Sunday, 28 December 2008

18.12.08 - Moles club, Bath

PURR Presents:

Purr toyed with us all on this crisp December eve, giving us three bands from vastly different chapters of the indie handbook. El Wristo opened the evening, offering us poor souls their paint-drying rock sound. Distortion don’t maketh the band, dear reader, but being able to write a tune does and whilst they embraced the former with all the zeal of a dog who has just stolen a string of sausages from a butchers, they spectacularly fell short of the latter. They seemed so middle-of-the-road as to be a one-way street.

Once everyone had woken up ex-Pipette (it’s gonna be on your gravestone, dear) Rose Elinor Dougall offered us her luscious, tender musings, with danger always lurking beneath the cracked smile of her tunes. Embracing a Year-Zero mentality, gone is the saccharine veneer of her former outfit, replaced with introspection and the jaded maturity of jilted lover. Still quite dull, mind.

And what about Kaputt I hear you scream. Well, sucking from the teat of all the correct indie Mothers they had this reviewer making shapes on the dancefloor like a smitten buffoon, all wriggly squiggly like. Their jarring guitars and rampant stomp sounded like it never gave a shit, drenched in abandonment and wearing a juvenile sneer. Life is worth living after all.


Moles - Bath Battle of the Bands 2008 Grand Final

Warning: Those of you in the Bath area look away now. Your city has the creativity of a brussel sprout.

Peppermint Hunting Lodge started with a song about a sandwich or something before frolicking around with a set which was very much an emo/hardcore affair. It’s all very shouty and vain and during the third song their lead singer was trying to eye up a girl just in front of me whilst getting all emotive with oohs and aahs. But, to indulge in some Sting-like psychobabble, there was a definite ‘Energy’ about them.

Exiles were an indie-by-numbers affair, combining futile guitars with moribund beats wrapped up in such an unconvincing manner that their name spoke volumes. But why Bath?!

Psalms were next, bringing their industrial stomp to the table, licked into shape with funky chemical synths. I wouldn’t usually go near this type of thing with a ten-inch dildo but compared to the previous acts they seemed utterly comfortable in their own skin, not taking themselves all that seriously which was a welcome change from the previous double-dose of pretension. They could be huge. In Germany.

1987 lit up their synth-laden set with rather a sweet, geeky charm. The Killers are obviously in there but the old ‘87 boys seemed to look like they were having fun, unlike Monsieur Flowers et al.

The Dusty Stars arrived soon after with a contrived eccentricity and an Englishness which was, frankly, embarrassing. Their brand of Fratellian jauntiness stuck in the craw although they certainly looked the part (and that’s all that matters, innit?)

To finish was El Wristo. I assume this means ‘Leave Now’ in Mexican or something. I was amazed. It actually sounded like paint drying. It’s so Middle-of-the-Road it’s a one-way street. As I dozed in and out of their set I found myself wondering how on Earth they had progressed so far.

The Winners? Why, The Dusty Stars of course. ‘Grand’ final? Try Bland instead.

Wednesday 4th December

PURR presents:
Piney Gir
Betty and the Werewolves
Colliding Lemons
Ill Ease.

To kick off what turned out to be a gloriously inconsistent night in Moles was Brooklyn’s very own Ill Ease. A combative little tomboy, her drum-looped, bass-heavy sleaze had all manner of body parts a-shaking, constantly winking suggestively towards Elastica, Peaches and the Gossip through the grinding guitar and tick-tock bass. She looked like she was having the time of her life, like a child who’s just been given their first handgun. Such a charming lady it felt like watching a mate from school triumph, without those all too familiar feelings of resentment. Stopping mid-song to comment on a walking sore thumb’s gaudy Warner Bros. jacket, it felt, if only for a nano-second, that I was in a skaggy Brooklyn club (in the best way possible).

With the final throbs of bass still running up and down my inside-leg, Colliding Lemons were on. All attractive ladies, I initially assumed they were having a Girls Night Out, enjoying multi-coloured shots whilst keeping a trained eye out for trilbied indie fops. How stupid did I feel when they started playing?! With enough giggly charm to warm the most celibate of hearts it was as if five female cast members from High-School Musical drank two bottles of cherry Lambrini and decided to form a band. Their set was drenched in gleaming 80s Powerpop, a heady blend of Roxette, the Bangles and Kim Wilde, and an overall appreciation of finely-honed tunes. In a bizarre, polished, nauseating way they could go on to make billions of dollars to fritter away on gold hairbrushes, diamond-encrusted jacuzzis and pink Lamborghinis.

