Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Vigilantes Cudgelling Frozen Rockpools,

A whole year has passed since I was standing in the street bawling at my neighbours to turn down the noise during New Year’s Day dinner, which for some reason is more important to me than Christmas dinner. New Year’s Eve is for other people, I only like the fireworks. It’s a sad time of year, it’s more about reflection.

This was the year in which we lost my granddad and I attended my first funeral. When we think about who we are and our characteristics, we can attribute most of them to our upbringing. I can thank my granddad for some of my best ones, patience, politeness and measured approach to situations and conversations. On an everyday basis, he’s responsible for my language which cuts a stark contrast to the uncouth nonsense spouted by those all around the town from similar backgrounds. I wonder if subconsciously, he even was responsible for the way, I play football.

Since summer time, I’ve been without an amateur football team, I left one club due to corruption and politics, I did make an audible stance and try to rally support for a moral overhaul but those who stood most to gain from the change I proposed lacked the backbone to act and they’ve been made to suffer. I find myself on the periphery of another team but their training regime is less frequent and less intense, I’m finding it hard to cope with working out physically less.

Academically, I probably answered the question to my project too early, or maybe at the right time, the answer was negative. I was given a side project to prevent me from twiddling my thumbs, I’ve enjoyed this work more than anything so far and I hope that I can develop it into my main project over the final months of my spell. Flux in the research group has seen me try to replace one mentor with another – with chaotic outcomes, but I must say I’m grateful for the liveliness (most of the time). I published a paper too but the process of writing and submitting journal articles left me feeling underwhelmed and disillusioned. I have another article ready to be sent off but it’s out of my hands as to when we simulate launch sequence. The coming year will see me attempt a quick discharge from academia and enter the hunt for employment vacancies

I’ve not become a better person in 2008, I’ve only become a more robust version of the person I was, and this is a result that we might just have to settle for.

Virtuosos Above Ignominious Condemnation,

As a year for great walbums, 2008 left me waiting, the problem was not a shortage of good albums but a delay in the arrival of new material from the bands I love.

My favourite singles were as follows:

Desolate Icicle by The Travelling Band: a wonderfully gentle song with beautiful harmonies and percussion that perfects the imagery.

Harold T Wilkins by Fanfarlo: Musically brilliant and about a TV and UFO guru; seems about right for The Bellyaches. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah ploughed this Talking Heads-esque vocal furrow a few years back but they didn’t have the mini-orchestra or subtlety to back it properly. I can’t wait for the album.

What is Not But Could be if by Silver Jews: doleful Americana of the highest quality with a superb, jangly, hillbilly flourish at the chorus.

Turn Tail by Young Knives: leaders of the Twits’n’Guitars genre, the string quartet might just be on hire and House of Lords might actually be a terrible singer but it all fits together well. The stomp and the distortion on the shouting at the end is classic. I could have chosen any of the other Young Knives singles, but one had to make the definitive set.

Slow Parade by Broken Records: I love when a song slows down or stops and then starts back up again, it’s a crafty trick to emphasise the lyrics. It’s a wonderful composition by gifted musicians, like My Latest Novel, they play live note for note perfectly on cue.

I Don’t Know Where to Begin by The Pictish Trail: for so long, he’s been a vital part to the King Creosote machine for ages, it’s nice for him finally to put his work on record and his name on the cover although he’s obviously backed by some of his talented Fence buddies. The fragility and the honesty of his voice is the key to this exceptional song, I can imagine him sitting by the window peering down the garden path and then out to the sea.

Good albums were released by Silver Jews, Pictish Trail, Rosie Taylor Project, Drever, McCusker and Woomble, James Yorkston, Young Knives, Devotchka, Fleet Foxes, Neil Halstead and Colin MacIntyre.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Placid Gurglers on the Doorstep of the Crows,

Too much stuff: Christmas and spending in the subsequent days forces an unwanted purge. Rooting through it all makes me realise how lucky I am to own stuff at all.

