Saturday, August 12, 2006

So there I was with Irvine Welsh...

One of the joys in life is the unexpected, unplanned, great night out. So often, the organised, planned nights fail to meet expectations, already built up in the mind to be more than they can ever live up to, never matching the memory of the last great one. The surprise of the random is always welcome and always occurs when least expected. Brighton is a magnet for these kinds of nights.

It’s been a tough week. Work has been a struggle but I’m still on schedule even though it’s been a fight. Fair too many people have been distracting me with ‘any chance you can..?’ type tasks. Not only do they eat up my time and are invisible to my schedule but they break up the concentration making my actual job take twice as long as I try and work out what I was doing, what I was going to do next and just how I was going to do it.

There’s a lot of pressure as we’re now in ‘alpha’, which means we have only several months before it’s literally game over. With this on my mind, finally having a good, uninterrupted day and getting things done, I end up putting in an extra hour on a Friday night, more concerned with finishing the levels I’m working on than getting home and going out. There’s nothing heroic about one lousy extra hour, all of us in the industry have our own horror stories of all nighters and seven day weeks, but given the toughness of the week I’m surprised by my dedication when normally I’d write the week off and nurse my wounds with liberal application of alcohol.

Another couple of tasks completed I decide to get the next train to Brighton. Slightly behind schedule but I reckon I can blitz the few things remaining on Monday and put in a few more hours so that I can balance the books. Plus, the last couple of office key holders look like they want to go soon and the train after that is in an hour. Not worth the risk and I don’t want to be getting into Brighton at 10pm on a Friday, dedicated or not.

On the train, my main concern is getting home, having a shower and getting changed. I send out a few tentative texts to see if anyone is around. A couple of responses, one no and a maybe. It looks like it’ll be a quiet night with maybe a chance of a couple of late night pints in the local.

Once showered, with no further replies, I decide to have a play on my new toys, my CD decks and mixer. Don’t ask me why I bought them but they are something I’ve desired for a very long time. I get so engrossed in trying to see if Pump It Up by Elvis Costello really will go with Run DMC’s It’s Tricky that I miss a text. When I finally do check my phone I discover that some of my ex-colleagues are across the road at my local.

I describe them as ex-colleagues only to give context to how I know them. I’d like to think of them as my friends since, without work, there’s no obligation for any of us to see each other socially but we still meet up and when work discussions don’t exclude me from the conversation we have a great time.

Amongst the crowd of friends are a couple of unfamiliar, female faces. I’m soon introduced to one. She’s down for the weekend and visiting one of my friends. I’m unsure of the exact details but it seems that it’s a date of sorts. We end up chatting about music and she asks me for my top five favourite bands.

Once upon a time this would be a bread and butter question for me. I was such a typical male, music, list obsessive that High Fidelity was a documentary, not a work of fiction, for me. Somehow that side of me has subsided, no doubt something in the water, and I name a couple of bands but don’t complete the list before we are both drawn into other random conversations around the table.

Several beers later, my synapses have finally fired up, I rattle off my five bands with ease. This impresses her no end as not only does she judge them as good choices but she comments that it’s rare that anyone ever gives her a definitive list. She grabs the other unknown girl at the table and excitedly tells her that I can name five. This seems like a cause for celebration and she’s introduced to me as her best friend.

She asks about my work and naturally I tell her. It never ceases to amaze me that people think that what I do is cool. I’ve had ‘real’ jobs in the past and would never want to go back to them but I’ve got one eye on getting out of the industry and am sure that if people knew the reality of our day to day, they’d soon decide it was far from the fun that they envision.

I throw the question back to her and discovered what a genuinely cool job is.

‘I do burlesque tap and dance and promote my own group.’

Making games doesn’t even compare. Her recent show ‘Burlesque Idol’ where a tie break situation involved contestants in bikinis and Mexican wrestling masks fighting it out in an inflatable pool filled with water melons and whipped cream sounds like a work of genius and it’s hard not to be endeared to someone who announces that ‘I haven’t performed in months, I’m out of shape and I’ve got to go to Edinburgh on Sunday and get my tits out’. We were all having a great laugh.

