Monday, 29 December 2008

Skiing in a winter wonderland

Well that was a fun holiday! Maybe the best Christmas ever, just beating last year’s trip to New Zealand, sorry I’m just showing off now. As usual I have a few complaints… firstly, the weather was pretty terrible for most of the week: driving wind, snow, bloody cold, terrible visibility. You literally could not see a thing for the first three days, which sucked a bit. It also made skiing pretty hard because, as anyone who has skied before can attest to, when there is no direct sunlight you can't see where the snow is piled up so things can get a bit tricky. It does however make for some pretty hilarious crashes though, so it's not all bad. Fortunately the sun did come out all day on Friday so I was able to get some very nice photos, which I’ll show you later.

It would probably be a good idea to tell you where I went now. We were based in a place called Obertauern in Austria, just south of Salzburg. It is a massive skiing area, with about 100km of ski runs. Plenty of easy runs for the physically inept, my mum for example, and plenty of much harder ones for the rest of us. It was my 3rd week skiing, so I’m pretty good without being amazing and there was more then enough skiing at about my standard. In fact I managed to do quite a few black sloped during the week, which was fun although very tiring, so tiring in fact that they made my older brother, who is build like a brick shithouse, start feeling it. Pussy.

While it was a really good holiday, there were a few things that got a little annoying; our hotel was really far away from the main town – about a kilometre, which believe me is pretty far when it’s cold and snowing, so we didn’t really go up into town in the evenings and do ‘après-ski’, which is the most ridiculous sounding thing ever. For the uninitiated, it’s when everyone gets together after a day of skiing and gets drunk, well there’s a little more to it than that obviously or else I wouldn’t be ruing the fact that we didn’t do it very much.

Although we were over there over Christmas, , they didn’t really make anything of itapart from Christmas Eve; there were a few decorations and the odd Christmas song in the restaurants, but apart from that it could’ve been any time of the year. This isn’t really a compliant though given that I get sick of all the hype of Christmas, in fact it was quite refreshing. On Christmas Eve however they did kinda go all out. In the evening we had a meal that was about 8 courses and lasted for several hours, after which we were not as full as you might think due to the fact that each course could easily have fitted onto the palm of a new born babies hand.

Along with writing, reading, playing rugby, being cynical and surfing endlessly around half-dead Internet forums, I quite enjoy photography. As will all the other things I’m not exactly good at it, apart from reading obviously, because any retard with one functional eye and half a brain could read competently. Anyway, I’d like to think some of the photos I took in Austria are actually half decent.

I know you're probably wondering why the sky is blue when a minute ago I was complaining that the weather was crap, well I took these on the one day that there was nice weather. Anyway, this was our winter wonderland for the week, pretty nice huh?
This one is of Obertauern, it's not all that big as you can see and it's pretty much just hotels, bars and ski schools. Suffice to say that, were it not for the skiing, it would be little more than a few ramshackle buildings, if that.

I quite like this one with the cable car in the foreground. It was taken coming down from one of the highest points in the area and as you can see the mountain range stretched back for a good long way, as you'd expect given that it's the alps. Just look at the photo damnit!
I think it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to in my live, some of the views were truly stunning.
this one I'm particularly proud of because what you can see in the top of the photo is the sun. Any of you who've tried photography will know that it is generally pretty difficult to take a photo into the sun like this, so I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. Although its quality may be more of a testament to the quality of my camera rather than the quality of my photography.
This one is similar to the last one, and to be honest I'm running out fo things to say about them...
One thing I did discover on holiday; the best thing to listen to while drifting off to sleep is Pink Floyd. Psychedelic Rock just sounds so much better when you are half asleep, I don't know why and I don't know that relates to this photo, but in any case, Pink Floyd are amazing and you all need to listen to them more. See you next week.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Bar Humbug and all that

With Christmas just round the corner it’s tempting to be cynical about the whole thing. Actually that does sound fun… no! I promised myself I would cut the cynicism somewhat. Although a few weeks ago I was shouting ‘bar humbug’ from the top of my lungs with genuine enthusiasm (yes I was getting enthusiastically cynical, or is it cynically enthusiastic?), as the 25th gets closer and closer I am actually quite looking forward to it this year. The fact that I am going skiing tomorrow (hence why this is early this week) may have something to do with that.

