Monthly Archives: June 2010

A Soda Against The Collapse

This time tomorrow we’ll be on the plane to Heathrow, so we’re doing the last loads of laundry, dusting off the suitcases, and mending the bed which collapsed under us at 2am last night.

I actually slept through it – a combination of age, a Pavement gig the previous evening (review to come) and Nyquil (or Wal-Quil, Walgreen’s flattering imitation). Cassie had to shake me to wake me up, and she asked if the bed had collapsed. Things did look a bit skewiff, so we got up and checked under the bed, and sure enough, the centre bar which runs up the middle of the bed was resting on the floor at one end. What had happened was that the extra fold-down legs which held the centre bar up had folded up, and all the weight was on the bracket which held the bar to the headboard. This bracket was held on which six surprisingly short screws, and these just ripped out, and our downstairs neighbor got a nice wakeup bang.

We had some choices: mend the bed there and then; go upstairs and sleep on the air mattress we have for guests (mains powered – it’s awesome); or complete the disassembly of the bed and sleep on the mattress on the floor. We tried to fix it by putting the screws back, but the holes were all ripped out, so they wouldn’t stay in. Not good. We went for the mattress-on-the-floor solution. Just as I was drifting off to sleep, I said, “bolts”as a way to fix it, then fell asleep.

We haven’t  had this bed long, but because it was a display model which we got for half price, it isn’t covered under warranty. I’m not sure that this is reasonable wear and tear, and it may be a result of incorrect assembly by the delivery men, but we don’t have time to wait around. So this morning we called around for handypeople, tool rental, friends and so on. The problem is that I could fix it easily, but I don’t have any tools except for a couple of screwdrivers and a hammer. I had accrued a nice set of tools in the UK, but gave them away when I left.

Luckily Cassie’s old high school friend Taylor is very handy, lives in SF, and is very happy to help out. So we met him for breakfast down in the Castro near his office, and borrowed a power drill. Cliff’s Variety furnished the hardware, and I’ve just finished bolting the bracket back to the headboard. I’m not taking any chances with feeble short screws.

So in return for his kind deed, let me recommend to you…

Taylor’s Tonics

“America’s Most Innovative Soda Kitchen”

Taylor started Northern Unified Brewing quite a few years ago, selling chai herbs, concentrate, and other niche items. He then branched out into artesan craft-brewed sodas, starting with the delicious Chai Cola, then  recently adding three other varieties: a low-calorie version of the original product; Maté Mojito, a blend of mint and lime which is great on its own and awesome with rum; and Cola Azteca, a mocha spiced cola, which is a whole new flavour experience.

All the drinks are available around the city and beyond – Taylor is always trying to get it into grocery stores and corner shops. Natural food giant Whole Foods has them all at eye level in their drinks aisle, so things are looking, and tasting, good.

You can get a free Taylor’s Tonics bottle opener keyring by following these instructions. Follow them on Facebook, basically. And look out for the crazy Taylor’s Tonics Tricycle at an alternative desert gathering near you!

Thanks, T.

Disclaimer: This was not a paid advertisement except that Taylor lent us his power drill, has helped out with lots of stuff in the past, and is an all-round good egg.

Stars – The Independent – June 20 2010

Cassie took me to see Montreal-based popular beat combo Stars at The Independent last night. She knows the band well, having known singer Amy Millan for a long time, and seeing them in London and LA. We went to see Amy and her band play a small show at Cafe du Nord a few months ago, so I got to meet her then. Cassie plays Stars a lot in the car, so I’ve got to know some of the songs pretty well. Cassie describes them as “baroque pop”, and I’d say that covers it. They have some rocking stuff, ballads, groovy little dance numbers, all sorts. It’s a six-piece, or at least there were six people on stage, so there’s lots of room for different sounds and atmospherics.

Because Cassie knows the band, we were on the guest list, and were able to go up to the VIP balcony, which is a balcony. No hookers’n’blow or hot tub, sadly, but a great view of the stage. From our vantage point I was peering closely at the equipment – apart from the guitars and drums, the keyboardist had some fancy workstation and piano, the singer had a little synth on a crosstand, and the bass player had a Little Phatty which he used instead of his 4-string on some songs. The venue is great – it’s part owned by one of the executives at Cassie’s company, and they had done quite a lot of renovation, which seemed to be mostly about stripping back fripperies (a bar in the center of the auditorium? Maybe it was a club beforehand.) to make it a straightforward venue with good access, great bar, and a spacious yet compact feel. Nice.

