Breakfast In Bed

Friday, December 15, 2006

Party Season

Yes, it's that time of year again... out come the frocks and heels, and plenty of glitter, all just so you can embarrass yourself in front of your colleagues at the institution which is the office Christmas party!

Mine was last night, and the following email was sent round this morning which kind of says it all really:

Xmas Work Quiz
1) Which staff member was caught relieving himself in the now golden streets of Lewes (by the police)?

2) Which advertising team member got stuck in the pavement and was helped by a man wielding a lighter?

3) Which staff member’s slick moves on the dance floor shocked and inspired the rest of the company?

4) Which member of staff seemingly bored a senior colleague to such a degree that he mysteriously fled mid conversation?

5) Which worker was asked to leave a Brighton club for being too drunk whilst trying to rescue the below staff members?

6) Which 2 members of staff were told they were too drunk/old to attend a Brighton Club?

7) Which staff member turned up to work in last nights clothes?

8) Which staff member was sick at a Newhaven railway station and various points along the way?

9) Which male and female staff members started a bread roll – bagel tossing competition whilst the starters were being served?

10) Which staff members had a terrible case of food poisoning and couldn’t make it into work today?

11) Which entire department has been in a “un scheduled meeting” since 9am this morning?

12) Which staff member had several glasses of the free bubbles by stating “do you know who I am”?

13) Which staff members were encouraged to practice frottage with a certain other staff member’s fishnets?

Answers on a postcard to the advertising dept ……..

I'm not telling which of these (if any) involved me, but let's just say there's a shared sense of fragility around the office today!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band, Shephred's Bush Empire

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to see the last night of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's 40th anniversary tour at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. It's not often we go up to town on a weekend, so we decided to make a day of it by taking in a couple of Nordic Christmas markets in East London (as you do) - a Finnish one which was really cool and classy, and a Norwegian one which was anything but.

After a slightly indulgent early supper at the Bush Bar & Grill, we joined the queue of eager Bonzo-fans and marked our territory in the middle-aged mosh-pit. Most of the audience seemed to be made up of 50+ balding men, but everyone was in good spirits. I wish I'd worn my gig boots (oversized buffalos with 10" platform soles), as the SBE is not particularly well designed for standing punters - the stage is quite high up and the stalls floor isn't raked, so I found myself jumping up and craning my neck to see the onstage antics, of which there were plenty. Ant was kind enough to give me a piggy back for one of the numbers, so that I could fully appreciate the visual capers. The ageing band members were full of energy, which is more than can be said for the audience, who were disappointingly static. I can't help myself leaping around to songs such as 'Mr Slater's Parrot' which have induced uncontrollable giddiness in me since childhood. Special guests included Adrian Edmonson, Phill Jupitus, Paul Merton, and most pleasingly, Bill Bailey. None of them could replace the unique contributions of the legendary Vivian Stanshall, but thankfully they didn't even try. Neil Innes seemed to take the lead when it came to banter between songs, while the others pranced around like giddy teenagers, obviously relishing the occasion. Getting back to Brighton from London on a Saturday night (especially with rail replacement buses in place) is never a pleasant undertaking, but it was certainly worth it to experience the Bonzo madness in the flesh.

Photograph of Roger Ruskin Spear courtesy of Hddod

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Brighton's Best Pubs

Following on from my recent 'Country Pub Rant', I thought I'd share some thoughts on my favourite urban hostelries in my home town (I still can't think of it as a city), Brighton. So here's my top five, in no particular order...

The Barley Mow, Kemptown Village
Although not strictly the closest pub to my home, I still think of this place as my 'local'. It's cosy and traditional, with comfortingly simple and tasty pub grub. The staff are all really amicable, and always acknowledge their regulars, making you feel at home even when you arrive before the rest of your friends (which happens to me a lot - my friends all seem to have a punctuality problem!). There is a huge pile of assorted games in the corner, from Connect 4 to Jenga, and more obscure ones to boot. We've been frequenting this place since we became regular participants in (and fairly regular winners of) the weekly quiz (Thursday nights, from 9ish). Sunday roasts are particularly recommended - the portions are so generous, I've never been able to finish one yet!

The Lion and Lobster, Bedford Place
I used to live practically opposite this lovely, buzzy hang-out, which manages to maintain a 'locals' vibe, despite its central location. There is regular live music, of which Thursday night Jazz is especially good, and the food is pretty tasty as well. The decor is entertainingly eccentric - lots of old showbiz pictures and pages from magazines pasted all over the walls, and an assortment of random ornaments. Since they extended it around the back, there are plenty of dark and seedy hideouts for romantic trysts. I've also used it as overspill accommodation for parties etc (they have rooms upstairs), and am told that it's very comfortable. What's more, they throw in Sunday lunch if you stay there on a Saturday (presumably no-one gets up in time for breakfast!).

The Basketmakers, North Laine
Tucked away in a quiet backstreet, The Basketmakers thankfully escapes the onslaught of retail tourists who flood the North Laine at weekends, and is instead a haven for all kinds of local characters. The walls are covered with an array of vintage style tins (see picture above), into which it is traditional to put handwritten notes for others to read - always a good conversation starter. You can still buy a decent meal for under a fiver, and the beer is reasonably priced for Brighton, making this my top choice for a cheap and cheerful night out in the centre of town.

The Regency, Regency Square
The phrase 'Camp as Christmas' comes to mind when thinking about The Regency, and indeed the festive season is probably the best time to visit in order to fully appreciate the flamboyance of this legendary establishment. Decked out in faux-regency style furnishings, including in the ladies' (I can't speak for the gents', but am told its decor is also rather unique), it has traditionally become something of a pantomime set around Christmas. I sincerely hope that this custom will continue under the new management, since the departure of the fabulous former landlords. It's a great place for 'holding court' on a birthday or special occasion, and I always seem to get drunker than I mean to if I spend a whole evening there.

The George, Trafalgar Street
Although not particularly atmospheric, this one had to make the list purely by virtue of being the only all-vegetarian pub in Brighton, and because it has a non-smoking area, which is a major bonus in my book. There is a little yard out the back which catches the sun in the warmer months, and is covered and heated in the winter. The veggie grub is excellent, as is the selection of beers and organic wines.

Coming soon, 'Top Five Cocktail Bars', meanwhile:

Thursday, November 23, 2006

My New Favourite Bond

Like many other fans of the James Bond film franchise, I was dubious about the casting of Daniel Craig in the legendary 007 role. Whilst I respect him greatly as an actor, I found it hard to picture him as the suave and sexy spy, who for me had always been embodied by the twinkly-eyed Sean Connery. In spite of my reservations, I was eager to see the new movie, so much so that I booked tickets for the opening night and braved West Street to join hoards of others at the Odeon. We chose the slightly later showing in the hope that we wouldn't be surrounded by kids, and it seemed to work.