As the full moon rose, out came Betty and the Werewolves. They were so pretty I almost wept. With beautifully conditioned hair they slammed headlong into their infectious set. Slow songs? No chance! Maudlin numbers? Forget about it! Their raucous, garage-rock sound always threatened to fall apart at any moment yet they always pulled clear of The Edge delivering two-and-a-half minute slices of cool, tense abandonment which burns the fingers and fries the brain . "I'm a school teacher," Betty later told me, "...but none of my students know I'm in a band."

After another damn mesmerizing routine from Purr’s Panthergirls, ending the night was Piney Gir. I don’t know what it means either. As the band started playing, Miss Gir (?) emerged from backstage with a female companion grinning like a Cheshire cat. Their set attempted to bring skiffle and country into the 21st century, with mixed results. They were a supremely accomplished band yet their breezy songs started to cloy after the first couple of numbers. With sound affects courtesy of a child’s toy box (you’re a bit Quirky, we get it) their songs about sticks and stones and paper and glue made me feel like I was watching a living, breathing iPod advert. At one point I was pretty sure the backing singer was playing a bottle of Merlot as percussion. After such a previously galvanizing set from Betty et al maybe they should drink more of that Merlot and just get down with it. Don’t be shy.

Friday, 24 October 2008

In the Eye of the Hurricane

This past week I've been working in the newsroom of my local paper, the Bath Chronicle, as well as it's sister papers the Somerset Guardian and Somerset Standard, on the sports department. I got the weeks' work experience through a contact which I think I mentioned in my previous post.

I turned up at their offices on Monday morning with that all too familiar feeling: Nervousness. After being let in via the telecom outside I walked up to the newsroom with sweaty palms and jelly legs wondering just what I was going to be doing for the next week.

After meeting my contact (that sounds a bit MI5, doesn't it?) I was taken over to the sports department. To get there I had to walk through pretty much every other department and I cast a keen eye over all that was before me. Rows and rows of desks lined the large office area, all with nattily dressed journalists going about their jobs and television screens with news channels on them. I was shown to my desk, given a couple of newspapers to pour over and then given a list of tasks to do. I had the feeling that everyone assumed that I knew how a newsroom ran and I tried not to let on that I had no idea whatsoever.

My first task was to edit an abundance of match reports emailed in to the papers by various amateurs like myself. I learned my first lesson instantly: edit like you were working for the Nazi propaganda machine. I could see where they were coming from; a lot of the articles sent in concerning local football, rugby and hockey teams were by biased fans who seemed to have a suspect grasp of the English language. However, at the back of my mind there was the issue that these people were like me and they had probably stood through a couple of hours of largely mind-numbing amateur sport to write out 200 words or so. I felt cruel hacking away large chunks of their reports like an Amazonian explorer, changing sentences and basically re-writing them, but this was the method and who was I to argue?

Despite sifting through reports on sports which I am not all that interested in (including OAP bowls' tournaments which included what sort of cake they ate afterwards) I was thrilled to be there and each report took on the significance of a World Cup final, even if it was hockey match between Devizes and Melksham.

Once I had completed these I was given three telephone numbers to call. They were the numbers of local football managers whom I had to interview with regards to their teams results over the weekend. Now, this might surprise you but I was quite nervous about ringing people up who I had never met and asking them questions about their sides' performances - what went right, what went wrong, how the team was feeling confidence-wise for the next game et cetera - so I picked up the phone, hand physically trembling, to call these would-be Sir Alex Fergusons. The interviews were fine, the managers more than willing to talk in cliches about their team, although what I found most difficult was writing down what they were saying as they were saying it. After each phone call I looked at my notes which just looked like I'd been doodling on the paper. I then had to write these interviews up, selecting key quotes and dropping in the odd bit of information about the teams' recent run of form. This was pretty much my first day.

My second day was similar to the first although by this time my nerves had wained somewhat and I now felt comfortable about making phone calls.

On the Wednesday I was asked if I would like to go along to a press conference at Bath Rugby with another journalist with regards to their next game. For those who aren't that into rugby (and I count myself amongst you) Bath are currently top of the Guinness Premiership, England's Premier League of rugby. The club also has a distinguished history, being the Manchester United of rugby in the late 80s and 90s (i.e. bloody good)

I wasn't expecting the conference to be all flashbulbs and macho sports journalism but I was excited to be going along. Once we were there there were a number of local journalists chatting to various players and also the head coach was sat at a table in the middle of the room, just prattling on about this and that, with anyone able to come over, sit down and place their dictaphone in front of him. It wasn't particularly long but it was interesting meeting some of the players, shaking their hands (although they were more like shovels) and generally feeling physically inadequate.

