Monday, 26 October 2009

Surprising Myself

Monday, 26 October 2009
Now, before I crow too loudly I need to remember that it’s only Monday. I was so dreading this week; it’s Half Term, you see.

For my Canadian pals, half term is sort of like March Break... British kids only get 6 weeks off in the summer, and instead they have a week off every six weeks. To describe my feelings about having both of my kids home all week on my own? At best, apprehensive. At worst, hyperventilation-inducing.

But today I had one of those days full of ‘step back and enjoy the moment’ moments, despite a bit of near-death-related drama. Okay, maybe not ACTUAL DEATH, like the dead kind of death... I’ll rephrase: near-maiming-related drama. Here are the headlines:

Noteworthy; Ben was really well behaved and very cute on the bus and I was even having a good hair day and it was all going swimmingly... until, that is, the driver almost killed us. He must have been daydreaming that the double decker he was driving was really a Mini Cooper and thought he’d chance his luck zipping through a roundabout in front of an oncoming vehicle when he didn’t have the right of way. When he snapped out of his reverie at the last possible millisecond to slam on the brakes, the violent continuing inertia of the bus threw me out of my seat and down the gangway while Ben smashed his cheek off a pole. All within a time span of about three and a half seconds. Total nightmare. Luckily, Jude had been unsettled so I had him on my knee; I shudder to think where he would have wound up if he’d been asleep in his pram. Anyway – all’s well that ends well, dear readers. We’re all okay – Ben screamed and burst into tears at first, but I think it was the shock of it more than anything. He is okay bar the purple bruise he’s now (somewhat proudly!) sporting on his left cheekbone. When I got off the bus, I managed to have a proper look at him and calm him down within a minute or two. What a brave little soldier! A few minutes later, crossing the road he rubbed his cheek and said, “Ow, Mammy. That KNACKED.”

We were walking down Northumberland Street when we came upon a busker that was singing a pretty decent rendition of Oasis’ “Half a World Away”.  Ben stopped and had a little dance. He asked me for some money; I gave him some loose change and he went and put it in the guy’s guitar case. Oh, my heart!

Went into Fenwick’s to check out the toy department. Ben buzzed from shelf to shelf bumblebee/flower style, pointing out the toys which Santa’s elves might start building him, if he’s a good boy. Santa made notes. ;-) Then we went to the Northside Diner for a milkshake. It’s this 50’s style retroey dinery type place in Fenwick’s on the Toys floor... didn’t know it was there, it was fab! While we were waiting for our shakes Ben went over to this big old Wurlitzer juke box they had in the corner. He’s pressing loads of buttons, and the next thing I know? The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” comes on.

Ben and Jude, waiting on a shake.

I was frightened of today, and it turned out to be one of those spontaneous great days that no amount of careful planning could initiate. Priceless. Happy half term, everyone.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Fortissimo Fridays: Billy Bragg

Friday, 23 October 2009
You can't take me to the symphony.  I mean, you can... but you better bring a purse full of Kleenex.  The mere sound of the orchestra tuning up makes me sob my big fat heart out. 

And I can't drive the car if this song comes on my iPod shuffle, for the same reason.  Happy Friday, friends.

Oh -- and I'm sorry about the annoying 'pop ups' on this video; I couldn't find any other version of it. Try and listen to the words and not read the head-smashingly frustrating bits of irrelevant trivia.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Concert Review: Brendan Benson/Cory Chisel

Sunday, 18 October 2009
So, on Friday 16th October a few of the lads from work and I went to The Sage, Gateshead to see Brendan Benson.

Permission for a slight digression? There aren’t that many of my favourite bands left that I haven’t seen perform live. If you read my last post it won’t come as much of a surprise to you to hear that my aforementioned appetite for music has a suitably associated ‘live shows’ offshoot which, over the years, has taken me from festival to coffee house and everything in between. Suffice it to say there are only a small handful of bands that still remain on my wish list and Brendan Benson being one of those, I can’t tell you how delighted I was to finally be able to cross him off!

Before I tell you about the gig, I mustmustmust tell you about the venue. Has anyone ever been to a show at The Sage? Oooh, though!!

