Friday, 30 December 2011

The Buckyball Situation

When we were in New York, my husband kept going on about these Buckyball things that he wanted.  They are tiny little round magnets in a 6x6x6 block that you can make into various shapes.  He wanted them to absent mindedly play with while he's on his very many work phone calls.

I bought him some for Christmas.  He had a couple of days of playing with them, I got used to the familiar click of the magnets attaching to each other.  He made them into a long line.  Then he tried to pick them up and that's when all the trouble started.  Some fell off the bottom.  We heard them roll along our wooden floor and then *ping* as they attached to the nearest thing that was metal.  We spent hours searching for the ones that were missing.  We found some attached to the table leg.  A couple had managed to work their way into the top of the radiator, I have no idea how.  A few days later he was playing with them again and the same thing happened.  It took us a week to discover them lying under the Christmas tree.

When you purchase Buckyballs, there is the option to buy extra balls.  Do it.  It only took us 3 days to lose some.  And if it is at all possible to use them on a carpeted area, do that.  Better still, take them to work.  Or buy the Buckycubes so there's less chance of them rolling all over the floor.  If you have children, don't buy them.

They are lovely fun, but we've had a couple of little Christmas tantrums because we are still missing a couple and we have no idea where they could have possibly gone since they aren't in any of the obvious places!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Christmas when I was growing up was a lot of fun.  We'd wake up to my Dad asking 'Has He Been?' and dash downstairs to a pile of gifts under the tree.  But we weren't allowed to touch any of them until Mum was awake, we had all had breakfast and we had washed all the pots (the days before dishwashers). Then we had our presents, whilst Mum sat making a list of who had bought each of us what...very sensible, my mother.  Usually then we would travel to see my Dad's side of the family for Christmas lunch, alternating years between my grandparents and Dad's Auntie and Uncle.  There were usually up to 14 of us.  The men would all go to the pub for a drink while the women cooked and chatted.  Christmas lunch would start with a Yorkshire Pud and gravy whilst everything was being dished into massive dishes so we could all help ourselves and pass everything around.  After lunch certain members of the family would have a nap whilst the washing up was done (again, by the women ;-))  Then more presents, and the youngest two in the group would hand out the presents to everyone.

Then we'd go and do it all over again with mum's side of the family in the evening and a buffet tea.  
This is why I love Christmas, it's just fantastic to spend time with so many fabulous people and to laugh with them and eat with them and be silly.  Even if we only caught up with the extended family once a year it was enough if we had that much fun.  Boxing day would just be immediate family and a lovely drive into the countryside for a long walk.

Obviously, things change and people move on and move away and start families of their own but it's still good to keep in touch with everyone and to try and meet up when we are able to over the festive period.  I hope that it'll get to the point where we can do a big family gathering again at some point, but I sometimes wonder how we all fit in, it was very cosy, let's put it that way!

Anyways, this year, there's quite a lot of decoration going on in my flat, mainly in the lounge.  So I thought I'd show you what is making it feel all festive.

The snowman is a new addition this year, he's very colourful and rotates through lots of different colours.

These are little drinks mats.  Bought many years ago by my mum and dad but they always brighten up the flat at Christmas time.  

These wooden blocks came from Laura Ashley last year.

This is our moose/reindeer.  He's very squidgy and cuddly and I think maybe he might be a doorstop or something, but we like him too much so he sits by the TV.  I always forget that we have him and he's usually the first thing I spot out of the Xmas box.

My reindeer candle holders came from Woolworths many many years ago and they are my favourite thing in the Christmas box.  They are really cute but solid and heavy.

We have two of these stockings, a gift from my sister and her fiancé.

A little blurry I know, but if you look in the middle here, you'll see a tree present.  In our family, it's a tradition for there to be a small gift on the tree for each member of the household, and when the tree is taken down after Christmas, we open the tree presents.

Here's what our tree looks like this year.

That's about it from me now on this blog until after Christmas, I have plenty of things to be doing in the last few days, but I want to wish you a very Happy Christmas, I hope that you get to Eat, Drink and Be Merry!
Love Jo x

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

More stuff!

You might have noticed that there are now a couple of new tabs to look at.  An About Me one with a little background info for you, and then a stitching projects tab to show the things that I've bought and I'm hoping to complete as part of my hobby.  There's a LOT in there!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Change it up, baby!

It occurred to me today that my blog profile is using a pretty old photo of me.  When I came to look for a new one, I realised I don't really have a good quality one of what I look like now.  But what I do have is a selection of my hair changes throughout recent times.  I think the only time I only didn't change it was in the run up to my wedding because I had decided if it was long and blonde I could do many things with it on the day.

Other than that, I get bored pretty easily, and on more than one occasion, I've walked into the hairdressers and asked them to chop it all off, change the colour or restyle it.  Their jaw usually drops like I've gone a bit bonkers, but I think they are getting used to me now.

So here's a few past pics...This one about 9 years ago...

Then I got bored of blonde and decided to be my natural mouse for a while...

Then back to blonde again... I really love this length, it looks good straight and isn't too hard to manage.

I kept growing it for my wedding, I love this photo as it looks so shiny and there were so many things I could do with it this long!

But then after the wedding, I was desperate for a change after being blonde for so long.  So I walked in and asked for the chop and to go fiery red!  I felt fierce for the first few days after getting this done!

Although the red looks amazing in the photo, in real life it washed out really really fast and I wasn't happy with it except when I'd just had it coloured.  So the hairdresser suggested a different brand which meant the colour was slightly darker.  I also saw a poster on the shop wall where the girl had quite short hair and a squared off fringe.  I thought it would be fun to try it with the red, so this is where I am today.  And the colour is so much better lasting and so shiny (although it doesn't look it here).  I'm still trying to decide if I like this fringe or not, since I'm not used to having one, I can't decide if my last style was better.  But I will say because it is so thick and long, it's easier to style than when I've had fringes before.  Also, it must make me look older since I've not had to prove my age to buy alcohol since the restyle!

But there are still some days where I feel like a change... so it's fun to have a couple of wigs in my wardrobe...

Even though this one is a bit of a mad photo, I quite like it, some of the others in this session looked very gaga-esque... and why not? It's brilliant fun to go a bit wacky once in a while!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Flitting around the country

Things were pretty busy last week.  I had re-arranged my trip to Swindon to see a friend and her little boy which should have been when I took the New York trip.  Even though I only stayed one night with them, it felt like I'd been there for much longer.

We fit in so much stuff, including a trip to the soft play.  People I know with children are always threatening me with this when I visit them, and telling me horror stories, and yet it was perfectly good fun!  Admittedly the weather was atrocious and so it seemed like not many people had turned out, but still, I think I had almost as much fun in the ballpool as her little boy did.

We also went to a playgroup kind of thing which was also quite interesting, especially the part where I had to try and remember nursery rhymes that I haven't sung in about 25 years.  Having said that, by the time I got back on my train on friday afternoon, I was so tired I thought I might sleep and never wake up.

However, I did have to wake up as early on saturday, I was off north to see another friend for a girlie night out, and this one had been planned for ages.  I was really happily surprised with Chesterfield and it's bars and pubs.  I expected it to be a bit run down and naff, but actually, the bars were quite funky, the atmosphere was really nice (not sure if everyone was in the Xmas spirit and that had something to do with it).  The bars were all busy, but when we wanted to sit down, we could find seats easily.

