Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

I hope you all have a great Halloween. However you are celebrating!

Here are a few ideas...
  • Watch a scary film
  • Read a scary novel
  • Dress up in a themed costume
  • Decorate your desk
  • Conduct a seance
  • Go on a ghost walk
  • Visit a haunted house
  • Go ghost hunting

Nerdy Audiophile Teen Years

I blame my brother to a large extent. He introduced me to the world of vinyl record collecting in my early teens. By the time I could pay for things myself I had quite a few albums, many purchased in sales for ridiculously cheap prices or in secondhand record shops. I don't see so many of those these days but I used to like nothing better than catching the bus to Birmingham and spending most the day in second hand record shops rifling through boxes of vinyl records hoping to find some classics at a cheap price.
My equipment for listening for hours and hours on my own in my bedroom started out with some pretty rudimentary hand-me-down stuff. I was given my dad's old Sony stereo system. The tuner, tape deck and amplifier were all in one box and it had pretty decent turntable, I used to treat the amp with scorn but thought the turntable was passable. When I had saved up enough money I bought the components of my first stereo system. It took me a long time and I bought audio equipment magazines to read reviews, to try and find the best matching components - to hear the music at its best, you needed a separates system not something mass produced by one manufacturer in a stack. No, no stacked hi-fi system would do. I had to go and hear what I was going to buy before I would make up my mind. I bought my turntable first. It was manufactured by a small British company called Rega Research. It looked amazing with a square black plinth, smokd perspex lid and the turntable was heavy because it was a thick glass disk covered with a felt mat. My amplifier was made by Denon, I think they are a Japanese company. My speakers were made by Mission. I couldn't afford a tape deck and I thought tapes were a bit past their sell by date, even in the late 1980s. Instead I bought a Marantz CD player for which, I have to admit to you now, I bought Soul Provider by Michael Boulton and thought it sounded lovely. I couldn't afford a tuner either because all my money went on the pieces I saved up for. I had to make some compromises, not like a friend of mine who spent what must have been a fortune at the time on a Bang & Olufson system. I heard it one lunchtime from school in his small bedroom and I thought it sounded naff. I was probably being a bit sniffy because B&O made systems not separates. I had to admit though, the B&O systems were very pleasing on the eye - like the Ferrari of the hi-fi world.
I loved my hi-fi set up. It didn't last for long though. I moved away from home to university and apart from some brief spells at home after that I had left home to get a job and boxed up my system. My wife has never seen it. It has been in my folks' loft for 20 years. I'm going to be reclaiming it finally. I am in fear and trepidation because this plan is a secret from my wife, who will probably not speak to me if I bring it into the house. Am I right to reclaim it and bring it into my family world? I want my son and daughter to hear the wonderful sound a record can make. They have never heard music from such equipment in their life.

My Hi-Fi Separates System

Denon amplifier

Mission speakers (not quite the model I have but very close)

Rega Planar 3 turntable (a beauty)
Marantz CD player

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I'm Lovin' It!

This is a photograph I took last November of the outside of our local McDonald's restaurant early one morning. I haven't eaten at the restaurant since starting the diet. I do think McDonald's food is enjoyable to eat but too much can be bad, just like too much of anything can be bad.

The fast food restaurant I did go to on Saturday with my son was Subway. I had a 6" sub called the Italian BMT, BMT standing for Big Meaty Treat and yes it was three different types of meat with melted cheese. Mmm lovely. It was enough to last me from 10:30 until 5:30pm. Food on the go is nice, when eaten in moderation.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Hunger Games

Our local library is open again after being closed for refurbishment for several weeks. I have to admit that I'm usually a big fan of libraries but this one is a bit of a disppointment. I guess I might have been spoiled by having such a cool library where we used to live. I still haven't given up my old ticket, so could in theory still use my old one. Anyway, I was going past with my son on Saturday and I asked if he'd like to pop in to see if there was a book he'd like to find to read. He said yes, so in we went. I borrowed the DVD of the film The Hunger Games. I have a sample chapter on my Kindle to read but have not delved into it yet, I read a comment from a friend who said it was really good. The books have been marketed at the younger generation but my friend thought they were too good just for a teenage audience to enjoy. I have to say that I thought the film was well made and acted beautifully. Well worth watching, if you missed it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sour into sweet don't go!

