Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Crunch time

My wires are due to come out Tuesday. From a logistical point of view, I can't say I am going to miss them. I haven't been able to have a proper wash/shower in nearly two weeks and it really has put a dampener on my training regimes and exercise opportunities.

But I'm also worried about it coming out. It has been a security blanket to me in some ways, a kind of reminder that they are trying to fix my problem and that something positive is happening. When it comes out there will be a period of time whilst a decision is made on what to do next, and I'll confess that I am worried about what the future does hold. Right now I feel relaxed but for some reason the future is terrifying me!

I've tried to be positive this year about things, and I would say from my own introspective viewpoint that I have done a reasonable job of doing so. But this is approaching crunch time and the old worries are starting to swim around in the back of my mind, lurking. They are nowhere near as intrusive as they have been in the past, to the point of scaring me so much that I maybe didn't pursue some treatments as aggressively as maybe I should have. However, they haven't left.

The fact of the matter is that they are running out of options. Every time we try something there is always the dichotomy between the chance that this might be the solution and the fear that it's just another thing that won't turn out to help. 30+ years of something will do that to you. And I've done enough research to know that this is approaching last chance saloon in terms of finding a working and unobtrusive solution. That scares me, I won't lie.

So once again it is approaching crunch time and I'm starting to feel twitchy. I know you will say that they know what they are doing and eventually something will come along, but it is hard. It is hard having tried so many different things and being no nearer a diagnosis, it is hard being positive all the time when you are going off faith and trusting somewhat to luck. And it is hard feeling that, no matter how much I try to articulate and explain my problem to people, there are a very small number of people who I think really get it. That isn't a slight on everyone who has been so supportive and wished me well, I couldn't thank you enough in all honesty.

Next week should therefore be a very positive day, a step in the right direction and one movement nearer to what will hopefully be a solution. A few deep breaths will be taken on Tuesday and then I'll attack the next phase as best I can and with a bit of luck my misgivings will slide away.

But in the meantime I hope you'll forgive me a little trepidation and a few moments of worry. I've never been very good when it comes to the crunch unfortunately!

Till next time,

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

REVIEW: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I appear to have been reading an awful lot recently! That usually means I'm procrastinating and putting off something important but this time it's probably just me taking my mind off things and escaping away into another world. Those who have been reading my reviews and the noticing the types of books I read will have spotted I tend to look for fantasy or "other world" stories, partially because it does allow an escape sometimes when I need one.

Neil Gaiman is an author who has passed my by until now, aside from a brief liaison in the form of the movie version of Stardust which is based on his novel of the same name. I have heard many good things about him however and decided to take the plunge.

Neverwhere is actually the companion novel to the TV series written in the mid-1990s by Gaiman and Lenny Henry. The story and characters will be familiar to those who have seen the series, with just a bit more flesh on the bones.

There is a place, below the city of London, where all those who slip through the cracks gather. Into this world is thrust a normal man from the world above. All he wants to do is get home but he finds himself inexorably drawn into this fascinating place, despite the warnings of those from below.

I think this is a very cleverly written book. The world Gaiman has created in London Below is barely on the edge of believable, but it is close enough to get you thinking "just maybe".

The story sucks you in slowly, tantalisingly at times, but it allows the world to organically grow in your consciousness. This is not a tale which is spelled out for you but rather one which permits your imagination to fill in the gaps and keeps you looking ahead for where it is going next.

Ironically (considering my love of "other" world stories) it is the fact that Gaiman keeps this story grounded in real-life places that I enjoyed the most. Harrod's, the HMS Belfast, Earl's Court and the British Museum all make an appearance but they are twisted and warped to create a sense of a separate world bubbling close to our own, but which is right there underfoot.

Most of Gaiman's characters here have depth and intrigue although there was one notable exception who disappointed somewhat, mainly due to a lack of quality air time. The TV series may have afforded them this air time but I haven't seen it so can't comment. But that one aside, the majority of the protagonists and antagonists of the story gel well and there is an organic feel to their interplay and dynamics throughout.

