Saturday, 31 October 2009

Once you've tasted glove...

I was listening to a feature on Radio 4 this morning about a guy who tastes words. Yes, you heard (or felt) me right, he TASTES various flavours according to what words he hears. Apparently this disorder is called gustatory auditory synaesthesia and it can affect all of the senses in a whole multitude of combinations. So, from what I understand, some people can feel noises and smell things they see (more information at

The example they used for the flavoursome words chap was that the word 'Tony' tastes like desiccated coconut. He also revealed that the word 'coffin' tastes like boiled sweets in order to demonstrate that the negative (or positive) connotations associated with certain words in no way affects whether the subsequent taste is pleasant or rank; the tastes are completely arbitrary.

I've become a big fan of Radio 4 in recent weeks, but I do feel that in this particular feature they failed to address a number of key questions. For example, what happens when people talk about actual food? Does he taste mint when someone says the word 'mint'? What word is associated with the taste of chocolate? Does it work in reverse? i.e. does he hear words in his head when he eats? Does he actively seek out people who are likely to talk more about things that result in the flavours he enjoys the most?

P.S. The title of this post is a Take That reference. I wonder what flavour the word 'glove' conjures up?

Friday, 30 October 2009

Next creative venture: write a song

2009 appears to be the year of 'doing new things' for me. So far this year I've played my first ever live gigs with my band, been to Glastonbury for the first time, went on my first business trips and I've recently written my first ever short story (which I might even share with the world one day). I have a week off next week, and I've decided that my aim for the week (as well as catching up with my family in Bristol, watching lots of TV, reading a stack of books and having a bit of time away from t'internet and its inevitable trappings) is going to be to steal temporarily borrow one of my brother's guitars and pen a song.
You never know, if it ends up being even close to ok, I might even perform it at an upcoming Witness To The Beard gig. So far I have two chords and the vague whisper of a melody, but I already know that the lyrics are going to be the trickiest part. Do I make them all deep and meaningful, or should my tongue remain firmly in my cheek? Should it be dripping with puns and irony, or should I - for once - strip away my defensive layers of self-deprecating humour and bare my soul (pass the bucket)?
I must admit, it would be nice to add my own song to WTTB's growing collection of original material. Don't get me wrong, I'm more than content to drum along to the songs the two lads come up with, since rhythm comes marginally more naturally to me and they're both great songwriters, but I've always enjoyed a challenge. Time to get out of my drum-fort zone methinks...

Sunday, 25 October 2009

(Dried) Pasta-chef

I couldn't let the latest Masterchef final go by without a little mention. Incarnated this quarter as 'Masterchef: The Professionals', we were led to believe that the contestants this time round already knew a little bit about cooking, so they replaced the usual 'cooking doesn't get tougher than this' tagline with 'cooking doesn't get better than this' (umm, I think it probably does, actually, but never mind). In order to demonstrate this new philosophy, for their penultimate culinary challenge the three finalists each had to cook a Michelin star-quality course, to be served to a room filled with such kitchen visionaries that they possessed 40 Michelin stars between them, as was repeated to the audience innumerable times.

Each course had been designed by the crazy-eyed chef Michel Roux Junior. Now I'm sorry if this makes me sound like a bit of a food snob (I'm definitely not a food snob, the most extravagant thing I've ever eaten is probably duck), but the main course and the dessert in particular looked like pretty bog-standard fare. The main course partly consisted of a posh macaroni cheese, made with dried - yes DRIED - pasta, stacked up all fancy and whatnot, but essentially it looked like a slice of pasta bake that had been left in the oven for too long.

The voiceover woman even had to justify why dried pasta was being used in the recipe because it really did look a bit rubbish:
"Steve's using high-quality dried pasta, used in many of the best restaurants in Italy."
The pudding was also laughable, consisting of a bit of chocolate on top of a rice crispie cake. But this wasn't any ordinary rice crispie (sorry, 'puffed rice') cake. No. This was because it had CRACKLE CRYSTALS in it. You know, that crackly stuff which pops on your tongue that you used to eat as a kid. The way Michele talked about it, you'd think no one in the world had ever experienced this "fun" popping sensation before. C'mon Junior, they've used this trick on Come Dine With Me!

Once the first challenge was over and done with, it was on to the final task: cooking their best ever three course meal. One of the contestants made the fatal error of making a chocolate fondant for his pudding. The words 'chocolate fondant' on Masterchef are basically the death knell for the contestant attempting to cook it, because they ALWAYS fail. The normal contestants fail, the celebrities fail and now even the professionals fail. It was only slightly gooey in the middle, whereas a flood of chocolate yumminess should have flowed from the sponge casing when the spoon broke through the threshold. Disappointing. I swear if someone made a YouTube compilation video of all the ruined Masterchef chocolate fondants it would be a very long - and amusing - video indeed.

