Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Cancer Research UK and #RunThisTown

I've found myself with a bit of free time thanks to the long weekend, so thought I'd write a quick update on the running and training progress:

Training wise has been a bit a bit hit and miss recently, the weather had been absolutely appalling for over a month now, meaning I haven't been hitting the roads as often as I'd like (can't afford another bloody illness) but I have been hammering the gym 4-5 days a week, so can't say I've been slacking off. I don't really do any cardio there though, so really need to get back on the roads a good 4-5 days a week. I REALLY need to stop eating crap too, but that's unlikely.

More positively - I've been running well when I have been going out, breaking my personal best for the 5k and feel I can run further with each week. I do find it a lot easier running at the start of the week, with my pace dropping off through to Friday, so will have to find a better balance with my gym visits. Some sun would be nice too!

Things have been good off the road too - donations are going well, plus, I got an email from Cancer Research UK last week saying that they'd came across my Just Giving page while looking for interesting runners/stories and if i'd be willing to do some publicity for them. Nothing too major, -potential local press, radio and website stuff but anything that would get my donations up while raising awareness seems like a good opportunity. I spoke to them on the phone for about half an hour and just need to send some photos off and see where it goes really.

I've also just became a part of my very first running team with #RunThisTown. All started up by the delightful @Samcentric (whose tweets in the run up to last years Great North Run played a big part in me signing up to this year's event), it's a running team for those who wouldn't necessarily describe themselves as runners or join a running club and I certainly fit that criteria. Her blog here explains it all a lot better than I could! I just run by myself so I think it will be a massive motivational boost for me personally, especially given my competitive nature. No excuses for not going out when you now everyone else is hitting the roads hard!

Song for the Day - M83 - Reunion

Ryan Adams at the Sage Gateshead

A bit late with this one but I went to see Ryan Adams at the Sage Gateshead a couple of weeks ago and it was most certainly worthy of a blog. I've been a fan of his for over ten years now (Gold was constantly on my MiniDisc player back in the pre iPod days) but this was somehow the first time I'd ever seen him live and it also shockingly doubled as my first ever visit to the Sage too. I follow them on Twitter and Facebook but only ever seem to find out about gigs there when someone is tagging them-self at the actual event and it's all a bit too late at that point. Thankfully, not the case this time....

My brother and I got up there for about 7, had a few drinks at The Central (nice bar, not so nice prices) and then went straight into the theatre. Neither of us are too keen on support acts, so we skipped whoever that was and got there just before he came on stage. The gig was in an all seater theatre, with Ryan Adams shuffling between just a piano and a couple of guitars on a bare stage. Predictably, the acoustics were the best i've experienced (I particularly enjoyed the Empire Strikes Back style rooms that act as a sound buffer between the main theatre and the outside hall) and his voice was just incredible. Bit of a nightmare if you need to leave the hall mind, as you can only get back in during a 'song break', so need to wait in the buffer room and then quickly run to your seat when one occurs. The gig itself was very reminiscent of the PJ Harvey one last year with the audience being very knowledgeable and a lot more respective than those you find at the average Academy gig, so no thrown beer here. Not everyone was obviously - despite people being told not to use flashes they still did it (and it was very distracting), even after he called out someone for doing so. People shouting out shit like 'WELCOME TO GATESHEAD RYAN'  and song requests should be shot on the spot too. I'd literally punch one of my mates in the face if they did that, and nobody is changing a setlist just because you screamed some obscure b-side. Absolutely mortifying. The person 'miaowing' particularly freaked me out.  He handled it all well though and his rambling stream of conscious style stories were throughly good craic too, a lot better than I had been led to believe. 

The setlist was a mixture of older stuff and tracks from the Ashes & Fire album with every song fitting the setting perfectly. Winding Wheel and Come Pick Me Up were the definite highlights for me. Another pretty much amazing gig! (And no photos unfortunately because i'm not a dick).

He's just released an iTunes session too with songs and arrangements from the tour which i'd highly recommend as well!

Song for the Day - Come Pick Me Up

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Progress! #runveeversrun

Well I finally finished my first stage of training and it went rather well, so I thought it was time for a quick update. It's still awhile off to the Great North Run but I've went from not being able to run at all to running 5k fairly easily, so rather pleased with my progress so far.

The weather's been great and that's a big motivator in getting out there; running up and down the coast is a hell of a lot easier to do when the sun is shining and the view certainly couldn't be bettered. The only downside of training has been I caught a pretty bad viral infection for a week and that set me right back. It only kept me out of training for a week and half but I felt like I'd went back to the level I was running four weeks ago and found it really hard to keep my pace and distance up the first few runs after. Thankfully I persevered and managed to finish my final 5k before not being able to do it dragged out too long but it really did bloody hurt. I'm just hoping that there'll be no more illnesses or injuries for the rest of the year now.