The world of London Below itself has a grittiness and griminess that suits the mood of the story. This is not a kids story by any stretch of the imagination, there is a violence and a roughness which can be disturbing at times - regardless of the fantasy element of the story. But there is still that sense of hope and love running through it which keeps the plot from descending too far into the realms of grit and grime.

Overall I enjoyed this first look into Gaiman's mind. He has created (in quite a short book) a vibrant, gritty
world populated by interesting characters with plenty of scope to work with if he decided to expand the frame. However, this book does stand alone very well on its own which is pleasing. Too many books these days serve only to set the scene for an "epic" and themselves suffer needlessly for it. We could return to London Below, but maybe we don't need to.

I would recommend this book to those lovers of what I will term "light fantasy". And I don't mean "light" as in full of princesses and flowers and happy endings but more that this is not in the Swords and Sourcery bracket in the mould of Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. But then again, it isn't trying to be.

Verdict: 4 stars of 5

Monday, 28 April 2014

Finding an identity

I seem to have fallen off a cliff again when it comes to keeping this blog going. I don't know why but for the last month or so I have really struggled to find topics to talk about without regurgitating past posts or resorting to low-brow discussions about things that don't really interest me but I know a bit about (i.e. the current football season).

It all seems to be part of a general funk which I'm feeling. I've not been able to get out and do much the last few weeks with this box attached to me and its lead to quite a bit of introspection on my part. Having plenty of time with your own thoughts can often be quite dangerous and I guess there has been a sense for me recently of feeling a bit lost.

My creativity has hit a bit of a wall and I've been thinking quite a bit recently about who I am and where I want to go with the rest of my life. I feel like I'm missing an identity recently, which is very strange as I was feeling very "on track" and focussed earlier on in the year. Maybe it is just part of the natural ebb and flow of life and right now I am in one of those "self-observation" phases that are apparently quite common with my condition.

But I think it is something many people can actually identify with (ironically), a lack of identity or an appreciation of your place in the world. It is particularly prevalent in this media age where everything is labelled, disected, pigeon-holed and analysed over and over again. Everyone seems to be expected to conform to something but when we don't it is often difficult to find your own place. So this last week has been a bit of an odd one. I've found myself reflecting and trying to make sense of a few things in my head.

It has taken a bit of time but I'm starting to realise that the key appears to be (and this is easier said than done) to stop worrying about having an identity of finding your place. The only place you need to feel comfortable is your own head and the only identity you need is, you. Getting too bogged down with who you "are" seems to stops you actually having any change of being that person. Everyone is unique, everyone has their own place and their own way of doing things.

Maybe Batman had the right idea though. Pick a couple of identities, one of them is always bound to fit the situation!

Today's #randomfactoftheday - The Pitcairn Islands has the smallest population of any democracy in the world. 56 at the last count (2013).

Today's #websiteoftheday - The Kon-Tiki museum in Oslo. I've been. It tells you all about Thor Heyerdahl. He was an awesome adventurer and pioneer (

Today's #badjokeoftheday - I heard a really good whale joke the other day. It was a killer.

On this day: 1947, Thor Heyerdahl and five crew mates set sail from Peru on the raft Kon-Tiki. The aim was to help to prove Heyerdahl's theory that people from South America were the original settlers of Easter Island, not the Polynesians from the West as was generally thought at the time.

Till next time,

Friday, 25 April 2014

Keeping it easy

Get yourself a Panini Brazil 2014 World Cup sticker album!! That was what got me thinking about today's topic in the first place, the simple pleasure of tearing those packs open, finding a "shiny" and realising that my first "swops" in far far too long were smiling up at me.

This was an obsession for me as a kid, as I guess it was for a majority of people who were young with me. Mexico 1986 (nearly complete), Italia 1990 (complete but lost), USA 1994( meh, England didn't qualify) and France 1998 (started but decided I was too old and mature) have all captured my imagination to various degrees during my childhood.

