Saturday, 30 June 2012

A Month to 30

Around a year ago, I wrote this bucket list of personal challenges and achievements to tick off by the 30th July 2012, my 30th birthday.

It was a bit of a rushed, confused list. I left loads off it and put on things that others suggested without thinking as to whether I really wanted to do them. “Reach Everest Base Camp” is on there, even though I'm not a massively passionate mountaineer, yet “swim with clownfish and regal tang” is not, and I've loved zoology and nature all my life. Both would cost a fortune, but I know which I'd rather be doing.

Visiting Loch Ness and a whisky distillery are ticked off, and climbing Ben Nevis is securely in the bag, as of last month. I tried to get back into MMA recently, but the price of training is unjustifiably high these days, so there'll be no grappling competition in the near future- definitely not before my 30th.

The rest of the list is long and mostly untouched. At the time of writing the list, I think I was being somewhat unrealistic- some of these would take more money than I have; others would take more time than I have.

To have ticked a few off is a good feeling, but making a list this long is perhaps a little scatterbrained. I've really got just a handful of very important challenges that I MUST overcome, and that I MUSTN'T be distracted from by wild flights of fancy like the majority of that list. Here are a few that ARE important:

1) Get known through the blog 

2) Eliminate my fear of women
3) Get to grips with my memory disability. I still don’t know how best to present it to people, how best to work with it and how to stop it from preventing me from being the man I want to be. But I’m learning all the time.

4) Meet more people who like house music

1) Get known through the blog 

My page views have slumped over the last few months as I uploaded less frequently. I have a plan for getting them back, and I'm working it, and what I'd like is to write something that helps lots of people in some way. Hopefully I'll produce something that isn't just a post with a few keywords resulting in more accidental Google hits- ideally I'd like to write a piece that benefits people and makes them want to share the post with others. Well. Stay tuned for that. 

2) Eliminate my fear of women 

Best not to go into too much detail right now. The journey continues... 

3) Get to grips with my memory disability. 

Over the last few months, as detailed on this blog, I've been meeting with a zoological consultant called Fluffy Oakes. His area of expertise is largely animal psychology, but he knows a surprising amount of human science as well. Through assistance from his sessions, I've taught myself to cook, I've got back in touch with old friends, I've finally got into street dance, which I've been meaning to do for a long time, I've sorted out a TON of Inland Revenue stuff and have got my finances in order, I've cut down on the amount of sugar I eat and I've even taken part in a TV show (More on that next year). I've also learned to relax when I'm faced with a problem, and not be smacked with an overwhelming sense of self-pity the moment I find something difficult. These things were not as easy to do as they sound, and this is due to the ridiculous memory difficulties I have had all of my life. That, however, is becoming less of a problem every day. In short, I've learned how to minimise the damage that the memory difficulties inflict and have managed to do some of the things I've been meaning to do for so long (see the posts just before this one). 

4) Meet more people who like house music. 

One or two people here and there I know like house music, including a few people I've met only recently... I've spent quite a lot of time looking for some kind of music social group with an emphasis on dance music: no luck. I have, however, found a street dance group and they're all decent people. Each week we learn a set routine for a particular R&B song, led by a qualified instructor. Everyone likes to dance, obviously, so I've got that in common, and we have a few drinks afterwards most times.

So. Yeah. When I trim it down, most of the important things I've achieved already. There's just one thing left. But I'm almost there. Almost.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Mario Balotelli Has No Game

I fully admit to having shit-all knowledge about- or interest in, for that matter- football. In fact, I openly hate it as a sport. It's a game that's impossible to play without breaking the rules, hence why most televised games have epic stoppage time due to cards being dished out etc.

There's a preconceived idea that footballers do really well with women. Maybe true. Mario Balotelli, it seems, is an exception to the rule. This could have something to do with the fact that he's a bit of a moron. See his “Top ten stupidest quotes”.

Furthermore, comments under this Facebook picture indicate that this image is of a Facebook message from Balotelli himself to a model from Manchester.

Fuck me. Somebody with worse game than me.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Prometheus Spoiler Alert.

