Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Soft, strong and WRONG

Time is turning me into a right cynical so-and-so. Case in point: I saw a news article today about the new Andrex toilet roll ad campaign, which has a CGI puppy in it instead of the real thing. My instant reaction was "oh, they're blatantly hoping that some poor sod with nothing better to do will instigate a Facebook 'bring back the real puppy' campaign in order to drum up more publicity". And, even though this may indeed be true, the fact that it entered my head before anything else makes me feel a bit sad.

Sadness aside, perhaps I'll create a 'YEAH I TOTES LOVE THE NEW CGI ANDREX PUPPY, THOUGH PERSONALLY I PREFER CHARMIN BOG ROLL' Facebook group just to prove that us consumers aren't that easily manipulated...

...Oh my God, it's worse than I thought, Andrex have actually created a Facebook page themselves. Check out the comments. And look how many fans it's got. WE ARE DOOMED (and here's a page that someone else has created).

OK, cynicism is in this case justified. Sigh.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Page against the machine

I had a really eye-opening moment in London Bridge train station yesterday and it's been playing on my mind ever since.

As I was weaving through the crowds between the underground and the overground stations, I spotted an advert for an iPad. It's an advert which I've seen countless times before, but for some reason last night, I stopped and thought about what I was looking at for the first time. 

The advert depicts someone turning a page of an eBook on an iPad. You can see the edge of the 'page' being turned in the bottom right hand corner with a swipe of a finger, a bit like this:

Flickr photo: Mike Baird
And suddenly it dawned on me: at some point, in the future, people won't turn real, paper pages anymore. OK, so this may be hundreds of years in the future, rather than in the next few decades, but ultimately pages, as we know them, will no longer exist. And this makes me sad.

On the train on the way home I looked at the passengers around me. Every single person in my immediate vicinity was preoccupied with something they were holding. Out of ten people, seven were reading newspapers or books, one was watching a video on his iPhone, another was browsing the web on his smartphone and another was reading an Amazon Kindle. How long before the technology is more prominent than physical, paper-based content? Indeed, you could almost argue that my unscientific sample is unrepresentative, and that technology is already overtaking paper.

For future generations, the act of swiping a screen with a finger is going to be more familiar than turning a real page, and there will come a time when children won't have ever touched a book or a newspaper or a magazine. Or perhaps, one day, they won't even have touched any kind of paper at all. The concept of physical pages will be totally and utterly alien to them. How terrifying is this?? 

They'll go round to their grandparents' houses, and giggle at the massive, dusty objects on the bookshelves, and roll their eyes at how crap the 'olden days' were when everyone had to lug around textbooks and get their fingers covered in newsprint. Parents will have to explain to their guffawing offspring that the concept of a bookmark on web browsers was named after strips of card or leather, which you actually had to PUT BETWEEN PAPER PAGES TO REMEMBER WHERE YOU WERE IN A BOOK. LOL.

But what will happen to all the books? What will happen to the libraries? Will charity shops be inundated with books when more and more people begin to replace their collections with one tiny gadget? I don't mean to lament technology, I simply find it absolutely mind-boggling - yet fascinating - how this digital revolution is happening all around us. Funnily enough, the advert which brought it home for me was what you would call a 'poster' ad, yet it was on a digital display, rather than a paper poster. This only reiterates my ultimate question: when will pages cease to exist?

On the upside, good news for trees.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Matthew Herbert: newsical genius

Every so often something happens which makes me pinch myself, and wonder how the hell I got to where I am today. Last night was one of those occasions, as I went to one of the best musical performances I've ever seen as a result of my job

A couple of months ago composer Matthew Herbert approached the Guardian as he wanted to create a concert inspired by a single copy of the Guardian. We agreed....as we're kinda cool like that....and the results were performed last night at the Royal Festival Hall by the London Sinfonietta as part of the London Jazz Festival.

My my, it was an absolute hoot. As the audience arrived to take their seats, we were all handed copies of the Guardian from Saturday 25 September 2010, which was the edition he had used to draw inspiration from. As the performance got underway with a piece based around the sounds of the Guardian printing presses, we were told which sections of the paper had influenced which compositions. 

What lay at every audience member's feet at the end of the night
When I initially heard about the project I had presumed that he would be using some of the big news stories to provoke his pieces, but instead he tended to focus on little random stories in the various sections, which made it even more quirky.

One piece was prompted by a small, wry article in the business section about a forthcoming auction for a Lehman Brothers sign. Herbert had bid for the item online hoping that the Sinfonietta's percussionest would then be able to 'play' the sign as part of the performance, but this hope was dashed when it sold for a whopping £23,000! Instead, a piece of music was created around the sound of the auction itself which Herbert had recorded, with the audience being instructed by the conductor to rub two credit cards together at certain points. A fantastic composition critiquing money and consumerism was the result.

Another section of the concert was based around the paper's various articles and features about food. There was even a chef on the stage cooking the recipes which had appeared in the Weekend mag that day, with the smells wafting across the audience throughout the entire evening. As a foley artist created the sounds of mould growing (to match a video being shown which had been mentioned in the paper, of-course), we were told to make paper aeroplanes out of the recipe pages to represent food airmiles. The sight of hundreds of paper aeroplanes whizzing around the RFH was magical.

The most poignant piece was prompted by a poem which had been printed in the Review section about a dying mother. Herbert set the poem to music, which was sung by Eska. It was simply beautiful.

Less beautiful, but more fun, was a composition based solely on footage from a football match that took place that day - Oxford United v Crewe Alexandra to be precise. Herbert cleverly selected a section in the match which contained very little football and lots of schoolboy altercations, with the orchestra providing the sound effects for every shove, whistle and bounce of the ball.

Wow, I could go on and on about this but I'm aware I've already written too much. Other highlights included a cover version of a Status Quo song, volunteers rhythmically building a house on stage with bricks to reflect the property articles (during which the audience jangled their house keys) and a pianist whose birthday was mentioned in the paper that day playing the intro to one of the songs. We were also encouraged to try and complete the cryptic crossword during the course of the evening, with the first to do so winning a bottle of wine.

