Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last post of 2013

My last post of 2013. You may think me mad but I bought a new laptop a couple of days ago. My 4 year old netbook is not powerful enough to cope with the tasks I want to use it for, so in the sales I picked up a neat Hewlett Packard Pavilion 15. The graphics and sound are much better than my Netbook. I just have to get used to Windows 8 now! It will mean that 2014 will be another year of blogging and computer related activities. I also got two packs of Promarkers made by Letraset for Christmas so I hope to be doing more drawing in 2014. Maybe I will post some drawings if I like them.

So I'd like to wish everyone who reads this a Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Nightwish: Showtime, Storytime

A few years back I found a video of a song I really liked on the Internet and downloaded it for my PSP. The band was called After Forever and one of the things I liked most about the song was the extraordinary powerful vocals. The vocalists name was Floor Jansen, a Dutch performer whose voice has a really pure tonal quality. She could be a great soprano in classical music but has chosen to be a rock performer. I lost touch with After Forever and didn't hear anything else from the band. Then this year I was reading Metal Hammer magazine and discovered that Floor Jansen was the replacement touring vocalist for Annette Olson, who used to sing for Nightwish. I only have one Nightwish album (Dark Passion Play) but I think it's a good symphonic rock album. Nightwish and Annette parted company and Floor was asked to help them complete the tour without having to cancel their booked shows. If I were a ticket holder I know I would want the band to continue. Learning songs by a band in short time without pre-tour rehearsals must be very difficult but to replace a singer who has been with a band for 6 years or so must be doubly difficult. The fan reaction would be something anybody would be worried about.
As things turned out, Floor learned the songs and the tour continued. What was surprising was that Floor did such an excellent job that the fans overwhelmingly responded to her in a positive way. She has a huge presence on stage and she not only does justice to the songs she actually sings them so passionately that she improves on the original! Quite extraordinary.

One concert performance stands out in particular. A night at the Wacken Open Air festival in August 2013, Germany. This concert was recorded and released as a double Blu Ray DVD with the concert on one disk and a documentary about joining the band on the other disk. The pack also contains two audio CDs of the concert. Called Showtime, Storytime I bought this as my first Blu Ray. It is AWESOME!!! Thoroughly recommended. I put it on and turned up the volume, it was almost like being there!

Nightwish has also confirmed that Floor Jansen will be the vocalist on a permanent basis and not just a touring vocalist. This should be excellent news for Nightwish fans. I believe the band are taking some time out, a good thing since their world tour was so long. But in summer 2014 they will be getting together to start work on their next album. I already have something to look forward to in 2015 now! I may have to gradually complete the Nightwish back catalogue in my music collection.

Prizewinner at Christmas

I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas! Mine was great, filled with good food and good company. We ate and drank so much it was incredible. But now that the festivities are almost over my thoughts turn to blogging once more and there is something I must tell you.

The week before my final week at work I bought five raffle tickets, I don't know why but probably because I was hoping to win the first prize of a Nexus 7 tablet. I already own a Nexus 7 tablet but it's the first version rather than the latest one. I'd also said to the person coming around with the bucket earlier in the day that I'd buy one later. So these two reasons were in my mind when I bought 5 tickets. After that I completely forgot about the raffle, expecting that my money would go to the charities selected and nothing more would come of it. But I was pleasantly wrong about that. At the beginning of my last week at work I received an email to say that I should collect my prize. I wasn't told at that point what the prize was but I replied with a comment that I was amazed to win anything - expecting it to be some chocolates or something else minor. Infact it turns out that I had won the second prize, which was: OMG, a Blu Ray DVD player! Fantastic!
I still can't quite believe that I won something so good. I have it set up in our living room to replace the aging DVD player we have in their. It works great and is so cool. It was an unexpected Christmas gift come early. Before I picked it up I ordered my first Blu ray disk from Amazon. More about that in my next post.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Slava's Snow Show

Yesterday we went into London. The weather warnings were that a storm was coming in and to avoid travel if possible. We ignored the warnings and went into London anyway. The storm did come but more about that in a minute.
We went in after lunch and walked around the South Bank a bit but the weather was wet and windy. We had a nice meal in our favourite Japanese restaurant (Wagamama) and had a walk over the Golden Jubilee walk bridge.

We still had a few hours to kill so I suggested the Namco Station arcade and I wasted a bit of money on giving the kids coins to play games that they seemed to enjoy - I had a few goes joining in on air hockey, lights out and the rifle range (I was a good shot). Then we went to the Royal Festival Hall to see the show, Slava's Snow Show. It was quite incredible. A mixture of comedy mime, physical fun and story telling. We had excellent seats and were involved in the parts of the show like the giant web rolled over the audience, the giant balls, the snow and the blizzard. A great evening.

Then we had to get home. We got to Euston Station okay and in good time but the trains on the board were either cancelled or delayed due to the storm and some that were delayed changed status to cancelled. You can see photos from Euston station in this news article. But fortunately, there was a train at 21:54 that we were able to catch and we were home just after 23:00. Quite fortunate to have caught it and that it was stopping at the station we needed.

