I thought at first there’d been a mistake..

.. when a caller dropped me off a cake.

cake

These happen to be a words from a song I’m pretty fond of (see video link below), but also what actually happened to me on Sunday.

My Ma had arranged to pop around for some technical support related stuff which, whilst it turned out to be pretty genuine, was a front for a sneaky arrangement she’d been making.  Because she’d been clandestinely arranging for me to in so that a visitor could drop off a surprise for me.

Margaret, who runs a company called Maggie’s Marvellous Cakes has pledged to make one cake every week for somebody, and opened up nominations via Facebook which is where Ma continued the recent theme people seem to have taken up with a zeal which is making me feel awkward about the whole bone marrow donation thing.  Indeed, it was even mentioned during our company’s last balcony briefing (although mercifully the senior dude in question clearly didn’t have his notes so didn’t know my name!).

Anyway, residual awkwardness aside Ma popped off to ‘pick up her hat’ from the car and came back with Margaret who was bearing a big cake box.  I was ensconced on the settee with a laptop on my knee sorting out Ma’s iTunes and was a little bit confused even as she explained why she was there.  As she was on the way to walk her dogs there was no time for tea and a lengthy chat so the long term impression I’ll have formed will have been as a slightly shell-shocked mute.

However, the New York style cheesecake festooned with strawberries and blueberries was a visual and literal feast enjoyed by all of us.  So if you’re in the market for some rather splendid cake then you should certainly give Maggie’s page on Facebook a look, or maybe nominations are still open if you know somebody deserving of a surprise tasty treat?

Unlike in the song below by Miles and Erica, I didn’t take a slice and wrap up the rest – although I did share with Ma, Dad, Cat, Rich and Em – and we still have enough left for small slice each tonight.

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Bone marrow donation video diary #3

Post-surgery update – it was a success on all levels, the necessary amount of bone marrow has gone winging its’ way to the recipient, and whilst a bit tired and bruised I feel pretty good!

Learning that my recipient is a young boy feels really fitting, as I joined the scheme as part of Joel’s campaign – and it’s especially heartening as a child has a better chance of recovery too.

Not that I ever thought I would, but I genuinely have no regrets at all and feel very pleased to have been able to help somebody like this.

In that vein, please consider registering if you are eligible at Anthony Nolan or, if over 30, Delete Blood Cancer

I discovered today that we have a little over 500k registered in the UK. Germany have more than 4 million, and a high proportion of UK sufferers of blood cancer owe thanks to that given the genetic similarities between us and the Germans leading to more matches.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could follow their lead and achieve that kind of number of would-be donors?

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Bone marrow donation video diary #2

Just a short update this time, fear not! I’ve arrived safe and sound at the London Clinic and am currently sipping orange juice watching Deal or No Deal!

Tomorrow morning is the operation, then the deed is done!

As before, if you’re 30 or under please consider joining the register at Anthony Nolan. If you’re aged 31-55 then you can register at Delete Blood Cancer.

Thanks! And see you on the other side!

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Bone marrow donation video diary #1

Probably for the first and last time I elected to do a video blog in the run-up to my operation tomorrow to donate stem cells to somebody suffering from Leukaemia or Lymphoma.  Somehow the more human touch of talking felt nicer than trying to write stuff down, which I’ve done before anyway.

It was a one-take job so excuse the fumbling for words and errant cockatiel, but hopefully it gets the point across I wanted to.

Should you feel inspired, please visit Anthony Nolan online and get yourself registered.  Thanks!

If you fall outside of their fairly stringent age range (which I now do!) then you can also register for bone marrow donation at Delete Blood Cancer online and get yourself registered if you are 55 or under.

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’tis the season to be jolly..

elaine.. or at least it is for many of us.

Less so for one of my good friends Andy.  His Mum went missing on 9th December and hasn’t been seen since despite a very well publicised campaign for information.  Elaine Harrison was last seen in the Castle Marina area of Nottingham at around 15:30 on 9th December.  She was wearing a grey fleecy jacket with white fur trim, dark trousers and white trainers.  She’s 59 years old and has collar length grey hair, and wears silver-framed glasses.

It would be the best Christmas present ever for the Harrisons to have Elaine back amongst them to really celebrate Christmas.  Andy has already had to get through his birthday without her, and she’s also missed her nephew in his nativity play.

So please take a moment to look at the photo of Elaine and keep an eye out for her, if you have any information as to her whereabouts then please get in touch with the police via the non-emergency number 101.  Facebook users give this page a like to keep up to date with the latest information, such as there is at the moment.