From the opening scene - a film-noir-esque depiction of Bond's violent initiation into 007 status - Casino Royale immediately distances itself from its predecessors in both style and substance. Gone are the gimmicky gadgets and tongue-in-cheek humour. Craig has seized the role by the neck and shaken (not stirred) new life into it. His Bond is less self-consciously sexual, making him imminently more appealing than the suggestive and somewhat sleazy versions offered by Brosnan, Moore, and even Connery. The endless innuendos and puns have been replaced by a refreshingly understated humour, subtly executed by Craig, who skilfully resists the temptation to milk it.

All the classic ingredients remain – the scarred European baddie, the smouldering smoky-eyed love-interest, and dramatic chase scenes a-plenty – but darker undertones, superior acting and a more human approach establish Casino Royale as a new breed of Bond. Any remaining doubts I may have had about Craig in the leading role were banished at the moment he emerged from the sea, pecks glistening, in a pair of tight swimming shorts (see above). Need I say more?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Sci-fi snooze

Last Saturday's Guardian 'Guide' supplement described the hero of the BBC's new Doctor Who spin-off as "one of the most pantomime characters ever to appear in Doctor Buzz Lightyear, but less realistic". A pretty harsh assesment of what was intended to be a flagship programme - much-hyped, and eagerly anticipated by sci-fi buffs, myself included. Up until last night, I'd been keeping an open mind about Torchwood, giving it the benefit of a few episodes to get going, but was sadly so bored by the third installment that I dozed off. So I'm afraid I'm with the Guardian on this one... Captain Jack Harkness is a ridiculous caricature, utterly devoid of charisma or sex appeal, and the laboured attempts to create on-screen chemistry between him and the leading lady were about as sexy as a bowl of cold porridge (thanks to Ant for that analogy).

The recently resurrected Doctor Who series were aimed firmly at children, and yet the scripts were funnier, the characters far more appealing, and the sentiments at times genuinely moving. Having been seduced by the "This Life meets the X-Files" pitch for Torchwood, one of the few prime-time programmes aimed squarely at me (a post-Buffy-DINKY), I feel sorely disappointed that the BBC have got it so, so wrong.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Green is the New Black

A few months ago, I expressed my gushing enthusiasm about the new musical Wicked, which I could not wait to see. Well, the big day came along, my 31st birthday in fact, and I could hardly contain my excitement! Ant and I spent the day in London (not such a chore now I don't work there anymore), shopping for boots (we didn't find any) and had a pre-theatre dinner at Ozer, a swanky Meze place near Broadcasting House. Walking into the foyer of the Apollo Victoria was like entering the Emerald City - green walls & carpets, and the most extensive array of merchandise I've ever seen at a musical. The whole theatre has become part of the Wicked experience. I'd bought the tickets on eBay, so wasn't sure what the seats would be like, but luckily they weren't bad - half way up the dress circle, quite central.

The show itself exceeded my expectations in every way - my skin was literally prickling from the very opening chords, and I could feel Ant exuding a similar response next to me. "Good news! She's dead!" is the triumphant opening line of the chorus, referring of course to the demise of the notorius Wicked Witch of the West. Based on Gregory Maguire's novel of the same name,
Stephen Schwartz's new musical presents an alternative slant on Frank L. Baum's classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, essentially telling the Witch's side of the story. Altogether deeper and darker than the camp-and-spangly Judy Garland film version, Wicked tackles some pretty political issues to do with power, corruption and persecution. I won't spoil the twist for anyone who doesn't know the book, or hasn't yet seen the musical themselves, as I'd only listened to the soundtrack CD before going, and hadn't quite guessed how things turned out.

We were lucky enough to see the extraordinary
Idina Menzel - who created the role of the Witch on Broadway - during her limited London run as Elphaba. Her incredible stage presence seemed to ignite her fellow performers, creating an electric chemistry between the cast members. If you think you know the Wicked Witch of the West, think again. Menzel's powerful voice, statuesque physique and great comic timing have given this classic 'baddie' a long-deserved revamp. Of course, Maguire and Schwartz are also to be credited for providing the star with such inspiring material in the first place. I could go on and on about every little detail of the production, from the stunning costumes to the sensational score, but all I really want to say is "go and see it!", even if you don't normally like musicals. Wicked is unlike anything I have seen on stage before, and I can't wait to see it again.

As we boarded the train back to Brighton (sure to become the 'Wicked Express' methinks), I swear I overheard one of my fellow passengers declare "Well, I'm no friend of Dorothy anymore!" and I couldn't agree more - Long Live Elpheba...the Wicked Witch is alive and well!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Sussex Country Pub Rant

One of my favourite things to do of a Sunday is a nice walk in the country and a pub lunch. Last Sunday it was pretty grim weather-wise, but we decided not to let that deter us, and headed out into rural Sussex. I feel so lucky living where we do - flanked by the sea on one side and the Downs on the other. It only took us 10 minutes in the car to get to Fulking, at the foot of Devil's Dyke, to one of our preferred hostelries, The Shepherd & Dog. We've always rated this place for its cosy atmosphere, straightforward food and stunning beer garden. I was sad to see that a recent refurbishment has removed some of the cosiness, and that the hugger-mugger random furniture, which I rather liked, has been replaced by uniform smart pine. This didn't seem to put off the regulars though, as the place was packed full of Sunday-lunchers. So we braved the blustery weather and sat in the beautiful beer garden, hoping the rain would hold off. My biggest complaint about the revamp is the evident price-hike - £6.95 for a sandwich???! Main courses were coming in at £10-14 - fair enough for a swish restaurant, but the food wasn't THAT great. The salad garnish with my ciabatta was limp and obvoiusly not freshly prepared, and there was nothing very imaginative about the sandwich itself - certainly not seven quid's worth of imagination anyway! How sad to see a charming, rustic local turning into yet another soul-less gastro pub. Thankfully Sussex has plenty of other great country pubs to offer...


The Cricketers, Berwick - Good, unfussy food and plenty for veggies. Lovely old-school interior and two beer gardens. Also a great starting place for walks over to Charleston.

The Eight Bells, Jevington - Friendly and traditional atmosphere, with nice beer garden and decent pub grub.

The Old Oak, Arlington - This place made the list out of nostalgia more than anything - tucked in next to Abbot's Wood, it was a family favourite growing up, but still serves good beer and OK food.

The Sussex Ox, Milton Street - Now has a gastro-pub style dining room, but the main pub is still cosy and atmospheric, and the food is good value for money.

The Tiger, East Dean - A lovely villagey atmosphere, especially in the summer when drinkers spill out onto the green.

For more inspiration on which pubs to visit in Sussex, try one of these most helpful guidebooks:

Monday, September 04, 2006

Cultural flurry

Last week brought a welcome flurry of cultural activity - I managed to see a film at the cinema, finish reading my first grown-up novel in ages (I've been reading mostly kids books lately) and even went to see a play at the theatre! The film in question was A Scanner Darkly, an adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel of the same name. I haven't read the book, but was intrigued by the reviews I'd read of the film. They've used some new-fangled animation technique, which basically looks like the actors playing the parts have just been coloured in. My brain went into overdrive just trying to process this confusing visual format, so it wasn't a good start. The dreary plot, bland acting and uninspired directing meant that I only managed to stay awake for about three-quarters of the film (if that).

