Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Death of a Legend

So much has happened since the death of one of the greatest soul singers of my, and arguably anyone's, generation, I find myself only now sitting down to write a bit about what Amy Winehouse and her music meant to me.

It’s a mistake often made I think, to assume that because of the populist style of her music, and her public image, there wasn’t actually a great deal to her as an artist or a person. I actually think there was a great deal more to her than people generally believe. Yes, people praise her music but I often wonder whether, if she hadn't been such a master of the hook and many a catchy lyric, she would in fact have been as popular as she was. For me and many others, she was so much more talented than just this. She really could write, with lyrics which were bare and bold in equal measure, and a voice which had quality and individuality so rarely heard.

When I heard she’d died it wasn’t just sadness of the loss of such a great artist which troubled me so much, or even her extreme vulnerability which always seemed to mark her out from the rest of the pack – in the end tragically. In fact it was largely I think the memories her music brought back, and the idea that when she died that music and those memories went with her. The fact that she was a Londoner and I only really began to listen to her when I moved to the capital was of real significance – while so much about the city and its culture failed to inspire me, here was a sensational, unique person who was born here and I could relate to. It meant a great deal to me.

To reflect on her death with sadness though doesn’t really serve any purpose. She was a troubled soul, and despite opinions to the contrary, clearly unable to fight her demons and cope with everyday life. When I listen to her now, it serves only to remind me of this fact - but instead of being sad I remember it was this which made her special.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Apprentice 2011 - Tantrums, Tiaras and Egomaniacs

Following slippery evil leprechaun Jim’s miraculous escape from the boot in last night’s Apprentice, I felt compelled to marvel somewhat here at the audacity of this year’s candidates, and indeed the show itself.

Pure gold in terms of entertainment value, it can’t be denied that for kicking back and watching something that requires very little brain power, and let’s face it the opportunity to snigger at the corporate-style quips and sheer gall of some of the candidates, The Apprentice really can't be beaten. Whether I held out too much hope for this year’s series , I don’t know – I certainly reckoned that as this time round it was about finding a business partner for Sir Alan rather than an executive 'on a six-figure salary', some of the candidates might be a little bit more 'normal' than the eccentric self-adorers the show usually unearths. 

Helen seems like a pretty decent down-to-earth character with a preference for common sense. Though Susie does seem a bit whiny and wet behind the ears sometimes, she also comes out of most episodes well. My favourite of all is Tom - he has a kind of humble charm or something, and doesn't appear to feel the need to shout about his achievements. He's my bet for overall winner, with maybe Helen, Susie or Melody in the final with him.

These exceptions aside, I can't help but be instantly and irrationally repelled by the likes of some. I don't think it's the candidates themselves, rather the character traits they exhibit I have issue with. For right or for wrong, we live in a society of a 'survival of the fittest' mentality, but whatever happened to valuing individuals for their authentic selves, worts and all. Maybe in a boardroom, passivity and being generally agreeable aren't the most desirable of qualities, but I'd personally rather work with someone warm and generally more humble and human, than an apparent big 'I Am' like Jim or a cynical, professional put-downer like Zoe.

Fun though The Apprentice is, I say roll on the creation of a show which is as much about substance of character as it is about hailing the ever-revered ego.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Unnamed Footballer, by the unnamed blogger otherwise known as Rachael Dry.

Following the alleged revelations by the alleged press of the alleged Premiership footballer's alleged infidelity, my Dad alleged yesterday that he had seen said alleged footballer/adulterer/devil worshipper wandering down a street which cannot be named for legal reasons...allegedly looking sheepish.

Funny that, I thought, seeing as the rumours about him were in fact so 'unfounded', and based on so many an 'unnamed source', I'd begun to doubt whether The Unnamed Footballer had ever really existed. Maybe I had in fact dreamt up his presence on this planet, even perhaps created in my mind his lovely dark locks, down-to-earth demeanour and skill.

This got me wondering further. If the alleged allegations about his alleged behaviour with an allegedly gorgeous woman are true, maybe I had in fact conjured up in my head a kind of Mr. Dream Man who no other could or would ever match up to. A mirage, if you will.

