Monday, 22 December 2008

Embedding clips from YouTube is no substitute for a proper narrative

But that's all you're getting anyway. Deal with it.

Sherlockbot and the Case of the Purloined Piggy Bank

The Rude Awakening of Optimus Prime

Food Fight

Merry Christmas, jerkwads.

Monday, 15 December 2008

We Almost Destroyed Bolshevism

So close... so very close...

Our weekly Luncheon Club Dedicated To The Destruction Bolshevism finished in joint first place at the pub quiz Sunday night, leaving us with the following tie-breaker question;

"I recently had to go to Brixham in Devon to do some work" quoth the quizmaster. "What did I claim as mileage for the round trip?"

Naturally, with victory so tantalisingly within our grasp, we blew it. For two main reasons:
  1. We massively underestimated the distance between Bristol and Brixham.
  2. We massively underestimated the extent to which the quizmaster was willing to fiddle his expense claims.

Meanwhile, nothing else has happened this week. So here's some toy soldiers instead.

These guys (or half of them, at least) comprise my current Necromunda gang. They are called The Adeptus Ataris, and are basically servitors converted out of flagellants, zombies, chimneys and guns. In theory I'm using the Van Saar rules for them; but I mostly seem to be using the Serious Injuries table instead.

Monday, 8 December 2008


All Tomorrow's Parties.

This is how festivals should be done. None of that cocking about with tents, and subsequently having to fashion them into some kind of improvised canoe when the monsoon comes. No chemical (warfare) toilets. No losing shoes in sticky sticky mud. And no Richard Ashcroft.

The venue for this weekend of pure awesomeness was the Butlins Holiday resort in Minehead, which is normally some kind of death camp, but with friendlier staff and more slot machines. As such, our accommodation was a two-berth chalet; nothing fancy, but it's warm and dry, you get proper beds, a shower, and a TV where two of the channels have been taken over by the festival curators.

Not that there was much time for showering and being brainwashed; there were far too many cool bands playing for that. Here's how it shook down.


The first band of the day, the warm-up act for the whole of the rest of the festival? The original 1983 line-up of the Melvins, smashing out scuzzy punk songs from back in the day. Amazing.

Then over to the second stage for Tweak Bird, who turned out to be quite astonishingly good. With just guitar, drums and voice these two guys kicked out far more noise than should have been possible.

A bit of a break for food and cheap booze in the chalet, and then back to centre stage for the deranged math-spaz of The Locust. Not the oddest thing I've ever seen, but close to it; clad in their trademark insectoid garb they bombarded the audience with a combination of intense blasts of technical hardcore, and repetitive oscillating electronic bass drone which at one point caused an audible wave of nausea to ripple through the audience. Willfully offensive, thoroughly super.

Isis were less of an assault on the senses, but brilliant nonetheless. Still loud, still heavy, but with more patience and melody, it was a positively soothing antidote to the random acts of aural brutality meted out by The Locust.

Next up were the Meat Puppets, who'd had to walk to the venue after their van broke down in sheep field a few miles away. Their slightly punkified, country-esque, blues rock jams seemed a little out of place in comparison to what had gone before, but they were still warmly received.

By this point The Boy had wandered back to the chalet so she pass out in comfort, and so I headed back over to the Reds stage to see Porn alone. It's a shame she missed out (especially since it was her who recommended them to me in the first place), because for me their hour long psychedelic doom drone jam was one of the highlights of the weekend. Two drummers, two bass players (who mostly played using screwdrivers and bits of scrap metal), and a bearded stoner guitar wizard brought the day to suitably apocalyptic end amidst swirls of feedback and pummeling beats. Masterful.


I've never been a big fan of country music - not even a small fan, actually - but the impeccably attired Junior Brown and his band were little short of life-affirming on woozy and drunken Saturday afternoon.

Which didn't do much to prepare us for the thunderous metal of the mighty Mastodon. Despite currently having to tour as a three-piece (guitarist Bill Kelliher's pancreas having recently exploded out of the side of him), they still filled the room with noise and definitively crushed and destroyed all.

How could things get any better? The arrival of the Melvins (this time with their current '08 line up) answered that question. Their set switched constantly from heavy, slow, droning sludge, to upbeat punk rock, all the while their two drummers battling with each other to see who could make the roof come crashing down first. Melvins = Legend.

The Butthole Surfers were a bit of an unknown quantity for me; I knew of them by reputation, but had somehow managed to bimble through the whole of the 1990's without hearing a single thing by them. They were good, groovy and rocking but with darker undercurrents. Definitely worth a bit more investigating.

In theory, Fantomas were an unknown quantity also; but the fact is that when you get Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr Bungle, Tomahawk), Dave Lombardo (original Slayer sticksman) and most of the Melvins together, and then have them playing cover versions of the soundtracks to films like The Omen and Godfather, you can guarantee that it's going to be equal parts brilliance and dark insanity. Which it was.

Neil Hamburger is apparently the hardest working man in American comedy. His entire act (that of a washed-up and disillusioned 1960's funnyman dying on his arse) is quite deliberately abrasive and offensive; but for me it all started to wear a bit thin.

And so I was quite grateful for the arrival of Rahzel, the undisputed beat-box champion of the world. For a while, anyway. Rahzel's talent is indeed indisputable - he makes way cooler noises with just his mouth and throat than many others do with entire decks and such - but without any sort of complete songs, it starts to feel as though you're just watching some guy doing impressions. Possibly because that's exactly what you're watching.

Last up for the night was Squarepusher, in his freaked-out drum 'n' funk-bass bleepy bleep glory. His greatest strength is probably also his greatest failing; the only 'live' element to the music is the bass (everything else handled by a dizzying array of laptops), and he's just so freakin' good that if it weren't for the deafening noise, relentless strobe lights and the close proximity of other people tripping their tits off, you could swear that you were just listening to a record. And so after three or four songs, I was driven off to an early(ish) bed by a combination of boredom, deafening noise, relentless strobe lights and the close proximity of other people tripping their tits off.