Thankfully, the theatre trip was an altogether more uplifting experience. It was a family outing in Eastbourne, to see the much talked-about Neville's Island at the lovely Devonshire Park Theatre. The local hype surrounding this production was mostly to do with the amount of water involved, and the implications for the 120 year-old stage! The set, a naturalistic recreation of a Lake District island, was on display as we took our seats (no tabs), complete with aforementioned water. Subtle birdsong twittered around the auditorium, adding to the already atmospheric setting. I knew nothing about the play in advance, except that it involved four middle-aged, middle-management men being marooned during an outbound-style team-building exercise in Cumbria. It was inevitably going to have a comic element, but thankfully stopped short of turning into farce, and stayed well within my preferred realm of black comedy. Sharp comic timing, a good stage rapport between the actors, and clever characterisation all made Neville's Island a resounding success.

On Sunday night I sat down to finish my book, a rare treat, as I hardly ever just sit and read at home anymore. Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris is mostly set in rural France, and evokes the rustic atmosphere beautifully, with intricate descriptions of food, wine, people and places. With well-rounded characters, some subtle mysteries, and just a touch of magic, it was an easy and satisfying read. And so my brief cultural spell concluded. Back to another week of low-brow TV and children's books then...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Green Man Festival 2006

After the disappointment of The Isle of Wight Festival earlier this summer, I was dead chuffed when I managed to blag two press passes for the Green Man Festival, from the lovely Mojo magazine. I'd heard good things about Green Man and so went along with high hopes. I'm happy to say that it lived up to its reputation. Ant was off away sailing with his parents, so I took Jen along with me. We'd already planned a girls' weekend, so this was the perfect setting for two hippie-chicks to chill out. Sadly, Jen had to work Friday night, so we missed the folk legend that is Donovan, but we arrived on Saturday lunchtime, just in time to catch the end of Quasi's set. These Can-esque folk-rockers set the tone for the weekend, as we wandered about getting our bearings. The surrounding scenery was breath-taking - mountains shrouded in mist and lush greenery everywhere. It was raining, there was mud, but were well-equipped with waterproofs, wellies, etc. and I made it my mission for the weekend to keep us dry!

Over in the Folkey-Dokey tent, we saw our first full set - Misty's Big Adventure. Neither of us had heard of many of the bands before, so we took a chance and hoped for the best. The Green Man site is small enough to nip between stages without getting blisters, so it's no big thing if you change your mind! 'Misty's' was just we needed to get us going - a lively klezmer/ska/jazz fuelled line-up fronted by the po-faced Grandmaster Gareth. The eccentric mix of dark-humoured performance poetry, boppable tunes and crazy dancing mascot (who looked like a reject from Yellow Submarine) had the whole tent boucning about in a distinctly non-folky manner! Next up were Bat for Lashes, a glam-hippy girl band who I can only describe via their evident influences - e.g. Kate Bush-meets-Bjork-meets-Enya-meets-Shakespeare's Sister-meets Portishead...wrapped in capes and rolled in glitter. Arch, to say the least. The lyrics to their eletro-folk songs proved as contrived as their attire, and I wasn't sure whether it was meant to be comical or not. Unfortunately I had become somewhat inhebriated by this point, and lost the power of internal dialogue. So when the lead singer invited audience participation by declaring "We need help" I was compelled to retort "yes you do" in an unintentionally audible manner. Jen was seized by the giggles, and we thought it was probably a sensible time to depart.

In between bands, there was plenty of people-watching to be had, and no shortage of scenic spots to sit and relax. The food stalls were pretty impressive - lots of veggie stuff and everything from tapas to thali, but thankfully no M&S (which I'd been shocked to see at Isle of Wight). There were also loads of little kids running around, and it was such a laid-back, friendly atmosphere, that parents seemed happy to let them. Back on the main stage, King Creosote were inoffensively affable, providing cheery folk-indie crowd pleasers, but failed to inspire me. By the time the Saturday headliner, Jose Gonzales, was up, Jen was suffering from exhaustion (having finished work at 4am the night before) and I was rather too rum-and-flapjack fuelled to appreciate him. We sat swaying on the hillside for a few songs, then decided we could enjoy it just as well from our tent, which was just behind the main stage, and promptly passed out.

Jen was up and about before me in the morning, grabbing tea and making friends. I can't say I had a comfy night's sleep (missed the air mattress), but was suitably refreshed to embrace the day's offerings with enthusiasm. After a hearty veggie breakfast, and some bimbling, we went to see Brighton band Fink. The singer's vocals put me in mind of Boo Hewerdine, and I liked the blend of folk-finger-picking and bluesy soulful rhythms. Some of the lyrics were a bit contrived, but overall it was a pleasant experience... Which is more than can be said for the Eighteenth day of May. I went along to this, forgetting that I already endured them earlier in the year at Brighton's own Great Escape Festival. I would normally dig this kind of psychadelic folk, but these guys are severly let-down by a terrible drummer. There's no getting away from the tedious, heavy handed percussion that sadly overbears an otherwise pleasant enough sound. It was also threatening to rain again, so this was an opportune moment to to strike the tent and pack up the car.

I was intending to stick around for folk-guru Bert Jansch, and a surprise addition to the line up, Cerys Matthews, but my rational brain kicked in and reminded me that I had to be at work in the morning, and had a 200 mile drive ahead. So, as it turned out, our final band were Archie Bronson Outfit, described in the blurb as 'garage blues... with apocolyptic fervour'. They were certainly compelling - prog-rocky, with folky undertones, but funky enough to get people dancing. The distinctive, edgy vocals provoked a sense of urgency, and there was certainly fervour...a good note to end on. I was really impressed with the festival as a whole. The only let-down was the DJ tent, which never seemed to really take off (apart from a brief funky stint on Saturday night, or did I imagine that?). I'd have liked it to be almost an antidote to folk - a complete contrast, to re-set the musical receptors. Folk-DJing just doesn't really work. But apart from that, eveything was most satisfactory - even the toilets were relatively salubrious, for a festival.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Where did that month go?

It's been a month since my last post, and though I have nothing much of interest to write about, I feel I must scrape together some sort of offering. Although I'm not a Catholic, and have never been to confession, I'm sure it's a similar thing - the need to purge one's subconsious and discharge those random thoughts which clog up the brainwaves. There'll be no disclosing of transgressions here, though...

The last month has been fairly devoid of cultural exploits about which to write, and the social calendar has been somewhat slow as well. What I've been busy doing is changing jobs... after 18 months in Chichester I decided it was time for a change and found myself a cushy gig much nearer home, in Lewes. The plan was to cycle in - to save money and get fit at the same time, but since I don't have a working bike, I've been getting the bus so far. I've discovered that Brighton buses are actually fairly reliable, even sometimes, rather annoyingly, arriving EARLY! My past experiences of using buses regularly were mainly in London when they lived up to that classic reputation of none coming for ages and then three turning up at once. Well, the job is cool, the people are lovely, and it's great being back in good-old Lewes. I've even got a bus buddy in the shape of my friend Tim, who also commutes to Lewes, to work at County Hall. We're having lunch today, and all feels right in the world.

