Friday 29 June 2012

First Dance Friday: The Playlist Edition

I should think every one of us has, at some stage, had to make a playlist of some kind. Whether it's bunging together a Spice Girls mix for a party, gathering a broad range of floor-fillers for a wedding or carefully picking out a representative selection of a single genre in order to get your Aunty Pat into minimal techno.

Playlists are similar to mix-tapes (you can read the helpful rules on how to do that from Nick Hornby's High Fidelity here), but differ in a few critical ways. Playlists need more songs because they're designed for a time, place and a purpose rather than simply self-expression. Basically, they need to please the listener rather than the creator.

2008 was the first year I made a festival playlist for our annual pilgrimage to mud it up in a field. It was a vintage year of playlist making. There were only two of us going (my excitable best friend and I) so I had a small, easy-to-please audience made up of myself and somebody I had known for almost 20 years - somebody I had an entire musical history with. I could pillage the Pretty Woman and Dirty Dancing soundtracks and get no eye-rolling from boys. And it was pre-90s revivalism, so it was genuinely exciting to hear U Sure Do by Strike for the first time since school. The playlist was an easy win, there were over 100 songs and almost every one seemed to attain the playlist-making holy grail of having somebody (even if it was the people two tents over) shouting "TUNE!"

The "Secret Garden Party Mix" as it has been known ever since, eventually became a victim of its own success.  It got trotted out at every party for the rest of the year, so by the time 2009 rolled around we couldn't hear On A Ragga Tip without wanting to pour bleach in our ears. I had to (yes, had to, this is serious stuff, and I am a very important person) dredge my brain and create a new playlist. This time I had to take into account the harder-to-please boys, and with none of the overplayed cheap shots I had been using. Every year since it has got harder, as we get bored of songs and I take it upon myself to tear my hair out coming up with a refreshed list of crowd-pleasers. I have also gained a rival playlister in the group, which at first was a threat, but for the last two years has felt like a blessed relief. Now I can share the burden, and pool techniques as we continue to drill for our precious and expendable natural resource - the Tune.*

Overplayed? I'm almost sick of hearing it.... almost....

Quick Tips For Festival Playlisting:
  • Contemporary pop (guilty) pleasures
  • Mine a genre or decade for classics (anyone for acid house?)
  • Tracks by artists at the festival (you can argue education if anyone moans)
  • Songs that remind you of a night out with the same group
  • Unreleased/underplayed tracks from a classic album everyone knows (the Blue Album, always)
  • Tribute songs to artists who have recently passed away (raise a glass to Whitney and Donna this year)
  • Good covers (or originals) of the songs you've already played to death
  • Original songs that have been sampled in other, more famous songs
  • If all else fails, go through the Now! back catalogue - now helpfully available on Spotify.

Have a great weekend everyone! I'll be back on Tuesday with stories to tell...

Thursday 28 June 2012

On Being A Musical Shepherd

Our apprentice at work is leaving this week (she hates it - I don't blame her) and recently I discovered she's a bit of a metal head. You know, like a metal head in 2012 - so basically she likes Avenged Sevenfold and things like that. "I just like heavy stuff that nobody else likes!" she mumbled to me. I guess it probably would feel like you were the only one listening to Avenged Sevenfold if you were 18 years old and living with your mum in Morley.

Instead of this making me feel like an OAP (as it ought to), it got me very excited about making her a mix CD. Imagine hearing New Noise by Refused for the first time again! Imagine you'd never heard hardcore or anything, all you knew was that you loved heavy music.... then somebody puts Slayer on a CD for you.

In my head, the first time she listens to this CD it is going to be life-changing.

She'll probably get as far as Gorilla Biscuits and go "what's this, it sounds like it's been recorded on a chimpanzee!" and shove it in a drawer never to be seen again. I'd like to think I could at least get her into one of these amazing bands though. 

I know I've missed out loads of things because I don't listen to hardcore that much anymore, so these are more like my personal favourites that I think will appeal to her. I don't know enough about Ringworm or Crass to put them on. I'm too old to start caring about bands like Ringworm and Crass now.

