Thursday, March 27, 2008

How the West was fun

Way back, in the ashes of the Christmas meetup (and for once that's a metaphor), we decided that a trip to see Amie in Swindon would be a good idea. Initially this didn't seem very exciting - there's only been one person in the history of the world to get enthusiastic about going to Swindon and he was soon sectioned. When it was mentioned that there was a museum there dedicated to the Great Western Railway things sounded more fun. After much umming and aahhing about a date The Subways went and announced a tour which included a date in Bristol. It seemed like a good idea at the time to make the two trips on the same day.

The night before I had very little sleep owing to spending most of it on the toilet with severe digestive problems. I decided to take the journey one step at a time, knowing that losing out on £25 worth of gig/train tickets was a more sensible option than collapsing in Bristol out of sheer stubbornness. After a quick detour to McDonalds for breakfast for Katy we got to Canterbury East station and I made sure I'd make it as far as London by buying the return ticket for that journey leg - I sure as hell wasn't going to waste tickets I'd just bought. I felt a bit better after a cup of tea and a hash brown, and then felt a lot better when we pulled into Victoria passing a railtour.

When we made it to Paddington we did wonder why one of our number hadn't texted to ask us which train we were getting and assumed he was already in Swindon, or on his way. Myself and Katy passed the time by reading the Torygraph and discussing the US elections (no, seriously) and arrived in Swindon to find Amie gazing into space - so of course I did the right thing by sneaking up on her and making her jump. Two minutes later we were joined by Jack and Roliver, who had also heard nothing from Matt. Given that we were excited and it was well signposted, we headed off to the museum. Somewhat disappointingly it was more dedicated to the engine works that was formerly there as opposed to just having engines there, but we all had fun playing with the kids games (like at the London Transport Museum really) and the girls...well, christ knows what they were doing here, but they were having fun anyway. We played in the signal box mockup pulling the levers, drew pictures of Amie, made Jack feel posh, and generally had a good time. At one point we were in a lift made by a company called Schindler (no, seriously).

After buying Thomas the Tank Engine Top Trumps we left the museum and caught up with Matt outside, then wandered round the shopping centre for a bit. As this was thoroughly boring and I was feeling distinctly peaky at this point we decided to decamp to the pub. We spent the next hour or so drinking, playing on the quiz machine and trying to dismantle the thing that makes Tardis noises that Rolliver had brought with them. We couldn't, so we just left it there under seat cushions. Time was getting on and we had places to go, people to meet and bands to see, so we went back to the station. Matt decided that now was an opportune time to buy tickets for his trip to Cardiff the following day so queued up at the ticket office. Myself, Jack and Katy bought our tickets from the machine and told him that we were getting the train that left in 5 minutes as we wanted to spend some time at Olli's, rather than just rushing around. Ten minutes after leaving Swindon he finally made it to the platform.

Back at Olli's we dumped our stuff, had an absolutely wonderful cup of tea (well, many cups of tea shared out - I don't mean we only had one cup between the six of us) and Rolliver showed us the lovely cake that they'd made for me and Katy, as on March 26th 2007 (one year previously) we started dating. We went back to the station, collecting Matt, and got the train to Bristol. All day Roliver had been competing with me and Katy to see who could be the most coupley. This went overboard walking to the venue as I crossed the road before Katy, waited ten seconds for her to catch up and then, as we hugged each other, both exclaimed simultaneously "I missed you SO much!".

Bristol Thekla is a very unique venue, from my experience - it's a boat. While it was different, I don't like hazardous metal things to walk into. We sat upstairs for the Culprits, but decided to get down the front for second support Cage The Elephant who quite frankly bored me witless. The most entertaining part was watching the mike for the bass drum get further and further away due to the vibrations from the stage. The band came on ten minutes late, but didn't drop any tracks from the setlist. Opening with Kalifornia it was disappointing that Billy is no longer crowbarring the name of the town into the lyrics. It was nice to hear new songs such as Alright and Obsession which were completely new to me - and older new ones, such as Turnaround and Girls and Boys. The title track from the next album, All or Nothing, sounds immense, but the run through of the older stuff was the same as ever, which was a bit disappointing. Billy spotted us fairly early on and amused himself by swearing at us, ignoring our heckles for Clock. However, when I requested You Got Me I got a stern "no!" in reply which to be honest made the journey worthwhile!