I was watching The Food Network channel on Saturday morning and in particular a programme called Andy Bates American Street Feasts. He's a British chef who picks out great American street food vendors, it's a great because he finds these amazing little places which serve food that is to die for. He also cooks up his own American inspired variations, which also look pretty great.
I decided one of his recipes looked so good I would give it a try myself, it also seemed to fit well with our diet. Here it is from memory:
  • Add a splash of oil to a pan
  • chop some onions and add to pan
  • chop some tomatoes and add to pan
  • chop up a sweet potato into chunks and add to pan
  • Pour a tin of red kidney beans into the pan (don't drain it beforehand)
  • Pour a tin of drained sweetcorn into pan
  • Fry until all is soft
  • Add a couple of tablespoons of smoked paprika
  • Leave to simmer and reduce down
Next you make some pancakes, I made vegan pancakes because I thought I'd give them a go without any eggs. They're not bad actually and the best part is that they're quite filling too, moreso than pancakes made with egg. Well, the idea is to spoon the filling into the pancakes.
When done it should look like this:

My only problem is that I made the pancakes with just a bit too much sugar, they were sweet and for breakfast that's fine but it just didn't work too well with my filling. I'll know if there is a next time. If you want to try out the vegan pancakes you can find the recipe at the site I linked to, just look for the New York episode.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


The album 99.9F by Suzanne Vega is a particular favourite of mine. For me, this is my favourite album by Suzanne Vega. I love her voice and the originality of the poetic lyrics. I had liked My Name Is Luka and Tom's Diner. I remember watching the TV when I first saw her appear as a thin, frail looking young woman from America with thin, lanky hair and a huge acoustic guitar. She was certainly an unusual and surprising export from America at the time. I wasn't sure what to expect but I was blown away. When I first got this album, it was around Christmas time and I think it was one of the first CDs I actually bought only on CD. Up to that point, I had bought brand new albums only on vinyl. I put the CD in to the player and was blown away, this lady had a loud band! And was she  becoming a rock star too? Well, the unassuming songstress was really showing her fragile looks were misleading, this album has some powerful songs on it, like all of her songs actually. This album actually makes me want to dance, it is very rhythmical. She's a beautiful woman and really deserves much more airtime than she gets.

The song 99.9F is a song about flirting with someone with the possibility that it might head in a promising direction.
I love all the songs on this album, ones that I would pick out though are Blood Makes Noise, (If you were) In My Movie, As A Child and When Heroes Go Down.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fast Food, Fast Service

Not that we're eating fast food. We have cooked or prepared every meal for about 4 or 5 weeks now. This is the effect of our diet. We haven't eaten out for what seems like ages but I have lost weight, so its obviously working.

Anyway, the inspiration for this post comes from fast food restaurants that have staff who give very poor quality service, as if they don't care whether you like the food or not and just see you as a number. It doesn't always happen at busy times, sometimes I get great service even when the counter is busy. I'm not even sure the environment has everything to do with it, it does play an important part though. There is usually a fast food outlet at train stations, what I dislike about these is that there are some tables on the concourse and pigeons getting on tables when people leave. I just feel that I've not found a decent fast food restaurant at a train station. The service I get tends to be pretty bad usually.
The local restaurant to us is so different, the service is usually great and the staff are friendly and it has a nice atmosphere. It is a roadside restaurant set off to the side of a service station. I've not been to a town centre restaurant as good as our roadside one either.
There is nothing like the great taste of a good burger and fries in my opinion. I like it to have a good, well cooked beef patty and good cheese, onion and lettuce. I quite like the MacDonalds Big Mac sauce. My wife cooks an awesome burger that has spinach in with the beef too.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Brown Out Saturday