Once we got back to the newsroom things were starting to get a bit panicky. The paper is out on Thursday and the deadline for it going to print was looming like a starved vulture. It was a totally different image to what it was on the Monday morning with people working in their own relaxed rhythms, casually chomping on apples and laughing through the day. By Wednesday afternoon people were pacing around, printing off drafts of pages, swearing, huffing and puffing, and possessing a manic look in their eyes. I was given the duty of proof reading some pages which probably sounds quite easy but the days were taxing on the old noggin and although I might have read something 100 times I would go back to it again and see a comma out of place or a slight problem with the layout, and this, in the world of journalism, is Unacceptable.

One exercise I was given on Wednesday afternoon was to come up with headlines for the sports articles. At first I thought it would be relatively easy but it soon became apparent that there was such little space, page-wise, to work in and I realised there was an art and craft to this otherwise taken-for-granted aspect of the newspaper.

And so it came to Thursday. I picked up some newspapers by reception, took them to my desk and starting to look for the pieces I had written as well as the pieces I had edited and greedily claimed as my own. There was an immense amount of satisfaction seeing the end product after putting time and effort into it and it was the biggest sense of achievement I've had since finishing my degree. To see my name next what I had written gave me a distinct feeling of triumph and although it was what the people around me do for a living, this being just another paper for just another week, it meant a lot to me to see that I could at least hold my own in that environment and muck in without making too many mistakes or having to be carried by someone else.

More midweek sports reports soon came in and I was back re-writing them but because the sports department mainly deals with things that happen at weekends, it was quiet on Thursday. At one point during the day a lady from the news department came over to my desk and asked me if I could write a small piece for her. In the local papers there is a 'Down Memory Lane...' type feature which involves people sending in old photographs and asking readers if they know any of the people in it or otherwise just sending them in for purely nostalgic, Hovis reasons. The particular photograph in question was of a football team from 1930 sent in by a gentleman called Brian Morris. Along with the photograph he included the names of the players and what trophies they had won but it was my job to ring him up and try to coax more information out of him. I rang him up and started chatting to him, asking him questions such as why he was sending the photo in, who he knew in it et cetera and because he was old and, I assume, lonely, he started talking to (at) me about all sorts of things. A typical answer of his, after asking him if he had any information on the players, was 'Well, Burt Saxton was the local milkman and Eddie Jones was a miner and played the trombone.'
'Was he any good on the trombone?' I asked, for no apparent reason.
'Oh yes, very...'
Today (Friday) is my day off as the guy I arranged the week with doesn't go in on Fridays. It has been a great week and one which has given me an even greater appetite to write for a living. I still feel like I'm undecided about the sort of publication which I would be interested in writing for but the thrill of working for a newspaper has left me feeling good. When I look to the future my confidence about writing for a living peaks and troughs but right now I'm feeling quietly optimistic.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

A Break of Some Sort

Within the past few weeks I've managed to secure my first 'gig' as a writer. Those who know me would not really associate myself with the world of which I'm writing about but bear with me nonetheless.

Along the road from my house is my local rugby club, Combe Down RFC, and after chatting to the right people, making a couple of phone calls, I am now the club's official match reporter. Like I said, I don't think many people would associate me with the rough 'n tumble world of local rugby but having played a little bit at school I like to think I know enough to at least write about it.

Although I've only reported on two matches the reports are posted on the club's website for all (who's interested) to see. Despite it being unpaid - I get free drinks at the end of the game so I guess that's payment of sorts - I consider it to be quite a tidy little project to get myself involved with and a necessary step in my undoubtedly arduous journey into journalism.

What I am most proud of, however, is that the first match report I did ended up in my local paper, The Bath Chronicle, after I sent it in to their sports department. The local paper is weekly and after frantically searching through the pages of the sports section there it was. My first ever published piece. 150 words of solid fact and limited elaboration. I've only just sent in the one from this Saturday and will flick through the sports department with similar gusto this Thursday.

Next weekend I am reporting on my first away match for the club. I think this might involve me going on the team bus and having to listen to dirty rugby songs whilst being assumed to be something of a pansy due to my reporting and also my refusal to wear something resembling a tracksuit. Despite this near-inevitability I managed to talk to some of the players after the match on Saturday and they're not all typical rugby lads. In fact they all want me to put in a good word about them in my reports so I'm not going to have my head flushed down a toilet just yet.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Vinyl Riches

Last Bank Holiday weekend I went to Birmingham to visit friends from those golden University years of mine. It was a great weekend and one which I sorely needed as we wined, dined, danced and pranced our way through the weekend. Unexpectedly, however, I found myself inspired by my former housemate's random vinyl collection.