After Rosie got us lost in Bristol we finally made it back to the station in time for the last train, sitting on it I was starting to feel the lack of sleep and knew I wasn't going to have a late night. At around half 12 we turned in and had a fairly good night's sleep, hindered only by having a quilt about the size of a large flannel. Thursday was more relaxing, and we watched Doctor Who and had more tea. My appetite had returned by then so I made the most of it. Around two we ambled back to the station and said our goodbyes. Rolliver went back for food, Jack and Matt stalked the band to Cardiff and me and Katy went home. Amie came with us as far as Swindon as she lives there.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Eagles

Way back in January I spent £140 on two tickets to see The Eagles at the O2 (don't call it the Millennium Dome, they don't like it) for Dad's birthday. On Easter Sunday we set off early, around 2pm, just in case of snow.

Well, the weather held off (apart from being bitterly cold) and we got up to London in plenty of time. On the Old Kent Road we decided to stop in for a KFC - being Tong men, we get hungry regularly. Taking advantage of the new Flavour station things (which were really nice) we sat down and realised that wearing white tops probably wasn't the best idea as they were extremely messy. I avoided spilling either the sauce or the gravy down me but was blind sided by the Pepsi and chucked a lot of that down my top instead.

After food we drove back towards the Greenwich Peninsula and parked up, being fisted for £20 to park the car (mind you, driving up was a hell of a lot warmer than riding). I think we'll get the train to Avril Lavigne in June. Walking up to the Dome I was taken at how many young people were also heading that way - it turns out there was other stuff there for the kids, and I probably would be one of the youngest in the gig. On the path between the car parks and the Dome there was a rather large (we're talking a good five storeys here) metal spike which served no apparent purpose whatsoever, apart from being a severe danger to health and safety - if someone were to fall out of a plane and land on it, they could do themselves a serious injury.

Once inside I was overawed by the architectural splendor and beauty...sorry, I mean I was overawed by how much advertising there was. I felt like I was bombarded with it. The arena entrance was bright and sparkly, and the staff members outside helpfully told me that as an O2 customer I could text to get access to the O2 Lounge. I promptly did, as I have trouble resisting instructions from pretty girls (which is why Katy loves me) and then we wandered round inside. It was like walking round your everyday shopping mall food court, same chain restaurants (although Nando's is the same price as Canterbury, so we'll be eating there before Av Lav). The only popular place was the pub, which had people standing four deep outside watching the football.

Back round the front I got a text saying I'd got access to the O2 lounge so I asked one of the staff members (a fella this time) what I had to do with it. He pointed me in the direction of a redhead and said some other stuff which I didn't hear, owing to the fact that my attention had shifted to the redhead. She gave me and Dad wristbands and we walked down a neon purple tunnel into the Lounge, which was a bar with padded seats and walls. Reasonably priced for a gig venue (£2 for half a litre of Pepsi) we relaxed and marvelled at the silver serving trays with neon blue rings inside. At half 6 when the doors opened we trotted out, towards a lift which took us to the first floor, where we changed and got another lift to the fourth floor (where our seats were - I'm not made of money). As we got to our block the steward asked if we'd like an upgrade.

Never ones to look a gift horse in the mouth we enquired as to what the catch was. "No catch" said the steward, "there are a few empty seats in the lower levels and the band don't like to see them when they're playing". Fair enough we thought, and traded in our tickets. On the way back to the lift we noticed that we were now on the floor. That's right, we'd gone from being up in nosebleed territory to down on the expensive bits, free of charge. Result! Looking over the balcony I saw the queues of people all waiting to get in, something that we'd bypassed. Getting to our new seats we found we were more or less in the centre of the floor seating and we spent the next hour before the band came on giggling to each other about our luck.

As to be expected from a band with a new album out, they opened with a few tracks from it. The fourth song they played was a surprise though. It's a sign of how much confidence a band has in their own material that they can play arguably their most famous song before 8pm in the evening. Hotel California (you knew that, right) got a predictably popular response, but I was surprised to see people who had paid £110 plus for their tickets leaving after that! For a bunch of guys in their sixties, they didn't half move about a lot and I had a cracking time. Well worth the £70 tickets.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mary le your bone PET

(Worst. Title. Ever.)