But like the sight of a well-stocked bar in the middle of the Sahara, I sadly and suddenly see that this may be, and have always been, simply an optimistic illusion - though a fun one at that. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How to make the perfect cup of tea

Even back in 1946, the ‘rules’ for a perfect cup of tea were being debated. The author George Orwell was concerned enough with how to come up with the ideal version of the beverage that he was moved to pen a list of no less than 11 hard and fast rules for brewing up.

He reckoned that the issue of how to make a good cuppa mattered such a great deal to so many people around the world that it had the potential to cause ‘violent disputes.’ I tend toward liking the idea that people in war-torn countries across the land could still find time to care enough about the preparation of a good cup of tea to the extent that it could lead to violence.

Similarly, I’m moved and somewhat comforted by the knowledge that amid his political writings, social commentary and jaunts down coal mines, Orwell remembered to write down his top tips for tea, a veritable feast of advice on the do’s and don’ts of putting the kettle on. I picture him wandering round one of his many homes, perhaps pondering an essay on social injustice, and suddenly thinking to himself, ‘isn’t it about time I wrote a seminal work on conjuring up the perfect cuppa?’, and it’s a source of great amusement for me.

But to my musings on making the perfect cup of tea. In an ideal world of course, I would be sat on a plumped-up cushion at the Ritz, being served the drink in a china cup, in copious amounts, along with cake and cucumber sandwiches – sadly, an ideal world this is not.

One quick initial point by the way: if you are going to allow someone the privilege of lovingly preparing you a ‘nice cup of tea’, be sure that they not only know one end of a teaspoon from another and have a steady hand, but also – crucially – realise that the main ingredient of tea is in fact, tea, and not milk, the latter a belief sadly held by a great many people around the world who for the most part look entirely normal.

When preparing a cup of tea for yourself, your first move should be to seek out the appropriate container for your beverage. This should not be a huge crater-type cup more akin to a bucket, but a small and modest mug, perhaps ordained with a picture of your favourite animal or Star Wars character – lovingly drop your teabag of choice inside it.

Next, you need to add water to the kettle – imperative here is remembering that you are making tea for neither an ant nor a party of 500. Fill the kettle with a little dribble of water and you may well destroy it, fill it to the brim and you may find you’re still waiting in your kitchen come next year.

Once the kettle’s boiled, be sure to grab it promptly and pour to just above the three quarter level of your mug. Now would be a good time to adjust your radio station, wash up those dishes from earlier or simply enjoy daydreaming, with the precious few spare minutes this process is affording you. Return to your mug when the liquid has turned a dark brown, almost treacle colour, at which point you should grab a teaspoon and swiftly remove the bag from the mug and dispose of it.

Reach for a cold carton or bottle of semi-skimmed milk and add a splash of it to the brown liquid. This should leave you with a creamy, darkish caramel-coloured mug of hot tea, ready to be devoured.

On one final point, Orwell also threw in his tuppence-worth when it came to the issue of whether or not to add sugar. For me, this is a personal choice equating to whether you prefer lager or wine, tall or short men, Coronation Street or Eastenders, or Man United or Arsenal. Not for Orwell, who claimed that all tea with the exception of ‘Russian style’, ‘should be drunk without sugar.’

I’ll leave you with this: if you add salt to a nice bowl of tomato and basil soup, does it cease to be soup and instead transform into some new, as-yet-unnamed entity? Far be it from me to get into a semantic argument with Orwell, but I would suggest this question could become the modern day equivalent to the philosophical quandary, ‘if a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ Think on, Orwell, think on.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

History knocked, Manchester answered.

24 hours before one of the most significant days in Mancunian sporting history and I found myself almost giddy with excitement. A devoted Red since the age of 11, I have always felt the spirited rivalry we have with City keenly, and contentedly joined in with taunts about little Carlos Tevez following their defeat at our hands in last year's Carling Cup semi-final. But from that point onward, and really for many years before, I was certain that City's 'vengeance' would come, and would take some dramatic form.