I've also signed up to the Great North 10k in July - I've got to run 10k as part of my training, so thought I may as well do a proper event and I think it'll make it easier to raise funds along the way too, rather than just doing mass chugging on the last week. I've not really done much on the fundraising front, just the odd use of social media here and there but i've raised about £45 online so far which is good. I'd imagine most people will donate around the time of the events but my Nanna has kindly donated all the money she'd have received for her birthday presents to me, so that was rather lovely of her.

As i'm writing this there's a story on Sky Sports News about Stylian Petrov being diagnosed with blood cancer and just this week and 18 year old work colleague has been diagnosed with cancer after taken ill the week before. Looks like they'll both be fine thankfully but Cancer really does effect everyone and hearing stuff like that certainly brings a reality check to the minor things in life but I guess it's motivating me to raise as much money as possible.

Overall fitness wise, I've come on leaps and bounds - my stamina has always been pathetic but I'm finding the running has really brought it to a level that I've probably not had since I played tennis every evening and I feel like I could easily play competitive sport again now. I've dropped over 12 pound since the new year and continued going to the gym, so managed to do that while putting muscle mass on at the same time which is rather pleasing. I've not dieted at all and still drinking regularly as well. So yeah, not bad at all really!

Next up is 12 weeks of 10k training, running at about an average of 25 miles a week. Lets hope I'm feeling this good after then too!

A couple of photos i took while running and my 5k route:

Don't forget to donate on the right sidebar!

Song for the Day - Another classic training montage song

Friday, 17 February 2012

Great North Run - Oh Dear

I've signed up for this year's Great North Run and as someone who DESPISES running, I thought i'd share  why i'm doing it and hoping to raise a bit of dollar for Cancer Research UK in the process - 

1. To get fit, healthy and all that. I absolutely detest running but I quite miss playing competitive sports and unfortunately, running is always a prerequisite for such activities so this'll hopefully help me get back to peak fitness! 

2. To raise money for Cancer Research. I'm sure most people know, or know of someone who has been affected by Cancer and it certainly has affected my life in a major way. I lost my Granda to Liver Cancer when I was just three, it's taken work collegues, friends, Aunties/Uncles, and in October of last year - my Dad passed away shortly after being diagnosed with Lung Cancer. To put it bluntly, no male member of my family has lived to see 70.

The main reason I want to raise money and awareness is that I was both shocked and horrified by the length of the actual diagnosis process, and even more so by the level of care my Dad received in the short period he was ill. I really don't think it was good enough for 2012 and I wouldn't want anyone else to experiance it, so hopefully raising a bit money will make that just a bit less likely. And improving the screening process can hopefully lead to catching the Cancer at a much less advanced stage.
No donation is too small and this shows just how far the money can go -

  • £61 could buy 500 petri dishes. Sterile dishes are used to grow cultures of cells for experiments.
  • £120 could buy around 40 thermometers (range -10°C to 110°C). These are indispensible for many experiments that need to be performed at very precise temperatures.
  • £300 could buy a water bath, a heatable tank of water which scientists use on a daily basis. Some reactions need to happen at particular temperatures. The thermostat on a bath can help maintain this from room temperature anywhere up to 95°C.
  • £550 could cover around a month’s running expenses for a clinical trial investigating a new way of giving hormone therapy to improve the treatment of prostate cancer.
  • £900 could pay for around one week’s supply of the drug pravastatin for the LungStar clinical trial. This trial aims to discover whether adding pravastatin to chemotherapy is beneficial for people with small cell lung cancer.
  • £2,600 could buy 10 sophisticated microarrays. These help scientists scrutinise thousands of genes in a single experiment. Microarrays are a powerful piece of gene technology which allow researchers to compare how active different genes are in cancer cells and healthy cells.  
  • £4,000 could buy a -80°C freezer for long-term storage of biological samples

So if you'd like to donate, then just to click the link on the right or follow here


I started training at the turn of the year and downloaded the rather brilliant Nike Plus iPhone app to record all the runs I do. I really can't say enough good things about the app - it records pace, distance, time and utilises google maps to clearly show your run route, giving feedback at the end of each run. The website records all the data too, so you can clearly see your progress, and most importantly - contains set training plans raging from training for novices (me) to 10k and half marathon plans. I could barely run a minute on my first day but the program increments gradually to the point I'm running about 1-3 miles a day at the minute rather easily, something i'd never have managed a few weeks ago. The Rocky IV soundtrack is a massive fucking motivator too, feels like i'm living in a montage when that's on repeat.