Other stuff that's happened in the last month includes a visit from my Kiwi cousins, which involved a cheesy Brighton day - down the pier, fish & chips, swimming in the sea, buying souvenir Brighton Rock, and shopping in the Lanes. My best friend from school, Kerry, has also been over from Oz, where she now lives, but I only got to see her for one night, as it was a flying, and tightly scheduled, trip. We've had a houseful this week, with two lodgers - a bassonist from Glyndebourne and the lovely Brian, who will be staying for a few weeks before he goes of to do his PGCE in Exeter. He joined us for our regular pub quiz last night, at which we did shamefully - joint 4th - shocking! I put it down to Jo not being there, and the fact that the guest round was sport. Still, it was a fun evening, with much inter-team banter, and a spontaneous chanting of "HE SAID YACK, HE SAID YACK...!" in response to one team member's indignant remark of "I said Yack and none of you believed me". Genius.

The month has not been without its upsets - Mum lost her little Yorkie dog, Zoe, who originally belonged to Granny. I'm not usually a fan of little yappy dogs, but Zoe was real character, and her kooky personality certainly outshone her diminutive physical presence. After hosting a veritable menagerie of pets not so long ago, Mum's now left with just one cat (Go-Tabs) and one dog (Pascha). Then more sad news came yesterday from Ant's Mum that their old and very dear family cat, Dandelion, had died. We took a moment to honour her memory, and I shall do so again here. She was once a very timid, usually invisible, cat, but in recent years had mellowed into a different creature entirely. Last Christmas I took on the job of visiting her regularly in the attic rooms (see above picture), where she was confined because of Eddy and Alison's dog Papi being around. She was pathetically pleased to see me, and covered me in her soft tortoisehell fur, purring and dribbling with affection. I shall miss seeing her when we head North, dear old Dandelion.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Thumpermonkey & Grelch at the Engine Rooms

It's official, I'm too old to get drunk on a Tuesday night. I always welcome a mid-week jolly, but from now on, I resolve to stay off the booze until Friday night. Last night I tried to act 15 and woke up feeling 50. A gang of us went down to the distinctly seedy Engine Rooms, to support Michael's first Brighton gig with his band Thumpermonkey, stopping first for a civilised tipple at The Regency. The gig had been held up thanks to a slack, absentee promoter, and Michael eventually came on stage around 9.15pm, by which time I was already tipsy and indulging fond memories of similarly grungy rocker nights, half my life ago. There was even a familiar Eastbourne face from the 'Inn on the Track' days, though my memories of then are too hazy to recall a name. The highlight of Thumpermonkey's set for me was their tongue-in-cheek cover of 'As the World Falls Down' from the Labyrinth soundtrack, which topped off my teenage nostalgia trip nicely. After Thumpermonkey, a local band, Grelch, amused us with folk-rock pastiche and worryingly oddball humour. There wasn't much scope for conversation what with the small space and big speakers, so Mat and Ant decided physical communication was the way to go and ended up having a girlie brawl reminiscent of that classic Darcy vs. Cleaver scene from Bridget Jones's Diary. Nice.

I woke up this morning with a killer of a stiff neck, which I can't even put down to moshing (I'm more of a foot-tapper these days), and a bleary-eyed hangover which doesn't seem to be wearing off. Quiet night in tonight then.

Monday, June 26, 2006

A Midsummer Night's Dream?

On Saturday night I found myself in a glade on the South Downs Way, where a bluegrass band were playing under a gazebo. A scattered audience sat or lay on the grass, among them a barman from my local pub, my ex-yoga teacher and the 1930s couple who've been stalking us all summer (OK, not stalking exactly, but they do seem to have been at all the same cultural events as us and are particularly conspicuous due to their striking vintage attire). This was an unexpected turn of events and a rather surreal experience. We'd walked along the ridge from Devil's Dyke to Truleigh Hill, to ambush Mat, who was camping at the youth hostel there. He'd mentioned something about an acoustic event going on, but this was not what I had imagined. We sat ourselves down and ate our picnic while the next band up, a Tortoise-esque stoner-jam ensemble, induced a welcome torpor among the crowd. Mat and his girlfriend, apparently unaffected by the mellow moment, decided it was the perfect time for a game of badminton. Sadly we couldn't stay to find out what other musical delights were on offer, as the light was fading and we had a 3 mile walk back to the car. I'm still not sure whether I was really there, or whether I just fell asleep in the garden and dreamed it. Either way, it was a memorable night.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Isle of Wight Festival 2006

Suffering from post Brighton Festival blues, I was idly looking online at summer music festival line-ups and feeling downcast at not being able to afford to go to any of them. So I started searching for competitions to win tickets, and entered three or four, quickly forgetting which ones they were. Imagine my surprise when last week I opened a junk-mail-looking envelope to discover two complimentary tickets to the Isle of Wight Festival that weekend. After a brief debate over whether to sell them or go for it, we were soon booking ferry tickets (possibly the most expensive crossing per mile) and digging out the camping gear.

Ant picked me up from work on Friday, after a gruelling 3 hour journey from Brighton to Chichester. He was understandably on edge and this escalated as it took us another 2 hours to get to Southampton. Thankfully we didn't have to wait long for a ferry, but it was dark before we arrived on the island. Pitching up in darkness is never fun, and we trapsed around for quite a while before finding a decent spot. Sadly we missed all of the Friday night bands and I was quite looking forward to the Prodigy. It was midnight by the time we were camped, and we were exhausted. So after a quick swig of mead and a wander, we crashed out.

On Saturday morning we met up with Mat Smith and his mates, who were on a lads weekend. Mat's friends then abandoned him to go and watch the football, so we hung out, watching Suzanne Vega, followed by a distinctly un-memorable set by The Upper Room and then The Proclaimers who were undoubtably my festival highlight. Vega was excellent too - a nice chilled atmosphere and simple, folky music kept the crowd mellow as we all lay about in the sunshine. By the time The Proclaimers came on, we'd had a few beers and a couple of flapjacks each and became rather silly - prancing around to 'I'm Gonna Be (500 miles)' and doing dog-howls along to one of their more maudlin ballads. We missed The Kooks, Dirty Pretty Things and The Editors in favour of dinner back at the campsite and a rest from the oppressive heat. We returned later for Primal Scream, who made the mistake of doing their greatest hit first, so that the rest of the set was a real let-down. They were followed by the headline act, Foo Fighters, who I last saw live at Glastonbury in 1998. Not wanting to repeat my near-death crushing experience of that gig, we decided not to follow Mat & co into the mosh-pit and found ourselves a less claustraphobic spot a bit further back. Dave Grohl appeared on stage, chewing madly on gum, with a slightly manic look in his eye, and displayed remarkable energy for a middle-aged rocker, running up onto speaker stacks and playing the crowd. They are certainly good at what they do, but it doesn't really do it for me - I just kept regretting never having seen Nirvana live.

