Guitar Hero

If you think your favourite band isn’t making pop music, regardless whatever justifications spring to mind, you’re deluding yourself.

Pop Music is ‘commercially recorded music, often oriented toward a youth market, usually consisting of relatively short, simple songs utilising technological innovations to produce new variations on existing themes’. So regardless of which caveat you’ve chosen to balance your beloved on their pedestal, they’re still a pop band.

I’m not a classical music fan, but if you’re making pop music or consider yourself a ‘serious music fan’, please steer clear of the idea that your favourite band’s music compares to that of Bach, Mozart or Stravinsky. It doesn’t. And if you genuinely believe that The Beatles ‘invented’ new musical theory because a number of the chords and progressions in the album Rubber Soul are slightly left-field, then why aren’t you listening to Hildegard von Bingen?

Music theory isn’t important to pop fans and pop musicians, who don’t appreciate complex music as fully as a classical musician. I don’t either, it bores me to death. The music is too challenging, the associations too elitist. Campy empire-building music that swaggers with precision of a marching war machine, but sounds like accompaniment to tea and cucumber sandwiches. I like my music to be tangible. I love simple things done well. I enjoy pop music as ‘cultural product’, as commentary on day to day issues. I like the mix of new technology with traditional structures. Classical music receive credit for its depth and complexity, which is why any serious musician would find comparisons of The Beatles with Beethoven insulting.

‘Serious Music Fans’ (by which I mean pop music fans who take it too seriously, rather than serious music fans) often claim their favourite band is breaking new ground, when they make vague gestures. You can read posts on forums everywhere declaring a band experimental because “they’ve used drop D tuning”. This most minor deviation from the norm, is really stretching the idea of innovation. Hundreds of charting rock singles, including several by ‘arch copyists’ Nickelback, use drop D . These so called innovations are exactly the opposite, they’re safe bets. But there is nothing wrong with this, as long as you’re not deluding yourself.

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Five reasons your kitchen timer is in the wrong room

Shocked by our latest gas bill, we decided to take drastic measures – it was time to shorten our showers.  A cheap digital kitchen timer serves as a useful device for our new challenge – to shower in four minutes or under.  This simple regime has already demonstrated benefits – including some unexpected ones…

 1. Save water

No surprises here – shorter showers mean less water used.  Good for the environment as well as for your water bill.

 2. Save gas

This was our main motivator – to reduce our gas bill.  Every extra minute in the shower is another minute of boiler power, heating up your morning waterfall.  Given that gas bills have doubled since 2002 and are predicted to rise by another 27% by 2020, the shower timer should lead to some significant savings.

3. Save time

Quicker showers means you save time.  You choose whether that’s extra minutes in bed, or extra minutes on your work flexi-sheet credit.

 4. Boost your energy levels

Okay, this one was unexpected.  But in order to finish your shower before the timer rings, you have to ‘gee yourself up’ and get moving, rather than mindlessly daydreaming in the bathroom.  Adjusting to a fast-moving pace stays with you for the rest of your morning routine, and we’ve found you start moving more quickly and purposely in getting dressed, eating breakfast and getting out of the house – and you start your day with more of a spring in your step.

5. The ‘sport’ factor

Yes, that’s right – its become a source of friendly competition in our household.  An unintended consequence of the shower timer has been a challenge to see who can take the quickest shower!  Perhaps we should spend the money we save on gas bills on a special prize for the winner…

So, there you have it – five reasons to move your kitchen timer to your bathroom.  And I didn’t even say “money down the drain” once (sorry).

Photos from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

Is the world taking the piss?

Things annoy me.  Lots of things.  Most things.  Sometimes everything. I walk around in a perpetual state of irritation.  It’s like the world is taking the piss.

You know the kind of thing.  Your bed doesn’t quite fit the room and every time you walk around it your blood pressure spikes.   It’s not long before the bed and how it gets in your way is all you can think about.

