Moddi Unsongs, Kodi, and Catherine Rayner

Moddi Unsongs

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Moddi, or Pål Moddi Knutsen, is a Norwegian folk musician whose latest project is an album of previously-banned covers, Unsongs.

Admittedly, few of them are familiar to me, but I recognise Kate Bush’s Army Dreamersbanned from BBC radio during the first Gulf War – and Pussy Riot’s Punk Prayer.

Moddi’s voice is endearingly awkward, reminding me of Björk or, especially during Open LetterDolores O’Riordan. I really like June Fourth 1989: From the Shattered Pieces of a Stone it Begins, Army Dreamers, and The Shaman and the Thief.

Kodi

I recently upgraded my home internet connection – previously I was only able to receive a paltry 1MB download speed – and the first thing I did was buy a device on which I could install Kodi.

Kodi® (formerly known as XBMC™) is an award-winning free and open source (GPL) software media center for playing videos, music, pictures, games, and more. https://kodi.tv/about/

I’tim-and-eric-mind-blownm really not sure how it’s legal – it’s something to do with the fact that nothing is ever downloaded to your device – but it allows you to stream essentially any TV show or Movie at any time. Mind blown.

So far, I’ve watched a bunch of shows and Movies: Harley and the Davidsons (made-for-TV bobbins), Hail, Caesar! (very good), and Westworld (OMG!! AMAZING!!!11); and I’m planning to get rid of my Sky TV dish.

Catherine Rayner

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My 3yo daughter has a copy of The Bear Who Shared. I can’t say I’m a fan of the story, but the illustrations are beautiful. It’s both written and illustrated by Rayner and I’ve since found out that she has won awards for her artwork.

She has quite a few kids books out, and if they’re anything like the one I’ve read, I’d recommend taking a look at the art, rather than the story.

Barkley Marathons, Zes Daagse Gent, and Andy Murray

Barkley Marathons

A few months ago, while listening to the Futility Closet podcast, I was introduced to the Barkley Marathons.

[This is an event] that every year draws 40 people to Tennessee’s Frozen Head State Park in an attempt to finish a 60,000-vertical-foot course in under 60 hours. Ask anyone who has tried it, and you’ll get one answer: It’s the most brutal race on earth. Only 14 hardy souls have completed the full distance since the race started in 1986, including two runners at this year’s edition in April. And every time someone does, the course is tweaked.

Each year, from the start point of a yellow gate in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee, 40 entrants attempt to complete five 20-mile* loops – two clockwise, two anti-clockwise, with the fifth being run alternatively clockwise or anti-clockwise depending on which order you start.

Aside from its incredible difficulty, what makes it more intriguing is the creator and the entry process. Each year, the entry costs the price of the postage of your application ($1.60), and to even get to the start line, you must complete a test, bring a car licence plate from your home country, and provide Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell with whichever piece of clothing his wardrobe currently demands.

If any of this piques your interest, I’d recommend the documentary currently on (UK) Netflick, The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young, which records the history of the race, and the 2012 event.

*Competitors say each loop is more like 26 miles.

Six Days of Ghent / Zes Daagse Gent

I’m just back from a trip to Belgium and, in particular, the city of Ghent.

Ghent is home to the 96-year old Six Days of Ghent, a cycle race held annually in the Kuipke velodrome over a six-day period.

Aside from being located in one of the most beautifully antiquated arenas you’re likely to visit, and being a great race to watch, it is also – it being Belgium – a beer-fuelled extravaganza.

That middle section that you see in the video is full of drunk cycling fans, cheering on their favourite rider – for this event, that was almost certainly Iljo Keisse, the young Belgian rider, who is now my new hero. Who wouldn’t fall for someone who cycled around the track on his own, playing air-guitar to the famous Belgian pop tune, Ça Plane Pour Moi?

The British pairing of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish were this year’s winners, bringing to a close the 13-year history of the pair cycling together.

Andy Murray
What is there left to say about the young Scotsman, now ranked as the number 1 tennis player in the World?

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The very fact that a Scot is the best in the World at anything is enough to make my heart sing, but when you recall that he had to live through the Dunblane Massacre, then you realise that this is a man who has seen both the very worst and best of what this World has to offer.