With Bohren & Der Club of Gore having mysteriously rescheduled to play the previous day (whilst we were watching Junior Brown), we scuttled off to centre stage to check out James Blood Ulmer and his haunting blues lamentations.

Then over to the reds stage for Joe Lally, erstwhile bass player for the legendary Fugazi. Unsurprisingly there were a number of musical similarities between the two, but not so many that it seemed like a second-rate Fugazi tribute act; with a decent set of tunes to go with his despondent vocals, Joe Lally very quietly and unassumingly became one of my favourite acts of the weekend.

A quick afternoon nap that overran slightly resulted in a mad dash back to the reds stage to catch Tel-Aviv punk titans Monotonix. I thought I'd made it with time to spare when I arrived to a large crowd and an empty stage; but the stage was only empty because Monotonix had set up right in the middle of the large crowd. As a result, the first glimpse I got of any of the band was when the singer, resplendent in his giant moustache and bright orange hotpants, came sailing over the top of the crowd in a plastic bin. This was within the first minute. After ten minutes of sweaty bouncing around I felt a great thump on my shin, which turned out to be the drummer relocating to the other side of the crowd, still hitting the drums as he went... and after another ten minutes of euphoric anarchy, it was all over. I've just discovered that these guys played in Bristol a couple of weeks prior to ATP; I am now officially gutted. One of the best shows I've ever witnessed.

Next up on the reds stage were Dalek; completely different, but no less earth-shatteringly brilliant. Joined onstage by a pair of guys with heavily distorted lapsteels and another fellow with a laptop, they filled the air with dense and menacing noise from which there could be no escape; all the while MC Dalek spitting vitriol into the mic and prowling the stage like a man preparing to fight the world. And win. Best hip-hop act in the world, and one of the many reasons why 50 Cent can lick my sack.

Another band, another complete change of pace. The Black Heart Procession play gentle, mournful indie; which was rendered all the more insipid by the musical might that had preceded them. Plus, there was a piano; and I've never got on well with pianos in rock music. So, back to centre stage for a third dose of the Melvins. Sweet.

Ghostigital took to the reds stage a little before the end of the Melvins' set, and so had already started blasting out their curious brand of Icelandic hip-top-lap-hop by the time we got there. Mostly, it sounded like intense blasts of noise interspersed with bits of trumpet and the rantings of a tourettes afflicted Bob Fossil. Kind of cool, but not so easy on the ears.

And so we skipped out to the ATP cinema (also curated by Patten and the Melvins) for an hour of All About Eve, before The Boy sloped off to bed and I sloped off to catch Kool Keith. Except that everything on the centre stage seemed to be overrunning, so instead I caught the end of The Damned's set... and then Kool Keith.

After a few songs I was fairly satisfied that Dalek were still the best hip-hop act in the world, and so I ducked out for intense beating at the hands of Double Negative and their fans, a number of whom had stripped down to their boxer shorts. Twenty minutes of bruising hardcore and bouncing off of people twice my body weight left me sweaty and elated, and with ears still ringing I stumbled back towards centre stage...

...where Kool Keith was still playing. I hung around for Squarepusher's second set of the weekend, and managed to last a whole five songs this time before bailing out, going to bed and thus bringing to an end a simply amazing weekend.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Everything more droning than everything else

And so last weekend I went with The Boy to see bands that we had mostly never heard of.

I could see what Satori were getting at. Sort of. The trouble with this kind of drone-doom is that there is a very fine line between euphoric mantra-like awesomeness, and tedious repetition. Satori fell the wrong side of this line. The problem was compounded by the fact that they are completely electronics-based, and thus have zero stage presence; and even though they employed a big screen and projector and wibbly films ("This looks like something I made in media studies when I was seventeen..." - The Boy), there was no getting away from the fact that we were watching two IT guys checking their emails whilst white noise was being played at 120dB.

For some reason that is not apparent - or indeed important - to me at this time, only two fifths of Atavist were in evidence; their support slot therefore become Atavist vs Nadja. It was all very improvised, with the first of their two "songs" never quite getting going. It was a bit more like a weird game of power-chord chicken, except that nobody won. The second half of the set rocked, though, falling entirely on the right side of the mantra/tedium line. More of that, please.

Leaving just Nadja. Initially it all sounded a bit sparse, but after a few minutes of carefully building layers of droning noise and dicking about with effects pedals it all started to make perfect doomy sense. We stumbled out with ears ringing, no memory of what had happened, but the vague recollection of it all being very awesome.

Beer may have been a factor in this.

Meanwhile, in actual news, my sister's boyfriend Neil made his bid to become Mister Doctor Sister on Thursday night, when he proposed to her; she of course said yes, and now has some shiny bling and a giant smile.


Sunday, 23 November 2008

Tiny Cakes

Another week, another extended farce in preparation for some important guy's big visit. Only this time, instead of trying to find inventive places to hide stuff, we're trying to think of cunning places we can hide ourselves. If he can't find us, he can't demote us.

Though to be honest, as a placement student I don't think I can be demoted anyway. I'm so low down the pecking order that I have to salute the vending machines in the canteen.

And yet I still seem to have been somehow instrumental in the complete reorganisation of an entire department. At the start of the week, there was still quite a bit left to do, and some folk were getting a bit twitchy. On Monday morning, I found myself in a meeting with ML (Engineering Manager, always smiling like a politician, ghastly American accent that seems to come out through his nose) and JH (Process Owner, tall and ginger with a crippling stammer, answers to ML).

ML: What do you need to get this area finished?
ME: Errr...
ML: Don't tell me now. Go around with JH, make a list of what you need - not what you think I'll get you, but what you need - to get this area finished. Get that list to me and I'll make it happen.
ME: Ummm....

And so I went around with JH, and together we made a pretty complete list of everything that we needed. JH took the list and gave it to ML; ML gave the list to my boss; and and my boss gave it to me, thus completing the cycle of incompetence.

