Saturday, March 31, 2007

Saturdays are Made of This

Today has been a fairly average Saturday. But the very fact that it's been Saturday makes it automatically pretty damn good. For so many years, as a student, and in my bookshop days, I worked on Saturdays, and sometimes even Sundays, so now that I inhabit the grown-up world of 'Mon-Fri, 9-5 work', weekends are always something of a celebration. Sundays are great too, but right now I'm feeling the Saturday love, and am inspired to share some of the things that define my own personal Saturday utopia...

Sleep... The all-important signifier that the weekend has landed... being woken by one's biological timeclock at 7am, opening one eye to look at the clock, then blissfully realising that you don't have to get up for work, and returning into a smug, mellow doze for several more hours. On finally rising at one's own pace, two cups of tea are essential to reinforce that feeling of weekendly indulgence.

Pampering...This could involve anything from a long hot bath, to a massage or facial, but today took the form of a well-needed haircut at my funky local unisex barber in Kemptown - Barber Blacksheep. In the lovely Sonja, I have finally discovered someone who understands my unruly mop, and so getting a trim has become a pleasure rather than a trial. As I sat waiting my turn, enjoying the mellow ska being played on the salon stereo, I also indulged one of my other weekend pleasures - reading the paper. I admit to deferring the intake of serious news in favour of heading straight for Jon Ronson's column in the Guardian magazine. His witty, informal style of writing is the sort of journalism to which I aspire. The lady next to me, with whom I happily shared my supplements, was also a big fan.

Shopping... The art of weekend shopping (as opposed to pressured lunchtime missions in Lewes) falls into three distinct camps - cultural (books, music, films), aesthetic (clothes, shoes, accessories) and food (from anywhere other than the supermarket). I am pleased to report that I successfully pursued two out of these three whilst out and about today. Hanging out in the outstanding Rounder Records is almost a hobby in itself - chatting to (and out-geeking) the knowledgeable and ever so-slightly snobby staff, and coming away with way more CDs than I intended to buy - typically a few bargain 'classics' and one or two current/chart albums. But I must confess to a rare infidelity on this particular outing, as I was sucked into Fopp, which seems to be the music shop equivalent of Ikea - tempting you with endless bargains that seem too cheap to resist, causing you to splurge unintentionally. Today I was tempted by: Amy Winehouse - Frank (I've been loving the new album, and it was only a fiver - see! SEE! that's how they get you!), LCD Soundsystem - Of Silver (a 6Music favourite that's got under my skin) and Bright Eyes - Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. I still love you Rounder, please don't be cross.

Food... Obviously eating is an integral part of every day, but Saturdays afford the opportunity to indulge a little more than usual in the art of culinary appreciation. My home-cooked veggie breakfasts are rather fine, if I do say so myself, and there is nothing nicer than lunching out at one of Brighton's many excellent cafes (regular favourites include Food for Friends, 32, Bill's, The Sanctuary). Rather unusually though, today's foodie moment didn't happen until this evening, when I concocted home-made stuffed vine leaves, a first-attempt and a personal triumph!

Drink... Not exclusively a weekend pursuit, but usually commenced in earnest on a Friday, the vino-moment is somehow more special on a Saturday, when the aforementioned activities have induced a different kind of thirst to the slumped-on-the-sofa-swigging-at-end-of-working-day kind you get on a Friday. The Saturday glass of wine is to be sipped and savoured, usually as a precursor to further drinking of the spirit variety, and often a means of warming up before heading out on the town. In anticipation of a home-based weekend, my wine rack is currently satisfyingly well-stocked, and in between typing I'm sipping a cheeky Rioja from one of my over-sized wine glasses. I really want a set of those whole-bottle sized ones, but am aware that this may not be a particularly sensible idea... just one glass... hmmmm....

