‘The Anarchists’ by James Joll

First things first: this took me far too bloody long to finish. That’s not a criticism of the book itself – far from it – but more a reflection that I didn’t give it the attention I perhaps should. There’s various reasons / excuses I could make for that, but it mostly boils down to it not being the easiest of reads, and therefore only attracting my attention when I felt I could dedicate half an hour to it without wanting to fall asleep. Time for some fiction now I reckon!

As for the book though, despite the above paragraph, it’s a very interesting read. Effectively a run-down of Anarchism and ‘key’ anarchists throughout the centuries, culminating in their role and defeat into obscurity in Spain in the mid-to-late 1930’s. It covers characters such as Kropotkin, Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Malatesta and Goldman, to name but a few, and also spends a good portion of its time explaining and exploring the somewhat strange relationship between the various anarchists and the communists as were springing up around the time of the First International.

All in all then, lots of things I had – at best – only the slightest of grips on, and it certainly paved the way to making further reading into the different areas more appealing.

It flows well, it’s well written, and spans the periods of time chronologically (as you may expect), often recalling characters that had been introduced earlier on and how most of the main figures knew each other, personally or otherwise,Β  as well as fairly carefully analyzing some of the failure points and successes at various times in the movement.

One of the things that was perhaps most pleasing about it as a read was the seeming lack of bias on behalf of Joll. As ever with books surrounding the political arena, I’m always a bit wary that the author will be approaching the subject from one side or the other, which usually comes across in the writing and can get a bit tedious. So it was nice to not have that to contend with!

Don’t know if I’d go as far as to recommend this to anyone, but if anarchy / history of political thoughts is your ‘bag’, then you could do worse.

Bob Dylan: The Way Live Music is Meant to Be?

Set List: http://www.boblinks.com/050209s.html

So, last night I was in Glasgow at the SECC watching Bob Dylan and his band live in concert for the first time.

I’ve wanted to see Dylan live for a good few years since I was first introduced to his music and I think it’s fair to say I wasn’t disappointed.

Going into the gig, which I was attending with Steve, Craig, and Steve’s flatmate Gordon, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Steve had seen him before on a couple of occasions, and his advice, in agreement with what I’d heard / read elsewhere seemed to suggest this was a good thing. Expect nothing. Don’t expect to recognise the songs until you hear the lyrics, and the like. They were right. It was like no other gig I’d been to before.

First up, no support acts. Hardly surprising I guess, given the man’s fame and reputation, it would be bloody difficult to have the task of warm up act. Secondly, he simply doesn’t need it. It detracts nothing from the occasion in there being no support act present. The feeling of anticipation in the arena before the show commenced at around 19:45 was electric as it was. If anything, a support act runs the risk of diminishing that feeling.

Secondly, a notable lack of spoken interraction with the audience, right up until he announced the names of his band members as the show closed up. Again, not a bad thing, but just not something I’ve experienced from a ‘standard’ gig, where the centre piece of the group is more than happy to harp out the same old cliche’d arguments to an already excited crowd. If anything, I appreciate the lack of it, but it was also a notable change to the other gigs I’ve been to in the past.

Thirdly, and as forewarned, the incredible differences in the songs being played to the point that they are unrecognisable from any recorded versions I’d heard, until he started singing. Steve mentioned whilst we were beering before the show that the reason he heard for this from Dylan’s point of view is that he’s never been completely, 100% happy with any song he’s recorded, so why shouldn’t he mash them up and try to perfect them live? Even if that means taking the songs off on a tangent that hadn’t been thought of when they were first written. It actually makes a whole lot of sense, and to me, emphasises the ‘artist’ quality that Dylan seems to ooze – never quite content, never afraid to try something different, regardless as to how it may be received. An admirable quality, regardless of what you think of the songs themselves.

Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, the music itself. It doesn’t matter whether you think it ‘works’ or not – for me personally, some of it on the evening worked better than others, but that’s the nature of experimentation – the thing about it was that it seemed to be note perfect. Both Dylan and all the band members were on exactly the same page at every step through every song, and you’re left with the impression that one would have to try bloody hard to pull up just one note that was out of place. Maybe I’m overly keen to praise given how much I enjoy his music, but to me this screams emphasis on the artist permanently seeking perfection. These twists to old tracks haven’t just been toyed with one night and rolled straight out, they’ve been born out, practised, tweaked, practised some more until they’re ready to be performed.
The one exception to this during the set was Thunder on the Mountain which, whilst having twists from the recorded version – and sounding much more powerful – was easily recognisable from the first few notes.
Another interesting point relating to the music itself? Not one track from the new album that came out a few days before. Very refreshing.

Favourite Tracks / Moments:

  • Maggie’s Farm is a personal favourite track of mine. Heightened by the fact that this was the first performance of the evening, I thoroughly bloody enjoyed it. [ ~ YouTube ~ ]
  • Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright – or, more specifically, Dylan’s Harmonica solo towards the end of it – was sublime. The whole track was superbly put together, but the harmonica elevated it to an entirely different level. Simply stunning. [ ~ YouTube ~ ]
  • Highway 61 Revisited. Another track that I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I adore, largely for it’s entertainment factor, and simple ‘jumpability’, before even looking at the lyrics. This version left me, quite surprisingly, stunned. It genuinely did take me right up until he started singing before I could work out what was being played, but knew I was going to enjoy it. Whilst perhaps not being musically similar, it reminded me of the excitement I get listening to the recording of Isis from The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue from the point of view that it was so loud, boisterous, pwoerful and yet clearly so carefully executed that it just left me awe-struck. Special. [ ~ YouTube ~ ]

Of course, I could highlight many, many more, but that would sort of defeat the point of trying to pick out highlights. It was all excellent. The encore surprised me, as I wasn’t expecting to hear All Along the Watchtower [ ~ YouTube ~ ], and thoroughly enjoyed the version I got to hear, as I was with The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll [ ~ YouTube ~ ], in a rendition that brought quite a surreal twist to something I was used to hearing at a much slower, mournful pace.

General Conclusions:

You may have already guessed – I had a superb time, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the concert. As Craig commented beforehand, “It’s not every day you see an artist perform that influenced artists like the Beatles”.
And I know what he means.
There’s something slightly surreal (and more than a little exciting) about seeing an artist perform that has had such a lengthy career, playing songs he first recorded decades before you were born, but that you’ve listened to maybe one hundred times or more, and playing them in such a completely different manner that only the lyrics reveal their true identity.
It’s also exciting to see such an artist perform in such a way – rather than churning out the old favourites note-perfect as if they were playing the CD through the loudspeakers – I know why they do it, but that doesn’t make it as exciting as seeing someone constantly striving to shake it up and try something different.
And I think it’s that that I find so fascinating about Dylan. Of course, I love the music anyway, from a lyrical level as much as from an instrumental level, but it’s that extra twist – the defiance – the ability and the strength of mind to constantly try and break his own cycles, and to deal with the consequences later. To reinvent himself, I suppose. But none of those terms really do justice, as they’re banded about the place all too often and with such liberty that they become watered down, weak and, ultimately pointless. And, to me, Dylan is anything but that.

Isn’t he just reactionary? Isn’t it all a ploy to keep people guessing and writing about him? Does he really care? Isn’t he passed his best? Hasn’t he sold out? Yadda-yadda.

Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t. The question I have to ask is does it really matter? Whether any of the above questions are valid or not is largely irrelevant. If they are true, then he’s executed them in a considerably more ‘ballsy’ manner than any other leading performance artist in the field. And he’s pulled it off exquisitely. If they’re not true then, well, they’re not true. πŸ™‚

Are there songs I would have liked to have heard? Of course – but with such an extensive back catalogue that’s always going to be the case. One of the things that ‘does it’ for me about Dylan is the simple fact of the variation, the ever-present chance of surprise / disappointment / excitement / awesome. It makes it fresh. It makes it exciting. It makes it interesting. It makes it live.

Would see again without hesitation.


You need something to open up a new door
To show you something you seen before
But overlooked a hundred times or more
You need something to open your eyes
You need something to make it known
That it’s you and no one else that owns
That spot that yer standing, that space that you’re sitting
That the world ain’t got you beat
That it ain’t got you licked
It can’t get you crazy no matter how many
Times you might get kicked
You need something special all right
You need something special to give you hope
But hope’s just a word
That maybe you said or maybe you heard
On some windy corner ’round a wide-angled curve

Bob Dylan – Last Thoughts on Woodie Guthrie

LUGRadio Live 2008

I attended this event last year and, as such, the first thing I want to do know is to admit defeat. I was pretty proud of last year’s writeup, and I had every intention of trying to repeat the experiment in writing up a thorough review. For the record, I have failed, even before I begin.

I took less pictures this year, I was overall less attentive due to recurring hangovers, but I did have every bit as good a time. Anyway, let’s see where we get to…

Transport & Accommodation

After the disaster that was trying to get to Oxford by train a few weeks back, I opted to drive down to Wolves this time round, offering lifts via the LancsLUG list but forgetting to check the LUGRadio Forums – meant I ended up meeting a few others who’d similarly travelled down from Lancaster, which was a mistake. We could have easily car-shared if we’d realized.

Another factor in driving down was that I’d only really decided I was definitely going to go down there the day before – it would have been the same cost to get on the train, with less guarantees.
As it was, the drive down was painless, although I did get there a little late because I went for beer the night before and slept through my alarm – n00b.

