Friday, November 30, 2007

Sounding Off At The O2

So yesterday I made my third visit to the big smoke this year – and once again it was Destination Dome. I headed to the O2 to see Take That.

Visit 1, secret launch night - saw poor organisation but great gig.
Visit 2, Scissor Sisters - saw improved organisation but poor gig.

Visit 3… straightaway arriving at the O2 things were much better. The staff know what they’re doing now and guests movement flows much better. The restaurants weren’t as packed as previous visits – everyone who wanted to eat could. Also at the end of the night the stampede to the Underground was much smoother. It was still a crush but it didn’t feel like a dangerous crush.

As for the gig I can now say that after 3 visits to the O2 there’s definitely something not right. The O2’s website makes claims of the best quality sound no matter where you sit. Apparently the arena has been designed with acoustics in mind – if that’s the case then the designer was tone deaf.

I first noticed it when Tom Jones hit the stage at the first gig – everything was very bass heavy, almost muffled and although I love good bass it shouldn’t be at the expense of vocals. The simple fact is that every time I have been to the Dome the vocals seem to get drowned out by very heavy bass. Compare that to the MEN Arena where everything sounded perfectly crystal clear and balanced – the bass was still there but the vocals surfed it perfectly.

The Scissor Sisters was the worst – I was at the back of the O2 arena for this gig and you could hardly hear what they were saying.

After three visits it’s now at the point were this is frustrating and for future gigs The O2 will be at the bottom of my list of preferred destinations. (Thankfully I have tickets for Kylie at the MEN next year which is probably my favourite arena.)

The gig itself was superb, I’ve never been a member of the Take That fan club. Sure Back For Good’s a nice song but as a Teen I found them all quite smug and annoying. Shine though caught my attention, I love it – it’s a near perfect pop song. (Though my suspicions that it’s similarities to ELO’s excellent Mr Blue Sky are deliberate were confirmed at the gig by them mixing it into Mr Blue Sky.) Anyway the interaction with the crowd was brilliantly relaxed and chatty unlike Scissor Sisters who felt a tad patronising. I was also extremely impressed with the excellent ‘Never Forget’ set piece featuring some very, very clever video synchronisation.

So Take That I you’ll be pleased to know I’ll now be shamelessly buying your album.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Quiet, Peaceful, Serene

So where’s your favourite place? If you could go anywhere in the world which destination would you chose? My dumb fear of flying limits my choices but it’s no matter because I wouldn’t need to travel far – just an hour or so North West.

I love Elan Valley in Wales. I love the way that, despite being heavily resculptured in the early 1900s the landscape seems so stunningly natural. You have these huge dams carving into the valley that should spoil things but the amazing Victorian architecture just works to make the area hauntingly beautiful.
I love the silence that seems to hang over the Valley. Admittedly if you visit on a Sunday the peace is disrupted by the plethora of bikers that are drawn to the windy roads but go another day of the week and you can be truly alone with nature.

The original dams were opened in 1904, built to supply Birmingham with fresh clean water and halt the spread of disease in the second City. The amazing thing is it all works by gravity, the water travels the 73 miles on a very gradual slope of 1 in 2,300 Could we build something so simple, so elegant and so sympathetic to the landscape yet so perfectly functional today? Worryingly I doubt it. Though the efforts of the newer dam, opened in 1952 do give me hope. It was built using totally different construction methods – the improvement of concrete technology meant that they could build a damn three times the size of the originals – but of course it wouldn’t look like the originals. What did the designers do to blend it in? The covered it in stone to echo the Victorian architecture of the originals. A lot of cost to serve no purpose other than aesthetics – something I doubt we’d justify today.

I’ve you’ve never been to Elan Valley I urge you to back your best camera and a packed lunch and head there as soon as possible to marvel at man made beauty – made in the days when we could build things on budget, on schedule and still have the finished product serve it purpose.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Aside from the fact it looks mildly anal in origin how was the chocolate and chilli sauce? Suprisingly nice - initially you get a taste of sweetness which is blasted by the heat of the chillis in seconds. Too spicy for Miss Smeg but lip roastingly tasty for me!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Weird Flavours

Chocolate - good, chilli - good, but together?! What drugs were Asda executives on when they thought of putting those two flavours in one marinade? Perhaps it will work? Who knows? I will tell you after dinner!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Premature Illumination

Its November for fecks sake!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Feeling Bookish

For the last 12 months I’ve deliberately avoided Star Trek novels. I went through a stage where it was all I read – which lead to books becoming samey. I wanted to challenge myself more and have tried to be far more diverse with reading material. I didn’t go totally cold turkey – I did read William Shatner’s autobiographies, though they were non-fiction so count as non- Star Trek in my eyes.