Also of course have a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

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Moulettes at Glee Club, Nottingham

Whilst thousands of people vacuously departed the Nottingham Arena having endured a JLS concert tonight Cat and I were smiling on the way back to the car having been treated to not just the headline act we’d planned to see, but two new support acts.  For the price of one JLS ticket we both had something to eat in a nearby restaurant, a few drinks and entry to tonight’s gig to see the Moulettes.  Pretty bargainous really.

I find it both sad and kinda nice that it’s this way – a few dozen folk nestled in the intimate enclave that is the Glee Club in Nottingham to appreciate what I would wager, not being a connoisseur of the JLS back catalogue, a spectacularly more significant array of talent than the multitude of arena drones, but really it deserves to be the other way around.

Georgie Rose kicked off proceedings

Georgie Rose kicked off proceedings

First on stage was Georgie Rose from our very own Nottinghamshire, Mansfield to be precise.  She immediately and confidently took to the stage with a virtuoso display of picking on a guitar accompanied by a fantastic voice.  Her ability to pick through the strings on the guitar simultaneously mesmerises me – and gives a rich sound that sounds almost like there’s a bass guitar in the mix somewhere too.

Definitely one to check out if you see her on any local billings.

Next up was Liz Green who has accompanied the Moulettes throughout their recent touring.  Initially performing with a guitar she interchanged between that and a keyboard, and played both deftly – her songs were fun and charming and energetic with some fun banter with the crowd in between to boot.  Oh, and how could I forget the mouse trumpet solo?  Another charming performance that left me feeling like I’d already had value for money out of my ticket before the headline act was even on stage.

Liz Green here behind her keyboard

Liz Green here behind her keyboard

One of the things I really like about heading out to a gig where you know the main act is the potential to pick up on some new ones – indeed, that’s how I discovered the Moulettes initially from their supporting the Levellers on their acoustic tour a couple of years ago.  Sometimes it can be hit and miss, tonight it felt like we hit the jackpot twice before the main act even came on which is always a lovely happenstance!

The Moulettes took to the stage, a slightly adjusted line up to that which I’d seen before.  Hannah Miller provides the lead vocals whilst playing either cello or guitar, Ollie Austin plays guitar, drums, glockenspiel whilst also providing backing vocals/sound effects (often three or more at the same time!), Jim Mortimore plays double bass and backing vocals whilst Anisa Arslanagic overlays her violin and also backing vocals.  They were joined for a number of songs by a harp and clarinet player who also sang backing vocals too – I’m afraid I couldn’t find her name though :(

Time for the main event - the Moulettes take to the stage..

Time for the main event – the Moulettes take to the stage..

The melodic and sometimes hypnotic strings combined with melodic and harmonised vocals underpinned by punchy and ever-changing rhythms gives them a sound that I find difficult to describe given my lack of musical understanding.  It’s awesome though, and it’s brought alive on stage by the expressive and infectiously enthusiastic reactions from the band.

Not only are these wonderfully accomplished musicians impressing with their abilities – it’s clear they’re really enjoying themselves, as they lock eyes momentarily with each other to keep time as a beat switches from a waltz to something much faster – or an abrupt silence – you catch fleeting smiles, eye sparkles and a joy to just be playing.  Each of them is mesmerising to watch if you take a few minutes to observe them during a song.

Hannah betrays nearly every feeling that runs through the songs with her facial expressions, and even the soaring temperature in the venue causing her to forget a few words didn’t throw her off stride for too long as a helpful audience member in the front row helped her get back on track.

Ollie really destroys the notion that blokes can’t multitask, switching from guitar to full on drumming in seconds, he’ll then bring back the guitar but carry on the percussion with feet and hands in between strums all whilst never missing the moments when his vocals are needed too, all delivered with a brilliantly casual and relaxed demeanour that betrays how much expertise and concentration is being demonstrated out there.

Jim gives the bassy oomph at the perfect moment when slow ballads kick in to a darker atmospheric mood or more of a stomping tune and too is on hand to lend his vocals to the harmony mix that is impressive in its own right before you consider the complex layers of instrumental accompaniment underpinning it.

Anisa’s violin gives that high end melodic accompaniment to its larger relatives in the string section – anyone who knows me will note the violin is often present in my favourite music, it gives real soul and emotion somehow to a piece of music when used well – and it is here, Anisa too adds to the overall vocal harmonising too.

Whilst nestled in the corner of the stage for only some of the set the harp, clarinet and backing vocals of the lady whose name I don’t know (sorry!) added that extra layer to the whirling dervish that Moulettes songs become.