Okay- I've seen Prometheus, Ridley Scott's prequel to his SF classic, Alien. Verdict? Pretty good. Not as good as the first two Alien films, but better than the rest. I liked the teaser trailers:

TED conference

Introducing “David”

This brought back a very old tradition of shooting footage only for use in the trailer and not the actual film. It's reminiscent, in that respect, of Hitchcock's classic Psycho trailer.

A few things surprised me about Prometheus.
  1. I thought David would defect and prove himself an enemy.
  2. I thought Charlize Theron's character was an android. Her personality and decision-making were both cold throughout.
  3. Peter Weyland turning up, old and infirm, on the ship. This was a bit far-fetched.
  4. The eggs seen at the start of Alien must have hatched from a queen, as seen in Aliens. The only sign of the queen in Prometheus was a brief illustration engraved in a wall inside the ship. Am I missing something?

    A separate thought: Here's an earlier film in the Alien franchise, Alien vs Predator.

There's a Weyland character in this film as well, and it's implied that he's the founding father of the Weyland Yutani corporation. This was set in present day (2004) and played by Lance Henriksen. Henricksen also played Bishop in Aliens, so there's a suggestion that Weyland designed Bishop after his younger self.

But this is seemingly a different Weyland, even though the films exist in seemingly the same universe. I think Hollywood fucked up here.

AVP was turned into a movie from this script by Shane Salerno. Let's be honest: it's not great.

In 1996, however, Peter Briggs adapted the AVP graphic novel (which is awesome) into a script (which is also pretty damned good.) 

Not only was this story better than the finished AVP movie, but it would have allowed the characters in Prometheus to comfortably exist inside both the Alien and Predator universes simultaneously.

Other thoughts: giving a character a Scottish accent does not make her comic relief. Also, the cockney punk guy was a bit of a clichéd cock.

I was really hoping that Prometheus would deepen and enrich the story of the film it prequels- Alien.

I was hoping it would add something more about how the Weyland Yutani corporation was formed, and how they discovered the Alien species. I wanted to see who gave the order to send the Nostromo to land on LV426. I wanted it to be the Godfather Part II of the SF world, and with Scott again at the helm that was entirely possible- but it didn't happen. I wanted to see how the eggs ended up in the ship, what happened to the queen alien in this ship and possibly a character from Alien as their younger self. Was Captain Dallas rising quickly through the ranks as a twenty-something? Was somebody working on a blueprint for the android Ash? All of these opportunities were squandered.

Prometheus is a good film and well worth a watch, but Ridley Scott has slipped drastically over the last few years. Alien, Blade Runner and Thelma and Louise are all-time classic movies. American Gangster was fun but predictable. Gladiator was basically Conan the Barbarian with a bigger budget. That crusades thing was boring.

Scott is capable of making all-time classic movies, but he isn't doing. Is he getting too old?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Metrolink Ups and Downs

Okay, who's been on the Metrolink between Oldham and Manchester? Pretty nifty, isn't it? If you haven't and you fancy looking at what it's like, check out this video I shot on the first day of the trams' service. You'll probably want to scroll through most of it to get the impression- it's as dull as you'd imagine. 

I've used it a few times as the Oldham Mumps stop isn't too far from my gaff. Thoughts: clean and smart. It goes to some residential areas that the trains didn't, (see the new tram's route here) and it's a nice enough journey. I'd have liked it to have been just a little bit quicker, to be honest. I'll be using it regularly as it's quiet and doesn't get packed out like the buses do. I'm not sure that spaciousness will last long, though.

Here's the full route, heading from Oldham out to St Werburgh's Road in Trafford 

And here's the timetable.

As you can see there's an unfortunate gap in the middle of the night, which is a shame as it would be nice to have a few scoops on a Saturday night and then get the met back to Oldham, instead of a £30 bastard taxi fare. There are night buses running, but not quite late enough for a proper night out. Things are changing all the time, though, as the new line proves, and things will continue to shape up.