Though like the rest of the red side of Manchester I had that distinctive sick feeling in my stomach on the day we were knocked out of the FA Cup by our arch-rivals, as I sat in a crowded pub in South Manchester taking in the atmosphere and watching our freak spring sunshine stream in through the doors and windows, I couldn't help but feel the result was something right and just.

City had deservedly earned their place at Wembley, my Blue friends and family members were ecstatic, and the weekend of my 30th birthday celebrations was perfected as United's 2-1 win over Chelsea put us within touching distance of the Premier League title.

As a proud Mancunian, I felt nothing but enthusiasm and exhilaration the day before the FA Cup Final, and the day of a United league game against Blackburn which if we got anything at all from, would mean we'd be crowned champions.

Following the full-time whistle at Wembley, I joined in with the other United fans in the Chorlton pub we were in, cheering our nineteenth title and taunting Merseyside, but also felt a sense of pride and elation on behalf of the Blues who were there, toasting the Cup Final result. Although inevitable, it was as disappointing to see United fans in the pub mocking the celebrations as it had been to hear reports of City fans referring to Munich following their semi-final win.

But I'll leave any negatives aside. It was a wonderful and special day for Manchester, and is forever etched in my memory.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The soundtrack to my 30 years

Music geek that I am, as I prepare to celebrate my 30th birthday, I have put together the soundtrack of my life so far: from Weller to Winehouse, as I play it I'm reminded of years of different experiences in Manchester, Leeds, North Wales, London, Oz, New York, Ireland and beyond.

Happy birthday to me:

1981 - Under Pressure, David Bowie
1982 - A Town Called Malice, the Jam
1983 - Beat It, Michael Jackson
1984 - Your Love is King, Sade
1985 - I'm Your Man, Wham
1986 - A Different Corner, George Michael
1987 - Where the Streets have no name, U2
1988 - Can't Stay away from you, Gloria Estefan
1989 - I Don't Want a lover, Texas
1990 - Step On, Happy Mondays
1991 - Unfinished Sympathy, Massive Attack
1992 - Baby Don't Cry, INXS
1993 - Regret, New Order
1994 - Girls and boys, Blur
1995 - Ironic, Alanis Morissette
1996 - A Design for life, Manic Street Preachers
1997 - Bitter Sweet Symphony, the Verve
1998 - All around the world, Oasis
1999 - Pick a part that's new, Stereophonics
2000 - Yellow, Coldplay
2001 - Fallin', Alicia Keys
2002 - The Zephyr Song, Red Hot Chili Peppers
2003 - Crazy in love, Beyonce
2004 - Somewhere only where we know, Keane
2005 - Black and white town, Doves
2006 - Rehab, Amy Winehouse
2007 - Hometown glory, Adele
2008 - Viva la Vida, Coldplay
2009 - Empire State of Mind (In New York), Alicia Keys
2010 - Upside Down, Paloma Faith
2011 - Someone like you, Adele

Thursday, March 17, 2011


It’s only occurred to me in more recent years that when I am feeling sad for whatever reason, there are in fact very few things that can coax me out of my state of mind in the present moment. In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes of the importance of being and staying present – while I’m with this all the way, there are many times when I yearn to be anything but present, now perhaps being one of those times.

A lover of politics, football, news, the written word, Radio 2, Frankie Boyle, many a land far far away, the sunshine, kittens, Twitter, Chardonnay, a good melody, and of course Gabriel Byrne, I don’t consider myself to be someone who has problems with their level of spirit– but there is no getting away from the fact that there are times when very little can induce me to change a gloomy mindset. I have decided to name this mindset Blah.

One afternoon quite recently I found that none of the things which usually give me mood upgrade were working. I used to experience something similar once every couple of months when I lived in London when songs I love would come on my mp3 player during my commute – I’d know I’d been taken over by Blah if they suddenly failed to have any effect.

Later on that same afternoon I came home to find that although lots of little things hadn’t managed to improve my mood throughout the day, there were certain things which were failsafe options: select music, Family Guy, my laptop, my notepad, a bath, a book and, though less than ideal, a packet of cigarettes.

Right now I’m listening to Paloma Faith. I feel better already.