the basic economic principle of supply and demand, lots of people would like my job and as a result I have to put up with low wages. I was never motivated by money in my career - earning shed loads of money is not what I'm about and my stress is not because I don't earn a lot of money but rather I earn considerably less than my peers. I've always stuck to my principles of never becoming a corporate whore. I could be one - lots of PPE graduates are, and earn loads and have nice houses and cars. But I bet when they tell people what they do, no one cares. Whereas when I tell people what I do, people are genuinely interested. But are my financial worries the price that needs to be paid to have a genuinely interesting job?

My other half always tells me to stop stressing about money. But he earns twice what I do. And apparently even he finds it difficult to save. So maybe I am actually doing OK - that thought might help me sleep better on a Sunday morning.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Axis of Awesome

I love Edinburgh during festival time – the crazy street performers, the late night/early morning drinking, the rain. There’s so much good stuff going on it’s hard to know where to dedicate your time. Insider recommendations always help which is how I found myself watching The Axis of Awesome. Crass journalists would probably describe them as ‘Flight of the Conchords meets Tenacious D’. I would describe them as a paradoxical rock trio with a lead singer that looks (and knows that he looks) like Jack Black. So there’s Jack (real name Jordan), a nerdy looking keyboardist who is fluent in German and a guy dressed as a cow, with a guitar. The stage was immediately set for laughs and power chords. They opened with the riff from Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire. But instead of sex being on fire, the milk (to make a cup of tea), had expired (note the excellent use of rhyme). The first highlight of the show was the ‘songs you never really know the lyrics to’ medley which included the incomprehensible Informer by Snow, Come on Eileen and, to much hilarity – a piss take of Bob Dylan and his inability to enunciate his lyrics. The grand finale was the second highlight, an astute and witty compilation of pop songs that follow the same I, V, VI, IV chord progression – type in Axis of Awesome Four Chords into YouTube and you’ll see what I mean. Whoever knew that pretty much every number one of the past decade has been based on four chords. Well actually, I did (being a Grade 8 pianist and all) but it was still hugely entertaining seeing it executed with such gusto. Songs in the mix included James Blunt/You’re beautiful, Beyonce/If I were a boy, Elton John/Can you feel the love tonight, The Calling/Wherever you will go. Can you hear it in your head? If not, check them out.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Beauty of The National

I wish this entry was actually a review of the gig that took place last night at London's Southbank Centre. Alas it is not. Because I didn't manage to get a ticket. Because it sold out in like 2 minutes and spares were going on ebay for 100 quid a pop. BOO!

But seriously, The National, in particular their Alligator album, are awesome. They were a band I discovered when looking for some trendy/non-commercial/emotional-but-manly new music for my other half. He only listens to stuff that is written by white men with guitars. He likes Dylan, The Boss and Morrissey - nuff said. And I too am a fan of modern American rock that doesn't suck but quite a lot of it does suck - so it really has to be something special to make me want to buy it. The best thing about the band is lead singer Matt Berninger. His voice is amazing. So amazing it would turn even the most bleach-blonde, WKD-drinking Essex girl into a hardened whisky-straight up and give me a cigarette NOW type of lady. The melancholy, the subtle anxiety - all interlaced with simply guitar riffs. It's mesmerising and depressing, but that's what makes it awesome. It's the type of music that would make you want to feel more depressed even if you're only feeling mildly depressed, just so you can tell people know depression better than they do because actually, that would make you feel better about yourself. Each of their songs has a nuance that make them special - from moody strings to glitteringly pretty trumpet fanfares - not what you'd expect from this 'sort' of band. But it works and they understand music beyond just thrashing guitars with drums. Next time they play in London, I'm going. No matter how much it costs.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Dogs I

I was watching an episode of House the other day (that American doctor drama that has Bertie Wooster in it). It involved a 30-something man with motor neurone disease who had the constant assistance and brilliant companionship of a dog. The dog in question was a type of border collie who had the ability to press buttons at road crossings and help his owner put clothes on. Cats would never be able to do this. This is why dogs are amazing - they can do stuff to ACTUALLY help people. Anyway, by the end of the episode I was in floods of tears. Why? Well, the man dies - but this is not what caused the initial waterworks. I cried because the love the man showed towards his dog on his deathbed and the human-like sympathy which overcame the dog was so incredibly emotional I couldn't hold back. I hate crying at television - it's for morons. But seeing the bond between man and his best friend is something to behold. Dogs will never have a go at you, or play mind games, or give you the silent treatment - they will simply be there for you. I bloody love dogs.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Coast Dining Camden, London

The first of many reviews. I'm going to try and not be wanky like Giles Coren or AA Gill.

So, my better half took me on a date on Saturday night to Coast Dining, a restaurant that bills itself as being able to bring the taste of Cornwall to Camden. I've only ever eaten Cornish pasties and Cornish cream so I did wonder what was in store. Firstly, the manager was ever so good-humoured when I accidentally set my menu on fire on the tea light placed lovingly on the table. Apparently it has happened more than once which to me suggests they should invest in slightly less naked flames. Closed lanterns maybe.

Pyromania aside - the evening was delightful. The place felt clean, bright and breezy - everything you'd want from an apparent indoor seaside experience. I started with an incredibly fresh 'glass' of tiger prawns with aioli. Succulent as could be. I then moved on to an absolutely divine lobster tagliatelle for the bargain price of 15 quid. Hearty chunks of lobster in a fragrant wine and cream sauce - so delicious the man at the next table started salivating and ordered the same. Best of all - the alcoholic accompaniment: a reasonably priced sancerre which would compliment the most basic of cheese sandwiches let alone what we ordered. All in all, a lovely experience.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Where am I going?

So, I live and work in London. I have a "nice' job but I don't think it was my calling in life. The problem is I'm not sure what my calling in life is - no one's called to tell me. So I figured that by electronically jotting my thoughts I might, over time gain a clearer picture of which direction to head in. Be prepared for some seriously mediocre ideas along with the odd review of gastric delights, super sounds and the all important item for a person of little direction - the box set.