However, I think my favourite piece in terms of the actual music was one based around a recording of an interview between Ed Pilkington and Jonathan Frantzen (the resulting feature appeared in the paper on the 25 September). Herbert spliced and remixed their conversation live on stage while the orchestra 'played' copies of Frantzen's latest book, which he was promoting in the interview. It sounded bloody awesome and deliciously trippy.

The climax of the concert was a mass audience participation piece, where each section of the audience had to use their copy of the Guardian to make various sounds, through rolling it up and tapping, ripping the pages or even blowing through it. Very enjoyable, though it meant that the venue looked like absolute carnage afterwards, with torn up Guardians cluttering every aisle. 


I cannot express enough how much I enjoyed the entire concert - it was performed with such humour and intelligence, even including when the performers bowed at the very end to reveal Rupert Murdoch's face adorning the top of everyone's heads. But I'll let you all make your own minds up about what Herbert was trying to imply with this...

Sunday, 31 October 2010

The extra hour that never was

Twice a year I am baffled by the sheer volume of intelligent people who are totally and utterly fazed by the clocks changing. In the UK, the vast majority of the population have coped with this time-related quirk twice a year for their entire lives, so you'd think we'd all be used to it by now.

However, people appear to be becoming increasingly undone by the ritual of putting the clocks back or forward by an hour. I blame one thing for this proliferation of confusion: technology. 

Ten years ago we would have traipsed around our abodes, obediently winding each clock backwards or manually altering our mobile phones before bedtime. Nowadays, mobile phones and clocks - even the ticking variety - cleverly adjust themselves overnight. That's all well and good, but the trouble with this automatic update is that when we wake up the next morning, we have no real clue as to whether the clocks actually *have* adjusted themselves, since we no longer possess the useful recollection of having done it ourselves. This invariably results in people tweeting or updating their Facebook status with the ludicrous - yet necessary - question 'WHAT IS THE TIME?'.

Now I'm a bit of a traditionalist, and have an old-fashioned style watch that I have to wind back myself, which I diligently did last night before bed. However, come 1am I was still awake, and I noticed that my iPhone hadn't altered the time, so I put the clock back an hour myself. I should have realised when various apps started having hissy fits that something wasn't right, but I was too sleepy to care.

So this morning I wake up with the headache from hell. Check iPhone - not even 7am yet. Bliss, I can sleep for another 2 hours at least. WRONG! Turns out my iPhone did indeed adjust itself automatically at some random point in the middle of the night, so the extra hour I thought I had didn't actually exist, as confirmed by a glance at my watch which I *knew* was correct as I had changed it myself. To say I wasn't happy would be an understatement; I felt like time and technology had cheated me out of the extra hour that everyone else in the country was somehow savouring in another dimension. Of-course that's a load of crap, but it was extremely frustrating.

I really don't know how this problem can be solved. Unfortunately, as technology develops and becomes more sophisticated, this issue can only be confounded. Someone I follow on Twitter sensibly suggested that devices should have some kind of polite pop-up message when the clock has changed. Sounds like a good solution to me, although does that carry with it the risk of someone changing all of our timepieces to some kind of ridiculous o'clock as a cruel joke / to bring down the economy???? OK, I'm thinking about this too much now. Time for bed. Or is it....?

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Live life the Hollo-way

My hero is Ian Holloway. Ex-Bristol Rovers player/manager who is now enjoying Premiership manager success up at Blackpool. It couldn't happen to a nicer club (Blackpool fans are awesome), or a nicer man.

I used to live down the road from 'Ollie' as a teenager, and whenever I saw him walking his dog he always said hello. These were the days when I was ever-so-slightly obsessed with football, in particular Bristol Rovers. At the time, Holloway was our player/manager. There aren't enough player/managers these days. I always think that a manager bringing himself on as a sub must be a bit of a blow for the player being replaced.

Anyway, I was reminded of my respect for the man this week because of this video in which he rants about the ridiculous Wayne Rooney situation:



Everything about this video I adore: the passion behind his words, his increasing rage, his turns of phrase ("SORT YER LIFE OUT!"), his self-deprecation, how he appears to scratch his arse at the 3 minute point, his fabulous Bristolian accent (which hasn't softened at all over the years), his cheesy joke at the end of the BBC video linked to above, and his cheeky grin. What. A. Fella.

However, the one thing I don't necessarily agree with is what he's actually saying. Now I'm not going to pretend to be some kind of expert on the Bosman ruling and football transfers, and I completely agree that the fact a footballer can threaten to leave a club, then be rewarded with a massive salary hike in order to get him to stay is ludicrous and shameful. But the way Holloway describes Rooney as an entity - like a car or a house - is pretty depressing. 

*cue over-simplified argument*

If anyone else wants to change jobs and join another company, then they are perfectly within their rights to do so. But footballers are bought and sold like commodities, and are treated like possessions, not individuals. Holloway's rant is perfectly valid within the system that currently exists, but basically I believe the entire football transfer system is wrong (I told you this was going to be an over-simplified argument). 

Do I have any sensible solutions for how this system can change? No, of-course I bloody don't. Do I think that Rooney honestly wanted to leave Manchester United? No, of-course I bloody don't; he (or, more likely, his agent) wanted more money, and it's worked out very nicely indeed for both of them. You could also argue that this entire situation hasn't done any harm to Ferguson's reputation either, but I'm going to leave that particular conspiracy theory dangling mid-air...(though check out the labels I've tagged this post with).

But, yes. Ian Holloway. True legend, and a top bloke.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

A tale of two tunnels

One of the things that fascinates me most about London is its tunnels. I've previously written about my adventures in Tunnel 228 and the Kingsway Tram Tunnel, and I'm pleased to report that the last few weeks have provided me with two more opportunities to explore the city's secret labyrinths. 

First up was a tour of the abandoned Aldwych tube station on the Strand. You may have heard about this as it got a lot of news coverage when the tour opened, and I felt lucky to get my hands on a pair of highly sought-after tickets from the London Transport Museum, which organised the event.