It is a classic example of the fact that sometimes the simplest things give us the greatest pleasure. We often seem to forget the fact that happiness can be found in the most "mundane" of places, and it doesn't make it any less valid! How many times do you overhear conversations or read articles which go along the lines of "yeah my life isn't too bad, but...."?

Well I'm afraid if you are striving to eliminate that "but" then you will struggle. Human nature means that we are very rarely truly satisfied with our lot in life, particularly in the developed world where the day-to-day worries about surviving until tomorrow are by-and-large significantly reduced. And when something does come our way that brings a smile, how often do we revert very quickly to one of the following viewpoints;

1) Everything is great, but what comes next?
2) Everything is going well, when will it come crashing down?

We seem less and less able these days to enjoy the simple things without wondering about ramifications, what might be coming around the corner, or what the current situation would need to make it "better". People really are pretty terrible at being content and satisfied it seems, particularly in this modern world of instant gratification and stunningly naive short-termism. It is a little sad really, and I am as guilty as the next person of having that attitude, though I have been trying a new "c'est la vie" approach this year and it seems to be working (cue for those who know me to correct me if I'm being misguided!!).

Was there a point to all this? Er...... there was when I first started! Oh yeah, that was it. Little bursts of happiness from simple, down-to-earth things are definitely not to be sniffed at. When a good thing comes along, embrace it for what it is and don't worry too much about what is coming next or (more importantly I think) what would have made it even better!

Life was awesome when you had a shiny. And it still is.
It was Yaya Toure, by the way, the first swop of the World Cup!

Today's #randomfactoftheday - Apparently the statistical average amount of money required to complete the 2014 World Cup album (without resorting to swops) is £412!!! #gotgotneed #swopsies

Today's #websiteoftheday - Oh my. 100 packs. 500 stickers. Shiny ones galore (

On this day: 1792, highwayman Nicholas Pelletier becomes the first person executed by guillotine.

Till next time,

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Why does the unnecessary stuff stick?!

Well it has been a while. I've generally been doing a reasonable job of blogging on a semi-frequent basis but sometimes circumstances get the best of me, I have a busy few days and before you know it people start to worry that I might have run out of things to say. Fat chance. A combination of recovering from my operation and the fact that this weekend didn't find me in the most sociable frame of mind meant that I never got around to doing one and you have had to cope without me for what must have felt like an eternity. 

It has been a very odd week though. I now have a battery pack attached to me 24/7 which is supposed to be helping with my medical condition. How it is supposed to be helping though I'm not 100% sure. I am convinced I was listening when they told me but somehow it seems to have passed me by. I CAN however tell you that my online empire currently has 1439 people in it. 

One of these facts is obviously relatively important, the other one is the one I can actually remember. Why is it almost invariably the case that when your mind has a choice of two things to remember, it kindly stores aware the "useless" titbit whilst discarding, say, a partner's birth-date or the pin number to your last functioning credit card?

It seems to be one of those bizarre functions of the human mind, well particularly my mind, to behave like this. It is often remarked that I have a ridiculous level of general knowledge but zero common sense. It is almost like my mind is desperate to remember who won the 1978 F.A. Cup Final (it was Ipswich by the way) but at the expense of something which would be really, fundamentally, useful to me.

Possibly all the really useful stuff is being buried on a sub-conscious level and if I really, absolutely desperately, life-or-death, NEEDED to remember it then it will pop into my head at just the right moment. More likely not though, considering I've spent the entire time I've been writing this blog trying to remember when my follow up bipolar appointment is and all I can recall is that I've got a Disc Golf Open Day on May 17th and I'm going to Alton Towers on the 2nd/3rd June!!

I think the point I'm trying to get at is here is one of frustration and, mild, annoyance. The human mind has a seemingly inexhaustible amount of places to store important information, facts and details. So why on earth does mine take great delight in not remembering anything which is actually of use to me and instead present me with an assortment of random facts, bad jokes and terrible ideas on a seemingly hourly basis?

If I remember precisely what this box on my hip is doing then I'll be sure to share the information with you! In the mean time please enjoy more useless facts, an awful joke and a funky little website with some old-timey games on it.