It seems that the drinking culture there is one of having a drink and then moving on to the next place, so we saw many of them same people in different bars throughout the night and the bars felt full but not uncomfortable because there was constant flow in and out. The downside of this was that you hear some of the popular songs multiple times through the evening as every bar is playing them.

I noticed that the crowd was a little older than I was used to as well, probably most of the drinkers were around my age, there weren't very many groups of late teens/early twenties, and I think this probably added to the vibe being a little nicer.

We were pretty sensible and didn't go too mad, left when we got tired and got home not too late.  Sunday wasn't a write off either, we managed to fit in the arcades at Matlock Bath and then also a lovely carvery meal before I caught the train home again.

The manic nature of the last few days did help me to realise just how much I enjoy train travel; I find it really relaxing and peaceful and a good opportunity for those little sewing projects that I have on the go.  I love to stitch a bit and then daydream as I watch the world go by. Here's the poppy that I did on the way back last night (apologies for the shadow!)

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Pioneer release day

Today is an exciting day for me.  It's Pioneer release day.   (You can't miss that cover, can you?)

The Maine first popped onto my radar a few years back.  They were all pretty young back then, on their first full length, a couple of EPs behind them, but with, I'm guessing, someone to tell them what to look like...and popping them into a certain genre... sheesh...Even back then the music lodged itself in my brain and wouldn't get out again.  They went straight into my personal top 5 artist list, where they have remained for the last few years.

Now onto their 3rd full length album with Pioneer, they've gone from awww to phwoar and are all grown up (I know, I know, I can't really talk, at some point you have to at least pretend to act your age).  It's pleasing to see that they are finding their own way and learning to do things on their own terms, a route which a number of bands seem to be taking these days to get control back of the sort of music they want to produce.  Pioneer, pulled together without the Warner record label, is a testament to how much they have changed, and that they felt comfortable taking such risk is good as a fan to see that they have such confidence in their own music.  At the same time, it is clear that it has been a venture undertaken without any of the arrogance that might have come with that - they are humble, nervous and excited enough to wait and see what the reaction is from other people.

Their second album (Black and White) is one of my favourites and without a doubt it's the one I'll always pull out when I'm after a burst of sunshine.  In comparison, Pioneer is much rockier - if Can't Stop, Won't Stop is the cherryade, then Black and White was the fruity alcopop, and Pioneer is the darker, stronger shot of American whiskey. It feels again like an evolution, more serious in some ways and arriving as a sort of statement piece I think - 'This is who we really are'.

A huge favourite for me and the track I can't quite stop playing is 'Heroine', which makes me want to glam up like a rock chick, turn the music up and dirty dance round the flat.  I've seen the live performances on youtube, and although it's slightly different on the album, it's very sexy indeed.

'Some Days' was put out a couple of weeks before the album release, and again, it is stupidly catchy, with the lyrics 'Some days they taste like lemonade, some days can feel like razor blades' and honestly, isn't that so right?  The lyrics are clever and truthful and I think something everyone can relate to.

The others on the album I'll leave you to discover for yourselves, but it's a fantastic mixture of songs with more adult themes and a bunch of different sounds.  The Maine should be proud of what they have achieved with this album.  They should be one of the strongest contenders for best rock band of this generation, especially having seen them find their groove as a unit and raise the roof in a live setting.  I'm absolutely convinced that at still such a young age, if they are already this good, then at some point they will play to Wembley Stadium.

What I love about The Maine is that they are so interactive, one of them is always doing an interview or video, or sending out photos, writing a blog... you name it, they are constantly in touch with people.  Its a band that feels like it has a heart and a soul.  They have been doing track by track info on the new album in the run up to today, and will be doing a live stickam chat tonight to celebrate the release.  Check it out, I promise you won't regret it.  7.30pm PST   (a little late for those of us in the UK).

Pioneer is out on iTunes now.  The Maine tour the UK with All Time Low early next year.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Ho, Ho, Ho

Here we are again then.  That time of the year, when on the 1st of December, our first Christmas card plops through the letterbox.  This is all down to my super-organised friend.  Every year without fail, hers is the first card.  She makes me feel totally and completely useless and un-prepared.

However, this year, I have all my cards.  They are sitting in a box in the spare room because I went a little bonkers at the weekend and when walking past them all thought 'ooooh... look at those... so pretty... and I have so many to write, that I should just pick a few boxes up and then I'm all prepared and ready'.  So I am.  All prepared.  And ready.  I have a neatly printed list of all the people and their addresses so that I can tick them off as I go.  

Guess how many I've written so far? 

Oopsie.  I was full of all the best intentions.  And then a job interview got in the way.  But I'm going to do them.  Definitely tonight.  Probably.  But absolutely not on the last week before Christmas in a rush.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Cottage 2 update

Here's an update of where I am with my current project, Cottage 2 (Cottage 1 was completed by my Grandma).  The top half of the house had been completed before I started work on this project, as had the trees on the right hand side.

A certain amount of unpicking had to be done yesterday as I had miscounted, which was a little frustrating, but all done now and back on with it.  I'm hoping the rest will stitch up fairly quickly, but I don't have a completed image to look at as I'm going.  Also some of the backstitching is covering a couple of the stitches up, so I'll have to take a good guess as to what they are.  More soon, but that's all for now.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Prince's Trust Rock Gala 2011

I feel terribly lucky to have been at this event.  Not only had I never been inside the Royal Albert Hall before, but to be offered tickets in a box, to a charity concert, was I think one of the nicest ways to first experience it.

Having read the lineup for the event, I wouldn't have said that there was anyone on the list that I'd have particularly paid money to see, but when you step inside the auditorium, the atmosphere just feels good.  You know that the money raised during the evening is going to a great cause.  I'll admit, I felt a bit posh and spoiled, sipping my champagne, but it was nice, just for once.

The headline act was Pete Townshend who seems to be everywhere at the moment.  I'm not familiar with his music at all, not quite old enough to have been brought up on it, so whilst he was good, it wasn't really my cup of tea.  Thankfully, someone pointed out that 'Won't get Fooled Again' is used in one of the CSI series, so I did recognize that one!!

However, I was very pleasantly surprised by a lot of the other acts.  I'd say the highlights for me were probably Cerys Matthews (performing Catatonia's hit Road Rage, plus covers of Ring of Fire and Love Me Tender) and Joss Stone (I've had Super Duper Love stuck in my head all day), who both sounded spectacular, and also Boy George and Julian Lennon who were so much better live than I would have ever expected.

But with so many other well known names on the bill and in the house band, and the audience up on their feet many times throughout the show, it just felt like a really lovely evening all together.  And next year, I would happily pay for a ticket to see something like this again.

The event was being filmed to be shown on Christmas Day on Sky Arts and Sky 3D channels, so if you can catch it or record it, then do.  It's well worth a watch, but I don't think it will beat actually being there in person.  Look out for me on the telly - I'm the overexcited one dancing whilst trying not to fall out of the box.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

New York roundup

Overall, I had a great weekend in New York.  The shopping was every bit as good as I had been told, and I think I fell in love with Macy's, especially decked out in all its Christmas baubles and lighting.