When I was 20 years old, a man called Simon who seemed impossibly old at the time (32?) made a mix tape for me. It was the first time I'd ever heard Sunny Day Real Estate, Leatherface, Texas Is The Reason, Husker Du, Jawbox. Fugazi, Sensefield, Hot Snakes, loads of others. That tape changed the music I listened to for the best part of the next decade. I have no idea if my CD will do that for the apprentice at work, and because she's leaving and never coming back I will probably never find out. 

So I'm just going to pretend that it has changed her life, irrevocably, for the better. Just like Simon's mix tape did for me.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Don't Worry, Be Downton Abbey

Why do we always get into things five years after everyone else?

To be honest I had sworn off ITV drama forever after I got made redundant. Had I gone onto greater things, I could have casually flicked over on a Sunday night and chuckled to myself "oh, ho-ho, remember when I used to work for those jokers? I'm so glad they laid me off, or I never would have invented the Kerfuffernator and be a multi-billionaire. Chumps!"

Instead, I tend to watch nearly all UK drama through a thin veneer of simmering rage. Unless it's completely engaging and bloody marvellous, and then all I can think about is how I hope I'm as cool as Maggie Smith when I'm her age, and how would I look in a top hat, and ooooh would somebody punch that Mrs O'Brien!

So thankyou Downton Abbey, for being so bloody good. We're six episodes into the first series and completely suckered.

I'm working on the simmering rage thing by the way. If  the Kerfuffernator doesn't work out I think a new job with a normal salary would do it. Maybe even a new career. Let's see what happens.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Peggy The Purple Nasty

 Last week I lost my beloved Mario the shiny red Mazda.

Now I have a new car - Peggy the Purple Nasty.


At the moment the title is derogatory, and that's cruel of me because she's basically the rescue dog of the car world. Her ditzy old lady owner drove her into things. LOTS of things. So many things that she had all of her bodywork replaced, and then her owner went and drove her into even more things. I can just imagine the awkward conversations with the other cars - "what happened to your wing, Peggy?" "Oh....I just... walked into a traffic bollard." AGAIN. They all know the truth, Peggy. You were abused.

You're safe now Peggy. I will try my best to love you, and I can genuinely parallel park on the first attempt without clipping the lamp-post. But there's something that needs to be done before you truly fit in with the cool kids... wait, let me tap into my inner Cher from Clueless.... *dons matching tartan blazer and skirt set and knee-length socks*


I'm going to go with Peggy's scrappy personality and pimp her out (X-ibit can't make it, but he says he's rooting for me). Lower her suspension (with Sam's help), paint her alloys, use stickers to cover her poorly bumps.

Soon, my Purple Nasty is going to become a Purple NAAYST-ay!

Watch this space....

Monday 25 June 2012

What To Pack For A Music Festival

The Non-Negotiables:

Tent: This is obvious. Don't buy one you can't put up. If you buy your tent in the Blacks sale, 80% of the campsite will have the same one, so pack a flag or bunting to make it easier to find at 3am. Getting into bed and cuddling up with the wrong person is not the way to make new friends.

Torch: and batteries. Or a wind-up torch if you're somebody who loses batteries (I am). Head torches are also useful for navigating portaloos at night - just for heaven's sake don't look down.

Sleeping bag: If you can sleep anywhere, this is all you will need. If you're high maintenance like me, you will also need an airbed, foot pump, extra duvet and fifty pillows woven from the flaxen hair of mermaids.

Camping chair: You'll laugh, until everyone else in your group has one and you have to sit on the ground. And then you will cry.

iPod dock/iPod/speakers/relevant batteries: You'll need tunes for when the site shuts down early on Sunday and you still want to party. Don't bring a ghetto blaster though, or your neighbours will piss in your tent while you're out. Be respectful of those around you.

Waterproofs: Essential. Even if it doesn't rain, there will be mud somewhere, and you will stand in it. Wellies, mac, waterproof trousers.

Binliners: These will function as waterproofs when all your waterproofs are muddy. They will also cover your stuff when you're queuing to get onsite in the pouring rain, keep your feet dry when your boots leak, hold all your campsite empties and give you calm-down chats when somebody spikes your drink with acid. Binliners are the answer to everything.