And this is without even mentioning that his older brother is also currently the number 1 tennis doubles player (with his partner Bruno Soares).

Here is is, talking to Sue Barker about the incident just a few years ago.

Dots & Co, Dara O’Briain’s Go 8-Bit, and 10 American Presidents

Here’s another attempt at pulling together a few things I’ve been enjoying recently.

Dots & Co – the sequel to Dots, and Two Dots – is a third instalment of the incredibly addictive mobile game. A glorified version of Connect Four, it’s beautiful, beautifully simple, and I’m already several hours deep into it.

On a similar theme, Dara O’Briain’s Go 8-Bit is a new show produced for UK TV Channel Dave.

Starting life as a rather more raucous-looking Edinburgh Fringe Festival show, regular gamers Steve McNeil and Sam Pamphilon are joined by reliable hosts Ellie Gibson and O’Briain. Throughout, audiences can watch minor celebrities play classic games such as Sensible Soccer, Street Fighter II Turbo, and Chuckie Egg.

A bit like GamesMaster for those of us who have still not grown up.

I’d initially leaped upon 10 American Presidents, thinking it was another Dan Carlin podcast (If you’re a history fan, go listen to Hardcore History) but he’s actually only the first of many guest hosts, each of whom tell us the story of their favourite US President.

Carlin does Nixon in episode 1, and tells a gripping story, as always. Mike Duncan is someone who is new to me, though, and his episode on George Washington is really interesting, especially for someone who is still reading Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography.

Saga, Sturgill Simpson, and drawing

Saga

It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a comic or a graphic novel as much as I’ve loved Brian K Vaughan’s Saga.

Saga is an epic space opera/fantasy comic book series [depicting] a husband and wife, Alana and Marko, from long-warring extraterrestrial races, fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their daughter, Hazel, who is born in the beginning of the series and who occasionally narrates the series as an unseen adult.

It’s like Star Wars written for grown-ups; it’s graphic, funny, and sometimes both; and it has great characters, such as The Will, The Stalk, The Brand and Lying Cat.

But the thing I like about it most is Fiona Staples’ artwork. It’s so good, and I’m definitely going to look at some of her other work.

Saga Volume 6 is out now.

Saga

Sturgill Simpson

I’m off to see Sturgill Simpson in Glasgow tomorrow night (review to come, perhaps). I’ve been enjoying his work since he released Meta Modern Sounds in Country Music and his more recent album, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, is just as good.

To get you in the mood, here’s a clip of him on Letterman from a couple of years back, doing one of his more straight country tunes.

Drawing

I’ve stumbled back into picking up a pencil and paper again recently – not that I’m any great artist, but I do like to try my hand at some illustrating every now and then.

This time, I’ve been asked if I’d like to contribute a pin-up for a friend’s forthcoming comic. Fraser Campbell’s Alex Automatic will be out later in the year, and hopefully I’ll have something in it. Here’s a sneak preview of what that might look like.

Alex Automatic

Pocket Operator, Europe, and #52whiteboards

For a recent birthday, I was gifted a Pocket Operator PO-12, and I’ve been annoying the family with it ever since. It’s essentially a pocket sized drum machine and, although its limited feature set would suggest that it won’t be at the centre of any EDM albums anytime soon, it’s a simple, and very effective way of creating some cool drum patterns.

There are a number of models, each of which has their own particular speciality, and can be synced together to enable the creation of multi-levelled tunes.

Great fun.

Speaking of fun, Euro 2016 has been underway for just over a week now, and I’ve enjoyed watching football again – after a break of a couple of years.

Unfortunately, however, it has been marred by a number of incidents involving fans from a number of different countries. From the (allegedly) Putin-approved skirmishes between Russian and English fans, to their Stadium battle, and then Croatia’s ludicrous in-fighting.

It’s all been rather unpleasant and a reminder that Europe is not really a fun place to be of late:

It’s in this context that the UK heads to the polls on Thursday to decide if it wants to continue being part of the European Union. Friday is sure to be an interesting day!

#52whiteboards is a colleague’s ongoing project to complete – you guessed it – 52 whiteboard drawings over the course of a year. John Lloyd is the supremely talented artist and I love seeing what he does each week.