The thing that does rather get on my nerves is the fact that Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier every year. By mid-October we have advertisements for Christmas offers and gaudy, ugly and absurd Christmas lights adorning people’s houses in some mad disregard for all standards of taste and reserve. I don’t mind people getting together and having a bit of fun in the bleak mid-winter, but it seems that we are taking this whole exercise of social engineering a little too far. I think Christmas would actually be improved if we held back a little and actually started thinking about Christmas a little later, rather than beginning the long tedious build up in mid-autumn so that by the time the 25th does come about we are not all bored stiff of the hysteria.

Well that is the first dose of cynicism out the way. I do actually quite like Christmas; while it is a completely absurd and transparent piece of social engineering designed by an utter genius a few too many thousand years ago to make us all happy when it’s cold and wet and crappy, I do find it works rather well. I quite enjoy waking round my sleepy village in the middle of nowhere delivering Christmas cards to random houses hoping that the name on the card corresponds to the name of the person who receives it. I wish random people a Merry Christmas and generally get to feel good about myself despite being cold and wet.

Christmas presents too are good fun, especially when you know exactly what you are getting. My family has done away with the façade of surprises at Christmas time and have taken to ordering our own presents on Amazon and faking surprise when we open them. We have not yet taken to wrapping our own presents, but I’m sure the time will come. We are not even bothering to open Christmas presents on Christmas day this year; we are moving it forwards to this evening in a complete abandonment of tradition and the generally accepted formula. This is not a whimsical eccentricity on our part (if you’ll excuse the sheer pretentiousness of that statement); as we are going skiing over Christmas (sorry did I not mention that, oh no, of course I did. I‘m so sorry), we will not be here on Christmas day and it would take the weight of our luggage over the limit if we were to try to take all our presents over to Austria with us (which is where we’re going skiing, obviously).

One thing that has always worried me about Christmas is the myth of Santa Claus (oh sorry, did you not realise he wasn’t real… I’m sorry you had to find out this way. Please stop crying. I guess this would be a bad time to say that the Easter Bunny and God don’t exist either huh? Yeah, I though so). As far as I can tell, Christmas is the only time when we think that the idea of a fat old man climbing down our chimney and giving our kids presents is a good thing. Normally we would be phoning the police faster than you can sing jingle bells.

Another thing that I find amusing is the fact that people take the religious part of Christmas so seriously. Has it not occurred to them that Jesus probably wasn’t born on the 25th of December and the Church just decided to hijack the midwinter festival I order to make the new religious more acceptable to the pagans of the Roman Empire? If anything we should be praying to the powers that be to make sure the days start getting longer rather than continuing to shorten until we are left with eternal darkness and hence the end of the world, which isn’t going to happen by the way so put the goat down and step away from the alter.

In fact the Christian story of the birth of Jesus has long perplexed me. A woman claims to have been impregnated by the Holy Spirit? And no one thought this a tad bit unlikely? No one cried wolf an accused Joseph of screwing Mary a little before the wedding? Either the people of first century Nazareth were monumentally gullible or our sources miss out a large part of the story. Exactly what census demands that you return to the place where your father was born anyway? Which socially repressed retard out of touch with the real world decided that the best way of counting how many people there were was to make half of them temporarily move to a different town? How spastic do you have to think that is a good idea?

So anyway, away from all the religious bullshit and absurd myths, Christmas is fun, ‘tis a season to be merry and all the cliché stuff. Go be happy or something. I’m gonna go to Austria and ski. Bye! Next weeks blog will be a little late as I don’t get back until Saturday and you can fuck off if you think I’m gonna write a blog the moment I get back. So anyway, see you next Sunday and have a very merry Christmas, and don’t drink too much…

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Plane Stupid

On Monday the 8th of December; so on Monday, a bunch of retards camped out on the runway of Stanstead Airport; London’s third airport, which no-one has ever heard of. It would have been funnier if they’d just walked onto the runway, thinking that it was a park made completely of concrete or something suitably retarded, unfortunately they were there as part of a protest to stop climate change.

