Sing to the Moon

July 28th, 2013

This is the debut album by Laura Mvula, which I bought a few months ago, and months later I still like it enough to want to write about it.

I heard one song from the album one evening on the radio, and I thought it was very interesting, then read something about her on the BBC news page ( she is one of the sounds of 2013 it seems), and decided to seek her out on Spotify. From a listen there, it was a quick purchase!

It’s a really varied album, from laid back to bouncy, but what I really enjoy is the variety of really beautiful instrumentation – there’s a lot of xylophone (which you don’t get much outside of kids alphabet books). Green Garden is probably the catchiest song, and the obvious introduction. If you like this, you might enjoy the rest of it.

But I have to admit, it’s not my favourite song – I love That’s Alright, which reminds me of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk because of it’s heavy use of drums and brass (especially trombones), but I also really like the message of “Who made you the centre of the universe?” in the chorus. You know, now that I listen to the two of them together, there is a lot that separates them, but they do have something in common (the brass doesn’t start until nearly 2 minutes into Tusk, by the way, and it does get louder towards the end). Flying Without You has a similar sound to it – trombones, xylophone and drums, and again a positive message about independence with a great opening lyric – “He was a boy in love, just not with me…”.

But away from the bouncy feelgood stuff, there’s also depth – She, again has the xylophone, but combined with beautiful backing vocals. Father Father is really just Laura and her piano. I don’t know what it’s about, but it’s got feeling. And Sing to the Moon has lush strings and a soaring theremin or something like it towards the end.

So brief summary – I really liked this album when I bought it, and listened to it non-stop. I still really like it. It’s quirky, possibly even eccentric, with a rich variety of unusual sounds that I think is the most interesting album I have bought in ages!


The story of a man and his leg

July 27th, 2013

Hello internet. How’ve you been!

It’s been a while. I guess I’ve been putting off this post if I’m completely honest.

But I should say something about my unexpected life-changing event. (As opposed to the long-expected one when I turned 40 in April, which turned out to change very little).

It all started on the last Friday in January, when I was at Young Life, our new club for teenagers in Craigavon. One of the major parts of Young Life is doing very silly things, and so it was that I was dancing to Gangnam Style, having practised it all week. Towards the end, I had a sudden sensation of being kicked in the ankle. It really hurt. And when I looked round, I could see another leader, dancing vigorously like myself. I assumed she had kicked me. But it really hurt! At the end of the song, I lay down, and couldn’t get up on my own. I hopped off for a wee sit down until the pain passed. But it still hurt a lot when I put any weight on it.

So off I went to casualty at Craigavon Hospital, where the nurses were very entertained by the fact that I had hurt myself dancing to Gangnam Style. Within very few minutes, the nurse diagnosed that I had ruptured my achilles tendon, which was then confirmed by an x-ray showing no broken bones. Apparently it does feel a lot like being kicked, but that’s just the feeling of your tendon snapping. Yuck! Unexpectedly my parents turned up, and were able to take me home, which was good as I left in a pair of disposable trousers and my left leg in plaster to the knee.
I know! Disposable trousers! They are the very thing when you’re putting a leg into plaster, as it saves any cutting of the patient’s trousers.

I stayed at my parents’ house for a week, working from home on my laptop and mobile, which was great for a while, but when they went away for a few days, I headed back to my own house. The fact that my car is automatic, and therefore didn’t require any use of my left leg was brilliant, as it meant I was able to be out and about. While I was on the crutches, I was even able to use disabled spaces, which was kind of fun. And the Tesco home delivery service was great at delivering all the microwavable meals I needed.

After a couple of weeks the plaster was taken off (which was less scary than I had expected – it turns out it isn’t a circular saw - it’s a vibrating thing which can’t cut skin), and I was given an aircast boot instead. It was to be my constant companion for the next half dozen weeks. It was great at immobilizing my leg, and keeping my foot in an equinus position (toes pointed down), but it’s a ton weight, and really hard to sleep in. It was a great relief when my physio (Oran at the City Hospital, who was very good) finally told me I could take it off when I was sitting down or sleeping!

From there, it was still slow progress to get to the point where I could put my foot flat on the ground, and then more before I could put my weight on it. But I met my target of being able to walk again by my birthday. At the start of April, I was able to walk to Tescos without crutches (not very far, but an achievement), and even made it back onto my bike (including cycling back into the office after a long time working from home without going crazy). By the end of May, I was able to do a 15 mile cycle, and a 5 mile walk into Belfast round the shops and home again. I wasn’t doing either very quickly, or very well, but I was at least able to do them again, and was overjoyed.

