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A day at the Southbank Centre

Today I took A to see a couple of shows in the Imagine Children’s Festival at the Southbank Centre.

The first show we saw was ‘Spraoi’:

This is a simple story of two boys who arrive at the same place at the same time and don’t understand what they should do.

They do not speak the same language and they do not understand each other’s signals. One of them likes to play by the rules while the other doesn’t have any! They must learn how to communicate with each other so that they can play together.

I didn’t pay enough attention when I booked the tickets and only noticed the show was for ages 3 to 6 after A pointed it out. As it turned out, A was just that tiny bit too old for the show but she seemed to get some sort of enjoyment out of it.

The second show we saw was much more to A’s liking, being somewhat livelier and louder, with music and a good story behind it. ‘That Catherine Bennett Show’ is the story behind the creation of “an audacious alternative pop star […] who sings songs about things other than love, fame and money… things like friendship, the future and having the power to make a difference.”

It had a great message for kids as well as being entertaining. “This is a show about family activism, children’s rights and believing in your own power to change the world… even at nine. You can do anything if you put your mind to it!” One day A will notice how I’m indoctrinating her into not accepting that girls will be girls and boys will be boys but by then I hope she’ll know that I’m doing it for all the right reasons. Update: much better review of That Catherine Bennett Show at The Guardian.

In between the shows, we hung around the Southbank Centre and took in the atmosphere. There’s plenty of free and paid activities around. What with it being half-term and there being a children’s festival on, I expected there to be a lot of children but I was taken aback at just how many there were. The parked buggies alone took up a fair chunk of floor space.

Anyway, as usual, the Southbank Centre put on a great festival and, apart from the shows we saw, there was plenty of buzz around the place. It was one of those days that made me grateful for being close enough to London to make it easy enough to visit (weather-knackered rail network, notwithstanding).

Oh, the below is just one of a whole chunk of photos in a series I call ‘What happens if you let A have your phone and don’t pay attention’.

2014-02-17 16.38.19

The Universe versus Alex Woods

The one good thing about being bed-ridden is having time to read (provided you’re not so ill you can’t even do that, of course), so last night I finished reading The Universe versus Alex Woods.

I enjoyed reading it and it drew some strong emotions from me – tears as well as laughter – and I’d recommend it as a great light read.

The voice used to narrate the story is of a naive 17 year old. Naive yet wise in a way that naivety can be in simply cutting to the truth. It reminded me a lot of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the narrator of which was someone with Asperger Syndrome. To a certain extent, I was too aware of the technique rather than being absorbed in the narration but that soon dissipated as the story progressed. The final few chapters don’t hold any great surprises in terms of plot – since the ending is sign-posted from the first chapter – but they’re still gripping and, on reflection, surprisingly deep and multi-layered. I think this is something the author, Gavin Extence, would be pleased to hear, given the heavy influence of Kurt Vonnegut on the storyline. I’m not at all familiar with Kurt Vonnegut’s work but from what I can tell from The Universe versus Alex Woods, there’s a lot of meaning that can be teased out from a seemingly simple story, and I’ll definitely be adding Kurt Vonnegut to the reading list.

For me, one of the measures of the quality of pop music is how much it makes you want to reach back into its influences, to go back to the source, and in making me want to read Kurt Vonnegut, The Universe versus Alex Woods is a great book by that measure of success.

Ugh and argh

Right now, I should be laying out and packing my running gear in preparation for tomorrow’s Brighton half marathon and my beat should be beating ever so slightly faster in anticipation.

Instead, my legs are aching – the same sort of ache I should be feeling after the run, not before it – and my head is pounding and my lungs feel like they’re running at half-capacity.

I’ve been generally healthy this past year, but there’s no way I’m getting over this in time. Bloody awful timing.

On the suspension (and suspension of suspension) of disbelief

A was reading to me at bedtime tonight. The book was one of the Mr Majieka series. In case you don’t know, Mr Majieka is a wizard.

In the chapter A read to me, Mr Majieka is casting all sorts of spells against a witch who, in return, casts horrible spells rather more successfully in his direction. One exchange has the wicked witch, Mrs Worlock, claiming that the phosphorescent fire Mr Majieka had thrown at her was pathetic because ‘they sell that in Tesco’s nowadays’.

At which point, A interrupts herself and says, “No, you can’t. That’s stupid.” I had to point out to her that 1. she was reading a work of fiction and 2. she didn’t seem to have any problems with the idea of the wizard and the witch casting spells yet had issues with the mention of the magic being sold at Tesco.

Fascinating how the mind of a child works.

We hate it when our friends become successful…

The Guardian reports on AA Gill winning Hatchet Job of the Year:

“A cacophony of jangling, misheard and misused words … a sea of Stygian self-justification and stilted self-conscious prose … ” AA Gill’s caustic review of Morrissey’s Autobiography has been named the Hatchet Job of the Year.

Now, I actually enjoyed Morrissey’s autobiography and while I found the writing style rather affected at first, I soon got into the book and enjoyed it not just for the content – (one-sided) insights into Morrissey’s time in The Smiths being the most interesting for me – but for the words Morrissey used to express himself. I’m not one to consider myself a Morrissey fanatic but his autobiography did break down a lot of the prejudices I had about him.