Sometimes I start to think that I quite it like it here; but I think that might just be Stockholm Syndrome.

Meanwhile, I seem to have lost another housemate this week; a girl called Ruth, who rented the other room in the Exeter house up until yesterday. Marco didn't tell me much about her before I moved in, other than to say that we would probably get along, because she is thirty also.

I don't quite follow his logic; perhaps he thought we would hang out together and talk about cool thirty year-old stuff. In actual fact, we mostly talk about what a jerk Marco is (Ruth doesn't have any living room privileges either); if we talk at all. Her boyfriend Sam is over most nights, so they are usually hidden away in her room discussing domestic policy making processes, or whatever it is that young couples do nowadays.

But one night a while back, Sam wasn't about; and in the absence of anything better to do, we sat around in the kitchen exchanging mouse stories...

A few years ago, Ruth was living in a student house with a bit of a mouse infestation. This would usually only manifest itself in the sudden and mysterious appearance of little nibbled holes in the bottom of cereal packets, coupled with the sudden and mysterious disappearance of the cereal itself; but as time went on, the little critters got more inventive, and started knocking boxes over in order to spill their delicious contents. It all went wrong for them when they tipped over a bottle of ice-cream topping syrup. Sure enough, a pool of sticky sweet deliciousness formed in the base of the cupboard, and sure enough, the mice did gorge themselves upon it. Unfortunately, being small and feeble little creatures, they couldn't then free themselves from the Yummy Pink Tarpit of Death; and so they all drowned in it. When Ruth opened the cupboard the next day the syrup had all set; and so the tarpit (along with it's cargo of little furry corpses) had to be chiseled off of the bottom of the cupboard with a ruler...

Silly mouses.

And finally... my family bimbled down this weekend for eats and drinks and birthday merriment. My sister made cakes happen. Behold!

Many cakes were decorated with the shattered corpses of jelly babies; some crushed beneath jelly bean rockslides, some cleft in twain with deadly chocolate buttons.


Sunday, 16 November 2008

The farce is strong with this one

Grown up work has been a veritable hive of frenzied activity over the past week, as we all prepared for a visit from one of the company head honchos. We shall call him Mr M. This activity has mostly been the industrial equivalent of hiding all your crap under the bed when you're told to tidy your room.

One of the things Mr M. would be very keen to see was that we had control over all of our inventory, that work was being processed in an ordered and organised manner. As such, fire corridors crammed full of a random assortment of turbine blades on trolleys would most likely not go down well.

Not well at all.

The sensible thing to have done would have been to organise the flow of work better; but it was too late for that. So what we did was take all of the random trolleys full of random work, hid them in a room with no windows and locked the doors.

Another thing that Mr M. would be very keen to see was that we had control of all our fixed assets; machines 'n' that. So the "Blaster Graveyard" at the end of the finishing department, filled as it was with decaying and disused bits of equipment, would most likely not go down well.

Not well at all.

For the most part, we pulled the same stunt again but on a slightly different scale; instead of a separate room, we hid all the crap in a separate building. All apart from a pair of non-functioning rework booths. These things are basically 4' x 4' workbenches, with a dust extractor on top that sucks air through the bottom of the bench, filters out all the crap, and spits out air that almost certainly won't increase your risk of contracting lung cancer. What they lack in footprint, they make up for in height; these things are 16' tall.

Which was a problem.

Because the tallest doorway out of the finishing department is only 14' high.

The sensible thing to have done would have been to take them apart and move them out bit by bit; but it was too late for that. So what we did was just move the rubbish broken rework booths within the finishing department, putting them next to some working rework booths in the hope that it would look like they were supposed to be there, and we just happened to not be using them that day...

Of course it all worked a treat, and no-one had to get nailed to anything.

But the farce doesn't stop there, oh no. It continues in the new year, when we will be subjected to an internal audit. The company wants to ensure that all policies and procedures are being complied with; including good ol' health 'n' safety. Apparently, everytime any contractor comes on site to do anything ever, they must provide us with a Method Statement (detailing what they will be doing and how), and a Risk Assessment (detailing what hazards they have identified with the work that they will be doing, and what measures they have in place to reduce the associated risks). At least twice each month, we must check that contractors are sticking to their method statements and risk assessments, that the correct PPE is in use, and that probably no-one is likely to die; and we must document it all.

In the last six months, this has happened precisely once.

And so in a few weeks, my most important task will be to invent method statements and risk assessments; and to then falsify our records so that it looks like we checked up on it all like we should have.

I had always suspected that life in industry would be something like this; but I wasn't quite prepared for the fact that life in industry would be
exactly like this.

In other news: as alluded to last week, we have a new housemate. Sam, the Jolly Buffoon/Human Trombone, is gone. In his place we have some guy called Mike, a twenty-something floor fitter with good hair. Mike is incurably northern, and had just about got his life back on the rails - until he moved in with us. His girlfriend - who won't be living with us just yet - has thankfully intervened, saving him (and us) from himself, and hopefully ensuring that the rent will get payed at the end of the month.

And finally... I couldn't find a relevant picture to go with this post. So this one's for the nerds.