The set was a mixture of the familiar and songs from the new album that is due out next spring.  Whilst I do like Moulettes recordings very much, they never seem to quite capture the vibrancy of their live performances (something not uncommon with many artists I like, I might add!), however, I’d recommend checking some out nonetheless.

So for a mere £8 a piece we were treated to a veritable smorgasbord of excellent music – I’ll be certainly exploring more of Georgia and Liz’s respective music and look forward to the forthcoming Moulettes album.  I quite enjoyed the Glee Club as a venue too – the seats got a bit uncomfortable after a while and sitting down at a gig is a bit, well, weird – but worked well for this more relaxed and melodic gig to those I typically find myself at.

It will be interesting to see if they opt for a seated arrangement for when we go to see The Beards play there in February!

I tell you what else is good about The Glee Club too, because they unusually insist you arrive between 7:30 and 8:00, it gets everyone in the venue and settled in plenty of time before the entertainment starts – and there was no background chatter or interruptions I could detect during the performances (something I’m normally very sensitive to and irked by) – either it was down to that or a particularly polite and attentive crowd.

Either way, it made for a splendidly enjoyable evening!

Categories: blog, music | 2 Comments

Slow cooker Irn Bru pulled pork recipe..

I’ve long been a fan of pulled pork (both because it’s delicious, and because it can lead to innuendo overload of course).  I never really thought about making it, but when Cat unearthed the dormant slow cooker to make some healthy food it occurred to me that this would be a perfect vessel to experiment with this easy to make culinary deliciousness.

Upon researching online I found a few intriguing recipes involving using Coca Cola or Dr Pepper to slow cook the pork joint in, which piqued my interest sufficiently to decide to go for an Irn Bru variant, partly to be a bit different, but partly because in my Forest circle of friends we have a probably-inane-to-the-outside in-joke around anything Scottish and Oscar – so it’s officially Oscar Austin Memorial Pulled Pork.

So having marinated the meat overnight in a spice and Worcestershire Sauce mixture I set everything in motion this morning and having got back from football I can happily announce that when coupled with some Newman’s Own Sticky Barbecue Sauce in a flatbread burrito style, it’s bloody delicious!  Definitely something I’ll be making again, and probably including some other fillings like coleslaw and/or rice or similar.  Although an all-meat wrap is a win in anyone’s language!

Should you wish to replicate this piece of culinary wizardry then you will need:

Ingredients

Ingredients

One shoulder of pork
Seasoning (I used Salt, Pepper, Paprika and Chilli)
Worcestershire Sauce
Barbecue Sauce
Flatbreads
Irn Bru (I used a litre of it!)

To prepare I rubbed the meat with the dry seasoning mixture then added Worcestershire Sauce and left the meat in a ziplock bag in the fridge overnight.  I suppose if you were in a hurry you could get cracking after a few hours, but given this is a slow cooker mission then prior planning is key anyway!

photo 2

Once you’re ready to get cracking transfer the meat to the slow cooker and pour in the Irn Bru so that it’s covering the meat.  Put the lid on, what it on low and leave it for 10-11 hours (my work-followed-by-football day meant it was 11 hours – if I’d been in I’d have struggled I think to leave it that long!).

Remove the meat from the cooker and it should be pretty easy to remove the fat from it – once you’ve got yourself a nice lean lump of cooked pork in some kind of bowl you can set to it with two forks and pull it apart into a lovely pile of shredded goodness.  Originally I had planned to add some of the sauce back to it, but elected not to – so I disposed of the sauce.

Because I was too excited/poor planned/lazy to have prepared some coleslaw or any other accompaniments I whacked the pulled pork straight into some warmed flatbreads, applied a healthy slug of barbecue sauce and wrapped it up burrito style and tucked in.  It was a delicious moment!

photo 3

Tender fally-aparty pork with a gentle spicy kick along with a hint of Irn Bru goodness and some lovely caramelisedy bits from the edges where the joint had basically so broiled in the lovely sticky Scottish elixir.

Enjoy!

Since it was inspired by, and is now named after Oscar Austin, here’s a picture of him, too.

photo

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McDermott’s 2 Hours – Anticlockwise

OTF011D Anticlockwise 1400I’ve written about Nick Burbridge and McDermott’s 2 Hours on these pages before.  McDermott’s are one of those bands that fit typically into the canon of ‘bands nobody has ever heard of’ depending on which circle of friends I’m talking to, although – led by Nick Burbridge – you get the impression that that’s kinda the way he likes it.

