It’s our family custom on Christmas Day to go for a walk down by the River Lea (usually shown on maps with the addition “or Lee”, as both spellings have been used historically). Often it’s been cold and dreich and we’ve seen almost no-one. Two days ago it was a gorgeous sunny day, and there were hundreds of people out.
And some boats were moving:
While others were just parked:
And this is us; Frances, me, and our two young adults, who don’t normally like to be photographed, and who have never appeared here before:
There was the referendum, and its immediate aftermath. That’s still ongoing, of course, and won’t be over any time soon.
Then there was my leaving do from work, as I’d reached the end of the at-risk period, and am now redundant, obsolete, out of work, etc. The do was good. We had a decent turnout of current and former colleagues. My boss’s boss’s boss, the one who told us the news that we were being made redundant, turned up (he is the only one of the hierarchy who is based in Britain, the intervening layers being in Manila) and paid off the tab at the time he left, which must have been about 7pm. We still managed to spend just over £250 after that, which was optimal, as there were five of us.
I got an Uber home, and accidentally discovered what the difference between “Pool” and “UberX” is. I found myself in a car with four strangers (including the driver). To be honest I don’t think “Pool” was an option when I last used an Uber. I assume the “X” means “Exclusive.”
Anyway, they were all going to Islington, which left me to snooze on to Hackney, so it worked out fine.
And then I was unemployed. It didn’t quite hit me at first, because my beloved and I had a weekend trip to Avebury, which was fascinating. Here’s a picture of some stones. And a sheep.
But Monday dawned, and I set to with my new daily plan:
8:00 – Get up, go for a swim.
9:00-ish – Home, breakfast.
9:30-12:30 – Job-hunt things.
12:30-1:30 – Lunch.
1:30-5:00-ish – Side projects (indie dev/writing).
As you might imagine, I haven’t exactly been sticking to that 100%. But the idea is that it’s going to be important to have some structure to my day now that I don’t have one imposed by full-time employment. And job-hunting can be very time-consuming, so treating that as my job for at least part of each day seems like the right thing to do.
The first day was strange, because I kept having this sense at the back of my mind, “I’m working from home today, so I’ll be in the office tomorrow,” which would have been true on Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons for the last few years. But then of course it would hit me: no office; no job.
I’m enjoying the experience, though, so far at least. I’ve managed to do pretty well with the schedule, and even extended the swimming to using the gym at the local leisure centre. This is the first time I’ve ever used a gym, except for a few years ago when I had physio after injuring my leg.1 The guy who did my induction managed to hide his disbelief of this fact quite well. And now that I’ve done a few sessions I’m thinking, “Why didn’t I do this years ago?” Oh well.
So all in all, a time of change and newness — which would generally be good, and some of it is. But see the first point, above, and the debris from that. An unknown new Tory government who don’t seem to be quite willing to accept that parliament is sovereign, and so it needs to decide whether or not to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. And Labour too busy tearing itself apart to hold the government to account.
As to the Labour leadership business, I’ll have more to say about that when I’ve worked out what I think.
I’m wryly amused to see that at that leg link from 2004 I’m expressing bafflement about people who would want to leave the EU. [↩]
The Radio 1 Hackney Weekend festival was fabulously well organised, loads of fun, and passed off with only three arrests.1 Booking the tickets a month or two ago had turned out to be easy (we sat with multiple browsers and phones as the SeeTickets site crumpled, but in fact it was no trouble at all after we left it for a while). Being local residents helped, as half the tickets were for Hackney households.
It was a free show, so there were restrictions; most notably that you could only book for one of the two days, and only two tickets per person. We were doing it for the kids; and the kids in this family (to say nothing of most of their friends) favoured the Sunday lineup; so that’s the one we went for.
[The lineup](http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/events/e9wmxj/performances) leaned heavily to the various dance subgenres: (modern) R&B, dubstep, and so on. Not forgetting hip-hop, of course; not only did Jay-Z headline the first night, he guested with Rihanna on the second.
For me the highlight of the day was Jessie J; though I was mildly disappointed that she censored herself in my favourite of her songs, ‘Do it Like a Dude’.2
Tinie Tempah was also good, though since I’ve subsequently been listening to Enter Shikari, I’m slightly disappointed to have missed them as they clashed with Tinie.
