Why you shouldn’t wear cheap Ukrainian underpants..

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the shit joke headline!

A cheesy trailer I made from our depressingly inadequate photos and videos!

This is probably quite an overdue post really – since I’ve written in the past about exploring and abandoned places – as in honour of my 40th birthday last year my brother Rich organised a trip to probably one of the ultimate abandoned places which we went on in October last year.

In 1986 a spot of testing at reactor 4 in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power station resulted in a catastrophic explosion, exposing the graphite core – now on fire – to the elements, lofting fumes of plumes of fission products into the atmosphere over Ukraine and Belarus in particular, but also Western Russia and the rest of Europe.

Nearby Soviet ‘model city’ Prypiat – built to attract talented workers to the facility – was evacuated, albeit not immediately as the very secretive Soviet Union attempted to contain the disaster and not publically acknowledge it. Eventually though the inhabitants were bussed out, many never to return, and a 30km exclusion zone around the plant was put into effect – encompassing other towns and villages in the area.

Unbeknownst to me whilst not officially a tourist attraction – you can organise trips into the zone with authorised agencies – which Rich had gotten wind of and organised us flights to Kiev and a day’s excursion into the zone. The pressure is on this year as he turns 40 to try to find something on this level of epicness to reciprocate!

Bus wankers…

We landed in Kiev and considered a taxi to get to where we were staying, but instead braved the local bus – we had no idea where it went, but after a meandering journey it deposited us near the central railway station.

Upon reviewing Google Maps we found our apartment was quite a way from there – we’d texted and phoned the proprieters to let them know we were running late after a delayed flight and braved the underground (after managing to not find the terminal at the station and walked about a mile to find the next one!).

The railway station in Kiev is a rather grand affair
Even the underground stations were all marble and chandeliers!

A haughty Ukrainian lady behind the counter understood us well enough to help us find the right train to get on in the grandioise underground station – and we did a really good job of changing at the right times to get to where we needed to be. A bit of wandering and we found the building we needed, only to find no response from calling the number we’d been given. Bugger.

Whilst Rich continued to try to get in touch with the apartment owner I perused where we needed to be the following morning for our trip into the zone. Right outside the main railway station – where we’d just been, and quite early in the morning! Recalling there was a giant Ibis hotel right there, and that we were paying for the apartment on arrival, I suggested we go back to where we’d started and get a room there.

So we reversed our underground journey successfully – both legs cost us about 40p each – and quickly checked to see if booking online would beat the room rates advertised outside the Ibis hotel. No such luck, they were the same so we availed ourself of a room – happier in the knowledge we just hand to stumble outside to find our transport for the next day.

I think this is probably our minibus…

That morning we headed down to the street which was lined with minibuses bearing radiation signage – Chernobyl Tour were our trip organisers and soon enough we were checked in and sat on our minibus with a group of people from all over Europe. We had an excellent English-speaking guide (shamefully my delaying writing this means I’ve forgotten her name – I’m so sorry if you ever see this!) and we were underway!

The first obstacle was getting into the zone – it’s guarded by the military who had advance notice and check-lists of visitors, there was a stumbling block for me – my passport doesn’t have my middle name on it, but their list did – this seemed to cause a considerable amount of consternation from the officious Ukrainian soldier checking us in – I thought we were going to fail at the first hurdle but luckily our guide interceded and smoothed things over! That was just the first check-point!

Final check-point – you’d be in trouble if you got caught taking a photo of the actual check-point!

Before entering the exclusion-zone proper there’s another check-point complete with souvenir shops. Officially we were not tourists but ‘visitors’ to the zone – but clearly there’s recognition that there’s a commercial opportunity here. Mercifully we were able to traverse the check-point without issue this time and drive on. Once in the zone there are a number of sites we visited, our guide cunningly planning an order to try to limit our exposure to the number of other groups touring the area.

Trusty dosimeter..

Our first stop was the village of Zalissya – overgrown and long-abandoned we were able to wander around what were presumably paths at one time, now reclaimed by nature. A fair few buildings were still standing (many were bulldozed in the zone after the disaster before the realisation that disturbing contaminated earth was probably a bad idea). We’d been each equipped with dosimeters which enabled us to both identify radioactive ‘hotspots’ as well as cumulatively measure our exposure during our visit.