Dancing... Sadly this is the one pleasure in which I shall not be indulging today. But then I am still recovering from a few hectic weekends in which there was much drunken flailing, and am consciously conserving my energy for some planned party excursions to come...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bonding, Boozing and Bantering

Having been left to my own devices for two weeks while Ant's away walking in Spain, I've been keeping myself busy, reaffirming old friendships and cementing new ones. Several of my close comrades have recently split from their partners, and so are back on the party circuit, and in need of the comfort of old friends - and whilst I'm sad for them that their relationships didn't work out, I'm delighted to be seeing more of them again as a result. The wonders of the www have also facilitated the renewal of regular contact with another, rather less gregarious chum, with whom I've been chatting online most days in the last couple of weeks. I don't make friends all that easily (probably due to a combination of my intolerance and perceived stand-offishness), but recently I've been pleasantly surprised at the surge of kindred spirits to have crossed my path. On Friday I spent a drunken night in the pub with two of these new mates - Harry and Nick. I'd met Harry down in Exeter at Brian's 30th a few weeks ago, and we'd stayed in touch via myspace, so I was pleased when she said she was planning a visit (her first) to sunny Brighton. I knew she'd love it here, being a self-confessed eco-warrior/hippy chick, and felt honoured to toast her first pint in my beloved home town. Nick joined us later in the evening, and so the hardcore banter began. I've known Nick for a while through mutual friends, but we never really hit it off until recently, possibly because we are in fact rather too similar - both scathing loud show-offs! But we'd finally clicked during our recent West Country jaunt, and established a playful repartee (in between rum-swigging and improvised 12-bar blues) which was re-ignited in the Park Crescent on Friday, much to Harry's amusement. After four pints of rather nice German beer, I bounced back home up Southover Street, listening to Kasabian, and smiling at fellow revellers falling out of pubs along the way.

On Saturday, after a much-needed lie-in, Harry and I met up again for lunch, both mildly jaded from the night before, but soon revived by the wholesome fare on offer at the legendary Terre a Terre. After a little retail therapy, during which I purchased some cute disco-pirate-esque shoes and a floaty summer dress, I hopped on the train up to London for a long overdue reunion with some old friends from my first publishing job. Molly -who escaped the underpaid world of books in favour of a career in law - was celebrating her 30th birthday, and I hadn't seen her since my own big three-zero, 18 months ago. It had been even longer since I'd seen Michael (who still works at Frances Lincoln), and so I was chuffed that he made it along too. Having warmed up with a couple of beers (Belgian this time) and some nostalgic chitchat, I hooked up with Mat, who was heading down to Brighton for a big house party, to which half of Brighton had apparently been invited. He and I only met properly at Christmas, despite having several mutual friends in common. Our friendship was born during the mayhem of Matty's 30th party, at which a shared sense of humour and mutual horror at the various goings-on kept each other sane (almost). After a jovial, rum-fuelled train journey, we alighted at Preston Park and found ourselves once again in a den of hedonistic frivolity - a typical Brighton house-party in other words. I was surprised to see a couple of work colleagues there, as well as several good friends, but not so impressed when the police rolled up and arrested two party-goers. This pretty much killed the atmosphere for me, and it felt like a good point to escape the madness, whilst also saving myself the embarrassment of becoming completely out of control and possibly telling the police officer that I loved her. I reckon this was about 3am - quite respectable for me really. Sunday was spent sleeping, eating and generally basking in the pleasant glow of amity. To any of my friends (old or new) who may be reading this - thank you for being so very lovely and keeping an old bird happy! Let's do it again soon...

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Arcade Fire, Brixton Academy 2007


Somewhere behind the blurry neon lights in this picture stands one of the most hyped and lauded bands of the moment, giving it their all at Brixton Academy on the last London date of their current tour last Saturday. As a relatively recent convert to Arcade Fire, my introduction to them - from a friend's enthusiastic recommendation a few months ago, to the last minute purchase on ebay of a ticket to see them live - has been something of a whirlwind experience. The new album, Neon Bible, was released a couple of weeks ago, and I had only had a chance to listen to it once on a decent stereo before the gig, but that was sufficient to thoroughly whet my appetite. Arcade Fire is a band that really should be seen live to be fully appreciated. The sheer scale of them (8 members, including a 6'5” lead singer) made an immediate impact, as they stormed onto the stage, sporting an impressive array of instruments, and a collective attitude that seemed to infect and inflame an already excitable audience. Then comes the noise... The Independent recently described their sound as “an aural assault”, and as I can't think of an adequate summary of my own, I have decided to run with this theory. Hijacking an eclectic assortment of musical influences - then perverting, distorting and entirely reinventing them - these aggressively passionate musicians have created a unique sound that defies expectation. As a willing victim of this auditory onslaught, I was compelled to jump up and down in fevered appreciation of my re-education, so much so that my shins are still throbbing two days later.



Monday, March 12, 2007

Hooray, It's Monday!