The Sage, Gateshead, UK

It’s that lovely curved glass/stainless steel building you see pictured above; it’s a purpose-built “acoustically perfect” music venue, and features all kinds of performances from symphonies to rock concerts to percussion workshops for toddlers and all sorts of lovely stuff. Despite it being about 15 minutes from my house, I’d never been for a gig there... having only ever went actually inside once when it was first built (with Jason and Ben as a toddler, when Ben was in a difficult phase of liking the sound of his shouts in any echoey building; needless to say we didn’t stay long!) but the Brendan Benson gig was in Hall 2, about a 400-seat capacity ten-sided room with seating on three different levels. It was like going to a gig inside a spaceship! Almost beyond description, I felt like I was inside a gigantic coffee machine -- click here to do a 360 degree virtual tour and see what I mean.

Anyway – back to the show. BB was supported by someone I had never heard of before – a guy out of Wisconsin, USA by the name of Cory Chisel. He looked like Dave Navarro’s skinnier younger brother but with a voice reminiscent of the best bits of Tom Waits and one of Newcastle's favourite sons Eric Burdon (of “The House of the Rising Sun” fame). Poured into a pair of grubby skinny jeans and a hat on top, he had us all captivated with an acoustic set; just him and a guitar, with backing vocals/keyboards provided by the beautiful lady you see in the video to follow. Hope his record will be available over here soon, but for now check him out on YouTube – totally loved him -- let me know what you think:

BB and his band came on at 9 o’clock and it was a disastrous start. The excellent Mr. Benson needs to sack his roadie, because when Brendan ripped into the first chords of his opening track it was apparent straight away that his guitar was totally wonky out of tune! Ooh, he looked so pissed off -- understandably – what a way to start a show! My heart just went out to him, he looked so disappointed.  He stopped the other guys with a raise of his arm and needed a few minutes to tune up. I felt so awful for him; how embarrassing! I was right at the front too, see?

Crappy phone shot... but elbows-on-stage close up!

But ever the professionals, they started again and delivered a really solid set... good amount of between-song banter and he even played requests for tunes shouted out by the members of the audience – EVEN ME! My favourite track – “Crosseyed” made up part of the encore:

Brendan Benson has all my favourite things in a musician: jangly guitars; narrative lyrics; whistleable melody... with the odd chord progression that pays cheeky homage to The Beatles thrown in now and again for good measure. Most of you will only know him as a member of The Raconteurs but his solo stuff is leaps and bounds different from his work with them, I’ve always thought. Much more melodic and layered, the depth of what is going on in all his compositions is really beautiful; he’s not afraid to bear all... for me that’s what makes him and his music so endearing.

It was a great show in a fab venue and he could have played for another couple of hours and I would have happily stood and listened. I even got a set list at the end. Yay!

Here’s another favourite track called “Metarie”. Enjoy! Go out and buy all his records!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Fortissimo Fridays - Portable Music

Friday, 16 October 2009
The Apple iPod combined with a bright, crisp autumn morning in Newcastle is the best tonic for the soul a girl could ask for, bar none.

Walking back from Wallsend, this morning.

Isn't it fantastic how the accessibility and portability of music has grown over the years? My lifetime obsession with all things sonic began just as I was finishing elementary school to go to high school. I became a music junkie and was never to be seen anywhere without headphones and a portable cassette player – walking to the bus stop, on the bus, between classes – hell, even IN class if we had a particularly inattentive teacher... I had this great method of putting my headphone wire up the front of my t-shirt and then out through the left arm hole, so that if I were leaning my head on my left hand, one ear of the headphones could be sneakily concealed in the palm.

Crafty, eh?

Oh yeah, I was a properly kitted out portable music lover – the bottom of my schoolbag a veritable treasure trove of double A’s and always a ‘BIC’ pen on hand to rewind tapes without wasting valuable battery juice.

A significant bulk of those halcyon days was spent assembling tapes to listen to on my teenage travels. My insatiable appetite for new music would lead me to recording songs off the radio – be still my nostalgic heart – leaping across the bed from the other side of my bedroom to press record as I heard the opening riffs of a favourite track, and not even minding recording a bit of DJ banter at the start and end of the track. Remember when you could fit a whole album on one side of a C90? And the devastation you would feel when your Walkman ATE YOUR BEST MIX TAPE?!** Ah, those were the days.