With making the decision the day before, I decided to go with what I knew and opted to stay at the Novotel in Wolverhampton – right next to the railway station, 5 minutes walk to the venue, and just off one of the main roads (maybe 15 minutes from the motorway). It was as to be expected – not the cheapest, but conveniently placed, clean and, to be quite honest, easy. Buffet breakfast was included, which I maxed on, and the snack I got there in the evening to wash down my Guinness was pretty good as well.

The Talks

This segment is the reason this is a week late, and it’s an utter failure. I spent most of the last week wanting to really devote time to this part likeI did last year to give the speakers the best possible summation I could. Then I realized I didn’t make enough notes to do that. Instead, I’ll just summarise what I saw, what was interesting, and key things of note.

To begin with, as mentioned, I arrived to the event too late to see the opening segment by the four large gents, and as such also missed the usual rush to get in and see the place fill up. It also meant that I missed a good portion of the first talk I went to see, which was Rufus Pollock talking about the Open Knowledge Foundation. I have to be honest, before LRL, I think I had heard of the Foundation but knew nothing about it. It’s a really cool idea, and I wholeheartedly suggest visiting the webstie to find out more, along with the Comprehensive Knowledge Archive Network – super stuff. The things that particularly made me sit up and think were a couple of key phrases Rufus mentioned during his talk, the first centralising around the many minds principle, which is a principle I have a lot of faith in, and his phrase of ‘the revolution will be decentralized’. It makes so much sense given the nature of the internet and its accessibility. These big changes, that need to happen to make real progress revolve around the idea of open and shared knowledge and the sharing of ideas struggle if they’re dictated to from a central point. I really can’t do it justice by trying to paraphrase everything he said but, to find out more, check out the aforementioned links.
Another snippet he mentioned that caught my ear was, after explaining how ‘3G’ alone has over 7000 patents applicable to it, and 800 distinct patents (all of which, supposedly, ‘protect’ intellectual property), the question ‘Why should this process be open?’ His answer? ‘Because putting Humpty Dumpty back together is easier‘ when things are open. And it really is. When the shit hits the fan, and things need fixing, it’s so much easier if you can have all the blueprints and tools right there at your fingertips. You shouldn’t need to scrabble around for permission to access certain ‘IP Stuffs’ just to be able to start working on a fix. Another point mentioned that I wasn’t aware of was that, in most cases, works without a license default to being treated as proprietary, not open.

I stayed in the main stage for the next talk by Emma Jane Hogbin, regarding women on open source and various aspects surrounding that. I’m not going to go blow-by-blow with what was said, but it really was extremely interesting, well thought out, and energetic. Would definitely like to go see her speak again when I’m not as hungover / tired so I can pay considerably more attention and make notes.

Lunchtime intervened, allowing me to check into the hotel, grab a lot of coffee, and a sandwich to try and help me make it through the afternoon. It failed.

First up was Jeremy Allison of the SAMBA project, again on the main stage. A very good speaker, I actually found the talk fascinating for an area I didn’t know much about as it provided a good broad picture of where SAMBA came from, what it had done and a glimpse at where it could be going. My only regret, as with most talks over the weekend, is that I was in not mental state to really get the most out of them, as I was constantly battling sleep. n00b.

The Gong-a-Thong Lightbulb Extravaganza was up next, and it all got much more surreal than last year. Funny though. I actually didn’t listen much to most of the Gong-a-Thong though, as I decided to run over and make the msot of the quiet spell on the Bytemark gaming rig. Impressive setup. I found myself coming back more and more in a vain attempt to stroke my epeen and get better at Team Fortress 2. I didn’t quite achieve this.

I also played on for much too long so that I missed at least the first half of Steve Lamb’s talk entitled ‘Green IT’. As such, I feel even less qualified than normal to comment on what it was about – some comments about security not being platform dependent rang true though. And well done again Steve, what I heard was really interesting stuff, but I did spend a long time cursing myself for not getting there to listen to it from the start.

The day concluded with LUGRadio Live and Unleashed. Always amusing. You can go listen and download it here (when it gets uploaded… πŸ™‚ ).

I was surprisingly spritely at the start of Day 2, my only guess for that is that I was still drunk. I kicked it off by going to see Barbie’s talk, ‘Understanding Malware’.
I’d heard of Barbie many times before going to LRL and he didn’t disappoint. It was informative and interesting, even if it was a little above the level I would be comfortable with.

Next up was the Mass Debate – a popular event last year – this year featuring Jeremy Allison, Mrben, Matthew Garrett and … I forget the last panelist (I arrived after the introductions). Jono hosted it.
As with last year, it was hilarious, with some good points being made along with plenty of sly and not-so-sly piss-taking.

Lunch came, and with it came the afternoon fragging. Back to the Team Fortress 2 server I went, and the time flew by. I missed Matthew Garrett’s talk on ‘Power Management that Works’, but made it to Neuro’s talk on Second Life. I found Neuro’s brief rundown to Second Life last year pretty interesting, even if it is something I’m not massively interested in getting into and, listening to him this year, I came home and downloaded the client. I’ve yet to give it a thorough trial. It’s impressive technology-wise, not convinced it’ll prove to be for me though. We’ll see!

And that was it. Game over for another year. This time with no regular podcasts in between.

I’ll miss the podcasts, but i certainly won’t miss being at LRL next year. As Westwood may say, “It’s gonna be BIG” – and all that shite. It will be good.

Nutsacks

The fully edited picture will hopefully get linked here Soon ™, but my Nutsack idea this year was, I think, not what I was meant to get, and I apologise if someone left theirs on the side only to return and find I’d swagged it. Having arrived late, I just grabbed the first one that was on the table, saving myself from rummaging through it until I got to the hotel.

Mostly it was of a similar composition to last year (to be expected). The free T-Shirt was from UKUUG, there were one or two pens, some papers and advertising stuff for various upcoming events, the programme, a keyring bottle-opener from Yahoo! (which was considerably more useful than the strangely shaped pen of last year.. πŸ˜‰ ), and a latest Ubuntu CD. Solid stuff.

In addition to the stuff in the bag, I was also able to grab a lovely free T-Shirt from the LinuxEmporium stand, as a return for entering their competition with the chance to win an EeePC. Alas, I didn’t win the EeePC, but getting a T-Shirt for the effort was a nice touch.

I’ll update this, and add info to the pictures, when I get chance (given that this is 7 days late, expect a sturdy delay on that..), but for now I can’t really think of much else to add!

EeePC Desires

EeePCs seemed to be everywhere at LRL this year. Which wasn’t a good thing for me as it dramatically increased my urge to go buy myself one. I did in fact come very close to just getting one right there and then, but with the knowledge that the new models are coming out very very shortly, I figured I should wait.

These things are bloody lovely for the sort of thing I want them for. The keyboard does indeed feel incredibly small at first, but I’m almost certain that, with a little practise, that will become a non-issue. The screen is plenty big enough for general browsing and document-editing. All in a slick little package with wireless capabilities, massive battery life, and solid state disks so I can feel slightly more comfortable when it crashes to the floor.

The other thing that was on show there that looked really slick was the Ubuntu desktop running on one of them. It just looked really, really good. To be fair though, I only had the ‘Advanced Menu’ mode of the native Xandros install to compare it to which, whilst it’s definitely functional and familiar, was a bit of a disappointment – I was quite looking forward to seeing what the Bubbly and Cuddly default appearance looked and handled like. Even so though, I think I’ll end up getting mine pre-installed with Ubuntu, probably from EfficientPC – as the fellow running the stand for them was really quite interesting to talk to about it and seems more than happy to go to extra lengths to help customize it. Go check ’em out – they’re meant to be getting the new EeePCs in stock in the next few weeks – FUN!

Community, Community, Community

Jono may get a kicking at regular intervals for his overuse of this term but, feck it. The community aspect of LUGRadio may have been clear to see last year but, for whatever reason, this year came across as considerably more sociable right the way through.
Admittedly, as much as anything, that may have been less to do with an increase in sociable atmosphere and more to do with me coming out of my shell a bit more and feeling comfortable striking up conversations and generally imposing myself on other groups. If I ever did become a bind, then I obviously apologise to those people, but I don’t think I did (hopefully).

The addition of Karaoke on the Saturday night was a superb idea, and definitely brought out the best in people, if not always their voices, and generally aided the party atmosphere. Heading down into Wolves afterwards to visit the rock bar (can’t remember it’s name) was just as much a laugh, even if my memory does get considerably sketchier past that point. However, getting lost on my way back to the hotel certainly wasn’t as much fun!

As with last year, both days carried with them plenty of joviality and all round politeness and banter. In many ways similar to what I loved about Glastonbury, everyone at LRL is there because they share similar broad interests – in this case technology in general and FOSS. As such, the atmosphere is brilliant.

I had some great conversations with various folks this year, and learned a whole load, and I thank them for that. I also saw people I first met at last year’s event, and it really did hammer home this community idea, and made me realize how foolish it was to have not taken a bigger part in it during the year. I have no excuses for that, except my own leanings towards being socially inept and not really knowing how to best start to get to know an already established group as a complete outsider. Childish and foolish? Definitely. But it seems to be the way I’m wired.

Pictures and all that Jazz

I didn’t take alf the pictures I’d wanted to take, and most of the ones I did take didn’t come out well.

If you want to look through some of them, then mine are bunched up in the midst of the Flickr collection, tagged lugradiolive. Some fun photos in there!