There was great secrecy and much speculation over who the “Special Guest” was to be. They managed to keep it hidden until the day, which, while impressive in its way, had me worried. I thought that, depending on who it was, there could be a disaster. In particular, if it had been Justin Bieber, as some kids were speculating, there would have been a vast, simultaneous, two-way flow, from and to the stage (my kids would have been running away from the stage; there are no Beliebers at Devilgate Towers).
Not long before the guest’s time I heard on good authority that it was going to be Beyoncé. Believable, as her hubbie was there, and she was said to be “in the house”. But I doubted it: isn’t she a bigger name than Rihanna? And anyway, I get the sense that she’d be too much of a diva to go on second on the bill.
Anyway, in the end it was Dizzee Rascal, which with hindsight made total sense, what with him being a local boy and all.
As we wandered through the stages and the day, we heard snatches of Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love’ seven times (I started keeping count at the third) from various between-act DJs and stalls. So by the time it closed the night, I was thoroughly ready to hear it properly. And a damn fine ending it was, too (though the fireworks were a tad tame).
I was hugely impressed with the organisation of the thing. We got there nice and early, and there was hardly any queueing, despite the airport-style security. The staff were all lovely and friendly, and — get this — there was hardly ever a queue for the toilets!
I would strongly support any moves to make it a regular thing. Radio 1’s event moves around the country, so it couldn’t stay free, but I could easily see it working as a commercial festival in the future.
I have it on the authority of a Hackney police officer. [↩]
Hint: “Dirty dirty dirty dirty dirty dirty sucker” doesn’t rhyme with “D’you think I can get hurt by you, you [puts finger on lips]”. [↩]
This week, though, I’ve been to the presentation of the Clarke Award, which is held in association with the festival, and at its main venue; and last night, the whole family went to the BFI (or the NFT, I can’t quite work out what its official name is these days) to see a film.
Which was Dimensions, a low-budget British film about time travel — or maybe dimension-hopping — which doesn’t even have a distributor yet.
Which is a great shame, because despite some flaws it is a very enjoyable piece. We were still talking about it at lunchtime today.
It did show its low-budget nature in one or two places, but nothing that destroys the overall effect. The couple who made it (Ant Neely wrote and composed the original music, and Sloane U’Ren directed and did much else) had to sell their house to fund it, so almost anything can be forgiven.
I won’t say too much more about it here, but if you ever get a chance to see it, you should take it.
There was a Q&A with writer, director, lead actor & editor after the screening, which was very interesting. I was geared up to ask a question, which would have gone something like this: “When you make a time-travel story, especially in Britain, you’re walking among some long shadows, especially Wells and Doctor Who; to what extent would you acknowledge those as influences?” I had my hand up to speak, when the interviewer asked a question touching on exactly those points. So I didn’t ask. Pity. I would also have mentioned the fact that they have a mysterious wise man know only as “the Professor”.
For the last two months or so, it seems, I’ve been listening almost exclusively to a single album.1 That album is David Comes to Life by a Toronto hardcore band called Fucked Up.
That’s hardcore in the punk sense, not rap, or anything else. All genres have a “hardcore” subgenre, it seems. I’m sure that somewhere there’s hardcore pop.
Anyway, this album causes me to put together three words that I never thought I’d see in the same sentence, never mind describing the same thing: punk rock opera.
I know, I know, rock operas are the bloated detritus of prog rock, and part of what we fought the punk wars against. Though truth be told, I’ve always been quite fond of Tommy. But in a sense it was always something that was going to happen eventually. When a genre or a medium has been around for a while, people will try to take it further than it has gone before, and that’s no bad thing.
And when you get right down to it, it’s all about storytelling, and who can complain about that?
So I was pointed in the direction of this album by a post on Mike Sizemore’s blog. Sizemore is a scriptwriter; I probably started reading his blog when someone like Warren Ellis pointed me at a teaser or “sizzle” video he and some other people made for a prospective science fiction series.
Anyway, he posted a link to the video for the second track off the album, ‘Queen of Hearts’, and spoke very highly of it, as you’ll have seen if you followed the link. If you haven’t, you should. Go on, I’ll wait. I watched it a couple of times, and though, “That’s OK, interesting premise, I wish I could make out the words.”
And then I forget about it for a while.
But one day something made me go back. I listened again. I downloaded the album. I fell in… not love, exactly, but fascination.
