Saturday, October 20, 2007

Serial Television

As I may have mentioned, I'm watching the entire run of Doctor Who in sequence, having started early in 2006 when the first three adventures were released on DVD. Earlier travellers down this path have followed strict guidelines, such as "one episode a day; no more, no fewer" and "no other episodes outof sequence". I've not imposed any such constraints - sometimes I'm too busy, and sometimes I've needed to jump forward to research something. But in recent weeks, I have been usually managing an episode a day, sometimes more.

This can be quite wearing. I listen to the commentary tracks seperately after I've watched the episodes. Although a year may have passed for Barry Letts and Katy Manning in between recording their commentaries, I experienced three of them in a matter of days. Hearing Katy aver for the third time that James Acheson won an oscar for "The Littlest Emperor" (sic) is a specialist form of entertainment.

I've just entered an enchanted passage. Not only are the stories I'm watching from my own golden age, when I was eight years old, but they're very well represented on DVD. From Robot part one to Genesis of the Daleks part six, there are sixteen consecutive episodes on DVD. To enhance the serial feeling, I've tried to break up my viewing sessions, so that I don't watch a whole story in one sitting, but if I finish a story, I do watch the start of the next one. This seems particularly appropriate to Tom Baker's first run, in which the individual stories were closely linked and depended on their sequence.

Last night I watched The Ark In Space part four, and The Sontaran Experiment part one, went away, and then came back and watched part two, and then Genesis of the Daleks part one. I haven't enjoyed nostlagia so much in ages. The remastered and restored episodes looked wonderful, my appreciation of the small but perfectly formed Sontaran Experiment was reinforced, and I was reminded of how my love for Doctor Who deepened at the time of original transmission.

It really doesn't get much better than this.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Practical Time Travel

This week, I've been reaping one of the tangible benefits of my job - regular, pertinent training courses. Specifically, I've been attending a five-day hands-on course on one of technologies we deploy for our clients. In Reading.

I lived in Reading from January 1989 until October 1996, having moved there six months after graduating, as I worked in nearby Bracknell, and Reading was the nearest thing to a city in commuting distance. Having spent a damaging four months in shared accomodation, it was imperative to find a place of my own again, so I moved into a bedsit on the edge of the town centre. It was tiny, but I stuck it out for 18 months until decamping to a larger basement studio flat and then a year after that into a boxy starter home on a new development a few miles out.

At 22 when I moved there, to 30 when I left, I underwent quite a few formative experiences in the town. Edinburgh, where I fled to in 1996 seemed a total contrast - you never saw tourists in Reading, for example. Since 1996, I'd been through Reading precisely twice, never for more than an hour. In 1998, I drove through the town to buy a newspaper en route from Cornwall to Heathrow, and last year briefly drove by each of my three former addresses. That last encounter proced deeply unsettling - each looked exactly as I left it, but all traces I'd ever lived there had been obliterated, as if I'd never been there.

So this year, I returned for more than a hour for the first time in eleven years. Walking from the station to my hotel on Sunday night, the town centre appeared to have been remade: tarmac roads were replaced with redbrick pedestrianised areas, replete with faux-gas lamps and hanging baskets. Coffee shops proliferated. It seemed actually nice.

The following day, I went for a run after work. I had a vague notion of heading towards Prospect Park where I had run during a transitory flirtation with health and fitness in 1991. I stuck a live Marillion concert on my MP3 player and jogged through the centre and out along the Tilehurst Road as Splintering Heart (1991!) accompanied me. I passed Russell Street and Western Elms Avenue, where I had spent 1989 to 1991, and carried on through the park. The physical layout was the same, and road names were firing off long-dormant dendrites, but everything seemed to have been renovated and renewed. New, largely sympathetic developments had replaced eyesores I had long forgotten. Bus stops had digital displays showing when the services were due. It felt as though I had been delivered overnight into the future.

These changes would have seemed imperceptible if I had stayed in the town or even visited regularly, but experienced at once rather than cumulatively, they really were the closest thing to time travel I am ever like to undertake.

I was feeling fit and energised so I decided to press on from the park to Tilehurst. I was uplifted, feeling a sense of closure and reconciliation. I'd spent 8 years in this place, and it was an inescapable part of me that I'd been denying for the next 11. Everying you do, everything that happens to you, good, or bad, is formative. I think it was as I was running through Tilehurst that I emotionally accepted that the years I'd spent here weren't in any way wasted.

Tilehurst hadn't been renewed as much as the places en route. There was an utterly incongruous BT installation dumped on the fringe of the estate I lived on, and I thought for one moment that my house had been demolished. At the age of 41, jogging around the Potteries development, I found more footpaths and woods than I had known in the five years I lived there, when I was an impatient cynic who drove everywhere, apart from when falling back on Shank's pony to get to the pub by the quickest route possible.

Night was falling, but Marillion helped keep my spirits up, as I headed back down the hill into Reading. I felt reconnected, more whole, as if I had traversed a huge distance and found myself at the other end.