I read the news today, oh boy…

There’s something I find both harrowing and strangely comforting about abandoned places – comfort that nature moves back in, that human endeavours ultimately don’t count for much, but also sadness – music cards, newspapers, clothing – things that were once cherished left behind in the wake of an epic human folly. It was a great way to become acclimatised to this fascinating place.

A short drive later took us to the kindergarten – sinister dolls and childrens toys and cots set an eerie scene. Whilst I’m sure explorers both official and otherwise (those that sneak in without permission are referred to as Stalkers by the guides in honour of a computer game that features the zone as one of its settings).

Hello, Dolly…
Entry to Prypiat…

It was Prypiat that was really exciting for me though – built as a showcase Soviet city to demonstrate their affluence, desirability in a cold-war era when propaganda was really important. Deliberately placed close to the power plant to demonstrate how safe it was, it was designed to be a flagship settlement with fantastic facilities to attract skilled workers needed to work at the power plant, and of course the ameneties they would want to mean their families moved in too.

Fairground attraction

Trees close in on the roads and between all the buildings – tower blocks looming overhead it’s hard to picture what it must have looked like before. In the bus we’d been watching a DVD which included footage of the city before the disaster, and at various points whilst walking around the area our guide had pictures from the same points – it’s awe-inspiring to see how much its changed in not such a long time.

We saw the famous fairground, the swimming pool (which amazing was in use well beyond the disaster for people still working at the power plant, which was still generating power until December 2000 and countless other sites. Our guide was knowledgable and answered all our questions – it’s a difficult subject for Ukranians to tackle, ultimately it was a disaster done to them under Soviet rule – but they’re left with the consequences at the need to clear up the mess.

It was at once scary, awe-inspiring and a privilege to be able to stand so close to ‘ground zero’ – under that big steel arch is reactor 4

Having said that, the disaster was probably a big contributory factor to the fall of the Soviet Union too. The clean-up operation is still underway, as robots work under the new metal sarcophagus entombing reactor 4 (which was originally contained by a concrete covering). It’s a political and practical minefield which I can only really scratch the surface of with my limited understanding.

Much like I’ve really only scratched the surface of our visit with this post – it would be impossible to do it justice, if this sort of thing interests you though I’d heartily recommend a visit, it’s fairly inexpensive by our typical tourist fee standards and absolutely fascinating.

Unbelievably our trip included a hearty lunch in the cafeteria a mere stones throw from the reactor itself. We were warned not to take photos of the surly babushka’s serving us – the food was really good! I also got to make friends with some dogs outside, presumably descendants of abandoned pets who escaped the death squads who pursued them in the aftermath of the disaster. Life finds away – indeed, the Chernobyl exclusion zone is an incredibly successful accidental nature reserve.

Duga 1 over-the-horizon radar system designed as an early warning system to detect incoming missiles

On the way out of the zone we visited the Duga 1 radar installment – once a top secret and fundamentally flawed missle detection system, now abandoned and unable to be demolished due to the contamination of the land, it’s a monument to the levels of paranoia that era had. Clearly it wasn’t deemed too secretive by the time of the 1970’s when it would’ve been visible from the tower blocks of Prypiat – although our guide suggested it would’ve probably been described to curious locals as a TV aerial or similar – certainly evidence of old check-points suggest that any intrepid inhabitants wouldn’t have been allowed too close to it.

Our last stop was in the actual town of Chernobyl, quite distant from the reactor that it named it’s actually inhabited. People can only live there for 3 months at a time before leaving – there’s a cafe, there’s even a hotel which caters for folk undertake multiple day excursions. The population there are involved in the clean up operation – and storage of other nuclear waste which takes place within the exclusion zone.

A quick radiation check on the way out, and we’re good to go!

I know that there are pockets of people who have returned to their homes in the villages of the zone – we didn’t encroach on any of them, whilst it would undoubtedly have been a really interesting experience – instead heading back out of the zone and back to Kiev via a final chance to stop for souvenirs and a radiation scan to ensure we’d not picked up any nasty particles. One of our party did set off something, but he didn’t look too perturbed after returning from whereever he was whisked away to.

