Sunday, September 28, 2003

It's All About Timing

After months of discussing the idea, a trip to Iceland has finally been arranged and booked. In a few weeks time I shall be on a plane to Reykjavik to see first-hand the home of Bjork and Sigur Ros.

However, no sooner was this trip booked than I was given an opportunity to take a 6-week contract to work in the Falkland Islands. Granted, the Falklands were not high on my list of places to visit, but if one is offered an all-expenses paid trip to go and a salary, it is certainly something worth considering. But since it conflicts with the Iceland trip, it proved to be a no-go this time. But I am told there might be another opportunity in November. We shall see.

And just the other day, it was announced that Toronto's Broken Social Scene is coming to Glasgow for a gig in October. This, much to my chagrin, is also occuring during the time I will be in Iceland. If it turns out that Stars are opening for them, I may just weep. Och well, you can't have it all!

Last Monday, I came across a strange sight - that being a bottle of Labatt Ice at the hotel pub. I couldn't resist ordering one, and while it still tasted like gnat piss, I felt I had to represent the homeland. My sacrifice.

What's old is new again! According to this article, the toy expected to sell the most this Christmas in the UK will be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures (apparently "Hero Turtles" no longer). The Real Ghostbusters are surely next?

Friday, September 26, 2003

On The Road Again

I have just returned from another week in Rosyth where the novelty factor of living in a hotel has more than worn off. Words do not express how happy I am to be back in Glasgow. My contract was due to end during the middle of next week, but over the course of the last few days my employers have discovered that I am the only one who knows how to use key parts of the system that is being implemented. Result: short term contract renewal! It looks as if I'll be employed for a few more weeks yet anyway.

During his recent stay over here in Scotland along with Kevin and Kathleen, Troy took to the streets armed with a keen eye and a digital camera. The first results of these shots are being posted on his website and can be seen by clicking here. He has also posted a section outlining, in his term, the "crazy signs of Scotland", which can be seen here. Very funny stuff.

Be prepared Canada! My favourite Irish talk show host Graham Norton has signed a deal with Comedy Central, which means Mr. Norton will be soon be gracing televisions overseas very soon. I have no doubt the King of Camp will be huge.

That's enough for today methinks - I fancy a shower and my own couch to lie on.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Sauce of Chaos

Mike's journal has lately been an interesting source of material, not least of which was the discovery of House of Hotsauce, a brilliantly designed site by a bloke who clearly knows his music. What really struck me however are some rather amazing coincidences between myself and the mysterious "Sean". He too has recently left the shores of Lake Ontario to have a go at life in Scotland (Edinburgh rather than Glasgow), has attended several of the same concerts as me and impressively has at least once used a Smiths lyric to title an entry. He also has (had?) something to do with the amazing Global Pop Conspiracy, a site to which I was introduced by my friend Christy and was a constant favourite of mine before I left behind the comforts of a computer and broadband Internet at home. At a quick glance through the House I wasn't able to spot a contact point so I'll have to see if an email address will materialise through our four degrees of separation. In the meantime, I'd say a link is certainly warranted.
Drinking on the Company Tab

Just as my work contract has nearly come to an end, my employer gives me my first overnight road trip. I was sent down to the office in Rosyth, a town located just over the Forth Bridge near Edinburgh. Due to the previous employers I have worked for, I have little experience with the "post-work get together paid for by the company" thing. You can therefore appreciate my surprise to find myself consuming smoked salmon and roast duck for dinner and then hitting several pubs from North Queensferry to Rosyth to Dunfermline and not getting back to my hotel bed until 3am after consuming more than my fair share of drink - all without spending a thing. Is this what my fellows with posher jobs than I have been up to for all these years?

After giving Mike’s journal a read, I noticed he has tracked down the site where they have posted the half-marathon results. Now my Mom can have conclusive proof that I ran this thing by clicking here. I also read the news about the imminent reuniting of the Pixies, one of the greatest bands ever. Though I must confess I do have some reservations. When a band was that good, you don’t want the memory of their brilliance and the quality of their catalogue to be sullied by a dubious comeback. That being said, the work produced by each of the band members since the break-up has been solid, and I always thought that the Pixies were more than the sum of their parts anyway. So fingers crossed. Perhaps this also gives hope to a rebirth of other 4AD bands such as Lush and the Cocteau Twins?

Forgot to mention that I had seen Har Mar Superstar work his magic again this past weekend. This time he had three go-go dancers accompany him on stage, and as gimmicky as he is, the man can sing. I don’t imagine that I’ll have any need to see him again, but if you haven’t seen Har Mar perform yet, I strongly recommend it. Ensuring you keep the tongue firmly in cheek, mind you.

I also recently witnessed the reuniting of The Scottish Girls. This was a name given to the five girls from Bonnie Ecosse by other exchangers during our university term abroad in Rouen, France three years ago. I had seen each of them at some point over the last few years (and of course I live with one of them too) but this was the first time that I had seen all of them together since early 2001. Though I couldn’t help but think that the name The Scottish Girls isn’t quite as appropriate here as it was in France. Regardless, a good night was had by all. Turns out we had additional reason to celebrate as Debbie is now engaged to boyfriend Chris and are getting married next summer. How the time flies….