On Sunday we left the festival site to see a bit of the island, and had a yummy lunch at Liberty's cafe in Ryde, followed by a little drive around, taking in the stunning scenery. Back at the festival, the wind had dropped and the heat was intense, so ageing hippies Procol Harum provided the perfect soundtrack by which to doze in the sun. A surge of flowing grey hair and tie-dye wafted past us as fans dashed to the front to sway along to 'Whiter Shade of Pale'. We couldn't face sticking it out for another three hours to see Lou Reed, and there was nothing else appealing on offer, so we broke camp and made our way back to the ferry. One of the most annoying things about the Isle of Wight Festival is the lack of alternatives to the main (and extremely mainstream) stage. There was a token 'bandstand' for more obscure bands, but they struggled to attract an audience, stuck in a thoroughfare with nowhere for people to sit. My other main gripe was the lack of information or knowledgeable staff provided. No-one seemed to be able to direct us to the 'quiet' campsite and if you wanted to find out who was on when, or even about the bands themselves, you had to buy a programme for £7 - rather steep if you'd paid £105 for a ticket. Most other festivals I've been to give you some sort of pocket-sized guide, with timetables and a bit of blurb about the acts, so that you can discover new music, rather than just going to see bands you've already heard of. It's not what you'd call a music-lovers festival - most of the crowd seemed more concerned with getting mashed than anything. I wouldn't pay to go back, but for a freebie it was a fun weekend.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Martha Wainwright at the Hanbury Ballroom

In complete contrast to the previous night's entertainment, we went to see hippy folk-chick Martha Wainwright, who was headlining at the Hanbury as part of the Great Escape Festival. I may have mentioned once or twice how much I love Martha's debut album and so was really excited about seeing her live in such an intimate venue, before she makes it really big, which I'm sure is only a matter of time. The Hanbury is a strange hybrid of school-hall and Eastern temple and doesn't have the best acoustic for live music, but it is only down the road from us, which was a bonus on such a windy, rainy night.

We sat through two pretty lame support bands, entertaining ourselves by laughing at a painfully inebriated couple who had obviously been out drinking all day. The girl was staggering around and shouting at the bands, while her boyfriend struggled to stay upright and kept one eye closed, presumably in an attempt to keep his balance. It was unsurprising when they were quietly evicted at the start of Martha's set, after a few inane heckles. Martha dealt with this minor ruction, and a few subsequent technical problems, with unflappable professionalism, keeping the audience rapt throughout. It was just her and a guitar – no backing band - but she filled the space with a powerful, penetrating voice, like shattered honeycomb dipped in tequila. Everyone was eagerly awaiting the classic “Mother F**king Asshole” which she delivered with conviction as her final number. There was no encore, but then how could you follow that? She mentioned Rufus a couple of times, at one point proclaiming “I'm related to one of the best looking men on the me out here” and I wanted to shout out, “But you got all the talent”, but restrained myself. I figured there'd been enough heckling for one night and anyway, she seemed quite affectionate towards her brother and might not have appreciated such an obvious jibe against him. I do much prefer her voice to his though – it has so much more depth and character, while his is rather whiny. I hope she soon reaches the kind of acclaim Rufus currently enjoys, she certainly deserves it.

Beautiful Freaks

La Clique, The Famous Spiegeltent, Brighton Festival, 17th May 2006

Billed as “A Sideshow Burlesque” La Clique has been a sell-out at every festival for the last few years. It has acquired the sort of mysterious reputation in which those who have seen it are unable to sufficiently describe it, and simply recommend it with a nod and a wink. Having finally managed to get tickets this year, I can see why. From what I had gathered about it, I knew I'd have to take my two most theatrical friends (not counting family), Damien and Natalie. So I grabbed some of the last few tickets and we met up at the atmospheric Spiegel Garden on a rainy Wednesday night. The tickets carried an 18 certificate, so we decided to avoid excessive embarrassment by steering clear of front row seats, and instead heading for one of the cosy 'booths', which have an excellent view, but preclude eye contact with the performers! We also bumped into Sham and James and a friend of theirs, so we huddled together, giggling and chattering in anticipation.

The first 'sideshow' to appear was Camille, a smoky-voiced French/Irish cabaret singer, who captivated us with an energetic, quirky performance of a song about carousels and ferris wheels. Then came Miss Behave, who continued to pop up in between the acts with humorous tricks that included 'swallowing' the leg of a cocktail table. As the only straight guy at our table, Ant felt rather left out when the rather dishy English Gentlemen amazed and aroused the rest of us with their unfeasibly controlled acrobatics, demonstrating the kind of strength and skill most of us would never have the patience to accomplish. Their finale had the girls and gay guys fanning themselves, as they stripped down to very tight Union Jack pants, revealing the most perfectly toned bodies any of us had ever seen – each muscle defined and rippling... a collective "phwoar" echoed around the tent. The straight boys had their moment when cheeky stripper/conjurer Ursula Martinez concealed a little hankie about her person, removing a piece of clothing each time until there was nowhere else to hide it - I'll let you guess from where it finally appeared! The other acts included a Russian hula-hoop dancer, special guests 'Olé' – a cod-Spanish troubadour band, and a transexual mime artist in nothing but pearls, flailing around to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (I didn't get this one).

Damien was understandably overcome by the final act, a pretty German gymnast called David O'Mer who appeared in a bath full of water, wearing only a pair of jeans, and proceeded to swing himself up onto long straps, splashing elegantly in and out of the bath in an acrobatic display which included doing the splits mid-air over the bath. This is one of those acts which is impossible to adequately put into words – Damien's reaction probably says it best: “I've seen some gay porn in my time, but that was the most erotic thing ever!”, or something along those lines. A charming mix of traditional circus skills, vaudevillian-style cabaret and risqué comedy, La Clique must be seen to be believed.

We stayed on for a bit of a boogie at the Festival club, doing our own unique brand of free-form jiving to a fabulous mix of Rock 'n Roll, Bluegrass and Northern Soul, in the convivial setting of the Spiegeltent – not bad for a school night. Natalie decided to stay over with us, having had a few pints of cider, and we realised that it would be the first time she'd stayed at my house since we were teenagers.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Antonio Forcione Quartet at the Spiegelgarden, Brighton Festival

Our first visit to the wonderful Spiegeltent this festival kicked off a typically eclectic Brighton Saturday night. Having had a sneak preview of Forcione when he was supporting Boothby Graffoe at Komedia, I was eager to hear the full spectrum of his talent, this time in the context of his quartet. The four musicians comprised a cellist, a percussionist, a bassist/flautist and of course the delightful Antonio on his many guitars. From what I'd previously heard at Komedia, I was expecting a bluesy set, with plenty of impassioned improvisation, and fingers moving at impossible speeds. There was passion and improvisation aplenty, and I was once again awed at the dexterity of Forcione's fingers, but was pleasantly surprised at the feel and style of most of the music.