I felt safer than I expected to, I think the thing is that everywhere in Manhattan is so busy that you don't really feel like you're walking in a strange location on your own.  I felt quite at home pretty much straight away.  Even Times Square which I thought I would find overwhelming with its lights and people was actually ok.  A bit like Leicester Square I guess, I wouldn't choose to go there but as a tourist, its something you just go and see.

The water made my skin feel great! One thing I hate about London is the horrible hard water.  But by the time I left I felt like all my dry skin had cleared up and my spots had gone and I felt glowy!

But onto the negative... the pricing.  The tax gets added on top of the price on the ticket.  It caught me out a few times and I don't really understand the reasoning for not putting the full price on the ticket.  I guess it makes the item sound cheaper, but I found this really frustrating every time I spent money on something.

I did like the city a lot, I felt like I could happily live there, and there were lots of nice little places to eat and the park was really great to walk around.  Next time I'd like to do a boat trip I think, because I felt like we didn't have time to fit that in really.  But I'd recommend visiting when it is all done up for Christmas, it is brilliant for presents which are different to here in the UK, and I'd say 4-5 days there would be perfect to do a good amount of touristy stuff.  I felt a bit like we had to cram everything in with just 3 days and could have done with pacing myself a bit better with the walking.

But we were really lucky with 3 days of beautiful sunshine and I had a great time.  And now my first trip to the US is done, who knows where will be next?!

...Then on Sunday

Since we had seen a lot of NY from the ground, we thought it'd be great to see it from above.  

An early start meant that we got to the Empire State Building before too many queues had formed, and the 1 hour wait that was mentioned to us was much more like 10 minutes.  Since Rob had been to the Observation deck but not all the way up to the top floor, 102 floors up, we decided to do that.  It seemed like not too many people had taken that option.  It was a little expensive, but we figured that we probably won't do it again.


We had a great view over the whole city, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Also seeing the exhibition about how the building had been built and how little time it took for something so massive, we were pretty amazed, especially looking at the photos of the men with almost no safety equipment holding them up and imagining what it must have been like.  After we'd been there for an hour or so it was starting to get really busy, so we left through the obligatory gift shop.

The building itself is lit up in the evening, often for a particular reason with particular colours.  The full schedule is on the website.  As we left, many people were stopping to take a photo with the beautiful Christmas trees and of the stunning architecture, so here's mine :)

After this we decided it was time for brunch, and this time I was after some eggs.  After a quick search on foursquare for brunch in the area, we walked over to Penelope.  Unfortunately, I think most of the city had had the same idea, since the wait was well over an hour.  After finally getting seated, we had a cracking brunch - I had the Sam I Am, which was something different to what I'm used to, with Asparagus and Feta cheese!

A little more shopping in the afternoon followed by a quick change in and we pottered along to Times Square, all lit up and busy.  Rob had stayed in the Marriott before, and we decided that the revolving restaurant might be pretty nice for our last night.  Again, the food was delicious, and although it was filling, the steak we both had was fantastic.  We walked it off by talking a little wander to Radio City - I've seen it so many times from other people so it was lovely to finally be standing opposite it in person. 

And on Saturday...

On Saturday, I woke up craving a cup of tea.  Guess what.  Our fancy hotel must have been too fancy to have facilities to make yourself a cuppa.  I'm assuming this isn't typical of America, I mean I know they love coffee over there, but really, I've never stayed in a hotel where you couldn't make yourself a hot drink in the morning.

After a good grumble at my still half asleep husband, I got up and got ready to get out and about.  We decided to head in the opposite direction to Friday and towards Central Park.  Lucky for us, our hotel was lovely and central.  

We had brunch on the edge of the park in Sarabeth's.  I decided to go with the unusual (for me that is) and ditched my usual cooked breakfast to try the buttermilk pancakes with strawberries.  They were pretty delicious, but I still don't think I could eat that much sugar for breakfast every weekend.  

Our next stop was to the toyshop FAO Schwarz, mainly to see the piano that they used in the film 'Big' but we had such a fun time looking at all the toys and trying to stop ourselves splashing out on the kiddies we love.  If you want to have a go on the piano you can, or stick around for the shows twice an hour with the professionals.

Afterwards, we took a long stroll in Central Park, which was really busy.  We walked up and around the lake, looking back onto the city, which was a lovely view, especially given the clear blue skies.  Although it was busy in the park, it never felt uncomfortably crowded and the general atmosphere was one of people just hanging out with their families or friends.

As it grew dark, we headed towards Hell's Kitchen to see if we could find somewhere to eat.  We walked past a great looking restaurant called 9, did a quick check on Opentable to see what the reviews were like and decided to give it a go.  We were pretty early so it wasn't too loud, but by the time we left the place was pretty full.  I had the Tuna Tartare to start and the Organic Chicken as a main course, and I have to say that both were fantastic.  The chicken was the juciest I ever remember having eaten.  Although I was pretty full, we decided to share some mini ice creams for desert.  It was followed by a slow and podgy walk back to the hotel and a very good nights sleep.

Last Friday...

With Rob being at work for most of the day, it was up to me to brave it on my own round New York.  Armed with a map, and a few instructions for where the best shopping was, I grabbed a quick Starbucks and headed off in the direction of Broadway.  I think it felt good that most people were on their way to work, which meant that when I got to Macy's there weren't too many people about.

It was all decorated for Christmas, and in the windows and inside it looked beautiful.  I didn't realise while I waited for the doors to open, but there were 9 floors.  After a couple of hours of browsing and treating myself to a jumper, I decided that I'd better leave or else I wouldn't see anything else of the city for the whole day.  As I left the store, I saw the lit up word 'Believe' on the side of the building and looking at the street name I finally twigged that I was seeing something of the film 'Miracle on 34th Street' which is still one of my favourite Christmas films.  What a doofus not to spot the connection before.

Plenty of browsing throughout the day, I made my way down Broadway and 5th Avenue all the way until I got to the site of the World Trade Centre.  It was a hive of activity to see the new buildings going up... they are already pretty tall.

Just as the sun was going down, Rob finished for the day and caught up with me and we headed over to the Hudson River.  It was a lovely evening with a view towards the Statue of Liberty in one direction and the Empire State Building in the other, glowing in the evening sun.

We finished off the day with a mexican meal in Dos Caminos in Soho, and a bowl of Guacamole about the size of my head.  The food was tasty and filling.  We walked back to the hotel, past the Empire State Building, all lit up for the evening.  It was a very relaxing day, but my feet were so so sore!  Still, the exercise is good for me, right?

Last Thursday...

...Something quite fabulous happened.  I got on a plane.  By myself.  For the first time, I flew to the United States of America.  Rob was in New York for the full week, and he and everyone else twisted my arm to go out there for the weekend.

So, a very early start and I arrived at Heathrow with a heap of time to spare.  I'd heard amazing things about Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food, so with 3 hours at least until being fed on the plane, I decided breakfast was in order.  The Eggs Florentine I ordered were the best I've ever had.  The portion size was spot on so that I felt full but not stuffed.

The BA flight was full, but the time passed quickly.  Again, the food was excellent, I was pretty impressed that we weren't fed too much as on some flights I've been on.  So I arrived feeling ok, and the customs man was nice to me and made me smile, and they let me in so that was all great!