If a weekend were to ever have a soundtrack then it was this one. The music in question? Just a pair of seven-inch singles - Hit me with your rhythm stick by Ian Dury and The Blockheads and I'm too sexy by Right Said Fred. I know what you're thinking: Hit me with your rhythm stick is a superb song, for sure, but I'm too sexy? I guess it was one of those You Really Had To Be There moments, all self-mockery and homo-eroticism...

Flicking through my friend's vinyls got me all excited. His collection was varied, random and silly and made me want to put an old turntable I had back home in my room, trawl through my parent's old LPs and start a similarly odd and eclectic collection of my own. My last day in Birmingham saw me and my friends mooch into the city centre, my intention being to find some cheap charity-shop vinyl. Unfortunately we didn't have the endurance to traipse around for such shops but we did go into Zavvi with the scrap of hope that they would have some records. Sure enough they did and I purchased an album by the 80s New Wave group Men Without Hats and also the superbly baffling Pavarotti's Greatest Hits, Volume Two (the album cover is quite something - Pavarotti in a clown suit posing with a massive drum).

Once I arrived back in Bath I set up our old turntable in my room, dug out my parent's old records and started syphoning out the one's I was interested in. I did exactly the same many years ago when we had a turntable in our front room. It was through this that I first heard The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and the music which I consider to have changed the course of my life for the better. I can remember listening to The Beatles' Strawberry fields forever and thinking So this is what It sounds like.

The next day, after I had finished work, I popped into Bath city centre on the hunt for more vinyl. I went into one of the Oxfam shops and started sifting through their deceptively large selection of albums and singles. I could not believe my luck. One of the first records I came across was the twelve-inch single of The Right Stuff by New Kids On The Block. If ever a slice of boyband perfection existed then this surely was it. It screamed of the daftness, irreverence and the ridiculous so much so that I bought it along with the equally naff-yet-brilliant Straight Up by Paula Abdul. I also bought Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy. Pretentious, I know, but I had just re-read A Clockwork Orange and was desperate to hear it. It's actually quite good.

There is always that earnest debate as to whether vinyls sound better than CDs. I'm not entirely sure; I like to think that there are some artists who do sound better on vinyl than CD, one such artist being the inimitable Nat King Cole. I found the undoubtedly rushed-released best of, 20 Golden Greats, in my house and that takes some beating on the turntable, all candlelight and crackle.

Typical with other things in my life, I seem to be moving backwards. Instead of buying an iPod I put a turntable in my room. However, the unpredictable excitement of going into a charity shop, digging through their stale smelling records and buying something you've never heard of or haven't heard for a long, long time is far more thrilling than going into HMV and buying yet another CD or downloading music from the internet.
Vinyl has got me all excited. I think it's the start of a beautiful friendship.

Monday, 18 August 2008

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

It is considered a joke within the literary world just how prodigious Anthony Burgess was during his career. His fecundity yielded all manner of novels, reviews, journalism, orchestral scores, stage productions and pretty much anything else you can think of which requires pen, paper and mind. However, of all these works his 1962 text A Clockwork Orange remains his most well known contribution to the world of literature, a fact which gnawed at his conscience up until his death in 1993.

Burgess started writing the novel after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and told he only had a matter of months to live. Once he was informed of his imminent death he went about writing furiously, the beginning of his vast output of work, owing to his desire to make enough money for his wife to live on once he had died. He ended up living for another thirty years as it turned out, yet no worked defined his life as much as A Clockwork Orange.

The book will always be synonymous with Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film adaptation which lead Burgess to concede that he would be forever known as 'the fountain and origin of a great film', yet he would also dispute the view that Anthony Burgess was a creation of Stanley Kubrick, insisting that the reality was quite the opposite.

The novel, or novella considering its slim size, is often categorised as Science Fiction due to its Dystopian vision but is somehow exempt from this classification when located in bookshops. Sure, the book, like all great Science Fiction, is pertinent to today (gangs, a bumbling Government, a hypocritical Police force) yet one can only imagine that the setting and the bleak vision of the future is merely a foil for the larger themes Burgess presents us. The primary question at the centre of the novel's black heart is asked by the prison chaplain on page 71 and is simply this: 'Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?' Despite its slender appearance this book has got itself some Big Ideas.

One of Burgess' main achievements throughout is his use of language. Alex, the novel's narrator, speaks in a tongue known as Nadsat, a Russian based language which is prevalent amongst the wayward youth of the novel (Burgess wanted readers to have a Russian dictionary at hand when reading). At first challenging, the language is eventually a colourful, playful experience and becomes easier to follow (assuming you get past the first few paragraphs without scrunching your face up with confusion).

