Friday, February 15, 2008

Roll with it

Yesterday at canoe club I managed to roll (often called an Eskimo roll) unaided for the first time. Essentially you tip your kayak over and then use you paddle and a deft flick of the hips to right yourself again. When I first joined the canoe club I was under the false impression that this was the first thing you learnt to do and that it was reasonably easy - that's not quite the case. It was only a few weeks ago that I first attempted to roll and this was with someone moving my paddle into position and holding it while I struggled to right myself. After a couple of weeks of similar struggling I'm finally starting to get the hang of it - you've just got to make sure that you get the paddle blade above the surface of the water before using it to lever yourself up, you've also got to keep you head under until your kayak starts righting itself. This is easier said than done when you're upside down under water. Now I just need to keep practising until I can consistently do it and then try doing it without setting myself up into position first. Then there are the other types of roll to learn!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Not so smashing Pumpkins

Last night I went to see the Smashing Pumpkins at the Glasgow SECC. This tour is their second big tour since their reformation in 2005 and features Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin from the original line-up, with newbies in the form of Jeff Schroeder, Ginger Reyes and Lisa Harriton. The main member of the band though is obviously Corgan's ego, which is as big as ever. I wasn't sure what to expect from this gig, but having really enjoyed the Pumpkin's when I saw them on their farewell tour back in 2000, and what with really liking a large chunk of their music (Siamese Dreams is a fantastic album and up their as one of my favourites) I hoped for something good, with possible verges onto excellence. Obviously the one thing that could throw a spanner in the works of my expectations was the aforementioned ego of Corgan's - he was always going to be an arse, but just how much of an arse was the question.

One of the first things that was in general to the detriment of the gig was that it took place in the SECC. Now the SECC is a conference/convention centre and isn't designed for rock concerts. It has all the atmosphere of your Gran's living room on a wet Sunday afternoon, so it needs something really special to get you over that barrier and into a rock concert mindset. The set started off with the song Porcelina of the Vast Ocean (from disc 1 of Mellon Collie) and it was well done and an enjoyable opener (they'd played a blinding version at the last gig I saw), but it was going to need at least another 30-45 mins for me to get over the SECC atmosphere damping barrier (obviously a fault of the venue and not something the band are really responsible for - I'm sure the tour organisers chose the venue and not the band.) It was obvious from the get go that this was the Corgan and Chamberlin show - which is fair I suppose as they really are the band, with the new members being interchangeable/expendable pawns in Corgan's game. As it went on they played a decent selection of material from all post-Gish albums - there was some stuff from their most recent album, which I've not heard, but this was decent. With some of their most popular songs they'd decided to play around with the tune - I expect out of boredom from playing the same thing over and over again - but in general I didn't feel the changes worked, one example being for Bullet with the Butterfly Wings. In part this is because I wanted to hear the songs as I knew them, but also some of the time the new tunes just didn't fit. There were some very good versions of songs that weren't played around with and I did enjoy them, but nothing blew me away. Towards the end of the gig was when things started to get weird though and Corgan went into full on prog-rock wankery mode. We got over half an hour of pissing around that just got boring - and I'm someone who doesn't mind a bit of prog-rock wankery, but it has it's place and this wasn't it. From the Pumpkins I just wanted to hear some more of their songs, songs that I really like and would get me into rock mode, not some strange never ending rock soundscape. Then their was Corgan's bizarre address to the crowd in the encore, basically saying "I really like being in my band, but I don't give a shit about the fans although if you still want to give me money I'll take it". To be fair I found it quite funny and not that unexpected. They ended with Cherub Rock, an iconic anthem that's one of everyones favourites. However during the monologue quite a few people had started leaving and any atmosphere that had build up deflated quickly. The song was played well, but didn't really have much feeling.

So overall I was rather let down by the gig and won't be going to see the Pumpkins again if they play near me. There were bits that showed up the band that I'd wanted to see, but nowhere near enough. The one thing I can say I really enjoyed though was watching Chamberlin's drumming - the man can really work a drumkit and played excellently, occasionally mesmerising me with his arms flying around from tom to cymbal and back again and his impressive control of the hi-hat pedal.

[Update: Other people seemed to enjoy the gig more than me and you can find a couple of more favourable reviews here and here.]

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Back on top

The rightful order has been restored as yesterday saw Watford regain their place at the top of the league by beating Ipswich away 1-2. Prior to the game Ipswich had had an unbeaten home record for the season, so the results went against the form books. However our away record for this season has actually been a fair bit better than our home performances, with 10 wins away compared to just 6 at home. That said our recent performances have been somewhat inconsistent after the great start to the league, meaning that our once mighty 9 point advantage over the other Championship high-fliers has completely disappeared, and our current position is only thanks to other teams around us slipping up. It's still very tight at the top with four teams separated by only two points. It's definitely going to be a scrap until the end of the season for the two automatic promotions places.