North American hardcore bands have a certain vocal style, which is certainly not to everyone’s taste. In that way, I realised, it’s not unlike actual opera. Sure, the vocal stylings are about as far apart as possible; but they are both very stylised. And my biggest two problems with opera are that it’s hard to make the words out (even when they’re singing in english), and that I don’t really like the vocal stylings.
Not to everyone’s taste, as I said.
Luckily, operas tend to have surtitles; and albums have lyric sheets. The lyrics for David Comes to Life are available on the web, as you might expect.
Anyway, I’m writing about this now because I haven’t got round to doing so before, but especially because I’ve just got back from seeing Fucked Up live. They were playing at a Shoreditch venue called XOYO in a “co-headliner” with a band called OFF!.
I tweeted a lot about it, and among other things, I expressed a degree of concern as to what it would be like going to a hardcore gig:
Hmm. Not seen a hardcore gig since Napalm Death? That may well be true, but they’re British (and technically grindcore, according to Wikipedia). I began to wonder whether I’d ever seen a US (or Canadian) hardcore band live. The only one I could think of were Hüsker Dü, whom I saw in Edinburgh in — oh, 84 or 85.
I feel sure there must have been others, and yet the only such band that I was really, really a fan of was the Dead Kennedys, and if they ever played the UK it happened either without me knowing about it, or they only played far away from where I was, or both.
I needn’t have worried, though. The venue was just the right size, and comfortably packed. The crowd were gentle and lovely. The moshpit was pretty wild, but I turned 47 yesterday, which is officially way past too old for the moshpit, and I was well able to stay clear of it.
And it was a totally brilliant night. The first band, Cerebral Ballzy, were on when I arrived, so I heard three or four of their songs. They sounded pretty good, and more to the point, the sound in the room was excellent. Clear, and powerful, without being so loud as to be overwhelming.
OFF! were classic hardcore, in that if you didn’t like a song there’d be another along in way less than three minutes. I thoroughly enjoyed them.
And Fucked Up just ruled. I was thinking before they came on that I would leave happy as long as they played ‘Queen of Hearts’ And they duly opened with it! They then proceeded to play edited highlights from David Comes to Life, interspersed with a few other tracks. There was stage-diving, crowd-surfing, the singer diving topless into the audience and walking almost to the back of the venue while still singing (and using a wired mike, with a very long cable).
Anyway, if you’ve read to the end of this rambling thing, you should go and listen to some things. Here’s the ‘Queen of Hearts’ video, and it’s the first time I’ve ever embedded a video. Let’s hope it works. Note that this version has the kids in the video singing on it, which is not how it is on the album, but is very cool nonetheless.
And the second video from the album, ‘The Other Shoe’, which they also did tonight.
Though in old-school terms it would almost certainly be a double album. [↩]
The day after New Year’s Day we decided to go to the British Museum, to see the mummies. So did half of London, it seemed. I’ve never seen it so crowded. Still, the mummies are always interesting. I must go back another time and see some other sections.
Home was via bookshop, Pizza Express, and Little Fockers at the cinema (ignore the critics: it’s loadsa fun; unless you didn’t like the first two, of course).
Oh, but before all that, we had tried to play basketball in Millfields Park. But there was an annoying dog-owner who couldn’t control her Alsatian. The latter proceeded to bite our basketball till it burst. When we remonstrated with the owner, she ran off.
At least it was only the basketball that got bitten.
The next day brought an early start. Neither London’s young skaters nor anybody else gets up very early on New Year’s Bank Holiday Monday, it seems. I don’t think I’ve ever seen London streets so empty. The drive in to the Aldwych area for the start of skating at Somerset House felt like driving through a Jerry Cornelius novel: “Martin tooled the big Duesenberg Skoda down Roseberry Avenue…”
I don’t skate any more. I did it twice when I was a student, and I think once since I had kids. From the student times, I remember enjoying it, but getting very wet and very bruised. With kids I didn’t fall over so much, but only through caution, not because I had magically become able to skate.
Anyway, what with one thing and another, I didn’t do it through all those intervening years, and by the time my kids were old enough to be interested and able, I had broken my cruciate ligament in a freak gardening accident. I probably could do it now, but I’m too scared of re-injuring my knee.