Sunday, 9 November 2008


It is thought that you can learn a lot about about a person by observing the way they eat jelly babies; although I suspect that it is only me that thinks this. People will generally subscribe to one of three methods. They will either bite the heads off first, ensuring a swift and painless death for the jelly baby; or they will start with the feet, so as to inflict a slow and painful demise as it is slowly eaten alive; or they will just the damn things, because they aren't dumb enough to worry about how they eat sweets. But that's just the basics. Make what you will of the following.
  • Former flat/housemate, now happily married and expecting first child, quite hairy and generally all-round nice guy Gorgeous George likes to eat their faces first.
  • When she was revising for the final exams of her biology degree, my sister started eating the heads of jelly babies so as to become more intelligent. She kept the decapitated bodies standing in neat rows along the back of her desk.
  • My mum and gran will both single out the black ones.
  • When a bowl of jelly babies appears on the table in the pub, Matt will wave his arms in the air, let out an exultant hoot, and then attempt to wipe them all out in some kind of horrifying jelly baby holocaust.
  • An old work colleague known as The Hattonator had a great love of blitzing jelly babies and putting them in milkshakes; partly because he liked the flavour, but mainly because he liked the macabre aspect of drinking a milkshake with severed bits of jelly baby in it.
  • I like to organise my jelly babies according to colour. I will then eat enough jelly babies that I have equal numbers of each colour; and then eat one of each colour in turn, until they are all gone.
So yeah, in case you hadn't already realised, it's been a slow week. Apart from a funeral, a fairly decent Taint gig, and the arrival of a new housemate... Maybe I'll get onto that later.

Monday, 3 November 2008

and finally

Eric Brooks died on the morning of Monday October 27th 2008.

Depending on your belief system of choice, he will either be going on to enjoy a socially awkward afterlife with his his two former wives; or he will be reduced to carbon-based molecules that will be scattered by the winds in a random manner. This will occur on the 5th of November; bonfire night. There's a black kind of humour there that I think he would appreciate.

Thank you to everyone for your kind words and thoughts. In truth, I feel sorry for you; because you never had the privilege of knowing such a stupendous man.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

The Joy of Socks

So it's come to this... a post about my new socks.

This could be considered as a measure of how bereft of excitement, adventure and really wild things my life currently is.

However, I am extremely pleased that I have found another medium through which to indulge the more autistic aspects of my personality. Not only are they really easy to pair up, but by only wearing each pair of socks on their designated day of the week I can ensure even wear across the set.

Meanwhile, in other wardrobe-related shenanigans... check out my lovely tie.

I wore this beauty to work on Friday as part of the whole breast cancer awareness thing. I don't normally join in with this sort of crap; but I'm a big fan of breasts, and was keen to show my support. I don't enjoy wearing ties, and was rather hoping that I could find a pink shirt to wear, but there wasn't much to choose from in the 24hr Tesco. My only other options were some fluffy slippers (which didn't have the required metatarsal protection for my workplace), or some High School Musical pyjamas for girls aged 4-8 (which I was never going to fit into, as much as I may have wanted to). So a pink tie it was.

I was not especially concerned that it might make me look a bit gay; since it would seem that my rampant homosexuality is already apparent to everyone, except myself. Here's a vague transcript of a conversation I had with Dan (manager of GW Exeter) last week.

DAN: I feel like I'm at this point in my life where it's all going to happen, and I just have to wait. Next year I'll be married, and then soon after that there'll be kids on the way... I'm getting quite broody, to be honest.
BEN: Urgh. I've always regarded kids as little more than small and rubbish grown-ups. No broodiness here.
DAN: Well, it's all biological, isn't it? The desire to spread your DNA and keep your lineage going.
BEN: Maybe. Maybe that's why women in super!markets wield their pushchairs like snowploughs, trying to kill me. They can tell I'm a non-breeder, and they despise me for trying to hold back their species.
DAN: Non-breeder? What do you mean by that? Is that through choice, or...?
BEN: Well, I'm an engineer that plays with toy soldiers. I find it quite hard to meet women, let alone score with them...
DAN: Oh, right. Okay.
BEN: What are you getting at?
DAN: How long have we known each other?
BEN: Er...
DAN: Eons, right?
BEN: Give or take.
DAN: Well for all that time, I've assumed that you were, if not gay, at least quite considerably bi-sexual. When you described yourself as a "non-breeder", it kind of confirmed it.
BEN: What?!
DAN: Plus, everyone always said you were gay.
BEN: What?!
DAN: At managers meetings and that, people would say to me, "You know he's gay, don't you?", and I'd say, "Okay, what's wrong with that?", and they'd be like, "Oh, er, nothing..." because they thought I was gay too.
BEN: What?!
DAN: Er...

...and so on.

Tonight I made a brave phonecall to my mother, in which I came out as being straight.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

What's the point in having a blog if you're not going to be emo?

A couple of years ago I returned from adventures in far off lands to learn that whilst I was away, my grandfather had suffered a stroke.

When I visited him the next day I was pleasantly surprised by his condition. He was awake, alert, and seemed to be in good spirits; although his inability to speak (he couldn't form words, it was as though he was perpetually tongue-tied) kept us all guessing as to his mental well-being. Compared to the state of my dad after his stroke (mostly paralysed, very far away), it seemed entirely possible that granddad could recover fully and revert back to the fiercely independent, witty and charming 80-something year old man that I'd known before I left.

But as the weeks went by, there was no improvement. Nothing changed, other than granddad's mood - which got blacker. He was prone to bouts of intense grumpiness (a common Brooks trait, to be fair). He declined the offer of speech therapy. Eventually, he declined the offer of food.

In a number of ways, this was quite reassuring. It showed that he was still aware enough of himself and what was happening that he was able to make a choice.

It didn't stick, though. Either he didn't have the will to starve himself to death, or he was convinced by others that it wasn't the way to go. He was discharged from hospital some weeks later, and ended up in a retirement village; a small community of flats 'n' such, for old folk that aren't far gone enough for the nursing home, but have no reason to be living in house now that all the kids are grown up and they've outlived two wives.

It wasn't bad, but it wasn't the same. I went with dad last Christmas to pick granddad up and take him back for lunch and presents and cheating at board games and all the other usual Christmas shenanigans. Five minutes of sitting around in that place depressed me enough that I was given to thinking of happier times; which depressed me even more, so I started to think about dying instead. Despite all this, granddad seemed happy enough. Not "all there", but content. Dad would visit him a couple of times every week (the retirement village was just down the road from the parents').