Although I haven’t kept a record of every book I’ve read here’s the ones that stand out.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins – while much of this fell in line with my beliefs I did find that Dawkins comes across as biased as the people he berates. I am atheist but I will, occasionally, entertain the idea that there may be some awesomely powerful entity somewhere in existence. Dawkins refuses to budge. Basically the first 100 pages are excellent, mid 100 waffle then end 100 gets back on track.

The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford - A few years ago I read ‘No Logo’ which was pretty much anti corporation. This takes the more positive view that I hold and the fascinating final chapter investigates whether sweatshops are actually the root of all evil they appear to be with surprising results.

Eats Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss - I love writing, I love the English language and I’m currently narked by the amount of people that refuse to use it properly. I hate text speak but I’m not a pedant. So while this did address some of my weaknesses with the mother tongue I doubt I will take the current corruption of grammar as seriously as this author.

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming - It’s 8 years since I read the Bond novels and the time is right to revisit Fleming’s world, especially with a new novel on the way in 2008. A little older and more familiar with 007’s world than I was back in 1999 I enjoyed this much, much more. I love the care Fleming takes over description – especially food. Though rereading it you do get a taste of what a nasty bastard Fleming intended Bond to be.

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling – A great end to a fantastic series, though ignore the epilogue because that’s shit.

Doctor Who: The Inside Story by Gary Russell - some fascinating insights however most of the word count seems to consist of crawling up Russell T Davies arse. Was disappointed by this one, for a much more rounded version of events try and track down Panini Comics far superior annual Doctor Who series companions.

The Young Bond Adventures by Charlie Hisgon. Bond’s youth told Harry Potter Stylee. Actually it’s a great concept and the first book, Silver Fin, is excellent and a true insight into the youth of the nations favourite superspy. However books 2-4 get progressively worse. Book 4, Hurricane Gold, is awful and could easily have been condensed to 100 pages. To sum up Bond is involved in a kidnapping, escapes kidnappers then gets caught up with them again fooling them into becoming one of the gang, escapes them, drives around a bit gets caught by one of the gang again, escapes him, gets caught by gang again then escapes them only to be trapped with the ring leader on an exclusive island… zzzzz. After all of the dumb running around there’s finally a good few chapters as Bond tries to escape the Island though it then seems to end too soon with little payoff to the tiesome running around of the main part of the book.

So what’s next on the booklist? Well a bit of Doctor Who in Forever Autumn, Dom Joly’s autobiography ‘Look At Me’, Belle De Jour’s Diary of A London Call Girl, The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki And Ian Fleming’s Live & Let Die.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Shiny Disk Debt

I’m an avid collector of DVD’s. These days I rarely watch TV instead choosing to stare any number of my DVDs. Family Guy, Simpsons, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek or Spooks are among my most watched and rewatched. In the last few years the price of Box Sets have tumbled meaning you can normally pick up a series of your favourite TV show for around £25. Unless you’re a fan of Doctor Who.

For some reason The BBC/2 Entertain New Doctor Who box sets are around £49.99 (RRP £69.99) – even Series One which has been out since 2005. Compare that to Series One of Battlestar Galactica, also released in 2005 which you can get for £14.99 (RRP £49.99)

How can the BBC continue to justify this gross overpricing? I’ve compared the first series of each show because they were released around the same time and have the same number of episodes. Things get worse when you compare the second series, also both released at similar times.

Doctor Who 2 14 Episodes £44.99 (RRP £69.99)
Battlestar Galactica 2 20 Episodes £17.99 (RRP £49.99)

Yep, even though Galactica has 6 more episodes you can pick it up £32 cheaper. How do the just released seasons 3 compare?