As you can hopefully tell from this writeup, I had another great weekend at LUGRadio Live this year, and I was extremely pleased to hear that the show will have at least one more outing same time next year. It’s going to be interesting to see how it turns out, seeing as how there won’t be a regular show to promote it, but if anything it provides an impetus to become more actively involved with the community, which can only be a good thing.

So, to the four blokes and their merry band of yellow-shirted helpers – thanks for another great year. For the cool people I met and talked to – thanks for the hospitality and friendliness. To those who provided such solid information – it’s all appreciated, and I apologise I couldn’t do you justice in my write-ups.

I’ll see you all next year, that’s for sure.

Glastonbury Festival 2008

Well, it’s been a good day or so since we made it back to the real world after 5 days down in deepest Somerset to attend Glastonbury Festival 2008, so I thought it was about time I set about trying to actually write about it. This is that attempt.

In the Beginning

Attending the Festival as a group was John, Mike, Owen, Duncan, and myself. Duncan would be joining us on the Thursday, whereas the rest of us drove down on Wednesday. The journey down was uneventful, but we had the vehicle packed to the rafters with bags, tents, booze, and Pot Noodles. There really was little else.

The Music

So, this is the selection of artists I actually managed to see live whilst I was there. Of course, the sad thing is that I will miss some artists out, particularly those that I heard in passing or caught their sets midway through on the Wednesday or the Thursday, where no published program seemed to exist to help me find out the names of some of the funky musicians I listened to.
More or less, this list is in chronological order, starting on Thursday with The Levellers, and finishing with The Verve on Sunday night. You can fill in the other times and days yourself, or just trust me when I say they follow through the weekend…

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see everybody I’d wanted to see, but I did get a fair old whack at things.

The Levellers

[last.fm linkage]
Various signs around the place on Wednesday and during the day Thursday had made it fairly clear that the Levellers were performing, and I decided pretty early on that I had to go see them. I don’t know why I thought that, because I’d only ever heard one track by them (knowingly) pre-Festival, and that was Just the One. But I went anyway, and plodded down to the Left Field tent in the pissing rain to try and get inside and be remotely dry whilst watching and listening. The place was full to the rafters.

As to the performance. Personally, i thought it was brilliant. Everybody loved it, lots of singing along, the sounds quality was good and the atmosphere was great – a really solid band to unofficially kick things off. Shame I got piss wet through in the process, but that’s what it’s all about I guess!

Kate Nash

[last.fm linkage]
Mornings soon proved to be not the best of times for our merry little crew, be it because we were sleeping, recovering, or just plain ol’ procrastinating instead of going out there and listening to music. Thanks to that, we arrived pretty late to see the last couple of songs Kate Nash was performing.

Kate Nash tends to get quite a lot of flack, or so it seems to me anyway and, if I’m honest, I think I was the only one of us who quite fancied going to see what she was like live, which probably doesn’t score me any points on the heterosexual scale. Bugger.
Still, I have to say what I saw at the end of the set was good, if you like the stuff she does, which I do. It’s entertaining, easy to listen to, and amusing, which is just fine in my book.

The Subways

[last.fm linkage]
To be honest, I hadn’t listened to much Subways stuff before the festival and wouldn’t have initially rushed anywhere to see them. I have the first album lying around somewhere and it occasionally gets a listen to and does the job well. However, they followed Kate Nash on the Pyramid Stage so we figured, why the hell not? There was nothing else particularly pressing that I wanted to see in the morning anyway.

As with what I saw from Kate Nash, I enjoyed it. They seemed to have a fairly solid stage presence and were fairly interesting to listen to. I only recognized a couple of songs from the first album, and wasn’t entirely sold on all the new material they tried out, but it was fun. Would see again (at a Festival… probably wouldn’t go out of my way to buy tickets).

Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs

[last.fm linkage]
Fecking brilliant. John summed it up afterwards by commenting that this sort of thing is exactly what Glastonbury should be about- variation and random fun.

The atmosphere was brilliant, the performance was amusing and captivating and generally to a pretty good quality considering the washboard was in action. The three of them did brilliantly and genuinely seemed to convey an almost humble attitude to being there. They may have opened by saying it was a joint effort between the audience and them, but it really did seem that way as it went on – every single person in the room seemed to become a real part of the gig. Simply brilliant, and I hope to see these guys again at a future point. Try and listen to some of their stuff, it’s fun! πŸ™‚

Alabama 3

[last.fm linkage]
Over to the Jazz World stage, this was another artist I really didn’t know very much about (except, of course, the Soprano’s Theme πŸ™‚ ). They’re fascinating. In a really weird sort of way. I really can’t even begin try and describe them, as I wouldn’t know where to start. The vocals are a strange mixture but they seem to work and there’s something completely unavoidable about how cool and, dare I say it, funky the whole band is. Genuinely interesting.

Candi Staton

[last.fm linkage]
Everyone knows and loves at least one Candi Staton song, even if they don’t know her by name. And, arguably, this was one of the best sets I saw over the whole weekend.

Simply put, she’s brilliant. Superb voice, great stage presence, and everyone loves the music. She belted out some absolute classics, seemed to hit every note just the way she wanted to, and seemed to be havingΒ  a great time being there. If you didn’t see her, you missed out, regardless of whatever else you saw in her place. Sorry, you just lost the game.

Fun Lovin’ Criminals

[last.fm linkage]
The start of a crazy evening.
I’ve seen Fun Lovin’ Criminals before, in Lancaster, and thought they were great then. This time, they also didn’t disappoint, although I had a much more relaxed approach to watching them – that being that I was wandering around the gig on my own, too drunk for my own good, and talking to strangers (see ‘Reckless Abandon’, below for more). So in many respects, they were background music. But it’s great background music. This set also served to remind me that I should listen to them a bit more often. Tasty.

Sinead O’Connor

[last.fm linkage]
I was pretty excited at the prospect of being able to see Sinead O’Connor live in the run up to the festival, and so was a little disappointed with hindsight to admit that I didn’t actually see the show.
I was there – please don’t think I skipped it all together – but I just heard it again as background music whilst I was talking to two very nice people from the Czech Republic. Good times.

What I heard was good though, although it would be hard to claim she has a bad voice and, as with FLC, it was really nice to have good music going on around you whilst you could sit and talk to strangers, embarrassing yourself along the way. Lovely jubbly. I also failed to spot if she still had a shaved head, so anyone who can help confirm / deny that it would be much appreciated.

Kings of Leon

[last.fm linkage]
I’ve enjoyed listening to the Kings of Leon ever since I first heard Molly’s Chambers, which always struck me as fairly fun and easy to listen to. However, I will quite happily take the points made by both John and Mike that, relatively speaking, they are quite a boring band and don’t bring anything new to the table. That doesn’t bother me though. One thing Glastonbury reaffirmed for me is that I’ve largely got past worrying about where the music’s come from, what it means, what it brings to the table, or whether its overrated, ‘sold out’, or any other such phrases. Of course, if a songs got an emotional background, pushes boundaries and has something I can relate to in it then it will be preferred, but it doesn’t stop me just enjoying listening to things non-committally.

And so it was with Kings of Leon. I knew when I saw them announced that they were one of the few acts I would feel I _had_ to see whilst at Glasto, purely because what I’ve heard recorded I’ve enjoyed and – just as with so many other acts at the Festival – I really wanted to see what they could do live.

Honest verdict? I was disappointed. I enjoyed the songs, but I felt as a live act they were simply dull. I think I was expecting a bit more stage presence, and probably beer. I wanted rock and roll but all I got was this lousy CD-quality experience.
That’s not to say they were necessarily bad though. I did enjoy what was played and had a little solo boogie all to myself in my slightly spaced out state but, in future, I wouldn’t be overly bothered whether I saw them or went to see something else.

Pete Doherty

[last.fm linkage]
Following the end of Kings of Leon, I staggered up towards The Park to see the end of Pete Doherty, seeing as he’s another artist I really haven’t heard much from. I literally arrived right towards the end, but from what I did see and hear, he did a good job. Well played that man.

James Blunt

[last.fm linkage]
No one will believe me, but this was largely accidental. We lost Owen, and I had to hold the fort whilst the search parties went their separate ways. Turns out it meant I got to sit / sleep through this. Everyone there seemed to love it, good for them. Have to admit I was strongly apathetic, letting this rank as my biggest regret / wasted time moment of the weekend. It’s not that he’s necessarily bad, he’s just not really anything I’m into.

The Raconteurs

[last.fm linkage]
I dozed a little bit for this as well, but I thought they did a pretty good job overall. I knew hardly anything about them before sitting through it, and I probably would see them again given the chance. Not much more to say though really.

Manu Chao

[last.fm linkage]
Another artist I was determined to ensure I caught at least once during the festival, we decided to stick at the Pyramid Stage and see Manu Chao there. They didn’t disappoint. Energetic, upbeat, and all under the late afternoon sun. It couldn’t have been better.

A great mix of their songs, some new, some old, all timeless, it was everything I would have hoped for from a Manu Chao gig. Would definitely try to see them again.

