Clever Weather

'Shall we go to the arcades, Jack?'
'Shall we go to the arcades, Jack?'

‘It’s going to be a long, hot, BBQ-summer’ said the Met Office a couple of months ago. Thrilled, we all rushed down to B&Q to buy as many pieces of garden furniture we could afford.

As I sit typing this, rain is lashing against the window and has been doing so all day. Last week, I was travelling back from a customer visit on the M25  in glorious sunshine. Within seconds the sunshine disappeared and the sky was awash with some of the greyest clouds I’ve ever seen. The congestion strewn lanes of the world’s most infuriating motorway were suddenly plunged into darkness, almost quick enough to make you jump. The rain came heavy and fast and was soon so torrential it was difficult to see past the car ahead.

Depending on how you arrived at this blog, you may have seen its strap line: ‘Firmly against global cooling’. And I am, firmly. As the strap line suggests. Global warming, as much a brain-washing, nonsensical, lucrative industry it is, does have one saving grace: it should bring us warmer weather. People in the UK should be rejoicing, not fitting every lamp in their house with bulbs that take longer to light up than the length of time they are required for.

Ok, so if you believe the government approved scientists, Norwich will be lost to sea and many other unimportant areas will also cease to exist. But, from where I’m sitting, if this has the knock on effect of guaranteeing a 40 degree summer in Northampton, then these are sacrifices I’m happy to make.

Getting back to the dismal weather we currently find ourselves in, I do have a little bit of sympathy for Mother Nature. It appears the Weather – unlike our government, banking bosses and Sky News – has been determined to see us through the recession.

Working in the hospitality industry, it is clear to see the affect the early reports of a scorching UK summer have had on customer habits. Combined with a pound that is worth very few dollars and even fewer straw donkeys, it appears us Brits have turned to our homeland for some much needed R&R.

Hotel bookings are up and the coastal destinations once consigned to a seemingly endless stream of grey haired coach parties are enjoying a deserved revival. Apart from Weston Super Mare, hopefully.

How Mrs Nature must be laughing now. Having lured us into a false sense of security, her promises of glorious sunshine have been swiftly whipped from under our feet, leaving us wet, soggy and doing our very best to enjoy the rain soaked 99 flake on a windswept seafront.

At least we’ve got some spare change in our back pocket.

Oh god, I’m learning how to read music

Bugs on the pianoSo, firstly, I’ve slipped up. NaBloPoMo started off fantastically. I managed fifteen posts in as many days and most of them, I think, were not complete drivel. A couple of ‘album fillers’, maybe, but at least I kept it up.

Then, inexplicably, I failed to post anything last Thursday. I knew I hadn’t. It wasn’t a case of forgetting. It was a conscious choice. I just couldn’t be arsed.

So I tried and failed. I’m not entirely sure of the benefit of getting myself listed on NaBloPoMo’s website, as it seemed to provide very little in the way of referrals. None, in fact. The visitor numbers certainly crept up but I have a feeling that was more to do with this site suddenly becoming more active due to the increased concentration of new posts.

Anyway, onto the topic of this post. Anyone that cares to follow this blog (if you do, please let me know, I’d love to hear from you) will be aware that I am embarking on the no doubt long and frustrating journey of learning the piano proper. Having tinkered for over ten years in my home studio, I am now pretty desperate to learn the instrument properly. It’s an instrument I’m instantly familiar and comfortable with, yet completely clueless about. That ambiguous last sentence will hopefully make sense to people in a similar position to myself.

Last night I had my first piano lesson. I’d been debating about what I wanted to get out of this over the last few weeks and had come to the conclusion that I must learn to read music. Theory is, generally speaking, as dull as Eastenders, regardless of the subject. But when you think about it, it’s an essential element of anything you wish to learn properly. Sure, there are some pretty big names in music who profess to being unable to read sheet music (namely Paul McCartney) but that shouldn’t be reason for us all to declare it a pointless waste of time.

Once you can read music, you can pick up pretty much any score and play it, unhindered. And that’s where I want to get.  I’ll be better than one of the Beatles! Awesome!

I’ve already taught myself a couple of ‘real’ songs and going so far back to the basics was at first a little unnerving. Very unnerving, if I’m honest. Suddenly, I was faced with treble clefs, bass clefs, crotchets and quavers. The latter I have only ever associated with a form of crisp-based snack, so adjusting myself to this new way of playing the piano was like being thrown in at the deep end. I relished it, though, even if it did feel a little bit like my first day at school.

For any aspiring pianists reading this in the Northampton area, please feel free to get in touch by clicking the ‘Contact’ button at the top of this page and I’ll happily pass on the details of my tutor. Although I’ve only had one lesson so far, I instantly got on with him and his relaxed, no hassle approach certainly made me feel at ease. It’s a wonderful skill to have as a teacher and one I simply can’t relate to. I would end up smashing the key cover on someone’s flailing hands after their second poor attempt at Silent Night.

Dell Boy PC Repair Shops in Poor Service Shocker

'Looks like she needs a new motherboard, sir.'
'Looks like she needs a new motherboard, sir.'