Today's #randomfactoftheday - The largest city north of the Arctic Circle (in terms of population) is Murmansk which has a population of around 300,000.

Today's #websiteoftheday - Play retro games online. Retro is the future (

Today's #badjokeoftheday - I just went to a really emotional wedding. Even the cake was in tiers.

On this day: 1889, The Oklahoma Land Rush happened. Within half a day the cities of Guthrie and Oklahoma City had been established from nothing, each having over 10,000 inhabitants before sundown!

Till next time,

Saturday, 19 April 2014

REVIEW: Royal Flash (Flashman Papers #2) - George Macdonald Fraser

I actually picked this up and finished it in one sitting. Yes I had no real option as I couldn't move, but it was still one of those books that kept tugging you in and making you want to get to the next bit of the story.

The second of Flashman's "memoirs" sees him back from his adventures in Afghanistan, now hailed as a hero despite all his evidence to the contrary. But he can't stay still for long and is soon embroiled in a scheme so nefarious and devious that Sherlock Holmes would have required all his legendary skills to unravel it. But Flashman being Flashman, he somehow sneaks his way out of trouble and still manages to add a few more notches to his bedpost.

I really love the style of these stories. By presenting them as edited memoirs it allows Fraser to place Flashman into real life historical scenarios and have him take part without unduly influencing events. Flashman is more of a narrator of history, presented through his own eyes and his adventures. By using the medium of a set of annotated memoirs, Fraser is able to add flesh to the story where he needs it but where it would be implausible or illogical for Flashman to provide.

Flashman is still deplorable as ever, though care must be taken not to judge him out of his context. By the standards of the time he is your typical "well-bred" Englishman; rude, egotistical, misogynistic, racist and fully convinced of his own superiority. However, I find myself drawn towards him and his adventures, mainly because this a period of history that has always fascinated me but also because Fraser is able to make Flashman a loveable anti-hero when the occasion demands.

Once again Fraser's historical accuracy and subtle way of seamlessly working Flashman into the events of the day works splendidly. Flashman encounters (amongst others) real-life personalities Otto van Bismarck and Lola Montez and there is no hint of implausibility about these meetings. They are thoroughly believable and don't in anyway detract from the story.

These stories are not in any way shape or form masterpieces of fiction nor towering epics that will have you coming back time and time again. But they are very good in their own right and within the genre they sit, I think this is another cracker.

Verdict: 4.5 stars out of 5

Thursday, 17 April 2014

REVIEW: Fool's Errand (Book #1 of the Tawny Man Trilogy) - Robin Hobb

This one has taken me a while for various reasons, but 4 hours waiting for my operation at the hospital allowed to to crack through the second half of this book!

Fool's Errand is actually the first book in Robin Hobb's third trilogy set within a particular world. The first trilogy was set some 15 years before the start of this one and is located in the same place with some familiar characters. The second trilogy is actually set on a slightly different part of the world and there is little cross-over between, except for a few "in passing" references and one particular character.

The story picks up with Fitz, 15 years after the culmination of The Assassin Trilogy, living a peaceful life with his adopted son, far away from the demands of the court and political life. He enjoys the simple, rustic pleasures of his days and has no real desire to return to Buckkeep and the intricacies of the Six Duchies.

Unfortunately for him, his former mentor has a different plan and events are set in motion which will require Fitz to return to Buckkeep and once again give up his freedom and serve the Farseer line for the good of the kingdom. The sacrifices will, as ever, be high but with his most loyal companion and closest ally with him it is nothing beyond what he has already done.

It has been a while since I read a Robin Hobb book, but I slipped back into the style and pace of the story as if I had never been away. Part of that is due to the fact that the "stars" of this book have (mostly) been well established during earlier books and so there is a familiarity to the setting and the characters which eased me back in very nicely. I guess, you could read this without reading her previous stories set in this world, but I wouldn't recommend it as there is a good degree of reference back to earlier adventures.

The story is actually quite slow-burning at the start as we are introduced to Fitz and his life following the events of 15 years ago. But it is not long before the usual intrigue and political games rear their heads and Fitz is dragged back to the world he has desperately been trying to avoid.