It’s all so unnecessary; I own loads of clothes yet live in only a small rotation of them. I think I will try to wear more of them. Many people would say “try and wear more of them” but not me, I use the verb ‘to try’ properly.

I split off some of the old clothes for rags. Some, I have packed into backs to take to the Clothes Bank. I will save a few garments to take onto the Antique’s Road Show when it visits the Kingdom of Fife; of course, by then, it might be called ‘Fiona Bruce’s Antiques Road Show’. These days, there’s more of Fiona than there is of the antiques, soon, there will be no antiques at all and it’ll just be ‘The Fiona Show’. Then what will people shout prices at on Sunday evenings?

I shouldn’t know much about 'The Roadshow', as we veterans call it, but I do, and to save my somewhat limited credibility, I’ll say that it’s on whilst I do my marking. Luckily none of my flock have complained about receiving £80 out of 20 on their reports.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Peripatetics of the Ubiquitous Era,

Glasgow is the shopping capital of Scotland, I had never been; it’s just too far away (therefore expensive) and I obviously have a slight connection with Embra so I’m always drawn there.

I decided to do Boxing Day sales in Dundee but I never bought any sale items. I don’t buy sales, it’s just the leftover rubbish but I think the need to get in amongst the shops is a relief. The pressure of finding the perfect gift for others is lifted and people are free to waste money on themselves again, hence, chaos ensues, but perhaps I’m being cynical again.

After a day of drudgery, I decided that I would head out into the world again, and to Glasgow on the chance that they might supply me with the clothes of the misshapen giant that I’ve come to think of myself as; no one seems to have my size anywhere else.

I chose to take the train and this would require a change at Haymarket, the online journey planner never alluded to it being so tight. The Fife circle from Kirkcaldy to Edinburgh must be a favourite for the most scenic route in the country; it’s nearly always a pleasure to ride. The queue at the ticket booth stretched onto the street and as the train threatened to depart, the queue all ran at once, with the purchasing of a ticket on board their only hope of departing with this train. Artists had taken the opportunity to set up their canvas on Kinghorn beach, it was a beautiful morning for them, I guess it wasn’t too cold or else they would have just used a camera and went back home for a cuppa.

The connecting train was waiting in Haymarket, I boarded as the doors closed and had to stand all the way to Glasgow Queen’s Street. My first port of call was the tourist information centre where I found a leaflet with a map that was next to no use, I have, however, retained it in the vain hope that it might prove useful the next time I want to climb a munro.

I raided the shops for the usual suspects; cheap, plain things, with no superfluous buttons and zips. The theme was trousers: to replace those that have been lost over the last few months to chemical accidents. By accidents, I mean that my favourite lab partner has spread his corrosive chemicals onto most of the seats in our office, which then go onto react with the backsides of my trousers when I put them in the washing machine. I did try to discuss this with him but he was taking no blame despite his garments having gone a similar way. I bought three new pairs of trousers, a shirt and tie set (not through choice) and a T-shirt.

Buchanan Galleries was quite something for someone from out in the sticks. People float around on criss-crossing escalators – it’s the future. Outside, a crowd gathered to watch some break dancing; such bravery in face of pigeons has to be commended. I finally had to put an end to my spending, I put the foot down, on myself, and headed back to the train station, I had acquired the map just in case I couldn’t find my way back.

After a cup of hot chocolate at Costa, possibly by those demons, Cadbury’s, I was on my way home on the dreary cross-country line. Calamity arose on the connecting train which I joined at Haymarket, it was advertised as the Perth train but it was actually bound for Dundee. I miss these classic Scotrail blunders by using the car to work. The people who actually wanted to go to Perth were due to be lumped onto a bus at Ladybank (two “station stops” after Kirkcaldy), whilst I can only assume that an empty train then headed to Dundee since no one knew the train was for the City of Discovery.