My love/hate relationship with Sky News continues apace.  Their recent gloomy reports of yet further financial disaster due to the outbreak of swine flu have annoyed me greatly and their insistence on basing the majority of their reports on assumption as opposed to fact is very irritating.

However, I’m happy to say I’m quite pleased with them today for running this story on the frighteningly bad service offered by local PC repair shops.

OK, so the most excitable of news channels still can’t stop themselves stating the bleedin’ obvious…

Some computer repair shops are illegally accessing personal data on customers’ hard drives – and even trying to hack their bank accounts, a Sky News investigation has found.

…but at least they get straight to the point.  The worrying thing is that this kind of stuff needs highlighting; I shudder to think how many innocent non-PC literate people are ripped off on a daily basis because of Dell Boy PC repair men who make the same sucking sounds mechanics do when ‘your camshaft has smashed into your valves, mate’.

The findings of Sky News’ investigation were pretty frightening, though.  Having loosened a memory stick in a laptop filled with images of near naked ladies and fake bank account details, Sky’s crack team of undercover journalists entered a laptop repair shop in West London and asked them to look into why it wasn’t booting up properly.

Within seconds of the pretend customer leaving the shop, Revival Computers’ staff quickly sussed out there was a loose memory module, reinserted it correctly and proceeded to crack on with the important job of looking through any and all folders with the word ‘private’ in their name.  They also unearthed the planted fake bank account details and tried to access the account ‘several times’.

This news may come as a real shock to some, but I’m not at all surprised.  Although I work in the I.T. industry and have a healthy understanding of PCs, I wouldn’t even take my PC to PC World to be fixed, let alone a back street shop.

Our PCs and laptops contain everything dear to us these days and it staggers me to think that people willingly give them to complete strangers to fix.  At the very least, you’re going to get ripped off.  Indeed, one shop Sky News took their ‘faulty’ laptop to explained that it would need a new motherboard at the cost of £100.

I can only offer one piece of advice.  I doubt there are many people out there who don’t know someone either in their family or amongst their friends who is handy with computers.  Always, always, use these people.  Speaking as one of those regularly called on by family and friends, just make sure you buy them a beer or two to say thanks!

You missed a trick there, Beckham

An American cleverly hides his 58 inch waist
A somewhat disgruntled Galaxy fan

“One of the guys was saying things that wasn’t very nice. It was stepping over the line. I said, ‘You need to calm down and come shake my hand,'” Multi-club ambassador David Beckham comments after his ‘clash’ with LA Galaxy fans during his first home match. This was after a five month secondment to AC Milan, during which he confessed to having fallen in love with the city: “Milan is the ideal place to be a footballer, it’s like being in Paradise,” he said, to the sound of a thousand Big Macs across the Atlantic being spat out.

Of course, all the clash really amounted to was Beckham pointing his finger at a fat American, getting fed up with the lack of response and making a pathetic attempt to jump over the advertising board.

But a hand shake? Is that all he wanted to give this guy? I’d have given him a lot more, if I was Beckham. It perhaps says more about the player (who appears to have adopted the word ‘soccer’ for our beautiful game while over there) than the moronic Galaxy fan he targeted that nothing more came of it.

I’m on Beckham’s side here, quite firmly, but few others seem to be. I’m not sure why. He’s offered his talent to the equivalent of UK Sunday League and has done his best to promote the American game. So, he nipped off to Milan for a few months to play some real football. Who cares? He came back, didn’t he?

I doubt there’s an English football fan in the land who didn’t see his move to the States for what it was; an exercise in creative marketing. However, that shouldn’t detract from the fact that Beckham, to his credit, always gives 100% when playing football and clearly loves the game. There are very few world class players who would be happy to drop to such a level and still keep the pace up.  Not that pace has ever been Beckham’s strong point, but you catch my drift.

Say us Brits were treated to a world famous internationally-capped Ice Hockey player from the states who was quite happy to lend his services to Kettering Ice Hockey Club. Would we moan, jeer and threaten god knows what if he decided to nip off for some real Hockey elsewhere? I don’t think we would.

How the Galaxy fans can’t see the benefit of Beckham still playing top flight football elsewhere is beyond me. Were they really expecting him to make a long term commitment to Mickey Mouse ‘He’s stuffed another one in the goal bag’ soccer? If they were, they should have started booing him from the moment he unveiled his squad number.

Don’t forget it was America that tried to impose ‘kick ins’ and ‘time outs’ at the ’94 world cup. For that very reason, I find it difficult to take any criticism they level at a good English footballer very seriously at all.

N.B. Take a look at this video from Newsy.com which pulls together news coverage from different media outlets on the subject of Beckham’s relationship with the Galaxy fans.  Interesting stuff: http://www.newsy.com/videos/the_beckham_experiment

Swine flu puts the boot in

A US trader get's some financial advice from his GP.
A US trader get's some financial advice from his GP.

So, not only are we all going to die from swine flu, today we learn that before we cough and splutter our way into oblivion, our wallet is going to be hit by the bug too.