Aldwych station closed in 1994, but during the London Blitz 70 years ago, thousands of Londoners sheltered there to escape the bombings from the German Luftwaffe. The aim of these particular tours was to give visitors an idea of what it was like to take refuge in a tube tunnel while the bombs rained down from the skies.


Walking down the emergency staircase to reach the platform (the lifts no longer work, obviously) genuinely gave me goosebumps as I imagined what it must have been like back in 1940, leaving your home and possessions behind and spending the night with hundreds of strangers. But sadly I wasn't overly impressed with the tour; there simply wasn't enough information given to us about the history of the tube station itself, and it relied too much on special effects and the cockney role-playing enthusiasm of a few actors.

Don't get me wrong, the tour was impeccably organised and it was entertaining - especially for the kids who were there with their parents - but I wasn't looking for theatrics, I was thirsty for information. It was great that there was an old tube train that we could explore, but surely if they wanted to give us a true indication of what sheltering in the tunnel was like during the Blitz then there shouldn't have been a train on the tracks or fancy lighting and sound effects? I simply wanted to be shown around and told about what people had to go through, but instead I learned more from health and safety talk which was given in the ticket hall before the formal tour began.

I was still glad that I got the opportunity to explore Aldwych station, but I'm not convinced it was worth £8.50.

My second tunnel adventure took place last weekend at the Old Vic Tunnels underneath Waterloo station. Indeed, these are the same tunnels that were used by Punchdrunk for their Tunnel 228 project I went to last year. This time the exhibition was called Hell's Half Acre, and consisted of a series of installation artworks by various artists, inspired by Dante's Inferno and curated by the Lazarides Gallery.

I must say I was utterly blown away by this exhibition. As usual, I couldn't tell you what it all meant, and having never read 'Inferno' I couldn't place the works within any kind of context whatsoever, but I can honestly say that around every corner there was an installation that made me gasp, coo with awe or grimace with a strange sense of admiring unease.


Humans in cling-film cocoons, a ball of pigeons, magnified maggots, a hypnotic perpetually-changing projection reflected in a pool of water, random etchings on layered plates of glass that formed a perfect image if you stood in the right place....I could go on.

Unfortunately the exhibition - which was free though you had to pre-book - is finished now, but I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for more Lazarides / Old Vic Tunnels projects.

Speaking of keeping an eye out for things, I must give a shout out to the IanVisits blog, as this is without doubt the best source of information for tunnel-related events in London.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

All conked out

So autumn is well and truly upon us, and nothing could have demonstrated this more acutely than what I got up to yesterday: I played conkers. But not for fun, no. I took part in a proper conkers tournament in a drizzly beer garden upon a mushy carpet of fallen leaves and twigs. I'm not sure you can get more autumnal than that.

Despite going on conker collecting sprees as a child (I recall my entrepreneurial brother planting them in pots and selling them to his friends - to be fair, one such conker is now an impressive tree in my Grampy's garden), I can't remember having played conkers before. However, the prospect of going to a pub in Dulwich, drinking hot chocolate, raising cash for charity and potentially winning a trophy wasn't too hard for me to resist.

  The tournament in question is called D.I.C.K; a childishly amusing acronym which stands for the Dulwich International Conkers Knockout. It turns out that conkers is an extremely fun game to play, and to watch, especially when it's a simple knockout process. Sadly the knockout nature of the competition meant that my professional conkering career was extremely short-lived. It's fair to say that my hand-eye coordination isn't the best in the world (with the odd exception of drumming) so I wasn't holding out much hope for victory, despite my ever-present conkpetitive spirit. So it was no surprise when I got knocked out in the first round. Though, to be fair, my opponent was a previous 'conkerer' from a couple of years ago, and his aim and power were undeniably good.

The rules for the tournament were nice and simple; each player has three attempts at striking their opponent's conker, and they each take it in turns. If both conkers are still on the string after four minutes of this it goes to sudden death, where each conkpetitor has nine attempts to simply make contact with - and not necessarily destroy - their challenger's conker as many times as possible. Whoever makes the most contacts wins, so it's about accuracy rather than power. The one exception to these simple rules is the 'snag clause', which was apparently introduced for the first time last year. This basically means that if you 'snag' your conker with your rival's (i.e. your conker gets all tangled up with theirs when you're attempting to hit it) three times in one match, you're out.
 
People were knocked out of the tournament in all manner of fashions; mine was a traditional exit in that my conker was swiftly destroyed as a result of my opponent's brilliance (he's laughing because I was so rubbish); other people were disqualified via the snag clause; others accidentally destroyed their own conkers by making an unfortunate contact with their adversary's target. One chap even appeared to conkpromise his horse chestnut's durability by wearing a shinpad on his forearm; a good way to protect your limb from bruising as a result of the speedy follow-though action, but it undoubtedly weakened his conker since it was constantly being buffeted by the hard protective surface.

The trophy for the winner was impressive:


I will most definitely be going back next year for another chance to claim it as my own. Let's be honest, though, that's never going to happen.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Scrapblogging: USA holiday

As I bit into the gigantic whoopie pie, the sweet, creamy frosting oozing out between the two slabs of rich chocolate cake, I finally accepted that, yes, I was on holiday in the United States of America. The United Cakes of America, more like. And if you can't scoff whoopie pies on holiday, when can you? Unless you live in the States, of course, and presumably you eat nothing else but whoopie pie given that it is probably the yummiest foodstuff ever to grace the face of the earth.

To clarify, I recently returned from a fabulous fortnight in the USA, where I spent a week in the state of Massachusetts, and another week in Ohio. This was no ordinary holiday, as I was accompanying a friend of mine as she embarked on a fact-finding mission about her incredible and dramatic family tree (but that's her story to tell). As a result of this adventure we didn't stay in hotels, but instead resided in two extremely welcoming all-American households, both connected to my friend's family history.