Two of the musicians were African (percussionist and cellsit) and this came through in much of the material. What emerged was an uplifting fusion of bright Samba beats and avante-garde, extemporised jazz, all played with classical proficiency. Foricone embraces his intrument with evident fervour - using every part of it, not just the strings - and appears physically consumed by the music. Far from being a backing band, each of the musicians had their moment and proved themselves Foricone's equals in talent and execution. The percussionist looked as though he had most of Adaptatrap (Brighton's excellent percussion shop) in tow, as he deftly moved between an intriguing range of instruments, ranging from traditional drumkit to a bunch of shells on a string.

The Highlights included a jocular duet between Forcione and his percussionist on a type of African tambourine (I can't recall its proper name), and the closing number, which reverted to Forcione's native Italian style - a feverish Tarantella. The latter had my heart thumping and I left feeling thoroughly stirred and inspired.

Groupe F Pyrotechnics, Preston Park, Brighton

From the atmospheric Spiegelgarden, we walked over to Rob and Sarah's in Preston Park, where an afternoon drinking session/barbeque was in full swing. Being entirely sober amongst this evidently innebriated crowd was rather entertaining. Getting said crowd to the park in one piece for the Groupe F fireworks was an admirable feat, considering their collective condition. Not being a fan of fireworks particularly (it's the big bangs that upset me), I was somewhat wary, but had been assured by Rob that it would be worth it. He'd seen this same outift a few years back and had been blown away (bad pun, sorry). It was certainly a spectacular display, with men (or possibly women?) in illuminated suits appearing to fly across the stage, surrounded by various explosions and eruptions. I was mildly irritated by the pretentious music which accompanied the show and had to put my hands over my ears during several chest-thumping detonations.

The usual mayhem occured as 15,000 odd revellers tried to leave the park at once, and we lost Sarah & Rob et. al. in the process. Neither of us relishing big crowds, we hung back a bit until it had cleared sufficiently to walk, rather than shuffle, out. In a typically Brighton moment, we bumped into our upstairs neighbours, Sean and Sara, and ambled home with them via The Geese on Southover Street. Rounding off the night most pleasantly, we were invited up to theirs for a nightcap (or two) and finally started to get to know each other properly. Before we knew it, it was 3am and we were thankful to only have a few stairs to negotiate before flaking out.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Photogenic Accordian: The Tiger Lillies at Komedia

Forget light-hearted parodies and witty ditties, The Tiger Lillies served up a relentless offering of vulgarity, bad taste and grisly wit at their first of a three night run at the Brighton Festival. Dimly lit and presented in a seedy cabaret style in which the lead singer is a sneering, grumpy clown, they appeared like some sort of twisted vaudeville nightmare. Don't get me wrong, I love a bit of vulgarity and coarse humour, but it can become a bit oppressive when song after song features such macabre themes as kicking babies down stairs, dying from cancer and inciting abortion. Add to this the grating squawk of aforementioned clown/singer's limited-range vocals and you might want to have a stiff drink handy. On the up-side, I loved the general ambience of the occaision - an eccentric crowd (I wasn't the only one wearing a silly hat*), consummate musicians, and a real sense of 'theatre' in the burlesque tradition - even to the extent of the frontman staying in character for the (minimal) banter between songs. A few of the gentler numbers alleviated the incessant offensiveness, and occaisionally revealed a less irritating, softer vocal style. I wouldn't rush out and buy a CD, but might be tempted to download one or two songs, as there is certainly a place for the Tiger Lillies in my musi-comic hall-of-fame, albeit in its metaphorical gutter.

*On leaving the house to attend the gig, I felt compelled to don my bowler hat (purchased for my Sally Bowles costume) for the occaision and have decided it will become my festival hat! You can see the back of said bowler here, and birthday girl jen rolling up. Another interesting choice of head adornment in the background...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Neil Innes at Komedia

I was brought up on the surreal humour of Monty Python, The Goon Show, The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and other such eccentric legends, and often bemoan the fact that there is little comparable comedy around today. I particularly love the type of comedy that involves music, or perhaps even more so, music with a comic element. Nothing beats a good old fashioned musical parody and who can do that better than Neil Innes; Bonzo member, unofficial “7th Python” (he penned the tunes for such classic ditties as “Brave Sir Robin” from Holy Grail) and co-creator of the genius Beatles spoof “The Rutles”? So when we learned he was touring again, we quickly snapped up tickets to his Brighton date at the Komedia, which also happens to be one of my favourite and most frequented local venues.

It was a real treat to see the man in action, albeit looking slightly lost without the repartee from his Bonzo bandmates. In their place he had two extremely talented and appropriately eccentric looking musicians, but their attempts to join in “the madness” seemed somehow contrived. Neil regaled us with anecdotes of the Bonzo years, touring with the Pythons, and generally ranted about life today in a charmingly tongue-in-cheek manner. He started off playing what he called a “medley of hit”, which was a quick version of Urban Spaceman (we got the full version as a reprise later). The rest of the set was mostly new material, which ranged from bonkers audience participation songs such as 'Charlie Big Potatoes' to a moving bluesy ballad about dealing with the death of friends. I laughed and I cried - always the sign of a good night out in my book.

It seems crazy that such a musi-comic genius is now unsigned (his latest album, Works in Progress is self-published) - OK it's not the Bonzos, but it has much merit of its own and certainly deserves a listen. Personally I would be in favour of Innes getting his own radio show - perhaps on Radio 2, as he himself dryly suggested he now belonged. He's got the gift of natural banter, and would certainly be an improvement on some of their current appalling DJs (Lulu ”I haven't had any” what-no-surname?, for example). Come on, let's start lobbying the BBC...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

(The Lovely) Boo Hewerdine at Komedia

A rare weeknight "date" this week was a trip to see Boo Hewerdine live at Komedia on Tuesday. I was pretty excited, as I've loved Boo for ages, but only ever seen him perform with Eddi Reader (3 times) and not his solo set. It was a fairly intimate occaision in the basement space, which does feel more "divey" (not in a bad way) than the revamped upstairs. This and the enthusiastically sponateous nature of the gig made it feel like an impromptu student jam, but with hugely talented musicians.

The support act was a very friendly scottish lady called Astrid Williamson with a pretty tight band, but the music was a bit busy for my taste. After a small break, Boo sauntered onto stage with two other musicians - the drummer from The Bible, who had apparently been roped in at the last minute as he lives in Brighton - and another guitarist (with some kind of intriguing short-necked guitar in tow) who Boo had enlisted after meeting him a couple of weeks ago in West Chiltington. They seemed very relaxed in each other's company, and the fact that they immediately sat down and remained so throughout the gig was rather endearing. Most of the songs were familiar, but often played in a different style than on the albums. I've always found Boo's music incredibly affecting, but seeing/hearing him perform live was magical. He's got the kind of voice that speaks to your soul - forceful and tender at the same time. I found myself "tingling" on several occaisions, especially when he floated into that gentle, breathy falsetto that he does so well.