A couple of months back, dad went to pay his regular visit and found granddad on the floor in the kitchen. It wasn't obvious what had happened, whether it was another stroke, just a fall... but granddad wasn't doing so good. He's been in hospital ever since. During that time he's deteriorated quite rapidly, physically and mentally. A few weeks ago he was diagnosed with vascular dementia; a few days ago he was diagnosed with pneumonia.

The hospital - after talking to all the right members of the family - have decided that they will no longer attempt to treat granddad for any of his illnesses. At present, he is pretty much comatose; and in the next few days he will be allowed to die. Peacefully, and painlessly.

This is a good thing.

A toast: To Eric Brooks.


I mentioned a couple of weeks ago when recounting the gentle beauty of the Sia gig, that some sort of balance would be restored when we went to see Raging Speedhorn.

If ever there was a gig to annihilate all memory of anything nice ever happening ever, this was it.

Through The Abyss had already started playing by the time we got there. Good, but unremarkable; to my ears they sounded a little like defunct UK hardcore types Medulla Nocte, but since almost no-one knows what they sound like either it's probably not that useful as a reference point.

Start Of Nothing appear to be the outcome of a musical therapy group set up for tourettes-afflicted white supremacists. Except that they are almost certainly not white supremacists.

Shaped By Fate were better than the last time we saw them... but only slightly. Their guttural commands that we should all "step the fuck forwards" went unheeded, as during Start Of Nothing's set the hardest-of hardcore kids had started dancing like morons. Specifically, in that sort of shadow-fighting-I'm-going-to-whirl-my-fists-about-and-do-spinning-
kicks-in-the-middle-of-the-dancefloor-and-if-you-get-hit-it's-your-fault kind of way. It was only a matter of time before a dance fail occurred.

Fortunately, the splendidly monikered and spandex-clad Take A Worm For A Walk Week put an end to all that, by playing such abrasively unlistenable spazcore that even the most determined hardcore bibble channeling the spirit of Chuck Norris couldn't find a beat to roundhouse in time to.

And finally, the mighty Raging Speedhorn, the aural equivalent of being hit by a train. My attempts to avoid injury failed almost immediately when I got caught in the mosh, hurled to the floor on the other side of the room, and got my head cut open with a guitar. Good times.

And that's about it, really. I could write more, but the mice need cleanin'.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Please call me Eddy if it will help you relax

It is worth noting that my grown-up workplace is owned by an American company, and as such there is a distinctly American flavour about many of our practices and general goings-on. This is most noticeable when it comes to anything even vaguely health and safety related; Americans are famed for their litigious nature, and so our cruel tyrannic overlords at grown-up work go to great efforts to ensure that we don't get sued, for anything, ever.

Which seems reasonable enough... except it can get just the tiniest bit patronising at times.

Exhibit A: The attachment to an email sent to all recipients on site on Friday, entitled "Crossing the Road".

I was literally angry with rage. I don't think I need to explain why.

It's not like this is a one-off, either; about a month ago we all had to sign a bit of paper to confirm that we had read and understood the attached single point lesson on Safely Ascending and Descending Stairs.

Meanwhile, less rubbish things have been happening. Charlie Cat has returned from her summer death camp shenanigans, and has brought an actual cat with her.

The cat's previous owner (Charlie's sister) named it Molly. This was noisily proclaimed to be a rubbish name, and so the following shortlist of alternative monikers was produced.
  • Brian
  • Jeff
  • Scorponok
  • Hitler
Instead of any of the above, we seem to have settled for Rasputin. Rasputin enjoys sleeping and sitting on things, and so fits in quite well here.

All this, and I got to take bits of Matt's car apart last weekend too. Matt (who did not produce a short film in the 1940's entitled "Nazi Super-Men Are Our Superiors") has already produced a splendid account of our epic and manly exploits. It's got pictures and everything. Click here and here...

Sunday, 12 October 2008

From up here, they look like ants... and their flesh tastes just like chicken

Last weekend was a feast of audio visual delight. Sort of.

On Saturday, I went to The Thekla to see Sia with The Boy, Paul the RoboJew and Lovely Ruth. Except that the RoboJew and Ruth
didn't see Sia, because they didn't buy tickets in time. Dumbasses.

Support came from some guy called Scott Matthew, who did a good Guy Garvey (Elbow) impression, mit the ukulele also. Sadly, as much as I like Elbow, and ukuleles, it was all just a bit too insipid and simpering to bear. "
...I'm not special but it helped to know that someone thinks I am..."


We fled to the relative safety of the upper decks of the good ship Thekla, where his muffled whimpering could be drowned out with the carefully measured application of booze.

Sia and co played much the same set as when we last saw them, with a sprinkling of new material thrown in for good measure. Although she often plies a similar trade to Mr Matthew with the introspective and depressing lyrical content, she pulls the whole thing off with a lot more dignity and class; and her chirpy between-song banter is the perfect foil to any sense of pretentiousness that may try to creep in.

Which is not to say that there's no heart-wrenching moments. Watch this and blub like a little girl who's pet hamster just died.

Of course, all this tuneful pleasantness has created something of an imbalance, musically speaking; so next week we're going to set things straight with a Raging Speedhorn gig. Nice.

The next day I assembled with a small throng of other geeks to watch the new Death Race film. It's not the dumbest film I've ever seen; but that's only because I've seen The Fast and the Furious, which is the dumbest film ever made. Death Race begins with the ridiculous premise that it will take until 2012 for the American economy to collapse, and gets steadily more preposterous from there.

This doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy it... it is essentially gun/car/guncar fetishism that borders on the pornographic, and Matt (who has never been affiliated in any way with the Nazi party or other extreme right-wing organisations) and myself had great fun trying to work out what cars were hidden underneath all the armour plating and miniguns.

That said, I'm pretty sure that I got stupider just by watching that film.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Smoko III: Day of the Living Smoko

Single point lesson: Hot things are hot. So when you put an electric heater next to a heat detector...

...all the fire alarms go off, and the entire building has to be evacuated.