Phew. The plot. Alex is a teenager in a broken society in the not-so-distant future. He and his Droogs (his gang) help contribute to this diseased carcass of a society as they rule the night, thieving, fighting and raping their way through the midnight hours. However, Alex is dichotomous at the best of times as he enjoys Beethoven and 'Ultra-violence' in equal measure, leading Burgess to ask the question as to whether High-Art civilizes or not. One beautifully written section sees Alex describing the classical music he is listening to in his room:

And then, a bird of like rarest spun heavenmetal, or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now, came the violin solo above all the other strings, and those strings were like a cage of silk round my bed. Then flute and oboe bored, like worms of like platinum, into the thick thick toffee gold and silver. I was in such bliss, my brothers.

Alex, as leader of his fellow Droogs, seems to have an existence which satisfies him greatly. Everything he wants is available to him one way or another and he is in a constant cycle of sating his urges. However, one night he is set up by his gang and is taken to jail where he is told the woman they were sexually assaulting has, in fact, died. He is sentenced to jail where he enjoys reading The Bible (for the sex and violence, the good bits) and seems to be 'getting better'. He then hears of a new medical technique which can cure a man forever of his subversive impulses and offers himself to be a guinea pig. It is known as the Ludovico Technique and, sure enough, he is cured of his violent impulses - whenever he feels the need to inflict pain he grows violently sick.

Soon enough he is let back into society where he is rejected by his parents and society in general. He is taken in by a writer whose wife Alex and his Droogs gang-raped (the writer not able to recognise Alex due to the Elvis mask he wore during the attack). The writer is a political revolutionary, trying to oust the oppressive Government, and feels that Alex can be used as an example of the stifling nature of the Government. However, things don't pan out quite like that, and Alex soon becomes a political pawn in a fragile society.

After a failed suicide attempt, Alex is in hospital and is visited by the Interior Minister, offered a stable job as compensation for the Government's failed experiment. He accepts this deal but is soon found back with a new set of Droogs. It is this last chapter which is omitted from Kubrick's film and has caused much debate since the film's release. For this reader the final chapter is beautifully realised with a pathos which, although incongruous with the rest of the book, is both optimistic and pessimistic at the same time. Unfortunately, I'm not going to tell you all that happens in that final chapter - your just going to have to read it for yourself.

One has to accept that the film will always eclipse the novel. One also has to accept that the film is quite sensational. But we're not talking about the film, we're talking about the book. It is both amazing and frightening to think that Burgess produced such an intelligent book in a matter of weeks due to his thinking that he would soon be dead. The true depth of the novel is hidden amongst the scenes of bloody violence and rampant criminality, yet its message of personal choice and freedom resonate with today's societies like a great bolshy trombone. Its the sort of book you go back to when you get bored with fiction and there are always new things to find within. Despite Burgess' disgruntlement that it was his most famous work, it's not a bad one to be remembered by.

Friday, 1 August 2008

American Psycho - Bret Easton Ellis

It's about time, don't you think?

Abandon all hope ye who enter here is the first line of Bret Easton Ellis' novel American Psycho. It is taken from Dante's epic poem The Divine Comedy where it is inscribed on the gates of hell. Here it is scrawled in red spray paint on a wall in an extension of hell itself - 1980s New York City.

It's protagonist and narrator is Patrick Bateman. Bateman is a Wall Street yuppie of the most cartoonish proportions (sickeningly rich and good-looking in equal measure), yet Ellis doesn't so much throw a spanner in the works as a rusty, bloody chainsaw - Bateman is a psychopath with a thirst for gruesome, vicious murder.

Despite sounding like a distinctly disturbing novel, Ellis is able to put down some truly comic observations of New York City's rich and vacuous. It is that rare thing which authors often find so difficult to achieve; it is both a grotesque yet funny novel, although many female activists didn't, and still don't, see it that way. When it was released the misogynistic content ruffled feminist feathers, to say the least.

The cast of vapid, over-privileged twenty-somethings concern themselves with being seen in the right clubs, the right restaurants and all the while in the right clothes. Any description of another character by Bateman will see him meticulously pick apart the other person's outfit whether it be Gianni Versace, Jean-Paul Gaultier or Louis Vuitton. Appearance is everything, right down to the finest, nauseating and most irrelevant detail. The novel casts a satirical eye over American attitudes in the 1980s, namely mindless consumerism, and picks apart the ultimately pointless, directionless existence of those who like to spend spend spend.