I was a little tired since I don't sleep on planes, but an hour in a taxi later and I was at the beautiful Bryant Park Hotel.  The view out of the window was of the ice rink in Bryant Park and the lovely little stalls of handmade goods.  The room itself was a suite and it was enormous, with an equally beautiful and huge bathroom.  And I slept so well on the first night which is something I rarely manage.

After Rob finished work, we headed out locally for a meetup with a few old friends from the London office and a couple of beers and I felt very quickly at home, and had Manhattan pegged as something between London and Sydney.  Somewhat familiar but with a few things to get used to at the same time.  But I was excited for the weekend rather than petrified of being in a place I didn't know.  Go me.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


In the past, I have dabbled with watching reality TV.  When Pop Idol first started in the UK, I watched it periodically, to catchup with who was good and who I really wasn't bothered about.  Back then, I was very much a fan of pop idol.  Now we have The X Factor.  I don't think I've watched a single series.  For a start, I cannot bear to cringe my way through the audition process.  Secondly, I don't think there's anything new or exciting, from the snippets I've seen when I've visited friends who are avid watchers, and when my family visit and beg to watch it - it all seems like pop.  For a girl who has found her way to Punk/alt music, I can say that this reality show holds no interest for me, I don't care who the judges are, and I find that I have no buy in to any of the acts.  How about a Punk Idol? (jk, I know it wouldn't work before the watershed)

I'm a Celebrity just makes me want to vomit, because I just find all those bushtucker trials disgusting.  Some people might get pleasure out of watching celebs make themselves ill or eat things I never would, but really, not for me.

Big Brother. Ahhh. I'll admit, I have watched certain series of this.  I watched the first couple when it was new and interesting and when Nasty Nick's behaviour was shocking and it wasn't clear what would happen in the house.  It was a bit more of a social experiment and that made it interesting and the people seemed like they might have been quite normal people that you might have known.  These days, it seems to be the most outrageous people who will all cause trouble or have a 'thing' about them.  This promotes lots of arguing and sniping, backstabbing and shouting out in the open.  Some people like this, I prefer a quiet life.

I wasn't really interested in Strictly Come Dancing.  I was quite irritated when Arlene left, since she is one of the best known choreographers in the UK, she knows her stuff and she was honest with her opinions.  However, let's let that one go, it's in the past. This year -  I. Am. Hooked.  Between the UK version and the US one which films on Monday nights and airs a week later here in the UK, I am stunned by the quality of the participants this year.  I only really set them to record because I thought it would be fun to watch certain people (Jason, Harry, Holly - UK and Ricki, Carson - US).  It's been interesting because those I thought wouldn't do so well have had weeks of brilliance, and those I thought it would come naturally to have struggled.  But I have enjoyed every single show, it brightens up my week and I plan to stick with it.

Having said that, with all the scheduling of reality tv (there seems to be a new one popping up every week), I suppose I feel that these shows are being made in place of other, traditional TV, which is a real shame.  Perhaps with the surprise popularity of Downton Abbey, the UK is ready for a little less reality and a lot more of an escape with a bit of well scripted and performed drama.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

It's all about the Service

Isn't it depressing when you receive bad service from a place, for no particular reason. These days I order a lot more online than I used to and last year I think I did most of my xmas shopping online. A lot of the time, the delivery person is in a hurry to complete their round, I totally understand that. But really, would it hurt them to smile as they hand over the parcel?

I remember one occasion this year when the delivery person practically threw the parcel at me with such a horrible look on his face and then stormed off out of the building. Had that man been a representative of the company that I ordered from rather than a delivery courier, I would never have ordered from them again. It ruined my day, and it is a moment that has really stuck in my memory. All because I didn't answer the door within a couple of seconds so he could rush off to his next delivery. I felt like an inconvenience, when I had paid for that item and probably paid a delivery charge on top. 

Then there are companies who cold call us. They read from a script, and sometimes they don't even deviate from this when you try and talk to them. When you try to cut them off not to waste their time, they can become downright rude. Some of them have even just put the phone down on me. The way that I like to deal with the really persistent ones, is to waste their time back. I let them get through to the end of their script, often a few minutes long, and then I tell them I'm not interested. These ones are just pests. I'm a very reasonable person, and I know it is their job to sell sell sell, but when they invade my life and then talk over me with their script, I don't feel bad about being an arse.

In contrast, there have been two occasions this week when I've had excellent customer service. Firstly, speaking to a lovely lady yesterday to update some details into my married name. The lady at BA was great. Friendly, helpful, and she did exactly what she said, turned my request around quickly and gave me faith in the company. I am a person who hates making phone calls. But when you get service like this, it makes life easier and makes me hate it less.

Secondly, a service company. My husband spoke to them on the phone on Friday as there was a problem with the flat. They were, again, friendly, they talked with him through the problem and arranged to send someone out. The guy arrived exactly on time, with a smile on his face, a bit of conversation and fixed the problem and explained it to me as he wrote out the service report. If only more companies were like this. 

So, if you're in a service role, and you have to interact with customers or potential customers, then please, whatever is happening in your day, there's no need to take it out on the person opening the door or answering the phone unless they've done something to you to deserve it.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Madina Lake @Electric Ballroom

My first time in the Electric Ballroom for a gig and I found it a pretty good experience. It felt big enough that I was completely comfortable to stand where I could have some space and I still had an amazing view of the stage.

First support was Super Happy Fun Club, another Chicago band. I really liked their sound and their vibe, plenty of energy on stage, and I'd had a quick little listen to some of their music before the gig and recognised some of it so it must have got stuck somewhere in my head. They delivered a solid set.

Next on was My Passion. I thought they were also pretty good, but maybe a little heavy for my personal tastes and the lighting guy seemed to be going a bit mad with the strobe which wound me up a bit. But, it was bursting with energy and they sounded great as a live act.

Onto Madina Lake then. From the second they stepped out, I started grinning like a fool and I don't think I stopped until the lights came up at the end of the show. Their whole vibe is so infectious, and it was a totally different atmosphere to last August when they had to play without Matthew whilst he was recovering. That time, totally emotional, and this time absolutely on fire and sparky - they looked as though they had a brand new lease of life, and a proud confidence that a band has when they know they've delivered the best music of their careers so far, produced exactly as they wanted.

The set was a pretty balanced selection of tracks from all three albums, including 'Howdy Neighbor' and 'Imagineer' from latest album WWIII. If I'd been in charge of picking the set, I would have picked an almost identical list, possibly with the exception that I'd have thrown in 'Across 5 Oceans' as I think it lends itself to jumping around with a big crowd of people and singing at the top of your voice. Without giving too much away, I'll say that the staging was pretty thoughtful and immersive which added to the buzz.

My only real criticisms of the show were that the sound in the venue wasn't the best ever and Jeezi was a little in the shadows at the back of the stage, but at least his drums were on a platform this time so he wasn't completely lost behind the other guys.

Overall a fantastic and fun show from four truly brilliant and inspiring guys. I went home happy, uplifted, and exhausted, and that's all I can really ask for.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Old projects

Last month, I wrote about a piece that I was starting work on that had originally been started by my Grandma. I was finding the wool a bit tough and found that it hurt my hands more than regular cross stitch. I changed to a smaller needle. This had two effects - the first that it didn't pull quite so much and was a little easier on my hands and the second was that the needle kept falling out of the material by the time I'd moved my hand around to the back.