So, yesterday. Lunch on the train up to London, where I rediscovered just how good Be your own PET are by listening to the earlier stuff on my mp3 player. After the obligatory airblade usage at Victoria it was up to Marylebone, and I have to say I do love changing from the Victoria to Bakerloo lines at Oxford Circus - a nice cross platform change. At Marylebone I met Jack, who was hiding behind a new haircut outside WH Smiths, and we proceeded to explore the station.

Which really didn't take long. First stop was the end of the platform to look back at the building. It's not very big at all, although apparently 6 platforms is the average size. Next stop was the toilets to find, disturbingly, a distinct lack of those hand-dryers we all know and love. Aghast, we continued around the station to find the pub and drink. On the way (about five paces from the toilets and five from the pub - it's not a large station at all) I spotted an internet terminal which proves that 2001: A Space Odyssey may have been more accurate than we first thought.

The pub. The Victoria and Albert, tucked away in one corner (from the Underground station, turn hard right, then right again, and run towards the cheese shop) of the building. First impressions were good - two pool tables, lots of pictures of steam trains, Sky Sports News on a huge TV (with the correct aspect ratio as well) and a quiz machine. Nice, comfy leather seats and a bit on the concourse where you can sit and watch the world go by. So we got our drinks (£4.20 for a Bulmers!) and did just that. We spent nearly an hour supping our pints, scowling at businessmen, discussing the media and watching pigeon aerobatics. While drinking we got to talking about the stations served by London's smallest terminus, and I realised that I had some unfinished business in Buckinghamshire.

Just over four months ago, in a galaxy far far away, me and Jack undertook a form of extreme commuting. As you may remember I failed somewhat in visiting all 274 stations that were on the network at the time - I was one short, missing out Amersham. So we topped up our Oyster cards (£5.50 for a zone 1-9 single! You could get a pint of Bulmers for less than that!) and went on our way. At 3:02pm, four months, one day, nine hours and seventeen minutes after we left Chesham on Children in Need day back in a freezing cold November, I completed the full network. In a freezing cold March.

After a quick check of the TfL journey planner on my pda I realised I had to get the first train back to civilisation in order to get to Kingston in time to buy some records. I had to go all the way into Central London and back out - good thing I run round tube stations for fun! At Rickmansworth our previously quiet carriage was invaded as the local schools kicked out, but bizarrely nobody sat near me and Jack. No pictures from this leg for obvious reasons. I waved goodbye to Jack at Harrow on the Hill, and he went back to Moor Park to take pictures. After a switch at Finchley Road I continued to Waterloo and darted through to the mainline platforms (avoiding snipers) and jumped on a train to Kingston.

At Kingston I realised that just wearing a battered leather jacket and short t-shirt probably wasn't the best choice of clothing as I walked past a brass monkey cradling his testicles. Trotting sharpish down to Banquet Records I spent nearly £40 on the Be your own PET, Operator Please and Los Campesinos! albums, plus two LC! vinyls. Back outside to kill time/queue up and I bit the bullet and spent £4 on a zip up jumper to keep me warm. The band turned up late (and clearly jetlagged, poor mites) so we weren't let back in til 6:15. The division between band and fans was marked by a piece of parcel tape on the floor which said "please do not cross". The crowd, once we all packed in, was deathly quiet and blatantly listening into the band's discussions. They kicked off with Black Hole, which those who had heard from a leaked version tried not to sing along to. This was followed by We Will Vacation, which everyone joined in with, and then The Kelly Affair which saw Jonas break his guitar and led to a five minute break. The momentum didn't disappear with the next song, "Adventure...on crack".

Open up your choice of mp3 playing software and cue up Adventure. Before you hit play, increase the speed to 1.5 times. That was what it was like, it was amazing. After a quick change of guitar again it was back to Zombie Graveyard Party and then the first song where Jemina actually looked like she was having fun, with Becky. This led into Food Fight, then Bicycle, and finally they closed with a furious rendition of Wildcat. We were then herded outside back into the cold to queue up for the signing, meaning those who were at the front of the set were now at the back of the queue (unless you sidled in next to two girls who were too scared to object - but once inside the store I let them meet the band ahead of me, evening out any karma). Sadly (or perhaps thankfully) Jemina didn't recognise me as "that asshole" and I got mine and Katy's albums signed and flitted out into the night like a moth to the...dark. I need better similes.