All except my friend on the date who had taken Dutch courage to new levels. After disappearing to the toilet several times for long stretches and occasionally lying on the table face down, he somehow got into a heated argument with his date. It never got too bad but he had to be taken home by a couple of friends and his date and best friend were left trying to find out the time of the next train to London.

It ended with the consumption of Cava, vodka, beer, kebabs and tunes back at mine. Typically drunk conversations and the pain of discovering just how heartbroken another friend who had come back with us currently is. No matter what you say or do, drunken advice will never help. I hope he works it all out.

Both girls stayed the night, the attraction of the 4am train long gone, and slept on the sofas, with more than enough spare bedding to make them comfortable. Jon, returning to find two strangers in his front room, woke me and I grumpily got up and said my goodbyes to our guests. They headed off to meet my friend for coffee and a chat, which I was glad about as if they’d gone straight back to London, all parties would have felt bad. At least this way they are still talking.

I’ve made breakfast, read some of the paper and plan to do a spot of shopping that doesn’t involve anywhere holding a sale. Plans are already being hatched for tonight, which means it can only lead to disappointment. Random is king.

It’s bright outside but raining. There’s a rainbow somewhere. That’s a sympathetic background if ever I’ve seen one.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The longest day

Life seems to have a different pace in Spain. The notion of a siesta is alien to us in the UK but in the Barcelona heat, it makes much more sense. The knock on effect is that people work well into the evening and the city’s night life starts later as a result, which we soon discover.

After a couple more drinks, we need to find somewhere to eat and decide on a Sushi restaurant nearby, wandering through the side streets off La Ramblas, until we find it.

On arrival, it’s deserted.

‘It’s quiet in here’, we remark as we stand at the bar.

‘That’s because we’re not open yet.’

We apologise and start to move towards the exit before being told that they are opening in a couple of minutes and we are welcome to have some drinks while we wait. A couple of minutes are in fact more than half an hour and shortly after 9pm and several more beers we are shown to our table. Starving by now, we order a variety of starters and some main dishes to share.

The food is worth the wait and much needed. The last thing we’d eaten was a quick sandwich washed down with coffee at the airport while waiting for the plane. The gyoza is the best I’ve tasted and despite the large quantities of food already consumed, we all order more of the delicious dumplings. By the time we finish the meal the restaurant is finally starting to fill up. It’s now past 10pm.

Earlier, while grabbing our last meal at the airport, Andy received an email on his phone from Soma Records. Apparently they are putting on a club in Barcelona that night with DJ Alex Smoke. Sonar’s night time events are not starting until tomorrow, so it seems like a good idea.

After heading back to the apartment to quickly change clothes, we head down to the club, La Terrazza, a twenty minute walk away. We queue for tickets and then make our way to the club area. The club is actually in the middle of the Poble Espanyol, a village built for the 1929 World Exposition, dedicated to Spanish architecture. Walking through the narrow cobbled streets, with the various styles of buildings is surreal. I feel like I’m wandering through different zones in a Westworld type theme park. A quick look over my shoulder confirms that we’re not being followed by Yul Brynner, just more clubbers.

The club is situated in an open air patio and, even this late, the night air is around 24°C. It takes a little while to take in the surroundings, the lighting, the projections, the bizarre architecture and the people. It’s breathtaking.

The evening doesn’t quite go to plan. There’s a problem with the sound system and the music keeps cutting out. There are times when the DJ carries on, oblivious that no one can hear him, until the crowd in front of his booth get his attention. When the music does play, it’s too quiet and there’s very little atmosphere because of this.

We discover a small area inside that leads to the stairs to the toilets. Here is the only speaker that seems capable of playing at a good volume. A few clubbers, frustrated with the outside PA, are dancing here. We soon join them and smiles slowly return to our faces. Others pass and watch, slightly bemused, before finding themselves joining in too.