By the middle of June, I was even able to run a couple of miles, but then had a bit of setback when I hurt my ankle again in London. I am guessing it was running for the train wearing a heavy rucksack, but it was much sorer again after that, so I had to take things a bit easier for a while. But I am now back to being able to walk long distances (like to the top of Cregagh Glen on the 12th of July), and cycle for an hour (along the Comber Greenway). I even took a dog for a walk today! So I’m sufficiently confident in my walking that I have re-booked my cancelled birthday holiday to New York and Washington for September, when hopefully I will be back to full strength.

The whole thing was a fascinating experience – my first major injury in my life, first time in plaster, first time on crutches. I remain astonished at how easily it happened, and how easily I hurt it again (usually playing with my nephew, who is nearly two now, and harder to catch than he used to be). But now, 6 months later, I am over the worst of it, and hopefully it won’t have any long-term ill effects.

So now you’re up to date!

A useful label

November 6th, 2012

A colleague returned from a trip home to India recently, and brought me a gift of some delicious Indian snacks.

But wait – what is that little logo in the middle?

Let’s zoom in a bit!

Yes! A logo on them to show that they contain no onion!

This is real progress, and I hope it gets rolled out internationally!

I’ll admit that I have nothing in particular against garlic, and yes, I am aware that this logo is for the benefit of people whose religion forbids them to eat certain things, but this still really made my day.

My mystery wife

October 8th, 2012

As a side-effect of living in the 21st century, I get a lot of junk mail through my letterbox. We all do. It’s the times we live in.

Some of it doesn’t have any name on it. Some of it is for “the occupier”. Most of it has my name on it. But a few are for “Mr and Mrs Simms”. My mother is Mrs Simms, as are some of my cousins. But none of them live with me - there is no Mrs Simms at this address. And yet a few people insist on sending mail to me and my non-existent wife. They are all charities, I notice. I assume they feel that their letter might be thrown in the bin by me, but that my tenderhearted imaginary wife might take pity on them and read the contents.

However, they are completely wrong. I get annoyed by this, and refuse to read them at all. I don’t understand why they do this. It is clearly a deliberate strategy to add an “and Mrs” to their address database. But it’s wrong - I’m single, and I like being single, and I object to being assigned a wife.

So stop it charities!

Exciting musical news

September 3rd, 2012

“O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff came up on random play today.

Or the Old Spice music to some of us of a certain age. Also used in the X Factor.

It’s a marvellous piece of music. But I’d never thought much about the words before.

Which is today’s exciting news – there are proper words, and you can sing along.
In Latin!

It turns out that the words are older than the music by several centuries, and are actually pretty cool. In fact, over here you can read the words along with the music, and the English translation. What a clever old internet it is.

(As an aside, if you followed the second link above, I remember watching that live. They were amazing, but put on very scary faces for it. Very impressive!)

Now there’s a thing!

September 1st, 2012

I was recently in the west of Ireland, in Donegal, with some friends from church on a hiking expedition. It’s a long old trip, and on the way we took a wrong turn and drove through Daniel O’Donnell’s home town. I was shocked, stunned and appalled to find:

It’s not many people who get a visitor centre in their home town while they are still alive.

The gym

August 4th, 2012

I met up with an old friend the other day, who couldn’t help sniggering when I mentioned being at the gym the day before. She remembers when I was younger, and completely opposed to such things. But now I am a bit older, and aware of the fact that a bit of effort now might have benefits for my health in the future.

Recently, things haven’t been going quite so well, and I have been a bit discouraged about the whole thing. I’m getting more aches and pains than I used to, which I mainly attribute to exercising parts of my body more than they would like. My weight has also been increasing, which is kind of the opposite of what I want.

But at the gym on Thursday, Chris took my stats, using a measuring tape and a set of magic scales. And quite unexpectedly, they are showing improvement! My weight is up because I have gained muscle, and muscle is heavier than fat. So I am encouraged again. I went out for a run this afternoon and ran 5 miles in less than 50 minutes. I keep waiting for my legs to get sore, but they haven’t. I’m really pleased about that.

I’ll never be an athlete, but at least I’m not wasting my time, and going to the gym is giving me some results. Hooray!

The Opening Ceremony

July 29th, 2012

I  hadn’t planned to watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony. I’m not a fan of organised sport, so obviously the Olympics is not my cup of tea - I generally refer to it as the Great Egg and Spoon Race. But I was working late at home on Friday night, and had come to an end just as I knew it was starting, so I thought I would stick on the tv and give it a chance.

And most unexpectedly, I was impressed. For a start, there was no sport, which was great. It was also uniquely British – no other country would choose to celebrate the things that Danny Boyle chose, and I like that. It was a good show. And most unexpectedly, there was humour. These sorts of things are usually super-serious, nothing but pomp and ceremony, and viewers usually find the humour in it by pricking that pomposity. But the inclusion of the excellent Mr Bean sketch, and the Queen’s parachuting were completely unexpected, and did a brilliant job of lightening the mood and making it less pompous. A great move, and very daring! And full marks to the Queen for joining in.