Despite the best efforts of South West Trains I made it back to Victoria in time to get my dinner, run round to the departure boards to see which platform the 20:03 train to Canterbury East was going from and found...that it had been cancelled due to a broken train at Chatham. Cursing the local scallies, who I'm sure just nicked the wheels off it, I put alternate plans into action and jumped on an Ashford train to go the long way round. I managed to get a seat, and then kept people from sitting next to me by producing the loudest, most pungent fart I've ever done in public. Hey, I got peace and quiet, ok?

What a note to end it on.

Friday, March 14, 2008


So, my bike got serviced yesterday.

It came in £30 under budget, which was good. I'd budgeted for £200 to go on it, and it cost £170, so had a nice Nando's meal out of the change. (Incidentally Ealing Common is the closest tube station to a Nando's restaurant, in that they are next door to one another.) On the plus side, having had my front brakes repaired I can now stop fairly promptly. This was fun riding home in the rain yesterday, on wet roads with a feather sensitive front brake.

As lists seem to be a running theme for this blog (who can guess which song title I'll use for my end of YEAR roundup of my LISTS? Anyone?) have a list of the bikes I've had so far.

1a. Suzuki GS250T - X reg
My first bike, a birthday present from my parents in August 2003. Passed my test September 24th that year, blew the bike up around 8am one Sunday the following December due to a lack of oil.
1b. Suzuki GS250T - W reg
My second bike, exact same make, model and colour as the first, one year older but with less miles. Purchased around 9 hours after I destroyed the first one. Lasted me a good few months, and even took me to Chichester and back in one day (around 250 miles). Sold to a gentleman who lived outside Cheltenham after it appeared in the Sussex edition of Friday-Ad in May 05. Rode it up there, got the train back (which was exciting).
2. Honda CB500 - L reg
Bought January 2005. Cost me £400 from a guy who worked near me, sold on 18 months later for £375 - not a bad rate of depreciation. Took me to gigs in Colchester and Oxford without trouble - in fact, the only reason I got rid of it was because I was handed down my Mum's bike which was bigger. Not as mean looking though.
3. Yamaha YX600 - C reg
As mentioned above, Mum's bike so didn't cost me a damn thing. Japanese import so it's a bugger to get parts for though. Tends to wobble at 105mph so I keep it below the ton. I love it to bits though, and like Katy I can't see me getting rid of it or getting a younger model for ages. Unlike Katy parts tend to fall off it a little too often, hence why I've named it Serenity.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

London Stations

I've never been to London Marylebone station.

Granted, there are a fair number of railway stations in the UK that I've also never been to. Thurso, for one. But considering how much time I spend in London, particularly on the railways/underground, for there to be a mainline terminus that I've not visited seems silly. I think then that I shall have to go on Monday on my day off, to photograph and blog about it. In fact if I manage to get it working, I may even blog it from the station.

Stations I've visted:
  • Blackfriars - several trains home from here at the weekend due to engineering works.
  • Cannon Street - as above, including one occasion last March which involved a dramatic dive onto the train just as the doors closed.
  • Charing Cross - tiny, soulless, and depressing. Another termini for weekend services from the Kent coast.
  • Euston - Spent an hour and a half here with a tired and emotional Rosie.
  • Fenchurch Street - Visited (albeit briefly) on the all stations challenge last November. If I decide to make this a regular feature, then Fenchurch Street will be the next visit.
  • King's Cross - Spent an enjoyable few hours getting drunk here before Laura's party.
  • Liverpool Street - Left here to go to Hertford in October. Also passed through a few times.
  • London Bridge - Changed here for the Underground in the aforementioned Hertford trip.
  • Moorgate - Only been through on the Underground, so will visit again. These visits will also work well as research for the London Termini pub crawl.
  • Paddington - Station for adventures in the West, meeting Amie, and the fantastic Mad Bishop and Bear pub.
  • St. Pancras - Wandered round shortly after opening. Wasn't impressed.
  • Victoria - home station. I come in and out of here every trip.
  • Waterloo - The station I'll go to to get to Kingston on Monday.

I have a funny feeling that lists may be a predominant part of this blog.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tapes and Tapes

Making a mixtape is really, really hard.

I thought "oh, I'll just cobble together a random mix of bands I like, it'll be easy then I'll get an early night". That was nearly two hours ago. What's worse is that it's still ongoing - you try finding a bridge between The Kills - Now Wow and Goldfrapp's Utopia involving a mellow male vocalist who isn't David Ford.