Amy Winehouse

[last.fm linkage]
Not really a lot to report on this one that would be classed as ‘new news’, seeing as how everybody seemed to be talking about it and the ‘Punch up’ incident since the Festival. However, I thoroughly bloody enjoyed it. She was incoherent at times (could have been the sound levels). She was tottering about looking rather unstable. And the dress wasn’t the most flattering. But fuck it. She also has a brilliant voice and got stronger and stronger as the show went on. If newspaper reports are to be believed, and if she really is ‘ruining herself’ then, yes, of course it’s a shame and a sad story but, at the same time, if she’s having fun and making good music then… meh… maybe I’m just being selfish, but I actually quite enjoy seeing musicians embrace the rock and roll spirit every now and then. They’re only human, afterall. Why should their mistakes and life choices be plastered all over the place? And why should it bother us from a music point of view? To me, it shouldn’t.

So, Miss Winehouse, well done on the performance. I salute you.

Jay-Z

[last.fm linkage]
It’s been spoken about enough, but the intro was brilliant, and showed a solid sense of humour. To then open up with 99 Problems was something I knew and appreciated. Good song.

Whilst I didn’t watch the entire set, the first half I watched was good. It was entertaining, had a decent variety of samples that brought back some songs I hadn’t heard for a long time, and it brought variety and controversy to the floor. I certainly hope there’s hip hop at next year’s Festival, even if it doesn’t headline. It brings it back to being a Festival in celebration of music, in all its forms.

Massive Attack

[last.fm linkage]
Given that the timetables clashed between Massive Attack and Jay-Z, I was only able to catch the last bit of Massive Attack before retiring for sleep. From what I saw, and from what I heard others say, it was epic. Great use of lasers as well. A little part of me is gutted I didn’t see it all, but then I was glad I got to see Jay-Z.

Neil Diamond

[last.fm linkage]
There’s very little that can be said against this mighty fine individual. In fact, if I had to nitpick, it would be because I thought his acknowledgement of the applause he received was a little repetitive – there’s only so many times I can hear “thank you so much” and hearing it after every song got a little boring.

Still, it was actually a lot better than I’d hoped it would be, with highlights clearly including Sweet Caroline and, for me at least, Pretty Amazing Grace since I’ve enjoyed the song immensely since I first heard it (repeatedly) on the Radio when it was released. It sounds just as good live.

Good clean fun would be a good way to describe the set. The afternoon sun made it very continental in it’s party atmosphere. Wild.

Goldfrapp

[last.fm linkage]
Yet another band I really didn’t know enough about / of before going to the Festival, I was very pleasantly surprised at quite how much I liked them. Granted, I dozed through a good portion of the set, but the music clearly wasn’t so offensive I couldn’t sleep to it. Great voice, and really quite interesting, I can imagine I’ll listen to more of this stuff before too long. Good job.

Leonard Cohen

[last.fm linkage]
The one artist I feel I can write an unhealthy chunk of text about.

Without doubt, this was the single greatest performance of the weekend (in my humble opinion), even if I wish to put all the weight of that achievement onto one song – Hallelujah. Simply stunning. Words don’t even come close. I am being completely honest when I say I don’t think I have ever seen any other live performance that has simply knocked me for six on an emotional scale as watching Mr Cohen belt out his version during this set. It actually makes the original album version seem rather disappointing by comparison, and it’s a song I absolutely adore.
As it happens, I had also been listening to Jeff Buckley’s version of the song a few too many times to be healthy in the weeks before the Festival, and that had always managed to intrigue me, but by comparison, it can’t do anything like Cohen’s version can. It’s husky, it’s candid, it’s bare bones, and it’s brilliant. It seemed to get possibly the greatest applause that I witnessed during the weekend and, if everybody was doing as I was, it was automatic. I could think of nothing else but applause. I couldn’t have shouted anything out. It genuinely hit me like a bottle of wine.

Maybe it was because I was still in a mildly fragile state from the previous few days, but it brought me bloody close to crying. Sad? Probably, but it’s the truth. Whether it was the combination of the music and the setting sun, with the added mix of having the entire crowd hanging off his every word with adoration or not I really don’t know. But it was special. I’ve linked a mobile phone video that somebody put on YouTube below. Check it out if you like. It’s rather good.

In many ways, it was a shame that Hallelujah came in the middle of the set because, as Mike said, it meant that the next few songs almost felt disappointing, but in so many ways I really don’t think Cohen cared, and he definitely kept everyone on board and interested as he continued through the rest of his set.

If you ever get the chance to see Cohen live, do it. Don’t think twice about it. Don’t wait. Just do it. You probably won’t get many chances. If he’s performing at a Festival near you and there are tickets left, buy them, and go. You will not regret it. It’s a statement I’m probably going to grow up to hate myself for saying, as it sounds a bit weak, but he’s an amazing performer, coming across as very commanding over his domain whilst at the same time seeming genuinely humble and honoured to be so adored. Plus, seeing as all his songs are largely, and primarily poems, I would be very surprised if he ever performs the same song quite the same on any two occasions. Brilliant.

Go watch the video: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_tPQQLMXmQ4

The Verve

[last.fm linkage]
Probably the one band I was most excited about pre-Festival. The performance itself has no doubt been well documented. I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially Bitter Sweet Symphony. Nearly returned me to tears again. I believe it brought Owen closer.

Seriously good show though. Very impressive, and clearly appreciated by all who attended. They were every bit as good as you would expect them to be, and deserve any and all praise they receive. Solid performance.

Reckless Abandon

Friday night was Crazy Friday. In fact, Friday in general was Crazy Friday. But it was brilliant, and full of, you guessed it, reckless abandon.

I did everything my mother always told me I shouldn’t do:

  • I wandered around on my own in a strange new place
  • I drank excessively
  • I spoke to (and accepted gifts from) complete strangers
  • I applied the ‘cocktail’ methodology to my stimulants of choice
  • I picked my nose

With hindsight, it was foolish. It was also bloody brilliant, and something that I’d never done before. That’s not an encouragement though.

Anyway, where to begin? Well, my guess is it started with that Guinness at an ungodly hour of the morning. In so many ways it was a wrong choice, yet it seemed so right at the time. Lovely stuff. Then there could be the Hot Spiced Cider. After all, it’s only apple juice fundamentally, so we were all more than entitled to give it a whirl. Invigorating in and off itself.

As I remember it, at some point after this myself and John returned to ‘base camp’ to get some booze and lunch, by which I mean a Pot Noodle and the remains of the first box of red, red wine. Plodded on down towards The Other Stage to meet up with Michael and co, at which point the cave suit was on (it had started spitting again). Here came the first break, as the rest of them were off to see… someone… can’t remember who, and I headed back to Jazz World for the Alabama 3, ‘bag’ of wine now in hand (the box disintegrated in the rain). According to the strangers I was talking to, it looked quite suspicious, me being in, effectively, a boiler suit with a transparent bag in hand containing an unidentified red liquid. I’m sure they loved it really though.

At the end of the Alabama 3 set,which I enjoyed thoroughly, I latched onto some unsuspecting Welsh folk to chat about my dodgy appearance and why I was on my own (“No, really, I _do_ have friends, they’re just… erm… somewhere else…” πŸ™ ). Just before Candi Staton came on stage, Mike and John found me (apparently, my bright yellow suit stood out… *shrugs*) and we made our way to the rest of them to watch – and subsequently boogie a little to – Candi Staton.
Once more, we got talking to strangers. A couple of fellows from down south, and a considerably older gentleman I’m led to believe was not with them, but who was, certainly, loving life. It was a solid hour of banter, and I thank them for that.

After that, I believe myself and John went back to the tent again, or maybe a few more of us did, to replenish food levels (with Noodles) and to grab another beer. I was to be the only one who wanted to see Fun Lovin’ Criminals over the other options so I set off back down there on my own, this time replacing my sun hat with the Indian Headdress. I could probably cite this as the defining moment of the evening.

On the way from The Other Stage to Jazz World, I stopped for another Cider, and shook many strangers hands, not to mention uttering the famous ‘How’ whilst raising my right hand a good few times. The concept made me giggle.

Arriving at FLC, I decided it was too busy for me to be bothered to get near the front, so I wandered aimlessly (and drunkenly) towards the edge of the sound stage. It was hear that I latched onto my second group of the evening – a jovial bunch of guys from Anfield (of course, I played the dubious card and admitted I was a United fan – not something I would have done sober). They were a really nice bunch and seemed to appreciate my odd attire. They offered me a beer which, for a Carling, settled surprisingly well, and soon introduced me to Gary, which I mistakenly thought referred to Green when they first mentioned him. Apparently, I was wrong, and I can only guess his name should be spelt Gar-E. But that’s just a best guess, the truth is, worryingly, that I have no idea. I know it wasn’t negative, and it made me eager to talk to strangers but beyond that, I’m stumped. The Gar-E suggestion came from Mike.

Anyway, the Jolly Scousers soon departed, and I was back to embarrassing myself in front of another group who, I think, were from London way and were only to eager to provide a screen for me to piss behind – a fact I had forgotten until a couple of days later – I know, I’m an embarrassment to my family. πŸ˜‰

After chatting for a while, I realized that I was risking missing Sinead O’Connor, so I made my apologies and left. On the way I got talking to a delightful couple that were heading towards The Other Stage who decided to share some poppers with me before we went our separate ways. Apparently, they liked my headdress. Lovely folks.

I carried on walking, in my blissful state, up past the Left Field stage, where I stopped briefly to cut short some little kids who were trying to take the piss. I blind-sided them with good temperament and wished them a good festival. I still don’t quite know why, it just seemed easier than ignoring them.