Although we were close to Boston during the first week, and not too far from the city of Cleveland in the second (I'll write a bit about Cleveland in a separate post), we were keen to explore as many non-touristy areas as possible...and to see whether our accents would cause any kind of stir in smalltown America (spoiler: they didn't). 

The Charles River in Boston
Sure, we did some normal sightseeing stuff like the Boston Duck Tour, Plymouth Rock, MIT & Harvard, a trip to Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the city's fantastic Museum of Art, but for the most part we explored the suburbs, hunted out independent diners and rummaged in secret shops. Since the pastime of scrapbooking is so popular in the USA, I thought I'd create a virtual version here as a memento of my favourite places that I visited. So here are some recommendations of places to go and things to see if you ever happen to find yourself in MA or OH:

The best bagels in the world? Nomably
Cape Cod Bagel Company, Falmouth, MA
Where I acquired the whoopie pie referred to above. However, as the name suggests, their main area of expertise is in the realm of bagels. They freshly bake every kind of bagel imaginable, and it's a great local spot for brekkie or lunch. No website but here are the details.

Kimball Farm
Kimball Farm, MA 
Back in 1939 the Kimball farming family had a lightbulb moment and decided to turn their woodshed into an ice cream parlour. Over the years word spread about Kimball's until they eventually stopped farming altogether to focus on the ice cream. It turned out to be a good decision, and today you could quite easily spend a whole day at Kimball Farm playing crazy golf, pitching and putting, shopping in their cute country store and filling your bellies at the seafood shack. But a visit wouldn't be complete without sampling the ice cream. A word of warning: the portions are HUGE. A 'small' tub consisted of three massive scoops and, much like everything in the States, the 'kiddies' size was more than sufficient.

Outside Tiny's
Tiny's Restaurant, Ayer, MA 
Tiny's is perfect and embodied everything that I wanted to experience on this trip. It's a roadside restaurant which is well off the beaten track tourist-wise but really well known in the community. I inhaled a delicious bowl of clam chowder followed by a tasty lobster roll. You can't get more Massachusetts than that.

Goodwill, Shaker Square, OH
A very stylish colleague of mine asked me upon my return to work whether I'd managed to shop in a Goodwill store, and unbelievably (and quite accidentally) I had! We stumbled across this gem of a place in Shaker Square; a lovely area of Cleveland packed with cafes, galleries and a gorgeous cinema. Goodwill's is basically a charity shop, but on a much larger scale. They sell an endless array of things, including some high-end clothing labels if you're prepared to rummage (which we very most certainly were); my friend bought three things for a mere $12, and I picked up a top for $2.

Tommy's in Coventry

Tommy's Restaurant, Coventry, OH
Coventry is a quirky "village" just outside Cleveland, which is where all the hippies used to hang out back in the 60s and 70s (and we should know since we were staying with two of them!). Coventry is very proud of its liberal heritage, as demonstrated by the psychedelic street signs and street benches depicting various peace/love-related symbols. The heart and soul of Coventry is Tommy's, a permanently-packed restaurant which arguably serves the best milkshakes in the world. Their chocolate peanut butter malt blew my mind despite the fact that I'm not even that keen on peanut butter. Seriously, it has to be tried to be believed.

Munching corn at Taste of Tremont
Taste of Tremont street festival, OH
We were lucky enough to be in the environs of Cleveland to coincide with the annual Taste of Tremont festival. Tremont is an arty little neighbourhood renowned for its restaurants, and every year in July all of the local eateries set up stalls on the streets and sell their delicious nosh at knock-down prices. It was loads of fun. I ate too much. I also shopped in a great Tremont boutique called Banyan Tree.

How 'diner' can you get?
Silver Spartan Diner, University Circle, Cleveland, OH
This was probably the most 'dinery' of diners we found on our travels. Located in Cleveland's university and cultural district, Silver Spartan is so retro and American that it's almost a parody of itself (check out this video for evidence). The food was classic diner fare but sadly we didn't get to sample the shakes, which are meant to be pretty good (though surely not as good as Tommy's).

Friday, 9 July 2010

A decent job's worth waiting (and working) for

"70 GRADUATE APPLICANTS FOR EVERY JOB" screamed the headlines this week. "The only way to get a job is through unpaid work" bemoaned one recent graduate, who is currently working for free in PR. But not everyone is lucky enough to be able to live rent-free for months on end whilst getting a foot in the door (the ethics of whether businesses should 'employ' someone on no salary is another issue altogether, which has been debated in great depth this week due to one particularly cheeky internship advert). I'm afraid that I completely disagree with the assertion that working for free is the ONLY way for graduates to end up with a decent job. What about good, old-fashioned perseverance, patience and determination?

The sad truth is that there just aren't enough graduate jobs out there for everyone to land their ideal position straight away. But what is a 'graduate' job? The Association of Graduate Recruiters survey, which has led to the '70 applicants for every job' furore, "is based on responses provided by 199 AGR members in May 2010." These members include big companies like Cadbury, Marks & Spencer, JP Morgan and Vodafone, so presumably the survey is only talking about graduate 'schemes', rather than job vacancies as a whole. The competition for such schemes has always been fierce, and the evidence is there that it is now even more difficult to snare such a coveted and relatively well-paid position straight out of uni, but what about all the other jobs out there?

This is my experience. I graduated at 21 with a 2:1 degree in journalism. I'd considered doing a post-graduate journalism qualification but the bottom line was that I couldn't afford it, so I ruled that out. I happily moved down to Hampshire that summer to be with my then-boyfriend. I knew no one, I had no job and had no idea where life would take me. It was exciting, but within a few days that excitement turned to fear when our letting agents started pressuring me to get a job once we'd signed the lease on our little house. Of course, they were right; I needed to be able to pay the rent, after all. So I started job hunting.

This was 2003, and even then finding a job was a lot harder than I thought it would be. But I got myself a full-time admin position in a sales office. Not the most interesting job in the world and certainly not well-paid, but I earned just about enough and I used my holiday allowance to do a couple of work experience stints at local radio stations. The fact that it was a six-month maternity cover contract gave me something to aim for and plenty of time to look around for other opportunities.