They thrust themselves into my consciousness through my many-years-standing obsession with the Levellers.  The band, like the Levs, hail from Brighton and have been a huge influence as well as collaborator with the more well-known folksters.  Whilst the Levellers became well known, Nick and McDermott’s 2 Hours remained wilfully obscure – indeed, whilst remaining active, as well as creating awesome music Nick also writes poetry, novels and stage plays.

Anticlockwise is an interesting concept, and one that perhaps seems strange until you give it some thought – it’s a compilation of twelve tracks from previous releases, combined with two teaser tracks from an album to come out next year.  It’s comforting to listen to familiar songs, but spruced up with remastering and then move into a taste of what is to come.

What are they like?  I find Nick’s singing mesmerising, he plays with lyrics that evoke such strong emotions and imagery coupled with fine folky but ballsy musicianship.  It’s uncompromising and it’s all the more beautiful for it – in an era of shiny and polished ‘personalities’ with no soul or purpose, Nick’s deft avoidance of the limelight and the media circus that necessitates any degree of mainstream musical success is wonderfully pure.

As for the selections – well there are songs by McDermott’s 2 Hours that I like better than some that make the ‘cut’ – but nonetheless, there’s not a bad track on here.  Opening with ‘Dirty Davey’ is apt – this is the song I and I’m sure many others discovered the band through as it was covered by the Levellers.  It then skips through a diverse mixture of stomping band epics and acoustic numbers from the band’s back catalogue and then of course two from their future-catalogue.

There’s a mixture of tracks from McDermott’s 2 Hours on their own as well as a number from their awesome collaboration albums with the Levellers – you get a real flavour for the different levels of energy that they create.  Hopefully it piques your interest and it inspires a bit more exploration, because if you don’t listen to it and then go and avail yourself of the album The Enemy Within and definitely Nick’s project with Tim Cotterell Gathered then you’re really missing out.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, and I guess it would be even more perfect for a person discovering the band for the first time – a taster of sublime quality, and with the band’s back catalogue now available as digital downloads on iTunes or Spotify if you find yourself hooked you can sate your appetite for more very easily whilst anticipating the release of the new album Besieged in early 2014.  Do yourself a favour and get yourself some awesome music!

Whether he craves it or wants it or not, Nick Burbridge deserves the accolades he’s received (such as songwriter of the year from SpiralEarth) and more.  This compilation is a lovely edited introduction to the fantastic work he and his band have been creating over many years, and will hopefully inspire you to dip further into their impressive back catalogue.

iTunes type links:

The Enemy Within – McDermott’s 2 Hours
The World Turned Upside Down – McDermott’s 2 Hours vs Levellers
Claws and Wings – McDermott’s 2 Hours vs Levellers
Disorder – McDermott’s 2 Hours vs Levellers
Goodbye to the Madhouse – McDermott’s 2 Hours
Gathered – Nick Burbridge and Tim Cotterell
Anticlockwise – McDermott’s 2 Hours

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What’re you up to at the weekend?

It’s the classic ice-breaker question as you wind down from a week at work, certainly it’s a popular one in my team.  Last weekend I was asked it and it made me chuckle as the dialogue was unerringly common..

Colleague: “Any plans this weekend, Al?”
Me: “Just the footy, and a couple of gigs lined up”
Colleague: “I bet you’re off to see bands nobody has heard of again!”

That’s no intended criticism of my colleague – but underlines a worryingly prevailing attitude.  As it happens, that weekend I was off to see 3 Daft Monkeys on the Friday night, and on the Saturday a line-up of six acts including Red Jester, Seven Little Sisters, Raynor Jackson and Brad Dear.  All these acts are great live performers.

Monkey Magic

It’s reasonable to assume that a reasonable chunk of readers probably hadn’t heard of any of them – and that’s a real shame, because I refuse to believe that those same people wouldn’t have a much better time checking out these or other local talent rather than sitting in watching X-Factor or Strictly or whatever other turgid televisual detritus that is currently running through the mainstream channels.

So, to return to the 3 Daft Monkeys.  They’re currently out on tour promoting their album which was released yesterday.  I’ve seen the ‘Monkeys a few times, and they’re one of the most engaging live performers I’ve seen – and it flabbergasts me that they aren’t more well known because they’re such good fun to watch.

More than any other act I’ve seen they’re the personification of a band who thrive on the energy they get from the crowd.  As the irresistible urge to dance (even when sober, as I was) kicks in as the music plays you can palpably appreciate the energy exchange from mosh-pit to stage.  This is wonderfully cyclical because the crowd get the band’s energy up, and this is magnified right back at the crowd leading to an inevitable frenzy of good times (or perhaps civilised debauchery?).