Throughout his body of work Ellis' influences are for all to see. The minimalist modes of Hemingway and Faulkner are rampant in the majority of his novels yet American Psycho throws away the proud simplicity of these literary cornerstones and sees Bateman survey New York with the meticulous eye of a pre-Raphaelite artist. This can often be funny (Bateman describing his latest hi-fi system; laying down his robotic morning routine) but also highly disturbing (the death and sex scenes mercilessly leave nothing to the imagination). In the novel's more stealthier moments, between the blood and the sex, Ellis writes with a sensitivity which is delicate and subtle in its presence. When Bateman and his fiancee leave the social cannibalism of New York and retreat to a friend's beach house for a holiday, Bateman leaves small affectionate notes in her handbag, revealing something resembling a humanity which is otherwise NOT THERE. However, such moments of tenderness are not without the macabre lurking in it's shadow. On the same holiday Bateman finds himself stood over his sleeping wife, ice-pick in hand, gripped by his madness.

Those of you who know me will be all too aware of my feelings towards this book. I often find it amusing myself how highly I rate this novel. At its best it penetrates with an execution one can only marvel at, slack-jawed; at its worse it is one of the sharpest American novels of its time. I have actually judged people solely on their opinion of this novel and have surely lost potential friends for it but those I know who value it don't just like it. You can't just like it. You can't just like Christmas, you can't just like your birthday, you can't just like it when Chelsea lose. The novel gives you something.

To many people it is a punchline to a literary joke. To me it is one of the greatest books I have ever read.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to return some videotapes.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Kingdom of Fear - Hunter S. Thompson

On the 20th February 2005, Hunter Stockton Thompson committed suicide after shooting himself in the head at his notorious Colorado compound, 'Owl Farm'. In a nearby room his daughter-in-law accompanied his grandson whilst Thompson's own son was also in the house. It was the end of a remarkable life, one lived above the speed limit (in every sense of the phrase) before finally going over the Edge he so fondly spoke about.

Thompson's autobiography, Kingdom of Fear, is typical of the man himself. Never one to play by society's mundane rules or to adhere to vapid normality, his life here is presented as a series of letters, newspaper clippings and anecdotes which would make the most seasoned raconteur green with envy (and sickness).

The autobiography is notable by its absence of Thompson's childhood. He only ever mentions his formative years in brief, blink-and-you'll-miss-it sections and it would appear to the reader at least that life truly started when the art of writing took hold. We get accounts of his time in the army where he honed his writing skills before moving onto a variety of newspapers and magazines, sent to report on obscure sporting events which he seemed to embrace with relish.

The cast is pretty much as expected: enraged lawyers, colourful prostitutes, violent foreigners and famous actors, all of whom had their lives changed, for good or ill by Thompson, like a drop of LSD in your morning tea. However, for all of Thompson's vibrant stories, he saves his main reserve of energy attacking George Bush Jr's administration. Published in 2003, Thompson has a lot to aim at; post-9/11 America was ample fodder for Thompson's bile, a country led by a man who he calls 'the child-president' and a 'whore beast'. Indeed, it would seem that Thompson, a man who had seen and reported on Richard Nixon's tempestuous Presidency, felt more aggrieved by Bush's shambolic pastiche of a Presidency than any other he reported on - and that was quite a few, earning him his stellar reputation as a fine political writer.

Now to the good stuff. The autobiography features a selection of booze-, gun- and drug-fuelled tales. Amongst the more memorable is his late-night excursion to Jack Nicholson's house, celebrating the Hollywood rogue's birthday. From a vantage point overlooking the actor's house embedded in an Aspen valley, Thompson decided to set up an amplifier and proceeded to play a tape of a pig being eaten alive by bears. At 119 decibels. After the lights went out in the Nicholson home, Thompson opted to make the small trip down to the house and place his present on the porch of the movie-star - a bleeding elk's heart. The next morning Thompson received news that his good friend Jack was in trouble. Apparently in the early hours of that morning there were sightings of a crazed stalker lingering menacingly around the Nicholson compound, intent on committing barbaric acts on the Nicholson clan...

Other moments include Thompson and his vicious Dutch friend, Geerlings, beating up the Brazilian war minister's son in Rio de Janeiro, a lion (yes, a lion) finding itself in his convertible and on the receiving end of Thompson's impeccable decision-making, his infamous campaign running for Mayor of Aspen, his time reporting on the Vietnam war and his well documented court case involving a rather interesting feminist in the porn industry (what really happened in that hot-tub?).

Despite the abundance of hilarious tales, I found the book failed to deliver on what Thompson is ultimately defined by: his lifestyle. Those who have read his works will find this hard to digest. For all his brilliant writing, be it political journalism, sports journalism or first-hand accounts of the scaly underbelly of America, Thompson is best known for his 100mph lifestyle. If anything, there were not enough drug stories, trouble-making and general bad behaviour, but maybe I'm just one of many who have bought into the Thompson myth, setting standards for the man which, in reality, are beyond the capabilities of most men. Although I enjoyed reading his autobiography and experienced a sense of a life lived to exhilerating extremes, I felt that it revealed a rather uncomfortable truth: that his life is dominated by obsequious myths which are part and parcel of any larger-than-life character. A fun, multicoloured read, but to quote the great man himself, 'It never got weird enough for me'.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The Dark Hype

Excuse me for a few minutes whilst I get something off my chest.