Glasgow may be the place to find things to buy but I need more time in the city to discover its better side. I didn’t exactly feel comfortable in Glasgow, I truly was an alien; my east coast accent was like a fog horn amongst the shoppers, and the place is huge, even for a misshapen giant.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Reporters of Self-conscious Phonetic Experiments,

Identification with a book for the purpose of a review can be perceived as shallow or fake however, that’s what could happen unless reviewing no books or several books simultaneously. I chose to read Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut.

The book is about an American playwright, author and poet, Howard J. Campbell, who was living in Germany during World War II. Hired by the Nazis to broadcast propaganda over the radio, he was then contracted by the Americans as a spy. His messages to the allies were broadcast in codes that took the form of more propaganda. Only a few people ever knew of the work undertaken for the forces of good, whilst nations of millions still harboured hatred for our protagonist.

There are several themes that could be derived from the book but the one that strikes me is the enforced indifference, and subsequent isolation, our protagonist is left with. Campbell has to develop immunity to and enthusiasm for the obscenities broadcasts against the Jews and the West. His attitude to the codes he sends to the Americans is never quite revealed, he perhaps perceives this role as a mundanity, for no obvious pride is felt by Campbell. The ambiguity in his feelings never endears him to one side or the other.

He carries out his chores without passion, as I did towards the end of the working year, I was so run down, I simply went through the motions of working without engaging in it or enjoying the fruits of my labour. When the war was over, Campbell was left listless, his wife had been killed, he was left without a home, he had money, he had lost his will to write and he had no inclination of what his desire should be. He drifted for many years, he did not spend extravagantly, he retreated to a dreary New York flat and he clung desperately to what meagre possessions he had or what came his way, no matter what these possessions were; false friendships or questionable appearances (uniforms, clothing) - for they were something, and in a way, they were small symbols of hope that he could finally care about things, make choices or have wishes.

One of the best songs of the year, I Don’t Know Where to Begin by The Pictish Trail contains the lyric, “My saddest moments are when I feel nothing at all”, and these words somehow parallel the feelings of Howard J. Campbell for me. Was it this novel where the title for a Fanfarlo song came from: You Are One of the Few Outsiders Who Really Understands us? I revelled in the fact that a band I love had bothered to read a book by an author I love - that completes a wonderful cultural threesome.

I have been plagued by indifference this December and I know that I have to write well in the coming months but I won’t meet the same fate as Howard J. Campbell, yet, worryingly, those unidentifiably close, have tried.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Generations of Skilled Cowards,

I feel sorry for the employees of Woolworths, Zavvi and other companies about to disappear from our high streets, but in many cases, they are simply the helpless pawns of their superiors’ lack of foresight. The chain stores that meet their demise first will be those that deserve to: I can’t think of a reason why I would visit Woolworths, they just don’t better any other store at the areas in which they believe they specialise – as a general store, supermarkets can now beat them, as a audio/visual stockist, they are limited, as a hardware store, they can be bettered by DIY superstores; they are left to win the pick & mix competition and even this is extortionate.

My hope is independent specialist retailers make a return to the high streets, small stores that can live within their means might be more stable than the national chains that dominate but fail to truly satisfy the customer because they never truly specialise, they never offer a real choice and their salespeople do not really have a passion for the product.

I have no enthusiasm for Christmas, I just don’t know what it means. We all have a day off work at the same time. We spend it together, I try not to complain. I’ve not had much to complain about but at this time, more than at other times of year, there seems to be a rivalry between my parents over whose side of the family is most hospitable. They’re actually remarkably similar, I don’t get drawn but it’s difficult as we head into the second day, Boxing Day, of the conflict.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Poisoned Wives Sanctioning Enunciation,

The heron had the docks to itself, with a buoy to perch upon it was the ruler of all it surveyed, when it dared to look.

Herons are one of my favourite types of bird, their regal crests and flexible neck mark them out as special. I was glad to see some sort of bird because the skies of Methil are becoming barren. In order to avoid becoming a couch potato, I embarked on a follow-up walk to Saturday’s sortie in Kirkcaldy; the town perimeter walk. I used to walk the dog around the town regularly, but since he left us, the town has become foreign. In many ways, most of the deterioration I saw incrementally has continued and that’s no shock – it’s the improvements that surprise me. They’re not always improvements, they’re efforts. It’s never complimentary when ‘effort’ is used as a noun.