That opportunity arose at a local newspaper, which was advertising a receptionist vacancy. Again, a maternity cover role, so I went for the job with the naive notion that perhaps I could get into journalism that way instead. To an extent the plan worked; I was interviewed for a trainee reporter role after a few months on reception, but the editor (correctly) sensed that I wasn't cut out for the death knock, and although I did some freelance bits and bobs (I got to interview NOEL from HEARSAY!!!), I quickly cottoned on to the fact that a career in journalism wasn't for me. Gah - what now?

PR seemed like the natural next step, so over the next three years I worked in two further education colleges doing in-house PR thanks to the contacts I had made at the local newspaper. Then life changed a bit and London beckoned. And after 18-months doing more in-house education PR for a small organisation in the West End, I found myself at the Guardian, doing a job I'm good at within an industry that fascinates me and for my favourite newspaper.

Who knows, maybe I was just lucky. I certainly consider myself fortunate now to be doing a job I love and without major financial worries. But getting here wasn't easy; nothing was ever handed to me on a plate and I never got a job because I 'knew someone' who could help me get a foot in the door. But I also know that I wouldn't have the job I've got today without a degree, and without giving up my holiday allowance in the early days to get some unpaid experience to pad out my CV. So although my degree may not have provided me with opportunities straight away, ultimately my three years at uni paid off.

I rarely write such personal / preachy blog posts, and I don't want to underplay how difficult it is for anyone - not just graduates - to find a job in the current climate, but my annoyance is summed up neatly by the aforementioned PR intern, who justifies her decision to work for nothing as follows:
"I've signed up for lots of websites and recruitment agencies, but there's nothing that fits what I want to do – just administrative jobs and call centres." 
I'm sorry, but get real! It goes without saying that my experience is entirely irrelevant to many students who are looking for a different kind of job, but my advice to media / creative graduates would be to think about your career in the long-term. Don't expect to get your dream role instantly, or to even find any kind of job in your industry of choice, as it took me six years to get to where I am today, and without my so-called "administrative jobs" I may well be still clinging to dreams of a career that ultimately I wasn't suited to.

Life is tough in all respects, and one's professional life is no exception, but plug away, work hard and stay positive because - quite a lot of the time, and in my experience - things tend to fall into place in the end.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Snap happy

A couple of weeks ago I tweeted about the fact that I was on the lookout for a new camera, and asked if anyone had any advice. I was overwhelmed by the response, and as a direct result I am now the proud owner of a dinky Canon Ixus 100 IS. I'm going on holiday to the USA on Saturday and this tiny piece of kit will be great to take around with me on my travels.

However, I also got a lot of recommendations for what could only be described as more 'serious' cameras, with Tom from Computeractive and Rich from Best Buy UK giving me some handy tips, so when I get back to the UK I reckon I'll be tempted to invest in a more substantial camera.

Rich from Best Buy UK also provided me with the perfect opportunity to test out my new camera by offering me tickets to an exclusive Ellie Goulding gig at the indigO2 this week. Now I'm so out of touch with 'modern' music that I'd never heard any of her tracks before, but she was a great performer and it was a fun evening. I'm by no means a natural photographer, but here are some of the shots I snapped at the gig...







Saturday, 5 June 2010

The tracks of my beards

So the long-awaited East London Line is now officially up and running, meaning that the trendy streets of east London are now much more accessible to us SE London residents. Hmmm, why does this not excite me very much? Oh yeah, because in and around places like 'Hoxton' and 'Shoreditch' I stick out like a sore, unfashionable thumb. Everyone's just so bloody stylish and hip. And tall. How *do* they fit into those jeans?

So when I discovered that Kev - the guitarist in my band Witness To The Beard - had booked us in to a recording studio just off Brick Lane for a day I was excited that I now had a genuine reason to hop on a shiny ELL train for my short journey north. The train was indeed very shiny, and I loved the fact that you can see from one end of the train to the other because of the lack of divisions between the carriages. I arrived at Shoreditch High Station in no time.

The studio we'd booked was the Soup Studio on Hanbury Street, which is underneath the Duke of Uke shop. We'd booked the studio out for the whole day for a bargainous £150, which included a sound engineer. The engineer in question was a lovely chap called Giles, and he was an absolute star. Between the three of us in the band we had very little recording experience, and Giles put us all at ease straight away, and was very patient when we cocked up. He was also extremely diplomatic with his comments and advice, when he could have simply said 'nah, that sounded crap'. 

We recorded our tracks live for the most part, with Giles doing a few clever tweaks and edits before the final mix. We somehow managed to record nine tracks in one day and you can listen to the results here if you're of a rough-and-ready rock disposition (to hear how it's done properly you can listen to Giles's band Tiger Cats here, which was recorded in the same studio).

It was such a fun day, and I'm really chuffed that I've now got something to show from 'the days when I was vaguely cool and in a band'. I'd massively recommend Soup Studio to anyone looking for somewhere affordable to record some tracks; they do analogue and digital recording and are really flexible and helpful. It's not the biggest studio in the world, but for us it was perfect. Oh, and I am now the proud owner of a ukulele which I purchased from the shop upstairs. I have named it 'Uku-Hayley'...

Monday, 31 May 2010

Cache me if you can

I discovered something new today: GEOCACHING. The official blurb says:

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online.
In even simpler terms, geeks around the globe have stashed little boxes (perhaps tupperware, perhaps a tiny film container) all over the world, and there's a nifty iPhone app giving you clues to their locations. You find the box, you add your name to the list of paper within it, you tick it off on your app, then move on to the next one.

Oh my God, it's addictive, especially for a shameless dweeb like me who loves mysteries and scrambling around in the great outdoors. We only found two today around Richmond Park (and I have the nettle stings to prove it), but I am now determined to find more.

I've always loved a good treasure hunt. 