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

I Think I’m Turning Japanese

The tone was set while mindlessly watching Saturday morning TV over a bowl of cereal. Rather than the usual kiddie fare, I happened across a news program on BBC2 discussing the rise in popularity of sushi in the UK. I was entranced by images of sushi chefs skilfully preparing maki and nigiri, and was bowled over by a wave of nostalgia as I fondly remembered the excellent sushi restaurants that I frequented in Toronto. The craving had set in.

Part of my Saturday ritual involves stopping into the local coffeehouse (the most excellent Bean Scene) for a latte and a read of the paper. The first article I came across profiled a cult television programme that was sweeping Japan. Later I accompanied Fiona to a gift shop, and the first thing that struck my eye was imported incense from Japan.

After returning home, while burning my newly purchased incense, it was decided that we would hit the town on Sunday for a movie and a sushi meal. The latter normally wouldn’t be such a big deal, but finding affordable sushi in Glasgow is not the easiest of tasks. Luckily for us, Fiona had discovered a restaurant called Oko in Glasgow’s Merchant City that has an all-you-can-eat-in-one-hour sushi deal on Sunday for £15. A little expensive, but I took all the previous Japanese references of the day to be a sign that we could not say no. Or an excuse by which I could justify the expense to myself. Whatever.

Regardless, the next day we were off to the cinema, and what better flick to catch than the Japanese anime Spirited Away. I think it would be out on video back home by now, but in the UK it has just started showing on the big screen and the papers have been full of glowing reviews. I thought it was a visually beautiful film, though I felt that perhaps some of the story was lost in translation. However, it was still highly enjoyable, a perfect Sunday afternoon film, and fit ever so nicely into the Japanese theme of the weekend.

As for the buffet, Oko is modelled after the modern, fast food variety of sushi restaurants in Japan where you sit around a counter by a conveyor belt and take small plates of sushi as they go by. When it is all-you-can-eat you don’t have to worry about the usual “blue plate is more expensive than green plate but less expensive than red plate” concerns, and really go for it. Maki, dumplings, teriyaki chicken – it all danced by on the conveyor and I was in what could best be described as sushi heaven. Though perhaps I should have paced myself better as I was bursting at the seams half-an-hour into my hour allotment. With about five minutes left to go, and well after the point where I had thought I could eat no more, all of a sudden a mysterious purple plate came around the bend. And what do I see on the plate but four pieces of salmon sashimi. As this was the first sign of sashimi that I had seen this night, I could not resist. Despite a few grumbled complaints, my stomach kindly made some additional room and I finished my meal off with the sweet texture and taste of sashimi and waddled home a happy man. Arigatou, Japan - you made my weekend.

Friday, September 12, 2003

“Oh, I can smile about it now/But at the time it was terrible”

Our landlord finally arranged for a contractor to come out and fix the damage caused to our flat by the pipe leak we experienced several weeks back. Imagine our surprise when we got home Monday to discover that the contractor had locked us out. The landlord has a key that we don’t have a copy of, and he has already used it to inadvertently lock us out before. This time, he had mistakenly given this extra key (along with the regular keys) to the contractor who had then used it to lock up the flat when he left. Whereas before a quick call to our letting agent resulted in us getting back into the flat within half an hour, this time we were informed that the landlord was nowhere to be found. With the landlord missing, the only other copy of this cursed extra key was in the hands of the contractor – who of course had left for the day and could not be reached. The letting agent was now on the case, but it wasn’t until hours of hanging around our neighbourhood killing time (and later on a few hours in the pub killing brain cells) that we finally got a resolution. The letting agent said that they had decided to send out for a locksmith to get us into our flat since they could not track down the landlord and could think of no other option. It then turns out that the lock in question was some heavy duty super-lock, so after ten minutes of picking and prodding the locksmith gave up and used a crowbar to pry open the door. We later found out that the landlord had actually gone on vacation without telling the letting agent. To be honest, the thought of him returning from vacation to a locksmith bill of £200 (!!!) and several angry phone messages from the letting agent makes me happy. Call it a surcharge for being a bloody moron. But needless to say, all these shenanigans were not the best way to start a week.

What happens when you combine some of the best aspects of Thai cuisine with the freshness of seafood? You get a delicious meal of Thai Green Curry Mussels, which I enjoyed recently at the always-excellent Mussel Inn found in Glasgow’s city centre. This restaurant is owned and operated by a consortium of shellfish farmers from the west coast of Scotland, resulting in some of the most affordable and fresh seafood I’ve ever had.

Saw a clever spy flick the other day called Cypher. While you can see some of the twists coming, it is the mood set by the cinematography and the incredible acting of star Jeremy Northam that really makes it stand out. I also had a private thrill when at one point, as the camera panned out in a scene supposedly set in Washington, saw what was clearly downtown Toronto.