I happily avoided talking to just about everyone at University while I ambled around campus with my headphones. I learned to especially love those tracks whose beats per minute mirrored the tempo of my own footsteps.

I learned to drive so I could put my own music in the car stereo. True story. It was LOUDER than my Walkman. Even now, at 33 years old my first questions about buying cars aren't about mileage, fuel efficiency or service history, rather: “But what’s the stereo like?”

And so now with my lovely iPod I can walk virtually anywhere my feet will carry me with almost my entire music collection magically housed on a piece of metal and plastic that is not much bigger than my credit card. That sentence would have been tantamount to telling my 13 year-old Walkman-wearing self that in the future she would eventually live in an airlock on the moon... cue exploding head!

The movie of my life has got a GREAT soundtrack. Happy Fortissimo Friday, everyone! Here is one that matches the beat of my footsteps if I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere.

Stockholm - New Fast Automatic Daffodils

**I’m such a dork I could even mend ‘eaten’ tapes by unscrewing the plastic cover of the tape, cutting out the worst of the chewed area with manicure scissors then realigning everything and using sticky-tape to splice the tape back together again. I was a tape SURGEON, man.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Fortissimo Fridays (oops it's Monday) 2: Imogen Heap

Monday, 12 October 2009
Just a quickie while I break from the old Florence Nightingale routine... Jason had The Snip on Thursday so the poor lamb is still off work with some achy ouchies.

In the meantime, have a listen to this... I've already recommended it to a few people already so sorry if this incredibly lovely song is old news, but I just can't get enough of it; it has been circulating around in my grey matter for a number of weeks and I'm still not tired of it.  Enjoy!

Imogen Heap "Little Bird"

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Reminiscing: Barcelona 2008

Wednesday, 7 October 2009
One of my favourite days EVER was when Jase and I went to Barcelona last year.  We never get to go anywhere without our kids (date night!) and this was one of those rare occasions; my parents looked after Ben back at our hotel.  After a really long day exploring the city, we got on the wrong train to go back to the coastal town where we were staying.  I was just looking at some pictures of our trip on Facebook (you can see the full album here and here) and laughing at what I wrote beneath them; I thought I would share here.  Ole! 

The face you make when you're on the wrong train.  In Spain.

Me: Do you think we're on the wrong train?

Himself: I dunno. Wasn't the sea on one side of the train the whole way here?

Me: Yes... is that the sea out there?

Himself: I dunno. Black dark, can't tell.

Me: Why don't you go ask someone?

Himself: Why don't YOU go ask someone?

Me: Because I ALWAYS am the one who goes and asks someone; it's your turn to look like a tit.

Himself: But you're better at Spanish than me.

Me: Bollocks. I only know 'si', 'gracias', 'sangria', and 'vino tinto por favor'. None of those words are going to help us now.

Himself: That's 6 more words than I know...

Me: Si.

Himself: Well, why don't we stay on a few more stops to see if we can see the sea out of the window?

Me: Si.

(a few minutes passes)

Himself: There's definitely no sea out any of these windows.

Me: So it would seem. What shall we do?

Himself: I will go and try to read that sign over there.

(nonchalant getting-out-of-seat manouevre under the guise of stretching legs commences, Himself goes to check out sign on wall of train. Completely in Spanish, by the way. After a moment, he comes back.

Himself: That sign is completely in Spanish, by the way. I couldn't make head nor tail of it.
(scratches beard in 'pondering' (aka panic stricken) way.)

Me: Ooh! Another sign, lets read that.

(both lean obnoxiously over man who sits beneath sign, pointing, ummmm-ing and errrr-ing, apologising for leaning over man)

Me  and Himself, unison: We're definitely not on the right train.

Man Beneath Sign, irritated: You need help?

Us, together: Yes. Please.

Man Beneath Sign: Where you want go?

Us, together, pointing to station on sign: There. Please.

Man Beneath Sign, laughing: You want by the sea. No, no, no. You up in mountains. Get off train, next stop. Si.

Us, together: Bollocks.