So another series is over, and another Masterchef winner walks away with the fantastic prize of...oh yeah, there is no prize is there? Oh well. The question is, will John Torode be back for the next series? One can only hope...

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Ringtone or no ringtone

I'm an idiot. In my previous post I completely neglected to mention one of the greatest TV recording experiences of my life: DEAL OR NO DEAL. The show is filmed in Bristol and the Dunlop clan went along one Friday afternoon in 2006, smack bang in the middle of the show's heyday. Going to see DOND being filmed was unlike any other TV recording experience I referred to yesterday. For one, the show is filmed in an old warehouse and it was much less like a military operation to get it. Secondly, YOU GET FREE ALCOHOL AND FOOD. This aspect of the experience was particularly excellent. Thirdly, if you play your cards right, you could very well end up on the telly yourself.

Anyone who knows me knows that I would never pass up on the opportunity to put myself in a potentially embarrassing situation, so I actively sought out the researcher with the clipboard who was selecting the three audience members to open the boxes at the end of the show for the viewers' competition. Of-course, these were the days before Ofcom ruled that such money-making competitions were actually a little bit wrong.

Happily, the clipboard guy agreed for me and my brother to be two of the box-openers at the end, so after a quick lesson on how to open the box without looking like a fool (place one hand on top of the box, then rip the tag off with the other before lifting the lid with both hands) we were ushered to special seats in the audience with easy access to the relevant plinth.

Let's just say the next hour or so that followed was a bit of an ordeal. Not only was I terrified of my big box-opening moment, but my phone decided to start vibrating at a very crucial and dramatic part of the proceedings. I got away with it and dismantled my phone, a small sense of calm enveloping me, safe in the knowledge that it definitely couldn't go off again. About 10 minutes later, someone else's phone started ringing. 'Phew', I thought to myself, 'I'm not the only silly person in this room'. Except slowly I began to realise that I recognised the relentless ringtone, and then I realised that it wasn't a ringtone after all, it was my sodding iPod with The Subways blaring out of the headphones! I'd left it unlocked in my bag and I'd obviously nudged it on, and my attempts to muffle the noise with my feet only seemed to be making it louder. Somehow I managed to get away with that as well.

So, the moment of truth. I took my place in the middle of the plinth behind box number two, absolutely terrified, as you can see from my face, here:

'Please don't choose two, please don't choose two', I mentally pleaded with the random audience member who had been selected by Edmonds. They chose number three, panic over. Here are a couple of photos of the actual box opening:

The relief I felt at the moment above is almost indescribable. It was a lot of fun, thanks Noel!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Have I got queues for you

Back in the good old Bristol sixth-form days, my media studies class went on a glamorous trip to London. We paid a visit to the now-closed Museum Of The Moving Image, then had some spare time to roam around the city before heading to a television studio to watch some Mr & Mrs-esque show being recorded, presented by Dale Winton*

Now, my media studies class were a bit of a rebellious bunch, and during the 'spare time' element of the day, everyone (apart from me and my clan of fellow geeks who ended up in Sega World or somewhere like that) got smashed in the pub and was pretty pissed by the time we got to the recording studio, to the extent that one guy even ended up gatecrashing the studio next door where a Clive James show was being recorded and being removed from the building.

It was a fun trip, and although seeing a programme being recorded was an enjoyable novelty, the show itself wasn't exactly enthralling. But I'm happy to report that since then my TV recording experiences have improved vastly with no drunken teenagers in sight. I've been to see 'TV Burp', 'QI', 'The Big Fat Quiz of the Year' and 'Bremner Bird & Fortune', and last night I was lucky enough to watch 'Have I Got News For You'.

We had amazing seats - right at the front next to Ian Hislop - as a result of priority tickets and my well-honed queue skills. Unlike some shows, this one is a really good one to be in the audience for, as it's recorded as-live and they simply edit it down for broadcast the following day. It was all over and done with in a laughter-filled couple of hours and I was home in time to watch THAT episode of 'Question Time'. The guest presenter David Mitchell was his usual quick-witted self, and the guests were top-notch. You can watch the episode in question here.

One observation from before the recording began was that Paul Merton is obviously quite fussy about ensuring he has the same chair every week. Before I took the above photo there was a little sticker on his chair with 'Paul' written on it, so they can obviously distinguish between his chairs and the others when they dress the set.