Before long I was up by the Acoustic Stage, sat outside it and returning the ever-increasing number of “Hows” I was receiving, even occasionally going as far as responding with “That’s How… for now [dodgy facial expression]”. It amused me greatly.
Up outside the acoustic stage I got talking to Tom and his Czech girlfriend (Katka?). Lovely people. And really quite interesting. God only knows what they thought of me. All I really remember is repeatedly apologising for ruining their evening. I sat outside the tent talking to them most of the way through Sinead’s set. Her set provided great background music.I also spoke to a group from New Zealand and did a crap job of taking their photo for them numerous times. Even the time I tried to rest the camera on Tom’s head didn’t work. Wacky.
We sat, chatted, had a little smoke to stir things up and laughed about Tom’s apparent knee fetish. Fun times.

After staying just long enough to thoroughly embarrass myself I left to go catch the Kings of Leon set. Feeling fairly content still, the walk there passed quickly, with a silly grin slapped across my face. More “Hows” were exchanged.

Wandering around the crowds waiting for the Kings of Leon, my initial intention was to find Mike and John, who I knew were both meant to be there somewhere. Apparently, they were equally smashed after getting through as much of the booze as they could. Solid performance.

However, I didn’t find them, as I was distracted by a fun-loving group who stopped to talk to me. After providing them with my carefully rehearsed caution – “I warn you, I am an idiot and have spent the evening attaching myself to different people as I can’t find my friends” – we joked, laughed about my attire, and smoked some more, and waited for the show. It was fun, but I sort of drifted away from them mid-Kings of Leon as I seemed to be struck by a niggling sense of paranoia / soberness that left me realizing I may be ruining everyone’s night _and_ the fact that they seemed to think I was gay. I questioned what I was doing, and just switched off and watched the rest of the set on my own. That was rude of me, and I apologise. As with most people I met that night, they were a lovely group, and I shouldn’t have let my social ineptitude stand in the way of me trying to be polite. God damn my shy side!

Before the end of the set, I was talking to another two strangers briefly, as one of them wanted his picture taken with the headdress on. I said he could, provided I was in the picture. He agreed, the picture was shocking, and I apologise for ruining it. Besides that, I don’t remember much of the conversation.

As soon as that set finished, I left and set off for The Park, to see the end of Pete Doherty’s set. I’d forgotten how long a walk it was, and arrived just in time to catch the end of it, although I very nearly didn’t see anything – the multicoloured tower in the corner caught my eye and I walked aimlessly towards it… and past the stage.
You can’t make this shit up.
So, after doubling back on myself to see the end of Doherty’s set, I was at a loss as to what to do I realized I was still on my tod, 5 hours after I’d last seen any of my friends, and I was sobering up.

I took a stab in the dark and guessed that the rest of them might be in the Dance Village, so I set off down there feeling distinctly alone.
When I couldn’t spot them, I turned around and walked back up to the tent (near The Park). When they weren’t there, I went _back_ down to the Dance Village where I got a little bit worried when one reveller threw his arms round me and tried to tell me that I had his hat. I don’t remember what exactly I said to him, but I think I took his comments as more threatening than they were intended. So, sorry for that.
If they were meant threateningly however then you, sir, are a cunt, possibly the only one I met that weekend.

As I got back to the tent, John and Mike arrived, both thoroughly drunk. I was glad to see them and chirped up a lot. Shortly after John threw up and passed out. I took photos. Mike had a Pot Noodle (I think). Then we grabbed some Strongbow and headed up to the Silent Disco in The Park, for all of about 30 minutes, after which it closed, and we returned to camp to sit around and talk. Mike slept, and I decided to wait up for Owen and Duncan, like a paranoid parent. I still don’t know why, I guess I just wasn’t sleepy.

And that kids, is the story of Crazy Friday. Or, at least, my interpretation of it. I’m sure the others have their own specific stories and fables as to how their evening went, but that was mine. It was truly reckless, spur of the moment, and surprised me in that regard, but it was also just pure fun, and the first time I’ve ever really felt an significant effect from pills. Very interesting, if not very clever.

The Food

Not the cheapest but – when you balance it off against the circumstances – not ridiculous either. I believe Mike estimated, and we concurred, that you could easily buy every meal of the day for Β£15 each day. Which really isn’t as bad as it could have been, as that estimate is on the generous side in as much as we would feel full after such a day
We, however, took many Pot Noodles with us, and a good few cans of beans (some even with added sausage!) and a spot of soup. We ate (relatively) well, but I don’t want to look at another Pot Noodle for at least another year, no matter how good they were at the time..!

Of course, it also fails to factor in beer. I’m glad we took our own.

Averaged Β£3 a pint, which for a festival isn’t bad, although there were surprisingly few bars offering the bitter.

However, the Hot Spiced Cider stall went down a treat – total win. And, dare I say it, fecking lovely.

Regrets

Surprisingly few, really.

One big one is that I didn’t get to see Duffy. I really should have forced myself off my arse and gone and seen her. Nothing wrong with the Raconteurs, but I do rather like the Welsh girl.

Another one would probably be for the few artists I really wanted to see but didn’t manage it – namely Groove Armada, the full Massive Attack set, and Fatboy Slim.

Yet another one would be that I didn’t spend more time around The Park. Some good stuff on up there.

One more? Missing out on Tony Benn because of a timetable change. I actually wasn’t that bothered to see him pre-Festival,Β  but the disappointment of a later schedule-change bothered me. Fucker. πŸ˜‰

Final one? Not taking the Monday off work. Not only because it nearly killed me, but because I would have rather enjoyed going fookin’ crazy on the last night. That would probably have killed me as well.

Conclusions

Glastonbury really doesn’t need a conclusion. It met and surpassed all my expectations.

However, one caveat – keep the variation. Maybe hip-hop doesn’t warrant a headline slot yet, but it needs a place. Good hip-hop is, well, good. And it was a brave choice. So bravo.

If you get the chance, go to 2009. And if you do, let me know. We’ll beer.

LUGRadio Coming to an End…

Well, it’s been posted in numerous places already, and I really meant to write something about it sooner, but LUGRadio is apparently coming to an end at the end of its present season (finishing up with LUGRadio Live 2008 in a few weeks time).

Both Aq’s and Jono’s blogs gave pretty detailed reasons for the sad news.

As, it seems, with the rest of the LUGRadio faithful, I was pretty gutted when I heard the news.

I can understand the reasons, afterall, it isn’t and has never been planned as being a job for any of the presenters, even if they managed to pump out shows with scary regularity over the 5 seasons they’ve done.

Personally, I started listening to the show regularly when I was away in Egypt, so probably around Season 3, as I was experimenting more and more with Linux and Free Software on my laptops as a way of passing the time. The show was good to listen to, gave a good update of some of the things going on in the various Open Source communities and projects around the world and, as much as anything, gave me a good solid dose of British humour whilst I was away, rather than watching various downloaded comedies on repeat. There was always good (not always clean) banter and it did serve to provide great amusement.

To that end, even though I have never really been a very active part of the LUGRadio community – preferring to stay in the shadows both in IRC and on the forums – I decided last year to attend LUGRadio Live 2007, seeing as I was back in the country when it was on and thought it would be a laugh. I think my review from then really sums up what I thought about it- it was a great laugh and really was like being at one huge show. Good information, and general fun.

So, yeh, attend LUGRadio Live 2008 this year. There’s no need to register, just turn up and pay on the door. If you’re heading down from Lancaster, give me a shout – I haven’t decided yet, but I’ll either be driving or getting the train down again (probably the train) – it’s always fun to have people to talk to.

As for the LUGRadio Team – great job over the time I’ve been listening to the show. I think it’s clear from the responses your posts have invoked that your regular banter will be missed, and I’m sure most people, like m, will still follow your various blogs and postings just as avidly before. So have fun, and hopefully you’ll change your minds for a commemorative season at some point… πŸ˜‰

Seriously, big thanks for all the laughs, and we’ll see you at LRL2008 – I’m sure it’ll be bigger than ever!

Β LRL-08-Banner

Illumina 2008

Well, I’m on the train. Leaving Bristol and heading home after what can only be described as a purely epic couple of days, constructed in pure win and bonded together with spontaneity.

Quite how I ended up in Bristol during a trip to Oxford still slightly baffles me, but hopefully the following will make it all a bit clearer, to me as much as to you. We’ll see.

Anyway, Oxford. Indeed. Why was I there? Well, I was there to attend the Trinity Ball ‘Illumina’ (http://www.thetrinityball.com/), a rather heroic event that John was able to source us tickets for and that gave us a good excuse to dress up in White Tie and generally get messy.

It was to be an all night event, starting at around 19:00 on the Friday night and concluding at 05:00 Saturday morning. Food and drink was included all night, along with a range of entertainment.
I had been excited about it for a long time. Anticipation, as well as expectations, was high and I felt confident it wouldn’t disappoint. It didn’t.
Our band of merry men for this evening, whilst a little down on original numbers through different commitments consisted of myself, John, John’s brother Phil, and friends of John, some of whom I’d met before, some I hadn’t. Atmosphere was jolly.

