Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The real G20

This BBC article pointed out something I'd yet to notice (not that it's a particularly pertinent thing to notice) - my home postcode, G20, is the same as the name of the big meeting starting in London today between the Group of 20 top economic nations. Wow! That's such an amazing coincidence isn't it! The article throws into contrast the difference between the expected topics of discussion at the G20 meeting and the real life issues that the decent folk of Maryhill (i.e. me) are having to face on a daily basis. It's a depressing and gloomy place is Maryhill, with barely a shop left open; all of us living in boarded up, piss-stinking hi-rises; spending our lives shuffling between the bookies and the pub, with only a thin drawn-out roll-up (that has to be smoked outside in the dirty, rain sodden street) as meagre comfort; tripping over the homeless and destitute as we queue for any work we can get at the job centre; giving in to the syringe as the only release from our miserable existence; lying by the side of the road covered in vomit with a smashed bottle of Buckie and your last shred of self-worth seeping into the gutter. Compare that to the lives of these leaders of nations, with their fancy suits and cars and staff of thousands. They don't know what it's like! Damn them, damn them all.

Drumming solo

Last night I went along to A-side studios for the first time since my last band attempt (that band attempt may not fail, it's just been on the back burner while I've been busy - and too lazy to get my arse in gear and sort it out). Anyway this time I went along on my own to just go into a room and bash some drums for an hour. They've essentially turned the smallest rehearsal room into just being a drum room, mainly I think due to it really being to small to get full band in to practice (we tried it a couple of times for band practices before, but you just got deafened in there), so I was in there for an hour at the small cost of £5. One of the main reasons that I went along is that I've not played my electric kit at home recently due to fear of waking up the baby that my downstairs neighbours have, but I also wanted to get behind a real kit again as it's much better to practice on. On playing about for an hour I realised that a) I'm not very good (well I'd realised this a while ago, but it struck home again), and b) I need some structure in my practices, so I can get good. This lead me to think about getting some actual lessons where hopefully I can lose any bad drumming habits I've taught myself, learn some drills to perfect the basics and pick up some new skills. I've yet to book a lesson, but am thinking I most likely will, and I chatted to the guy who offers lessons at A-side and he seemed very nice.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Altering my experience

This morning I went to a proper tailors (well more an alteration place than tailors) for the first time ever. I wanted to get a suit jacket altered to have a more fitted look, as all the suits I've bought are off the peg things, which generally look excessively oversized and wide on me. The tailors I went to (Skint Alteration Tailors Ltd) was located in an unassuming doorway that I had to look hard to find and I had to be buzzed in and walk upstairs. Looking through their front door I could see another slightly ajar door marked staff only through which I glimpsed a couple of little old ladies at sewing machines. But I imagined this was only the tip of the iceberg and if I'd ventured into that room I would have seen a sea of blue rinses, hunched over their precious Singer's, with the deafening sound of thousands of needles punching through cloth. I didn't get to see behind that door however, so that world will remain a mystery to me. Instead I went into the reception area and was greeted by a man who was seeing to another little old lady's turn ups. The room was the only reception I've ever been in that came equipped with changing rooms, although these changing rooms weren't for the shy as the doors to them would only really have covered a standing persons midriff. Obviously my main fear, but also slight hope, was that the man who saw to my tailoring needs might be of the Suit's You Sir! variety. In fact he was almost the exact opposite, in that he got straight on the job with minimal of fuss or innuendo. I didn't even get measured and subtly felt up, which I mentally prepared myself for. He just pinned my jacket gave me a receipt and I was away. Maybe one day I'll have to venture into a more authentic tailors (one that makes entire bespoke suits, rather than just doing alterations) to get the experience I expected - on the other hand getting in and out with the minimum of fuss is not bad thing (had to get a last bit innuendo in there).

What I done

Despite doing a fair few things in the last week I've been very lax in posting about them, so I'll try to rectify that by writing something now. Previously on Cosmic Zoo you saw me flying out to Los Angeles for a collaboration meeting and doing a bit of celeb spotting in Heathrow airport, but what happened next...

My first day in LA (a week last Saturday) was my only free time before the meeting started on Sunday morning, so I met up with my friends Ben and Erin who live there. They kindly offered to show me some sites for the afternoon and evening. We started with a trip to Santa Monica, which was busy with people out shopping and visiting the pier. We headed down to the pier (which has a fun fair on it), but decided to avoid the crowds and stuck to the beach end where we had a decent fish and chips [or fish and chip - singular - as it was called] (in fact some of the best fish and chips I've had in the last year or so have been bought in the US!) and a nice afternoon beer. That evening after relaxing back at my friends flat we headed to a new caf&ecute; that one of their friends had recently opened. It was called the Golden State Café and I'd recommend it if you're in the area. The burger was really good and there were a very nice selection of local beers. Later we went to another of their friend's brothers 21st birthday up in the Hollywood Hills, which was a nice and relaxing event in a really nice place. The jet lag eventually got the better of me and I had to get a lift back to the hotel. During the whole day we apparently travelled on all four main highways that cross LA.