I'm reading Space by Stephen Baxter at the moment, in which space travellers return to Earth aged only a few years, but decades into their futures due to the relativistic effects of their voyages. This week, I can sympathise with these accidental time travellers more than I would have been able at any other time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Glasgow Ordeal I - The Genesis Convention

I attended my fourth Genesis convention this weekend. Genesis conventions aren't like Doctor Who conventions, much. You might get the occasional early drummer, or solo project musician hanging around to sign albums or draw the raffle, and there'll be a token pretence of video programming and a quiz, but they're really more like indoor music festivals, with no real passion being evoked or displayed until the tribute bands take to the stage in the evening.

Despite a ticket that boasted "doors at noon" or something, I showed up late afternoon on Saturday, to the Renfrew Ferry, a floating nightclub on the Clyde that hosts gigs, and sells beer. And chips. I had ample time to say hello to a couple of friends and also make evil eyes at people who have annoyed me in the past by behaving like arseholes at gigs, or abusing the English language on their execrable vanity websites.

I'd gone early to make sure I didn't miss Doug Melbourne and Tony Patterson who used to hold the keyboard and vocals spots in the UK's first Genesis tribute, Regenesis, who I first saw in 1994. Their current party piece is to perform a half hour of Peter Gabriel solo material and they did so very well, announcing a CD they'd just realeased of slightly more plugged in versions, which I picked up after emptying my turn ups of small change.

Then I read Christopher Brookmyre's "A Tale Etched In Blood and Hard Black Pencil", for about an hour, until the first band proper of the evening, G2 came on. I've only ever seen them at conventions, this being the third time, and they've been consistently good, focussing on sounding like late-seventies Genesis, which featured Phil Collins singing songs Peter Gabriel had originally performed. The choice of material, delivery, and techincal presentation were all excellent, and my mood survived the realisation that there was quite a low turn out (the venue was emptier than when Genesis tribute bands had played individually) leaving a large Golden Circle in front of the stage, where the organisers and their mates could do their thing.

"Their thing" entails intense periods of connection with the performers, alternating with wandering off to get more beer, talking loudly about how much you love the music you're interrupting, and standing with your arms around the person next to you. When memorable stanzas are sung from the stage, you turn to the person next to you and hold you arms out, palms upwards while mouthing the words as if to ritually endorse their eternal veracity.

G2 were tremendous. I actually found myself musing that if this were the only band I saw this weekend, I'd be quite satisfied. Which was just as well really.

Next up were Face Value, whose niche is the post-1978 three-man Genesis' repertoire. They have the most technically demanding job on the Genesis trinute circuit, as the music is dependent on electronics, and they rely on sequenced parts, having only one guitar player. Their front man does a Stars In Their Eyes-perfect Phil Collins, and on a good night, I've heard they're very slick. Unfortunately, I've never seen them on a good night. The first time, in 2002, they were plagued with terrible sound. Oh, and with not having rehearsed enough. "Tonight Tonight Tonight" made the Tay Bridge disaster look like leaves on the line, the first time I saw them. The second time, they attempted to deliver "No Son Of Mine" despite their drummer's click track being inaudible to him, so that the snares were just as deadly as to the song as any are to wild game. I had to take my leave of the room as "Land of Confusion" threatened to live up to its name, and returned as "Throwing It All Away" did exactly what it said on the tin, thanks to a sequenced bass part that didn't.

Third time lucky, I thought. They were bound to have it nailed by now. So it was a pity that they were taking an excruciating time to set up, and a final revised estimate of their time on stage was given as 10:30. I would have to leave at 11:00 for my last train back from Glasgow to Edinburgh, but I hung around just to hear their first half hour, or at least extract some gratuitous pleasure from any recurrence of their convention curse.

At 10:40, the "American Beauty" soundtrack that Genesis have been using this year as walk-on music started up, and I began to hope that they'd kick off with this years opening medley, which I was sure they could do justice to. Sure enough, the drummer counted in at the right tempo for "Behind the Lines" to cue the trademark wall of sound, at which point there was an undignified "phut" and all the power to the stage blew. I quietly doubled up in laughter. No one else seemed to. They hadn't let me down - a third convention appearance and a third technical disaster. After watching cable-wallahs scurry for five minutes, as the band drifted off stage, I made my excuses and left.

Arriving later, the following day, having enjoyed Doug and Tony's CD, and electing to be the one person present not wearing a Genesis T-shirt, I was in time to watch some of the real Genesis's recent concerts on video. This gave me the opportunity to earwig on two punters making friends nearby. The telling exchange was "What album did you lose interest at?". I love this. Younger bands fans ask each other how early they discovered the music, but with Genesis, the sign of respect is how early you judged their output to have declined beyond worth. They went on to concur that the tribute bands were giving the real thing a run for their money. Later events that day would, I feel, contradict this.