Wet-Wipes: A shower in a packet. Necessary.

Dry shampoo:  See above. You will plan to visit the onsite showers, but unless it's scorching hot you probably won't do it. If you do, odds are you'll get trenchfoot. Plan to go four days without washing - then if you manage it, it's a bonus.

Water: Take one of those huge fold-down camping cartons and you won't waste the festival permanently in the queue for the tap.

Loo roll/tissue handypacks: An hour after the gates open, all the toilet roll in all the toilets will simultaneously evaporate. Be prepared.

Cash: Take more than you need if there's no ATM on site. If there is, expect to be queueing for it all afternoon while all your friends (who brought more cash than they needed) are watching Mr Scruff.

Tickets: Don't be an idiot. Check if you need a car-park pass too, a lot of festivals charge for this now. You can sometimes buy in advance for cheaper, which also saves more queueing when you get there.

Suncream: Because you just never know.

The Rest:

Phone: Keep it switched off and for emergencies only. Have an agreed meeting point with friends instead and use your actual watch - just like you did before 1998. If you tweet about it, you weren't there.

Clothes:  Spare socks are always good, warm layers too. Don't pack a maxi dress unless you want a hem bedecked with manky loo paper and mud. You're not at Coachella (unless you actually are). And don't pack anything -particularly footwear- that you'd be devastated to lose or damage. As for the rest, anything goes. Be brave if there's a fancy dress theme, you may find your festival self is not like anybody you've ever met before, so go with it. Unless "it" involves wearing one of those fucking jester hats with bells on.

Booze: Always check the festival's rules and restrictions. If you're going to be naughty and take in more than your allocation then you'll need to be very MacGyver about it. It is possible to sneak in extra cans of beer... providing you sew them into your pantomime horse costume.

Hand sanitiser gel:  Also known as "sanity".

Tent mallet: Best way to make friends with your neighbours when you're pitching. Nobody else ever thinks to bring one.

Food: Nothing immediatley perishable. Your tent will smell cheesy enough already without putting ACTUAL cheese in it. Even if you're planning to eat at the facilities onsite it's worth having a few snacks in the tent for those mornings where you're not quite sure if your blood sugar levels will be sufficient to get your legs to the nearest coffee stand.

Rehydration Salts: Ideally taken in tandem with Alkaseltzer XS and a Berocca - BOOM! - fresh as a daisy. It will taste like witch's vomit, but give it 15 minutes to settle and the world will stop looking like a negative of itself.

Safety pins: Because you will always need safety pins. Hangbags can fall apart, tents can rip and monkey's tails can fall off.

Gaffer tape: Because you will  always need gaffer tape, even if it's just to stick a Hitler tache on your best mate while they're asleep.

and finally...

Glowsticks: Because you will always, ALWAYS need glowsticks.

 All pictures taken at the Secret Garden Party 2008-2011

Friday 22 June 2012

First Dance Friday: Still Loves You The Girl From Mars

If Britpop was an enormous continent filled with union jacks, corduroy trousers, red Lambrettas and Chris Evans getting a blowback (BACK I said BACK) from Tony Blair whilst Phil Daniels eats a saveloy and does that silly cockney dance, then Ash were an island off the coast of that continent filled with grunge-lovin' doe-eyed boys and girls mooning over each other to a soundtrack of three-chord punk rock radio hits. With added Star Wars.

There was an ocean between the two. It didn't seem like it at the time, but there really was.

Seriously, I remember Britpop. It was full of drugs and Bentleys and other things completely outside my teenage comprehension. I didn't even dare cut my hair as short as Justine Frischmann, let alone take up her lifestyle. At that age I still thought heroin was something secreted in smiley face stickers and left on school playing fields for unsuspecting toddlers to pick up, imbibe and consequently drop dead in order that their story could live on in public information ads and stern morning assemblies.

Ash were the first band who were a bit like us. They were roughly our age, they dressed like us, they played a modestly broad range of alternative music (yes they did - Trailer through 1977 to Nuclear Sounds are fair stylistic hops) that neatly spanned what we would be pretty much listening to anyway. It was like your older brother's mates who were in a band, and everyone fancied the lead singer a bit.