That's about it really at the moment, i'll try to update this blog to keep track of my fundraising and training progress as the months go on.

 I also got my sponsorship pack today and my running vest really is a treat,  something i definitely can't pull off:

Song for the Day - John Cafferty and another classic montage

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Toronto Bombs - NHL, CN Tower and Ossington.

Saturday night brought my first ever visit to a NHL game. Ice hockey was the in thing for a bit in the mid-90's, with Roller Blades being the big fad but I never strapped on a pair of those stupid things and I certainly never went to a match at the arena either. My prior knowledge of the sport was pretty much limited to playing NHL'97 for the PlayStation and even that made me ill with motion sickness, so i was pretty much going in blind. Lots of fights and it being a bit like five-a-side football on speed pretty much summed up my pre-match thoughts.
We stopped off for a few drinks at Real Sports bar on the way before heading into the Air Canada Centre for the match - Toronto Maple Leafs were the local team and are bizarrely the most valuable franchise in the league, and that's despite not winning anything since the 60's. Another equally odd stat is that every home game has been sold out just as long, so the fans loyalty certainly can't be questioned here with the team being so shit.
The arena itself is a really good venue - good facilities, not too massively ridiculously priced for food and booze (you can buy from your seat even) and the game was pretty much what I thought it would be - fast paced and easy entertainment, especially compared to other North American sports with their massively long running times, and we couldn't have got better seats. I didn't quite grasp any positional play or tactics, nor could I understand the perennial substitutions (the team's players just change constantly at will) but I still very much enjoyed it, even with the disappointing lack of fights. I think the match finished something like 4-0 to the Maple Leafs in the end, a rare recent home win for the team and it definitely made for a good atmosphere the rest of the night. Always amazing how a good sports team result has such an effect on a city's night life after. Alfie didn't disappoint either, with the 20,000 seater Air Canada became yet another place on his long list of nap venues. Unreal. It wouldn't quite be North America without some odd crowd interaction stuff throughout the game though - they basically tell the crowd when to cheer, make constant announcements and promos, play silly video screen games to see who's the wackiest person in the crowd (they're all worthy of that title) and my own personal favourite bit was when they brought out a former player to sing happy birthday to him, stalling the game. The players literally had to stand and wait on the ice until the crowd had finished singing Happy Birthday before the could start playing again. I was half expecting Cliff Richard to come out and sing Summer Holiday, that's how fucking weird it was. That aside, t'was really good and i'd definitely go regularly given the chance. Don't think my bank account could afford the insane ticket prices though.

Once the game was over we jumped on the street car (a tram) and headed straight over to Ossington for a big'un. A nice little area with plenty of bars but not too busy to the point where they attract the mass arseholes you find in the more populous places. The first bar we 'stumbled' across turned out to be a pretty amazing burlesque bar, at least I think it was, I really wasn't 100% sure, but suppose if you're letting girls get their tasseled boobs out on the bar for a good ol'shake, then you're not going to be anything else. For some ridiculous reason we decided it would be the best plan of action to order two drinks at a time, jaeger bombs and whiskey ginger no less, not that I've ever had whiskey ginger before and that combination soon made the rest of the night a blur. It really is ridiculous how much and how fast we drink at times, then wonder why we can never remember getting home the next day.  To be honest, I can barely even remember going to any other bars after we started hitting them double double's quickly, the only real memories of the night were a bit of G-funk era and Cypress Hill getting played in the burlesque bar, KanYe's Runaway being played in Sweaty Betty's, us both looking for the DJ so we could tell him how shit he was only to be met with a  person with a macbook (always a sign you've had too much, that one), and finally us becoming temporary friends with some randoms.  I imagine we were talking absolute shit by that point, as except for the tasche and the photos, I couldn't tell you anything about them.  Class night though.

The rest of the week was pretty relaxed before I headed off back home. I managed to get some presents for people back home at the Eaton Centre, including an amazingly cool bear suit for Sonny. I had to ask if they did it in adult sizes, since it looked like the single most comfiest thing of all time but unfortunately it was a no go. I did manage to save about £60 on a pair of jeans from Sears at least, so not too bad work. We also went for a couple of nice meals - Khao San road restaurant on my last night was a lovely slice of nostalgia from my time in Thailand and a much more visually appealing setting than the actual place, the food was nearly up there with the street markets but not quite as proficient at making me look like I'm weeping, no Mushroom Shakes either. The latter is probably a good thing mind. Hot Wings was even better though, all these sushi, Italian, and curry houses are all well and nice but a fuck off slab of BBQ meat is much more my scene and they certainly didn't disappoint on the portion size there. The rack of ribs was up there with the biggest I've had but still didn't last long. Amazing. Other highlights included a man casually knitting in subway (you don't get that in South Shields), watching The Rock showing everyone else how it's done at Survivor Series, Afie cooking a cracking Sunday Roast and I had a nice walk around the University/Government buildings in the North of the city.