I'd been looking forward to seeing The Carpet Crawlers open the evening, and was quite happy to expect to miss much of the headliners In The Cage, because I'd never seen the former, and unfortunately had seen the latter. To describe In The Cage as patchy would be generous. It's an acceptable description of mobile phone coverage in the Outer Hebrides, but not of the heat shield on a reententering space shuttle. Or indeed of a band who've been going for eight years now and really ought to be much better. Worse, G2 had bagged the headline slot.

On they came, with the first of many songs that G2 had played 24 hours before, and furthermore played far better. After a false start, the opening chords of "Watcher of the Skies" rasped out from the genuine antique Mellotron (Why? WHY?), and singer Trevor ambled on in a shabby Peter Gabriel costume and half-arsed greasepaint, before singing with a voice he hadn't warmed up, which inflections that indicate he can listen and sing, but not necessarily at the same time. Everything about In The Cage is rough about the edges. The individual musicians know their parts most of the time, but not all, with their neophyte Mike Rutherford being the worst offender. Their instruments bolt from their control too often, as guitar parts die off where they should sing, and the pantechnicon-filling vintage keyboard rig reedily struggles to be heard when newer sample racks and a week or so's programming would nail it. The mix is arbitrary, with emphasis placed on counterpoints and harmonies, overpowering root notes and melodies. They limped through a set which blatently repeated over half of G2's from Saturday. It was like seeing a tribute band's own tribute band, a ropey analogue second-generation copy.

And the singer was wearing odd socks.

I must admit, that despite being smug to the point of insult about the quality of my life improving now I'm off the sauce, seeing In The Cage is one of those experiences that was far far better when full of cider. They are in every sense a pub band, embodying the "That's nearly there. It'll do - they'll all be pissed" approach to quality. Has no one had the courage to tell them to prepare more?

Announcements from the stage about the arrival time of G2 were optimistic, and as I realised I wasn't even going to see their opening number, so I blew away home. I was glad I'd gone to support the event, but I really wished I could have seen G2 again.

If I was still a boozer, and had been staying overnight in Glasgow, it would have been a great weekend. As someone who's now definitely there for just the music, and who likes an early night with a cup of cocoa and a good book, it was a bit of a trial.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Of Cows and Cathedrals

There was a time when I would attempt to take an entire week off work to take in as much of the Edinburgh Festival fringe as possible. It was hard: comedy stops being so funny when you're panicking about being too drunk, not drunk enough, whether you'll need the loo before the end of the show. So, aside from a few evening comedy shows on school nights, we attempted to pack in as much as possible into a sunny Wednesday, yesterday. We had a pre-booked rendezvous with king of the fringe Stewart Lee that evening, and an empty canvas beforehand. A bit of perusing, browsing and booking filled in the day with four other appointments, and we were off.

First, to the Edinburgh University's Bedlam Theatre to see Shakespeare Bingo: A Comedy of Errors. It was an abridged version of reputedly the Bard's worst play, with tea, cake and bingo cards handed out to the audience. You crossed off each square as a staple of Shakespearean comedy came up, the first to shout "Bingo!" receiving an unspecified prize. It was full of witty, anachronistic asides, and very enjoyable. Oh, yes, and the genders were reversed, so the predominantly male dramatis personae, were portrayed by lovely young women. Bingo, indeed.
As if that weren't enough, we were adjacent to a hugely fat man on the front row. We were in velvet-covered tip-up seating, and just after the play finished, his seat could support his mass no more, and he noisily fell to the floor as it collapsed. He wasn't the most entertaining audience member though: they were a family of three from the midlands, Mum, Dad and pre-teen son, all proudly bedecked in Spamalot T-shirts and baseball caps, and boasting Adrian Chiles accents. I have never seen a less affected or cool group of people, and salute their ability to enjoy themselves, which they did, noisily, thanking the front of house staff. Bostin.

A gorgeous walk through the sunshine past the back of the castle took us to St Mary's Cathedral for a free lunchtime concert by Guy Newbury (Piano) and Danae Eleni Pallikaropoulos (Soprano). Out of the sun, in the stone cool of the cathedral, their mixed programme of classical and romantic pieces, plus an ambitious modern suite by the pianist was a fantastic contrast to the bustle of the streets. Terrific.

Time for a quick lunch at another fringe venue, and on to the Assembly Rooms, for some theatre, a one-man adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's book Private Peaceful, a first person account of being an under-age volunteer in the Great War. Alexander Campbell gave I think the very best stage acting performance I have ever seen, delivering his intense addresses straight into my eyes. It was an unsentimental but moving picture of the injustice of war, and is, as Morpurgo's pedigree hints, actually suitable for children.

A quick stroll up the mound, now, for some street theatre, specifically a New Zealand circus performer called James, who held a big crowd with all the usual stunts you would expect from a man who can juggle burning clubs atop a 20 foot unicycle. Great stuff. This is where all the day-trippers from Glasgow seemed to congregate. It would enforce the worst kind of social prejudices were I to observe that many watching appeared to be wearing white sportswear, Burberry headgear, ostentatious sovereign signet rings, and facial scars, while consuming off-license alcohol and smoking. Street theatre is now the only part of the fringe where smoking is legal, booze is cheap, and entertainment is free. Long may it reign.