But one of my highlights of the evening took place before the recording of the show had even begun. We were shivering away at the front of the queue, when a frazzled researcher / runner from the Graham Norton Show came bursting out of the studio building and breathlessly asked the waiting mob 'are you fans of Michael Buble?'. The silence that greeted her as she asked the same question to the queue of current affairs fans was deafening - and hilarious. Goodness knows why she was so desperate to find Michael Buble fans; I can only presume that he was one of Graham's guests last night, and I very much hope that the poor girl managed to find at least one Buble fan somewhere on the Southbank for whatever purpose she had in mind.

*I cannot find a single online reference to this programme - not even on Dale Winton's Wikipedia or IMDB listing. But basically it was a Saturday night show which involved someone trying to work our who was the genuine partner / spouse of another contestant, with lots of bluffing etc. And Dale had an annoying catchphrase which involved a chaise longue...any ideas anyone??

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Imagine you are turning into glass, from the feet up...

You're out on a run one day and you feel something irritating your toe. You shake out your shoes and socks thinking a tiny stone must have sneakily worked its way inside, but the scratchy sensation simply refuses to go away. Upon taking a closer look, you realise that a small, twinkling shard of glass has somehow embedded itself into one of your toes. No matter how hard you try to pluck it out, it cannot be removed; it's truly stuck. Only after a while do you realise that it's not stuck at all, it's actually growing from your foot and - little by little - your feet begin to harden and deaden and you reach the horrific conclusion that they are turning into glass...

This is the situation faced by Ida in Ali Shaw's debut novel, 'The Girl With Glass Feet', which has recently been longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. Set in a faraway (or is it?) land which feels to be drained of colour, Ida stumbles across Midas - an exceedingly shy and lonely chap who is obsessed with light and photography. The pair embark on a very tentative relationship, but despite Ida's obvious physical frailties, it's Midas's sensitivity and vulnerability which threatens to ruin any chance of happiness they might once be able to discover. And if they do manage to overcome Midas's endless inhibitions, how much time do they have left before the glass decides to venture north up Ida's body?

We discussed this book this evening at our monthly book-pub-club (as I've just decided to name it since it takes place in a pub), and overall our thoughts about the novel were extremely positive. It's a wonderful story, and it's written extremely well, and in such a way that you really can picture in your mind the mysterious land that Shaw has created; like our own in the vast majority of ways, but just different enough for the reader to be able to suspend their disbelief and accept that, in this world, turning into glass is not an impossible affliction. Some moments are truly breathtaking, others are perhaps a little 'out there', but each and every character - all suffering from some kind of loss - is absorbing. And the visual metaphors are awesome. Here's one of my favourite ones:
"A robin tweeting on a branch was paling from chestnut brown to fine white. Its legs became white wires and its eyes became hailstones. Its breast remained a red thumbprint for a second, then that also faded, through pink to crisp white."
I just love that 'thumbprint' image.

I'd very much recommend giving this book a read. It's different to anything I've ever read before and it's also the prettiest book I've ever seen, with silver-edged pages. Almost glass-like...

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

A pea-sized amount

Do you remember when you were little and the dentist used to tell you to use a 'pea-sized amount' of toothpaste to brush your teeth with? Well, I remember hearing these words of dentistry wisdom (teeth) and obediently trying it out when I got home.
There I'd be, stood at the sink with a determined look of concentration on my face, diligently trying to write the letter 'P' on the frustratingly-small surface area of the toothbrush. 'It's just impossible!', I marvelled, wondering how on earth all the grown-ups managed to create such a fiddly letter out of such a cumbersome tube of minty paste. After a while I gave up, and just used a spherical squirt of toothpaste instead. Much easier.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Yes, so David Beckham's got a beard - stop shaving on about it

Why is everyone so obsessed with David Beckham's beard? According to The Observer, it's "like an unstoppable hairy fungus" which is "colonising" him. I'm not denying that Mr Beckham has consciously decided to embrace his facial hair as some kind of fashion statement, but does it really warrant such debate?
If indeed it does, then let's start to discuss what his World Cup style niche will be next year. Red contact lenses? A blue nose? Fangs? Perhaps he's growing the beard now in preparation, in order to have a big dreadlock hanging from his chin. Personally, I'm going to put money on him getting a tattooed moustache.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Ukraine really has got talent

Somehow I can't see anything like this winning Britain's Got Talent, but I think it's stunning. How *does* she get her hair so glossy?!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Homeless To The Beard: My band needs rehearsal space!

My band - 'Witness To The Beard' - needs your help! We are homeless! We no longer have access to our London rehearsal space in Tooting (kind of a relief since it was a bit of a pain in the arse to get there and back, but it was free so mustn't grumble), so we're on the lookout for a new home.
Ideally it'd be in central London (around Waterloo area would be perfect), have a full drum kit, amps and microphones etc, and we'd be able to book it for a couple of hours at a time at a cost which wouldn't break the bank. I've already been recommended a few places after I put up a request on my work noticeboard, but thought I'd widen the net to see if I can get any more ideas. Me and the guys are having a (Witness To The) Board meeting this Thursday to discuss, so any thoughts before then would be much appreciated.