So I sat in the warmth of “Tom’s Skate Lounge” and had a Cappuccino and a Danish, and took photographs and notes, while our party slowly, but with increasing confidence, circled the ice. I loved the fact that the staff members who were on the ice had hi-viz vests saying “Ice Marshall”. There’s something very pleasing about that term.
After that we drove on out to South Kensington, and the Natural History Museum. Ostensibly to see the dinosaurs. But of course, the other half of London had decided to do the same. After queueing for maybe twenty minutes to get inside, we found a 45-minute queue for the dinosaurs. So we elected for the blue whale, via the other mammals, instead.
Which was of course, fabulous. Wonderful place, the Natural History Museum. Actually, London’s pretty wonderful.
I don’t get round to these things quickly, but this is, at least in part, a report on my family’s visit to Eastercon. This year the British National Science Fiction Convention was practically on our doorstep, just the other side of London, at Heathrow.
As with [two years ago][easter2008], my son wanted to come. And since my daughter did as well, my beloved bit the bullet and came along too. SF isn’t totally her thing, but I think she may have enjoyed the weekend more than any of us.
The telling detail was this: there are lots of things to do.
I tend to use cons as a way of seeing friends that I haven’t seen for a while — often not since the last con I was at. So I mainly hang out in the bar. Or that, at least, is the impression I gave — give — to people who don’t go to cons.
In fact, I have always gone to programme items. I guess I just never made a big thing of them when I got home.
This con — [Odyssey 2010][odyssey2010] — had a particularly good set of programme items for kids. There were hands-on science workshops, making Dalek cakes, and building string-propelled robots (my son won a prize for the best ramp-mounting attempt). And not least, a thrilling battle between various knights of the [Society for Creative Anachronism](http://www.sca.org/) (SCA).
The programme was full of fascinating and fun things, many of which I wanted to see, but didn’t manage to, as ever.
And of course, I saw a lot of old friends, and had a good time hanging out in the bar with them.
We only stayed for the Friday and Saturday nights, to keep costs down. But after going home on the Sunday (and watching the new Doctor Who again), we went back on the Monday, and spent most of the day back at the [Radisson] [Radisson].
[Radisson]: http://www.radissonedwardian.com/londonuk_heathrow “The Eastercon 2010 Hotel”
Travelling all across London was a bit of drag, but it was a lot shorter than many people’s journeys. And of course, there was absolutely no chance of [ash-induced delays] [volcano].
Am I a bad person because I found all the volcanic disruption kind of amusing and quite fun, really? The cloudless and contrail-free blue skies over London were gorgeous, and it was interesting to follow people’s tweets of how they were striving to get home. And a world with a lot fewer flights is something we’re probably going to have to face in the future.
What annoyed me about it all were the idiots who blamed the government. Marginally more sensible than blaming ‘god’, I suppose1, but even if anything other than sending in the Navy had been the government’s decision, can you imagine the fuss if flights had been allowed to go ahead, and there _had_ been a disaster?
Plus, the idea of getting a trip home on the _[Ark Royal](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Ark_Royal “Not the original one, though”)_ is pretty cool.
As somebody said, if that’s an act of god, then it’s a pretty limited kind of omnipotent deity. ↩
Easter rolls around on its mad-god-inspired schedule, and so too does Eastercon, the British National Science-Fiction Convention.
This year, as it was two years ago, it’s in the Radisson Edwardian Hotel, near Heathrow. Not the most pleasant or interesting of locations, but it does have the large advantage for me of being relatively close to home. An hour and forty minutes by bus and tube, if TFL is to be believed. And curiously, not much less time overall if you take the crazily-expensive Heathrow Express.
Anyway, the whole family are coming with me this time, which should be fun. We’re just staying for the Saturday and Sunday nights, though some of us may pop back on Monday.
I don’t have any particular plans to see anything on the programme, except the big ones: Iain Banks’s guest of honour speech, and Doctor Who. Looking forward to that one a lot. And it’s going to be interesting watching it with a few hundred other people.
Speaking of guests of honour, the other one is Alastair Reynolds, and i’ve never read any of his stuff (well, maybe a short story or two). So I thought I should do some homework. I’ve been meaning to check him out for a while anyway.
I’ve started Revelation Space, but I’m having a hard time getting into it. It’s just a bit slow to get going. I hope it’ll pick up soon.