Checking our dosimeters upon exiting the zone showed that we’d been exposed to less radiation than we had received on our flight from London to Kiev, so all in all, a pretty safe endeavour!

We spent the next day exploring Kiev which is a massive and beautiful city – we witnessed the Ukrainian ministry of silly walks, I resisted the urge to bungee jump off a bridge, but amazingly we found a bit of beach by the river and it was warm enough to sit and bask whilst munching on snacks we’d found at a nearby shop. If you fancy a city break with a difference then I could heartily recommend this!

In the meantime, if you have any ideas for an epic 40th birthday idea for Rich then I’m all ears!

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Clowns with frowns pressing buttons controlling towns..

In the past I’ve attained accidental blogging success by recalling random things from when I was a young ‘un and people have searched for it and found sweet relief from something that was half-nagging at them but mostly unremembered.  Today I’m taking the mothballs off the blog to try to do that in reverse, because for whatever reason I’ve got a poetic earworm from what I think was a beer advert from the 1990s.

It had a male voiceover, reciting what I believe to be a poem called “What’s Going Down” over what in my head was dystopian urban imagery.  I’ve googled the words I can remember, and have found one solitary reference to it in a DigitalSpy forum post.  That’s it – and that’s based on somebody’s recollection of being taught the poem at school, not in the context of the advert!

Here’s the text as recalled by DigitalSpy user Lazlo_St_Pierre back in 2007 (!) (I’d considered registering and pinging him message but he’s been inactive since 2014 on there).

I’m looking through you
I’m looking through me
I’m looking through them,
And what do I see?

I see workers working
Lurkers lurking
Shirkers shirking
Clocks turning
And clowns with frowns
Pressing buttons, controlling towns

No. It’s what’s going down.

I see dishonourable intentions
Emotional infections
Pressing interventions
And hopeless, rusting implications
Of dodgy, clapped-out, mapped-out futures

No. It’s what’s going down

There’s no need to be a half-baked couch potato
In strait-jacket and tie
Or a jet-set wet in debt
Cause he’s had too much pie in the sky
Or getting your kicks
Sticking your snitch
In a stranger’s curriculum vitae

I get where it’s at, cat
I don’t race with rats
I see through all that
There’s no grounds for frowns
Or improper nouns.
It’s just what’s going down.

I can certainly recall the start, first verse and the end verse too – and the final flourish of the advert finished with “It’s just what’s going down, cheers!” – presumably with the narrator supping on whatever beverage it was being advertised.

So there’s the challenge – who can remember what the advert was for?  Bonus points if you manage to find a clip of it on YouTube – I’ve tried (albeit not very hard), and failed dismally!

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HomePod works for me

Even as a self-confessed fan of Apple products, and someone fairly well engrained into their ecosystem I wasn’t initially sold on the HomePod – even though I had been holding out for its release as a solution to my lack of general music listening. And as I’m sure you know I do rather like music!

Initial reports suggested that if you didn’t subscribe to Apple Music then as a ‘smart’ music player you don’t really get much other than stuff you’ve bought from iTunes, the ability to play Podcasts and some probably awful radio station called Beats something or other. Apple Music doesn’t work for me, much like Spotify, as a chunk of music I listen to isn’t available on those platforms.

I do however subscribe to iTunes Match – which is a service that matches my iTunes library with the Apple Music database, and anything it doesn’t match it will upload from my library. Ostensibly I use it as a back up really, I still prefer to manually manage the music I sync across to my phone which is (or was) my principal source of music playing – but sometimes at home you might want to listen to something not on your edited playlist.

After it had been out in the wild it emerged that HomePod works with iTunes Match too, which meant that I probably fall into a niche use-case for it. I’m not that arsed about home assistant features where Echo and Google Home excel, I am interested in good quality sound, and a seamless integration into the Apple infrastructure which my digital life is wedded to. The price still seemed high, but armed with some vouchers I got from work that had limited retailer options, I felt I could justify it.

So today I got my box of excitement – a surprisingly weighty box, predictably elegant and simplistic in design it simply held the HomePod itself. After plugging in it powers up, then holding my iPhone close by allowed me to set it up in about 2 minutes – there’s a few options to click through and boom, it’s done and accessing your music library in iCloud.