I had intended to visit Niagara Falls but wasn't that bothered when the time came, and those type of things are never the same by yourself. I did want to go up the CN Tower though and Alfie hadn't been yet, so we made the trip up there, which was definitely well worth it. The lifts up the tower reach quite the speed so you fly up there in no time. The first viewing level was quite good but the mesh fencing there is a bit intrusive. However,  the higher level 'SkyPod' was much better and the view of the lake, Rogers Centre and city from there was incredible. It would easily have the beating of the Empire State Building if the city was as vibrant as New York. You couldn't last too long outside, with the wind being so strong at such a height that it almost makes you feel like you're in the middle of a wind tunnel. They've also installed a glass floor on one of the platforms, enabling you to look straight down to the city underneath your feet, which is quite cool if stomach turning at the same time, didn't hang about on those bits too long. Especially when grown men are lying on the floor around you taking photos. Once again, definitely worth the dollar spent.

Not much to add to wrap it up except that Toronto joins Melbourne and New York on my favourite cities list and I had such a good time there. I'd definitely love to go again, and i think it'd be even better in the summer. So definitely two macca thumbs up from me

Song for the Day - KanYe West

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Toronto Rock - Lykke Li, Poutine and spin.

I don't have the chance to get to many gigs back home, what with working evenings and people generally being apathetic hermits these days, so I made sure to give the Toronto gig listings a peruse before I came over, in the hope there would be a few things worthwhile on while i was here. It didn't take too long to do so really, as the listings hardly mirrored the Melody Maker's in its prime and there weren't many live acts on but Lykke Li at the Sound Academy and Jay-Z/KanYe immediately stood out from the usual house bands. Alfie didn't let me down in his reactions to both suggestions - 'Lykke Li? Never heard of the cunt......and I'm not going to see that fucking idiot (KanYe)'. Thankfully I managed to persuade him to attend the former, although did he assert after listening to her that he needed to get smashed before the gig, as it was 'music for heroin people'. Right up my street then.
The venue was right on the edge of Lake Ontario and a great little place, very reminiscent of the student unions back home. I'm always whinging about the lack of gigs in those places, they always provide such a better atmosphere, so was pleasantly surprised to discover this and the sound was great too for such a small venue. We managed to catch the last few songs of the support act, First Aid Kit, a Swedish dream folk band and they were pretty good themselves. They all looked incredibly young for this stuff and completely out of it on Acid half the time, but those can never be construed as bad things really. A definite better than average support act.

Lykke Li herself was brilliant too. I didn't know what to expect as a lot of performances i'd seen from her were stripped down acoustic sessions but she brought a full band (complete with two drummers) and they really turned the material up for the live setting; the sparse lighting, smoke machines and strobes really added to 'The Show' aspect too. Aside from a few mic problems, her voice was completely controlled at all times and the duelling drummers really brought an urgency to the tracks. The set was balanced with material from both albums, along with covers of 'Unchained Melody' and KanYe's 'Power'. The former was slightly unnecessary but the latter, aided by a speakerphone, was ace and really got the crowd going. I'd say 'I'm Good, I'm Gone', 'Love Out of Lust' and 'Youth Knows No Pain/POWER' were amongst my favourite tracks, Alfie even thought it was alright too, and that's VERY high praise for him.

We stayed on for a few drinks afterwards and a shockingly nice bouncer informed us that we could stay there until we could drink no more, wich was nice. However, moments after, a more familiar arsehole style bouncer told us in no uncertain terms that we must move to another area immediately and there was no time to waste GODDAMNIT. Odd. We moved on accordingly, although as why it needed to be done with such haste was a mystery and quickly found ourselves talking to an incredibly chatty Mexican-American couple. I think both of us were a bit freaked out by how they besieged us but it's only because people are so nice, friendly and approachable here, you're not used to it at all. You kind of forget how to act to just genuinely nice, always thinking ‘What’s going on here?...What do they want?’ because you’re so used to encountering aggressive arseholes back home, who more often than not have an agenda or are just plain dickheads anyway. The guy was a Lil' Wayne fan mind and there's no excuse for that either.  Closing time was soon upon us so we moved on closer to the apartment and stopped at the Dog’s Bollocks on Queen St. I think their thing is meant to be that they’re a traditional style english pub but it’s just the same of everywhere else really- lots of TV screens showing sport and plenty of tables. And that's good enough for me any day of the week, so we had a few pitchers and watched whatever game was on that night there before heading back. Another rather good night. 