It is obvious that these books are part of a large "arc" and so Hobb has time to expound on things from her earlier stories and give them more depth - without feeling the need to rush things as there is plenty of time for things to come together. The magic systems particularly benefit from the extra time taken to fill in a few gaps which I felt were left very vague (possibly deliberately) in the first trilogy.

The story is nothing which you haven't seen before. A prince disappears from the castle a short time before he is to be married and our "heroes" have to find him and bring him back in time. There is the usual array of plotlines which grace these types of books; not knowing who to trust, a rebel cause, plenty of brooding and enough action to keep you on your toes. 

But Hobb is careful not to get dragged too deep into cliches and these individual elements work well together to create a story that is interesting enough on its own but you know and feel is only a small part of a much large whole. In the same way you can enjoy The Hobbit on its own but it is even better when taken alongside the Lord of the Rings books, Fool's Errand is an enjoyable enough tale - but more of an interesting foreshadowing of what Hobb has planned for the remaining two books of this Trilogy.

Personally I didn't feel it was her best work, it was a bit too predictable if I'm honest and I didn't find myself engaging with the story as much as I would have liked. Don't get me wrong though, this is still a very enjoyable read and as a "welcome back" for Fitz and a prelude to the events to come I think it works wonderfully well. 

Verdict: 4 starts out of 5

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Closure and Justice for the 96

25 years ago today, 96 football fans who went to watch their beloved team didn't come home. I do not care who you are, who you support or where your loyalties lie - please just take a moment to reflect on that tragic fact. Thousands of us do things every day that we enjoy. All these people were doing was something they loved and they never saw another sunrise. It hits home particularly to me because my dad and I did that exact same thing that day, we went to watch our beloved team play. We came home, 96 didn't.

It is a shocking and stark reminder that life is unpredictable and oh so fleeting. None of us know what is in store tomorrow and it should never be taken for granted. If you love someone, tell them. You never know when the opportunity to tell them is gone forever, for it can be taken at a moment's notice.

There is an old saying "there is plenty of time to rest when you are dead". I don't mean this in a morbid, depressing way but more to try and inspire people to grasp life and make of it everything you can, while you can. If you want to do something, find a way to do it.

Even worse, if that is possible, than seeing their loved ones perish watching a simple game of football is the heartache and torture the countless thousands of family and friends have had to endure. For a quarter of a century they have been denied the truth and the closure that should be the right of all human beings. They have been told that their loved ones died as the result of an unavoidable accident (amongst other worse accusations) whilst all they wanted to hear was the truth and for someone to say "I am sorry".

The fact of the matter is that no-one meant for those people to die that fateful day in Sheffield. But when truth is denied and hidden for so long from those who have a right to know, that is the greatest of betrayals. The tragedy brought out some of the worst character traits of humans, as well as some of the best. The heartfelt and genuine outpouring of grief and shock which reverberated around the country was often outweighed by more devious and despicable behaviours.

Misinformation, blatant lies and cover-ups have created what we see today - the still ongoing fight for justice, for the truth. It could all have been so different had responsibility been taken by those who were obliged to take it. Mistakes were made, that is forgiveable. But only if those mistakes are acknowledged and we are able to take them and learn from them.

The disgusting fact is that 25 years later those families and friends are still looking for justice and for closure, and it has been denied them because other people sought to save their skin and apportion blame instead of taking responsibility. We claim to be a civilised society, but we cannot possibly be so whilst this type of thing is going on. Betrayal, lies and broken trust - these must all stop if we are to progress and grow.

So regardless of the colour and strength of our loyalties, today we must remember those who died needlessly and we should support their loved ones campaign for the peace and closure they deserve.

Justice for the 96.
Thank you.

A simpler time

So today has been a serious nostalgia trip. I always seem to do this when I'm nervous about something big, regress to what I suppose you would say is a simpler time. Being a kid really was very easy, I just wished I'd realised it at the time. We spend a large part of our youth wishing to be older, then when we get older we begin to understand what it was that got wished away!