I tested it with playlists, with music I know for certain doesn’t exist outside of my weird collection, it was all there and playable – of course, it couldn’t tell me who the drummer was, or any of the other facile enhanced features you could get by linking it to an Apple Music account – but then I don’t really care about that either!

The home assistant options are less impressive than Alexa or Google Assistant – but it can send messages, take notes or act as a speaker phone. I’m not sure I’ll do that. It was able to tell me the weather, read the news, tell me the traffic conditions on the way to work and delightfully inform me Nottingham Forest were three nil up against Queens Park Rangers, though! My limited Smart home kit (Hive thermostat and cameras) aren’t Apple HomeKit compatible so there’s no turning on the heating with my voice, but well, that’s not really a big deal!

The sound quality is excellent – I’ve tried a mixture of styles of music, it packs some bass for a small unit and doesn’t distort, drum and bass, dodgy live recordings and all things in between sound great. I’m not an audiophile, by any stretch, but it does sound ace. All my music is now easily available by just asking for it, and any other stuff I might want to play is streamable easily using Airplay.

If you’re a Spotify user this isn’t a great solution, if you are wanting to control lots of home tasks it probably isn’t either – that said, I expect to see improvements to support for more of the areas where rival smart speakers beat HomePod as they are software updates which will surely be forthcoming over time. That for me is a bonus, as I noted above, I had a specific use-case for this and it fulfils that perfectly. You can even utilise your iPhone’s music app to control music if you prefer that or want to build a playlist on the fly.

I probably wouldn’t have spent the full £319 on it, in spite of all that, but having some vouchers to take a sizeable dent out of that price made it a bit more tempting, and I’ve had a very happy afternoon listening to music at home which I’ve not really done much as I’ve been stuck with Bluetooth speakers and their ilk – Siri can hear me over surprisingly loud playback volumes and she’s only faltered a couple of times with my requests.

It’s a fairly unassuming looking canister covered in mesh, I went for the space grey one and it sits just to the side of my TV. When playing the touch screen on the top displays volume controls, when listening a colourful blob lights up – as I’m generally sat down when using it, I can’t really see it anyway!

In a nutshell I can say it works for me, but I can understand the general sense or reservation to the usual anti-Apple derision out there in review land. I do think when paired up with Apple’s under-publicised iTunes Match service then you have a match made in heaven if you do use iTunes to manage your music library, and that’s only £20odd a year rather than a tenner a month.

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Lessons learned?

Oh yes, I have a space for occasional musing don’t I?  I must stop forgetting this brain-dump zone exists!  So anyway, I was rummaging for something in my spare room the other day and unearthed a treasure trove of other random things.  I have to stay in the realms of vagueness because, well, I do – personal artefacts of the distant past, mementoes, things I must admit that I’d largely forgotten about.

Indeed, some so extensive that a fairly ruthless pruning of said artefacts took place awaiting the next bin collection day.  I’d actually managed to keep hold of (admittedly sealed) edible things from over 20 years ago – who does that, ha?  I really used to be an overly-sentimental twat.  But amongst the assorted things I found one was really intriguing – fond reminiscing and sadness all merged into one, and a warning for the future.

Without revealing anything identifiable (not that this is likely to be well-read, I’ve long since disabled cross-posting my blog to Facebook) I found a chronicle of a period of time from a significant other’s perspective.  At the time of receipt a deeply touching and thoughtful gift – and whilst spectacularly dated in terms of enduring sentiment, it’s something I’m glad I kept hold of and had an accidental reunion with, even if it made me feel a bit sad as well.

Reading between the lines and with the benefit of both hindsight and a couple of decades of built-up life experience and cynicism was really interesting.  I’m genuinely not sure whether or not it’s something I’ve read since the relationship that produced it decayed (surprisingly quickly after said chronicle was produced) – I probably did, to be fair, but given the lack of recall for some of the disposed-of artefacts it might not be surprising that I’d forgotten.

Unwittingly in the text there were plenty of signposts for things that were going not quite so brilliantly, and probably ultimately led to the relationship’s demise.  Of course, the odds these days of finding something enduring at the age we were at the time was pretty minuscule – and over time you kinda chalk it up to one of those things and either accept or bury what was at the time was what felt like heart-crushing pain.  Tis the circle of life.