Anyway, back to the beginning.
Given that the nature of the weekend was always going to be big, it had been decided that we should start it on a large as well, meaning I was going to travel down Thursday evening, and Phil was going to head across during the afternoon, and we were all going to have a mighty fine steak and potato dinner, accompanied by red wine, later on Thursday evening. Given that I was due to arrive at 10, that would have been easily achievable and at the same time would have provided an adequate warm-up for the big event the next day.
However, the plan backfired, dramatically, when my first train leaving Lancaster was half an hour late, meaning I was going to miss my connection in Stafford, meaning that my new (and improved?) route took me into Birmingham New Street, at which point I had to walk to Moor Street, get another train to Leamington Spa, change in Leamington Spa, and finally get into Oxford at the ripe old time of 00:20. Needless to say, I wasn’t too amused with that plan. But, it worked, and it got me there. These things happen.
Phil and John meanwhile, rightly decided to crack on with their steaks at a same time, leaving mine for the following day, and then came down to see me at the station as I arrived, and gave me moral support as I bought my first Doner Kebab whilst sober in a long, long time. Not _quite_ the start to the weekend that I had in mind, but you crack on regardless, don’t you?
The kebab was actually fairly good – not as crispy as the usual late night versions, and piled high with cheese and salad. The packaging left much to be desired, and soon disintegrated under the weight of grease, and the fork snapped at the lightest feeling of resistance from the meat, but it worked. It also got washed down fairly well by the red wine. Win born out of moderate fail. Good start.
The evening continued, banter was had, and people started to sleep. for John and I though, the night was young, and we decided to max it up by popping the GOD Channel on the old telebox and laughing / cringing / mocking the highly ‘informative’ Creationism program that happened to be on. Perfect 3am television.
John soon went to sleep as well, so I defaulted to trusty Dave and watched through a bit of Have I Got News For You – never fails to keep me amused. I fell asleep at some point after that and woke up, slightly dazed, but feeling good, around 10ish. The concept of steak for breakfast was still heavy on my mind. And it didn’t disappoint. I believe John sourced the steaks from the local covered market – hearty recommendation.

The daytime passed at a surprising rate. We headed into town to allow Phil and John to get a haircut, and I took the advantage of free time to go visit The Bear – quite possibly my favourite drinking spot in Oxford. We all met up there and had a pleasant couple of pints, then went back down past John’s to play a bit of football, which I am embarassed to admit I have not really done in a long time. It was a hell of a lot of fun, and very sweat provoking – what better way to prepare for a 10 hour drinking session..?!

Back at base gave us a relatively rushed hour or so to get showered and dressed, with John providing much needed advice as I found myself slightly out of my depth in such formal attire. We found one unfortunate error, which was the absence of a waistcoat for Phil, but carried on regardless and put on a good show all around. We finally left a little bit later than had originally been planned, but the queue moved quickly and before long we found ourselves in the rather plush surroundings of Trinity College. It happens everywhere you look in Oxford, but it really did reinforce why I love visiting the place – so much history and absolutely brilliant buildings.
Everyone seemed cheery as the crowds poured in. Champagne met you on arrival, along with finger snacks. Somewhat predictably, both myself and John opted for the bread stick half wrapped in meat, although John proceeded to throw his at the floor when he got through the meat-covered bit (* note: When I say ‘throw his at the floor’, what I actually mean is he dropped it, accidentally, and it landed on a stranger’s foot. But I prefer the first option as a story-telling tool).
Shortly after that it was decided we would hunt for the Sushi bar we were delighted to discover in the programme. Alas, it wasn’t open yet, so we indulged rather heavily in the Loch Fyne Oysters. Bloody delicious. I hadn’t eaten oysters in a long time, so it was pretty fulfilling to get back into the swing of that. Absolute result.
It should be mentioned that in the square where this was happening was also the location of the fountain. Naturally, we tried to get some photos, some of which worked, some didn’t. ‘Twas all good though.
From here, we meandered on and through towards the real heart and soul of the evening – the Champagne Bar and, in turn, the gateway to the real festivities – food tents, multiple bars, laser quest, dodgems, the music tent, and the hot air balloon. In the immortal words of Team America: Fuck Yeah.
After getting through more Champagne than was probably either polite or sensible, a wave of relief came over me as we discovered that the security-esque people up in the high windows, talking on their radios and with somewhat suspicious, potentially rifle-like implmements at the ready, were not in fact snipers, but were at the ready to blow blue and gold tape out over the pit of eager, hungry, thirsty individuals, and the gates were opened.
Being gentlemen, we decided to not charge through with the crowds, but took the opportunity to return and scoff more oysters and take some more finger food. Solid choices.

It didn’t take us long though and we were in there battling like Champions at the main tents. The array and quality really was quite staggering. Steak sandwiches, Fajitas, Doughnuts, Chocolate Fountains, Wine Bars, Spirit Bars, General Purpose Bars, Cabaret Tent, Main Band Tent, Lounge Tent, all combined to make it a truly smooth event.
Going into excessive detail of every single step over the next few hours would probably be excessive (and difficult), so I won’t bother, all I’ll do is select a few key moments during the night:

– Reaching personal milestones (from a survival stand point). This was a pretty useful way to pace myself throughout the evening although it came with its own flaw – I conned myself into believing I was doing much too well by around the 2 o’clock mark and so got a little bit silly. I paid dearly for this mistake later on.
– Waking up strangers. Pretty much as it says on the tin. We saw a few people trying to catch a sly sleep in the hall where tea, coffee, and chocolates abounded. Needless to say we felt that they were only fooling themselves, so we rapped on the table to wake them. Most of them took it in good spirits, the odd few looked like they wanted to kill us. Slowly. Whilst causing maximum discomfort. Hilarious.
– Sugarbabes. I still can’t work out why, but I waited, and sweated, a good long while to see them come on stage (late). After the first couple of songs I realized I really wasn’t all that bothered about it, so I left to find John and Sushi. Full marks go to Phil and Mike for staying the distance in there. It was warm. Still, interesting headliner, and it seemed a lot of people enjoyed it. The OU Big Band was worth seeking out though.
– Sushi.
– Casino. And more specifically coming away heroically after throwing it all down on Lucky 35. Considering no real money was involved, it was uber exciting.
– Talking / Being Spoken to by Strangers. Brilliant. Simply brilliant. I just wish I wasn’t quite so socially inept so that I could do what they did. Because it was fantastic. And friendly, and highly humourous. And, in many ways, made the night what it was – pure atmosphere.
– Spilling wine all over the table and proceeding to ensure everyone that I could actually ‘hoover’ it all up without it spilling. Not my proudest moment. John did the right thing by mopping it up for me when I went for a quick break.
– Sushi. And the girl from Preston who was covering the stand when we got there. Good, solid bit of banter. Also, full marks to the girl who seemed angry at many things, but still having a good time. Strong conversation.
– Dreaming up weird and wonderful plans to escape in the hot air balloon. Lesson learned: research is required.
– Missing out on the Survivor’s Photo because we were getting more wine. In many ways this was a failure, but at the same time has its own merits.
– Missing out on the Bacon Sandwiches because there was a queue. Absolute fail, and probably harmed me in the long run.
– {This list will get extended, almost certainly}

And that sums up the rest of the evening until leaving time, more or less. At this point my memory draws an absolute blank. I know we left, and I know we got back to John’s house, but the bit in the middle (probably around half an hour to an hour) is an absolute blank. Others seem to have a similar opinion. Which is worrying.

Once we got back to John’s, I really wasn’t feeling all that great, but knew that I had to keep going. Phil suggested (somewhat valiantly) that we head into town to get a McFlurry to settle our / my stomach. I agreed, and McFlurry became my new goal. I also decided to leave my shoes and socks at John’s. Not my proudest moment, but off we went.
The journey back into town was painful, but full of banter. We got some fun pictures of Phil with strangers, and generally had some fun discussions. Disaster was just around the corner though.
As we arrived at McDonalds we were informed McFlurry’s weren’t available at 6.30 in the morning – I know, shocking.
It sounds incredibly pathetic, but that one act of denial seemed to hit me particularly bad, and I went downhill at an astounding rate. Phil tried to get me to eat a McDonalds bagel and sup a coffee, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I was dejected, lost, and without shoes. I also whole-heartedly believe the McFlurry could have saved me, as the one we got at 11.30 picked me up no end. We certainly got milage out of our hired gear as well.
But, with Bagel and coffee in hand, we returned to John’s and I spiralled into slumber whilst Phil kept himself fired up by hammering away at Pro Evo, largely because I’d robbed his sleeping spot.
However, a couple of hours sleep and I felt refreshed, and this time it was McFlurry time.
back into the white tie attire we got, and out we went. McFlurry first, then beer. Because it was the only thing that made sense at the time.