Back to the Assembly for another one-man play, American Mark Soper in his own play, An Age of Angels, which concerns an incident at a high school in LA, depicted through the independent testimony of ten different participants. I thought it was great, despite the first two personae being extreme and challenging (a tall man in his fifties playing a prepubescent schoolgirl is all a bit Anthony Perkins), so I was disappointed at the handful of walkouts. He deserved to be heard.

Next stop, the Udderbelly (a vast purple inflatable cow). We chose (stupidly) to take the bus and were accosted at the stop by an elderly gent who looked like he may have been a retired Lance Corporal, and had seen better days. He had certainly seen the bottom of a few tumblers of whisky, and since quite early in the day, I surmised from his bearing. His bearing down upon me, as it happened. He was very chatty, and with Hackney Carriage diplomacy swung his barely coherent conversation to the sticky topic of immigration in under a minute. Our intense relief as our bus hove into view was tempered by the discovery that it was Lance Corporal Johnny Walker's bus as well. Guessing the stairs would prove a bridge too far, we took the upper deck, and passed the journey listening to him lambaste all and sundry. Terrifyingly, he disembarked at our stop, yelling a few final insults at the driver, and we scuttled to the venue.

It was now seven in the evening, and the comedy crowd here was a completely different beast to the meek theatregoers we had shared the day with. Beer monsters, London Types, pretty girls, and a smattering of people, whom I assumed were dressed in deliberate tribute to Nick Frost in Spaced, Nick Burns in Nathan Barley, or Noel Fielding in real life, with their DJ headphones, unnecessary shades, and retro sports bags slung diagonally over their lanky frames. Or maybe they were just all phenomenal twats. A quick drink, and into the cow for an hour of Stewart Lee, who has refined his act to perfection. There is no waste or slack in this most confident of performers, who is deservedly loved.

Outside afterwards, who should I see, but the Lance-Corporal, inquiring of a Pretty Girl whether she had been to see anything. "Stewart Lee", she mumbled back, and I would have died on the spot a happy man if he'd responded "That Heathen!" but he just staggered off leaving her to relate the encounter to her boyfriend.

An annoying fake Italian meal later (table in a draught, tiny portions, Madonna playing, framed 10X8s of Sinatra, De Niro, and Pacino, and untippable service) we were on our way home. I'd hoped that the Lance Corporal or the beaming brummies might be on the bus, but they weren't. I cuddled up next to Helen with a promising read (Mother Tongue by Jon Helmer), looking forward to yoga the following morning.

Another day as close to perfect as I can imagine.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Phantom Ponytail - A Call For Commonsense

There are some image choices which cause my usual all-inclusive liberalism to crumble. Goths, for example, always make me snigger. Moustaches, on anyone other than a publican or cattle handler inspire my suspicion. Above all, men with ponytails earn reflexive contempt. I encounter them regularly in my counterculture life - both Unix administrators and sci-fi bookshop staff celebrate the ability to appear Sikh-like in their abomination of the barber's blade, yet affected enough to want to shackle their manes, as though they were trunks of fibre-optical cabling.

In the work environment, ponytails are found in the same sartorial forest of Keep Clear signs as comedy socks, novelty ties, and other borderline adherences to dress code (clue: when your empoyer asks you to wear a shirt and tie to work, he probably didn't mean a black shirt, or a bow tie, even if you're a professional conjurer).

Ponytails betray a lack of work/leisure hygiene: they belong to monomaniacal weekend hippies, who want you to ask them about themselves over the coffee machine.

I have today identified a still more risible phenomenon: The phantom ponytail, or hair stump.

This belongs to a male office worker who has been patiently growing his hair in the belief he will soon look exactly like Robert Plant, and as soon as it is possible, gathers it at the back in a borrowed scrunchie, or more likely an elastic band. There is so little hair that rather than hanging down around the nape of the neck, the resulting stump protrudes horizontally, diametrically opposite the wearer's nose. No barbering has been involved, and so there are loose ends flying out all over the place.

Although now appearing to have recently had a while-you-wait facelift, the owner now believes he looks like a woodsman, or some kind of fantasy knight.

Ponder this: In all the male models sporting archetypcal men's hairstyles from the Tony Curtis to the latest David Beckham you have ever seen in a stylist's window, have you ever seen one sporting a ponytail? No. It's the look that money can't buy and which has therefore been forced underground, where desperate men actually perform this misguided procedure upon themselves, often botching it with hideous consequences.

August Headlines

I'm still alive: thanks for all your concern. No, really. It's the thought that counts.

Work: Still on lengthy project at major client in Edinburgh. Late nights and weekend working temporarily in abeyance.

Home: Harmony reigns, as school summer holidays mean Miss is more relazed than in recent memory. Halls and stairways recently painted and recarpeted. Thus, no foreign holiday this summer.