But it was interesting how some of the between-the-lines themes might just’ve found themselves repeating themselves unwittingly, ingrained behavioural traits are probably default settings if left unchecked can creep back into your everyday if you neglect to stay on top of them – and sure is eggs is eggs, the pattern repeats, the consequences are remarkably similar yet you don’t make the connection.

Wow, that was vague wasn’t it?  Sorry for any incidental readers – increasingly I find this blog is a (very!) occasional mind-dump space, but this has been really useful food for thought for me.  I guess diary-writers might find similar insight in their old musings they made in private to themselves, but as I’ve never really done that I don’t have that luxury.  Whether I actually take such things on board or not or simply forget about them again until next time I go looking for something in the spare room remains to be seen.

But maybe committing the discovery to an insufferably vague blog post might just reinforce some brain synapses into making some connections that I’d clearly forgotten over the intervening years.  Or maybe not!  I dunno, more than a year since I posted anything and that’s what I came up with.  Haha!  See you in another few months…

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dodgem logoThis barely updated blog seems to be the preserve of mindless reminsces these days – this time it’s an old BBC children’s TV programme that oddly stayed in my head and periodically resurfaces.  I’m not sure what it is that one day makes you start searching for these things on Google but that’s what happened this last week.

My recollection was of a series where a lad runs away with a travelling fair – his dad was an artist, and his mum had recently died, and the scene that always stuck in my head was the lad drawing a picture of his mum for his dad – to prove he could remember her – only for it to look more like the girl who’d helped him run away (in truth, the picture didn’t look like either of them!).

dodgem roseSo armed with a few key words around children’s TV, running away to a fairground unearthed this thread – someone looking for the said same show, and finding the answer – it was called Dodgem, and aired on Children’s BBC on Wednesday evenings at 5:10 in 1991 apparently!  There’s more information about on this page too with a summary of the plot too.

Better still, all the episodes were uploaded on to YouTube – although I’m not sure I’d recommend sitting and watching them over the course of a couple of evenings like I did last week.  Sometimes things might be better left in the halcyon words of reminiscing rather than being revisited as an adult (reminds me of when I rewatched the Mysterious Cities of Gold! – I never learn!)

Should you have a similar urge, then you can watch them here:

Funny how your brain works isn’t it?

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Stem cell donation conclusion..

imagesI wasn’t going to bother writing this really, but it’s a conclusion of sorts to the bone marrow donation journey I’ve been on (hopefully it’s a conclusion anyway), and since I documented most of it on here it makes sense to finish it off!

As January came and went that marked two years since I underwent the procedure, which is a potentially significant date.

On the two year anniversary – depending on the slightly differing rules between different countries agencies – is when there’s the opportunity to open communication channels between donor and recipient.  I dropped an email to Anthony Nolan to see if there was any news on the young lad who’d been the recipient of my stem cells.  Of course, I know next to nothing about him, but he does cross my mind quite frequently.

I’d partly been hoping for the opportunity to be put in touch with his family – I’m a curious person, it would have been interesting to find out more about the person I was able to help.  More importantly though, I did want to know whether the treatment had proven a success in defeating the blood-borne cancer he had been suffering from.  A few email exchanges later and finding out more didn’t look very likely.

“I’m afraid the country whose register your cells matched have a zero contact policy”, the lady from Anthony Nolan wrote apologetically.  “But I will request a health update” she added.  So the primary mission was still viable, but there’s no opportunity for further information or further updates it seems.

However, a few days later when the letter in an Anthony Nolan envelope arrived it was still exciting – opening it revealed the same fairly straight-to-the-point language as the last one I received about a year and a half ago.  The upshot is that the boy is still very much alive, and they went as far as to say doing well.  Which is, frankly, the best news ever. On a selfish note I’d have liked to have found out more, but it wasn’t to be – and the most important information is there in that letter.

It was implied in the wording of the letter that this was the final update I’d receive – but I take heart that the recovery rate in youngsters from diseases like Leukaemia and Lymphoma is good if caught early and a suitable donor is found.  The only likely follow-up information I’ll receive now is if I’m required to donate again for him – which obviously I hope that I am not.