As well as playing their existing well known songs – personal highlights for me including One Fine Day, Social Vertigo, Days of the Dance and – probably my favourite – The Antiquated and the Arcane (which was a tease as they left it for the encore!) – there were four or five new songs from the soon-to-be-released album slipped in, all of which didn’t see a stutter from the crowd who continued like a whirling dervish to sway and bounce to the rhythm of the four conductors on the stage.

Fast forward a week and the album popped through the letterbox – it only cost a tenner, it was signed by the band too – and it’s a lovely and lively record.  Musical renditions of old Cornish folk tales it is not only musically pleasing but lyrically fascinating, as I listen more I’m sure I’ll be googling for some of the back stories the songs cover.  Indeed, from their last album I even ended up buying a book about the dancing plague of Strasbourg.

The thing I like best about the album is that it doesn’t simply seek to replicate the boisterous live experience you get with the Monkeys, you get more of the story-telling and the different tempos that started to appear in their previous album The Antiquated and the Arcane (which I also heartily recommend).  I’ve only had a couple of listens so far and am already captivated, and looking forward to getting to know the songs better and reading up about the stories that inspired them.

So next time somebody recommends a band you’ve never heard of, why not open your mind and go along – such gigs usually only cost a few quid to get into, and I don’t believe it’s blind luck that more often than not I end up finding acts that are enchanting, beguiling and inspiring – and not least that I end up meeting great folks who put me on to further talented artists – and so the cycle goes on…

Anyway, you should get yersen a copy of their album, and you should definitely look out for the next live performance near you.  You should also go and see The Beards in February.

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Clusterschmuck..

I thought I’d written about this kind of thing before, but having a quick search I don’t think that I have.  It’s a geeky marriage of the kind of thing I do at work (on occasions, although less so these days) and my personal life thanks to the Facebook Report over at Wolfram Alpha.

Essentially, taking a whole load of data (ie, your Facebook stuff) and doing funky things with it.  My favourite is this clustering exercise of friends based on connections with one another.  Certainly its’ first attempt gives some fairly neat clusters (I added the shapes and labels on there).  I just refreshed the page and noted that it comes up with a different map, although I’d still identify similar clusters from it.

clusteringOf course, as with any large dataset there is a bit of a problem when trying to shoehorn such a large group of people (504 were included in this analysis apparently) into ten buckets.  I’ve got outliers in there who don’t really fit in any of them, and plenty of ‘node’ people who traverse many of my different worlds (the ‘Family’ group in this instance holds many of these folk).

The categorisations that it tries to apply take workplaces/places of education and geographic information to try to inform the clusters (hence the colour coding).  Interestingly it doesn’t pick out ‘Likes’ or interests that might give some clues – but usually the linkages between people are enough to spot how these people relate to one another in your life.

The report goes further to help you identify these (although you’d know them intuitively I think), Rich my brother shares 149 friends on Facebook with me, Rich Crouch is next in line on the mutual friend count – crossing over as he does on the Forest, Ferocious Dog, Boots and probably sneaks well into the Family group of friends too.  It’s really interesting to see such things quantified.

The demographic splits are interesting too – two thirds of my Facebook friends are male, a third female, I’ve discovered that one of my old school friends is apparently 89 years old and therefore my oldest friend.  A timely lesson in the quality of data impacting the quality of results I guess!  The distribution of ages of my friends unsurprisingly centres closely around my own age range.

Geographically I’m very United Kingdom biased but do have a few further flung friends around the globe too!

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 20.52.31As well as stalking my friends, the report also looks at the content I bombard Facebook with.  Apparently I write DAY and TODAY a lot, as well as clearly mentioning our feathered critters by name quite a bit, and there’s more than hint in there that I might talk about Ferocious Dog rather a lot!  Partly given away by Ferocious, but also the easily misunderstood reference to dogging that makes it in there too!

Ultimately very pointless, although I suppose illustrative of the powerful information Facebook has to better understand people.  From a professional perspective the ability to analyse how people connect together is fascinating and something missing from our individualistic datasets at the moment.

Information is powerful stuff innit, whilst I’ve found this exercise pretty insightful it’s also maybe fuel to the fire that choose to ignore Facebook through fear of giving away too much information about themselves to cynical corporations.

If you’re not one of those, you can generate exciting maps and more from your own Facebook data by clicking on the link included up there somewhere!

 

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