One unfortunate negative point to the Metrolink is lack of free parking in the city centre. I wanted to see Scarface at the Odeon on Monday (in a season of old classics), but I was cutting it fine. My usual parking space is on Corporation st, opposite the CIS tower. It was free after 6pm, being just outside the 24-hour parking zone. But now it's not free in any sense: the street has been cordoned off, presumably for developments to the Rochdale line which is still under construction.

I drove around looking for a free space, but I was eventually too late for the movie and too late to shop, so I headed home. Hmm. If I'd been on the Goddamn Metrolink to begin with, there wouldn't have been a problem.

I have always advocated the Metrolink since it was confirmed for Oldham in the summer of 2009. No, it doesn't go everywhere in the town, but no public transport ever has done. And it's definitely faster than the buses and the trains.

So: my free parking spot for nights out no longer exists. There are a few spaces off Quay Street, near the old Granada TV buildings, and I found a few more down the side of the old BBC building on Oxford Road (bizarre media trend occuring there). But if you ever parked on Corporation St at that time, you're going to have to have a scout around for a new free place- unless you fancy paying £15 in an NCP, which I, for one, do not. Can anyone else suggest to me where else I might leave my car for my sober nights out?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Monday, 18 June 2012

Making Follow Fridays Work

I found this picture on Flickr under the heading:

#Follow Friday - Please don't do this

Lists of people to follow have no added value on Twitter. People don't read them and it makes you look silly.”

Courtesy LilPecan, Flickr

Many Facebook users have, by now, dabbled in Twitter. These social networkers can normally be classified by two traits: 1) those who used it for a day, thought of it as a slimmed-down and largely pointless version of Facebook and didn't go back onto it, and 2) those who saw that there was a purpose to the site that differed from the purpose of Facebook. Facebook is for keeping in touch with your friends and showing them what you're doing with your life. Twitter is for sharing information with the world. It's for bringing people together who have similar interests. Where Facebook displays what has happened, Twitter shares what is happening. When Facebook is being reactive, Twitter is being proactive. In short, Twitter is for people who believe they have something to say that's worth listening to, something that can affect people.

In January 2009, the “Follow Friday” trend emerged. The #ff hashtag burst onto our newsfeeds, and occasionally onto our Mentions page. Essentially, the #ff tag is for people the tweeter thinks their followers should also be following. It's a bit of ego-stroking for those mentioned, basically. For more info on Follow Fridays, see Mashable's (now slightly dated) write-up

I've seen a few people's tweets criticising the #ff trend, saying that such mentions haven't gotten them any new followers. And they're right. I'm not aware that any of my followers started following me because of an #ff tweet.

I think the thing missing from these particular Friday-themed tweets is a REASON for us to follow the people mentioned. I always wonder, who are they? And why should I follow them? Now, with only 140 characters per tweet to spare, we would have to change the face of Follow Fridays somewhat to make them more effective. Here's what I propose we tweeters do: let's not pack our tweets with mentions buffered with the #ff hashtag. Instead, why not include one mention per tweet, complete with the hashtag and a description of the mentioned account or, to coin a phrase, a “follow reason”. So I might- for instance- tweet “#ff @Mashablesocialmedia for the latest info on the internet and social media.” That's more tempting, right? It would take a bit of time to write out the tweets, and a bit more time for the trend (the, er, trend of doing the trend differently) to take off, but am I right in thinking this is something that could work for people worldwide?

Sunday, 17 June 2012


There are two seasons in Scotland: June and Winter.
  • Billy Connolly, Scottish comedian
It's my 30th birthday in a few weeks. There's a number of things on my “before I'm 30” list that I have managed to tick off, thanks to my dad and a recent trip to Bohnie Scoatlind. Thankfully, we managed to do it in June.

So, I've finally climbed Ben Nevis. It's the highest peak in the UK at 1344 metres (4409 feet) above sea level. 

It was a hard slog, but was nothing compared to Teide 2 weeks agoThis was roughly the same amount of ascent but nowhere near the altitude. Nevis also had a much more spacious summit, so this time there was no chance of me plummeting to my death.

I did Scarfell and Snowdon- the highest in England and Wales respectively- when I was very young, then grew away from the whole fell-walking thing in my teenage years. Despite that, Nevis has been hanging over me like a curse- a curse that, two weeks ago, I lifted. It was awesome.