In a year so far that has been fairly unprecidently dreadful for my family so far it’s nice to have some really positive news to reflect on.  Out there somewhere in the world is a lad who has another shot at a future thanks to the wonder of science and a fluke of stem cell matching – it would’ve been nice to put a name to him, to know where he was growing up – but alas that wasn’t to be.

Despite that mild selfish disappointment I have no regrets whatsoever about undergoing the operation – it feels amazing to know that there’s someone out there who’s been able to best a disease that causes families so much misery simply down to something that was extracted from my body.  If you haven’t already, and you’re eligible, please consider signing up either with Anthony Nolan (if 18-30), or Delete Blood Cancer (if older).

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Gigs, geeks and getting older..

I’ve had a fun-filled time of late – plenty of awesome gig action, the Levellers were amazing in Buxton.  First up we got to see the film A Curious Life, a semi-documentary type film that Dunstan Bruce of Chumbawamba fame has put together.  It was a charming insight into a band that has been a fairly constant feature of my life for the last twenty years or so (wow, twenty years!).  This was followed by a mesmerising acoustic gig.

Before that I finally did the giving blood deed – it wasn’t remotely traumatic so I shall certainly be signing up for a repeat performance.  I was convinced for some reason I had blood type B (probably because my Mum does), but it turns out I’ve inherited my Dad’s blood type of A+ – no matter really, but interesting nonetheless!  It certainly made the relatively small number of beers I had before the gig have a quicker impact than they normally would!

Where Levellers tread in my gig-going life then Ferocious Dog are sure to follow – I’ve been writing about them in some detail over at Ferocious Blog.  The tour started at the Bodega in Nottingham which was a magically awesome day, and I’ve been lucky enough to head to Nuneaton and Barnsley subsequently to see their next shows – they’re on rip-roaringly good form so looking forward to heading down to Harlow on 27th when the tour recommences!

Team Holly!  Had a lovely day working with Hattie Hayridge at EM-Con

Team Holly! Had a lovely day working with Hattie Hayridge at EM-Con

After these last two gigs it was time for EM-Con – a sci-fi convention organised by one of my good friends Lee Wallis.  I’d volunteered to help for the day and he bagged me the awesome job of being an assistant to Hattie Hayridge for the day.  As someone whose childhood was played out watching (and quoting from!) Red Dwarf it was a great opportunity – and mercifully it turns out Hattie is a lovely lady to spend the day with chatting nonsense and reminiscing about Red Dwarf!

I'm officially a joy to work with.

I’m officially a joy to work with.

It’s true being busy working with her all day dealing with fans wanting her to sign stuff meant I didn’t get to take in much of the other attractions at the convention, but that’s okay – having been in Barnsley the night before I wasn’t exactly full of energy so sitting down all day and chatting with someone who played a significant role in a lifelong favourite show was a perfectly good way to be spending the day!


Arlo as a Ferocious Sprog

Then it was my birthday which I’d booked holiday from work for as is my habit – given the previous days gig-going and convention volunteering a quietish day was an appealing prospect, but I did get to go see my Granny, have a burger at Annie’s and have a lovely stroll around Colwick Park with the folks, Rich, Emma and Arlo – so it was all told a rather splendid way to spend the day followed by a resurgent interest in Red Dwarf on the media server!

Last things last Forest took on Rotherham last night and in a largely uneventful game two moments of absolute magic saw the Reds emerge 2-0 victors.  The unplayable Mikael Antonio set up a chance for Dexter Blackstock to delightfully lob the too-far-out ‘keeper who could only touch it into the goal, then the marauding winger picked up the ball in his own half and powered his way past three defenders before planting the ball in the bottom corner from 25 yards.  It was Collymore-esque.

The benefit of a couple of days holiday at the start of the week means that the weekend is already looming large on the horizon.  Tomorrow sees a more chilled gig to see the awesomely talented Paige Seabridge, a quiet Saturday will be followed by Sunday where there’s promise of seeing Ellie Keegan and Sam Jones’ open mic night at the Brown Cow in Mansfield.  Got to love music!

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Busy bee watch the world go by…

Phew. It’s been a busy ol’ time, it seems.