Artwork by Josephine Scales

This bed ‘problem’ eats away at you.  It becomes an obsession.  You think about how wrong the bed is and how it ruins your room.  You hate the bed.   Until one morning when you’re innocently trying to find both of your work socks it occurs to you that if said bed was just 6 inches shorter it would fit the room better.   Your bedroom would be perfect.  Suddenly there it was, the way to happiness. You grasp it with all the strength you have.

Once the dream’s got hold of you you’re helpless.  If the bed fit the room better you could start and end the day in a haven of correct proportions.  You could walk around the bed in space that you have created.   You might even find a spot for a small chair where you could sit and quietly read.  What fool wouldn’t chase such aspirations?

Because you are no feckless dreamer, a feasibility study must be made and plans drafted.  You examine the bed closely to establish the exact nature of its’ construction.  You measure and re-measure.   You draw up mental lists of the tools required and the necessary steps to be taken.  Once you have assured yourself the plan is viable you are ready.

I suppose it might have been polite to tell the other occupant of the bed what I was doing, but it hardly seemed necessary.  Of course they will be pleased, delighted even with the positive change I’m bringing into their life.  Besides, in my experience it’s best not to give other peoples lack of faith and vision a chance to interfere with a good plan. What if you fuck up completely?  What if you destroy the bed?  Don’t internalise it.   While you are striving for the perfect world others imagine devastation.  If you take it to heart you’d sit on your arse most of your life.

As it was, I was discovered mid project, with bed bits, chopped up bed bits, tools, and dust everywhere. I was using a kitchen chair as my sawhorse while I removed the last 6 inch section.  Trying to remember what St Johns Ambulance taught me about treating shock all I could say was ‘Don’t worry, it’s not finished’.   My explanation wasn’t satisfactory, the reply was confused, ‘you’re cutting the end off the bed, chopping it down 6 inches and then sticking the legs back on?’.  ‘Yes’ I said ‘so that it fits the room better’.  The idea was ludicrous but made perfect sense and it was too late to stop now.

You’d never know the bed had had major surgery and it does fit the room better.  The joy I got walking around it, admiring my work was immeasurable.   Sometimes I did a little skip round just because I could.  And I was happy, truly happy, for 2 weeks at least.  It’s the kitchen doors you see, if only they weren’t grey, I can’t stand them.  Every time I look at them I think how much happier I would be if they were different.

The joy of real ale…

Over the last year I have somehow managed to get myself invited along to a couple of free Liverpool Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) events. They are having a real drive to get more women interested in real ale and they are doing this by feeding me delicious free beer (it is totally working). They are doing so well at recruiting new members (both male and female) that they have been awarded the national membership award. On Tuesday night about 30 women attended an event in The Dispensary to celebrate this award. As well as some tasty nibbles and a fabulous cake (see picture) there were five real ales to taste.

Now I am pretty new to real ale (more of a G&T or sauvignon blanc kind of gal) and am just beginning to get my mouth round the vocabulary but I will try my best.

We started with a nip of Ossett Brewery’s Silver Shadow. It was a light gold pale ale. It was refreshing and light with a nice hoppy flavour and very drinkable. Next up was an amazingly weird and interesting stout from Titanic Brewery (pictured). It was called Cappuccino and smelt exactly like Tia Maria and tasted like the barman had put a dash of it in the glass before the beer. And it came with chocolate sprinkled on top! It was quite tasty and a novel experience but not being a big fan of stout the smell was the best bit about it for me. The third of a pint was enough for me but some of the other women present said they would have it as pudding.