One of the many perks of visiting the Atkinson's is they both know their food, and to a high standard, so in addition to getting top notch home cooked meals, they also know all the good places to hit in the area. Now I'd never heard of Poutine but apparently its kind of Canada's national dish and rather nice too. One day we get hit by a downpour of rain, so hid in this cool little diner Alfie recommended, and I decided to sample the local dish while we were there - It's basically fucking cheesy chips. Nothing more, nothing less. And i really must tip my hat to Canada for getting away with such a poor facade. I'm sure they'll say it's not, it's this and that and tart it up but it's basically cheesy chips. Don't let them fool you.
One place where you can't be fooled is the Sushi restaurant on Queen St called Aji Sai. I always enjoy Sushi but it never ever fills me, causing me to just get a big fat greasy burger anyway, making the Sushi eating pretty much pointless, so my interest was certainly perked when Katie said how good this place was and the fact it was also all you can eat. It certainly didn't disappoint with the regards the latter. The stuff just kept coming and I certainly couldn't eat no more come the end. Top notch stuff off the menu too, unlike most of these buffet type places. Much like Mother's Dumplings, I'd definitely say it's worth hunting out if you're here.
The week was rounded off with another visit to Football at the Soccerdome (they again drew), but the highlight for me had nothing to do with the game and was in fact the 'Soccer Mom' sitting next to me going absolutely MENTAL at the referee. She was acting as if her son was like 8 in the West Park league and not 27 years old - 'C'mon ref, move!..... ARE YOU SEEING THIS?......THAT WAS A FOUL YOU HACK....Oh so you call that one?....... dick!....PLAY THE GAME, STOP FOULING YOU GUYS' and so on and so on. She kept switching between languages when at her most angered too and that was absolute comedy gold to me.
We also went for a quick few games of Table Tennis and Alfie absolutely schooled me. Them playing Arcade Fire's 'Funeral' on a permanent loop softened the blow but I only won one game out of about 9 and i could tell he wasn't going all out either. Well, not until i hit him in the face, accidentally i of course but i was rather out of reach before even that. My skills have certainly dropped since ruling the tables of Thurston back in the '90's.....

Once again though, Toronto is just an amazing place and  everyone must go, next up -  my first NHL match at the Air Canada Centre and the CN Tower!

Song for the Day - Lykke Li

Monday, 14 November 2011

Toronto Calling - Football Awards, customs and soccerdomes.

Having packed (with the 'help' of Sonny throwing my stuff around) and checked-in the night before, I headed off to the Airport at about 6:15am on the Thursday morning. Quite the long journey was ahead but it proved to be uncharacteristically uneventful - mainly due to the metro being full of zombies at that time of the morning, as opposed to the messes and parades of madness that usually frequent it. My flight to Amsterdam was brief but i did at least get the opportunity to pick up two bargain bottles of 1 litre vodka for £18 and a couple of books for Alfie before leaving the UK. I also enjoyed my first experience of the Star Trek like body scanners once in Schiphol. Another passenger didn't find them quite as entertaining, she was wearing a tea cosy like hat and point blank refused to take it off to enter the booth, it just wasn't happening under any circumstances. The staff eventually caved and let her off but I really wanted to see what monstrosity was hiding under there. Disappointing.