Doctor Who 3 14 Episodes £51.99 (RRP £69.99)
Battlestar Galactica 3 20 Episodes £37.99 (RRP £49.99)

So you get more Galactica for a lot less money. This pricing structure is even weirder when you consider the unique way the BBC is funded. Our licence fee goes towards TV production costs thus, technically we’ve already paid for the production of Doctor Who, the DVD price should just cover the DVD production costs, something that shouldn’t be anywhere near the expense of show production. Doesn’t this mean that Galactica should be more expensive? It’s produced by a commercial network, one that needs the DVD profits to pay for the production of the show.

I’m baffled by this I have just come to the conclusion that the BBC are screwing over Doctor Who fans for a fast profit. Cheers auntie…

Friday, November 02, 2007


And now it’s time for a totally unoriginal blog, one in the style that countless other blogs are going to be publishing today – a list of personal favourite Channel 4 shows. You see the station is 25 today, a quarter of a century of being the ‘Alternative’. Still, I’m slightly bitter about Channel 4, I still haven’t forgiven them for depriving me of my favourite morning call – for all of my teenage years (it started when I was 12) The Big Breakfast was the first thing I saw everyday – and I still miss it. Still, there’s a few other shows that I’ve watched religiously…

Spaced – The sitcom that was made for me. While most of the nation aspired to be like a certain six Manhatten mates it was the adventures of Tim Bisley and Daisy Syeiner that matched my lifestyle. The first show aired in the very first week I attended university and it was like staring at a looking glass of those tensions of living with weird strangers. Also the fact that Tim was an utter geek highlighted out similarities. One of the best sitcoms ever made, though news of a US version of the show this week has jangled my nerves.

Wanted – The gameshow that I thought, until today, no one else remembered. You can keep The Crystal Maze – this high-tech nationwide game of hide & seek was awesome. The final 60-second countdown as the teams were trapped in their telephone boxes every week was strangely simple but gripping TV.

Teachers – Another moment of synergy between Channel 4 and my life. Teachers aired at the time I was teaching. It shared the same disillusions with the profession and perfectly captured some of the staff room antics. Wasn’t the same when Kurt & Brian left though.

Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush – The best gameshow ever made. Fact.

Big Brother II – Ahh the summer of 2001, the summer of Brian, Bubble, Paul & Helen. This was the one Big Brother I really enjoyed and got addicted to. Shame that it’s been shit ever since.

Ultraviolet – For UK science ficton fans the 1990s was awful. Sure we had the X-Files, Buffy and Star Trek from the states but the UK seemed incapable of producing SF TV. We had the excellent Red Dwarf about once every 3 years and that was it (except for that awful BBC Invasion Earth crap). Then, towards the end of the 90s Channel 4 slipped this beauty in. Ultraviolet is simply one of the best science fiction series ever produced in the UK, it’s only recently been matched by the likes of Life On Mars. The premise was simple – a secret organisation battling Vampires, except they were never called vampires – they were Code V’s. Stylishly filmed and acted by the team that made This Life the series wasn’t afraid to tackle taboo subjects such as abortion and paedophilia (with an excellent twist!).

And while we’re on the subject of paedophilia what about THAT episode of Brass Eye. Pure genius which the media fell hook line and sinker for. Totally blind to the fact that the show was ripping apart the media/tabloid coverage of paedophilia and not the subject itself the media then ripped the show apart, and made themselves look like fools.

Then there’s the rest Father Ted, Gamesmaster, Trigger Happy TV, Whose Line Is It Anyway, Absolutely, and the American imports the station has brought us – Roasanne, Dark Skies & Home Improvement. Not to mention the occasional cracking documentary.

You’ll notice though that there’s nothing on my list since 2002. That’s because these days C4 just doesn’t seem to churn out the goodness like it once did. The mornings are shit since Lock Keepers Cottages closed its doors and evenings seem to be full of lifestyle and reality TV. (Hmm, odd wasn’t C4 supposed to be the alternative channel?) Then there’s The Simpsons which channel 4 have treated like a pile of crap. Big press coverage of the fact that they’d be bringing new episodes to terrestrial and what do we get? A screening of season 13 on Friday night for a few weeks only for the show to be placed into the 6pm slot showing the same old episodes that BBC 2 & Sky have been screening for years. Zzzzzzzzz.

Channel 4 needs to pull its finger out because at the moment it’s the other Channel 4 that’s got me hooked – BBC 4, the station that really does seem to air the alternative…