Decade from York Brewery (left) and Cappuccino from Titanic Brewery (right)

Decade from York Brewery (left) and Cappuccino from Titanic Brewery (right)

Next we headed north to the Lakes for Hawkshead Brewery’s Lakeland Gold. This darker more full bodied bitter isn’t really my thing to drink as I like beer as light as possible. However, as we discovered at another CAMRA event, this beer goes very well with cheese, especially strong cheddar. (If you haven’t tried beer and cheese matching before you really should – we are a little bit addicted)

Next up was the delicious Decade from the York Brewery. It was light blonde ale with citrus and floral notes, and I could have drunk many pints of it. So I was rather sad when I returned to the bar for a second pint to find it had run out. Luckily the replacement was as good, if not better. So the evening finished with White Rat from the Rat Brewery in Huddersfield. It was similar to the Decade in that is was light and slightly fruity with a lovely flowery sweet aftertaste. So the best beers of the evening were, for me at least, White Rat and Decade. A group of us are off to Keswick Beer Festival on the Jubilee weekend and I really hope they have one of those two on tap.

If you haven’t tried much real ale I can thoroughly recommend putting in some effort to find what you like. Yep, some is pretty unpleasant but some styles are fabulous, you just need to find the right one for you. I have had to get over my slight embarrassment at drinking half pints (it just feels so juvenile or like an old lady, and makes my hand look so big) but ordering a pint often means half way through I decide I don’t like it. If you want to try lots of different beers we would recommend the Roscoe Head (behind Hot n Tender on Leece St) as you can get a tasting tray of three thirds of different pints in a rack. Good way to try new things (and only small if you don’t like it!) For beer to drink at home Ship in a Bottle on Whitechapel has a great selection of local, national and international bottled beer.

Descriptions and drinking assistance from Lindsey and Josephine.

www.liverpoolcamra.org.uk
www.theshipinabottle.co.uk

Beer cake to celebrate

Visiting Brussels…

Illustration by the delightfully talented Josephine.

At an excellent Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) women’s event last night (review to follow) I was telling my friends about going to a conference in Brussels last week. I loved Brussels and had a great time but based on what I told them about the trip the ‘other’ Antoinette was not impressed. I left with the following scribbled on a bit of paper and promised I would share it on our blog as a warning to you all.

5 top reasons not to go to Brussels, by guest blogger the ‘other’ Antoinette.

1.They burn your hand with molten waffle sugar
2.They won’t let you through security with camembert
3.They suggest, as an alternative, you go and eat the whole camembert quickly and come back to security
4.They don’t provide crackers, pickle or even a plate to let you do this
5.They fill you up with excellent conference food [and waffles] before the airport so you don’t even want to eat the camembert

Standing on the shoulders of Giants

As April’s Titanic anniversary drew nearer, I was pretty excited about the prospect of French street theatre specialists Royal de Luxe bringing a new production to Liverpool. A rival company, La Machine (also based in Nantes) brought the giant spider ‘La Princesse’ to the City in 2008 as part of the Capital of Culture programme. Four years on, some things have changed in the city but some things stay the same and it seems the appetite for large-scale public events remains as insatiable as ever.

A week before the Sea Odyssey – Giant Spectacular event, I was working at the Grand National and missed a call that would have landed me a place working with Royal de Luxe. I was pretty disappointed but then a few days later there was a second call and I was asked to get to the secret rehearsal venue asap, to replace someone who left the team. Soon I found myself at Bramley-Moore Dock (near the colossal Tobacco Warehouse), putting on a hi-vis jacket, hard hat and facing two huge marionettes and a giant dog. This was set to become, at the very least, a unique experience.

One thing that became apparent after a few hours working at the Site was the confusing mix of French and local crews, the language barrier and the tensions of two different groups thrown together. The Royal de Luxe team, who it turns out are mostly French but also include several other nationalities, are a tight knit group who have travelled round the world together. With a disparate group of temporary local workers coming into that environment, some problems were bound to arise. However, with patience, a bit of effort trying some broken French and plenty of sign language, the barriers quickly broke down.

