Friday, December 24, 2004

Yesterday at work, I took a bit of chance by sending the following email to my new workmates;
Hi gang,

Some of you will know that it's my birthday tomorrow (it's going to be pretty weird not to be a teenager anymore, but I'm sure I'll get used to it), sadly I won't be in work to celebrate with you all!

Consequently, today has become my unofficial birthday in this, our exciting new workplace. Traditionally this would be the time for me to bring in mountains of cakes and other delicious sweet and sticky things for us all to make pigs of ourselves. However, I may not be alone in feeling that I may have already topped the EEC quota for mince pies and other pastry and sugar rich delights. The clincher for me was seeing the team from The Guinness Book of Records in the car park yesterday (only 1 more box and we've beaten a 60 year old record apparently).

So, in the biggest breach of office protocol since David Blunkett helped that visa request on it's way, I've decided to forego the traditional gut busting, spot inducing delights and bring in a variety of fruit for you all to nibble on. I'm sorry if this disappoints anyone, I'm sure that normal service will be resumed at the next birthday.

Wishing you all health, wealth and happiness over Christmas and the new year,


PS. Fruit is not a toy and can potentially be dangerous, so please keep the Banana skins away from Mark!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Right now, I have to say that I'm in New Yorker heaven. The winter fiction double issue came thudding through the letterbox late last week, ensuring many hours of engaging reading over the Xmas period. Over the years, I've had many periods happy engagement with magazines and periodicals, however I'm struggling to think of any others which have so consistently enthralled me.

My first memories of a regular reading habit was not with any of the classic children's Comics, it was the local weekly sports paper "The Green'un". Every Saturday evening I would wait with mounting impatience for the driver to drop the paper off at our local newsagent. Once the paper had arrived my dad would hand over the cash and before we were out of the door, I would be eagerly scanning the match reports, which dominated the front page. For the next couple of hours, I would be lost to the fascinating world sports news. My mother swears that I learnt to read from this suggest journal, I sure that the hours spent pouring over the football league tables helped my knowledge of maths as well. I was plotting prospective variations in my team’s point’s totals and working out goal differences at a very early age. The summer gave me even more chances for mathematical fun, with all those lovely cricket averages to check.

The next regular read was again football focused. Shoot, was a weekly football magazine, which gave me all the information I needed to keep update with the world of football. The regular highlight of the year with Shoot was the fantastic pop out cardboard league table, which came free in August to mark the start of the forthcoming season. The idea was that after each round of games, you could spend hours moving you little cardboard team names, within the framework of their respective leagues. Of course in reality, this just resulted in Bristol City making rapid progress to the top my league, rather than their more traditional role of mid-table obscurity.

Cricket provided the next major magazine obsession, with two different magazines. The Cricketer was a very ground up journal which, gave me a comprehensive overview of the world game. Rather stranger was my subscription to the quarterly journal of the cricket statistician association. For some reason, I became obsessed with knowing every conceivable statistic associated with this amazingly numerically focused game.

In my later teenage years and onwards, NME and The Face dominated my reading world. Both eventually fell from grace, firstly The Face became swallowed by it’s own pretensions, the NME on the other hand gave up on any semblance of pretension or thought and turned into picture filled scandal sheet it is today.

My time as a young fogey coincided nicely with the launch of The Oldie magazine. Great fun for a few years, it finally became too curmudgeonly for it’s own good and I jumped ship.

Through it all the New Yorker has ruled supreme, brilliant factual journalism, outstanding fiction, wonderfully witty cartoons and articles, all topped of by those fantastic covers. Where would I be without it?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Here we are in the last few days before Xmas, what a treat to wake up to an
unexpected covering of snow on Sunday morning. It managed to hang around for
quite a long time, without making too much of a menace of itself.

We had a top time at the Invada party on Friday, lot's of friends were out
and about. Enjoyed my first sighting of Aspen Woods, their brooding,
atmospheric music was compelling stuff. It's difficult to be subjective when
quite a few of your friends are in the band, but this lot have bags of

Ian Green played a short set, which seemed a little more focused than his
recent support gig with Gravenhurst. Gonga made their normal powerful
impact, despite the fact that singer Joe was not functioning at 100%. The
Metropol itself could be a great addition to the live music scene in
Bristol. Nicely sized and spaced, it even has more posts holding up the
ceiling than even The Fleece - quite an achievement.

Despite the icy weather we managed to squeeze in a game of football last
night. Our normal pitch was deemed to be too dangerous to use, and the sight
of one poor chap being carried away in obvious pain as we arrived, due to a
nasty slip, made us all aware that this was not the time to be flying around
making last ditch tackles. Consequently the game was less manic than normal,
I'd like to think that it would have suited my rather sedentary playing
style, sad to say my lack of basic skill was exposed even more than usual by
the lighting fast surface! Two causes for celebrations amongst my team
mates, Scott won the DJ of year award in Venue magazine and Geoff became a
dad yesterday. Good to know that we are good at something.