Travel: Numerous long weekends in caravans on both coasts. We're finding these very relaxing indeed.

Gigs: Gabriel and Genesis both sublime. Latter felt more like a lap of honour than a resumption of business as usual. A dignified encore.

Writing: Heaved a sigh of relief as final Doctor Who television reviews and latest short story were submitted. The reviews seem to have been receieved well both by publishers and readers, and my services have been retained into the new administration.

Health and fitness: Took my first full week of work and succumbed to a heavy cold in early August. I feel wonderful afterwards and am now training towards the Glasgow half marathon early next month. Three pronged approach - speed, gradient, and impact.

Fringe: Kicked off on Sunday night with Janey Godley. She is astonishing. Lee, Herring, Nichol and Hegley to come. At the book festival Germaine Greer and Jon Ronson will provide some intellectual fibre.

Books: I've resolved to read at least one work of fiction (novel or collection) each week. I've been enjoying Rupert Thomson, Christopher Brookmyre, Robert Goddard, Colin Bateman, and Justin Richards (who he?) recently.

Music: The usual suspects. Need I enumerate? Obviously not.

Family: Enjoyed civilized visits to parents, sister and family, and civilized visits from numerous in-laws. I have a new niece on the way. Parenthood is quite awesome to contemplate. Avuncular duties are, sometimes quite literally, a walk in the park.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Fantastic Place

I'm too busy to write anything here very regularly, but tonight I'm at work, having been asked to be present during an IT upgrade, in case anything goes wrong and my system access privileges are needed to fix it. I think this shows a slight failure of nerve on someone else's part, and I was even required to create a pretext to be involved, because there's no specific reason for me to be here.

It's at least a chance to spend some quality time with my new toy, a Creative Zen V Plus 8GB digital music player. It's the first one I've had with a proper screen, so I now take great pride in tagging my mp3 files so they declare themselves nicely. The killer feature on this model are the bookmarks, which means I can pause during 2 hour concerts or Saturday Plays and come back later, without agonising searching to resume.

Last week, I went to see Marillion. I think this must have been something like the 25th time I'd seen them. The previous time was the first I'd seen them sober, and I'd turned up late just to avoid being with a bunch of beery blokes while waiting. I actually missed the first half of the opening number. Standing at the back near the bar, I was horribly distracted by drinkers, talkers, and texters. So, this time, I decided to get there early, queue outside, and try and make it to the front. I'd never done this before, for any artist.

I arrived in Glasgow at about six, in good time for the doors at seven thirty. I killed a bit of time by walking the length of Sauchiehall Street, and drank in the incredible urban intersection that is Charing Cross, an amazing place where you can see the M8 slicing through the heart of Glasgow, and an office building above and over the slip road, where a bridge or lights would normally be. I also walked around a few of the backstreets in the evening sun, listening to Marillion on my wonder-phone. With its steep hills, it reminded me of Vancouver.

Joining the queue of a couple of dozen people outside the venue, the ABC, I was struck by how young some of them were and how not exclusively male, as well. It was a good atmosphere, and several members of the band, and the people who work for them were greeted cordially but not harrassed by the fans. The doors opened promptly, and as bags were searched, I thought I had better volunteer my penknife. I received a raffle ticket in return. There didn't seem to be a proper cloakroom though, and as soon as I made it up into the main ballroom, I headed across the floor, to a point just in front of the centre of the stage, with only one person in front of me. Turning round, I saw there was in fact a cloakroom and deposited my bag and jacket. I did keep my phone and earphones though - with 90 minutes until Marillion appeared, I wanted to stay occupied mentally, and listened to my recordings of Radio 4's Loose Ends and I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. I believe this makes me the most middle class person to have ever gone to a rock gig. The people around me were familiar from the queue outside, and appeared in some cases to have been following the band around the country for years. They reminded me, in fact, of the Albert Hall's keen promenaders, but without black tie.

I unplugged for the support act, Ainsley Henderson, a young Scottish singer-songwriter and his diverse band, who went down a storm, and commented on how receptive and polite the Marillion audience was. Great stuff. Plugs back in.

Watching the crew switch over was diverting. Having watched an excessively long, detailed, and idosycrantic documentary about these guys a year or so before, I recognised a lot of them, and also knew what they were doing, down to the function of every last cross of gaffer tape on the stage. At nine o'clock, synthesiser-wallah held down one key on Mark Kelly's ivories before scuttling off, as the racks behind, looking as if they'd be more at home in a data centre, started to deliver the sequenced introduction to Splintering Heart.

The gig was great. In 28 years of live music, I've never stood so near a rock band in full flight before. I picked up on loads on non-verbal interplay between the band, and noticed small looks of disapproval or anxiety on the few occasions when beery twats in the audience threatened to disrupt things. We had a lovely communal vibe down at the front, and I found myself exchanging smiles with total strangers whenever there was cause to. A couple of scary blokes with comically dyed hair and yards of tattoos pushed forward to take photos, and, as soon a security had seen them off, we collectively gathered closer to stop it happening again.