When we went in, Torq the singer was sitting on stage with a laptop, playing songs, asking trivia questions about them, and throwing copies of the new CD to those who got the answer right. He played Human by the Human League, and asked what biographical detail he and the League had in common. I thought to myself, “Sheffield?”, which turned out to be right. Then he played an old Cath Carroll song I hadn’t heard in years, which pleased me no end. In between tracks he was blowing bubbles into the audience as well, which is cute.

The band proper started by playing the new album (released today) start-to finish, then came back to play audience favorites as voted by the fans on their website. I recognized many of the songs because the new album has been streaming on NPR recently. I remember NPR talked about their last album in 2007 too – NPR clearly like Stars a lot.

Most of the songs revolve around Torq and Amy singing, with the songs mostly being about relationships and all that follows. They also do solo numbers, and the songs cover all sorts of genres. They’re been doing this for over 10 years, and Cassie said their earlier stuff was rockier, with more gentle themes coming through more recently.

The audience was into it. At first they were a little quiet, probably because the new album isn’t released until today (although what does that mean? It’s been streaming online, and I’m sure it’s available through the naughty channels already). The band make a big deal of communicating with the audience, and the gratitude was a little cheesy in places, but it seemed sincere and heartfelt, so fair enough.

After a short break they came back on and did a full set of requested songs from their back catalogue, which the audience lapped up. They were dancing and singing along, and the band was enjoying themselves, and it was all good. The encore was another half-set, which pleased the crowd no end, and a final encore was Torq and the keyboard player Chris Seligman, with a lovely piano piece.

After the show, we went backstage and met Amy, and Cassie introduced me to the rest of the band, who were all very nice. Torq was pleased that I’d recognized the Cath Carroll song in the opening set, and Amy was really happy to see Cassie. There was lots of activity backstage, because the tour is ongoing, but we were able to have a drink and chat with the band, in between them getting changed, and the manager and local promoter making plans for a fan-only gig later in the year (you heard it here first!).

When it was time to go – to bed for Cassie and I, and to get food and/or go to the hotel for the band – we walked them out, to find a group of fans waiting for autographs and to give gifts. They’d been waiting in the cold for ages! As Cassie said, it felt good, and a bit bad, to be able to kiss Amy goodbye in front of them, and say, “See you soon!”.

Razorblade Kisses

This post was floating around in my drafts for ages. Then recently I’ve just got around to sorting out my photos, so the attending slide show is ready.

I’m not your regular hairy bloke. That’s not to say that I’m an ethereal blonde-eyelashed Eloi, but I definitely have trouble growing a beard. When things of that nature started  growing, I wondered for a while what would happen if I left it. Another kid at school did just that and ended up with just two bunches of bristles, on on each side of his chin, which brought to mind (just now) Wells’ description of the Martians:

In a group round the mouth were sixteen slender, almost whiplike tentacles, arranged in two bunches of eight each.

That put paid to any thoughts of seeing what my face would look like unshaven. Even any attempts to grow sideburns resulted in some sparse and gappy growths which petered out as they approached the hair proper.

Time passed.

In 2002 I got the part of Benedick in a production of Much Ado About Nothing. One of Benedick’s traits is that he is a bit rough around the edges, rougher especially than his fresh-faced friend Claudio, to whom he refers disparagingly as “my Lord Lackbeard“. Unfortunately, my friend Mike, who played Claudio, doesn’t so much have 5 o’clock shadow as 9am shadow, whereas I had trouble sprouting something visible in three days. We didn’t want to use false beards, or dodgy dabbed makeup, so we just kind of worked around it. He’s shorter than me, so I guess it worked alright. Lovely voice too.

Time passed once more.

In 2007, Cassie wanted to see what I would look like with a beard. A reasonable request, I guess. Check out the capabilities of the new catch. So, in the month before Xmas, I stopped shaving. When I travelled to LA and she saw the result, she was pleased I had tried, let’s put it that way, and on Xmas Day after most of the festivities in Orinda, I repaired to the guest bathroom to end the experiment. The purification was documented here.

As you can see, it was only a passing fancy, not worth pursuing.

My slow follicles do have advantages. I don’t need to shave every day; twice a week is sufficient. This means I can spend more time on it and make it a grooming ritual rather than a hasty necessity. I use my Dad’s old razor, a metal Simplex safety razor which takes standard blades (actual blades, not cartridges). I’ve been fascinated with this since I was a child. He didn’t use it as far as I know; I think (and hope) that it belonged to his father. I remember playing with it as a child, pretending to shave – without a blade in it of course that would be crazy ha!