*cue Dunlop anecdote* 

My favourite treasure hunt memory takes me back to when I was maybe 10 or 11. Us Dunlops were partaking in a treasure hunt organised as a social event by my dad's work colleagues. It was a car-based treasure hunt and the clues were quite tricky, but we were a competitive bunch and we thought we'd done pretty well. The final challenge was to draw a logo which was on the side of a building that we had been directed to.

"I think we should colour it in, Dad," either me or my little brother said from the back seat of the car, excited that we'd solved the final clue.

"No, no, no," Dad insisted, "It'll be fine as it is."

When the results were read out at the subsequent barbecue that evening we were delighted to discover that we had come joint first. "Sadly we only have one prize," said the judge, "so we've had to decide a final winner according to the accuracy of their responses.....and because they coloured in their logo we are awarding the prize to....." Well, it wasn't us, obviously.

"Daaaaad!" we exclaimed.

I am aware that I've been taking the mick out of my dear Dad rather a lot on this blog recently. But, for the record, he's a bloody top bloke :)

Saturday, 29 May 2010

The hole shebang


Ok, here's an amusing anecdote from the Dunlop archive at the end of a very long week....

As we wandered through the dark Spanish residential streets on our way to the local restaurant, we spotted a conspicuous-looking black patch in the middle of the pavement. Taking a closer look, we realised that it was in fact a hazardous hole, about a foot square in size and a couple of feet or so deep.

"Well, that's rather dangerous," my dad said, shaking his head. "Someone could step into that and hurt themselves, there are no warning signs up or anything."

Indeed, indeed, murmured my mum and I, as we continued our eatery-bound amble. Following dinner, we deliberately walked on the other side of the road in order to avoid 'the hole'. "We'll just have to remember it's there," I said, putting it to the back of my mind.

The following day, as I read a book on the roof terrace, my dad decided to go out on one of his 'walks' (what is it with dads and their 'walks' when on holiday??). As he put on his baseball cap, fastened the Velcro straps on his sandals and strolled purposefully away from the villa whilst clutching his map, my mum jokingly shouted "don't forget that hole!"
*90 minutes or so later*
My sunshine-induced snooze was rudely interrupted by a never-ending surge of my mum's distinctive laughter, quickly followed by equally uncontrollable cackling from my dad. Now, we're quite a giggly family, but this was a whole new level of hysteria. So I descended from my sun trap to see what all the fuss was about.

Like a kid who'd fallen over in the playground, my dad had blood trickling down his knee. "What happened to your knee, Dad?" I asked, genuinely concerned. "Take one guess," said my mum, in between the fits of chortling. I looked at her laughter tear-stained face, then to my dad's rather bashful expression, and it all slotted into place.

"YOU FELL IN THE HOLE!"

Hysteria ensued for the next 5 minutes or so, until my dad could sufficiently collect himself to tell the story.

"There's not much to say, really, except one second I was walking along, and the next my leg disappeared from beneath me and I was knee deep in the pavement!"

The funniest thing about the situation was that it was probably the only hole on the face of the entire planet that he had known to be in existence. He had known precisely where it was and had even commented on its threat to pedestrians. Yet he STILL fell in it. He STILL put his foot in precisely the wrong spot on the pavement. "If I had put my foot anywhere else at that moment it wouldn't have gone in the hole," he spluttered between chuckles. "But it was the exact size of my foot, and in it went."

Classic.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Run a-mock

I don't quite know how it's happened, but I appear to have signed up to do a charity run in July with work. Yes, me, volunteering to run a distance which is longer than that between the Northern line and platform 4 at London Bridge station; a stretch I regularly find myself sprinting along for dear life.

To be fair, it's not a marathon distance or anything near it - a "mere" 5.6km through Battersea Park - but I have never done anything like this in my life. Yeah, I know I could walk it if I wanted to, but that would be a bit of a cop out in my opinion. I have no idea what kind of time to aim for, but having crowdsourced a rough estimate I've decided to go for sub 45 minutes. So let the training commence! Maybe I should ask Eddie Izzard for some tips...apparently Calippos might do the trick?

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Gastronoweek

Food rocks, doesn't it? I love eating and trying new things but, that said, I'd never describe myself as a 'foodie', mainly because I'm not big on cooking. It's not that I can't cook, it's just that there are other things I would rather be doing than spending my time slaving away in the kitchen, especially when you're cooking for one (get the violins out!). Basically, I'm lazy.

However, my attitude towards grub may be about to change after the week I've just had, during which fantastic food was the common thread which tied it all together in one big, tasty, blogworthy package.

First up on Tuesday night was one of the best events I've ever been to. The wonderful people over at Qype* organised a secret supper club, where a bunch of forty or so lucky Qypers got to meet the legendary Jim Haynes from that After Eight advert (yes, he's real, and every word he says is true!). 


Jim has been hosting epic dinner parties at his Paris apartment for decades and reckons that, all in all, he's had around 130,000 round to his place for dinner. Now that's a lot of washing up! Meeting Jim was brilliant; he was a total charmer and he kissed my hand like a proper gent, but what was possibly even more special about the evening was the stuff we got to put in our bellies. 

You see, this was no ordinary evening. To celebrate the presence of the undisputed King of supper clubs, it appropriately took place at the wonderful underground restaurant Fernandez & Leluu. And when I say restaurant, what I actually mean is this lovely couple's living room! Unlike Jim's decades of experience, Simon (Fernandez) and Uyen (Leluu) have only been hosting their supper club in their Hackney abode since last autumn, yet their culinary skills and hospitality has so far generated high praise indeed and now I can't wait to go along to one of their regular sit-down dinners.

I won't even try and describe the brilliance of the food because I'm not a food blogger and I could never do it justice. But I will say that it was all exquisite, including a platter of starters (with the yummiest prawn cocktail dip I've ever tasted), the most tender slices of beef carpaccio, and a sinful pot of posh bread and butter pudding made with criossants. The food is described in delicious detail at Feast on Scraps with some wonderful images on the LondonEater blog. The cocktails were shaken and stirred to boozy perfection, and are summarised with applaudable precision over at Billy's Booze Blog. There are some more great write-ups at One Million Gold Stars, Domestic Sluttery and, of-course, Qype. Yes the bloggers really were out in force at this one! High praise indeed must be given to the clever After Eight PR people, Sian and all the others at Qype, Simon and Uyen and, of-course, Sir Jim, for putting on such a wonderful evening of food, hospitality and good company. And, to top off my Qype love, they even made me Qyper of the Week - chuffed!