While we were all standing around outside, an unattended piece of equipment started a small fire in one of the workrooms. Amazing.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Home from home

My travel woes have eased somewhat this week. I have started renting a room in a house in Exeter, a mere ten minutes walk from my workplace. The house belongs to a sinister foreigner called Marco, a fastidious and quite particular - no, make that completely anal - Italian that used to be the reliability engineer in our office.

There are a number of ways in which Marco's anality manifests itself.

One is his insistence on cleanliness, which is perfectly reasonable.

Another is his insistence on locking the living room door when he goes away... which seems somehow less reasonable.

I am not sure why he does this; perhaps he has a stack of incriminating evidence linking him to mafia activity stashed away in there. Y'know, phone numbers for hitmen, suitcases full of money, a load of spare horses heads... that sort of thing. Whatever the reason may be, the fact is that he is away from Monday to Friday, the exact same time that I am there (I still come back to Bristol on the weekends to lead my exciting double life as a Big Gay Department Store minion); and the upshot of all this is that I have had very little to this week but read and drink.

Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?

It's a thing.

In my absence, I have assigned Sam to Operation: Don't Let My Mice Die Whilst I Am Away In Exeter. I have specifically requested that he does not try to teach them how to smoke pipes, nor dress them in tiny military uniforms.

The Friday before I embarked on my epic week of boredom/alcoholism, I journeyed to The Croft with The Boy for yet another night of awesome giggage. No support bands on this night, just two awesome co-headliners.

I was quite eager to see the first of the two bands; I've heard little of Torche's music, but know of them by reputation as a splendid quartet of stoners that sound like they fell into a tar pit towards the end of the seventies. The roadies, unable to free them from their viscous black tomb, chose instead to hook the pit up to a wall of Orange amplifiers via a dizzying array of distortion pedals...

True story. Well, semi-true; there are such things as roadies. The point is, Torche were pretty good, especially when they broke out their patented "bomb string" for the last song of their set and spent five minutes wringing the sound of collapsing buildings out of their instruments.

Pelican's colossal post-rock instrumentals were as fantastic as ever; heavy, expansive and uplifting all at once. With no new record to promote, their set had a "greatest hits" sort of feel to it, featuring as it did songs from their eponymous 2001 debut ep, right up to the most recent album 'City of Echoes'. We even got treated to a new song, which seemed to recall some of the claustrophobia and intensity of earlier efforts. Good stuff.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Their mouths clicking like insects

I've been to two gigs in the past week, and haven't ranted about either of them. How remiss of me.

On Tuesday, at the "legendary" TJ's in Newport, four bands took it in turns to play to a crowd consisting of the other three bands, The Boy and myself, and a handful of other people.

Black Cesar played first; they started out sounding a bit like Hey Colossus (another sludgy stoner doom band that no-one's ever heard of), but with a bit of slide guitar, which was interesting for the first three minutes; but a bit tedious by the end.

Next up, Zonderhoof. Zonderhoof have a cool name, and sound a lot like Black Cesar. Their final song, whilst blighted by technical difficulties caused by a recalcitrant bass lead, was a mini doom epic, and made me wonder; if they could do that all along, what was the point in the first three songs?

We saw Johnny Mental a while back, playing with the now sadly defunct Mea Culpa. They have perhaps the tiniest and angriest singer in the world. That is all.

Finally, The Mirimar Disaster took to the stage. The Boy and I have seen these guys before too, touring in support of Will Haven despite having parted ways with their singer just a few days beforehand. They've not bothered to find a replacement, which is good because a) guitarist Frank and drummer Slomo seem to do alright by themselves, and b) they just really don't need much in the way of vocals. The music is strong enough to stand alone, eschewing the tedious verse-chorus-verse formula in favour of something a bit more sprawling and inventive, with just a smattering of crushing riffs; and their new material is their best to date. Not that it mattered on this particular night; they played well and with enthusiasm, but there was no getting away from the fact that this was one of those "one man and his dog" shows. A shame, they deserve better.

Fast forward to Friday night, and The Boy and I are at The Academy, wondering what the hell we have done to deserve having to watch local death metal tykes Trigger The Bloodshed again. Dammit, that's three times now... I wish I liked them, I really do, because everyone else seemed to be into it, they did everything right, and still have one of the best drummers in the country...

Thankfully, all memory of TTB's white noise mediocrity was annihilated the moment that Swedish tech-metal behemoths Meshuggah took to the stage. It should be noted that a certain amount of risk is involved when watching Meshuggah play live, due to their love of odd time signatures and lung-collapsing heaviosity. The chances of the person next to you moving to the same beat as you is as close to nothing as makes no odds, and I now have a splendid black eye as testament to this fact. One of the best live acts I've ever seen/squinted at.

I couldn't find any good photos of the band, but I did dig up some shaky camera-phone footage of the very gig we attended. Thanks YouTube.

I realise that most people won't have the patience to sit through more than the first five seconds of this; but it's got the most amazing space-rock outro. Silhouetted against blinding white light, standing a billion feet tall with smoke billowing all around them, they were as gods to us. Gluttons for punishment can see more of the gig here.

Due to Friday being the usual club night for The Academy, the gig had an early start/finish time; so we had time to zip up the road to the pub, to meet up with Matt and other visiting luminaries. Jeff "The Large Hardon Collider" McDeath was there; and so too was The Infamous Willard Foxton, who entertained us with tales of how in the last year he has tamed lions, faked moon landings, fought in the Israeli/Palestinian war, and been fired from at least one job because he opposed public hangings.

At some point he complimented me on my dragon ogres - Matt had outed me as an emo blogger, and sent him a link. Will expressed a general disinterest in my rubbish life, and my ambitions to own various Japanese sports cars (unless I was going to paint one white, put a giant red sun on the bonnet and crash it into an American aircraft carrier); but he did like my toys. So here's a picture for Will.


Monday, 15 September 2008

Smoko II: Revenge of the Smoko

I took this photo from the fast lane of the M5 motorway this morning.