Thankfully it was a small piece, and I'm pleased to say that I completed it yesterday. Grandma had done the green and I finished off all the rest. Picture below:

But no rest for the wicked, as soon as I finish a piece I'm stripping it off the frame and getting the next one lined up. I'm going to be doing the other UFO of Grandma's which is a little cottage (one of a pair, the other is already finished). Luckily I managed to locate all the matching threads and I'm ready to go. My HAED projects are sitting in a corner taunting me with 'you have to finish all the other older pieces you bought before you can start us'. Sigh, and I'll keep plugging away!

Monday, 31 October 2011


This weekend, a friend and I went to the Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model live show at the Excel centre in East London. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but it sold itself as a great girls day out. There were various tickets available, but at £49, I thought that VIP was a little too much to fork out so instead we opted for the Premium tickets for £28. This included a ticket to the live catwalk show. There was also a £20 ticket for entry and a seat further back in the show or £12.50 just for the shopping and no catwalk show.

I have to say I found the whole day out a bit disappointing. Having been to Excel a few times before and knowing how big it is, I was sad that the actual shopping area took up so little room, and I think this made it feel like it wasn't worth the ticket price. There were a lot of makeover stands to get your hair or nails done, but these had big queues and quite a lot of the same things appeared multiple times and not the variety that I would have liked.

The live catwalk show was really impressive, and it was good to see the girls from this year's show put on such a great display and to demonstrate why they were in the show, and they all looked truly stunning in real life. The male dancers (mostly topless) and live music made it more of a spectacle, and I thought this redeemed the day out a little.

But overall, I have paid a lot less money to go to much better shows than this - I don't think I'll be returning next year.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Pass it on...

I'm lucky enough that my grandma was very crafty. She always had a project on the go, whether that was sewing, knitting squares for blankets, or I remember her over a number of years making lots and lots of these cute knitted dolls for charity and every time we would visit her she would show us the latest doll she had made. Such an amazing lady.

Sadly, she is no longer with us, but the last time my parents came to visit, they brought with them a couple of her unfinished stitching projects. So now I have decided to finish those off before I start on my other backlog.

First up is a piece of floral tapestry. It comes with instructions for making it up into either a cushion or a framed piece. It's quite cute but I'm finding it hard work to pull the wool through and not as enjoyable as cross stitch. Still, it is only small, so I shall crack on with it and get it finished. I like the idea that I am finishing off the couple of things that she started, it has a nice feel to it.

When I look at some of the photos of samplers from generations ago, I am amazed that children so young could produce such detailed, disciplined and neat work, and I think that it is a shame that this has been lost on our younger generations. But I hope that some day I can pass my skills down to another member of my family for them to learn.

I'm not anywhere near as neat as my grandma was, but she had years more practice than I did. But I'm proud to say that I'm getting there.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Finish - Beyond the Garden Gate

Woohoo!!! I am so pleased, I managed to finish this one in a little over 2 months, it's great to have my stitching mojo back and to be excited by working on pieces. I think it looks quite sweet, and although I think it would make a quite nice cushion, it's more likely to be framed for someone.

What's not so great is how carried away I got at the Knitting and Stitching show. Whoops! Within about 5 minutes, I'd bought some halloween related charts, but I know, they won't be done in time for this year, so they will have to wait until out of season. A bit further round, I saw some other lovely things I wanted to try, and further still and there was the Jane Greenoff stand. So many beautiful samplers hanging on the wall and Jane herself was there, who convinced me to join the Cross Stitch Guild. I also bought a lovely floral book to stitch and a blackwork house sampler. Since I wanted to extend my skills a little and to try some blackwork, and I've also been keen to try a sampler, this seemed like a great combination.

I also splashed out on a colourful green and purple tile that I thought was pretty and a bit different and a few HAED charts and kits. Terrible, I know, but having seen many of the blogs I follow who are working on HAED charts, it was just too hard to resist and they had one hanging up that I absolutely had to have. I have a sneaky feeling this is how the addiction to HAED starts. Even though I'm sure each one is at least a 2 year project! I guess I won't be needing to go to the show for about another 10 years! Pictures to follow as I start and progress... yes I will be better with the stitching updates.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Beyond The Garden Gate progress

Just a quick update with a photo of the piece that I'm currently working on. This one is called Beyond the Garden Gate, and I'm just over a month into it now... I started almost as soon as I pulled the tiger off my frame.

Looking pretty cute I reckon, I'm hoping to have it done by the end of October. Scarily, it's the Twisted Thread show in a couple of weeks, where I will have to try not to buy oodles of new stash to stitch!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Jersey Boys @Prince Edward Theatre

Having seen the adverts for this plastered all over the tube stations, buses and from walking past the theatre itself, I finally bit the bullet and booked myself a ticket. I'd been putting it off because I couldn't find anyone that wanted to come with me, but since I'm not working, I'm getting more used to just going to do the things I want to on my own.

So, middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday, me and quite a lot of coaches of OAPs sat in the theatre and watched the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I didn't know the story at all, and it is staged with each of the characters telling part of the story from their viewpoint, with a whole heap of fantastic songs thrown into the mix - Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You managed to draw cheers and clapping from the first line! With other songs like Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like A Man and December 1963 (Oh What A Night) also in there, it made for a great afternoon of entertainment, and I can see why it's had such a long run here in London. One thing I will say was that even though there were a few empty seats in the auditorium, the crowd more than made up for it - even the actors looked surprised at the reception they got from an afternoon crowd at points, and a good atmosphere really makes all the difference.

Ryan Molloy did an amazing job as Frankie Valli, hitting those high notes quite easily, or so it seemed. The other actors playing the Four Seasons were excellent too, the accents were pretty good, the swearing was plentiful (there is a warning about this on the ticket booking site), but it never felt out of place within the story. The funny and sweet little dance routines were a reminder of the era of 50s and 60s music. Clearly a very talented cast and brilliant staging, and I left the theatre uplifted, with the songs in my head and a warm fuzzy feeling for the rest of the night.

Monday, 19 September 2011

The Bluetones @O2 Shepherds Bush Empire

Last week, my husband, whilst in a pub trying to explain who these guys were, said that they were like the 3rd Britpop act after Oasis and Blur. I laughed and told him not to be ridiculous.

Having said that, as the gig on Friday night started, and they burst onto the stage on their farewell tour, I thought, well, maybe if I'd paid them more attention at the time, I'd have thought they were the 3rd Britpop act as well. There was something about them, it was easy to tell that this was an excellent touring band who clearly still has a pretty big following.

I have grown used to being at gigs where I'm one of the oldest there. Since The Bluetones is more one of Rob's favourites than mine, and because they are a band who were probably most famous in the 1990s, the crowd was very much different. For starters, when we were a few minutes late after the doors, we walked into a nearly empty venue. We could have stood at the barrier if we had wanted. Instead we chose a nice high viewpoint next to the bar and had the perfect view for the whole evening.

