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


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?"


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

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


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."

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Running a marathon Izz-ard? Not for our Eddie

Last autumn I had the privilege to meet Eddie Izzard at the Labour Party Conference. I normally get really shy around celebrities, but I got chatting to his assistant at a party and plucked up the courage to ask her for an introduction. I didn't speak to him for long as I was a bit starstruck, plus he had squillions of other people clamouring all over him, but I did manage to give him a big handshake to congratulate him on managing to run a mind-blowing 43 marathons in just 51 days to raise money for Sport Relief that summer. 

He was extremely modest about his accomplishment, but having now watched two episodes of Marathon Man, which documents Eddie's mammoth challenge, I must admit I am completely blown away by his stamina, grit and determination. I'm by no means an athlete so I can't speak from experience (although I did manage a TWELVE MINUTE run recently), but from those crazy individuals I know who have run marathons, the last thing they'd want to do is to run another one the day after that, and the day after, and the day after. And so on. 

But Eddie manages to keep going. And the weird thing is, that he NEVER seems to be out of breath. After my 12-minute run I was (shamefully) gasping and could barely speak, yet Eddie seems to finish each of his marathons with no panting and can quite easily manage a conversation, seemingly without any need for recovery time. Fair enough if you're a professional athlete, but the whole premise of this challenge is that Eddie had never run more than 5 miles before.


It seems to me that, although Eddie is certainly not a natural athlete, he appears to possess a sort of super-human natural fitness that some professional sports competitors could only fantasise about. In the most recent episode (2 of 3), Eddie's support crew got a bit concerned about his diet as he didn't seem to be eating the right sort of food for the amount of calories he was burning off. A dietitian was drafted in, who convinced Eddie to consume a mountain of potatoes each night. But this regime only lasted one day before he was back on the ice creams, Calippos, coffee, pints and vodka shots along the way.

The programme is really inspiring, and I think my favourite parts of the documentary are when local people run or cycle alongside Eddie to encourage him to keep going. In Merseyside two young lads cycled the furthest they'd ever been, and one of the boys described it as the best day of his life (the crew called their mums to get their permission, then responsibly bought them cycle helmets and high visibility vests, which got my seal of approval. I trust they gave them a lift back home, too....).

If you haven't watched the programme I'd really urge you to do so. The first two episodes are on iPlayer, David Tennant is the narrator, and the final one is broadcast this Thursday at 10.30pm on BBC3 (bad scheduling in my opinion). Oh, and you can donate to Sport Relief here.

Image from Sport Relief.