The new houses encroach upon the River Leven to an extent that nearly all wildlife has disappeared, I saw a buzzard, a long-tailed tit and a woodpigeon. Further downstream, the council are building one of their viewpoints; this will be the most dismal viewpoint I can imagine – under a slowly corroding bridge, across a river that might occasionally be blessed with a swan, a mallard, an eider or a goldeneye, towards the back of a Sainsbury’s.

The town perimeter route that I was acquainted has been altered by East Fife FC’s new training pitch, they’ve turned some of the wasteland next to their stadium into a full size training pitch and it has been fenced off, blocking the route. The improvement to the grass should serve the team well, however, I did wonder if the club would ever develop an all-weather facility that it could rent to the public to increase their income and community involvement.

New building are springing up all around Methil docklands, the future for the area looks brighter than it has but if I was employed in one of the new quayside office blocks today, I wouldn’t have done any work. I’d have stared at the heron.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Adminstrative Managers of Supervisory Cranes,

Winter kept me in bed too long again today but I hauled myself into the office for 0900 hrs, shortly after I made a significant breakthrough in my understanding of my recent results, however, now that I can interpret them quite well, it’s too easy and I become bored with the actual application of my theory. These are the pitfalls of nanopot research.

I was not hungry so I passed up on lunch but I eventually succumbed to the need for a break from those nanopots thus I visited Dundee. There were three CDs that I wished to buy, between the ogres of HMV and Zavvi, I managed to buy one of them, Birds by North Sea Radio Orchestra. I have quite a longing for some orchestral music at the minute and rather than dwelling on the recordings of the John Barry Orchestra (and I hate James Bond), I opted for NSRO after enjoying what Gideon Coe has played and their recordings on MyArse. Zavvi was hopeless, HMV was a nightmare – it was so loud, I was blasted with Illers, Stereoffoniks and Leona Louse. The man at the counter was actually interested in my choice, but it was too loud and busy to indulge in a discussion about the North Sea Radio Orchestra, such was my rush to leave, I left him with the impression that I was a man who bought random CDs.

On return to the office, I was confronted with my favourite shouting colleague. Although he is trying to help me, I’d rather have no assistance than assistance at volume. Sometimes, I think that once I’ve nothing else to eat, it’s time to go home and some days, I just don’t feel comfortable there. This was one of those days and I left for the home office at 1630 hrs.

I broke for toast, bacon and MASH. Marc Riley has 65daysofstatic in the studio and they played Radio Protector, one of my favourite records, I’d even go as far as saying it was the Single of the Year in whatever year it was released.

I played football in the late evening. I was super-fit a few months ago and it is difficult to cope with not being as fit now so it always heartens me when I feel that I’m close to what I used to be. Tonight was not the type of game that would ever help me return to full fitness. I was slightly hoping to be asked to play an extra game earlier in the day but I was left on the sidelines, I’ve probably been excommunicated from that squad for 'commanding the game'. I’ll have to think of something else to aid health and fitness, it’s been so long since I’ve needed a bottle of Lucozade.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Facilitators of Vitreous Hips,

The day began hesitantly, winter depression meant that I rose 30 minutes after the alarm sounded. Efficiency over Cheerios and tea meant that it was not long before I was scraping ice from my windscreen. It was my least favourite type of windscreen ice – small, hard beads. The temperature wasn’t as low as it has been in previous weeks but even so, the dampness made it feel worse.