My week of gastrono-joy was completed yesterday, when I slipped into a summery dress and headed to the swanky Sanderson hotel for a girly afternoon with a crazy twist; a Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea! Although the hotel resembles a concrete lump from the outside, inside it's sleek and stylish and we were seated in the hotel's pretty courtyard garden. I'd never 'done' afternoon tea in my life, so had no idea what to expect, but when the waiter brought out our individual vintage cake stands stacked with multicoloured sandwiches, scones, cakes and lollipops, I couldn't help but squeal with childish joy.


There was no requirement for an 'eat me' label, as I tucked in straight away. The sandwiches were delicate, yet packed with flavour. The scones were light and seductively crumbly (although sadly we missed out on the clotted cream as they'd temporarily run out, and the butter substitute was too firm for the delicate scones). The cakes were really exciting to eat, with pink foam oozing from the 'Queen of Hearts' teacake, and crackle crystals making us giggle on the chocolate and raspberry cupcake. We finished our sugar fest with, errr, more sugar, this time in the form of a pineapple candy (it claimed to turn your mouth from hot to cold but I didn't experience this) and, finally, a chocolate a peppermint lolly which burst in your mouth (some great photos here). All this, with an unlimited supply of tea, for twenty quid! 

The hotel had only intended to run the Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea for a month or so to capitalise on the hype surrounding Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland film, but the popularity of it (it was full when we left) means that it is remaining a permanent fixture at the Sanderson. In which case, I can definitely see myself going back.

*If you've never heard of Qype I'd urge you to check it out. Not only does the site give you access to squillions of user-generated (and very well written) reviews so you can see what other people think of local restaurants, bars and shops, but they also organise loads of cool events for regular reviewers to go along to. So it's like a review website and a social network all rolled into one.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Blue moon

Strolling with a cheerful purpose up Tottenham Court Road I was slowed by a trio of boisterous, err, chavs, for want of a better word. The vocal threesome were laughing loudly - and obviously - at the girl in front of them, deeming her legs to be 'too large' for her jeggings. As I overtook them I cast them a derogatory glance for their cruelty. At the same time, I selfishly felt relieved that at least I wasn't wearing anything vaguely controversial that they could use to make fun of me. Then I remembered. Yes, I remembered that for the first time I had been brave enough to wear my rather garish bright blue tights today. Five seconds after I overtook them the inevitable happened, and they started a tuneful rendition of 'Blue Moon'. I had to laugh.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Narrative displeasure: Cracks and Creeks

I've been extremely busy with work this Easter weekend with one thing and another. This meant that I missed the first Matt Smith / Steven Moffat episode of Doctor Who at its (rather early?) 6.20pm slot on Saturday night, although I did manage to catch it on iPlayer later that evening.

First things first: I thought Smith was excellent as the Doctor. I also thought Karen Gillan did a good job as his assistant, and I felt the opening scenes of him with the young Amelia were really well done. Although the giant eyeball-cum-spaceship looked a bit flimsy, I felt the overall production values of the show had been turned up a notch. I loved the stop motion scene when we were seeing the village green through the Doctor's eyes shot by shot; it almost felt like I was watching a film in the cinema rather that a Saturday night show on the BBC. Yes, the theme music is different and seems to be missing a rather key note in the eerie whistle-y melody whilst also featuring a big brass band. However, this isn't really a big deal in the great scheme of things, and I was more upset when the Neighbours theme tune changed from keyboard to saxophone.

I've written previously about how I've really enjoyed Moffat's episodes in past series. I think Moffat's real strengths lie in creating tension, creepy narrative hooks ("don't blink" or, on Saturday, "the corner of your eye"), strong female characters and absorbing stand-alone stories. My fear is whether he'll be able to offer us engrossing ongoing storylines (like Russell T Davies' 'Bad Wolf' mystery), scary aliens (his most successful episodes have featured creepy 'things' rather than gooey monsters) and, most importantly, the long-term characterisation of the Doctor himself (don't forget that Moffat's most heralded episode - Blink - barely even featured David Tennant, and was driven by the one-off character of Sally Sparrow, played by the now Bafta-winning actress, Carey Mulligan).

Although I think Saturday's episode got off to a great start with a strong story, I think the story could have been told a lot better. The concept was brilliantly creepy; a little girl has a crack in her bedroom wall, through which a shape-shifting prisoner from another world has escaped and has been hiding in a secret room in her house for over a decade. This part of the story was told really well. But then the second spooky aspect - the fact that this escaped alien prisoner can take the form of human beings by latching on to, and becoming a visual representation of, their dreams - was lost in all of the running around in the second half of the episode. Coma patients are the best victims for this because they are permanently asleep, but it was only when the alien targeted Amy's unconscious after she collapsed in the hospital ward - and significantly changed into the young Amelia with the 'raggedy Doctor' because that's what she dreams about - that this part of the story really became clear (to me, at least).

So, in my opinion, the episode was by no means perfect, but overall a fantastic start to a new era of Dr Who, and I can't wait to see what Moffat comes up with next. 

And now I move from a good story which could have been told better, to a rubbish story which was told even more terribly than the story itself. Yes, that's right, it's time for me to ramble once more about THE SHITNESS OF JONATHAN CREEK.

Paul McGann, who was the eighth Doctor and also starred in the Easter special of Jonathan Creek. What a link!

I don't know why I bother these days. The one-off special in January 2009 pushed the boundaries of the ridiculous too far, but this year's episode didn't even bother with the boundaries in the first place. Call me a 21st century media consumer with no attention span whatsoever, but are we really meant to remember who Sheridan Smith's character is and how she knows Creek after she made her debut over a year ago in a one-off episode? Is Creek *really* the kind of man to chat up a bird at a bus stop and take her home for some spur-of-the-moment hanky panky? HOW DID THEY ESCAPE FROM THE BASEMENT? 