Long story longer -- cut to us getting off train in middle of Spanish mountains in the dark, in the middle of nowhere. Cut to us trying to figure out whether there was another train back to Barcelona, what time it was, and whether it would be cheaper just to get a taxi... complete with trying to mime to Spanish bartender select phrases e.g. 'How many Euros for taxi?' and 'Why doesn't this pay phone take my money?'

Morals of story:
1. Don't just jump on random trains in Spanish city centres. Good idea to always check destination first.
2. Buy a Spanish phrase book for next visit.

Not Just Yet

Do you ever feel like you’ve always been supposed to do something? Like there was some pre-ordained task or purpose that you know your life’s path will lead you towards that just sort of looms in your future, sometime, but you’re not there yet? ‘Bride’ and ‘groom’ know that one day they will metamorphose into ‘mother’ and ‘father’ but just not yet... that kind of thing?

I’ve always been a writer. My formative years are well documented by the diaries I used to keep. Forage around in our loft long enough, you’ll find boxes of them. Never intended for any audience, in the majority they existed purely for the purpose of a medium for my ‘will-he-won’t-he-call-me’ debates peppered with the occasional poignant observation about the state of the world/my life, etc. But the act of writing is something I have always done; this blog being testament to that fact when I swapped a biro and notebook for monitor and keyboard.

I’ve always wanted to write a novel. A voracious reader as a child and through to the present day, I always read anything and everything I could lay my hands on; happily diving headfirst into a world of someone else’s creation for three or for hundred pages. Always following up a recommendation from a friend: “Nick, you HAVE to read this...” But always, I have to admit, with a small pocketful of envy along for the ride reserved for those authors that were doing what I really always wanted to be doing. I like when authors put their photos in the back of their books. Why? So I can try to discern whether I might one day look like I belong amongst them.

For years I’ve (half) joked: “When I’m on maternity leave, I will write my bestseller so I don’t have to go back to work.” A lofty ambition, to be sure. But I am happy to report that I am actually doing it. Finally! I’ve always had a basic premise for a story... that is to say, for many years I have known a bit about the personalities of the people that would make up my novel, but it is only in the last few weeks that these personalities have started to come a little more alive in my mind. That the doors of the houses in which they live have opened themselves to me, and that the conflicts and twists and plots and subplots have started to materialise as an actual narrative. I never had a rock solid world for these people to live in – until now.

I’m writing this now because I’m celebrating the fact that is finally the time to start. But I’m also suitably petrified about the amount of work it is going to be. It’s not just a case of ‘once upon a time...and they lived happily ever after.’ I’m in a whirl of contrasting emotions – excited; daunted. Calm; anxious. Confident; small. AGH! But I may as well give it a try.

Watch this space.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Fortissimo Fridays - 1. Biffy Clyro

Friday, 2 October 2009
Okay, so I'm totally and shamelessly stealing this idea from a blogger who I totally adore -- GirlsGoneChild -- who shares with her readers a favourite song every Tuesday.  I'm sure she won't mind AND ANYWAY music is a gift to be shared and I hope she will be happy that she has inspired me to do the same.

Those of you who know me will remember that one of my faaaaaaaavourite pastimes used to be making mix tapes and CD's.  Now that we're in the age of the iPod, it's something I don't do much anymore.  I know, shocking, eh?  Yeah, yeah, I had a 'Save the LP' button on my schoolbag and will wax melancholic and forever mourn for the noise of a stylus hitting vinyl... but to mine own iPod be true; I am converted.  So in tribute to those good old days, here is Track 1 of a mix tape I'm making -- just for you.

I'm missing a wedding on Saturday that I dearly would have loved to have gone to; alas, new babies and the supplies they require aren't really conducive to having the kind of bank balance which allows for international air travel. 

So in my absence, here's a lovely love song which I would like to dedicate to my dear, dear friend Sean and his gorgeous Jenn.  Shut the bedroom door, you two... and have a little dance on your Wedding Day Eve.  (NB:  don't you just totally love that you can hear their Scottish accents while they sing?)

Biffy Clyro - Mountains (acoustic version)
"...nothing lasts forever except you and me / you are my mountain you are my sea
love will last forever between you and me / you are my mountain, you are my sea..."