Fish & Dragons

Sorry, the missus has just waved her fingernails under my nose, having just painted them with a range of volatile compounds, and I now find myself ducking to avoid the salmon leaping across the sofa and the dragons which are picking them off in mid air, in a style not unreminiscent of a cross between a eagle and a grizzly bear. But with scales and flames.

Actually, it’s good that she did (although perhaps not for you) as the depression of my disappointing attempted and aborted trip to Oslo is still responsible for the metaphorical grey cloud which hangs over me and I wasn’t even going to bother blogging this evening. Now I need to tell you about the dragons. I know there are always post-holiday blues post a holiday, but they can usually be tempered with the wonderful memories of the break. Not so in this case (sorry Mum, yes it was nice to see you but you know what I mean).

While Sheffield and most of the rest of the UK remains under wintery skies and freezing temperatures, here in Cape Town we have been enjoying (and I put the the word “enjoying” in inverted commas) (I know I didn’t actually do that, but I was thinking it) the 35°C temperatures thrown at us by Mrs Nature (Snr). I find the best way to deal with these conditions is to don a mask, gloves and a large super thick lab coat and play with infected sputum all day. With a promise of equally (if not more) unpleasant conditions tomorrow, I might take some of my wife’s nail polish to work to make the day pass more quickly entertainingly.

In other news, I discovered the fact that I had a new skill this evening. That skill is mending televisions.
I would usually never attempt to mend a television, but while we were round at the mother-in-law’s, my son decided to knock her TV off its stand and onto the floor – killing it instantly (the TV, the floor was already dead, you idiot) – and I don’t have the money to buy her a new TV set.
So, having opened it up and found nothing obviously broken within, I brought it home, poked at it a bit and then gave up. Imagine my surprise when it suddenly started working again. Obviously the bringing it home and poking it had some effect.
To be fair, I should have known that this experimental poking would work: after all, experimental poking has worked before with equally surprising results, one of which was responsible for the TV being broken in the first place.

And now, back to the imaginary flying reptiles…

Grow your own

Every muscle, every fibre of my being is screaming out in agony. If you listen carefully, you can probably hear them. It’s not as bad as Sicky Dion, but it’s still definitely not a pleasant sound – especially if it’s coming from within you.

The reason for that screaming is the new vegetable patch that I installed chez 6000 this morning. As you can see from the photos below, before work began, the area in question was covered with mutant, cyborg ivy.
Oh yes, it might just look like ordinary ivy to the untrained eye, but having gone in there armed with only a spade and a massive flamethrower, I can assure you there there was something distinctly “otherworldly” about that stuff: for a start, normal earth ivy doesn’t have tungsten roots, does it?


Before, during and after.

And that’s the reason I now sit here with a nice Marlon (for medicinal purposes) and a dread of what fresh pain tomorrow morning will bring. On the up side, we are now growing spinach, beetroot, baby cabbage and… something else which escapes my memory (Eggplant?).

The kids like it, I like it and next door’s cat (a big fan of digging stuff up in our other veggie patch) has already put in an appearance, which I enjoyably curtailed with a handful of gravel.

And then – a little later this evening: this.

Out of it

But not in a bad way.

We took the time out this weekend to head out into the beautiful Southern Cape,which has rapidly become a firm family favourite for weekend getaways. White sands, turquoise seas and deserted beaches where the kids can play safely and happily, Mum can read her latest crime thriller and Dad can wander about taking pictures and helping with the rockpooling – it refreshes the soul.
Less refreshing were the queues down Sir Lowry’s Pass on the way home, but even they might be a thing of the past once PAWC has mended Somerset West.

Such is the attraction of the place and the difference it makes to our family life that we’ve pooled together all we have and invested in a little plot on which will soon sit a tiny fisherman’s cottage. It won’t be much, but it will be ours (once we’ve given the bank a lot of money) and we went to have a look at the foundations this weekend. It’s surrounded by fynbos, beach and National Park and there is wildlife galore. There is electricity and water, but there’s no phone line and certainly no cellphone signal. It’s a far cry from busy city life and it really is going to be the perfect place to get away from it all.

This weekend was a good example of that – the only issue was the sunburn from Sunday morning’s shoreline quest – who knew that several billion tonnes of super-hot exploding helium could hurt so much? Even the SPF40 wasn’t enough to protect my unweathered and pale English skin. I’ll be ok in a few weeks though.

Probably.

More photos here.

Better by tomorrow

After a weekend wracked by Mrs 6000’s tonsillitis and the consequent increased demands on my fathering abilities, I find myself concerningly nursing a sore throat of my own this morning. Both the kids have also been coughing and thus we’re off on another family outing to the doctor this morning. Oh joy.