On Saturday my wife and I got the rare pleasure of some time to ourselves. We took a walk around town and browsed the local market stalls, purchased some fresh fruit. There were some French market stalls we took a look at, the food looked lovely, bread and cheeses but as we're on the GI diet we couldn't buy any of it, such a shame.
Later on we were in a newsagent and I was about to buy a newspaper for me and a couple of pens for my wife when the power went off. The whole town was affected, unfortunately the cash registers went offline so nobody who was queueing could pay for their goods unless they had the correct change. The worst thing was the doors of the newsagent were electrically controlled so we were stuck inside for a few minutes until one of the bigger blokes at the front worked out how to get them open manually in an emergency - really just a case of pushing hard in a particular spot.
When we got outside the whole town centre was practically just walking around. Some of the market stalls weren't affected, the ones who needed generators had them anyway.
My wife took a call from my daughter who said the power had gone off at home too. We looked at each other, my phone signal wasn't on. I wondered for a minute or two if England had been hit by some kind of EMP bomb and the start of World War 3?
Eventually the power came back on. And everybody went back to their normal Saturday activities. At least it was only 10 minutes and we weren't in a lift! That would have been awful.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Call of Duty (the videogame series)

I'm a big fan of videogames as a form of entertainment. This November there will be a new release in the Call of Duty franchise. I'm not sure I'll buy it when it first comes out or not but I will likely end up buying it at some point. The first COD game I bought brand new was Modern Warfare 4, which was a departure from the WW2 theme. It was a release that broke new ground, not just technically with graphics and gameplay speed but in picking up a modern day military story. I eventually purchased COD Finest Hour for the PS2 and then later COD World At War, which came after Modern Warfare and was set in the Pacific Theatre of War. There have been two software development houses involved with the franchise. Treyarch, who published COD2, COD3, COD WAW and COD Black Ops. And Infinity Ward, who broke the mould with Modern Warfare, MW2 and MW3. COD Black Ops was the first Treyarch COD game I bought when it was first released and next month they release Black Ops 2.
The games are all first person shooters. They are fast and frantic and brutal, with knife kills, grenade kills and all manner of different weapons.  The single player campaigns last 15/16 missions or so but some people can tear through them in 10-12 hours. The multiplayer is really where it's at. On Xbox Live it's possible to encounter players who have spend thousands of hours playing the games and developing their skills to kill those like me who join for some trivial entertainment. I have spent far too long playing these games, I'm not quite sure why I find them so alluring. I think it might be because they enable me to fantasise or play at soldiering without actually having to get close to real violence. Are games like this good for society? I don't know, the jury is still out on that one for me, they are a guilty pleasure for me because yes I do feel a bit of guilt over enjoying them. I sort of feel I should know better, which means that yes I should probably know better and give them up. But then you read the sales figures and realise that millions of gamers have bought them, including men as old as I am. I don't think they're kids games but unfortunately they fall into the hands of kids all too easily.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Power of Celebrity: and its abuses

The unfolding story of Jimmy Savile's systematic abuse of young and vulnerable teenage girls is deeply disturbing. There have been stories of other DJs being involved in sex with underage teenage girls, including John Peel who I used to like listening to. I don't think this is restricted to DJs or even to celebrities but I think in Savile's case his fame helped him get privilege and trust he should never have had. It has become clear he was a paedophile.
For pop and rock stars and DJs in the 70s it was accepted that teenage girls would idolise them. Look at A Hard Days Night and it has teenage girls chasing The Beatles down streets. There were theatres full of girls just going nuts for British bands in the 1960s. There was also an acceptance that bands or DJs on the road could expect to get offers of sex. I read Ray Davies autobiography and he mentions The Kinks band members receiving blowjobs from fans in different cities.
Sex without being married was also a form of liberation for women after widespread availability of the pill.
The impact of AIDS, changes in general society on equality of the sexes and a better understanding that fame can happen to very ordinary people through things like reality TV and the web, have had their impact on our beliefs about how we view celebrities. It was never right for men to have sexual relations with underage girls but now it is criminal and taboo whereas in the 70s it seemed it was almost something that some men boasted about and got away with.

Favourite recent albums

My last post was highlighting some of the music I enjoy listening to from years ago. Each of them are enjoyable as albums, a collection of songs. I rarely listen to albums these days but these are ones I do enjoy listening to, perhaps they are not new to you but I consider these recent and up to date. My finger is not on the pulse of music as it once was. Good albums are pretty rare in my opinion, I have to enjoy all of the songs for an album to reach these heights.