Tonight has been a cracker though, partially because I found my Mysterious Cities of Gold DVDs. For those who don't know what this program was, I seriously recommend you Google it. And Ulysses 31 as well for that matter. This really was the Golden Age of children's television, great stories that captured the imagination and taught you about the world at the same time.

But I found something else when I was digging around, the movie Chariots of Fire. Now if you've never seen it, you seriously need to go watch it. No special effects, no tricks, but quite simply one of the most inspirational and uplifting movies ever made (with possibly the most iconic opening theme in history). This was not a movie that needed to blow things up or convolute the plot to tie us in knots. It was simple, raw and, frankly, a million times better than anything we see today. Without the shortcuts afforded by modern technology this was how things used to be, you had no choice but to do it right.

I guess it is no surprise that when things get a bit overwhelming or complicated in life that people look for those calmer times. As I mentioned before, my default "protective" position is a regression back to when things were simpler in my life. I don't know why it is, I just feel more comfortable when I am reminiscing about how things used to be. Is that healthy? Probably not in all honesty, but it allows me to feel a bit more comfortable about what might be coming I suppose.

It is often difficult to feel comfortable with what is going on around you in life. Sometimes though, the best approach is to remember how simple things used to be, because in all fairness there is no reason they need to be so complicated now just because we are older and supposedly wiser!!

Today's #randomfactoftheday - Before SOS was adopted as the standard distress signal, operators would send "CDQ".

Today's #websiteoftheday - Fancy learning a bit of morse code? Check this out (

Today's #badjokeoftheday - Q: What are the most dangerous vegetables on a ship? A: Leeks

On this day;  1912, at 11:40pm (ship's time) the RMS Titanic hits an iceberg in the North Atlantic on its maiden voyage. Over 1500 people lose their lives.

Till next time,

Sunday, 13 April 2014

A world of pain - but worth every second

I am being astonishingly lazy. I am copying, word for word, my review of Yorkshire Warrior from my challenges website into this blog. Mainly this is because everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING hurts, including my brain. What a great day though, definitely worth every second.

Review of Challenge #12 - Yorkshire Warrior
Challenge #12 is in the bag. It was a sensational event from start to finish. Easy to find, plentiful car parking only a couple of hundred metres and a decent selection of grub and drink options - though it was a bit chilly up on the Yorkshire fields!

The organisation was slick and efficient and the waves were a nice size so you didn't get too bunched up for most of the race (depending on who you were behind of course). A cracking warm-up hosted by the "Yorkshire Warrior" himself got us in the mood and then it was out onto the 16(ish) kilometre course.

Rick and I both agreed that this was a really well spaced course, I think the longest running section between obstacles was probably around 1-2km so this felt like a proper obstacle run rather than simply a run with some obstacles in the way. 

There was a great variety to the obstacles with plenty of water, things to get over, things to get under, fire, electricty and logs (amongst other natural features). For me, the one good thing was a lack of long, slow climbs - all the uphill bits were short and sharp which suits my skills a bit better than steady climbs like the ones we found in Deerstalker.

We were dead lucky too in that we didn't really encounter many logjams during the run. For the hardened OCR veterens this probably felt like an easy course but for Rick and I this was a decent challenge. If you are doing one for the first time then the length may prove to be the hardest factor, rather than the obstacles themselves.

All-in-all this was a cracker of an event and definitely one that we will be doing next year, hopefully with a bigger gang of us. If you fancy pushing out to the longer runs (>10km) then this should be top of your list and no mistake. 

Verdict: 5 stars out of 5

Friday, 11 April 2014

The start of the year

It's the Masters this weekend. For me this is always the "start" of the year. For those not of a golfing persuasion, the Masters is the first of male golf's four "major" championships. It is always played at the same course and is almost always a couple of weeks after the clocks go forward here in the UK.

For those reasons it is a very recognisable point in the year, one that seems to herald (for me anyway) the proper beginning of the new year. I've never really seen 1st January as a suitable point at which to draw a line under the year and start afresh. It is right in the middle of the darkest part of the year and I feel it doesn't have any real sense of rebirth or new beginning. Each day feels like the one before to me.