But the things that impressed me most were actually towards the end. The choice of people who carried in the Olympic flag was remarkable – when I heard the name Doreen Lawrence, I was really surprised. But I loved that the opportunity was taken to acknowledge people who are actually making the world a better place, as opposed to the Olympics, which is meant to be about that, but isn’t really. We could argue all day about who was or wasn’t worthy of it (probably about Shami Chakrabati), but it was a great idea, and I loved it. And then the inclusion of Mohammed Ali, a man once so great, but now unable to stand on his own, speak, or even smile for the event. The Olympics is all about stronger, faster and higher, but those things are fleeting, and I found Ali’s inclusion a poignant reminder of mortality.

And then I loved the fact that Danny outfoxed all of the bookies by using a group of young athletes to light the flame, rather than any of the famous names from the past. It was nice to beat the media, and do something that no-one expected. And the cauldron was a very nice piece of art itself.

I will of course admit that I didn’t watch all of it – the parade of the nations was more interesting than I had expected, but I still did some wandering in and out at that stage. But I did watch most of it.

So good work Danny, an unexpected pleasure!

The bicycle quest

July 27th, 2012

I’ve been riding my bike to work for quite a while now. Ever since I started working for BT lots of years ago, I’ve walked to work. But last year I worked out that cycling wasn’t that scary, it got me into work a whole lot quicker, it’s kind of fun, and it’s a bit healthy.

So I have been riding my mountain bike into work. That bike is 6 or 7 years old,  it’s got over five and a half thousand miles on it, and it’s showing its age a bit. So I decided it was time to upgrade and get a new bike. Since my last bike cost me about 150 quid , I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to improve on it.

But it’s been a tricky business. The one thing that I knew I wanted were disk brakes, since much of my cycling is done in the rain, and disk brakes should have a bit more stopping power since they are in the middle of the wheel and out of the puddles. So off I went looking at bikes. I quickly got a feel for how the components improve as you spend more money. And I quickly discovered that the disk brakes add a lot to the cost.

After a fair bit of looking around all the local bike shops, I very nearly bought a bike a couple of weeks ago, but it was a bit more expensive than I had expected, and to be honest I didn’t like the colour (dark red). When I went back 2 days later, the last one had been sold earlier that morning. So I have been back round the bike shops a few times, and spent a lot of time looking at them on the internet. I very nearly bought one online at the start  of the week, but I didn’t really want to buy one over the internet – I wanted to sit on it, and have a bit of a ride on it, and be able to take it back to the shop if bits fell off!

And finally today I found one I like, and put down a deposit on it. The picture isn’t of my actual bike, as I have to wait for a fresh delivery, but it’s the one I had a ride on to try it out.

So it’s a Specialized Hard Rock Sport (2013 edition no less), from McConvey Cycles just down the road.

I’m all pleased :)

Musical News

July 13th, 2012

Two pieces of musical news today, one from the radio, and one from my ipod.

On shuffle while I was out cycling today I heard “Over There” by Glenn Miller and his orchestra. You can imagine my surprise when I immediately recognised it as that curse of the airwaves, the Go Compare tune (and no, I am not putting a link to the go compare tune in my blog! Just turn on your tv, and leave it for a few minutes and you’ll find it yourself). So for anyone who has found themselves whistling or humming that tune accidentally, this is excellent news – it has a more civilised pedigree that you might expect, and your actually humming a Glenn Miller tune!

The other musical news is that the Beach Boys classic “Sloop John B” has become a marching tune on the twelfth! They played a clip of it on Talkback, and then Wendy Austin helpfully explained that this was not simply a marching band expanding their repertoire in an unusual direction, but was in fact deeply offensive. I was hugely disappointed, as I would have liked to hear them tackle Good Vibrations or Barbara Ann (though of course flute bands always suffer from not having enough bass which wouldn’t help in the harmonies). I was hoping the story behind this would be that the Beach Boys had accidentally picked a folk tune which also had loyalist lyrics, but it turns out not to be the case. Apparently the Beach Boys did get there first, and then someone did a re-write on their lyrics. If you don’t believe me, you can hear it here.
Such a shame.

In other non-musical news, the weather has been unexpectedly good, and I got to cycle yesterday and today. Today I made it to the International Airport and back, which was a stupid idea, and I was knackered long before home. But on the bright side I did get to stop for Maud’s ice cream in Templepatrick, which was just what I needed. And another stop at the Indian takeaway down the street to refuel when I got home. 40 miles – a good afternoon out!