Here are some pictures taken from more or less where I was:

Marillion Glasgow

During the last song, King, in which singer Steve Hogarth plays the role of public icon, complete with pink guitar and tongue-in-cheek rock god poses, he dived to the front of the stage to land on his knees at the very edge, only to overshoot and fall into the pit between us and the band. It happened literally under my nose, and I couldn't quite believe it. In this order, pink guitar-wallah scuttled forward to retrieve the instrument, security helped Steve up, and he climbed back on to the stage, shaken. In-ear monitor-wallah, who's a bit more flamboyant, walked erect as he came to plug Steve's radio back into his plugs. He was shaken, but finished the song. During King, a woman about my age had pushed her way to the front near me, and as the band walked off, she vaulted the barrier and tried to get to Steve. Security grabbed her, but before she could be led off, Steve gave her the kiss she was after.

At the end of Neverland, the first encore, Steve silently acknowledged someone in the balcony. I later read that this was none other than Fish, the band's previous singer, who Steve succeeded 18 years ago. It was an acrimonious departure, so as fans, I think we see occasions like this as akin to divorced parents making an effort at family events. Fish had been in the news a few days earlier, with his imminent marriage being called off, so maybe he was taking the chance to see some old friends and remind himself of his blessings.

They didn't leave the stage until 11, and my last train was at half past but I managed to recover my posessions and get to the station in good time. It was sparsely, but exclusively occupied by Marillion fans. All couples.

I had a fantastic evening. Front row for me, from now on. With the smoking ban, and being so far from the bar, and so near the PA, most of my gripes about standing, licensed gigs just didn't apply. It's Peter Gabriel in Hyde Park in about ten days, so I'll see how close I can get then.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Rest and Recuperation Recently Required

I'm so indecisive at the moment that I just spent a minute staring at the Title: field of this post trying to come up with one.

The frenzy of the past year has all caught up with me and I'm feeling exhausted and lethargic. My concentration is shot, and I take pleasure in little other than sleeping and watching television, which absorbs me now like it never has before. This is what it must be like to be old.

So, I'm taking it easy, as much as I can, anyway, and relying on all the processes and aides-memoir I seems to spend my active time generating. I bought Helen an iPod for our anniversary, and in a fit of jealous pique, my Creative Zen has comitted suicide. Waiting for its replacement to arrive seems to be a good opportunity to give the gym a rest, or at least confine myself to swimming and yoga.

I'd been needing about 12 shots of espresso a day, which is not really a sustainable way to live (unless you also do lots of cocaine as well, obviously) so I've cut that out completely. I'm in my fourth day off the bean today, and I haven't had any of the headaches I'd been expecting and my piss has stopped smelling like the bins at Starbucks.

I new something was going wrong on my most recent competitive run, the 10K Bupa Great Edinburgh Run the other weekend, when I had to actually stop and walk for a bit. I didn't feel ashamed or embarrassed, but more shocked that my legs had just given up. I think it was a mixture of lack of sleep and steady hydration the day before, together with perhaps easing off training a day or two too early so that my calves were stiff and knotted. Plenty of approaches to try before the next one in September.

I'm looking forward to getting better. Specifically to getting my energy and concentration back so I can spend an hour reading in bed each night, cook a new recipe each week, and even iron standing up, which is proving a challenge now.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The optimism of a long weekend

A weekend of space to breathe - four days of catching up and consolidating. I took Friday off to try and make inroads on a piece of writing I have to deliver at the end of the month. Eventually, after hours of uninspired hard work I gave up and tidied my study. I think that there are few pleasures in life greater than getting up in the morning the day after you've tidied up and taking a few minutes to enjoy the clear surfaces, alphabetised books and right angles you've imposed. So, a good start to today, even if I have 4000 words to get through. I must work on integrating writing into other things I do. I still do it the way I did when I was a gonzo batchelor, sat in front of the computer with all other demands on my time subjugated to The Deadline and just a bottle of vodka for comfort. I sank about 8 pints of coffee yesterday, which may have been just as couterproductive.

The post arrived this morning. For me, two issues of Doctor Who Adventures, complete with inflatable mosnters, sticker book, poster, and Doctor Who pencil and notepad. For Helen, the electricity bill. Someone in this household is more overtly keeping his inner child alive.

There are leaks coming from the school in Switzerland where Genesis are rehearsing for their reunion tour. If they play some of the songs they've been practising when they come to Twickenham in July, I shall have tears in my eyes. What a time this is for my eternal fifteen-year-old self, Doctor Who back on TV, Genesis back on the road, and I've even got some exams to take soon, to obtain professional certification as a boring tit who works in IT. The man who came to fix the shower yesterday asked what I did and instantly regretted it when I started telling him. The power to bore domestic appliance engineers - what a gift. He left so quickly he didn't even ask to see the warranty.