Tuesday before the event was my first full day on the job and some of the stories I was told of chaotic organisation, lack of communication, long periods of inactivity became apparent and could easily have become frustrating. The key was to appreciate that the Giant Spectacular was (albeit on a massive scale) street theatre. Theatre takes time, it’s not always a simple task, it can’t be judged as a standard enterprise. It is, rightly so, a fluid rather than a transactional process. Throw in various mechanical and remote controlled systems and staging the event becomes very complicated indeed. It was clear that a lot of patience was required on all sides. Once we relaxed a little, the frequent changes of pace and demands of rehearsal became much easier.

I was part of the team operating Xolo, the dog that was to accompany the Little Girl Giant throughout the weekend. The Uncle (larger) Giant had a distinct team and throughout the rehearsals we didn’t really interact much. However, the crews of the Girl Giant and Xolo working alongside each other was perfect and it felt like we had the more interesting tasks. The Uncle has impact because of his sheer size (standing at around 50 foot high). By contrast it felt that the impact of the Girl and Dog was in their interaction, in the variety of actions they could perform and a greater subtlety of expressions.

The interaction was sometimes hard to see fully in rehearsal but over the weekend it became joyfully apparent. It was fantastic to see Xolo approaching children in the crowd and at one point carrying a girl on his back. Similarly, the Girl Giant had children swinging from her arms at various points along the route and perhaps spectacularly of all, danced high in the air at Kings Dock on Saturday and Sunday. The separation of the Giants was interesting to experience from a workers point of view but when all three came together, it felt very special. When they met and the Girl found her Uncle on Saturday evening, the reunion was a genuinely emotional experience. From various accounts, it seems to have had an impact on the crowds but the same was definitely felt by many on the crew. Talking with some friends on the team, we all said it was a bit strange to have an emotional response – we know they are giant marionettes made of wood and metal – but it can become hard not to invest, or rather project emotions, into the performance.

My main task over the weekend was to walk behind Xolo, guiding the rig when it reversed and making sure the crowds stepped back when we turned around. In some places this was pretty simple but it became very challenging in tight spots. However, my position did give me the oppourtunity to observe the crowds and see their reactions up close. Before the performance began I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or how well we would be received, but from the start of the event on Friday the reactions were universally positive.

The crowds in Stanley Park, right the way through to Everton Brow exceeded my expectations and were amazing to see. I quickly heard words and congratulations which would recur throughout the three days: ‘Brilliant’, ‘Fantastic’, ‘Incredible’, ‘Well done!’ or just ‘Wow’ plus a spattering of ‘Bravo les Francais!’. I shook some hands, was patted on the back along the way. Although I only played a small part in the whole event I felt incredibly proud of what the team was doing together. Later, as we moved down into town and eventually to St George’s Plateau, the crowds and reception there took my breath away. As Xolo and the team rode along Lime Street, we were greeted by a sea of people all around. Further on in the city centre people on the streets were joined by those peering out of windows and from balconies of flats, offices, shops and pubs, eager to experience the spectacle as we made our way past. It felt that we were part of a fantastic shared experience.

The nature of shared experience is one of the most interesting aspects of the Giant Spectacular, as with any large-scale public performance. One feature that those I worked with talked about and local commentators noted was the number of people taking photos and video, sharing their recordings, updating social networks. All along the route I would say at least 75% of people were recording what they saw. Maybe half on phones and half on cameras but also a significant number of people using iPads and other tablets. The use of tablets is what stood out the most and just looked impractical. Though it didn’t spoil my experience, I don’t think I would have been happy to stand behind someone using one.

For me it has sparked an examination of why we are so keen to take so many photos. At what point does taking photos to remember and share the experience tip over into only experiencing the event through a screen, whether that be a viewfinder or a 9 x 7” iPad display? Adverts for the ‘New iPad’ boast about the quality of its display, suggesting it ‘helps you connect better with the things you love’, but surely even with the best display available, it will never substitute for the reality of what is looming large in front of you. Why view the event through your giant screen when you can see the giants for real and unfiltered? Some theories on use of cameras to record experiences suggest it enhances the event but to my mind over use can reduce the experience and dampen the enjoyment.