I still think Ash are an anomaly. Everybody of my age likes them, in that lovely nostalgic way you love the tatty old jumper you had your first snog in. I can't think of any other band that pushes all the same buttons for our generation. Put on this song on a night out now, and 95% of the room will dance. None of that toe-curling and arm-crossing you get when you hear Wonderwall or Charmless Man.

Did anyone actually ever smoke a Henry Winterman cigar after hearing this? I didn't. I did think about it though. Thought about cutting my hair short like Justine Frischmann too. Didn't do that either.

Ho hum.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Big Bother

Slightly uncharacteristic things I have done in the last few days:

-Listened to the new Justin Bieber album
-Finished reading Fifty Shades Of Grey
-Watched Big Brother SO religiously that if it ever did become a religion I'd be really religious and totally getting into heaven or something.

I know it seems all flimsy and rubbishy, like candy-floss for the brain. But come on - isn't it a bit old fashioned to get sniffy about pop culture? Some of this stuff really does have value. Isn't it important to know what the world around you is consuming? And if at least part of it's decent*, does it really matter where it came from, that it was mass produced or cynically marketed? Do boring girls need to bleat on about it on their blogs and pretend they're not making excuses for liking this stuff simply because they can't muster the energy to be ironic about it any more?

(I'm too old for irony now, by the way, if you hadn't noticed. It takes far too much effort. I'd rather have a nice pair of slippers)

We're all a bit guilty of being snooty about things though - regardless of whether you're being snooty about the X Factor or an Instagrammed picture of hipsters standing in a field wearing animal masks. We all judge. It's an inevitable byproduct of being bombarded with so much stuff that we develop a kind of this-is-good/ this-is-bad filtering system. It stops our brains from blowing up.

It's easier to navigate modern life if you have a little sticker by which you may recognise the things you are supposed to enjoy, and a little sticker for the things which you will probably dislike.  What colour sticker will you give the new Cheryl Cole album? The new Wes Anderson film? The latest flavour of Blur-endorsed cheese? Flatform (sic) shoes? Charlie Brooker's new column? Hilary Duff's baby weight? Knitting holidays? Navy being back in style? Jelly as art? Spencer off Made In Chelsea being the new Bachelor**? You don't need to try any of these things to know which sticker you will give them.

Because it would be tiring to go through everything and try it to see if you like it.

I tell you what, I'll do it for you.


*by decent, in the case of Fifty Shades Of Grey, I obviously mean indecent. But not as indecent as the publishers would have you think. And not as terrible as everybody who hasn't read it thinks. Although not in the least bit brilliant either.

** I KNOW you're all into this one, so don't even try to deny it.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Back To Earth With A Bump

I'm sure I remember a time when coming back from holiday was just mildly annoying. You know, like the feeling you get when you know you've got to do all the washing up after a big house party. Your bratty inner-child stomps around saying "I don't wanna!" but you know you've gotta, because you're a grown-up. So you man up and you crack on. The worse you have to face will be eye-crossing levels of boredom as you sift through the 182903 emails and try to remember how everyone in the office has their tea.

The feeling I get these days is less lethargy, and more pant-soiling fear. Like those dreams where you've done a murder and the police are about to catch you and chop off your head (just me? oh). Or as if you were only allowed to go on holiday on the proviso you shoved a load of explosives into the cupboard under the stairs, and now you're back home you're being made to open the door. It's hard to say where this comes from (hatred of job, fear of rising debt, general lilly-livered-ness?). It's even trickier to know how to be rational about it.

Last year when we came back from holiday we simply went out and bought a kitten. This year we're postponing the agony by going to Beat-Herder the weekend after next. Boy, July is going to sting. Should we buy a dog this time?

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Off To The Big Carpark In The Sky

I'd only ever had Polos before. They were sensible vehicles. They didn't rev my engine like you did Mario.

I will miss your shiny red bonnet. The way you had no frames on your windows, like a sports car. You were (I'm convinced) the only 323 in Leeds without a spoiler, and I still regret not putting one on you.