The group was called ‘plane stupid’ which sums themselves up rather well I suppose, I mean they can even spell ‘plain’ for fuck sake… anyway, they decided that a great way to stop climate change would be to plant themselves on the runway and construct a security fence around themselves. What they failed to notice was that a plane would most likely be undeterred by a flimsy security fence and plough through it fairly easily. Disappointingly no pilot was given clearance to do this, as it would have made for a much more amusing blog.

In any case the group managed to stop planes taking off from the airport for a full three hours, from 5 ‘til 8 in the morning and managed to stop a massive 52 planes from landing and taking off from Stanstead, forcing the inbound flights to fly even further to find an alternative landing spot, I think these people may have failed to think their plan through.

In fact there are several times, when reading a report on the protest (from this website), where it seems the protester didn’t really think their plan through. That claim to by trying to ‘stop as many tonnes of CO2 as [they] can’, by sitting on the runway of the third largest airport in Britain, really early in the morning. I’m sure that is really the most efficient use of their time. Apparently they want to ‘stop climate change by whatever peaceful means [they] have left.’ Obviously their imagination is not all that vivid if the most effective means of stopping climate change they can think of is to park in front of a few planes. That is plane stupid.

The protesters were indignant when they were attacked by security staff armed with a snowplough. “I was terrified. You don't expect to be attacked with a snowplough on a peaceful protest.” Said one of the protesters. I can sort of sympathise; a snowplough is not exactly the textbook weapon for dealing with protests, it is a pretty original and not particularly professional way of handling the situation. I can’t imagine it would be all that effective against a security fence either; a plane would be better.

The whole episode is a hilarious series of absurd events that underlie the sheer ineptitude of everyone involved. For a start they should never have been able to get into the airport in the first place; they could just of easily have been terrorists intent on planting a bomb into one of the planes, good security. It then took them 5 hours to remover them from the runway (they got there 2 hours before the runway reopened after some overnight maintenance); it’s a bunch of hobo’s and students with a security fence and nothing better to do, how hard can it be to arrest them? The protest itself was all very futile and, while it was front-page news for one day, it has not been mentioned again all week, apart from by me, reflecting how ineffective an awareness stunt it actually was.

Not only was it hopelessly futile and a catalogue of cock-ups, it was also very misguided. I understand the whole climate change thing and how we need to use less fuel, but the solution is not to stop flying, or to park ourselves on runways to stop other people flying, or disadvantage ourselves in any way; what we need to do it invest in finding alternative ways of providing us with the energy we need and being more efficient with the energy we do use. Buying a more efficient car, or using a renewable source of energy will, in the long run, be cheaper, help stop global climate change and make the world a slightly more beautiful place. One wonders then why people don’t invest in renewable energy, rather than waste theirs and everyone else’s time by sitting on a runway in the early hours of the morning. Whatever floats your boat I suppose.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Chinese Democracy

As promised, this week I have been listening to Chinese Democracy. Now it’s tempting to garble on about how long this album has been in the pipeline and how much money has gone into it and… actually that is kinda tempting.

The album is GnR’s first album of new material for 17 years, has cost about $11 million and featured about a gazillion different guitarists. Woo for facts, now onto the album.

Yeah it’s pretty good.

Of course with all the time and money that has gone into this thing you would expect it to be pretty fucking awesome so ‘pretty good’ is not exactly ringing praise. The guitar playing is amazing in places, but to be honest, having no musical talent whatsoever, I am not qualified to talk about the actual music, which makes reviewing an album really hard! Nonetheless I will try; I think perhaps I should stick to what I can understand; words.

Some of the lyrics are pretty screwed up. The whole album just seems to be a mix of moral indignation at all the injustice in the world and mopey, self-justifying and clichéd love-song. Lets look in some more detail shall we?

Song 1, ‘Chinese Democracy’ (inevitably about how china has no democracy… no shit dude, maybe 10 years ago this was something to get worked up over, but I have a funny feeling we have more pressing concerns in this millennium, like two ruinous wars.)

I know that I'm a classic case
Watch my disenchanted face
Blame it on
the Falun Gong
They see the hand and you can't hold on now
Cause it
would take a lot more hate than you
To stop the fascination Even with an
iron fist
More than you got to rule the nation
When all I got is
precious time

Pretty good to be fair, got some actual meaning which is nice, did they need to follow it up with the second song about the very same thing?