In the world of rugby England just about managed to hold on to a win against Italy today, but did our absolute best to try and give the game away again! We just can't play for a full 80 minutes apparently! Hopefully some players will have new arseholes well and truely ripped and we'll learn how to hold on to the ball for a bit.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Funding press release

Today the STFC gave this press release on the current status of their funding crisis (see here and here for a detailed break-down of the past few months events with regards to the UK astronomy and particle physics communities respectively) following the discussion at the council meeting at the end of January. There's not really much new information in the press release and more info on the councils priorities probably won't be known until the end of February. It does seem however that current levels of funding are going to be safe until the outcome of the Wakeham review (a "fundamental review of the strength and role of UK physics") are known. The STFC chief's Keith Mason and Peter Warry still can't help but put a positive spin on the crisis though, which was annoying to start with, but becomes more and more frustrating each time you hear it.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Italian Job

So today we (aka the England football team) had our first outing under the new management of Italian coach Fabio Capello. We won 2-1. It was just a friendly against Switzerland, but it was always going to be a bit more interesting than a regular friendly because of the interest in what the new manager would do. He set out with a 4-5-1 formation with Rooney as the lone striker to start with, and called up the not-so-regulars Jenas and Bentley to start in the midfield. The first half started off at a rather dull and slow pace. There were lots of sloppy passes and neither team showed much in the way of crisp, decisive forward play. Things were fairly even and stable, but boring as fuck - things looked not much better than in the prime of the McClaren era. Why England don't play internationals at the pace of the Premiership I just don't know, but when we did decide to up the tempo in the last 10 minutes of the first half things improved drastically. We got balls into feet, got people in space and enabled the ball to be played into people in their natural attacking positions, which was how we got the first goal - a neat bit of passing into Joe Cole, who was then able to take on a defender one-on-one and slot the ball into Jenas in front of then net. Things didn't keep at such a pace for the second half, but we did show far more flare and cut out a lot of the sloppiness that had dominated the first half. Gerrard, who so often has lacked when it came to England games, did really well taking up a centre-left role and pushing forward. When the England substitutes were made things didn't fall apart, and with Crouch coming on the were some more attacking options. Overall Bentley, Cole and Rooney were most impressive (Rooney's work rate and occasional touch were as good as ever.) I've been rather positive here, but during the match I was still disappointed with the first half attitude. The goal we conceded was fairly undefendable i.e. the Swiss striker hit the ball really early and the defender (Ferdinand) and keeper had no real chance of getting to the ball, so wasn't too disappointing. But I think that the team can show a bit more cohesion and will do from playing together more under their new regime. It's been a reasonable start for the new manager, but I don't want to count my chickens just yet as things could easily have been different if we'd conceded a goal before scoring our first and our head had gone down.

Despite the brief flush of football success the less said about our second half performance in the weekend's rugby the better!


For pancake day this year I thought I'd prepare early. I made my batter the night before (from this generic recipe) as I'd heard that leaving batter to rest in the fridge for a day was good. This year my batter also had another advantage over previous year's attempts as I now have scales and a measuring jug to precisely weigh out the ingredients, rather than my normal method of mixing the various things together until it gives about the right consistency - although to be fair to myself that method has generally worked. The batter isn't the most exciting thing in itself though, it's what you do with it. This year I went for a couple of savoury pancakes to start with - amazingly my first pancake in the frying pan didn't stick, which is a major turn up for the books. These were filled with spinach, grated mature cheddar, bacon and tomato. Unsurprisingly these were rather filling, but I pressed on with some sweet pancakes. The first of these was filled with strawberry and mascarpone with a light sprinkling of sugar, the second was a classic lemon juice and sugar effort, and the final one contained banana and real maple syrup. I enjoyed all the pancakes, but in all honesty I have to say, despite my efforts to be different, the best one was the lemon and sugar one. It's nice and simple, and that really nice citrus tang and sugary combination just means pancake day in my mind.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Waxy Monkey Tree Frog

It's been a while since I've watched a David Attenborough wildlife show on the beeb (I didn't see any of Planet Earth and only caught a bit of Blue Planet - the last thing I remember watching properly watched was Life in the Freezer [I remember those evil, wickedly smiling, Leopard seals eating the lovely penguins - bastards!], which was apparently aired back in 1993!), so this evening I decided I get back into a bit of natural history by watching his new show Life in Cold Blood. As the name suggests this is all about your cold blooded beasties - the reptiles and amphibians. I enjoyed the show, which essentially follows the general BBC natural history format of showing lots of weird and wonderful animals doing their thing with Attenborough occasionally saying hello to them (all animals love Attenborough - it's programmed into their genes), watching them court each other and then copulating. There was real science content in the program, with the odd smattering of CGI animals internal organs, but I was mainly absorbing these facts without really knowing it - there was however a slightly shoehorned in bit about dinosaurs. It never tried to go into too much detail, with the main point being to show that the animals are pretty cool (excuse the pun.) I particularly liked the Waxy Monkey Tree Frog (in part for it's name, but also because it secreted it's own sun tan lotion/wax), the tortoise trying to right itself after losing a fight, the lizard that curled into a ball by biting it's own tail, and the really, really, really tiny Pygmy Chameleon. That said I wasn't as impressed by the program as I've been by, the admittedly viewed long ago, other series'. Maybe it's just that cold blooded creatures aren't as cute as birds and mammals, or there weren't any big action set pieces - watching two tree frogs fight isn't quite the same as a pride of lioness's taking down an elephant - or maybe I now need a higher level of science content from my natural history programming. But I'll see how the series pans out as Attenborough's looking pretty old now (although still spritely) and he may no be doing too many more.