Clearly though, many of the crowd had followed the band since university days and were treating it as a step back in time. There were moments of now fully grown men jumping around like young boys, which was quite frankly hilarious to watch. Although they played a few songs that I didn't really know, they also played a lot that I did. Whether that was down to hubby playing them in the house, or I had actually paid more attention than I remember whilst I was at university, I was glad that I probably knew more than half of the set, and during the old favourites, the audience were all too happy to sing along and get right into the spirit of things.

Personally, I'm not all that keen on Mark Morriss' voice, although it is hugely distinctive, but during the instrumental parts, it occurred to me that the sound is quite rock and roll, which I am a huge fan of - and you can't really argue with the fact that they have been playing shows for 17 years. That's pretty good going. Apart from anything else, there was a lot of humour and plenty of energy in the show, which meant that I did actually enjoy it all very much. And it was nice to be at the farewell tour, knowing that they aren't going to be playing again as a group, the atmosphere was a little bit special. 8/10.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

11th September

As big news events go, this was probably the biggest I've seen in my lifetime. It's funny how you always remember where you were when things completely stop you in your tracks.

10 years ago today, I had spent exactly a year in my new job at at a media company. When the plane struck the first tower of the World Trade Centre, I had no idea what I was seeing. I think I and the rest of the people in my office spent the rest of the day reading the news streams and looking at the photographs as a very bizarre spacey emotion took me through the day and we watched the toll rising. It was one of the strangest days of my life.

So today, I just wanted to say that I'm thinking of those people who were there and who got through this day, those who lost their lives, and especially of those who lost someone they cared about. I won't be watching the news or reading the stories, but I will remember and I will be thinking of you.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Time Flies

Phew, it can't be September already can it?

But since the leaves started falling off the trees and the massive horse chestnuts seem to be bursting out of their cases and falling onto the ground, I guess it is. Which should mean that summer is almost over and we are heading into Autumn, right? Wrong. It got warmer. I'm not talking heatwave, but warm enough to be in my flat in shorts with the doors open. Better than it was for a lot of the days in August. I actually quite like September. Any nice weather days you get are a bit of a happy bonus. Hopefully all the evil wasps have died, or at least aren't able to fly in the way that makes them look evil - more that they are all slow and can't be bothered and you can get away from them without much effort really.

The fact that it's September also means that I'm just into my 3rd month since leaving work. I feel like things have slowed down a little in terms of the personal goals I have, but really, I think it's just that I've joined the local gym now and this is taking up a couple of hours a day for a few days of the week. Since I think that was on my list, or should have been if I missed it off, as long as I see some improvement in my fitness, then I'll be happy.

I've also decided that along with the gym, I'm going to try and move back to the wheat/yeast/sugar free diet for a little while where possible. This worked very well for me a couple of years ago, and apart from feeling like I'm hungry ALL the time, I felt tons better for it and noticed that my general health was heaps better and I had plenty of energy. I could do with that again, so it'll be back to rye toast, eggs, tomatoes, oats, tacos, nachos, organic meat and loads of vegetables. This book was my saviour the first time round, so I'm looking forward to delving into it again. On the plus side, I can whip up the most amazing home made guacamole now without really thinking about it, which is great and made quite frequently in our household.

Well, back to the stitching, I'll have an update for you soon on my latest stitchy project.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Tiger Finish

Hooray! It's finally complete!

I was a little worried I'd be sick of him by the time I'd finished with the stitching, but last weekend I put the whiskers onto him and that was the end of that! Just need to get him framed and find a place on the wall. And I'm pleased to say that it looks much better in real life, although the photo is still quite impressive knowing that I finished that all myself, I think it worked out at about 30,000 stitches in the end.

To be fair, it's taken about 10 months I think, but with such a lot going on over the last year planning the wedding etc and then being away, it was never going to be completed by the end of last year, I think I was being a little optimistic!

So, onto the next one... which is actually a restart. I'd put about the first 100 stitches onto Beyond the Garden Gate and then put it in a box. I found it as I was going through my stash so thought I'd better pick it up and finish it off before I start on anything else. I'm presently managing to stitch for a few hours most days which is great and I'm not sick of it yet. I've also sorted some of my leftover threads out and had a general tidyup. Go Me!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

One Soup! and Another Soup!

In my quest to cook more, I've discovered that once you have one of those hand blendery things, that soups are actually the easiest thing in the world to make. So much so that to tackle one of my off work tasks, I've decided to start wading through the Delia Smith 'Soup' book which has been happily sitting on my shelf never to be touched for about oooh, 5 years now.

So far I've made the following, all of which have been delicious:

Carrot & Coriander (using coriander from my balcony baskets, how fresh it tasted!)
Butternut Squash

Ok, so I know these are all the easy ones, but they turned out well, so I'm going to attempt some of those with more ingredients over the coming weeks. But I'm pretty happy with myself so far that I'm getting on and trying new things.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Out of This World

In an attempt to get out and about more in my time off, I decided to visit the Out of This World exhibition at the British Library and headed down there on Monday morning in searing heat.

After grabbing breakfast at the cafe outside, I headed in to the free exhibition. I wasn't very sure what to expect, but in front of me were a variety of works from centuries ago up until the present date, highlighting stories of people from other planets, travel to other planets, time travel and a whole lot more besides.

There were detailed excerpts and you could actually see the original books and illustrations of what these authors and illustrators thought might have been possible, alongside the more recent comic book superheroes, through to Doctor Who's TARDIS. (I don't think The Doctor is ever in the TARDIS, I've seen it quite a few times now!)

I think I read through most of the exhibition and it took just over an hour. Given that it was at the British Library, it shouldn't really have surprised me that the focus was primarily written material, but it hadn't occured to me that I'd be able to see the original books and manuscripts, which was lovely. It made a change for me as I am used to Science Fiction via the TV shows or films, so to see some of the inspiration behind these gave me a different perspective.

Out of This World is open at the British Library until 25th September 2011.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Chatsworth Estate

On my last day in Yorkshire we decided to take a little day trip into Derbyshire to visit the Chatsworth estate. Again, we were really lucky with the weather, sunshine instead of the predicted rain!

A few minutes from the house is the Garden Centre with its colourful array of plants, lovely big gift shop and of course the family favourite, the cafe. We stopped here for our morning break, well, it was close enough to lunch that I managed one of the most amazing pork and stuffing pies with a bit of salad. A wander round the gift shop and then we got back in the car and drove towards the house.

Disappointingly, the view of the house as you drive up was obscured by scaffolding, so the photo I wanted to take I couldn't. Chatsworth will always be one of my favourite places to go and visit, as you drive up to the house you cross a bridge, and it was a painting of that bridge that my Grandad painted that has hung in my parents' house for many years.

Although I've visited the grounds many times, I don't remember visiting the inside of the house since I was little, and I couldn't remember what was inside. I twisted my parents arms to get the ticket for both and in we went. And I'm so glad that we did. I can't even count the number of times that my jaw dropped as we went round. Everything was so decorative, I couldn't stop snapping with the camera. Ceilings were painted in amazing ways, there was so much beautiful wood carving on the staircases and walls, and the whole design of the place was just spectacular.

I was also impressed with the current Duke and Duchess of Devonshire's willingness to incorporate new art amongst all the existing. There were a number of modern pieces throughout the house, and although they stood out a little, the willingness to encourage and commission new artists was something that I thought was really wonderful.