The first beer in the King’s Arms was incredibly painful and took a while to go down but it got there, and with it came flooding back feelings of drunkeness. Not quite the pickup I was looking for when I suggested a pint, but it did seem to work. From there we trekked across to the White Horse, talking to a few more strangers on the way, before proceeding to the Bear and meeting up with John, and then wasting a long, long time deciding where we wanted to go to get some real food. By the time we decided the pub had stopped serving and Pizza Hut weren’t doing a buffet, so we headed for the safety of the covered market and went for that oh-so-healthy, King of Hangover-Cures – the Full English. Plenty of banter was to be had with the owner of the place (A Portugese fellow we lovingly referred to as Big Phil, for some reason) and shared idle gossip with another couple of near-survivors and an elderly lady who was sat on the next table.
Then back to John’s.
And this is where, dear reader, our story takes a dramatic twist.
I had already missed my return train from Oxford – that option had gone out of the window whilst the beer flowed – but Phil was toying with returning to Bristol for his friend’s 21st Birthday.
I’d never been to Bristol, but I quite fancied seeing what it was like. Pressure was applied when Phil asked me to decide, basically inferring that if I was up for it, he’d go then and we’d have a Bristol night out or, if not, he’d stay and leave on Sunday. Decisions were made, bags were packed and, still in white tie, we headed for the train station and were on our way to Bristol.
I still don’t _really_ know why, although I do know that I was feeling the proverbial burn as we sat on the train. The eyes drooped, the mouth got drier and I was firmly on the edge of that little town called Hangover.
By 20.30 though, we were in Bristol. If anybody’s not been before, it’s actually quite a nice looking place – much nicer than I was expecting it to be in fact.
We did the wise thing, and took a taxi from the station to Phil’s house, and had a whirlwind introduction to some of his mates. Emergency orange juice was sourced, and a warm can of Strongbow was packed for the journey and we set off out towards the Bristol night life, still dressed in tails, albeit both of us were not bothering with the full effort of tie and waistcoat. A few bars were taken in, cocktails were drunk and, following us witnessing Russia’s shock victory over the Dutch, 3 shots of vodka were consumed. I’m pretty sure I made no sense, and had a generally subdued expression throughout the night, so full marks to Phil’s friends for putting up with me and making me feel welcome – I genuinely wasn’t being rude, nor having a bad time, I was just massively fatigued!
Phil played the game well back in Bristol and fared much better than I, lasting longer and drinking harder. It really did deserve a medal.
Once back at Phil’s I believe I fell asleep in the armchair, after a little more Vodka, and woke up and shifted myself to a bed around 05:00. I slept solidly but the time seemed to pass slowly. It definitely rejuvenated me enough though, making it at least manageable to get down to the station and arrange for a ticket back to Lancaster.
Whilst awaiting the train, I must admit the shakes returned with a vengeance, and the Cheese and Onion Pasty I acquired to help smooth me out didn’t quite have its desired effect. Still, it gave me the time to start writing this.

As for reflections on the event? I think it’s all pretty much been said, or hopefully been clear.
It’s been a great weekend – purely epic. It’s been overkill on the drink front, and has probably taken years off my life expectancy, but I’d do it again in an instant.
I can’t thank John and Phil enough, and their friends I was lucky enough to meet in both places for their hospitality and banter they all provided. It really was a classic event.
For anyone else who has the opportunity to get tickets to such an event in the future, I would heartily recommend you do it at all costs. You get way more than what you pay for in terms of surface value, and you get so much more from the atmosphere and jovial nature of the event and the people.

When I decided I was going to write something about the weekend, I also decided I needed a healthy quote to get across the meaning of what went on. Phil provided it perfectly as we were headed to the train station in Bristol today, so here it is:

There’s only so many things you can do in white tie. I think we’ve done most of them.” – Mr P Walmsley, 22nd June 2008

Thanks again to everyone I met, disturbed, frustrated, embarrassed, and laughed with. I’ll try and add pictures to this at some point, and will probably steal in a couple of other sly edits / typo-fixes as I find them.

EPIC

No other word comes remotely close.

We went out last night to watch the Champions League Final between Manchester United and Chelsea. Originally we were going to try to get to Manchester to see it, when we thought there would still be the large outdoor screens. Alas, the Rangers trouble put paid to that idea.

As it was, Lancaster proved to be a fine venue, with busy places and little trouble (that we saw, anyway).

The match itself was, to my mind, superb. It could only have have been better if it had been 2 or 3 a piece by the end of Extra Time. There was little to separate the two teams and they both most definitely ‘brought their A Game’ to the table for it. United owned most of the first half, Chelsea the second, and the reverse being true in Extra Time.

Chelsea’s goal was perhaps lucky with the bounces, but it was well taken and it had been coming. United perhaps should have had a couple more with some very near misses, but Chelsea could well have had one or two as well.

Ronaldo screwed up. The moment he hesitated on the penalty I felt he was going to miss. He had a great game, and it can’t be held against him, but I often find myself watching him and just wishing he’d tone down the cheekiness / cockiness for a while. Sympathies to John Terry – another great player who deserved to get a goal and the winner, but that’s the problem with penalties.
It was also refreshing to see us win through a save rather than a complete miss from Anelka.

I had been talking the week before with Pete about this, but this is the first season that I’ve really got back into watching and following the football. It’s been a great season and thrilling right to the end, plus it was nice to see a non-major side winning the FA Cup (would have been nicer if it was Cardiff but… πŸ˜‰ ).

Thrilling stuff, reminded me of all the excitement I used to have for the game, and for once I actually cannot wait till the start of the next season.

Been Watching…

The last week or so’s seen me watching a few things I either haven’t watched / heard much of before, or that I’ve been waiting desperately for for a good long while. Figured I might as well share…

Music Decides… and Wins

A little while back I was at work, drunk / hungover, with little to do and my wallet in my pocket. Oh, and with access to the internet.

We were stood around, talking about films, and I was wracking my brain trying to think up the title of a film that I simply love the soundtrack of, but had actually never seen. After much deliberation, frustrated (and foolish) guesses the name came to me (via Google-searching the Artists and Tracks…) – Natural Born Killers by Oliver Stone / Quentin Tarantino, and starring Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis as the murderers central to the story. As mentioned, it’s the first time I’d done it, but I wanted to watch it and bought it purely on the strength of the soundtrack. And I wasn’t disappointed.

I’m not going to bother getting into the little details you can find all over the place about what this movie means / analyzes / comments on but it is fascinating to see a couple of the points the characters raise in their various little segments, especially after they’ve been arrested. To be fair, up until that point I found the film enjoyable and entertaining, but it was the stretch after they’d been arrested and were in jail that really gripped me. Mickey (Harrelson) being interviewed by Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.) was great.

Well worth a watch, especially if you enjoyed such things Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and similar.

Mr. Stephen Fry recommends…

I’ve enjoyed various things featuring Stephen Fry for a good long while now, and just before I returned from being in Egypt I read his auto-biography – Moab is My Washpot and, to borrow a popular phrase, fucking loved it. The way it was written, the humour, the story-telling, the sensible parts, the analysis of different things, all added together to make it thoroughly bloody good read, and set off a somewhat renewed passion for seeking out some of his other things (not his physical possessions and the like, you understand, more like his different articles and the like as they caught my eye). It was shortly after this when I noticed he had written a piece for The Guardian entitled ‘Deliver Us From Microsoft’,Β  commenting on Ubuntu and some other open source things, and had posted this on his blog. The blog quickly became a new staple addition to my growing list of RSS Feeds I try to read through every so often. Not too long after, that same RSS Feed notified me that he was starting to do a podcast. Bloody brilliant. And well worth a listen.

Anyway, now that I’ve given you all that spiel, the podcast that affects this little story was Episode 2 – Bored of the Dance, in which, amongst other things covering not liking to dance and music in general, he quotes a scene from the 1988 film Running on Empty by Sidney Lumet and starring Christine Lahti, River Phoenix, and Judd Hirsch, amongst others.

The scene he quotes is one I’d actually heard of before, but never remembered the name of the film, and it’s the part fairly close to the start of the film, where Danny Pope (River Phoenix), on his first day in a new school and using another fake identity (read the IMDB description or Fry’s blog to get a rough idea of the background), chirps up from his seat at the back of the music class he’s just joined, and makes a pretty insightful comment above and beyond the answers put forward by his peers to mark out the difference between a piece of Classical music (in the scene’s case, Beethoven) and a piece of modern pop music. Watch the film (or listen to Fry) if you want to know what he says. It’s good. Or, at least, I thought it was.

Anyway, based on what was mentioned in that Podcast, I figured it was worth a go and, seeing I was already ordering Natural Born Killers from Amazon, I might as well double my drunken spending spree and go really wild. So I also bought a copy of Snatch, as I hadn’t watched that in a long time.

To be short, it was a much better film than I’d anticipated. From wha I’d heard about it I figured I’d like it, but I thought it would be one of those that I could take or leave. I was wrong. It’s not high-paced, action-packed or any of that fun stuff, but it is a simply excellent storyline and script that really draws you in and gets you associated with the characters and the complications / dilemmas they are forced to face. Good stuff.Β  I can thoroughly recommend it.

Who’s a Cylon…?

That’s right, Battlestar Galactica Season 4 has begun. Bloody brilliant. Can’t get enough of it. That is all.

3 Years in Egypt (3 Months On)

Note: I’ve been trying to write this for a good while now, so most of what you read was written just before I left, with the last bits added more recently. Guess I’m just lazy. Anyway, enough of that bollocks. Here it is.

– – – – – – – –Β 

Well, I was toying with not starting this until I was actually back in the UK, but seeing as I have some free time I figured I’d try and jot down a few things now and see where it gets to.

Basically, tomorrow night I will be getting on a plane in Cairo and flying back to Manchester, on a one-way ticket, effectively bringing to an end my working in Egypt for the past 3 years.
It’s a little bit weird. But at the same time I’m looking forward to being back.

Anyway, the next stretch of text doesn’t really have a structure as of yet, but I’ve got a feeling it could be fairly long-winded, so I’ll try to break it up as best I can.

Arrival

I first arrived in Egypt in the late hours of 4th November 2004 completely and utterly confused.
I was being met by someone I’d never met before, jumping on a bus with him, and taking another 12 hour journey to Marsa Alam before I could consider ‘settling in’.
The night I arrived in Cairo coincided with a popular local football match that had just finished, leaving huge traffic jams, excessive car horn blaring, and people running around all excited with victory. I was just confused.
After finally getting to the bus station and getting sat on a crowded bus, we set off and I tried (ineffectively) to get some sleep.
6 hours later we got to Hurghada, spent an hour driving around in a taxi trying to find a hotel where we could get a few hours of sleep before meeting guests that were arriving that night… all in the first day.