Despite my electoral opposition on Thursday, it seems the SNP has gained control of the Scottish parliament. I have a wooly fear that this will endanger the union between Scotland and the rest of Britain, and am not sure how I feel about having to learn Gaelic in order to understand the Scottish-only radio, television and newspapers that will supplant the British ones, to surrender my British passport, and become a first generation immigrant in this fledgling nation. On the other hand, it may just be that there won't be any Scottish seats at Westminster, and the Scottish parliament will actually assume some significance. Until someone tells me, I'm not going to start shouting. That's been the problems with referenda so far - voters assume the choice is what they most fear, and vote accordingly. At least it will all be spoken about publically, and I'm sure nothing will happen overnight.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Closing Credit!

I feel quite euphoric. I recently learned that a documentary feature on the latest Doctor Who DVD (Survival - BBCDVD1834 - April) had incorporated a piece I wrote for Doctor Who Magazine in 1997. That was called 27 Up and combined research on how the series might have continued after 1989 with some fanciful extrapolation. The DVD documentary has been produced by my friend Richard, but he brilliantly kept my involvement as a surprise, and the first I found about it was an interview with him in the latest issue of the magazine.

I love seeing my name in print. I would be lying if I said it wasn't one of the best things about dabbling in journalism and fiction. But I've never expected to see it on telly, least of all typeset and composited into the actual closing credits of Doctor Who! Brilliant!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Prime of My Life

I entered my forty-second year today. I feel less anxious than last Saturday, when I had a half marathon and a critique of the new series of Doctor Who's debut to deliver the following day. Both went well, in one hour forty-nine minutes and one thousand words respectively. On the left you can see me coming in to the finish past the Royal Yacht Brittania at Leith, streaking past Max Clifford, it would appear.

I've just read Iain Bank's latest novel and, although it's a return to a well-established winning formula, did remind me why I love his work so much. I have an impossible pile of reading to choose from and am glad I no longer review books regularly. It's great to dabble and sample.

It's a bright sunny easter weekend here in Edinburgh. I'm attached to a weekend-long project at one of our clients so I keep being summoned to interventions and course-corrections meetings. I've already put in a week's worth commuting in the course of two days, but I'm inspired by the professionalism of my fellow contributors.

I'm so busy! I haven't even listenened to the new Marillion album yet. That's a telling pair of statements.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

March this weekend, run next weekend

I've never seen Brendon Burns live other than brief clips on Edinburgh festival television reviews, but he endeared himself to me this week in an interview in Metro that I picked up on the bus:

You’ve toured all around the world. Where are the worst audiences?
Liverpool. All comedians hate working Liverpool because Liverpudlians think yelling out ‘eff off’ makes them funnier than you. They’re unfunny people who think they’re funny. They’re so obvious and banal. Even Scouse comics think that Liverpudlian audiences are parochial and rubbish. Ricky Tomlinson goes on stage at the Liverpool comedy festival, says ‘What’s the point of having a comedy festival in Liverpool? Everyone’s a comedian’ and the place goes nuts. No one else feels that way about them. No one else thinks they’re funny.

I always found Liverpudlians en masse very cynical and punishing towards anyone venturing above the parapet, so I have a lot of sympathy for Burns' observation. It's a sweeping generalisation, or course. Some Liverpudlians are lovely. Like me.

In other news, I shall be running my second half marathon next weekend. I think I'm better prepared this time, although I'm really going to have to resist the temptation to hare off at the start because I'm doing better at endurance than speed this year. My biggest fear, genuinely, is that I'll have inappropriate and annoying music repeating in my head as I run, like Joe Simpson's viral infestation of Boney M's Brown Girl In The Ring towards the conclusion of the events of Touching The Void.

The next couple of months are looking very busy. The project I'm working on has a financial cut-off at the end of May so we have to deliver lots of wins by then, which will mean weekend working. Doctor Who returns to BBC1 next Saturday, which means that if I'm going to maintain any kind of discipline at all, my reviews of each episode for Doctor Who Magazine will have to be complete by the following Monday morning. And the other writing engagement I put out for at last year's North-East England Doctor Who convention is going to happen, so I have a short story to deliver by the end of May.

I am reminded of this sublime observation by Fry and Laurie, in their "Spies" characters. I'm probably paraphrasing (or, to paraphrase that, "lazily misquoting").

MERCHISON: It never rains, but it pours.
CONTROL: Sometimes it rains and it pours!


Thursday, March 01, 2007

What happened to February? Eh?

Father, its has been six weeks since my last confession.

For the last three weeks, I've been back on site at our client in the centre of Edinburgh. I'm engaged on a long server software upgrade programme which involves lots of small projects, and I'm finding the change to shorter-term, closely-scrutinised work very stimulating. After the alternating lethargy and panic of being solely charged with inventing something, this is a great improvement, and my morale is on the rise.