After the house, we went for the compulsory walk around the stunning gardens. So much work has gone into these, and there are many different points in the walk where you get a really impressive viewpoint of the house, or the fountains, the planted gardens or there's even a maze.

A really fantastic day out, well worth a visit if you get a chance, and on the way out, we always call at the farm shop to stock up on tasty food.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Great Yorkshire Show

Last week I was happy enough to plod on off up to Yorkshire to see my family, and whilst I was there, we were looking for a day out. Happily, my visit coincided with the Great Yorkshire Show, which was a 3 day midweek event about much more than cows, pigs and sheep. Here, people can also show off their vegetables, cheese and birds in the hope of winning first, second or third prize.

The showground near Harrogate offers far more than that though. I thought at first it was quite an expensive day out at £22 for a regular adult ticket, but there was a huge amount to do, and we were there for the full day, and it didn't feel like we had seen everything. Apart from the showground where the animals are shown (we saw some absolutely huge cattle), there are also falconry displays, a display by the Red Devils, sheep shearing displays, you can learn more about the schools and colleges in Yorkshire and what they have to offer. There are also a wide variety of stalls selling everything from food and drink to clothes and crafts.

We watched some of the wood displays, lumberjacks attempting to pop balloons, and competing to strip branches from logs while the mechanical equivalent tried to get through 4 logs in the same amount of time. The great British Pole Climbing championship was incredible, with amateurs and pros climbing 80ft in under 20 seconds!

We also saw a fashion show which had work by some local colleges and university students and the latest fashions from the store Hobbs. I was really impressed with the quality of the designs from the students, there were more than a few things I'd have loved to get my hands on.

Even if you're not interested in seeing the livestock, I'd recommend this as a great family day out, with so much to see and do. Even though they were expecting 130,000 people through the gates over the three days, and it was very busy, it never felt claustrophobic or as though you were being pushed around. And the service in the restaurants was impeccable, the tables were cleared quickly so that it was never a long wait to find a table. Add to that the attitude of all the staff and exhibitors and it just once again shows why I'm so proud to be from Yorkshire. It's the best.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Time Off update 1

Ok, the photos didn't come out so well. But the result of the wardrobe clearout was 2 big bags of clothes that have been taken to the local Oxfam. The wardrobe itself still looks just as full of clothes, I'm not entirely sure how that is possible. But I definitely don't need to buy anything new, except maybe a smart black suit that actually fits, for when I need to start going to interviews etc.

I also discovered a really amazing black velvet evening dress that looks so good with my new red hair. And a couple of party dresses that I'd forgotten about. Heaps of things, there just isn't enough time to wear them all, but I'm glad that I can at least see them. What it did confirm when trying a few things on was that for the first year ever, the weight I put on at Xmas didn't come off again. I know that it wasn't much, but still, it's a bit of a shock and made me feel like I'm getting old now. Must sort out some kind of exercise so my tummy doesn't keep expanding, since I'm most definitely not giving up food.

I've also been doing well on the tiger stitching, it's really coming along now, I'm hoping to have it finished in the next couple of weeks. And I'm halfway through the Penny Vincenzi book that I'm reading. Plus I have my trip home to see the family and friends all booked in for next week. Hurrah, I can't wait to see everyone.

Monday, 4 July 2011

The big wardrobe tidy

It's Monday morning. What better time than after a long, restful weekend to tackle my wardrobe clearout. It's not exactly a big wardrobe, it's the one that came with the flat. All the shelves along the top are full of boxes. One of the 3 compartments contains folding chairs, wrapping paper and... more boxes. I'm not touching or clearing any of the boxes since they aren't mine.

But clothes wise, I'm determined to be ruthless. No, really, I am!
And later on, I will post up some before and after pictures so you can see just how hard I've been working all day.

Saturday, 2 July 2011


So, the time finally came, my extension at work came to an end, I had my last wages and my redundancy payment, and that's the end of that. Almost 11 years after I started and this will be the first time I've not been working since I left Uni.

Well, I'm the kind of girl who needs a plan. So my plan is this. I plan to have some time off. And I need to fill this time with things that need to be done, and with fun things, and with blogging a heck of a lot more often. But I know that I will need to go back to work because at some point boredom will set in and then it'll be either watching Jeremy Kyle and at that point Rob would probably kick me out of the house, or else I will have to start looking for work again.

When I found out I was being made redundant, I convinced myself that I wanted to do something completely different. I applied unsuccessfully for a few things. But, I've realised that actually, I'm pretty good at what I do. I can design a good database, I can use some standards and guidelines, and actually I've learnt a lot on the job over the past 8 years that I've been doing this role. A look on the internet suggested that there is still a demand for the type of work that I do, and that I was pretty badly underpaid where I was (that's what happens when you stick with a company out of loyalty... they tell you every year that things are tight and so there's not enough money for much of a pay rise).

So my actual plan is this - that I'll take up to 3 months off (but we'll see how this bit goes) - At this point I think that should be more than enough to do everything I NEED to do and then a whole bunch of things that I want to do.

The stuff that needs to happen is as follows:

Sort out my wardrobe - seriously, I have more clothes than the average shop and just because it still fits doesn't mean it shouldn't have gone into the bin/a charity shop a long time ago.

Read some of the books that I've had lying around that need to be read and handed back/taken to charity shops. Again, with the aim of tidying the flat... it feels like it's bursting at the seams at the moment.

Cook. Lots of cooking. I've got so many recipe books. I want to try new things. I've started making soups from Delia's Soup book and they've been really delicious. There's a heap of things in Jamie Oliver's 60 minute meals I want to try.

Catch up with the people I've neglected for the last 10 years. Yes, see more of my family, and my friends back home. When it's not a rushed weekend, I should be able to see them and their kids. I don't want the kids to get to 18 and I've only seen them grow up via facebook. That's pathetic (though still better than nothing).

The name change. Yes, I've still got to get everything changed into my married name. I've been putting this off because it seems like a neverending list.

Explore London. I know, I walk round London a lot. But there are loads of things that I've never done, like all the free museums. I feel like I'm missing out. I have the time now, so it's a great opportunity.

Finally, the stitching. The tiger needs to be finished. I've had enough of stitching in brown. I'd like a bit of pink or blue. So I want to finish the tiger and get another 3 designs started and finished by the end of the year. I also have a bunch of my Grandma's UFOs that I'd love to complete since she is no longer with us and I feel like they need to be done.

So, that all sounds quite ambitious for the next 3 months, but I'm excited about the time off and the summer and I'm very much looking forward to doing all this and then finding a really great job at the end of it all.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Plain White T's, 100 Club

Whoa, what a gig.

But let's start at the beginning. I had never been to the 100 Club. Hubby had been called out to the States and so he couldn't make it (he was pretty gutted) and all of my friends apparently were away/already had plans. So I took a deep breath and went to my first gig all by myself. Thankfully, within a few minutes of arriving at the venue, I met Nikky, Laura, Kirstie and Claire.

I also realised that whilst I wasn't particularly early, I was first in the queue. Amazing. And a couple of the guys came out for a chat (or perhaps to just go out to McDonalds), but they did stop for a couple of photos.