The rest of the week was filled with the meeting schedule, but the hotel we were at was determined to try and screw with this by providing free drinks at every opportunity. Embassy Suites hotels have a policy of free drinks receptions every evening from 5.30pm to 7.30pm (supposedly limited to 6 drinks, but this rule seemed easily circumvented - not that you needed to circumvent it as the six drinks were ample). These drinks weren't meagre measures either. I assume the policy was meant to get to too drunk to move out of the hotel and keep you spending money in their bar, and in fact it seemed to work as I barely went to anywhere else.

On the final day the meeting finished at midday, so a few of us (mainly Cardiffians) decided to head to the beach for the afternoon before catching evening flights. We went via the airport, so people could check in their bags and not have to carry them to the beach, but the main thing of note was the mode of transport we took there. We were driven there in a limo, complete with mirrored ceiling, flashy lights, and free drinks. There were 10 of us in the limo, so in fact it worked out as a cheaper option to take than the normal Super Shuttle minibus service! After the airport the limo then took us on to Venice beach (we got a couple of strange looks from people as we got out). The previous weeks weather, in Arcadia at least, had been gloriously sunny, but down at the beach it was really hazy with no sight of the sun. However, we were at the beach, and we were British, so we were going to stay there, goddamnit. The main thing that Venice Beach seems to have, other than a huge stretch of golden sand, is a very long boardwalk (without the boards) lined with shops full of tat (mainly bongs and t-shirts) and street artists/vendors. This was interesting to see, but not necessarily the sort of place you'd want to spend too much time. However, it was really good to relax on the beach for an afternoon despite it getting chilly later on and the sea being to cold to swim in (well it was possible to swim and people were doing it, but I wasn't going to give it a try).

That was all for my latest US trip. At the end I was torn between wanting to come home, but also reminded of last years excellent road trip and wanting to see some more of California. I think next year, if we're back in California in the spring, we might well have another road trip. No more celebs spotted in Heathrow on the return journey.

Sorry I couldn't inject much excitement into that recap. There is a bit more I did, but that may just have to go undocumented for now.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Yesterday I arrived in LA for yet another collaboration meeting. This year, unlike the same time last year, I've arrived with my luggage, which is a major improvement. The meeting isn't being held on the Caltech campus this time round and is instead in Arcadia at an Embassy Suites hotel. I'm not sure if there's actually anything to do in Arcadia, but will have to have a brief scout about this afternoon.

On an unrelated note I had a couple of celebrity spots when I was passing through Heathrow airport yesterday morning. Firstly I saw Julian Clary at the Bureau de Change, although there was little novelty to this spot as I used to see him quite a lot when I lived in a flat opposite his in Camden. The second person was former Man Utd/Denmark goalkeeping legend (and more recently BBC pundit and Strictly Come Dancing star) Peter Schmeichel. There may have been more famous people passng through, but two is a decent number to see.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Boarding in Glencoe

Yesterday I went on my first snowboarding trip in Scotland (not including the indoor slope) to a real mountain ski resort (well calling it a resort's a bit much, more like ski set-of-huts). I tagged along with a few people from the Glasgow University Surf Club, who had been planning a weekend surf trip down to Wales, but had to cancel that and instead decided to hit the slopes for the day as they still had a minibus to use. We went up to Glencoe for the day.

When we got there it was apparently a borderline decision as to whether they'd open the skilifts or not due to quite high winds. They did open up and stayed open all day despite conditions actually getting worse throughout the day. When we first got up the main chairlift to the bottom of the ski runs the weather and wind wasn't actually that bad. The was some light sleet, but it was quite bareable. The hardest thing to start off with was getting the hang of the Poma tow that takes you to the top of the beginner slope. It didn't take me as many attempts as my first ever go on a tow, but it was probably four attempts before I made it all the way up to the top (the main problem was keeping your weight over the centre of the board when the pull initially kicked in and gave you a big jolt - many people, me included, were falling off as soon as it started). I stayed on the lower slopes all day (a few other went to the top, but I didn't really feel up for it after hearing what the conditions were like up there), but they provided a good enough challenge for me to practice improving my boarding.

As it got later the rain got heavier and there were more and more parts of the slopes that were turning slushy. By the time we went down for lunch we were all soaking wet. Lunch gave us a little time to dry off and warm up, but when we went back up the rain and wind had again picked up and the bottom of the beginner slope was now more slushy mud than snow. However we persisted. I had to regain my ability to use the tow, which I'd somehow lost over lunch (this got quite frustrating and almost led me to calling it quits straight away - luckily I managed to get up the slope a bit and as soon as I was boarding again I realised that I wanted to stay on the slopes longer). Once I was able to use the tow properly again I had quite a lot of good runs down the beginner slope. The main thing I tried to get myself to do was bend my knees more - I'm generally quite upright and use my body and back foot to turn, which isn't that good and made turning quite an effort. So I took more of a crouched position, which gave me a lot more control and felt more natural. During this time I got thoroughly soaked through and the slopes became more and more slushy and cut up. Everything on me was wet and my gloves where full of water (and bits of ice) - this was fine when I was doing stuff and my body was producing heat, but it wasn't so nice when getting the chairlift down. It was very nice to change into dry clothes in the end.

Despite the weather's best attempts to make it a miserable day I actually had a great time and it was good fun to be on a real mountain slope for the first time in just under two years. I need to get out somewhere else soon.