The cooler nights of autumn are now upon us, so a quick profile of the album that I think best captured the mood of the summer of 2003 seems apt. This would be the brilliant debut from The Thrills titled “So Much For The City”. The Thrills are an Irish band who relocated to California in order to inspire their songwriting, and the result is a wonderful mix of sunny melodies and wistful harmonies that recall images of pints on patios, weekends at the cottage, and road trips where both the windows and the motorway are wide open. But the themes and lyrics have just enough of an edge to ensure the album is more than just a sugary treat. Strongly recommended…and if you have a chance to see them live, don’t miss the opportunity. They were brilliant at T in the Park, and I can’t wait to see them again in October when they play Glasgow.

Speaking of The Thrills, they were nominated for this year’s prestigious Mercury Music Prize which honours the best British album of the past year. Also nominated were Coldplay, Athlete, Radiohead and The Darkness. In the end though, all of them lost out to rapper Dizzee Rascal. I though that was a piss-poor decision, but then again historically speaking the Mercury Prize gets the nominations spot-on but blow it with the winner. I mean, Roni Size over Radiohead's OK Computer in 1997?

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

High Spirits, Sore Legs

An exhilarating mix of mental euphoria and physical pain was my reward as I finished the 2003 Great Scottish Run half-marathon. I must reluctantly admit that I did not quite meet my ambitious goal of 1:40, but did finish with a respectable time of 01:51:28. Of the 6000 who ran the half-marathon, I finished a decent 2294.

Sunday morning was an absolutely gorgeous sunny day, which perhaps were not the best conditions for a long-distance run as the sun had the lot of us sweating within minutes of starting. The course was equally as gorgeous as we ran through the streets of Glasgow’s city centre (where traffic was banned for the morning), through George Square, past historic buildings, and through the fields and forests of several public parks. A nice touch was the lone bagpiper who was stationed at every second mile marker, belting out Scotland the Brave and the like.

I think I knew going in that I hadn’t properly trained for this challenge. A typical run for me is about 7-8 miles, so needless to say shortly before the 9-mile mark the energy reserves began to wane rather dramatically. I had been keeping a steady pace of 8 minutes per mile, but that pace promptly disappeared as my legs starting turning into the texture of jelly. I watched the runners who I had coyly passed a few miles back smugly return the favour. I couldn’t even calculate what my next time benchmark should have been as my brain had decided to shut down all logic thought processes and focus on more pressing actions - namely that of getting one foot after another. After the 11-mile mark I felt I had been running so long that surely I had not noticed the 12-mile marker pass by and that I was making for the finish. When the big, neon green 12-mile marker promptly appeared in my vision, I thought I was going to cry.

On a typical run, I turn on the sprint jets to finish off strong and this had been my plan for a grand finish here as well, ensuring that I would make up any lost time. However, that was not to be since: (a) I was too busy concentrating on not passing out and (b) let’s face it, there were no jets to turn on.

Apparently Fiona had procured a prime spectator spot right near the end where she was cheering me on. I couldn’t tell you though – everything was a blur save for the most beautiful thing in the world at that moment: a sign with the word “FINISH”. I think Fiona put it best when she said “I was going to take a picture of you as you crossed the finish line, but you looked sick and white as a ghost and I didn’t think you’d have wanted that picture”. Too right.

But what an experience! Afterwards, while feeling my life’s essence seeping back into me while sprawled on the grass, I decided I actually felt pretty damn good and vowed I’ll be better prepared for the next one.

By the way, Robbie finished only a few minutes behind me, and he had trained even less due to his recent move to Edinburgh. Much respect.

And Mike – you weren't kidding about post-race stair climbing.

Friday, September 05, 2003

An Ode To My Docs

Thy leather so nice, thy cushioning so sweet
The durable boots which cradled my feet
But holes did appear, and padding did die
So my dear Doc Martens, I must tell you goodbye

Fare thee well, you have served me admirably these past few years. Though I must say, your replacements are quite nice. I think I may now be a convert to Clarks Originals. It’s like walking on cotton and bubble wrap, draped in clouds.

Speaking of footwear, perhaps I should also have sprung for some new and improved running shoes. This thought came to me after seeing the map for the half-marathon that I’m running this weekend, which can be seen here. 13 miles sounds reasonable until you see how much territory it represents. Have mercy on my soul.

By the way, for those who live in or have visited Glasgow, you may well recognise some of the streets and areas the route covers. Turns out it goes straight through Pollok Park (down the street from my flat and home of several heilan coos) and then down the main street through my neighbourhood. Though humorously the map has spelled “Pollok” as “Pollock” for both Pollok Park and Pollokshaws Road on the map. This was, after all, designed and published by the City of Glasgow. Och - heads will roll, so they will!

Guilty pleasure of the month: The Darkness. Unabashed big-hair, cock-rock 80’s metal revivalists, led by a signer who sounds like a cross between the guy from Spinal Tap and Freddie Mercury. The music contains the right mix of tribute and irony that ensures the music is fun and accessible rather than lame and cliched. The band also doesn’t take themselves too seriously and put on a hell of a live spectacle. Result? The Darkness is now the biggest band in the UK with a #1 CD. Look out Canada – they’re coming for you… Check out the tracks “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”, “Friday Night” and the appropriately named “Growing On You".