You were a good car. The minute I saw you, I knew it had to be you. It was love at first sight. A little bit sexy, a little bit dependable - what more could a girl ask for? You had a few miles on the clock, but you were cheap and you looked a bit flashy - let's face it, I've never been able to resist those sort of credentials in the past. Now your time has come. It was one MOT too far.

Ciao Mario. When I get to heaven you'll be waiting for me, motor idling.

Monday 18 June 2012

Bom Dia!

We had rain, we had wind, we had the Wayne Coyne - the Grand High Willy Wonka of indie rock - zorbing over the crowd like a hamster in a ball. There was port tasting and pasteis de nata, francesihnes (two!), so many brilliant friends old and new, finally getting Sam into the football, finally seeing the Afghan Whigs ...and MORE bloody rain. 

 And then, at last, the sun came out. We ran to the beach and roasted like two good little English lobsters.

We're still slowly beaming back down to earth, and I'm not quite to de-pret-a-Porto yet...

....but soon....soon I will be back with you.

What's the goss?

Monday 11 June 2012

Livraria Lello

The most beautiful bookshop in the world (they don't like you taking pictures much though)

Thursday 7 June 2012


I am going! I am going.

Today (after a shift at my boring job where I won't be able to concentrate on anything, and will have people doing silly things like forward rolls under the banner of health and fitness purely because I'm incapable of being anything other than utterly giddy) I'm going on hollibobs. Come 2pm I'm going to the airport and travelling to a whole new country I've never been to before, to go to a brand new festival to have some well-earned FUN.

I'm not organised enough to have proper posts while I'm away, but I'll do some pictures just so anyone reading at work can go green with envy. OK?

I'm leaving you with this to read, by the brilliant Charlotte at the Great Fitness experiment. It's about the finding the things that make you feel beautiful, the things that silence your inner critic and allow you to regain that childlike state of peace.

Because that is the way going on holiday makes me feel - like the world is bursting with new places to explore and every day is full of endless combinations of possibilities. There are no worries, and the only item on the agenda is What Shall We Do Today? Life is an adventure again. That is my favourite way to be.

Here is the band that I am most looking forward to seeing this weekend. I have loved them since I was a teenager and can't believe I'm finally going to see them play:

See you on the flipside!

Wednesday 6 June 2012

4th June 2012

Portugal tomorrow so I'm breaking into picture mode.... hope you all had a great bank holiday weekend xx

Friday 1 June 2012

First Dance Friday: One Year On

This Friday a year ago. What was I doing?

Getting up super-early to go and pick up an unexpectedly small and very expensive bunch of calla lillies from Leeds Market. Hyperventilating. Baking a ridiculous number of cookies in endless silly varieties (After Eight?) to stuff into mason jars and stress-eating far too much of the batter. Making lists of lists of lists of things then packed into endless crates and boxes to go to the venue. Making another list, of the list of lists. Losing that list in a box in a crate that then went to the venue.

Leaving all of our normal food to swelter in the sun as I rammed our tiny fridge full of homemade pecan pies, cheesecakes and brownies. Screaming when I saw our wedding cake for the first time and wondering how I ever thought I didn't want one. Watching my Mum transform above meagre blooms into two simple, beautiful posies, like a flower magician.

Saying goodbye to Sam-the-boyfriend for the last time ever. Commencing the most phenomenal set of jitters that didn't really go away until I woke up on Sunday morning. Putting my puffball veil in the shower to steam it and praying my slightly dopey boy lodger wouldn't knock it into the loo.  My best friend being there to hold my hand, cook me a delicious, sensible vegetable-based tea and make me feel less anxious about the fact that I'd spent all day picking at cookie batter and not going to the gym. Watching Dirty Dancing and not Bridesmaids (just THANK GOD we didn't watch Bridesmaids. If you've seen it, you'll know why two BFFs should not watch this film on one of their wedding nights. THANK GLORIOUS GOD).

Finalising the final final details. Trying not to be stressed. Getting stressed about trying not to get stressed. Trying REALLY hard not to be stressed about being stressed about being stressed.

Getting stressed anyway.

And then waking up on Saturday, putting my frock on and walking down the aisle to this:

And having the giddiest, greatest day ever.

Happy anniversary for Monday, Mr Husband. Here's to all the other ones to come.