I don't think I can take the eternal gushing poured forth by people over the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight, any longer. Firstly, I must point out that I haven't seen it. Secondly, I have no desire to see it. Frankly, I thought Batman Begins was a teensy bit over-rated. I was, and still am, truly amazed by the amount of people who used such adjectives to describe it as 'dark', 'brooding' and 'deep'. The hype surrounding it was dispelled for me as soon as the first in a vast volume of one-liners was delivered. And was I the only person who found Christian Bale's voice, when in full Batman regalia, absolutely hilarious to the point of depression?

When it comes to The Dark Knight, I have often found myself telling people that I am looking forward to seeing it. This is a complete lie. As with many other films and television series, around which people organise their lives, I am simply not interested (just like people I know who aren't interested when I tell them they have to read, for example, The Collector by John Fowles. But that's just a book and not a $999bn film). Dismissing such amazing must-see events can make you come across as a miserable old fart, but in terms of not kidding yourself it is a small price to pay.

A bit about Heath Ledger. I know it is wrong to put a man down when he is not here to defend himself but I have only ever seen him in one film, A Knight's Tale, which was a largely forgettable affair. Yes, I've heard that he is fantastic in Brokeback Mountain and that 10 Things I Hate About You is a bit of fun, but I can only judge him on the one film I have seen him in and my judgement is that he is neither here nor there as a actor but really really really good-looking, so thats ok. I wonder, if an uglier actor died in the same circumstances, would there be similar outpourings of grief (from females between the ages of 16 and 35)?

Maybe I'm just a bitter soul annoyed with the world-at-large, unable to focus my bile anywhere else except at something which brings joy to a lot of people. Maybe the ghost of a Generation X-er has infiltrated my bones, telling me to fight against the masses purely on principle and at a cost of discovering new things. Whatever the case, I keep hearing the echo of Johnny Rotten in my head, singing the lines 'Don't be told what you want, Don't be told what you need...'

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Five go Paintballing

About a week ago I received a message on facebook from an old school friend who I hadn't seen for quite some time. In his message he wrote that because another friend of ours was getting married in a few weeks he had organised a Stag event for the following weekend. He had booked a day of paintballing.

When I saw the word paintballing I instantly visualised packs of sweaty men running around a wooded area shouting and barking in a mist of testosterone and atavistic rage. Intense physical exercise isn't one of my favourite pastimes but because it was for our friend I decided to cast my reservations to one side and said I'll be there.

For the next week I kept getting rather apprehensive about the whole thing. I had been told that it hurts when you get hit by a paintball and that some people take it quite seriously. I disguised my worry with light-hearted banter, telling friends that they'd better watch their backs and making the point to one friend in particular that I was going to hunt him down like the dog that he is.

The night before, me and a few friends went into Bath city centre for a few drinks and discussed what the next day might yield. After a few drinks I started to feel incredibly excited about the whole thing and couldn't wait for the following day.

I was picked up from my house at 8:45 the next morning on the orders that we needed to be there at 9:15 with a 9:30 start. I didn't feel too hungover but I got the feeling that was because of the grip of nervous energy. Once we arrived I thought my nightmare had come true. Shaven-headed, surly men were wandering around the entrance of the complex in camouflaged overalls and mean, black boots. You don't have to be on the front-line, you can always lay low, I told myself.

After dealing with the administrative side of things (collecting our overalls, goggles, dog-tags et cetera) the mass of people were separated into three smaller groups. Our group was placed with another two parties who, to my relief, were of similar age to us and also didn't look like serious paintballers.

And so to the actual paintballing itself. It was fantastic. Not for a long time had my heart beat with such reckless abandon nor my poor legs been tested so much. There was the sweat, the scrapes, the agony and the ecstasy, and in the mini-games we played I usually ended up behind a barrier of some sort, exhilarated by the swarm of paintballs whizzing overhead whilst popping up sporadically, like a meercat, to let off a few paintballs at the opposition. My crowning glory, the zenith, of my day came when I had a one-on-one shoot out with a mystery opponent. I was behind a tangle of branches and logs whilst he was under an old Jeep. I kept poking my head and my gun around the side of my cover whilst he kept waiting for me to do so before firing at me. Eventually I managed to shoot him and take him out of the game. The satisfaction came in shooting him in the head, a direct head-shot. Once you were shot you had to make your way back to the safe zone where you would wait with your fellow wounded for everyone else to come back. When I entered the safe zone after this particular game it emerged that it was one of my good friends who I had shot in the head, leading to a bout of Immodesty.