I love my postcode (thanks @qypelondon!)

Woop! Just found out I've won a Qype competition, simply for telling them about the favourite place in my postcode (SE13). I e-mailed them saying my local library - Manor House Library in Hither Green - was top of the SE13 list for me. I absolutely love this place and find myself popping in nearly every weekend to exchange my books, browse through the weekend papers and generally marvel at the absolute beauty of this place, and how lucky I am to have it on my doorstep.

The library is a beautifully-refurbished Georgian manor house, and only opened to the public a few months ago. When I moved to Hither Green this time last year I presumed they were converting the building into flats. My delight when I found out it was going to be a library was huge, and my enthusiasm only ballooned once I'd paid my first visit; the books are all BRAND NEW! And the staff are great, too. Ok, the selection isn't huge, but I can also get books out from loads of other libraries in the Lewisham area, and it's honestly the loveliest little library I've ever been in.

For my prize, I get to choose an I love my postcode t-shirt. Think I'll go for this one.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Heel up

In my drum lesson this evening I learnt that, in order to get maximum impact from the bass drum, you need to keep your heel off the ground and pretty much stamp on the kick pedal, as opposed to my current 'heel down' method of tapping the pedal with the ball of my foot. This method is going to take some getting used to, especially in all of my high-tempo (ish) bass drum sequences, of which I am a fan.
I also discovered today that my right foot and my left arm do NOT like doing the same thing at the same time, unless my right arm is also involved in the simultaneous action. I therefore now have a mission to make my right foot and left arm best buds. Inseparable, even. Sorry right arm, you're going to be left out for a little while, but soon you will have a new pal: left foot. But not for a long time yet, that really is my Achilles heel (or should I say foot).

Sunday, 11 October 2009

There ain't no party like a...political conference

There's nothing like sleeping in your own bed after being away, and the past couple of weeks I've been here, there and everywhere. Ok, slight exaggeration. More specifically, I've been in Brighton and Manchester working at the Labour and Tory Party Conferences respectively.

Working at these events gave me a valuable insight into the machinations of politics, as well as giving me a feeling for the two political parties who will be vying to run our country within the next six months. The nature of the work I was doing at the conferences meant that I didn't get to attend the big speeches or fringe events (other than the ones we were hosting), but simply wandering around the venues, speaking to the delegates and rubbing shoulders with the politicians gave me a real sense of where each party is likely to be headed.

Some of the most interesting / amusing / thought-provoking encounters over the fortnight:
  • At the Labour Party Conference Guardian / Observer party I eventually plucked up the courage to chat with Eddie Izzard about his recent multiple marathons charity effort. He was so nice but I got slightly star struck and tongue-tied.
  • Competition for seats in the Midland Hotel bar in Manchester was fierce - even at 2.30am - so we ended up sharing a table with a cross-dressing Tory with the most fabulous nails you have ever seen. Listening to him talk about why he'd attended the Conservative Party Conference for the last decade, despite being labelled the 'most unlikely person to be here', was absolutely fascinating. An interesting article about how the party appears to be embracing the LGBT community is here.
  • Having a press pass meant that I could pretty much access all areas. Walking along the media gantry alongside the main auditorium whilst a well-known newsreader was having his make-up airbrushed on was a particularly surreal moment.
  • Ken Clarke - who took part in one of our fringe events - is a great character, but I disagree with his views on the smoking ban.
  • On our last night in Brighton, we somehow ended up dining in the same restaurant as COLIN FIRTH! Oh, and Alistair Darling and Caroline Lucas were there too. Another one of those 'how the hell did I end up here?' moments.
  • John Snow: an absolute gentleman who wears the best ties and socks, and I now have a crush.
  • Our IT guys who provided remote comms support to our journalists and worked very long hours deserve a huge pat on the back.
  • Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell is actually a GENIUS. Watch him at work here.
It's been a tough year for politicians, and the next few months are undoubtedly going to be an even bigger political rollercoaster ride as the election campaigns properly kick-off. I think it's important to remember that - no matter how set in stone the election result appears to be at this stage - we still have the democratic power to determine the outcome ourselves. 

It's not going to be an easy choice for many voters next year, but I'm of the opinion that helping to determine the political direction of your country really shouldn't be an easy decision to make. I just hope that the effort required to make this decision doesn't put too many people off from exercising their democratic right to vote. If disenchantment with the political system does get the better of us, then I think the outcome is indeed already decided. That's all I'm saying...