Another interesting fact that came up here was that when I arrived in Egypt, unbeknown to me, the month of Ramadan was already under way. Not speaking any Arabic, and not knowing the place, and being with Yasser who was fasting, effectively left me without food until sunset. That’s not a complaint by the way, it just added to the overall surreal atmosphere of the first few hours in the country, away from everything I knew and understood. It was all outweighed by the fact that once the sun did go down, we had some cracking local grub just around the corner from the hotel. Lots of foul, falafels and all that good stuff. Yasser was good company and did his utmost to make sure I was alright.

The next phase was out of his control though – going to the airport to collect a group of Polish guests who were heading down to the Marsa Alam camp with us. We went to the airport after eating, then proceeded to wait for roughly 6 hours as their flight was delayed. Champion.

So, by the time they arrived and we were finally able to set off to the Deep South Diving Center and Camp where I was to be learning the local dive sites for the next few weeks, I passed out in the back of the taxi and woke up when we arrived at the camp around sunrise, at 0600, my internal body clock completely out of sync with having had little sleep, and the only sleep achieved being during daylight hours. However, we quickly got stuff sorted, met Karim and the staff there, unpacked my dive gear, and a couple of hours later I was in the water checking my weights and seeing the local dive sites. The tiredness and confusion soon passed.

The Deep South Experience

The location and layout of the camp at Marsa Um Tundoba is great. With a hilltop open-fronted chillout spot (now decorated as a bar) able to look over the sea and sunrise to the east and towards the hills, mountains and sunset in the west, it provides pretty dramatic landscapes at any time of the day.
Powered by generators running for a few hours each day, with a small number of two person huts, with shared bathrooms and one large restaurant area with floor seating and having similar views to the bar area at the top of the hill, the whole camp was completely different to anything I could have pictured or imagined, but in a good way.
In all honesty, settling in took longer than I thought it would, most probably due to it being so dramatically different. The people were cool, the place was cool, the diving was… cool, and the mosquitoes feasted on my skin every night – they loved it, but it took me a while to manage any real sleep. Having never really encountered mosquitoes before (that I could remember anyway) they took some getting used to, and I spent the first few weeks covered in little red blotches. No amount of repellent seemed to work and in the end it seemed to come down to just working out the most efficient way of sleeping, being covered up, but not cooking yourself in the process. In my own humble way, I like to think I did friggin’ excellently conjuring up that solution. Kinda.

To be honest, there’s really not that much more I can add on the Deep South experience for those first 6 weeks without going into even more mundane detail than is necessary. After about two weeks there I had a 2 day spell of shitting brown water during which I was unable to do very much except feel sorry for myself but – touch wood – that was the only time during my entire time here that I ever got sick, which I think is par for the course. Your body takes a battering adjusting at first, and then just deals with it.

As already mentioned, my initial spell at Deep South was for just 6 weeks, after which I came back to the UK for Christmas and New Year. The original plan at that point was to come back to a basically-ready MV Tala, although in the end that wasn’t quite what happened.

The ‘Gap’

Even when I was first leaving from Cairo, it was obvious the boat wasn’t going to be ready until I got back, and reasonably it was expected it would be a couple of months late. In the meantime I’d be back in Deep South continuing to learn the sites and generally get some diving in. Which is nice.

AG came down in January giving me a chance to video and listen in on Tech 1 classes – all good stuff – and myself and Faisal started doing some dives and managing to keep pushing myself bit by bit. There was a lot of good stuff to learn.
Various things continued to hold the boat up, and in turn my time at Deep South extended right until the end of May, when I came back for a little while before heading back out to join a finally finished Tala to have her first trips in late summer.

It’s fair to at least claim that this time was ‘wasted’ in terms of what I could have been earning. Whilst I probably earned more than most of the guys in the camp overall, it was still considerably less than I could have earned if I’d have stayed in the UK, even with the extra expenses involved with that.
And I don’t regret sticking it out at the camp at all, and would rather argue that the time really wasn’t wasted, if only from the standpoint of slowly getting used to the differences between being in Egypt and being in the UK (β€œEgyptian Time” is only a small part of this). Besides which, staying out allowed me to do plenty of diving, and get to know Karim and Faisal better, all of which have helped make the rest of my time out here much easier, and develop good friendships, as well as the other people I met through them.
No, I definitely wouldn’t take the different route if I had chance to choose again.

Other than that, there’s not much more to add to that intervening period. I was, of course, disappointed that the boat stuff hadn’t gone through as planned, but then I could hardly blame anyone for that, these things just happen, and it’s not as if I was the only person it not being ready would affect!

M/V Tala – The Early Phases

So, finally, towards the end of summer 2005, we started the first few trips with the newly finished boat, mainly with Russian guests.

At this point, it’s probably fair to say that our (Faisal’s and mine) collective liveaboard experiences didn’t really amount to much, my only previous trip being cut short by having to evacuate a guest to the chamber, and Faisal also being new to the game. We had on board an Egyptian guide who Faisal had had recommended and who seemed to talk the talk. In all honesty, he just failed to walk the walk. To me, in a purely personal opinion, I could never adapt to the guy. He seemed up himself, over-confident and nearly always wrong. He was difficult to get on with on a number of levels, although it’s probably fair to say that at least one of those levels I can take some of the blame for, in that I simply didn’t understand him as a person. He was nice enough, but it all seemed superficial. But I’m probably being harsh.

Anyway, we plodded on, spending most of the first year doing things my body really didn’t appreciate: diving our asses off, partying like crazy, sleeping minimally, and occasionally drinking excessively.

It was a lot of fun, but by the time it came for a rest, I think I actually heard my inner self subtly scream β€œThank fuck for that!”. It was after that first season that I pretty much realized things needed to sharpen up in terms of doing things ‘properly’, as otherwise I simply wouldn’t be able to keep up with such a cycle – it makes it very easy to see how folk suffer burnout in that sort of environment.

The Latter Part

The remaining time there went remarkably quick, all things considered, and included some superb mini-projects and individual dives, and generally a lot of laughs. With the Egyptian guide gone from the boat, it was down to Faisal and I to run everything, pretty much off the top of our heads and, whilst it may not be too modest, I thing we finally did a pretty good job. We had difficulties, but managed to get round them (more credit to Faisal than me on that though), and plodded on through the season, still with a lot of merriment, but a little bit more toned down (overall) than the year before. Well, kinda…

Ironically, I also had during this time a couple of pissed off moments, as the blog will no doubt attest to but, looking back, I think they were more an example of me getting pissed off with myself than with whatever I’d choose to blame. Whatever the reason, it soon passed.

The season went well, and culminated in a fun week that was not only full of some great diving with a small, well qualified group, but also resulted in a small magazine article with my own text – that was quite cool to get.

Start of the next season had Mo come join us to work on the boat, meaning Faisal could take a bit more time off you, you know, be a boss. πŸ™‚ Mo was a friend of Faisal’s from Beirut, and I think it’s fair to say the pair of us got on well right from the off, even if the first week was full of various problems. Having worked in diving in quite a few other places including Cypress and Beirut, Mo had plenty of experience and useful tips and was a lot of fun to have around. We also had a few great parties, and he did his best to educate me in some of the rules of The Game although, to be fair, I was shit.

That season passed, and Mo headed back to Lebanon for a while, putting myself and Faisal back on for the next season. In addition to that, we got a lot of help from Stijn, a Belgian dive guide who’d run the Belgian trips from Blue Paradise that we’d had on for a few weeks each season since the year before. Like with Mo, I found Stijn easy to get on with, and with a shed-load of experience running Belgian liveaboard trips in the Red Sea – whilst we didn’t always get the chance to party quite as hard with the Belgians as we did the Russians, we still got some insanely fun dives, usually making full use of the scooters and chasing sharks.

With that season ended, and my final one about to begin, Mo was back around for another fairly intensive season. In terms of things coming together and being more organized, I think it was clear by this season that it had been getting better all the time. The workload was heavy but we all seemed to gel properly and get things done. Nothing’s perfect, but as a comparison to where we had been and what we’d come to, I think it’s fair to say we’d done good.

Done and Dusted

And that was that. A quick(ish) run-down of my spending three years in Egypt. Although I finished this a lot later than when I originally started it, I’ve tried to skip through later things to keep from repeating myself – needless to say I could have gone on much longer with various little stories and anecdotes which, whilst they were funny to me, would probably not do much for any folks reading it.

I had a blast during my time there, and met some great people I’ll no doubt keep in touch with for a long time but, I guess, at the end of the day, three years was enough for me right now.

Do I have any regrets about doing it? None at all.

Did I give it up because I got bored of it? Not really. I’m still eager to dive and teach and enjoyed the work to the full while I was doing it.

Would I do it all again, given the chance? Damn right I would – I think I got plenty done in that time and got a lot out of it personally, not limited to life experience. I think the only difference if I was to do it again would be that I’d have to go ‘all out’ and actually live there, as opposed to the ‘Suitcase Living’ that I was doing recently.
Don’t misunderstand though, that was fun, but by the end of three years of doing it, it got tiresome. And I just don’t think I’m quite prepared to fully move away from the UK yet. Maybe I never will. We’ll see.