Although tired by the end of the weekend, and slightly wet after a few showers, our enjoyment was anything but diminished. Sunday’s finale proved a fitting ending and cemented memories of a truly amazing experience. All three giants strolled along The Strand, with Xolo the dog running in front, then back and around amongst the parade. The procession was punctuated regularly with the clash of giant cymbals and the blast of a mail cannon firing confetti and hand-written letters into the air and down onto the crowd. One of the Royal de Luxe company had died suddenly just before the production came to Liverpool and I later found out that some of his ashes had been mixed in with the confetti, postcards and letters blown triumphantly into the air. Perhaps a fitting tribute to someone who had helped bring the performance to life.

At midday, the Giants moved to a ship waiting in Canning Dock. Amongst mist and to the sound of foghorns they sailed away, into the River and we waved goodbye. For the estimated half a million people who visited the City over the weekend, it will hopefully be an event to remember for many years. For those who worked on the team, it was one incredible experience. On Sunday night we celebrated with Champagne, then Pernod and many other drinks. It felt as though we had been welcomed into a crazy but loveable family for a week our lives and hopefully at some point in the future we may get to experience it all over again. As was shouted many times on the streets, Bravo les Francais!

Spire Restaurant, Allerton.

Sea bass with artichoke puree, potato pearls, peas, carrots and white wine sauce

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit Spire twice in 5 days. The Monday night was our anniversary so we celebrated with the incredibly good value two courses for £14.95. Then the following Friday my mother came to stay and I had been going on about Spire so much she demanded to try it. Don’t worry though, I’ll only focus on the Monday night experience otherwise this could turn into a nine million word review with details of ten different dishes!

Prior to that week I had only been to this little restaurant off Allerton Road in Liverpool once before and I was worried it would not live up to the excellent experience of our first trip in January.

Walking in I was again a bit disappointed; the decor is a bit dull (polystyrene ceiling tiles?) and there doesn’t seem to be much atmosphere. However, I can totally forgive this as the food makes up for any shortcoming in the venue. Given that the set menu is so reasonable (mains on the a la carte are usually around £15-£20) the quality is exceptional. The meal started with acute five inch diameter focaccia which was sweet, soft and warm with a crispy top. It comes with butter and a deliciously fresh basil oil that I could happily eat with a spoon.

For starters I had a piece of wonderfully soft slow-cooked pork fried in crisp breadcrumbs. It came with a delicious sweet apple puree and lovely earthy mushrooms that added a great umani element. My lady friend had a salad. The crisp saltiness of the grilled halloumi was a great contrast to the sweet pomegranate seeds and a really rich, garlicky (but somehow not overpowering) dressing and crisp romaine lettuce made it into a more exciting version of a caesar salad.

For main course we both had sea bass with artichoke puree, potato pearls, peas, carrots and white wine sauce (pictured). It was £3 supplement but worth every penny and definitely the star of the meal. The fish was perfectly cooked with crispy skin that worked to enhance the ‘fishiness’. The sauce was smooth, creamy and sweet and the peas were delicious (which is a bold statement for me as I usually find them an incredibly dull vegetable) The potato pearls were very pleasing and soft but still perfectly round. The dish was topped with shredded radish and microleaves which added a great fresh element and cut through the rich sauce. Overall incredibly satisfying and I could happily have eaten two.

For pudding we shared an apple tarte tatin which was rich and sweet with a crisp base and generous chunks of apple. It was sat in a vanilla sauce and vanilla ice cream. The house Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is good and great value at only £15. Our total bill came to £50 which I think is almost a steal for food of this quality.