I much prefer this time of year as a "restart point". For a start the shift from GMT to BST affords us an extra hour of evening daylight. A lot of the hobbies I enjoy and things I like to do are outdoors so I suffer particularly during the winter when it is dark. Usually I really struggle dreadfully through the long nights and I start to come alive around this time of year. The Masters weekend always seems to be the point which triggers that, it is a definable line between winter and spring, dark and light, in my mind.

I always seem to be busy around now and this year I'm particularly grateful for that fact. Last year was especially tough as it should have been my 1st wedding anniversary but unfortunately that wasn't to be. I still find that so difficult sometimes but sadly that is what it is and hopefully this year will be a bit less tough.

This year I have an operation coming up on the 16th and I have to confess that I am really nervous. It is a very simple procedure by all accounts but whenever my thoughts stray to it I can't say it is pleasant. I obviously can't pretend it isn't going to happen - and the ramifications could be life-altering depending on the results - so having things to distract me and keep my mind and body otherwise engaged is crucial. As a result being busy and having lots to suddenly distract me is definitely very important this year.

For that reason I am even more excited than usual to have the Masters weekend here. Normally it is a welcome reminder that my year is just getting going and it gives me a chance to get stuck into whatever I have organised to keep me entertained. This year it is even more important, and I am delighted it has decided to make an appearance.

To the "beginning" of the year, may it be a better one than the last and a mere warm-up for the one after.

Today's #randomfactoftheday - Between 1956 and 2007, no winner of the Masters was over par for the four rounds.

Today's #websiteoftheday - More MOOCs for you to check out (

Today's #badjokeoftheday - Q: How many golfers does it take to change a lightbulb? A: Fore!

On this day: 1988, Sandy Lyle becomes the first British winner of the Masters.

Till next time,

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

GIG REVIEW: Riverside @ Manchester Academy

Well it's been an exceptionally busy few days indeed. The week ended with the absolutely fantastic Inaugural Friends of Serenity Ball on Friday night which raised an astonishing £6.7k for charity! We are so unbelievably grateful to every single person who came, donated a prize, donated on the night or simply passed on their best wishes - it means the world.

Saturday consequently was a bit slower but I still managed to catch up with a bit of reading as well as doing some research for the next short story I'm planning. Watch this space, it is about time I got some of these out in the public domain I think!!

Sunday saw a cracking result for the Toffees and a very interesting evening spent enjoying one of my favourite things around, live music.

RIVERSIDE @ Manchester Academy (Club Academy)

I have to confess, Progressive Rock is definitely (a) an acquired taste and (b) a very broad definition for a genre. I've encountered bits of it in the past but the only thing that seems to be constant is a liking for ridiculously long songs!

I remember going to see Yes at the Apollo in Manchester a few years ago - at one point the whole band left for about 15 minutes to get a change of shirt except for (I think) the guitarist who kept plucking merrily awake. Yes, plucking, not strumming. The band finally returned and finished off the song they had started before the left. Not something I am regularly confronted by during my daily trip through the delights of my iPod I can tell you.

So I didn't really know what to expect from Riverside, a 4-piece Polish band that have been going 10-12 years and are now up to about 5 studio albums. "Similar to Porcupine Tree" I was told, but I don't really know any of their stuff either so that wasn't exactly a help.

Despite all this though, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sometimes it is good to have no idea what any of the songs are when they start up, it often strips any pre-existing conceptions you have away and allows you to focus on the material without an prejudiced ideas.

I listen to an awful lot of music styles but I find Prog-Rock to be something which demands a different approach to listening from most other genres. It seems to require a more organic style, you have to immerse yourself not just in the notes of the music but also the tone, the feel and the overall experience. It is not to everyone's taste I'll grant you but if you can get into this "zone" as it were then it can be a very rewarding experience.

Over 2 hours Riverside were on stage and the range of styles they were able to present was very impressive. One of the advantages of Prog-Rock is the ability for bands to change tempo and mood within an individual song, never mind across the course of an evening.