It's Monday... Traditionally the day in which we mourn the passing of the weekend and dread the return to the office. But today I feel happy to be back at my desk after a week off sick and bored at home. It helps that it is a glorious Spring day here in Lewes, and that I am still buzzing after an invigorating cycle in the sunshine - my first two-wheeled commute since November, when it got too dark to brave the unlit cycle path between Lewes and Falmer (note to East Sussex County Council - please rectify this before next winter).

On Saturday I went to see Wicked again, this time with Damien, who has just split with his long-term partner and had a ticket going begging - well, who else would he take?! It had been six months since I first saw this 'thrillifying' new musical (see previous blog 'Green is the New Black'), and I was intrigued to see for myself how well the new Elphaba, Kerry Ellis, was doing at filling Idina Menzel's now legendary shoes in the leading role. Damien's excitement at seeing it for the first time was contagious, and we both sat breathless as the dramatic opening chords blasted out. I'm not sure if she really is any shorter than her predecessor, but what struck me first-off about Ellis was her lack of physical presence in comparison to Menzel. This compounded with an immediate irritation at her Americanised singing (she is English, and delivers her speaking lines in an English accent, so why sing with an American one, especially when none of the rest of the cast do? Argh!), meant she was off to a bad start with me. In a way, I think it's a shame that they ever brought Menzel to the West End (although I am glad I got the chance to see her), as whoever followed her was bound to feel somewhat intimidated, and tempted to immitate her rendition of the part rather than making it fully their own. Having said all that, Ellis is obvoiusly not without talent, and carried the challenging role with spirited enthusiam. Removing the iconic Menzel from the equation has also given the rest of the cast more of a chance to shine, and makes it more of an ensemble piece than a one-woman show! I particularly appreciated Helen Dallimore's performance as Glinda this time round - her transition from air-headed bimbo to forceful good fairy is wonderfully executed, and emphasised by a notable change in singing style. Overall, the production seems to have settled nicely, complete with a few tweaks here and there, and it's still a mind-blowingly good show.

As if my weekend wasn't camp enough already (West End show with GBF), on Sunday I came face-to-face with gay-icon and pop princess Kylie Minogue! I was enjoying a yummy veggie breakfast (the poached eggs were a bit over-done mind) at Bill's cafe, pondering over my disappointing lack of purchases at the vintage fashion fair I'd just been to, when there she was in all her diminuitive glory - smiling sweetly at me as she walked right past our table! OhMyGod! Of course I immediately Twittered my celeb-spot, and eagerly texted all my gay friends - including the couple who had just blown me out for lunch... that'll teach them! The rest of the weekend was spent baking, twittering and trying to stay awake whilst watching the disappointingly tedious Superman Returns.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

23:23

It's 23.23 and I'm in my front room listening to the new Do Make Say Think album, You, You're a History in Rust, for the first time. I probably shouldn't have it up so loud, considering the time of night, but I feel I'm educating my neighbours, who have previously shown no reservations about "sharing" Rod Stewart and other such soft rock abhorrences at more ungodly hours than this. Besides, this is an album that deserves to be listened to at full volume - both stirring and soothing, it is proving the ideal Friday night combination.

Earlier this evening I partook of some culture by way of a trip to the theatre - to see Harold Pinter's Old Times at the Theatre Royal. It was an odd play. And disconcertingly short. I find Pinter's dialogue, whilst compellingly naturalistic in intent (awkward pauses, unfinished sentences etc.), somewhat flat in execution. This three-hander concerns a reunion after 20 years between two girlfriends, in the presence of one of their husbands, who, it transpires, has a hitherto unknown connection to his wife's old friend. Each character reminisces aloud, but also very much in their own little world, so that the backstory becomes confused and one is unable to piece together any kind of coherent picture of the past. It concludes with the husband sobbing into his wife's lap while she stares coldly into the middle distance. The impetus for his outburst remained unclear to me, but perhaps that was the point. In confusing the audience Pinter demonstrates the weakness of the human mind, how easily memories are bent according to the will or subsequent experiences of their owner, and how people have different recollections of the same event years later. An interesting concept, and commendably undertaken by an undeniably talented cast and director in this production. But overall, it left me cold. Just as well I had the superb aforementioned album waiting at home to revive and soothe me. It's now 23:58, the CD is finished, and whilst I'm tempted to listen to it all over again (ideally under the influence of a large Godfather*) my eyelids are beginning to droop and my bed is calling...


*Whiskey & Amaretto cocktail