I'm now focussing on the Edinburgh Forthside Half Marathon five weeks from now. After the pain of last year's Glasgow event, I'm making sure I'm well-prepared, and for the last couple of Saturdays, I've managed to run outdoors for two hours continuously. This is more or less the length of a live concert by one of my favourite prog rock bands, so I can listen to a lovingly remastered live recording as I thud along the canal path, and the combined experience is about as much fun as you can have by yourself. I love having the Union Canal towpath just at the end the road, and being able to progressively push how far along it I can run each time. I think I made it to the outskirts of Ratho yesterday:

That makes it about seven miles each way, so I should be good for the race.

I made a modest return to Doctor Who Magazine this month, as the latest TV critic. I'm pleased to be part of the magazine again now that the series is on air, and to be covering the TV series itself. I'm still following my path through the original TV series, and the weekend's ironing will find me in 1971, but I shall have to suspend this personal archaeology while I watch and rewatch the new series and try and produce some insights.

I am developing a cold. It's in beta-test at the moment, and should be ready for public launch any day now. I actually want to go to work tomorrow, but fear I may manage a gallant appearance at a morning meeting before vacating my desk for the comfort of a hot bath and an afternoon of menthol inhalation. So no running for me this weekend. Arse.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Swearing, Sweating and Sharing

I've had a very satisfactory weekend. I'd needed to get something off my chest at work, and managed to do it on Friday, so the anxiety that had dogged me for the previous week was finally banished. That set things up very well.

On Friday night, we watched the French documentary Etre et Avoir about a junior school teacher and his charges. It took a while for me to assimilate the style of the film, but it did win me over. I resolve to watch more foreign language cinema - there's something very dignified about having all the dialogue presented as subtitles - it makes you take it in syntactically as well as semantically. We followed that up with another sort of French documentary, Tourette de France. I felt a twinge of recognition with the film's subjects, who I learned often have OCD as well as Tourettes. My occasional moaning or talking to myself when stressed, are somewhere on the same continuum at Tourettes, I'm sure. In particular, I identified with John Davidson when he let out a compulsive "Whizzzzzz!" on a tour of a cathedral.

Saturday brought the Edinburgh Great Winter Run, and thankfully a respite from the storms that have been lashing the city of late. It felt like swimming in the Serpentine on New Year's Day - the city coming out to blow off the cobwebs and start the new year. The middle involved running up a volcano into a silent-movie oncoming wind, and I was more tempted to walk than on any previous run. I let thoughts of my next appointment with tarmac hang over me, which drove morale down still further, but once over the worst, romped back in a respectable time. It was barely long enough to get warmed up, I'm telling myself.

Having thus earned some relaxation, I spent the afternoon on the sofa in my dressing gown eating Turkish Delight and watching 16 Years of Alcohol, Richard Jobson's beautifully-made, if utterly demoralising film memoir. It was all filmed on Edinburgh's Southside where I used to live, and even included a few views of where I'd been running that morning.

To celebrate Helen's birthday, we went out to dinner at Merchants. I'd been once before, about eight years ago, on a deserted week night, but it was warm in every way for Helen and me. Despite sitting opposite each other for out evening meal at least three hundred times a year, we still find new things to talk about when we go out. A great day.

Sunday was quieter. I've been replacing all my old cassette concert bootlegs with downloaded CD versions but one or two performances have been elusive in this format ,so I've resorted to capturing, tidying up, and mastering my own CDs of them. This is a significant investment of effort, and I'd hate to lose the results, so I decided to share out my latest (Yes live in Sacramento in 1988) via the Bittorrent filesharing system. I'd never contributed anything like this previously, so after gingerly following the relevant FAQ, I was thrilled to see other users taking the files and passing them on in turn. By the end of the day, there were 70 other sharers who had joined in. This was doubly rewarding because I felt like I'd contributed something back to the community, and also, because there were now 70 safety copies of my fragile CDRs spread all over the world. This is addictive. I will try and contribute some video as well, of programmes I've rescued from VHS tapes.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Blair's Noxious Emission

At this stage in his premiership, Blair can afford to set an example without alienating potential supporters who want social justic, but not at the price of easy access to their second home in the Algarve. It would have cost him nothing to do the right thing. It has cost us all a great deal, that he hasn't. I'd be very angry if I hadn't already deserted Labour for the Greens at the last election.

Monday, January 08, 2007

High and Dry: Two Years On

It is exactly two years to the day since I stopped drinking alcohol. We shall celebrate tonight with the ginger cake I baked at the weekend. I am quietly proud.

After the holiday period's sniffles, aches and pains, I feel my strength returning. I will be circumnavigating Edinburgh's dormant volcano in the Great Winter Run on Saturday. Can't wait.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Bubbling Lumps of Hate

Dear Sir

I was recently taken by the similarity between BNP leader, Nick Griffin, and the Emperor of the Daleks.

Both are glassy-eyed ranting right-wing monsters with delusions of grandeur, intent on recycling the marginalised of society into a coordinated, homogeneous force to sieze victory for racial purity.

Could they perhaps be related?