That doesn’t stop me enjoying reading AA Gill’s takedown, though. Not because I like seeing people’s work savaged – I was reluctant to publish bad reviews during my time at Londonist, preferring instead not to write about stuff I didn’t like (Oasis being a notable exception but I’m sure they didn’t care) – but because it’s expertly written. It’s just so much more enjoyable seeing something taken apart like that, compared to a glowing review.

Another purple passage:

All of this takes quite a lot of time due to the amount of curlicues, falderals and bibelots he insists on dragging along as authorial decoration. Instead of adding colour or depth, they simply result in a cacophony of jangling, misheard and misused words. After 100 pages, he’s still at the school gate kicking dead teachers.

dEUS – Instant Street

I’ve had this song as an earworm for over a week now, after Guy Garvey played it on his show on 2 February. There’s a lovely melancholic tone to the melody and vocals. I love a bit of melancholia in my music, as I probably harp on about too much.

I’m not sure why but I’d always assumed dEUS were a heavy metal band so have never really paid them much attention. I love that hearing them on Guy Garvey’s show has brought this beautiful song to my attention. (I’ve actually not had the time to explore their back catalogue so for all I know, I might be right, and ‘Instant Street’ is a weird aberration.)

I’d also assumed that the sudden fade at the end of the song was down to poor production of Guy Garvey’s radio show by the BBC, trying to squeeze in the news at the expense of letting the song come to its natural end, but judging by this video, the song really does fade that suddenly.

Update: just found Instant Street on Spotify. The song ends as I expect it to, with the instrumental coda building to a much more satisfying climax.

6 days to 13.1 miles

One of the reasons I was keen to play football yesterday was because I’m running the Brighton half-marathon this coming Sunday. A combination of the awful weather and a dodgy ankle has rather stopped me from training for the half-marathon in any real sense and had yesterday’s game been called off, I would have been looking at attempting to run 13.1 miles on Sunday without having done any exercise at all in the preceding 4 weeks. Making it through 90 minutes without any issue yesterday gives me more confidence that I’ll make it through to the end of the half-marathon better than I managed last year’s Reading half-marathon.

I’ll be taking my own advice, for once, and taking it easy as regards the finishing time. I’m aiming to get round in about 2h30m, which should be perfectly doable if I don’t set off stupidly fast like I did in Reading last year. If that goes well, then I might contemplate aiming for 2h15m in Reading on 2 March. If I don’t come back to blog about my experience on Sunday or Monday, you know it went horribly wrong…

Another victory

Against all odds, my game of football took place this morning. Given the stupid amount of rain that’s fallen so far this winter, it’s been no surprise that pretty much every game of football I’ve had scheduled for a Saturday has been called off, yet the game today was confirmed as being very much on. That I’ve managed to play 3 games of football in 2014, albeit veterans’ football, is amazing.

Even more amazing is that my record this year so far stands at played 3, won 3, drew 1, lost 0. It’s an odd – but very welcome – feeling, stepping onto a pitch with a good chance of winning. It makes the decision over whether to retire from Saturday football and just concentrate on vets’ football all the more interesting.

Villagers – Occupy Your Mind

In the advent of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, please find attached a song written for you, your mother, your father and your gay brothers and sisters in Russia.

The Duck Song

Had to post this up, as A gave me a special rendition of it during bathtime. Odd but compelling…

Behind the scenes at London’s first cat café

Time Out London: Get the litter scoop: we’ve been behind the scenes at London’s first cat café:

The pastel-coloured interior of the soon-to-be hot spot in Bethnal Green is any pussy lover’s dream! With faux-vintage furnishings, more cat toys than you can shake at a herd of kitties, cat cushions and a cat wheel (!), this is the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon.

Not sure how A would get along in this cafe, given that she seems to possess a preternatural ability to spot the minutest hair in her breakfast whenever I make it. (I should point out that it’s either cat hair that she has transferred to her breakfast herself, having given Tiger a morning cuddle, or she’s being paranoid.)

Delta’s 80s in-flight safety video

It’s great to see companies trying their best to make legalese interesting and this example from Delta is beautifully made. Great attention to detail with the 80s styling but without overdoing it to the detriment of the message. Plus it’s got ALF in it. What’s not to like?!

Back to fasting

Now that my anti-resolution January‘s over, I can go back to fasting and I’m actually looking forward to it. Yesterday’s dinner of some of that delicious no-knead bread with some camembert was feeling very heavy in my stomach this morning, so it’s a relief that I now have (self-given) permission to fast. Of course, I wasn’t so stupid during January that I deliberately ate shedloads of food when I wasn’t hungry but it was all too easy to skip breakfast, maybe have a small lunch, and then blow out for dinner. The difference today is that I begin to monitor my calories on my fast days again.

That said, it could well be a short-lived return to the fast diet, for good reasons. My weight has held steady in the month that I didn’t impose any restrictions on my food intake – other than good habits learned from the time I was on the fast diet in the latter part of 2013, I suppose – so it’s not like I need to go back onto the fast diet, apart from the fact that I want to. There’s still a few extra pounds that could be got rid of but, given past experience, I don’t expect it will take all that long. I’ve always said that my aim is to be in good shape when I turn 40 because I reckon that I’ll pretty much stay in shape for the rest of my life if I can get to 40 without having fallen into couch spudness.