A few weeks ago on a Saturday night, I stood outside at -3oC whilst the fire brigade dealt with an explosion caused by my bold colleague in the laboratory. I was putting in some extra hours of a Saturday afternoon doing paperwork and menial maintenance tasks on our vacuum chamber. I was surprised to be joined by anyone on a Saturday, let alone someone who was keen to do some experiments. He went to the lab next door supposedly to recrystallise (purify) some of his new chemical, he even asked me which solvent I would recommend. A while later, I heard a bang, I thought I’d pop next door and see if all was okay; I was confronted with a yellow cloud and billowing black smoke. My colleague declared an evacuation, apparently recrystallisation was impossible and sublimation in a furnace was the fateful method of purification chosen, and although we knew the fire alarm would sound, we tried our best, via a telephone plea, to prevent them paying us a visit. They cordoned off the area, my car keys and jacket were trapped inside the building and I was deployed on point. The fire brigade didn’t know how to deal with the situation in the lab, it was an unknown and new chemical that my colleague had made and as such they had no knowledge of how to neutralise the threat (this was not the acid or alkali they were hoping for). As far as I was concerned, once the yellow cloud and smoke had dispersed, there might have been some powder on surfaces that would have needed wiping up. Eventually, the fire brigade agreed, my bold colleague was then followed to the epicentre by a fireman in a chemical protection suit – he was there to drag my colleague out if any poisonous gas was still present to floor him. The rest of the firemen and I watched from the window to see if he collapsed. It was quite surreal, I can only imagine how I would feel if we were to watch them suffer any ill fate from the other side of a pane of glass. Thankfully, it passed without incident and all that was left over was an investigation by the department.

After the windscreen was clear, I joined what I think of as the ‘Trulli train’. A procession of commuters head to town for 0900hrs, they arrive on time every day, but they drive slowly and frustrate. I’ve named this phenomenon after Jarno Trulli, the one-stopping, heavy full load-carrying F1 driver who holds everyone up. Empirical evidence suggests 5 cars need to be overtaken in order to drive at one’s own pace.

I was a little worried by the prospect of a meeting with my group leader in the afternoon and it weighed on my mind as I ploughed through the mass of analysis that needs to be carried out on my computer. I needn’t have worried; his enthusiasm for our projects is infectious.

Later, I made the mistake of rousing my afore-mentioned colleague to ask him a question about a computer programme. Talking quietly in our studious office is acceptable, shouting is not and I was quite embarrassed as he barracked back obvious information, I began to regret asking and it was plain to see and hear for those around, I lost count of the amount of times I started, ‘Yes, I accept that, but…’ and I wandered off without my question ever being answered, if I did not want to regain the lost peace in the office, I would have adopted more Jeremy Paxman-like tactics. When he left the room, I apologised to everyone else. An hour later, he returned and in the interim, he had been put in his place over the issue I tried to raise with him, it only remained for me to add the final blow by making a cutting remark over his shouting. I was reminded of an excellent song by Grafiti called What is the Problem, this was a Mark & Lard Record of the Week, it features the words, ‘I can’t win ‘cause you shout louder.’

We settled back to equilibrium and parted company for the evening.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Commercial Breachers of Solitude,

As someone who isn’t really affected by the Credit Crunch yet due to my employment and residential status, I still act as if I am because the news talks about it so much. Coupled with that and a major case of fraud upon my bank account, I’ve not spent as much money as normal and I haven’t bought so many music albums, however, I make the exception for rare delights like Oh Mighty Engine by Neil Halstead.

In fact, I had forgotten that I had bought Neil’s album until a few weeks ago. After a night of terrible abhorrent behaviour from our delinquent neighbours, we resorted to our tried-and-tested mantra: ‘if we don’t sleep at night, you don’t sleep during the day’. Whilst brother was in, he used the new album by Po-faces. I ignored it manfully, for the greater good. When it was my turn, I started off with some Frankie Valli complilation, this was okay given my love of The Night, then I made the rash decision to put on Neil’s album, this did not work well with the subwoofers. Subwoofers were important for causing maximum annoyance and well, Neil Halstead is never going to annoy anyone, but even after changing over to Oh, Forward March! by Strange Death of Liberal England (my favourite album to play loud), I remembered to listen its predecessor in my CD player.