Normally such an act would have resulted in my certain death, crushed beneath the spoked alloy wheels of gleaming executive Bavarian bahn-stormers driven by men with impressive pens and efficient neckties; but thanks to a jack-knifed lorry a few miles up the road, this was not a normal drive to work.

You will notice that we are all queuing in neat single-file. This is partly because we were told to by the flashing signs at the side of the road, but mainly because we are British and we like queuing up for things.

I hunted around on my dashboard to try and find the Knight Rider style Turbo Boost button that would allow me to fly over the rest of the traffic in super slow motion; but when I couldn't find it straight away, I got bored and decided to stretch my legs a bit instead. I briefly toyed with the idea of driving the wrong way down the motorway (just so that I could claim to have done it), but then the fuzz turned up and told us all to get back in our vehicles.

I was an hour and a half late for work. No-one cared.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Fear and Loathing in Henleaze

The last week in brief.

Saturday = Big Gay Department Store = Big and Gay.

Sunday was The Boy's birthday shenanigan, a Fear and Loathing themed barbecue/drinkathon. My giant lizard outfit was in the wash, so I settled for a powerful Hawaiian shirt, of which there is sadly no photographic evidence. On the plus side, there is also no photographic evidence of Sam in his incongruous creepy scout master outfit. I was Nice Uncle Ben for a while, whilst I helped four year-old Poppy with some very important colouring in; then a little later I was Bad Drunken Uncle Ben when I dropped her on the kitchen floor and she started crying. My first reaction was to look for my drink; I am beginning to regard Bernard from Black Books as a kind of role-model.

Grown-up work was infinitely better last week than the previous three. I now have a computer with AutoCAD installed on it, which means that I am able to do stuff; and the other Ben has now left, meaning that I can take over all of his bits of work. Also, I am no longer part of the collective known for a short while as Ben Squared (engineer humour, ya can't beat it...). Coincidentally, it is also the week that an insane new project has kicked off, requiring the complete re-organisation of an entire department. Each morning, I arrive at work to discover that someone else has thrown in their two cents and the layout I drew the previous day needs to be re-done; I amend it accordingly, but by lunchtime it's all obsolete again; and then again by the end of the day. It's keeping me busy, which I like, but now all my dreams consist of me doing CAD layouts of plant equipment. It reminds me of last Christmas, when I was consumed by The Almighty Blue Orb of Engineering Maths.

I took a break from the Big Gay Department Store this weekend, and headed back to the ghettos of Surrey in order to hang out with my old chum Dave for probably the last time before he and his girly Cheryl emigrate to Canada. We bimbled around Guildford for a bit, and trawled through some very used CDs at Ben's Collector's Records before heading to The Royal Oak (my old local from when I used to work around the corner as a professional nerd/toy soldier guru). Whilst there we spilled drinks over one another, and marvelled at the prodigious quantities of urinal cakes lavished on the gents porcelain.

It's little things like this that really let you know you're in a posh town.

We got back to his house, drank some more, watched a rubbish film, drank some more, played computer games, drank some more. At some point I got a text out of the blue from Charlie Cat, who revealed that she had the next day off. Being somewhat inebriated, I invited her to Sunday lunch at my parents, forgetting that also in attendance would be Dr Sister and Neil, and Dave, and Cheryl, and my Grandma; but my mum is nothing if not a resourceful and persistently cheerful host, and took it all in her stride. For her part, Charlie coped admirably with a mild interrogation from mum, some slightly racist rhetoric from my drunk and confused grandmother, and the usual frantic squabbling over the last Yorkshire pudding. Good times.

And then a frantic dash back to Bristol for the Inn on the Green pub quiz, where our team ("A Luncheon Club Dedicated To The Destruction Of Bolshevism") was carried to a creditable fourth position by Matt, who has just returned from a lengthy business trip to the US, and is not a nazi.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

The Knack


I wanted to find a way of fitting this into some kind of narrative. But I couldn't (be bothered), so here it is anyway.

Week 1599: Good or Shit?

  • There was so little work for me to do this week that on Thursday, my greatest challenge involved photocopying and stapling.
  • I have suddenly and inexplicably started to be bombarded with spam, offering genuine replica R.O.L.E.X. watches and cheap viagra.
  • I left it too late to buy a ticket for the Warhammer Grand Tournament heats, and the whole thing is now sold out.
  • I am frequently so tired in the evenings that I cannot stay awake long enough to get drunk.
  • Reuben are on an indefinite hiatus.
  • It turns out that our tenancy agreement runs until May 2009, not December 2008 like I thought... so no Utopian House of Good Clean Fun in Exeter for me and Charlie Cat.
  • Urge to kill rising.
  • I have mice.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008


This shows the extent of our dedication to the concept of impromptu tea breaks.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

I was looking for a job, and then I found a job

I started my placement last week.

It started with a two hour induction focusing mainly on health and safety; How To Pick Up Boxes, How To Not Get Run Over By A Fork Lift Truck, that sort of thing. There are apparently a million and one ways to get horribly disfigured/lightly killed in this place, and as such I have been issued with a dizzying array of personal protective equipment; shatterproof safety glasses, tasteful blue helmet, snazzy high-viz waistcoat, ear plugs that look like delicious sweets, and metatarsal protecting footwear that feels like a lump of steel wrapped in leather, with a little hole for each foot. Neat. Attending the same induction were five other new starters; two of whom were also called Ben. Hardly confusing at all, actually. Once we were done with that, we got taken to our relevant departments; in my case Plant Engineering, where I met the outgoing placement student, who is also called Ben. At this point I began to wonder whether there was maybe some kind of bizarre recruitment policy at play...

Anyway, I've been doing this placement malarkey for a week and a half now. It's okay I guess, I just wish I had more to do. Also, the travel kind of sucks; I'm driving over 160 miles each day, having to get up early and get home late; and every two days I have to put another £50 of petrol in my car.