I hit a few people and was hit a few times myself (no, it doesn't hurt - its like being punched on the arm/shin/lower back by the big kid at school). After all was said and done, we paid up, compared war wounds and parted ways, arranging to meet up in town later for drinks and a session of reminiscing. The whole day was a huge amount of fun and something I would suggest anyone to do. There was such a vast range of people there (rotund males, young children, svelte girls), meaning there was no danger of exclusion or being singled out due to inexperience.

The next morning I could hardly get out of bed such was the lethargic weight of my legs, but it was worth every hobbled footstep around the house.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Roper Rhodes, or, A Funny Old Week.

This past week I managed to get my claws into some temp. work courtesy of the agency I signed up with last summer. I got a phone call from them asking me if I would like to work at a company which sounded like Rofer Rowe. They described the job as simply re-packaging bathroom furniture and accessories. Being incredibly skint I said I would and was even more happy to hear that it paid £7 an hour. I eventually got an email clarifying the details such as where it was, what time to turn up, who to report to et cetera. The company turned out to be called Roper Rhodes.

On the Monday morning my Dad gave me a lift down to this place which was on the way to the hospital where he works. They were expecting me to turn up at half past eight but I turned up fifteen minutes before just to give a good impression, to give the illusion of zeal. I was waiting in the reception when a man walked in. He asked me if I was a temp and after I told him yes, he said he was temping for the week aswell. His name was Steve and he was forty-eight. He had an almost cartoonish cockney accent and, as we continued talking, it turned out he was from Milton Keynes and had only recently moved to Bath. Eventually someone from the company came in and asked us to sign a contract before telling us that the actual warehouse where we were working was just along the road and not part of the more admin. bit that we were currently in. The guy from the company asked if I wanted to get in his car for the short drive to the warehouse but Steve offered to give me a lift instead. In his car I noticed that he had two Brian Adams cds to which I thought Shit, this week is going to be terrible.

Once we were in the warehouse it turned out that it would only be me, Steve and another man named Paul who would be occupying the whole warehouse. Paul would be driving the fork-lift truck around whilst me and Steve would be tucked away in the far corner of the warehouse. We were shown what to do with regards to the job. It was impossibly easy work which consisted of opening large boxes, sticking labels on the smaller boxes within and adding labels to tap display stands. The tap models had names like Aero, Wessex, Storm, Neo and Insight which made them sound more like Gladiators than taps. We were eventually left to get on with the job in hand.

After getting to grips with the work I asked Steve what music he listened to apart from Brian Adams. He wondered how I knew he liked Brian Adams and seemed briefly unsettled by my knowledge of this before realising he had left the cds on display in the car. It turned out that he, like myself, was a Beatles nut and was similarly obsessed with them. He also was a big fan of David Bowie and told me that he went to see the man himself in an Odeon theatre in Chatham when he was 12. We talked about The Beatles a lot, comparing albums, discussing the impossibility of choosing a favourite track and also talking over various myths and legends which surround the band. We got on really well and he told me that he thought I was born forty years too late.

For the rest of the week we got to know each other more and more. He told me about his failed marriage and two children and how he believed he was going through some sort of a midlife crisis, whilst I told him about my lack of direction and various worries. We talked a lot about football aswell. He was a Chelsea fan and the mickey was subsequently taken.

Throughout the week we were crossing our fingers that they might offer us some more work, something to tie us over the week after. On Thursday the same guy who had shown us the basics came in and told us that there wasn't any work for next week. Once he left Steve said that they should have told us that tomorrow, on our last day, because now (and he had taken the decision on behalf of both of us) we were going to do next to no work on our last day. I was fine with that. We had also been listening to the radio all week and it was starting to grate. It was the same songs everyday, each sounding more like the last and there was great irony in that over the cacophony of some dance song we would talk about whether disc one or two was better on the 'white' album. Late into Thursday afternoon, after we had been told we weren't needed next week, Steve suggested that tomorrow should be a Beatles Day and that we bring in some albums to listen to. I told him not to worry and that I would bring in some albums tomorrow.

On our last day I brought in about eight Beatles albums and the best of David Bowie just for good measure. The Beatles albums were played chronologically, in keeping with Beatle diplomacy, and by the end of the day we had just about enough time to listen to some Bowie.

That week would have been a lot less bearable if it wasn't for Steve. On our last day we went for a couple of drinks after work and swapped mobile numbers. I like to think that I made a friend amongst all that monotony and that was the last thing I was expecting.