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.