The club is teeny (capacity is about 350), with a long thin stage couple of feet off the floor, and no barrier, so we had an excellent spot.

Onto the music. Support was provided by Jack Savoretti and his band. From the first strum of his guitar and words he sang, the audience were clearly up for a big night as they pumped out song after song full of energy. The sound is pretty hard to describe, it's got tinges of country music, funk, soul and his voice I can only describe as beautiful and just a little bit edgy. And without the ego that you get from some people with beautiful voices, just lots of fun and smiles. I think he and the band picked up a whole roomful of new fans, it's one of the few times I've seen an audience nearly as nuts for the support as for the main act. Please do go and check it out, there's plenty of live videos up on his facebook page

So then, the Plain White T's. A lot of people had been patiently waiting for this gig, and it really was worth the wait in every sense of the word. I don't think I can actually find fault. The setlist was a fabulous mashup of a load of songs from the new album plus favourites from the previous ones.

The thing I love about the band is that over all of their albums, there's not a single song I dislike. There's one that freaks me out, because it's utterly bonkers (Cirque dans la Rue), but the rest I love to the point that they are my albums of choice whenever I'm travelling or chilling out. To be honest, they could have sung anything and I think I would have been happy (the cover of Runaway on Daytrotter is one of my favourite covers ever, I love sixties music and they pull off this sound perfectly). Their own songs make me feel warm hearted and lovey. And I think that during some of the banter, the guys hit on what makes them different from a lot of other bands - they are a pretty romantic bunch! It's damn brave and big of them to put pieces of themselves out there like they do. And fair enough, that's not everyone's cup of tea, but to me, if you listen carefully to the lyrics, if you hear some of the stories behind why they were written and then you REALLY listen to them, then there seems to be a connection to experiences which any of us might have gone through or felt (the hubby always laughs when he hears Natural Disaster and points at me, no idea why).

So let's talk about the live show. Firstly, the songs were better than you hear on the albums because of all that added extra liveness and excitement. They can really SING - no auto-tuning here baby. The harmonies are stop you in your tracks beautiful, it's louder, sweatier, closer, and with a good deal of extra oomph. I have no idea how De'Mar didn't fall off his stool, he was going for it with the drums so much (I'm awestruck). Lots of concentration, lots of smiles (and a couple of teary-eyed emotional moments from the guys during particular songs, which were quite sweet to see). The finishing touch was a collection of very beautiful guitars and spiffy outfits to tie into the Wonders of the Younger album artwork. It felt a bit like being in a dark entertainment tent at a fairground or a circus. They described the latest album as a way to try and get back to the fun way things used to be when you were younger, before you have all the grown up stuff to worry about. It's a beautiful thought, right?

They kicked off with the lead track from Wonders of the Younger, 'Irrational Anthem' which just explodes after a few seconds in to a massive tune. I was also really happy to hear Tom sing one of my favourites on the album 'Broken Record', it just makes me giggle, it's got a bit of a retro feel to it which I love and it's impossible not to groove to it. We also got to hear 'Sunlight' from Big Bad World album. It's one of my favourites although I always seem to end up with a trembly chin and tears running down my face. (I'm pretty sure nobody saw that tho). It was fab to hear the lead being taken in a few of the songs by Tim, and 'Rhythm of Love' from the new Wonders of the Younger album was full of the light and mellow sound of his voice. Of course the set wouldn't have been complete without Hey There Delilah, which is probably the song that introduced most people in the UK to the Plain White T's. The full setlist is below.

I think everyone is hoping that next time they won't leave it so long, and with the bosses there to see how things went, and the reaction from the crowd (who seemed to know most of the new songs - always a good sign), I'm certain they will be back soon.

I honestly can't knock anything but like a miniature 0.1 off here (I think it could have started 30 mins earlier so people didn't have to leave to go get coaches/trains before the end). I love their music, the live show was perfect, and they were sweet and chatty, and also more hilarious than I ever realised, so for me - 9.9/10. Intimate gigs are fun; it's fab to be in a place with other people who are there because they are so into the band and the music. And what with all that beautiful magic and imagination in the air, I think I might just have fallen a little bit in love with them all.

Plain White T's played:
Irrational Anthem
Our Time Now
Big Bad World
Welcome to Mystery
Rhythm of Love
Take Me Away
Write You A Song
Broken Record
Our Song
Cirque dans la Rue
Last Breath
Hey There Delilah
Wonders of the Younger

Photos courtesy of Nicky Barrett and Kirstie Keir.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Mayday Parade @ Koko

Thursday night was the first time I've ever been to Koko in Camden. I thought it was a really great venue, with plenty of places to stand if you wanted a good view of the stage from above. The queue was pretty huge when we arrived as it always tends to be for Mayday Parade, so when we actually got in, we only caught half a Blitz Kids song (although this sounded pretty cool!) and decided against going down on the main floor. Instead, we headed upstairs for a great balcony view and the bar.

After a quick equipment change, out came American Band A Rocket To The Moon. They said it was their first time in the UK, but it seemed like they were already very well known - the girl next to me was clearly VERY excited, as were most of the crowd down by the stage. And I have to say I could see why immediately. Their songs were catchy and memorable, and after coming home and listening to a few of their tracks again, I can say that the live performance outshone their recorded material and gave it a little extra oomph, which to me is always a sign of a band who are going to do well. I must now immediately go and buy their album as I'm completely hooked. To see them on their first time in the UK, is something a bit special I think - I'm pretty sure they could sell out a headliner next time. 9/10

After ARTTM came New York band, We Are The In Crowd. Again, they were good, but something didn't quite gel right with me. A female lead singer was something a bit different, but I wasn't that keen on their ripped jeans look. Their sound was ok, and I thought that their extremely tall guitarist had a great voice, and the lead singer was pretty good as well but it didn't blow me away like ARTTM had. I didn't find the songs as memorable or as catchy. Still, I thought that they were ok as a support act, but I wouldn't go to see them again specifically. 7/10

Finally after a long wait (for no apparent reason), Mayday Parade took to the stage. I'd been a little disappointed in their October shows last year, but at the end of the day, I love their music and albums so decided to try again. Given that we were up high, we had a better view, and also I think the sound was better from up there. They started well, smashing through their songs, the energy of this band is just crazy, and the fans feed off it too. I was, as usual, particularly impressed with the drummers arms flying all over the place, but also the fact that he did a good amount of the backing vocals. They included 'Terrible Things' from their 'Valdosta' EP, which was a nice touch to freshen up the set a little, and again a really great song - but really, they have two albums worth of amazing material to choose from, so I don't really feel like the shows are too similar. Thankfully they'd ditched the part of the show where they would stop a song halfway through to get the audience to shout out (which attracted boos from the audience last year). Towards the end, I did feel like the lead singer was starting to run out of steam a bit with the vocals, but they slowed it down and sang the crowd pleaser 'Miserable at Best' pretty well. Next time I'd love to hear 'Save your Heart' as I think it's also a beautiful slow song that would make a bit of a change.

I think it was an improved show from last year, and my cousin was really impressed, this being the first time she had seen them; she said she was immediately off to listen to their music again. One thing though, whenever I see Derek, I just want to chop all that long hair off - I like to see a singers face while they sing, dammit! 8/10