On the subject of my car... (collective gasp at effortlessly seamless transition) ...I got a new one. And yes, it is a bit of a tosser's car; but this particular tosser is jolly pleased with it.

Anyone who knows cars, knows what it is; and anyone who doesn't, won't care. So I will not go into tedious detail about it (there's a time and place for such geekery).

It goes a little way towards making the daily commute to and from Exeter that little bit more bearable; unlike that ghastly VW I've been trundling about in since the end of May, which offends me with its ruthless German efficiency every time I drive it.

Even so, I'm pretty sure that I need to be moving to Exeter sooner rather than later. The initial plan is to find somewhere cheap to stay Monday to Friday, coming back to Bristol for the weekends; my tenancy agreement here doesn't run out until the end of November, and I know of no-one who would want to take my place in the meantime. Plus, I still work Saturdays at The Big Gay Department Store (the wages almost pay for half my petrol from the rest of the week...).

Might still move before then, though. The vivacious Charlie Cat finishes her summer job at the end of October, and has said that she would be more than happy to run away to Devon with me...

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The most inept that ever stepped

And so, after a couple of months of solid painting, I got to attend half of the tournament that was the point of it all in the first place.

I only attended half of it because apparently two and a half months isn’t sufficient notice for a single days holiday from The Big Gay Department Store; and although there was briefly the possibility of some guy swapping shifts with me, he waited until the very last moment to decide that he couldn’t. Or couldn’t be arsed, one of the two. I’d like to think that he had something important to do, and didn’t just spend the day playing computer games in his underpants…

So I had to work the whole day Saturday, and whizzed off to Nottingham (’00-’03 gun crime capital of the UK) that evening. Half of the tournament had already happened, but there was still plenty of drinkin’ time. After meeting up with Rich and Beautiful Steve at the nerd mecca that is Warhammer World, we went to the hotel to check in and grab a quick shower, then bimbled into town. As per usual, we started out in a cheap pub, where we drank cheap booze and debated where we should go next. Quite we have this debate is something of a mystery, because we always end up in the Cookie Club anyway. I don’t mind, because the music is good and I get to dance like a fool; and Rich doesn’t mind because the place is full of young women that he can prey upon. Beautiful Steve gets to do a bit of both. We met a very lovely girl called Clare, who invited us back to her flat for a cup of tea and a game of Trivial Pursuit after the club closed. This was not some awful euphemism, we really did drink tea and play board games until the sun came up. Good times.

We said our goodbyes, and got a taxi back to the hotel so that we could grab our stuff and check out. Day two of the tournament was thus a very drunken and sleep-deprived affair, which almost excuses my profound inability to even come close to winning any of my games (although most of my fellow nerds know that this would’ve happened even if I was rested and sober). At the end of the day the awards were handed out; Steve won Most Bloodthirsty General, Rich won Biggest Massacre, and I won nothing. I should have won Best Army, but the nominations were made on the Saturday, before I got there… ho-hum.

Still, it was a fun weekend, and I managed to get all the way home without falling asleep at the wheel and crashing and burning. Just.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Happy in the haze of a drunken hour

Such was my state last weekend, when I scarpered back to my parents' bit of the country for my cousin Paul/uncle Terry's combined birthday shenanigan. It was okay, I suppose. I spent the first bit of the day drinking in the conservatory with Paul's grandfather, whom I don't recall ever meeting before. He entertained me with tales of how his Jewish friend was too fat to join the RAF, how the happiest time of his life was when he was a tailgunner in a Lancaster bomber shooting down Germans, why he doesn't trust Muslims, the way that "The Continentals" have ruined meat for the rest of us... then Dr Sister arrived, allowing me to get on with the serious business of getting quite inappropriately hammered. By the middle of the afternoon, Dr Sister, Neil The Boyfriend, my dad and I had seemingly managed to relegate ourselves to the Naughty Step at the foot of the garden; slightly removed from the rest of the party, but still close enough that we could dive in and grab delicious snackums from time to time.

Meanwhile, two great events have occurred in Sam's life in the last month. Firstly, he has shaved off his beard ("What a strange sensation; I can feel the wind whistling through my chins"), though for some reason retained a ridiculous moustache. Secondly, he has bought a new car. Well, new to him, anyway.

Clearly, the first of these two crucial developments is of little interest to anyone other than Sam himself. The second, however, is somewhat more significant to Matt and myself, as will soon become apparent. Sam's "new" car is the majestic 1988 Volvo 240 GLT (Grand Luxe Touring), commonly referred to by motoring journalists as "The Swedish Brick". It has a genuine leatherette interior.

And this has inspired Matt and I, to no-one's greater surprise than our own. You see, Sam has gone out and bought a car that is clearly rubbish, but that he really likes - although in his defence, it is still infinitely better than his previous car; a Ford Fiesta, mostly composed of rust held together with duck tape, which he attempted to run on chip fat for a while. Anyway, this is precisely the kind of irrational heart-over-head decision that Sam can make with ease (because he is a buffoon), but that Matt and I are far too sensible to ever make - as much as we might like to. What we both need is an excuse to be as dumb as Sam, and buy rubbish cars that we love, but that we know will be appalling to run.

And so we have decided that for our holidays next year, we shall go on a road tour of the British Isles in our rubbish cars of choice. In a kind of Top-Gear-esque fashion, we have budgeted ourselves a maximum of £500 for buying our rubbish cars of choice, and will then vaguely bimble about the UK doing "stuff". The finer details (like where we will go and what we'll do) have yet to be be pinned down, but of course we have already decided what our rubbish cars of choice shall be. Mine will be a Mk3 Toyota Supra; a 3l turbo, if I can find one that comes in under budget.

Matt, meanwhile, is wasting work time searching eBay for a cheap BMW 5-series V8 (apparently considered to be "one of the most elegant shapes of its time").

Our intention is to sell these terrible heaps o' crap once we're done with them...

That's the plan, anyway.