The second time I visited that week the stand out dishes werea rhubarb sorbet and the duck and the chicken liver parfaits (bothpure joy and better than any parfait I’ve had in France – they feel like they have been whipped for hours and are probably about 40% butter). After dinner we each had a glass of Californian Black Muscat which was such a revelation we ordered a second glass each and tracked down a bottle at Scratchards Wine Merchants the next morning. I don’t usually get enthusiastic about dessert wine but this was like damson gin, but smoother, fruitier and incredibly drinkable. The bottle in my fridge is already half empty.

I like Spire, I really like Spire. It is such a refreshing restaurant that serves good quality, exciting and reasonably priced food. It is doesn’t feel pretentious or add £10 to each main just for the name above the door. Being out of town seems to keep the prices down and it is better than all the chain restaurants in town that serve unexciting food for the same price. I have now been three times and only once have I had a less than perfect dish (a trio of fish that was a bit overcooked). This restaurant is small, feels personal and the service is friendly.

In fact, I have decided I love Spire and I am officially declaring it my favourite restaurant in Liverpool. We’ll have dinner there for my birthday I think fellow Picklers (do you mind if I call you that…?)

www.spirerestaurant.co.uk
Number One, Church Road, Liverpool L15 9EA.

Making time for the important stuff in life

Who among us can honestly say we have never experienced stress and frustration at our own procrastination?

Maybe we want to do more with our evenings and weekends, like pick up that dusty guitar that’s been sitting lonely in the corner, or learn a second language, or finally do something about the fact that “there’s a novel inside me, if only I got around to writing it!”.

Ever had to stay late in the office, or bring home work at the weekend because you’d spent ages procrastinating or staring blankly at the screen, not getting anything done?  Or maybe you find yourself putting off the important things on your to do list because you don’t know where to start, and its easier to keep yourself busy with plenty of tiny and completely irrelevant errands, just so you can tick something off the to do list and gain that all-important sense of achievement.

Here are some simple techniques for getting the work stuff done faster, and freeing up time to attend to your inner guitar hero / budding author / *insert your own aspiration here!

Puree some tomatoes

Created by Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique is a productivity technique centred around the use of a kitchen timer (as any pizza-lover will know, “pomodoro” is Italian for tomato, and the technique was originally created using a tomato-shaped kitchen timer).

To start, you set yourself a clear goal of what you want to achieve, set a timer for 25 minutes (equal to one ‘pomodoro’) and focus on the task in hand.  When the buzzer goes off, you get a five minute break before your next 25 minute session.  After four ‘pomodoros’, you are rewarded with a longer break.

The technique also encourages you to become more aware of internal and external distractions and to resist them.  And it really works!  It is so much easier to resist checking email or Facebook constantly when you are able to tell yourself there is only 12 minutes (or whatever) until your next break.

Virtually every friend I’ve introduced this technique to in the past year has fallen in love with it.  Try it out one morning – and you’re likely to enjoy one of the most productive days you’ve ever experienced.

Detailed instructions are available on the Pomodoro Technique website.

 

Eat a frog

Brian Tracy’s book “Eat that Frog” encourages us to do just that – eat a ‘frog’ every morning.  The frog metaphor refers to the difficult or unappealing tasks we’ve been putting off.  We all have those, right?

The book’s philosophy is based around the saying that “if the first thing you do in the morning is to eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s probably the worst thing you’ll do all day”.

Tracy urges us to think critically about our goals are, how to prioritise them, and to set deadlines.  Essentially, by eating the ‘frog’ task first thing, we’re freed up from the stress and anxiety caused by the anticipation of having to tackle it.  We get the ‘worst’ jobs out of the way and prioritise the things that will actually make the biggest impact on our lives.  Rather than filling up time with insignificant but easy tasks, we use our limited time more wisely, making progress with the things that will help us move forward and achieve things in life that are really important to us.

 

Let me know how you get on with either of these techniques, and share any other tips for making time for what’s important in life.

Lindsey is in her final year of a Sociology PhD – essentially a four-year lesson in overcoming procrastination and getting lots done!

 

Original art by Josephine Scales

 

 

Photos by http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/