I bought a pack of Derby blades from Amazon – $15 for 100 blades. Amazing value, considering each one lasts for about 4 shaves. It could be more if I sat it in mineral oil after use. I have a badger-hair brush from the tobacco shop on Victoria Street. For soap, I go between a quickly rubbed-in cream when I’m in a hurry, or this wonderful West Indian Lime soap from Trufitt and Hill. It smells amazing, has this iridescent texture, and the current jar has lasted well over a year so far.

I’m not the most image-obsessed man around, but I do like these small efforts. And it seems so much more elegant than a plastic hunk of markup sold by CGI and yelling – although I probably wouldn’t think that if I had to shave everyday. Doing things the old way is fun when you’re not forced into it. Like making soap. Or cooking.

You Are A Tourist, I Am A Traveller

Empty caveat: This post contains criticism of books I haven’t read. I know, right?

Cassie has recently been reading a couple of books recommended by her book club which got her very annoyed. I could tell she was annoyed because she would be reading in bed next to me, then suddenly exclaim something rude, drop the book on the floor and switch the light out.

The first book was The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, and it sounds insufferable to me, just from Shriver’s own description of herself. Grammar snob, “look at me I live in London and know what snooker is”. Drawn-out descriptions of fancy cooking just for the sake of it. The takeaway message? I AM BETTER THAN YOU.

The second book was Grounded, by Seth Stevenson, in which the author and his girlfriend go round the world using only ground transport like ships. A nice idea; Michael Palin made a gentle TV show from it late last century. But it would appear that Herr Stevenson is ALSO BETTER THAN YOU, because not only does he travel this way and write about it, he suggests frequently throughout that people who travel by air are not worthy to see the rest of the world and sample its cultures and cuisines. There is a drawback to travelling by tramp steamer across the Pacific, and that is the very long journey times and lack of entertainment (not to mention the danger of press gangs and – or is that not? No? OK then). But for most of you, this wouldn’t be a problem because your slovenly ape-brains don’t get bored by long stretches of time; they are too busy being amazed by the reality of a metal ship that floats. You’ve got it lucky, because Stevenson’s girlfriend, who is better than him and therefore WAY BETTER THAN YOU, is almost driven insane, her finely-tuned homo superior grey matter shrivelling away at the lack of stimulation.

On their travels they do the usual “authentic” travel experience, with exotic sweetmeats and bizarre (bazaar?) toilet arrangements ramming home how foreign the world can be, how safe your life is, and how exciting life can be when you leave the herdflock behind.

Both Stevenson and Shriver suffer from the kind of snobbery which suggests that one thing is “real”, while another thing, despite existing, is not. This idea is something that has bugged me for a while now, and a lot of my little bugbears can be traced to the suggestion that something I do or enjoy is not “real”. Music, film, coffee, bicycling. I must write something more substantial about this.

Meanwhile, I’m reading A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore, which is worrying close to Pr@tchett, but a bit darker. Cassie gave me it for my birthday, and it’s set in San Francisco, and so far it’s pretty good. After Junky and Cloud Atlas something lighter was required.

Of course, being a newcomer to the city, I’m going through that phase of being attracted to media that mentions or contains my new home. I found that irksome when I shared a house in Marlow with some Hounslow girls, who were always surprised at seeing London on the TV. The Princess Diaries is set here, as well as bits of Star Trek. Now that’s real entertainment.

Trip II The UK (2010 Mix)

This is an updated draft itinerary for Cassie’s and my trip to the UK in 2010.

  • Fly Sunday 27th June – DONE
  • Arrive Monday 28th June – DONE
  • Stay with James & Siobhan at first – DONE, LOVELY
  • Stay in London couple of days – DONE
  • Train to Bedford on Thursday 1st July / picked up by brother – DONE
  • Stay in Bedford Thursday night – DONE
  • Friday 2nd July – do Bedford things, show Cassie my home town, school etc – DONE
  • Friday afternoon – Travel to Reading to see sister – DONE
  • Stay in Reading Friday night – DONE
  • Saturday 3rd July – Matthew travel to London, Cassie travel to Bristol – DONE
  • Stay in a hotel Monday 5th – Thursday 8th
  • Fly back to San Francisco on Thursday July 8th

At some point I need to sort out Tooting flat.