I've got a funny feeling there's something wrong today
I've got a funny
feeling and it won't go away
I've got an itchy finger and there'll be hell
to pay
I'm gonna pull the trigger and blow them all away

Yeah, the world’s a messed up place, we got that from the first song. Not as bad as what is to come though.

The tone now changes, for the worse.
No one ever told me when I was alone
They just thought I'd know better… better...
No one ever told me when I
was alone
They just thought I'd know better… better...

Oh dear Axle, alone with all that money? How will you cope? It’s pretty hard to sympathise with this; the guy is in his forties for Christ sake, grow up! That is the kinda shit angsty teens and twenty-something’s write. I preferred the moral indignation; at least that had some dignity.
And he keeps raining the self-pity down on us with the next track, ‘Street of Dreams’.

All the love in the world couldn't save you
All the innocence inside
know I tried so hard to make you
Ooo I wanna make you change your mind
And it hurts too much to see you
And how you left yourself behind
You know I wouldn't want to be you
Now there's a hell I cant describe
Oh no, his girlfriend left him. Maybe she decided that all the money was not enough to make her put with this his massive ego.

And like hell does it stop. The next song is just as bad.

If the world would end today,
All the dreams we had would all just drift
You know there’s nothing more to say,
If the world would end would
our love slip away
Oh...I never knew the way that you looked at me,
Would ever mean so much to me,
In my heart I found the feelings that
I've never shown
Now they've got the best of me,
Blerg! Sounds like the sort of pretentious crap emos put in valentines cards to each other. Why not go slit your wrists and write it in blood to complete the romantic retardation.

The next song on the album is called ‘There was a Time’, which has the acronym ‘TWAT’. Rather fitting given that Axle wrote it. Anyway, this is actually quite a good song, made even better for the fact that it moves away from angsty love poetry.

This lyric made me smile though.

It was a long time for you,
It was a long time for me,
It’d be a long
time for anyone,
But looks like it's meant to be.
Hmm, I can possibly imagine what he’s getting at here. Full marks for subtlety Axle.

The next song is the best in the album, Catcher in the Rye. It is one of the few songs on the album, which is not a soppy love song; thank God! This is the peak of the album, but it stays pretty decent from now on.

The next one I called ‘Scraped’.

Don’t you try to stop us now
I just refuse
Don’t you try to stop us now
‘Cause I just won’t let youSometimes I feel like
The world is on top of
meBreaking me down with
An endless monotony
Sometimes I feel likeThere’s
nothing that’s stopping me
All things are possible
I am unstoppable
Well I suppose you have to excuse an element of pretension; it is poetry after all, the second most pretension art form behind art itself. It is a good song, not as good as Catcher in the Rye, but far better than most of the rest of them.

I can’t be bothered to comment on the lyrics of the next few songs. ‘Riyadh ‘n the Bedouins’ is a really good track with some actually pretty decent lyrics. ‘Sorry’ is a depressing dip back into the angsty bullshit of earlier in the album, but it at least retains a little more dignity than the others. ‘IRS’ is bizarre, but not in a particularly good way. Madagascar is very good, but one has to wonder whether the spoken bits in the solo are a little over the top, nonetheless a very worthwhile song. ‘This I love’ is a nice little Power Ballard. Ok the lyrics are pretty ansgty, but the song is done in a way that can actually carry it off, although the piano part does sounds a little too much like walking in the air for my liking. Finally ‘Prostitute’ is a really nice ending to the album.

So then, to sum up, not worth the wait or the $11 Million, but worth getting, even though some songs are pretty crap. They are all quite catchy, which means that the album has immediate appeal, but after a while it grows stale; the quality is only skin deep. While I think an entire album of moral indignation would have been very dull, it would have been better than half an album of angst fuelled self-loathing. Some more thematic variety would have been nice.

I suppose we should be glad it came out at all, at one point it seemed about as likely as…no I can’t bring myself to crack the ‘Chinese Democracy’ gag. That grew old about a year after the band announced the title of the album.