Ant and I made fools of ourselves by being the only ones to get up and dance to "59 Yards" - the most upbeat Boo song. I also gave it my all when the audience was invited to join in on the chorus of "Patience of Angels". I've always loved singing this song anyway and to have the chance to sing with the man himself was amazing. The sardonic banter in between the songs was very amusing and added to the convivial atmosphere of the night. I came away feeling very upbeat and inspired, an effect that lasted for the rest of the week, putting me firmly into holiday mode. I'm looking forward to a quiet moment when I can kick back and enjoy the new album, Harmonograph, which Boo kindly signed for me afterwards.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Unlikely Sex Symbol

I'd never considered Sybil Fawlty a sex symbol, so when Ant & I decided to 'do' the Fawltys for a 'comedy characters' theme party last night, I had resigned myself to being a frump. I usually like to try and give my fancy dress outings an element of foxiness (Princess Leia, Sally Bowles, Wild West prostitute are some examples), but this was just too good an opportunity to pass up. Ant has a definte touch of Basil about him anyway and we couldn't think of any other more fitting comdedy couples.

I trawled the charity shops of Chichester, and good old eBay, and found myself a hideous peach coloured Windsmoor high-collared blouse, pearls, a suitably severe suit, and of course the necessary wig. Ant already owns a tweed jacket, so only needed to find a cravat, some too-short trousers and bad 70s shoes. Walking down to Mat's in Hanover in costume last night was quite amusing, as passing people weren't quite sure if we were in fancy dress or not! Most of the other party-goers clocked our ensemble straight away, especially when I did my best Sybil laugh and pretended to kick Basil in the shins. Many of the other costumes were lost on me, not being au-fait with a lot of contemporary comedy shows, but most people had made the effort which was pleasing.

What surprised me most about being Sybil was the amount of attention I was getting from the guys. I wasn't feeling particularly hot in my beige tights and bouffant wig, but I was propositioned by several lads who apparently found the look arousing. My response was to screech "BASIL!", to which Ant usually came scuttling in to rescue me, in character of course. I can't imagine what it is about Sybil that is so alluring - perhaps it's the dominatrix thing, or some kind of oedipal fixation, or maybe the blokes in question just all happened to be unhinged, but I was pleasantly surprised that I managed to inadvertantly project some foxiness after all.

Photographic evidence will be available on Flickr shortly.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Are You Wicked?

It's not often I get excited about a new musical - so many of them these days are schmulzy Lloyd-Webber or Lloyd-Webber wannabes, and there seems to be an increasing trend for translating previously unmusical films to the stage (Billy Elliot, Whistle Down the Wind, The Producers...) and adding songs. This can sometimes work, but it can also turn into one of those "Let's throw in a musical number here to kill some time" type shows, where the singing seems entirely gratuitous, rather than the songs flowing naturally out of the action.

A few months ago I was out drinking with my oldest friend Jordan (with whom I have been in many amateur musicals), who was telling me about a recent trip to New York where she had been blow away by a new musical on Broadway called 'Wicked'. She explained that it was based on a fictional (obviously) biography of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, which charts her demise into wickedness (she wasn't always so it seems). This rang a bell, as I remembered seeing such a book in a quirky little shop in Clapham Junction years ago, then never being able to find it afterwards because it wasn't published in the UK. I'd forgotten about it until that evening, when Jordan's excitement got me all enthused again.

Soon afterwards I discovered that Wicked the musical is coming to the West End in September, and tickets are already selling out fast. I had a quick look on ebay and found two tickets on sale for my birthday night - surely it was meant to be! I hadn't even heard any of the songs at this point, and was going purely on recommendation. So a few days ago I downloaded the album (which is only available on import at the moment) and listened to it on my way to work this morning. Thankfully I wasn't disappointed - Stephen Schwartz has delivered his most energetic, stirring and entertaining musical yet (and I'm a big fan of Godspell). It's particularly refreshing to have two female leads getting all the best numbers (and a whole new world of audition pieces for us singers!). I haven't decided yet whether to read the book before I go to see the musical - which is advertised as 'loosely based' on Gregory Maguire's novel. Recently published in the UK in a beautifully designed black and shiny-green hardback, it made a perfect present for a gay friend's birthday - perhaps I'll borrow it back from him.

Wicked's UK Website

Sunday, March 26, 2006

My Digital Music Journey - Part One

I've never been one to fall victim to fads and fashions, prefering to be a bit different than to blend in and conform. But when the big new trend for digital portable music came along, I was lured by the attractive prospect of carrying virtually my whole record collection around with me in a tiny device. I decided to join the revolution but couldn't bear the thought of the ubiquitous iPod in my pocket, with its give-away white headphone leads. I'd seen the Sony NW-HD5 walkman and really liked its simple, black design. I figured that being Sony, the sound quality would be pretty good, so I parted with my £159 (it was reduced from £199) and began my journey into digital music.

The major stumbling block of this departure was that I don't actually own a PC. I started out using my Mum's computer, going over once a week and ripping as many CDs as I could. Luckily my husband Ant was rehearsing for a play in Eastbourne at the time, so it fitted in OK. Eventually I had a decent amount of songs uploaded (around 5,000) and was enjoying the experience of having the music I fancied on tap when I wanted it. After a few months though I discovered the drawbacks of the Sony machine - namely the terrible software Sonic Stage. Sony doesn't let you use anything else to interact with the device, and it also entails some pretty restrictive copy-protection software which stops you moving music off the device onto any computer other than the one from which it was originally uploaded. Being Mrs Geek, I ventured into the exciting but unpredictable world of hacking, finding some free software online that claimed to overcome these problems. Unfortunately I didn't quite read all the smallprint and ended up inadvertantly corrupting all the Atrac songs on the player. Ooops.

So now I had two choices - reload all the music (by now we had a laptop at home, so visits to Eastbourne were no longer needed) and live with the restrictions of Sony, or upgrade to something more flexible. After some extensive research, I narrowed it down to 3 open-source players that would work with Windows Media Player and didn't impose any restrictive copy-protection. I made my final choice mostly based on size and value for money and plumped for the newly release Archos Gmini XS202s. It is the smallest 20GB player, about the size of the iPod mini (which is only 4GB) with a massive screen in proportion to its size, and with the added bonus of being in chic black, rather than a white iPod-wannabe. It is a no-frills piece of kit, so you are not paying over the odds for added features such as photo and video storage (I can use my phone for this). Great sound quality, an intuitive menu system and the ability to easily manipulate one's music collection all contribute to the appeal of my new toy. I really hope I've got it right this time!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A death in the family

We've just received some very sad news. Ant's Uncle Paul died this evening, after a long battle with cancer. Although it wasn't sudden, in that we'd known it was inevitable eventually, in the end it was a sharp decline which has come as something of a shock. Paul and Auntie Judith were a devoted couple, full of a passion for life and a sense of adventure, even when faced with the trials and traumas of Paul's ongoing cancer treatment and other problems such as his increasing loss of sight (unrelated to the cancer, but untreatable because of it).