Alter Bridge 3 (2010)

Black Country Communion 2 (2011)

Alberta Cross - Broken Side of Time (2011)

Band of Skulls - Baby darling doll face honey (2009)

The Black Keys - Attack & Release (2008)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Prog Rock

I must confess to being a fan of progressive rock. Not all of it though. I like the classic prog rock bands from the 70's like Yes, Pink Floyd, Caravan and Jethro Tull. These bands have created a lot of music and at their height in the 1970s they released a few turds as well as diamonds. I like occasional songs from other prog bands like ELP, Moody Blues and Genesis. There are some bands that I've only heard one or two songs and could not say gripped me enough to want to hear more. King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator and Camel fall into that category for me. Of the prog rock bands I do like, perhaps through some form of loyalty I also like their later output from the 80s, 90s and later. However, sometimes I don't collect everything from these old bands because I also like hearing newer bands and I am limited by budget. There are also a lot of compilations albums for these bands.
There follows a selection of albums I really like, if you haven't heard anything by these groups and want an introduction these are good starting points I think.

Dark side of the Moon - Pink Floyd (1973)

Caravan (1968)
Stand up - Jethro Tull (1969)
The Yes Album - Yes (1971)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pass the Dutchie

I warn you now that if you have never heard this before, this is a very catchy song. I heard it when I was a boy at school and it has never left me.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Wii Fitness Regime

A new regime has taken hold of my household. My family are striving to change our ways. Over the past year we have been steadily gaining weight. My wife's and my middle areas have been expanding. Shirts have felt tighter, jeans and trousers are harder to fasten. None of this makes us happy but for a year we've just laughed it off. Until now, we've been talking about it for a while but we finally enrolled in a diet scheme - or at least my wife has. We can only afford one of us to join but we'll both benefit from it.

I've been trying to do more exercise as well, so I dusted off the Balance Board and installed new batteries. I'd treated Wii Fit as a game before this week. However, this week I've started to use it properly and I do believe it is really good. For someone like me, I don't mind exercise but at the same time I don't really like exercising in public. I don't have the will power to learn exercise routines and teach myself, so the Wii Fit is great because you get a trainer and you can do combinations of things that burn fat quick interspersed with gentler exercises.
I also like the reward scheme, where you unlock new stamp designs and new games or routines. It's a very cleverly put together little package. The system even shows you information in chart form about how you are doing compared to the goals you set yourself. So you can track your progress (or otherwise).

Monday, October 08, 2012

Jim Fixed It

I was less shocked than I thought I should be about the claims that several women have made about the 1970s DJ and charity fund raiser Jimmy Saville. I think there has been a big cultural shift during my lifetime towards relationships between men and young women. What is not surprising to me after reading some of the stories is that back then child sexual abuse was not discussed. It was swept under the carpet and treated as something you didn't speak of. I'm glad that has changed in our society. However there are women who can only now feel like they can discuss it after he has passed. It seems other women are coming forward to open up about it too.
I watched a documentary by film maker Louis Theroux on Saville. I thought Saville seemed a secretive and strange man, someone who didn't want to open up about anything very personal. His habits were certainly odd and he didn't seem that likeable. He lived in the small house he grew up in with his mother, despite earning lots of money as a celebrity. I used to watch and enjoy his TV show Jim'll Fix It like millions of other kids in the 70s.
It's wrong he can't answer these accusations and if they're true, which seems more likely every day, it's wrong that he enjoyed wealth, prestige and fame while those he abused suffered silently.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Getting excited about Halloween 2012?

As Halloween approaches I look forward to it. I'm not entirely sure why. We don't do so much for Halloween here in the UK as they do in the US. I see a lot of Halloween themed kids party stuff in the shops. Most of it not so very high quality, a bit like all the other nasty plastic party stuff you find in pound shops.

 It is a shame that the witches of this country don't do more to celebrate their religion in public at Halloween. Do witches have a religion? I guess it would be paganism right? Well, I didn't want this to be a theological discussion, so all I'm saying is that it would be nice to see a bit of alternative culture at Halloween rather than all this Trick or Treat nonsense.
Just to prove I'm not a spoilsport though, I think everyone should dress up for Halloween in a creepy outfit. It would be cool but my own workplace would take a dim view of it, I've never seen anyone dressed for Halloween during my working life - that's a real shame.