Him and Her

I've watched a sitcom series called Him & Her for a while now, I think there have been 2 series so far. It's a kind of tragi-comedy because there are some moments of excruciatingly unpleasant behaviour. The focus is on Steve and Becks who are an unmarried couple living in Steve's bedsit and claiming off the dole. Beck's sister Laura is thoroughly unpleasant and unkind to everyone yet still manages to win the devotion of an older woman called Shelly. Shelly has a son and seems to be going out with a man living upstairs from Steve called Dan. Dan is unpleasant in a different way to Laura, he literally lingers around Steve's bedsit and doesn't mind helping himself to food lying around however old or unpleasant it is. He doesn't ask though, he takes it slyly. Laura's lover is Paul, a man who seems to always be on the edge of uncontrolled anger. He is very frustrated, who wouldn't be living with Laura and he tragically thinks Steve is his best friend. Steve doesn't like him and certainly doesn't have anything in common with him. The relationships are all dysfunctional in one way or another. It is at times hard to watch but there is something about it that attracts me to it. I think but am not 100% sure that the actor playing Dan is also the writer.


Steve and Becks

Pussy Riot

It was good news to hear about the release of the remaining members of Pussy Riot, however they should not have been imprisoned in the first place. I don't know what the general impression of the band and their sexuality or politics is within Russia but I suspect they don't get much sympathy there. I hope that any further expressions from them don't result in other punishments.
The timing was deeply cynical with the winter Olympics coming up but I'm glad they will be out of prison for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advent calendars

When I was a young boy the advent calendars were very different from today. I didn't have chocolate in mine. Mine were flat and sometimes it was hard to tell where the window to open was because the number was printed in black against a colourful background. Once the 'find the number' puzzle was done it was time to open the window and I enjoyed seeing what was behind it. It didn't have to be anything very special but I enjoyed it. For my children my wife bought big advent calendars and fills them with chocolate and Lego. Here they are, I find them a bit too ostentatious but my kids love them.

Christmas is coming

We're into the final days of normality until the Christmas holidays. It's not quite normality though is it? There are awards shows, Christmas parties and there's an air of Christmas goodwill and sentiment around that makes attempts at normality seem somehow mean-spirited or slightly unpleasant. I've been to a Christmas pantomime, I've got a Carol concert this evening to go to, a Christmas party on Sunday and an event on Monday in London. It is a non-stop rollercoaster ride. There is also the Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day to get through as well. Plus all of the food we have to buy for those events. I forgot to mention a meal we're cooking for friends this Friday and I think my wife may have invited some other friends over on another evening. My working week ends on Friday but I'm going to need a holiday by the end of Christmas!
Here is that photo of our Christmas tree that I promised to post. I will post another picture soon of the children's advent calendars.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Nigella week

There are not many TV cooks that I like but Nigella Lawson is one of them. I don't think that she always has her feet on the ground in her cooking but in a way the madness of what she sometime cooks is one of the nice things about her programmes. I like the idea of her slipping down to the kitchen after all her guests have left to indulge herself by going to the fridge and gorging on the leftover pudding! The trial this week was about some employees stealing from her and her husband (I'm not quite sure of their marital status because they seem to be having a war of attrition). If you didn't know that it would like she was on trial herself by some of the tabloid headlines. Her first husband died of cancer relatively young and she admitted to taking some cocaine with him, as he used it for pain relief. I'm not saying I condone drug use but I think there are sometimes prevailing circumstances that should be taken into consideration. I think she's been given a treatment as though she was on trial, which under the circumstances is just plain unfair.

Nelson Mandela RIP

Sad news about Nelson Mandela passing away this week, not altogether unexpected as he has been ill for some time. I've always been impressed by his aura of human warmth. He was a truly inspirational man and the world is a much richer place for his having lived in it. I believe in marking the occasion of his death with a celebration of his life and all its achievements. A true hero of our time.

Early Christmas Tree

Last Saturday I was asked to fetch the Advent calendars down from the loft, so while I was there I also got the Christmas tree down along with the decorations. Last year we bought a new artificial tree. We don't normally put the tree up so early but my wife and I spent last Sunday afternoon putting it up. She wasn't going to decorate it but then decided she might as well. It looks great, I should have taken a picture, maybe I'll post one later.
I like the smell of a real Christmas tree in the house but I must admit an artificial one is probably much better economically and so much less messy. I might buy a pine air freshener for the room!

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Capital Punishment

I am normally quite fair minded but something happened in England in May this year that was quite shocking. An army fusilier called Lee Rigby was walking on the street near his barracks when two men drove a car at him from behind and then as he lay injured attacked him with knives, attempting to decapitate him. They had had no prior disagreement and were strangers. Michael Adebolago and Michael Adebolawe are standing trial for Lee Rigby's murder. It all happened in broad daylight near a primary school. A class of schoolchildren were returning from a visit to the library and had to be taken into a nearby building to prevent them seeing the men with their hands soaked in blood and traffic stopped. The two Michael's were shot by police marksmen, but not fatally, as they threatened to attack other members of the police.
The severe nature of the barbaric death of the unfortunate victim and the attitude of the killers in their justification of his murder has led me to think that in some cases capital punishment might be justified.
Not quite on this level but equally shocking was the news this week that the Lost Prophets singer Ian Watkins pleaded guilty to conspiring to sexually abuse a baby and 10 other charges. I see news stories like this and I think its disgraceful. When the figure is famous and the idol of young people it is more shocking. I hope his eventual punishment is just and harsh but I suspect he has changed his plea to guilty in the hope that his sentence is lighter.
Two horrible evils when we really should be celebrating the beginning of the festive season. It hasn't been the best of starts to the season, especially with the news from Glasgow's helicopter crash on Friday as well.