Forest briefly turned not rubbish before losing to Charlton, which gave a bit of much needed cheer at the City Ground under the stewardship of Dougie Freedman.  It’ll be interesting to see how he handles this latest setback with the not unchallenging arrival of Middlesbrough at the City Ground this weekend, but the new manager has undoubtedly made a good start (much like his predecessor).  Doubts remain over his longer term future at the club so I remain a bit dubious – I hope he’s here for a while though, I’ve been impressed so far.

Now I half know what’s going on at work that’s been quite busy but really interesting too – it’s nice to feel like you’re actually able to contribute something useful having spent a few months acclimatising to a very different industry indeed.  Still lots to learn, but I at least feel like I roughly know what’s going on – it’s always a good starting point I find!  Certainly a lot of perceptions I had before working in a media-maligned industry have been proven rather inaccurate.

I’ve got a couple of days off now to take in the Levellers, followed by the Ferocious Dog tour kicking off at the weekend.  Whilst I mention Ferocious Dog I set up a separate blog about them partly for indulgence, partly because it stops me flooding this blog (hmm… maybe trickling this blog!) with writing about them, partly because I couldn’t resist the pun-tastic opportunity to register, partly because they’re on a real roll and someone else would’ve done it sooner or later and I’d have kicked myself having been pondering it for ages, and well, because it’s a fun side project since I lost momentum on blogging about Forest!  So should you desperately miss reading about them – head over there instead!

The weekend should be great though – an opportunity to catch up with countless friends and hear the new line up for the first time and some new album tracks – what could be better!  The countdown to giving blood is nearly up too – that happens tomorrow before I hotfoot it up to Buxton to see the Levs – the dauntingness of it somewhat compensated for by a cunning plan to have a massive carvery just beforehand!

Ooh, and Pebble have announced a new watch they’re launching via Kickstarter again – which I’ve tempted myself into.  It’s called Pebble Time and there’s also a Steel variant – this time round it has a colour screen and a microphone, and my beloved original Pebble is a bit battered so I think an update is justified.  I shan’t be accidentally taking the new one into a mosh pit or on a climbing wall, that’s for sure.  Whether that does enough to quell the inevitable desire for the soon-to-be-launched Apple Watch remains to be seen – but I think I’d like to see them out in the wild a bit before deciding anyway.

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That keen sense of belonging.. that feeling that I’m home..

I mention Ferocious Dog occasionally, I know.  It’s an exciting time to be a fan of theirs though, indeed, it generally has been – but with a refreshed line-up and a recent announcement of a headline slot in the main room at Rock City in November it’s properly a case of the year of the dog, what with a new album coming in the next few months too (and the tour starting in 10 days!) it does feel like the dawn of a very special chapter for them, and I feel privileged to be able to tag along for the ride.

It was back in late 2010 I first saw them play, I’m sure I’ve told the story before here, because they’d arranged for Mark Chadwick to play up in their home venue in Warsop and were the support act.  I’ve been smitten ever since, and started going regularly to see them – skulking at the back normally taking videos.  Eventually I lured friends to come with me – and being the shy bogger I can be eventually starting to get to know the initially daunting pack of ‘hell hounds’ that follow them passionately.  I’d count myself as one of those now.

Sooner or later the lure of the mosh pit – observed so many times but avoided – became too much one night at the Bodega in Nottingham, an outwardly brutal but surprisingly considerate arena of pseudo-battle that is pretty much perfect for a work out for any latent aggression and enhancing the amazing music the band produce.

I already have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to my family and friends, but I’ve significantly enhanced that with the scores of people I’ve got to know and bonded with through regularly attending gigs.  It didn’t matter that the friends I’d previously lured were less keen to go to quite as many gigs as me, as I knew I could go to any gig pretty much anywhere and know people there – or get to know others.  Of course, Andy has taken to it like a duck to water too and doesn’t take much persuading to come along too.

After a few bouts of being bashed around the moshpit and due to the absence of the regular role-filler I found myself being hoisted horizontal at shoulder height at Bearded Theory to act as a surfboard for Dean when the band played ‘Freeborn John’ – a signal honour and something that’s happened many times since – and it’s always felt like a genuine privilege, even on the one occasion I got unceremoniously dropped on my head at Dogfest last year!  It’s a great exhibition of the camaraderie and teamwork that might go unnoticed to the untrained eye in the chaos of the pit.