I am so glad that we made the decision to spend last Christmas up north, which included a big Miller/Shingler family gathering in Ambleside on boxing day, hosted by Paul and Judith. It was an altogether uplifting and life-affirming occaision, punctuated by music, games, laughter, affection and a prevailing sense of fun. Memories like this give one something happy to hold onto in the grave, cruel wasteland that is grieving.

I shan't indulge in a long, cliched rant about the nature of death and grief, although it's tempting. There is nothing I can say to make it seem any better or worse than it is. It is a horrible, tragic and painful thing and unlike other life experiences, it doesn't get any easier the more it happens. Quite the reverse in fact.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I Love Taj

Last year a food revolution happened in Brighton, and I thought it was about time I mentioned it. Yes, we already have loads of lovely cafes, restaurants, pubs and delis - we're a foodie town - but when Taj opened up their new branch on Western Road, they took things to a new level.

I used to live opposite the old Taj shop on Bedford Place and was a regular customer, picking up bits on my way home and even using it for basics such as milk and bread. I'd always find myself tempted by nice dried fruit, fruit teas and exotic foods. It was pretty cool for a local convenience shop and excellent for unusual ingredients you can never normally find. When I discovered that the owners were expanding into a bigger premises on Western Road, I was intrigued and excited. It seemed to take an age for the doors to finally open. We'd be walking by every weekend peeking through the blinds to see what progress was like, but nothing much seemed to be happening for ages. Then suddenly, the day had arrived. Taj International Supermarket was born!

You might think with a name like Taj that the focus would be on Asian foods, but no, the stock is genuinely international. Everything from fresh fruit and veg to dried & tinned products, every kind of herb & spice and an intriguing selection of organic and vegetarian options are on offer. Now that I live the other side of town, popping over at weekends has become a treat to which I look forward with relish. If only there was a Kemptown branch, I'd never go to Asda again.

My personal favourite products include:

  • Various makes of Chai (spiced tea)
  • Squirty soya cream - my lactose intolerant friend Sarah is ecstatic!
  • Dried mango - not like anything you get in supermarkets
  • Fresh herbs - in huge, pungent bunches
  • Veggie sausages - lots of different flavours
  • Veggie jelly sweets - I never thought I'd have cola bottles again
  • Exotic fruit juices in every flavour
  • Fresh figs - Ant's favourite
  • LIQUORICE - red and black and more besides
  • Turkish delight - oh yes
  • Olives - in buckets

  • I could go on, but I'm sure you get the idea. Shopping there is truly an experience. Funky bollywood tunes waft through the fragrant isles and give you a real holiday vibe. I've started taking guests as a "thing to do in Brighton" when they come and stay, and they go home laden with goodies. If you live locally and haven't been already, do. If you live far away, it's a great excuse to come and visit!

    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    Daddy Luka

    Lowbrow alert! I am not ashamed to admit that it is my Monday night treat to stay up past my bedtime and watch ER. I got hooked around the 4th series and have been back to catch up on the early days on DVD. Now in its 12th season, I am delighted to see the swoonsome Dr. Kovac (Goran Visnjic) in the 'top doc' spot, following in the footsteps of Dr Greene (Anthony Edwards) and Dr Carter (Noah Wyle). It's good to see lovely Luka finally getting the attention he deserves, having been smouldering in the background since season 6, with a few interesting storylines, but long periods of character stagnation. Last night's episode "All About Christmas Eve" finished on the shock revelation that Abby (Lockhart - played by Maura Tierney) is carrying Luka's child. The chemistry between the two had been building all series, and I am sure I'm not the only fan who was pleased to see them get it together again a couple of episodes ago (They dated for a while back in season 7). The credits rolled before we could see Luka's reaction to Abby's news, but we know he is desperate to be a father again after his kids were killed during the war in Croatia, so surely he will be jumping for joy. What remains to be seen is whether Abby, with her traumatic family background, can cope with the idea of motherhood. Both characters are long overdue some stability and contentment, so here's hoping for a happy ending...

    Season 6 of ER, in which Dr. Kovac first appears, is out on DVD in a few weeks. With only six more episodes to go in the current season, it's comforting to have this to look forward to. Oh the shame of TV addiction!

    Monday, March 13, 2006


    I found my first ever diary, from 1987. It was the year I left junior school and started secondary school. It's not very interesting - mostly just accounts of events without much insight, but a few telling comments made me laugh and even shed the odd tear. I think I gave Ant a pathos overload attack when I read out a bit about our leaver's disco at Stafford, which said: "The boys all laughed at me when I danced, so I didn't dance." I felt sad at first remembering being unpopular and an object of ridicule, but then it made me glad that through it I learnt to be resilient and strong. I suppose it's made me be more picky about my friends and probably a better judge of character, too. These days I wouldn't stop dancing if I was being laughed at, which I'm sure has happened on occaision. I'd probably even hoik up my skirts (metaphorically speaking) and go for it even more.

    Friday, March 10, 2006

    Ginger Geezer

    I've just finished reading 'Ginger Geezer', the biography of Vivian Stanshall by Chris Welch and Lucian Randall. It's probably just as well that Stanshall never got around to writing an autobiography, because judging by the chaotic lunacy described in this version of his life, it would probably have taken him 20 years and ended up a rambling, incomprehensible rant.

    There's no doubt in my mind that Stanshall was a genius. Underneath all the madness and booze there was a sharp intellect and sensitivity. The book charts his life from a 'normal' family upbringing in East London, through being a Teddy Boy, joining the Bonzos and all the various crazy projects in the later years, including a doomed cabaret boat project, before his tragic death in 1995.

    Quotes from his friends, family, colleagues and associates reveal the many different sides to his personality. As well as being a charismatic, energetic performer, he was a loving father and caring (if unpredictable and generally unreliable) friend. Plagued by panic-attacks and depression, he spent most of his adult life addicted to valium, which, combined with heavy drinking, resulted in some extreme rock n' roll antics which inevitably impacted on his personal life - most notably two failed marriages.

    Overall, Stanshall comes across as a loveable rogue with a wicked, and appealingly unconventional, sense of humour. This biography is entertaining, moving and enlightening by equal degrees. It helped to have my walkman handy with some Bonzo tunes to play at the appropriate places, to bring the narrative to life. I also found pointers to loads of new music among Stanshall's contemporaries, collaborators and competitors - my Amazon wish list is suddenly overflowing!

    Annoyingly, I missed a recent Bonzo Dog reunion gig, but I can't help thinking wouldn't have been the same without Vivian anyway. I must try and catch Neil Innes (another key Bonzo) next time he plays Brighton - his gigs at the Greys sell out in no time and you never know when he'll pop up at Club Boothby at Komedia. If only Vivian was still around to enjoy the recent renaissance of his brand of humour with off-the-wall, musical comedians such as the fantastically entertaining Boothby Graffoe. Being unaffected by most conventional comdey, I for one am relieved that the madness lives on.