Two Dots, Hamilton and Euro 2016

Taking a leaf from the Safe as Milk podcast (iTunes) – currently one of my few must-listen podcasts – I’ve got a few things here that have been in and around my head for the past couple of weeks.

Two Dots is a join-the-dots puzzler that I’ve been playing for a few weeks now. It’s very addictive, and while it can be very challenging at times, it seems to have its skill level pitched exactly for me. Not too difficult that I get (so) frustrated, and not so easy that I rattle through the levels.

Speaking of levels, I thought I was doing well, getting to (around) level 150, but a quick check of Wikipedia tells me that as of June 2, 2016, there are 710 levels.

If you love it, then there’s plenty to go around.

Lin Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton

Hamilton, the hip-hop musical which charts the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is an astonishing piece of work and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tour de force. If you’ve heard of it, you love it already, but if you’ve not, go read about it, and listen to the soundtrack (which is the show in its entirety). Then, if you can, get a ticket to the permanently sold-out show on Broadway. (I say sold-out, but if you fancy paying $2000 – $4000 for a ticket, Ticket Master will see you right).

Euro 2016

Euro 2016 is almost upon us. And yet again, Scotland will not be there. But fear not, there are more teams, more games and (probably) more excitement than ever before. I must admit to not watching much football over the past couple of years, but I’m looking forward to seeing the best in Europe do their thing.

Both the Guardian and the BBC will be good places to visit over the next few weeks. And if you are interested in joining my prediction league, the PIN is kzjj7t

First we feast

Wait, has it been six months since I was last here? Damn.

Oh well. Onward and upward.

On the recommendation of Mike and Adam and their Safe as Milk podcast (check it out, if you haven’t already), I took some time to watch Sean EvansHot Ones. I can take or leave Riff-Raff’s episode, to be quite honest with you, but Key & Peele’s is fun, and if you don’t enjoy Michael Rapaport swearing his way through 10 increasingly painful hot wings then you’re no friend of mine.

The Siege of Krishnapur

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I finally finished JG Farrell‘s The Siege of Krishnapur. It’s the sixth Man Booker Prize Winner, Farrell’s second, and it’s taken me an age to complete.

The second of Farrell’s Empire Trilogy tells the fictional tale of a 4-month long siege, with the Indian-born members of the British army rebelling against their colonial overlords. The story focusses on the plight of a number of expat residents, gradually being forced to live under increasingly squalid conditions.

Having  read both this and his earlier novel, Troubles, it’s clear that Farrell was an exceptional writing talent. Krishnapur is a piece of work that, in the end, I enjoyed very much.

That said, it took me a while to get into, largely because I felt quite unsympathetic towards most of the protagonists. Gradually, though, characters like the Collector, the Magistrate, Fleury and the Dunstaples seemed to become parodies of the stiff-upper-lip Brit that no-one likes, to the extent that this harrowing tale was engaging and, at times, very funny indeed.

From the outset, Farrell shows most of his characters at their pompous worst, as they look down upon woman, Indians and anyone deemed not to be part of their “superior culture”.

Harry listened to her in frank disbelief. Girls had a habit, he knew, of distressing themselves over things which did not exist. It was something to do with their wombs, so a fellow-officer had once told him. No doubt Louise was suffering from this womb-anxiety, then.

But as the book progresses, a transformation occurs and they each become more likeable, and more human. Those that survive find that their health deteriorates quite dramatically, but they become hardened battlers, relying upon each other and finding a role to play in their survival.

The Residency that is their shelter during this period reflects their physical and mental well-being, and towards the end, these previously wealthy, upper-class characters are losing teeth, eating horse or dog meat, drastically losing weight, and generally falling apart.

Her cotton dress was rent almost from the armpit to the hem and as she leaned forward to bring a saucer of water to the lips of a wounded man, the Collector glimpsed three polished ribs and the shrunken globe of her breast.

It took me a while to get going with this, and I almost want to pick it up again and re-read at least the first half. I don’t think it’s as good as Troubles, but it’s a superb read, and I’m already looking forward to Farrell’s third Booker Prize entry, the closing book of the Empire trilogy, The Singapore Grip.

It seems that some kind of radio play exists of this. If anyone finds it, let me know.

Man Booker Prize Top 5

  1. Troubles
  2. The Elected Member
  3. The Siege of Krishnapur
  4. Something to Answer For
  5. G