Subsequently I’ve even had my first tattoo – a Ferocious Dog logo – on my calf inked by none other than its designer, and founding-member and frontman of the band, the incomparable Ken Bonsall last year in August.  Another landmark was reached on Sunday – a light version of the band, comprising of Ken on guitar and vocals and Dan on fiddle, played at Sam’s acoustic evening in the Brown Cow at Mansfield (a night you should most definitely check out – I’ve been to a fair few now and it’s a great way to round off a weekend, and Sam is a fantastic performer too).

Ferocious Dog draw quite the crowd these days so whilst perhaps the time of arrival a few of us chose might’ve been overly cautious (ha!) – it made for a lovely afternoon of chatting nonsense with people I’d never have known if it weren’t for the band, followed by a standing room only gig at which Dean was adamant we were going to do a role reversal – so I was to graduate from surfboard to surfer.  It was a daunting prospect in a packed pub with furniture and glassware not to mention people, but it was pretty clear that refusing wasn’t an option – plus, let’s face it, what an awesome thing to get a chance to do!

So once the song kicked in there was a bit of confusion when folk realised they were picking Dean up instead of me – a quick leg up and an undignified clamber and there I was, hunched under the deceptively low ceiling and trying to find my balance.  I loved it, and it felt like a real coming of age moment – and particularly nice as it’s my favourite FD song being a bit of a John Lilburne nerd.  I’m looking forward to the possibility of a reprise at a full band gig – and there’s plenty of those coming up at the Bodega in Nottingham, Nuneaton, Barnsley, Derby, Deerstock and I’m sure others over coming weeks and months as the dates on the tour become more difficult to resist!


I’m not one to take people for granted, but sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in your daily doings and not take a pause and reflect on how blessed you can be thanks to random circumstance.  Being comfortable enough to go and see a band I love at pretty much any event they play and feel like I’ve walked into a family party is a very nice safety net to have no matter what else might be going off in your life – so to all of you good folk who create that, and there’s too many of you to list, I thank you very much indeed.

Oh, and the music is bloody amazing too from the nicest bunch of grounded lads you could ever wish to meet.  If you’ve not heeded me before and jumped aboard the burgeoning Ferocious Dog bandwagon then you bloody well should and get yourself a ticket for their gig at Rock City on 28th November when they go on sale on Friday.  Oh, and the support is Gaz Brookfield (whose lyric I mercilessly stole for the title) and Mad Dog Mcrae.  It will be immense.

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Far from home..

Once of the ‘perks’ of having a hefty commute to work means you have time to ponder – pondering whilst driving over the last few days is what has prompted this silliness.

Obviously over recent months I’ve been further away from my home town both in living and certainly in working terms than I’ve ever been, but will always consider myself a dyed in the wool Nottinghamian.  Of course, that I now live about 14 miles from that city and work a further 40-odd miles away would suggest I’ve not really spread my wings that far, but it still feels quite significant sometimes when I catch myself in ponderous mode.

So it’s funny that sometimes your habits or observations can echo life.

I shall explain what I’m yammering on about.  It’s been a habit of mine for years to listen to BBC Radio Nottingham on the way to work – indeed, it’s proven a most fortuitous habit really if you think about it – but anyway, I’m lucky enough in Hathern to still be comfortably in the range of my erstwhile local radio station so I still get to enjoy Andy Whittaker’s dulcet tones as I blearily drive to work.

However, as I hone in on Tamworth Services you start to get a bit of static on the airwaves (how many Levellers references can I sneak into here? 😉 ) and normally it will start to fade into nothingness around 10 miles out from Solihull.  Very occasionally, presumably depending on atmospheric conditions or something, I’ll retain a faint signal all the way to our overspill carpark as I pull up – and the signal is still tantalisingly available when I return to the car to head home, but usually it’s either died or bizarrely turned in to BBC Radio Oxford for some reason.

In my head at least it’s a neat metaphor from being further away from the familiar than I’ve ever been – of course, familiar is an interesting choice of word there as it derives from the same latin root as family – and that is probably what has kept me sane throughout all of the literal versions of these themes that I’ve been pondering over the last few months.

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