Friday, December 17, 2004

We’ve been out to a couple of excellent things over recent evenings. On Wednesday we finally went to a performance at the Tobacco Factory Theatre, where we saw a lovely performance of The Secret Garden. Although it’s a show, which is primarily aimed at children, we both found much to enjoy, maybe we are not as old as we think we are?

Last night we had another first time visit, this time it was to cinema 3 at The Watershed. Very impressed with the room, it’s a welcome addition to the facilities at this splendid place. We saw “Garden State”, what a great film! It’s a wonderfully understated piece, on being out of step with those around you. Subtly humorous and quietly wise, it was a real joy from start to finish. For a variety of reasons we haven’t seen as many films as usual this year, this one has to up there with the best of the bunch.

My knowledge of Zach Braff before seeing this film was pretty limited, I only caught a couple of episodes of Scrubs and to be honest I found him and the show pretty annoying. However after seeing this film, he has shot up in my estimation. How do these young guys get to write and direct (let alone star) in such wonderful things? The answer is obviously down to talent –pure and simple.

Another thing that made me love the film was the often inspired soundtrack. As anyone who used to shop in Imperial will know, the staff were always encouraged to attach post-it notes to CD’s, hoping to encourage customers to take a chance on our recommendations on stuff they may not have known about. I would always attach a particular one to the first album by The Shins – Oh, Inverted World. It said simply “Is “New Slang” the greatest song ever written?” It provoked quite a few comments from customers and fellow staff members, so I was delighted to hear it being used as the track that the Natalie Portman character plays to Zach Braff as the song that will change his life. With it’s fantastic melody line, how could it fail? How wonderful to hear a tune such as that, coming out loud and clear from that expensive new cinema sound system. Perfection.

Tonight we are off to the Invada Xmas party, where our friend Ian Green is playing, also looking forward to catching Aspen Woods, who feature another couple of mates in their line up. Headlining the whole thing are local riff kings Gonga, it will be interesting to see how much of their set Orynthia can cope with!

Monday, December 13, 2004

So the social whirl of Xmas is well and truly with us. Over the last week, I’ve had three very different social functions to attend.

Firstly, last Monday saw the Oxfam gathering on Carmen Miranda’s on Chandos Road. It was a nice chance to say a proper goodbye to managers Ray & Liz plus the vast multitude of volunteers, who keep the place open. I’m still amazed at the number of people who give their time, I was still meeting people who were new to me on Monday, after a couple of months helping out in the shop. As is often the case with these sorts of events, the food was merely average, but the company was great. They are a really good crowd; hopefully I’ll manage to keep in touch with some of them.

Next up was the festive gathering of the Monday (and occasional Sundays) football gang. Numbers were a bit depleted, for various reasons, but it turned into another enjoyable evening out. Most of the chaps I play with are involved in music or TV, with some fascinating tails to tell. We had a long and free ranging debate about the current state of both industries, whilst enjoying the obligatory food of any football team night out – curry. It was also a good chance to catch up with a bit of detail on each other’s background; most of conversations when we see each are, inevitably dominated by football. So it was interesting to hear that one of my team-mates is a B.A.F.T.A judge. Whilst another had interesting schoolboy memories of one of my wife’s relatives! Sadly this additional team bonding exercise could not stop us was slipping to another defeat on Sunday. We lost 2-1, in a match that we really should have got something from.

Saturday saw one of the traditional pre-cursers of Xmas, Teresa’s birthday gathering. On this occasion, the humorous country band “Wilma”, featuring her boyfriend Steve were playing a gig at The Old Fox on Gloucester Road. Despite the relative proximity of the pub to our house, The Old Fox is not a place which I have visited for around 20 years, my only knowledge of the place these days, was from seeing the massed ranks of gleaming motor bikes standing proudly outside of an evening. The prospect of a country band playing a bikers pub was interesting to say the least and initially, Teresa and her friends stayed well to the back of the pub, trying hard not to get in the way of the eager pool players and the steady stream of punters trying to get to the toilets. As they evening wore on and drink went down, the approval for the band rose throughout the pub, turning the potentially tricky fixture into a good away win for the boys from Wilma.

We ended the weekend with a trip to Bath to see the lovely Jeremy Hardy chatting away for a couple of hours. Really rather splendid.

Orynthia’s mum should be coming out of hospital today and over the weekend my sister called my mum and spoke to her for the first time in three years! So for once things with our respective families are looking pretty good!!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Hard to believe but another good gig has been announced for next February. I’m most excited about the news that The Go! Team will be playing at The Fleece on Feb 20th. In addition to that, we also have gigs from Elvis Costello, Nick Cave and Adam Green booked in. We are also hoping to go to London for a week around the start of the month, so it’s going to be pretty busy.