Led by a charismatic and talented lead singer (who also plays the bass in a strange twist from the normal) I was pleasantly surprised by their ability to tell a story and evoke several different moods during the course of a single song. It was very like some classical pieces in the way each song ebbed and flowed but without ever feeling repetitive or outstaying the welcome afforded to each tune.

This was thoughtful and yet at the same time it was also raw in places. You could feel the progression of the band as they dropped into some of their older pieces; they were less refined but had more "edge" to them. The impetuousness and defiance of a younger age perhaps but you could see how they have grown up and found their style through the ages.

I enjoyed the diversity and range they were able to showcase, and they way they constructed the show was very good. Never too long was spent in one place, but the shifts were often subtle and always unforced - resulting in a very natural and almost ethereal feel at some points. The keyboard skills particularly captured the general ebb and flow of the work but it was never to far from a harsher feel when the mood demanded.

Personally I would classify Riverside on the lower end of the "Progressive" scale - they are certainly less progressive than Yes or other synthesizer heavy bands of that era. The keyboard play, while impressive, is less to the fore than in those kind of bands and there is a kind of "prog-metal" element to some of their work as well.

If you enjoy any of these bands then you will get something out of picking up a Riverside album and working your way through it;
Porcupine Tree (so I am told)
Dream Theater
Pink Floyd (to some extent)

Overall this was a really interesting trip into a genre I am not so familiar with. There was plenty to keep me intrigued throughout and the stage presence and polish (sorry, bad pun there) of Riverside added to the experience. I'll definitely be delving into their back catalogue to investigate in a bit more detail what they have to offer.

VERDICT: 4 stars out of 5

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Friends of Serenity News

It is about time I gave you all an update on where our Friends of Serenity charity is up to and what we have been doing. For those of you who know all about the charity please bear with while I give a quick overview for others. Thank you!

Friends of Serenity is a non-profit organisation that was set up by Joanne Edwards at the end of May 2013 after she lost her son Luke, earlier that year, as a result of Trisomy 13.  Friends of Serenity has a few main aims;
  1. To raise awareness of Trisomy 13, the 3rd most common Chromosome disorder.
  2. To  raise funds for a 2nd Serenity suite at East Lancashire Women and New Born Centre, which will be utilised for sick pregnant women and for those who sadly lose their baby in pregnancy, giving them a quiet and comforting space to give birth and take the time their need.
  3.  Refurbish the current suite at East Lancashire Women and New Born Centre.
  4.  Create memory boxes for babies who has sadly lost their fight with life and are born from gestation 13weeks +
It is this fantastic cause that I have been raising money for over the last year and which I am honoured to be a trustee of. The work being done by Jo and Mark is nothing short of fantastic and I am truly humbled to be a part of it. 

This weekend is important for the charity as it is our inaugural Fundraising Ball being held at Eaves Hall near Clitheroe. It should be a fantastic evening with plenty of fun times for all and, hopefully, a significant sum of money raised to allow us to continue our work. Photos will of course follow in due time.

On top of that, Challenge #12 is coming up on 12th April with myself and Rick attacking the Yorkshire Warrior, including a 1km underground tunnel and numerous "fun" obstacles. Oh yoy! I'm scheduled for an operation on 16th April so I don't know exactly when I'll be back in training but I'm still hoping to do something in May (as well as completing the zipline finally)!

Final bit of news is that Friends of Serenity are one of the sponsors for The Butterfly Awards which celebrate survivors and those who are champions of raising baby loss awareness. This is another cause which I am delighted that we are a part of, anything which raises exposure and awareness of these conditions and those who can overcome them is fantastic.

So think of us this weekend, trying to make something fantastic and lasting from such tragedy. If you can spare anything at all (and I do mean ANYTHING) then it would be so gratefully received and will be put to the best use we can.

I'll be a bit busy over the weekend but hopefully I'll get on at some point to let you know how the ball went and to share some more of my "world wisdom" with you (ha)!

Till next time,