I head to the bar to get yet more vodka and Red Bull to fuel our night. As I stand outside by the bar, waiting for my order, Alex Smoke's set starts. Miraculously the sound system bursts into life, pumping out the music loud and clear. Everyone, bar staff included, jump in the air cheering. You can feel spirits rise as the place comes alive. New energy found and the crowd buzzing. Smiles everywhere. We dance into the night and it all seems worthwhile.

By the time we find a taxi and get back to the apartment we’ve been up for nearly 24 hours. We still have Sonar to come.

Sleep first.

It's not just the water

The feminisation of the male species seems to be continuing. Dr Mike Fitzpatrick, a consultant toxicologist, started investigating the effects of soya beans in 1991, funded by a multimillionaire who was sure that the beans were killing off his collection of rare parrots. The millionaire, Richard James, and his wife had been feeding the birds that they bred a soya feed. They discovered later that some of the birds were infertile, while others aged prematurely or reached puberty early, proving for a disastrous year’s breeding.

When asked to carry out the study, Fitzpatrick was sceptical at first but agreed to investigate. He discovered that soya contains toxins and plant oestrogens strong enough to disrupt women’s menstrual cycles in the experiments he performed. Further studies concluded that babies fed exclusively on soya formula were receiving, based on body weight, the equivalent amount of oestrogen as five birth control pills.

In 2002, an enquiry by the British government’s expert committee on the toxicity of food concluded that the health benefits claimed for soya were not supported by clear evidence and judged that high levels of consumption in some age groups could cause risks. Given that 60% of processed food in the UK contains soya in some form, Fitzpatrick’s conclusion that our new found dependence on soya is a dangerous experiment might hold true.

This might explain why last week, while buying lunch, I decided I needed a new wallet and headed to Mambo. Ten minutes later I emerged with a new shirt, several pairs of trousers and no new wallet.

Well, they were having a sale, darling.

Monday, August 07, 2006

So much for July...

…as one of my many emails waiting for a response said last week. Some may have noticed the lack of activity of late. Some may recall that I was due to move house. Some may even have been able to deduce that those two events are not totally unrelated. Throw in yet another deadline to the mix and an inability to pass by the local after a long day and you might be able to understand my lack of updates.

The start of July saw me somehow managing to pack all my worldly possessions into boxes in the evenings after getting home from work. Well, just about. I was finishing off the last box when the man with the van turned up on the Saturday afternoon. Actually it was two men with a van. And not so much a van as a warehouse on wheels. At least I didn’t have to worry about fitting everything in it.

The move was relatively painless. With it being so hot and my move being the last of the day, the van loading was carried out with the enthusiasm of two men looking forward to an early finish and a pint in the sun. Once at the other end, unloading was equally swift and in just over an hour I had moved house.

Opening a celebratory can of beer and sitting on the doorstep, enjoying the sun and my new surroundings, I looked down at the ground. Outside the front door was a small sticker, stuck to the ground, with a number printed on it. I had to double-take and then wonder if my new housemate was having a joke at my expense. Why else was there a 23 outside my new home?

Of course, physically moving is only a small part of the job. Over the last 3 weeks I’ve bought and assembled furniture, done a couple of minor repairs and somehow managed to fit a flat’s worth of possessions into a modestly sized room. I hasten to add that I’ve been far from dedicated to these tasks and allowed distractions such as sailing, clubbing or just drinking in the pub keep me from these more pressing tasks.

However, slowly, bit by bit, the chaos in my room has diminished. With Jon tidying the flat this weekend and myself contributing by brushing and washing the yard and roof terrace with a steely eyed determination that had my new housemate wondering if I suffered from OCD, I can let out a huge sigh of relief and finally relax in clean, uncluttered surroundings, happy that it’s finally all done.

Now, I have another task hanging over me to worry about as well as attempting to finish off writing about Barcelona and responding to the 90 odd unread emails in my inbox. With my project at work now entering the final phase and my schedule being somewhat aggressive, I’m going to be very busy and putting in the extra hours.

So much for August.