My flight to Toronto was about 8 hours long and I was flying with KLM. Now I used to be the worst traveller in the world, i had to wear pathetic wristbands, take tablets (my parents once hid some in my munch bunch as a child, since i could never swallow the fuckers) and I still couldn't even make it to the Metro Centre without being ill. Thankfully, I somehow managed to finally grow out of all that at 25 and travelling by air has been completely fine since. Well this flight certainly changed all that, biggest pile of wank ever. The plane was ridiculously over packed, I couldn't extend my legs, the service was ridiculously slow, they'd ran out of half the food by the time they got to me, and when they did, I had to attempt to eat as if was dancing the robot by tucking my elbows in, just so i didn't keep hitting the Russian sitting next to me. To top it all off my TV didn't work either, so I had to somehow entertain myself for the next 8 hours. Class. I told the flight attendent about the TV and she responded with 'Okay, you need to find out what's wrong with it and then tell me!'. I couldn't handle an argument, so just let them get on with it. Plus she reminded me of an old school dinner lady who'd put anyone on the feared 'Wall' if they spoke out of turn, and it wasn't too long before I was arriving in Toronto.
Customs was a treat as ever, I honestly think the job of the officers there is to try and get a reaction out of you by being complete and utter arseholes. I know what these people are always like, so i decided to be extra nice and polite from the off but the woman was still instantly agressive and patronising as ever -  'How long are you staying here for?......Because you didn't fill the box in stupid. Where you staying? Toronto? That's a big place, be more specific, it's like telling me yo live in London. You don't have a return ticket to show me? You are going home, aren't you? Show me your itinerary then. What do you do in England? Taxman? Big deal' and so on and so on. I literally had to become a different person for five minutes or i'd have went mental. Fortunately, this discussion didn't quite reach the length of the 'You've put English, but you're British' argument that a customs officer had with my Dad in Florida and I was soon through immigration to be greeted by Alfie and then on the bus into the city.
I'd been up for the best part of 24 hours by the time i got to Alfie's rather nice apartment, so didn't do much on the Thursday evening.  We had bit of a walk round the city and grabbed some rather ace Fish & Chips, but saved the proper tour for the next day.
The city itself is pretty amazing and instantly loveable, it takes the best bits of England but gets rid of all the crap. No charvers, no dirty high rise buildings looming over constantly, no overcrowding and just an abundance of really cool shops, restaurants and bars on every street. All in walking distance too. You really could just live on one street it's that good. I've not had the chance to pop into most of the places but Analogue Gallery will take some beating, I literally wanted to buy every single thing in there. We set off out around 11 and were lucky to stumble across the remembrance service and fly over at the City Hall building, t'was done very respectfully and the gathering crowd even heartily sang the Canadian National Anthem at the end. After a walk around the City we stopped off for some highly recommended Chinese Dumplings at Mother Dumplings, this again was a first for me and it was absolutely incredible, and reasonably priced too. Definitely worth hunting out if you're . I still can't use chopsticks though.

Alfie had a 6-aside match on the evening in a really cool soccer dome, it was basically two astro turf pitches with a huge inflatable dome over it, given it an outdoor effect but still sheltered from the harsh weather of winter here. It even had a large scoreboard and miltant referee with ridiculous ponytail for exra authenticity too. The match finished 2-2, and as usual, the place was full of Irish. They really can't be many people left in that country, you can't go anywhere without meeting a squadron of them. We got a lift off a Canadian back and it was yet another first for me in that nobody prior had ever attempted to shake my hand without actually looking at me. He ended up slapping my wrist as clearly I wasn't cool enough to know what the fuck he was doing and it turned into a massive fail. Very English

Katie was back from Minneapolis on our return to the flat, complete with two ridiculous 1500 calorie biscuits, we decided it was best to tackle these beasts when drunk and as per the rules of staying with the Atkinson's - I had to watch the latest reality phenomenon. At least X factor US has people who can actually sing though and in Astro, probably the coolest kid in the world. The boy has skills.
We headed off to wach the England game on the Saturday in yet another brilliant place called the Queen and Beaver, very English decor but quiet and some top notch nostalgic memorabilia including some amazing Football Mundial models. Oh and once again, amazing food too. Alfie had his 'Football Awards' dinner on the night, so we went along to meet the rest of the team at the Real Sports Bar. He'd mentioned it a lot in talking and it certainly didn't disappoint. A huge place with about 100 HD TV screens all over, even in the toilets, showing different sports and the largest HD screen in North America as the centrepiece. Amazing. I could easily never leave the place on a weekend.
The dinner itself was held on a ferry, it pretty much kept going round the lake in a circle, but the view of the City, Rogers Centre and CN Tower was still pretty ethereal, even if it was just going round and round. Once again, plenty of Irish there, with everyone taking the event more seriously than anything I do in my own life, but it was all good harmless fun and Alfie's teammates were all good craic. The presentations even came with medals and trophies, this amused me endlessly but it really was a good laugh. There was a short 'casino' on afterward and since neither me nor Alfie have any interest in these things we decided to just pass our chips onto James, who had previously decreed 'i'm a lucky bastard and will probably win'; he managed to convince the table to go all in on the last hand and that's exactly just what happened. From there we headed off to a bar to watch the Pacquiao- Marquez fight, unfortunately the first bar absolutely stunk of puke but the great thing about here is that there's always another one next door so we weren't walking about too long. I thought the fight was a draw, for what it's worth. T'was a rather good night indeed.
Sunday was a purely lazy day, having spent the best part of 14 hours drinking on the Saturday I was too wrecked to do anything of great note, but I did tag along to witness Alfie and Katie rock climbing at the again rather impressive Joe Rockheads. I had zero faith in my ability to climb even the baby walls, so limited my own involvement to a strictly observational role, plus i don't think my massive feet are made for such nimble things, but Alfie and Katie both were very good, quickly scaling up the various climbing walls. The two of them claim to be naturally brilliant climbers so it's just as well, it all looks bloody knackering to me mind.