Like a nice piece of fudge, the album is lovely and soft, every aspect is gentle. Neil has a skill for rhyme and they characterise his thoughtful lilt. Neil was/is part of Slowdive and Mojave 3 If I were to compare, for my less trusting readers, Neil to anyone, I would say he’s like Jack Johnson for the non-supermarket music purchaser (coincidentally, he has toured with JJ recently). As far as picking a favourite track goes, it’s too difficult, they’re all of a high standard and the album has no low points. I’m grateful for having the opportunity to listen to and share Neil Halstead.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Saintly Credit Report Gilders,

Frightened Rabbit are a good band; they deserve Glasvegas’ status or place in the music media and public awareness. I first became aware of them through KEXP Seattle and through The Twilight Sad’s MyArse site. Their EP, Sing the Greys is a nice little piece that includes the lovely song, Be Less Rude. Their first full album, Midnight Organ Fight, follows up what that EP promised; ominous keyboards, Scottish guitars, powerful drumming and songs sung in a manner that is faithful to everyday conversations of these parts.

Maybe I should have gone to see them before Tuesday but the incentive that finally had me running along to one of their gigs was the inclusion of My Latest Novel as the supporting act. It’s been a long time since Wolves was released and I await their second album, Deaths and Entrances, more than any other forthcoming album that I could imagine ever being released, however, I admit that I perhaps do Belle & Sebastian or Fanfarlo a slight disservice by that statement. For a lazy/tired east coaster, a support slot had to suffice and I headed over to Embra to pay visit to one of Scotland’s worst venues, The Liquid Rooms.

I managed to park up by 2000 hrs and fearing this would be the time My Latest Novel entered the stage, I ran the short distance from the car to the venue. Unfortunately, someone had marked out, in chalk, a pitch for the popular young persons’ sport of ‘hopscotch’ and as I ran past, a bunch of boisterous drinkers mushrooming from a bar wailed at me to take part. Of course, I had no time for such trivialities and I ran faster to reproofs of ‘Get it up yae, Harry Potter’, hastily issued by our fun-loving party-goers. It really took me by surprise, I’ve never had a Harry Potter insult before and although I’m used to dealing with insults daily, it’s been a while since I’ve had to tolerate those of rougher quality and I’m sure those who were responsible will regret their work in time.

My Latest Novel were brilliant. The sound in Liquid Rooms was perhaps not brilliant, it was painfully loud at one point and I did back off for the sake of ear health. This was the first time that I had seen My Latest Novel with a sixth member, an extra guitarist. The new sound is a bit heavier with more reliance on keyboards and a laptop, I worry about these potentially obscuring Laura’s violin but I’m sure they won’t. I do think that in their time away that they’ve been influenced by the sound of bands like The Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit. The set list reads:

All in All in All is All
Hopelessly Endlessly
If the Accident Will
A Dear Green Place

It’s just the usual My Latest Novel stuff; it takes your mind away. There’s always so much happening in each layer of their sound and every composition is timed to perfection. They always amaze me.

Frightened Rabbit were good, but it didn’t matter to me. The venue was packed, mostly with stewdents; perhaps I was irritable, but they were irritating. They chatter through every song, ‘The thing about Julie that’s so annoying is that’s she’s always sending texts that have no context’, well, that’s just taking the nitpicking too far, Julie is a great girl. Many of these stewdents were highly dedicated to Frightened Rabbit and they surprised me with their memory of all the words, because sometimes for me, Frightened Rabbit just have one outstanding line in each song, like, ‘I think I’ll save suicide for another day’ or ‘I decided this decision some six months ago’ or ‘ Jesus is just a Spanish boy’s name’. I think the suicide song, Floating in the Forth, is becoming my favourite Frightened Rabbit song, I do worry. It’s the global economic crisis and winter, including Christmas that provokes me.

After picking up the discarded My Latest Novel setlist, I headed back to the Kingdom of Fife mystified by the Harry Potter insult, amazed by My Latest Novel, nonplussed that one of them dunted me with a table, amused by Frightened Rabbit, irked by stewdents and chilled by winter.
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