I'm sorry to those who have no idea what I'm banging on about, but these are just a few of my gripes. The strengths of Jonathan Creek in its glory days were always the writing and Creek's gentle, self-deprecating humour. Now, it seems that the writers are grasping at straws trying to throw in a few illusion-related mysteries for the sake of it, with a bunch of dislikable characters who all roam around their country mansions whilst plotting ridiculously-complicated crimes that the audience has no chance of guessing whatsoever. Then, when Creek figures it all out - HE LETS THEM GET AWAY WITH IT! No narrative closure and a pointless waste of time for all involved. A bit like this blog post, then.

Chris Gay-ling-gate: A brief thought

Some interesting debates going on today about the Chris Grayling B&B story. As reported in The Observer yesterday, the shadow Home Secretary was secretly recorded saying he believed that people who run B&Bs should have the right to turn away homosexual couples. The fact is that it's against the law for ANY business to discriminate. If the Tories want this law to change then they should come out (for want of a better phrase) publicly and say so. But Cameron has stayed very quiet since the recording was made public. What that means I don't know, but the issue has definitely touched a nerve with absolutely everyone, one way or the other, so the Conservative Party should make their stance official.

Posted via web from Thoughts as she has them

Sunday, 28 March 2010

A Dodgy moment


The summer of 1996 was a good one. At the height of my interest in football, England hosted the European Championships, and the country was alive with the vibe of Cool Britannia. I seem to remember it was a particularly sunny summer and, despite a random ankle injury I had to hobble around with (I liked to compare my injury with that sustained by Jamie Redknapp in Euro 96) it was one of the happiest summers of my youth.

It was also quite a notable year for me in terms of my musical tastes, as this was the summer that I abandoned boyband pop in favour of indie rock, most notably in the form of Ash and Dodgy. Indeed, you could even argue that Dodgy's gloriously-titled 1996 album 'Free Peace Sweet' was what sparked my interest in puns.

In the decade and a half since that summer I've been to tons of Ash gigs. But I've only ever seen Dodgy play once, at Shepherd's Bush Empire a couple of years ago, and I was gutted that I had to miss them play the Avalon stage at last year's Glastonbury. 

So imagine my joy a few weeks ago when a lovely little e-mail landed in my inbox from the rather awesome website Songkick, telling me that Dodgy were playing at my LOCAL PUB at the end of the month! This nifty site allows you to 'track' bands you're interested in and alert you when they announce gigs, no matter how big or small. I don't know too much about how Songkick works - Illandancient will be able to tell you more - but I think it's updated by the fans and bands themselves, so you get to hear about gigs that wouldn't necessarily be flagged up on the bigger music websites.

I promptly purchased tickets, and last night I wandered down the road to relive the soundtrack to that magical summer. It turned out to be a more meaningful evening than I had envisaged. We arrived at about 8.30pm and the venue - Dirty South - was pretty buzzing. There were eight bands performing, and we had no idea what time Dodgy (or - more accurately - Nigel Clark and Andy Miller) would be playing. 

My friend and I were quite happy chatting and drinking the night away, but at 11pm I was starting to get a bit concerned that we'd somehow managed to miss Dodgy's set, and perhaps they'd already performed without playing any of their well-known hits. At 11.30pm we wandered over to the stage area and watched the VERY cool band Little Imp. They had a pretty big following and played a great rocky set, and I'd definitely like to see them again. Dodgy were up next. Weirdly the crowd thinned, and at one stage I was seriously concerned that it would just be the two of us watching them, but as they started playing 'In a Room' the area got a busier again.

The set was great - they played lots of old stuff, but with the absence of a drummer their songs took on a more melancholy tone. As they played the opening chords of one of my favourite Dodgy tracks - 'If You're Thinking Of Me' - and I looked around the room at the audience of 40 or so fans (all grinning ear-to-ear), it struck me that the summer of 1996 really was a lifetime ago. 

It was a strange moment for me - and I'm sure all the wine helped - but I suddenly realised that my youth is well and truly over, and for a split second I felt uncharacteristically overwhelmed. I know that may sound strange coming from a 28-year-old, as factually speaking my youth has probably been officially over for the best part of a decade, but so much has changed. There's now a complete lack of political optimism which - even as a 14-year-old - I was aware of in the run up to the 1997 election. Summers never seem so sunny anymore. And now Nigel and Andy from Dodgy are now just two chaps with guitars who are still happy to play a set in Lewisham at 1am (which became 2am what with the clocks going forward) on a Saturday night. And although I'm very glad they did, it did made me sad that it isn't 1996 anymore.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Drink before you speak

USA, JULY 2003, DUNLOP FAMILY HOLIDAY

Location: Burger King, Manhattan, NYC

Dad: "Hello, I'd like an Orange Fanta, please."

American BK employee: "An orange WHAT?!"

Dad, pronouncing words very carefully, highlighting English accent even more so long queue of impatient New Yorkers behind him becomes silent: "Umm, an ORANGE FANTA...?"

BK: "WHAT????!!"

Dad, very self-consciously: "Ok, a, ummm, 'fizzy' orange? Orange 'pop'? Orange-coloured lemonade?"

BK:
"WHAT YOU TALKING ABOUT??!!"

Random New Yorker in queue behind Dad: "I think he means an orange soda."

Dad: "Um, yes. An 'orange' 'soda' please."

ONE WEEK LATER

Location: Dunkin' Donuts, Boston (yep, us Dunlops go to some classy establishments!)

Dad: "I'd like a hot chocolate, please."

American DD employee: "What?"

Dad, now fully confident in his ability to explain every single drink in plain English following NYC Burger King humiliation: "It's a hot milk-based drink, flavoured with chocolate!"

DD: "Yeah, I know what a hot chocolate is, I asked 'what size?' "

Dad, bowing head in English shame: "Large, please."