I wish I'd got some David Berkeley mp3s from Katy now.

"The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don't wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules."

I try not to make too many gaps between songs, I like it to flow from one to the next. Hence I was way, way too happy to discover that the outro to You!Me!Dancing! tessellates rather too well with the intro to Rockin' in the Free World. In the same way, the theme of Say Something, Say Anything matches with Portions For Foxes - although I'm making this for a friend who's just split up with her longtime partner, so I might try and finish on something cheery. What's the closing artist? Easyworld.

Track listing:
  1. Garbage - Bad Boyfriend One of my favourite side ones track ones. More original than Smells Like Teen Spirit, anyway.
  2. Led Zeppelin - Rock n Roll As the quote goes, kickin' it up a notch. Also a sign that it's not just contemporary artists either.
  3. The Duke Spirit - Lion Rip And increasing the tempo once again. Two and a half minutes of barely restrained emotion, building to the first peak of the CD.
  4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Cheated Hearts So we catch a breather, with a nice slow burning song which again builds into...
  5. Jenny Lewis - Big Guns ...a country song? It doesn't sound too romantic...why does every song have to be about love, or the lack of it? I feel another High Fidelity quote coming on.
  6. The Kills - No Wow Well, at least it's not about love. A nice, sleazy, throbbing bass line (listen to it, you'll see I'm not being dirty for the sake of it) and plenty of sexual innuendos - we've moved from 50's high school love to a rough shag in a dark seedy alleyway.
  7. The Subways - Lines of Light (instrumental version) This bridging song was the hardest thing I've done regarding this tape. It seems like a bit of an abrupt jump, from the bass line almost dropping off a cliff to the acoustic guitar intro of the track. But it's a nice break from the onslaught of the previous half dozen songs and leads the ear nicely into...
  8. Goldfrapp - Utopia These italics are really annoying now. Still one of my favourite 'Frapp songs. A song I know she's got, because I bought her Felt Mountain many moons ago in exchange for some Subways gloves, and a bit of familiarity in case her attention is wandering.
  9. Los Campesinos! - You! Me! Dancing! I tried to get We Throw Parties... into the tracklisting somewhere but wherever I put it, it just jarred with those around it. So I went for this one. Yet another slow burning song building up to a big ending, it just exudes fun.
  10. Neil Young - Rockin' In The Free World When I make a mix CD, I try to make it like the mixtapes of yore - with a side A and a side B. I usually kick off side B with this song as it's got such a strong intro. However, it matches perfectly with the outro of Y!M!D! - almost a little too perfectly, like the remastered CD of Dark Side Of The Moon where The Great Gig In The Sky overlaps Money to mask the break between sides.
  11. Blood Red Shoes - Say Something, Say Anything Well, the intro matches the previous song, and I wanted a BRS song on there somewhere. Might not have been the wisest choice given the content though. Personally, it's gone from one of my favourite BRS songs to a song similar to Johnny Cash's cover of Hurt - an amazing song, but one I can't listen to that often.
  12. Rilo Kiley - Portions For Foxes So, lets have a happier song then. Well, not quite, but "baby, you're bad news" might strike some resonance with her.
  13. Be Your Own PET! - Heart throb Wake up! Just over two minutes, and possibly 500 beats crammed in there. I really suck choosing tactful songs. Don't ask me to playlist a funeral, you'll probably get Send In The Clowns mixed with Rammstein.
  14. Metric - Poster of a Girl It's likely she'll appreciate the two Canadian artists on here (you try finding more who aren't Avril Lavigne, Bryan Adams or Celine bloody Dion) and it works well to bring the pace down.
  15. Blur - The Universal On the home straight now, not long left, and a truely epic song which fits surprisingly well with PoaG before it. The strings compliment the normal sound rather than overwhelm it - a song to listen to watching the sun burst through the clouds to remind of you of the beauty in this life.
  16. Easyworld - Goodnight A song that slings it's arm around your shoulders, buys you a fresh pint and says "cheer up mate. You're over the worst of it now, you've got lots to look forward to" (and by this I mean her life, not the end of the CD). I just wish it didn't end with that quartet of lines implying I'm only making it to get in her knickers!
I'm not sure if this post works best as a blog introduction, sleeve notes for said CD, or a way of keeping my ramblings off the Blood Red Shoes board. Whatever, it's done now.