‘SWINE FLU COULD TIP ECONOMY OVER THE EDGE’, shouts the Sky News website.  According to the news bully, 7.5% is how far the economy could contract if people start making excuses about ‘sniffing and stuff’ and stop coming into work.

Just as there appeared to by a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, a killer bug stomps into the pre party preparations and puts its boot square into the plate of party rings.  Thanks a lot, Mother Nature.

Well, actually, no.  I’m not having this.  I’m fed up of the doom mongering media we are surrounded by these days.  They’re not happy unless we’re all fatally miserable.  And the worst thing is, we can’t get away from them – they’re on our TV, on our phone, on the newstand and regularly the subject of water cooler conversations.  I’m not falling for it this time, though.

Why do we revel in misery?  Swine Flu is perfectly treatable; we’re not talking months off work for everyone that gets it.  Why is it any different to any other type of bug?  In 2009, why should we fear something we can predict, treat and cure?

What really concerns me is the affect this type of press has on the public.  I’m convinced the most obvious sideeffect of a recession (a drop in public spending), was exacerbated in 2009’s case by gloomy news reports every time a TV was switched on or a paper read.  Why would any of us spend our hard earned when we’re racked with fear over loosing our jobs and homes?

The R word has barely figured in headline news for the last month and as a result consumer confidence appears to have increased.  It couldn’t last though, could it?

Swine Flu isn’t the threat we face, nor is the city boy’s penchant for an immoral bonus or two.  No, the threat weighs twenty stone, wears an ill fitting suit, sits behind a news ticker and answers to the name of Eamonn.

YouTube Piano Lessons

YouTube piano lessons: pause, rewind and abandon your teacher at will!
YouTube piano lessons: pause, rewind and abandon your teacher!

With my first ever piano lesson rapidly approaching, I’m spending as much time learning pieces as best I can, so that I have a semblance of piano know-how to demonstrate to my teacher come July 27th.

For any other aspiring pianists out there, I can’t recommend YouTube enough if you want an intuitive, no-hassle introduction to learning technique and specific songs.

It can, however, be a frustrating search; lots of lessons mean well enough but usually make one of three critical errors:

  1. The camera is placed at such an obscure angle that it is impossible to work out what keys are being pressed.  Sometimes, the camera has adopted that much of a 1970s Batman villain angle, the only reason you know it’s a piano lesson is because you can hear the familiar sound of tinkling ivories.  This is particularly prevalent with female ‘tutors’ who seem far more concerned that the camera picks out their best side.
  2. Sound quality comparable to a 1930s grammar phone.  Occasionally, it’s so tinny and devoid of any harmonics that every note sounds the same.  This does not a good music lesson make.
  3. They don’t talk.  I’ve found 9 minute videos where they just sit there and play the piece out slowly without muttering a word.  This is about as intuitive as a teacher after nineteen double whiskeys.

In fact, many of them commit all three crimes above simultaenously making the learning process, well, fucking impossible.

Not to worry, though.  I can recommend two fantastic examples of how well it can be done.

LypurI believe this young chap is a professional teacher but he is clearly an incredibly acomplished musician.  He covers theory and technique very well and his teaching style is relaxed and inspiring.

Pianojohn113 – My absolute favourite for learning real, living, breathing songs.  If you’re keen on taking up the piano, you can’t ignore The Beatles, Billy Joel and Elton John.  This guy has all three covered and teaches them with no-frills aplomb.

Give YouTube a go.  While it can’t be as intimate as a real one-to-one lesson, the ability to rewind your teacher, pause them and return a day later when you get frustrated is fantastic.

Bruno: Filthy But Brilliant

Bruno
Bruno

There’s no two ways about it, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno is the filthiest thing you’ll see all year.   If not for the foreseeable future.

18 certificate films are a rare thing these days, but from the opening scenes involving Bruno and his boyfriend experimenting with, amongst other things, a fire extinguisher and a unique modification of an exercise bike, it’s clear Sacha is determined to go even lower than his reputation guarantees.

It is, however, laugh out loud funny.  As you’d expect from the man behind such brilliant, toe curling creations as Borat and Ali G, Bruno is bum-clenchingly difficult to watch at times but equally hilarious.

The real highlight of this film is Cohen’s brilliant interviews with some of the most uptight anti-gay Americans you’re likely to see.  Masterfully luring them into a false sense of security, Bruno proceeds to extract ever more nonsensical and at times down right unbeilevable opinions from these clearly disturbed souls.  His interviews with two ‘gay converter’ pastors is inspired.

It’s difficult to see where he can go from here.  Aside from the taste bucket having been well and truly drained, the legitimacy of every scene in Bruno will naturally be questioned.  Part of the joy of this film is watching real people become entangled in and confused by the farcical world of Bruno, but how many were in on it?  Paula Abdul clearly wasn’t as she sat on a Mexican builder man posing as a chair whilst confessing her love of helping people.  But there are several scenes where Cohen is either admirably ballsy or simply accompanied by some very good actors.

I will not give anything else away, as so many film reviews do (a poorly disguised get out clause for this dreadful excuse for a review, right there) but will simply end this post by highly recommending Bruno.  Just leave your morals at home.