We road-tripped on. Here's the Commando Memorial, in Lochaber, dedicated to the British Commandos who trained in the area during WWII.

I got a stone under the brake pad when I was driving past Loch Ness. Cure for this situation: stick it in reverse, trundle back a few metres, then roll forward. It'll knock the stone out of the mechanism. Do this as soon as you hear a terrible scraping noise. This sound is the stone as it scores your brake disc.

Next stop: The Moray Firth, specifically Chanonry Point. This spike of coastland is the best place in the UK for dolphin-watching. We camped close to the coast so we could get out there early and catch our first glimpses of bottle-nosed dolphins.

For more info on dolphins in this area of Scotland, see here

I wanted to capture as much of the trip on camera as possible, so I had the phone on charge in the car as we drove. My dad also brought a digital camera so there's twice as much opportunity to get the pictures and the memories that we want. I found that HTC cameras have a slight delay between pressing the shutter and the image being captured, so if you're using these, when you try to photograph a dolphin as it leaps, the shot you'll end up with is the empty waves after the dolphin has dived. I faced this problem so I switched to video. Please excuse the heads of other people. I hate being a short-arse.

Still: incredible, beautiful creatures. I had no idea, until a few weeks ago, that you could see dolphins anywhere off British or even European coasts.

No trip to Scotland would be complete without checking out at least one of their world-famous distilleries. We dropped into Cragganmorein Speyside.

Most whiskies are named after the location of the distillery, e.g. Cragganmore is in Cragganmore. Conditions of entering the distillery include that photography is prohibited, which meant that, with no visual reminders, I have only a vague recollection of the place. The whisky-making process is COMPLICATED. I'm not even going to attempt to explain it to you, although what was explained to us on the tour matches this site's descriptions quite well. 

Two girls guided a group of maybe 10 of us around Cragganmore's buildings, showing us the processes and equipment used at the distillery. They were barely past 18, but they sure knew their whisky.

The tour ended with a short whisky-tasting session. I, of course, picked up a Distiller's Edition of the double-matured single malt when we got to the gift shop at the end of the tour.

After this, we shot over to GlenFiddich, home of another fine whisky. (Dad did the driving for the rest of the day, for the record. He's teetotal.)

Here's the iconic GlenFiddich stag

This was a bigger setup- unsurprising being a bigger brand- with an introductory video projected in a small cinema near the entrance. The video, featuring a dramatisation of the distillery being built in 1886, was well-shot and informative. A tour of the building followed this, including- most memorably- the warehouse where the barrels are left to age.

The sights and smells of this place linger in the mind. Inside, you're invited to smell the insides of the empty oak casks used to age the malt. When you breathe in, you can pick up notes of the sherry, for which the barrels were previously used in France before being shipped to Scotland.

A brilliant, captivating building. See it for just a tenner.

In a car park a few hours later, we found this advert.

Can you tell what's wrong with it?

The Scots love their whisky, as we already know. But I didn't realise that even the cafe's have a top row of single malts.

I took this pic because, in the top right, next to the three Macallans, there's a whisky called Mortlach. I was stunned when I saw this. I tried it years ago at a whisky tasting night, detailed here. I was so wrecked that when I tried to write the name down it was illegible the next morning. I made an attempt to decipher it, and guessed at “Mortglag”. I Googled this. Other than here, the misspelled word only appears online in the Roman Economic Journal.

Next stop: Edinburgh. We drove and walked over the Forth Road Bridge, linking Edinburgh to Fife. I think I was too shit-scared of dropping my phone- which would have plummeted a good hundred metres- into the Firth of Forth below, so I've not got many decent pictures of the bridge.

To round off the trip, we went to Granton Harbour to connect with a little family history.

In 1901 one of my ancestors, Captain Charles Culley of the sailboat The Active, died here when his boat sank in a fierce storm. There's very little information about the tragedy online, but- around ten years ago- I was fortunate enough to talk to my grandad about the events that night. I've still got the minidisc recording of the telephone conversation and some written material, so expect to see more on the subject on this site over the next few months. It's quite an eye-opening story.