All in all my first impressions of Toronto are incredibly high and I don't think i could say enough good things to be honest. I definitely could live here.

Song for the Day - The Coolest kid in the World

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Manchester - PJ Harvey and being crap with trains

PJ Harvey would definitely be on the list of acts i hadn't seen live yet but would really like to, so when i found out that she was playing a show in Manchester in September, i got on it straight away (I've long given up on anybody playing Newcastle these days). Stev, who always seemed equally keen, signed up with no need persuasion ,so it was just left with the tricky prospect of actually getting the tickets. Usually this a stress fest but this time it was surprisingly straight forward - i got through on the website immediately and a confirmation email just after too. It all seemed a little too straight forward to be honest and my suspicions were confirmed when inexplicably crashed my car right afterward, restoring the good things:bad things happening ratio to normal levels.
Fast forwarding a few months and i was again off to Manchester, on a Rock N Roll Thursday no less, and with PJ winning the Mercury Music Prize a few days prior it really was timed well. As usual, the Metro journey from Shields to Central was an absolute treat - the clear winner in the wacky stakes this time was a girl who had applied so much fake tan, it made her look like a Minstrel blackening up. A proper inappropriate Spike Milligan case but with permanent marker for eyebrows and extra fake tan on those crafty dry elbows completing the look. Baffling. It's stuff like this that makes me feel like i'm detached from mass society these days, i just can't believe i'm the same species as these awful fucking people. Anyway, Stev and his surprising spectacles were waiting on arrival at Central and we quickly 'lined our stomachs' with Subways before heading to the train.
I'm not a fan of trains, they're overpriced, the service is generally poor and they are always policed by dick heads. So having said all that, it's annoying that we can't really blame anyone but ourselves for missing our train - we assumed the one waiting and signposted Manchester Airport was ours, but when it didn't move come 12:17, it was obvious we were mistaken and there must have been another one on a different platform. Further investigation showed that the current train was leaving at 13:15, so it wasn't all bad, but we now had the problem of having tickets for the wrong train. This wasn't a new problem to me, I'd previously been thrown off a train for the very same thing a few years back. That time I exclaimed to the attendant that he was a little Hitler better suited to 'attending parks and telling kids to stay off the grass' and swore I'd get to London without a ticket. And thanks to some tips picked up from Russell Brand's first Booky Wook and few other brazen tactics, that's just what happened. T'was an incredibly small yet fulfilling victory. Thankfully, all that nonsense wasn't needed this time and we quickly sailed through to Manchester. Of course, there was still time to meet another arsehole ticket attendant when leaving the station, with him shouting 'AYE, I NEED TO ACTUALLY LOOK AT THE TICKET' at me, just as hundreds of people streamed past without doing the same. I must just have one of those faces or something.
We'd booked into a Travelodge and at £25, i wasn't expecting much,but it turned out to be the best place i've ever booked into in all my time travelling to be honest.  Clean, quiet and it especially had amazing customer service in the sense i didn't have to speak to anyone at all to check in,  and i just got my keycard from a machine. Amazing. I've endured far too much time in my life listening to people on receptions horrifically trying to have a craic on with you when all you want to do is leave and get pissed somewhere. Time was on the short side so we quickly dropped our bags and then headed out to find a bar.
I've only been to Manchester twice so i'm still not overtly familiar with it's areas and bars, so we decided it was best to just play it safe and head to the Northern Quarter where i'd went back in June. and had a rather nice time. Trof had a more of a 'few drinks with work colleagues' type vibe than last time and there wasn't much going on really with the glaring the exception of one peculiar man and woman having a drink - she was a attractive 20 something, cool business fashionista type and he looked like a 50 year old cavalier, even down to the moustache. Weirder still was that she was the one driving the conversation and he was just sitting there, i'd at least expected him to have a Rik Mayall in Blackadder thing going on but he was a near mute. I really wanted to go up and ask what the nature of their relationship, it was freaking me and Stev out that much but you just can't be doing that shit. A quick perusal of google maps showed we were about 30 mins away from the venue so we stayed for just one and then headed off. It's worth noting that i've finally worked out how to get the compass on my iPhone so they'll hopefully no more tales of getting lost in it's abyss for hours but this trip did show how ridiculously reliant i've become on my smartphone though - i stored a load of post codes in Evernote and then had maps on constantly to get from one place to the next and would be fucked if i hadn't
We got to the Manchester Apollo for about 7:20 and PJ was on at 8:30 so not too bad a turnaround. One major plus was that they'd be no support act, some will disagree but i absolutely loath them. All they achieve is making me bored before the person i'm paying to see comes on but i suppose i do appreciate their need and they're a good way for bands to 'pay their dues' in a way, getting used to performing in front of a live audience and expanding their fan base. I just don't want me to be in that crowd. The venue itself was lovely - perfect size, the best sound you could imagine in a live setting and getting a drink wasn't too bad a chore either. Only the Horden Pavillion  in Sydney springs to mind in comparison really. The crowd was a bit of an older audience than your typical Academy gig, giving it a much better and respectful atmosphere than i've become accustomed to in recent years (there was no pints getting launched here), but of course we did meet the one buffoon there as standard. I came back from the bar and this sweaty 50 year old man was falling all over the shop. I had been leaning against a bar quite comfortably but he insisted on trying to push me out of the way to get in, i refused of course until his friend pathetically apologised for him saying he was 'a few ales ahead of us' and he was going to fall over. Aye mate, more like a few fucking kegs ahead.  Even with having that to rest on, he still couldn't hold himself up though and comically fell flat on his face at one point. I should also menton the man wearing an early 2000's era Alfie Atkinson style flamboyant shirt, which was incredibly distracting to us all.
Just before PJ came on we got to discussing Adele playing the same venue the week after and her appearance on Jonathan Ross the weekend before. Stev had possibly the best comparison of her i'd ever heard 'She's basically like a female Frank Spencer......but with blowjob lips'. Very true, very true.
The gig itself was absolutely stunning - the stage set up was very understated, the lighting sparse yet theatrical with just a few bellows of smoke as effects. PJ herself looked as stunning as she sounded and the band were incredibly tight too - John Parish didn't even unnerve me as much as usual and Mick Harvey's presence is always appreciated in any band line up . The set started off with Let England Shake and then just seamlessly segued from one amazing track to the next until the end. I never realised how tiny PJ was until she picked up for the guitar for a few tracks and it almost hid her from sight. She didn't speak at all till the end but still oozed more charisma than most of the other show ponys doing the rounds these days and i can't reiterate enough how good her voice was. Highlights for me were probably The Words that Maketh Murder, England and Silence  but i could pick any track at random to be honest.  The only slight disappointment was both Me and Stev wanted her to come back out for the encore in her Stories from The City attire, complete with 'sexy boots' and then go straight into Good Fortune but that wouldn't have exactly fit in with it all.  Still would have been amazing though. A  pretty much perfect gig. People need to stop whooping at gigs though. It's not big, and it's not clever.