Sore throats are never good, but this one is especially bad because tomorrow evening, we have plans (and tickets) to go and see (and hear) Crowded House at the Grand West Arena. Of course, laryngitis (I haven’t had any tonsils since a well-planned surgical intervention in 1979) will have no bearing on my eyesight or ear…sight(?), but it will make me feel generally crap and prevent me from singing along with the band in question.

Hits such as Four Seasons In One Day (written by Neil Finn after a particularly heavy 24 hours playing Championship Manager on the Playstation) and the much misheard Don’t Dream You’re Sober – an alcoholic’s worst nightmare – will have to be performed solely by the guys on stage and that would be a bad thing for the audience generally. Believe it, because it’s true.

Anyway, it would be foolish of me to strain my currently delicate vocal cords any further chatting to you good people. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with arepeejee’s stunning Warp Speed Winter Gardens:

Straight out of Sheffield, via Betelgeuse.

Make it so.

The 6000 miles… Desert Island Discs post

Music. I love it. Can’t get enough of it. Literally.

And that’s one of the reasons that I could never – would never – want of be able to come up with a Top 10 of my favourite songs. Although I’ve often wanted to, I’ve always been hugely concerned that I’d leave something important out. And I probably have, because following on from The Blog Up North‘s lead, and despite the fact I don’t do memes, I’m finally going to a Desert Island Discs (DID) post.

Wikipedia tells me that Desert Island Discs is:

…the longest-running factual programme in the history of radio. Guests are invited to imagine themselves cast away on a desert island, and to choose eight pieces of music, originally gramophone records, to take with them; discussion of their choices permits a review of their life.
Excerpts from their choices are played or, in the case of short pieces, the whole work.
At the end of the programme they choose the one piece they regard most highly. They are then asked which book they would take with them; they are automatically given the Complete Works of Shakespeare and either the Bible or another appropriate religious or philosophical work.
Guests also choose one luxury, which must be inanimate and of no use in escaping the island or allowing communication from outside.

I’ve been thinking about doing this for so long and the BUN post was the nudge I needed to get me over the speedbump of indecision and onward towards actually getting a list down on paper… er… pixels. Regular readers will note that several (if not more) of the tracks listed have been featured in one form or another on the blog before.
And with good reason.

So – here goes, in no particular order:

1. Jamie Cullum – High And Dry
Including this Radiohead cover partially excuses me from not actually having a Radiohead song in this list (see below).
In my mind anyway.
This is off his breakthrough 2002 album Pointless Nostalgic. I saw him perform an intimate gig at Warwick University in summer 2003, where his support was a beautiful and talented (but at that point unknown) teenage singer called Amy Winehouse.
Cullum sat and chatted with the audience about his life and his (newfound) career and amazed us by using his piano as a impromptu set of bongos – something which he claimed to have been thrown out of a posh New York hotel for doing while on tour.
Talking of which, here’s a video for the song – shot in the Big Apple. I mentioned the carefree and relaxed feel of this cover: I’m not a fan of jazz per se, but this example of Cullum’s jazz/pop/indie fusion just does it for me.

2. James Blunt – No Bravery (live)
One of those artists (and one of those tracks) that unexpectedly knocks you completely off your feet when you see them live. Having been coerced into accompanying Mrs 6000 to see Mr Blunt at Grand West in 2008, I was impressed with his live performance, but this was the track that will stay with me from that concert. His energy, the passion in his voice and the lyrics, together with the backdrop of images from Kosovo – many of them shot by Blunt himself – were so powerful that the audience was simply stunned into silence.
Here’s a video of the track (live) with some of those elements on show. And the bonus of French subtitles. Find yourself a quiet spot and spend 3½ minutes watching it. You’ll probably want to give yourself another 3½ to watch it again.

3. Depeche Mode – Enjoy The Silence
Electropop at its very, very, very best. For a band whose career has spanned so many years, it was surprisingly easy to choose one track for this list. There are a billion different versions out there – most of which are very good, but this original version will do nicely for the purposes of this list. Although there’s no one thing that jumps out at you about this 1990 song, the 2004 re-release, imaginatively titled Enjoy The Silence 04 – for some reason never really lives up to it’s predecessor. Enjoy The Silence came off the Violator album, which also gave us Personal Jesus, Policy of Truth and World in my Eyes – any of which could have made a top 50 DID list. But this is the top 8 –  and this one is the best of Depeche Mode’s offerings.