My dad and I planned our work and worked our plan. Everything we wanted to do, we managed in the space of three days. I also drove for longer than I've ever driven before without a break, which was possibly the biggest challenge. I don't recall the exact amount I drove but it was a good chunk of the 223 mile journey back home.

It was a great weekend. If it's practical for you to get to Scotland, you should do- ideally right now while it's summer, as Mr Connolly implies.

Saturday, 9 June 2012


Highlights from a family holiday on the Spanish isle...

I seriously needed a break from England so I took the opportunity to jet out to Tenerife with my parents and extended family. Los Claveles is a beautiful sun-kissed resort in Los Christianos on the south corner of the island. The staff are friendly and the food is great. The waiter even looks like Paul Sorvino, or Paulie from Goodfellas. The apartment was great although in it I did find a gecko on the wall the size of my fucking forearm.

I realise this is massively nerdy, but I learned here that wine glasses make great sound amplifiers for use when playing music on mobile phones. Give it a shot yourself.

It was by this pool that I hammered through Surface Detail by Iain M Banks and generally got scorched by the sun.

It's certainly a better-shaped pool than this one we found a mile or so down the coast:

Here's some slightly more intricate artwork down by the beach:

And here is the Pièce de résistance of the holiday: Mount Teide, an active volcano, which I climbed.

The 3,718 metre ascent was a killer, even when we left the car in the designated park halfway up the mountain. Starting it from sea-level would take about three days, I was told, so the route we took seemed like a tough but attainable challenge. On the way up we found small sulphur vents, kicking out hot air that stank of eggs.

Further proof that there's no corner of the world untouched by the Coca-Cola Corporation...

I climbed with my dad, uncle and cousin-in-law. We're all in reasonably good shape, but we were all whacked with altitude sickness somewhere around the summit.

For info on what you didn't know about Teide, including NASA, pirates and mass graves, check out the Expedia Tenerife Property Blog

In 1909 Teide erupted, covering the town with molten lava. Here's where the lava flow stopped. Someone with again questionable architectural taste managed to build a house inside the solidified lava.

When we arrived back at the apartment, the air pressure had imploded my water bottle.

To round off the holiday, we took an ecological expedition off the coast to see pilot whales in their natural habitat.

Hearing them clear out their blow-holes while they swam in formation was incredible. Seeing whales in the wild is something I've always wanted to do.

I was a little hesitant about the price of the holiday before I went, but I have no regrets. I had an awesome time.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Everyone Loves You When You're Dead.

Pic courtesy Joseph A Ferris III, Flickr

Neil Strauss believes this ideology to be true- so much so he named a book after it. This weighty, eclectic look at the mystique of Celebrity is a fun read, and poignant without being too heavy. Before getting his name known as a pickup artist and penning the 10-million-selling dating guide The Game, Strauss was writing for The New York Times and Rolling Stone. This gave him a fantastic opportunity to meet and interview numerous A-list names, including Tom Cruise, Courtney Love and Madonna. He also found time to interview people who you might not be familiar with, but whose work you DEFINITELY are- like Chet Atkins, the guitarist on Elvis Presley's Heartbreak Hotel, or Raymond Scott, the music composer of most of the Bugs Bunny cartoons.

When you work for a publication, of course, the finished articles you write belong to your employer. Your notes and audio recordings, however, can stay in your posession. Everyone Loves You When You're Dead is a masterfully complied collection of Strauss' interview transcripts with a plethora of Hollywood types. A narrative emerges from the descriptions and the dialogue, which jump in space and time throughout the book, seemingly trying to pin down what we can learn from those who have lived their lives in the limelight- or just behind it. It's an interesting read, particularly for fans of pop music and movies. Some of it is comically banal- shopping for Pampers wouldn't make good journalism, unless you happened to be doing this with Snoop Dogg, for instance- but I like that sort of thing, personally.

There's a good deal to be learned from Strauss' experiences in pop culture journalism, and the conclusion to the book contains advice that can help anyone, whether they intend to become famous or not. An entertaining read.

I got the book signed by the author a few months back. For the writeup, see here.