After the gig we headed straight to a nearby bar and a club called 5th avenue. The bar had a lovely scam going with '3 pint vodka energy jugs' that could have only had 4 ml of Vodka in them. The energy drink must have been from B& M's too as it only succeeded in burning my stomach and making us slightly ill before being even drunk. 5th Avenue was an experience too. It was possibly the busiest place i've ever been too and can only be described as a mix of Digital in Newcastle and Escape from Shields back in the day. The clientele was a mixture of all sorts - indie kids, charvers, wag types and the doorman probably the most agressive i've ever seen. They were storming all over in hi vis jackets throwing people out and one even grabbed me for going to the toilet with a drink, apparently a major no-no in Mancunia. After a few trebles we had the pleasure of meeting the token weirdo of the club again, i'm not sure what he was trying to tell us but Stev made it good call in saying he was probably autistic. Something was definitely amiss, although i do always appreciate a drunk who strikes up a conversion by a apologising for being a state of a person.
After that we headed back to the Travelodge and for some food enroute, which was quite the hard task actually but we eventually found something right next to where we were staying. Not that i had the chance to enjoy it as for the first time in my life i got a hangover on the night i was out. It was pretty horrific too puking all over with Stev soon following but at least we were fine for the journey home again the next day. A pretty uneventful return really but we did somehow manage to nearly miss our train again. We had decided to to get to the platform early to avoid any repeat mishaps but started feeling something was again amiss when the train wasn't opening up. Thankfully, we investigated in time this occasion ad discovered there was another train behind the one we were staring at. Oh dear. It really shouldn't be this hard for two intelligent men to get on transport. Stev did come up with an amazing idea on the way home to resurrect Tom Hanks career from it's his current slump and return to the heights of The 'Burbs - "He needs to remake Big but in reverse, where like old Tom Hanks becomes the younger version' Definitely legs in that one.
So all in all a great little trip and even better gig. I've really grown to like Manchester so my visitis will definitely have to become more fleeting. Tremendous scenes

Song For the Day - Since we missed out on it :

PJ Harvey - Good Fortune