I’m still getting used to driving to and from work. Most of the journey is pretty quick, but the last 1/4 mile on the outbound journey takes about as long as the previous 3 miles, which is pretty frustrating. The last time I did regular commuting by car was just before we got married, almost 18 years ago. I had sold my car, to help fund the purchase of our flat and was making the seemingly endless journey to Trowbridge in Orynthia’s little Fiat 126. That poor car would shake and rattle it’s way through the little villages of Somerset and Wiltshire, though thankfully it never rolled! The humble little car did it’s best for me, but it could hardly be called an easy ride.

At work, our group of 18 new recruits is gelling nicely. We all feel slightly daunted by the amount of information we are taking on but everyone is really supportive of each other, which is great to see. As with all new ventures, it’s easy feel as though you don’t have a clue about what is going on and indeed for some issues that will be true for a while. In a few months time, I’m sure that we will be amazed at the knowledge we have absorbed.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Well, here I am, back in the world of gainful (paid!) employment. As ever with first days, a lot of information was passed across, some of which will hopefully have stuck. It’s actually quite a strange situation as 18 of us started today. It’s going to be quite a challenge for the small existing team over the next few months, as I imagine we are all going to be asking lots of questions. Still they were all very friendly, so the omens are good.

Lunchtime is one thing, which is going to be strange for me. Over the past 20 years I’ve been used to working in or near to the centre of town. This gave me loads of scope for interesting options when it came to filling my break time. I know that often that would just mean a piece of cake, a coffee and a good book in a local café, but it could also be wandering around the old dock area, checking out the record and book shops, going to a gallery or sometimes the luxury of a lunchtime concert. Sadly, my new place of work is in the middle of nowhere, so nothing to walk to at lunchtime and a with a canteen serving scrummy looking food at subsidised prices, if I ‘m not careful, I could see the pounds pilling on!

Our Sunday team were on the end of a pretty comprehensive 7-2 thrashing yesterday morning. Strangely though, I rather enjoyed the game. I was playing in central defence and saw lots (and lots!) of the ball, as the opposition laid siege to our goal for huge chunks of the match. Although they had a much higher average age than us, they used the ball really well and at times had us chasing shadows. This gave me plenty of chances to throw myself into tackles, some of which I even managed to win!

On Saturday evening we made our second visit in a fortnight to the Showcase Cinema. Last week we went to see the Bobby Darin bio-pic Beyond The Sea (Orynthia has always been a fan his work), This week we took my mum to see the excellent Ladies In Lavender, which features the brilliant duo of Judi Dench and Maggie Smith.

Orynthia’s mum is making progress in hospital, although she has been having problems with her eating since the operation. The general signs are good, but the sooner she can start to get some proper nourishment into her the better she (and we) will feel.

Friday, December 03, 2004

It looks as though everything went well for Orynthia’s mum yesterday. She had a double heart bypass, along with some valve work. We were with her in the hospital yesterday morning as she was being sedated; she looked so small on that huge bed.

They were going to use a replacement valve from a cow on her, as she was drifting away she had us in stitches as she mumbled about having a cow valve and what would happen if she started mooing when she came round. We also had to promise that we would not try to milk her! In a lovely silly way, it took all the tension out of the day.

We have certainly spent enough time in hospitals during 2004, let’s hope that 2005 is a bit more peaceful for our families.

I’m off to Oxfam now for my last shift before starting the new job on Monday.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

There is much futility involved in the life of a football fan, especially when you support an average team, playing at a below average level.

You waste lots of time and money, watching poor football, in cold and miserable conditions. Yet occasionally that moment comes along when something wonderfully exciting and enthralling takes you and your fellow sufferers to something approaching nirvana, or as close as we will ever get to it. Those moments live long in the memory. Most of the time we take our pleasures from the small insignificant amusements, which come our way. We all realise the futility of what we are doing, yet somehow that almost becomes the point of doing it, today was a marvellous case in point for me.

For the first time since my leisure period began a couple of months ago, Bristol City reserves were playing a midweek home match, giving me the chance to sample the deliciously ridiculous atmosphere of a meaningless match. The crowd, such as it was, mainly consisted of gentlemen of a certain age, taking enormous pleasure from berating the match officials after every slightly dubious decision, whilst trying to encourage the very young team on display. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it!

The conversations were thick with references to players and events of a previous, simpler age. Good players were revered, whilst the mention of some of our lesser talents would bring forward gales of laughter. It was great to be part of one huge collective memory, where individual identities almost ceased to matter, the club and it’s fortunes (or misfortunes) were the thing that mattered. Along with a couple of friends, I chatted with several people I have never met before, discussing events from 35 years ago, in much the same way that you would do with a family member, when knowledge of issues is taken as read.

What a brilliant way to spend a cold afternoon. The match itself served as a mere facilitator for this splendid social club. The final score was 1-1, not that that mattered to anyone.