4. Arctic Monkeys – Mardy Bum
Hometown band alert. This a great song from Whatever People Say I Am…
Have some Glastonbury 2007 YouTube goodness.
Why do I like it? Because the title needs explaining to anyone outside South Yorkshire and because it describes the simplistic male approach to arguments within relationships so very perfectly – pseudo-feigning innocence while deflecting the blame elsewhere. Come now, we’ve all done it.
The lyrics are clever too: “I see your frown and it’s like looking down the barrel of a gun, and it goes off…” and “you’ve got the face on”. Elsewhere on the album, we see the same sort of argument from a third person point of view in Settle For A Draw – which was a another close contender for this list.

5. Tony Christie – Louise
DOUBLE hometown band alert. With some hometown piano on a sideplate.
This one featured fairly recently on 6000 miles… and is off Christie’s 2008 album Made In Sheffield. It’s a stripped down piano and trumpet reworking of The Human League’s 1984 synthpop hit and it ticks a lot of boxes for me. Piano is one of them. It’s not something I go out looking for in a song, but if there’s one in there, I seem to like it. The change in key and pace in the chorus of this cover is beautiful – Richard Hawley is at the keyboard here.
Also a big plus is the openness and simplicity of the performance. As with James Blunt above, there’s nothing to hide behind here – you have to get it exactly right, every time.

6. Morten Harket – Spanish Steps
While a-ha were on sabbatical, Morten released his second solo album Wild Seed (1995). For me, it features some of Morten’s best vocal work. There were a number of stand-out tracks: A Kind of Christmas Card , Half in Love, Half in Hate, Los Angeles and Spanish Steps amongst them. This one makes it in because it bears special significance for me: The theme is one of lovers separated by (in this case) 5,000 miles. That’s about 83.3% of how it was for Mrs 6ooo and I before I moved to SA and she became Mrs 6000 – and so yes: it’s personal and it’s soppy. But it’s still a great song.
The sound isn’t great (and neither is the video – WTF?!?) on this link, but it does give you an idea.

7. Muse – Map Of The Problematique (live)
Muse remain one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. And this was the best track of the day that day. The album version is good, but this is one of those songs that gains so much from being played live. Not much more to be said about this – it’s just a great rock track played with huge energy. Really good.

8. a-ha – Hunting High And Low (live at Vallhall 2001)
Wow. I could have put [several] a-ha tracks into this list, but I thought that would be pretty dull for the DID listeners. So I didn’t. And having made that decision, I thought I’d limit it to just one. Yes, there was the Spanish Steps thing in there as well, but in a pub quiz scenario, there’s Queen and there’s Freddie Mercury, there’s The Smiths and there’s Morrissey. And you don’t get the point if the band did the song, but you thought it was the solo artist. So I can get away with including both these songs here.
Having made the decision to just include one, the choice was easy. Despite being a huge fan of all that a-ha have done, HH&L is my single favourite song and this version is sublime.

I think it goes without saying that it’s even more sublime if you ignore the Portuguese subtitles. Unless you’re Portuguese, in which case they will probably enhance the sublimeness, the sublimitude, the subliminity of the track for you.
And check it out: plenty of piano, plenty of openness and exposure. And it’s carried off brilliantly. Written in 1984, performed here in 2001 , it might not have had the commercial success of Take on Me and The Sun Aways Shines On TV, but it still stands the test of time. The only downside is that it’s traditionally a track that the band leave to the end of their concerts. Great to hear, but then you know that the end is nigh. Really nigh in 7 weeks time. And this one is going to be the killer for me that bittersweet night.

So – tying up a few loose DID ends:
My “most highly regarded choice” : easy – that last one, by a country mile.
My book: I don’t read a lot, so I think a photographic book of Cape Town and surrounds – to remind me of home.
My one luxury: I think I’ll take my biltong-making paraphernalia, please.

Apologies to the bands that nearly made it in here: Manic Street Preachers, The Smiths, Radiohead, The Stranglers, ABC, Oasis, Arno Carstens, Nirvana, The Cranberries, Snow Patrol, The Levellers, The Killers, Zebra & Giraffe, Crowded House (see you next week, guys), Carter USM, New Order, Coldplay, Pet Shop Boys, REM (but how?!?), The Verve, Royksopp, Skunk Anasie and many others.

Maybe next time. Because this cannot be the end of this.

In the meantime,  please feel free to share your thoughts and/or your 8 tracks in the comments below.
If you do this on your blog, let me know and I’ll do some linky stuff.

UPDATE: More DID goodness from Joyanne and The Cave
Also, more apologies are due, this time to Placebo, The Wildhearts, Therapy?, System of a Down, AFI, The Streets, Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip (probably not the one you’re thinking of), Terrance Trent D’Arby and 30 Seconds to Mars.

I knew this was going to happen.