Monday, 15 October 2012

RadiO2head (sans Bends)

Last week, I was lucky enough to get Radiohead tickets at the O2 Arena, Greenwich (thanks EBM). I have known about the band for a number of years - they've been around for as long as I've been alive - but didn't really 'get' them for a long time. I think it was first year of uni, when I started rinsing the Internet and downloading back catalogs on Limewire and BitTorrent,  that the interest really kicked off.

Like many others, before and since, I knew Radiohead for Creep, Karma Police etc., but not much else, and had a similar knee-jerk reaction to others whenever someone mentions the band; haunting, beautiful, but wrist-slittingly depressive music.

The Bends; an incredible album from first song to last
But after the realisation that you could leave your laptop on overnight and download everything a  band had ever done, I quickly became intrigued by their albums OK Computer, and particularly The Bends, which I would have to put in my top ten albums of all time. I did write top five, but after three Led Zep albums there ain't much space left!

Great songs (feels wrong to call them tunes; almost gives them a finite lifespan) such as Fake Plastic Trees, High and Dry, Planet Telex, The Bends and the divine Street Spirit (Fade Out) are now classics. But the band have moved on a lot since 1995, and I've missed out on seven other albums. Naively thinking I'd hear some of The Bends, I skipped to the O2 arena expecting a singalong!

Obviously, that's not how it works - when a band go on tour, they do so to sell records, and they played a lot of stuff from their latest album, King of Limbs, including opening the show with the superb Lotus Flower (the video for which features Tom Yorke acting out what would happen if a scarecrow got tasered - or Tom Harrod dancing).

That set the tone for the rest of the evening; incredible bass, a wild and vibrant lights show, giant TV screens hovering and floating above the band, changing instruments for each song, but above and beyond everything it amazed me how tight they were as a band. Over 20 years at the top of their game really showed. It was a brilliant night listening to some world-class musicians.

An unusually stationary Thom Yorke

Thom Yorke was a fluid entity on stage, leaping around everywhere, microphone in hand, or guitar  slung across him, if not sitting pouring heart and soul into the piano. And I must mention Jonny Greenwood, who was really attacking his guitar on every note. A truly talented musician. But he must have been shattered after the gig!

After seeing such a well put together show, I am happy to say I am now hooked, and am going to be listening to all of their albums in the next few weeks. However, next time I think I'll listen to the band's stuff BEFORE the gig!
I'll leave you now. It's almost time for the pub quiz, but first I'm going to play The Bends really loudly.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Lamb Brewery, Chiswick

I need glasses. There, I said it. Been putting it off for about two years now, which is about the time I last visited the opticians. And that was only because my sister worked at Boots and got me a free eye test!  My right eye is pretty horrific at long distance, which is really pissing off my left eye, as it has to do almost of the work for anything more than ten feet away. Cheers, right eye!
The Lamb Brewery, just off Chiswick High Road
To console myself, and break up visiting every opticians in the borough looking for that awkward first pair of glasses, I went for lunch down in Chiswick last Saturday and visited the new Lamb Brewery.

Operating off the site of the old Barley Mow on Chiswick High Road, a haunt of PJ and Duncan apparently, the Lamb opened its doors a month or so ago, and includes a microbrewery just inside the front door. A sister pub of the well-known Botanist, Kew, the Lamb brews the lagers on site (as they take 'less time than real ale' - I was told from behind the bar!) and the Botanist carries on their good work in cask.

 I have previously visited with a few work colleagues from Fuller's on a bit of a recce, and found that the pub didn't seem ready to be open, so I wanted to give it a real chance. Me and my girlfriend arrived about 1pm and the pub was quite quiet, so we quickly ordered at the bar and chose to sit outside.

There is a really nice, large outdoor seating area at the front of the pub, which is preceded by a big 'vicarage gate' that acts as the official entrance.  I liked the use of beer barrels and dark wood outside, and there is a variety of seating choices outside depending on your occasion and who you are with.

I do love a good brewpub - my hometown of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk has a couple of great ones (the long-standing Old Cannon Brewery and the new Brewshed), but I was a bit concerned to see the equipment so close to the door, which must be affecting the beer with changes in temperature.... Brewers, please tell me otherwise!

Back to the bar, and there was a nice range, including a mixture of LBA and regional brewers, and a fantastic collection of bottled beers on full display behind the bar. But I was only really interested in trying some of the brewpub's own creations. This was lager, but I thought I'd give it a chance to explain itself. The barman was very knowledgeable and suggested the Helles and the Pilsner.

I went for the Helles first, a style of beer I didn't know much about, but was filled in well by the chap behind the bar. It was a pleasant (hmmm), straw coloured beer with a nice citrus nose balanced with a good malty base. Nothing to write home about. It also lost a lot of condition mid-way through my half pint.

I then tried a Pilsner, another style I really don't know much about - I must wangle a trip to Europe with work! This was far better; a delicious, smooth, creamy vanilla-flavoured golden lager, with a hint of spice and a mellow, dry finish. Really nice beer, and a huge cut above the Helles.

Then came the food - very impressive. On the menu there were beer matches and suggestions with each dish, and I chose the Pilsner because it was suggested to go well with the blue cheese and my beefburger.
My burger was really spot on. Great double-cooked chips and a perfect, slightly-rare burger, just how they should be! My girlfriend's shepherds pie was also really good. Obviously freshly cooked, and with some lovely cheesy mash on top and accompanied by some fresh veg (the carrots looked home grown!).

There were some really nice touches in the pub, that really worked in its favour; hops and malts in glass cases inside the tables, tasters of 9 beers for £10 (which will be great once there are enough different beers!), good staff knowledge and really cute 'I'm resting' chalkboards for beers not yet on.

All in all, a young site that I shall certainly be going back to again, when they have a few more weeks and a few more brews under their belt.

But wait, I hear you cry, what was the outcome of the Opticians Predicament? Well you'll be pleased to know I am looking at something really special for my first pair of glasses - black, narrow but with thick frames... And a lime green inlay. That or some 'Deirdre Barlows'....

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Short Life of a Strange Place

It's taken me a while to get around to writing this; some may call it writer's block, but I'd say it is at least 75% laziness! Also, it's pretty shocking for someone that graduated with a degree in Journalism in the 21st Century to not be writing a blog. So I'm here to right this terrible wrong.

I think I needed a topic that really struck a cord with me to get started, and thanks to my friend Vicki I found it. I was sent a link to an article online about the police closure of a place called Vang Vieng. I guess that very few of you reading this would know what VV is, but I'd like you to hazard a guess before you continue reading. No, it's not a secret Guatamalen prison (too political for me) or an East London butchers selling rat meat (topical), it is a small town in a country on the other side of the planet that is infamous in the travelling world as the home of 'tubing'.

Vang Vieng is (was) a small community on the Nam Song river in the north of Laos - an incredibly poor, but equally incredibly beautiful country in South East Asia, sandwiched between Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The farming families that made up the community began using tractor tyre inner tubes as something for the slowly increasing number of tourists to use to float downriver and serenely gaze up at the astonishingly gorgeous karst mountains that seem to sprout vertically to the sky. A breathtaking place.

Soon, as predictably happens, thousands of tourists began finding their way to VV, and before you could say Beer Lao hostels, bars and restaurants began springing up all over the place, turning it into a tourist hotspot, punctuated by vomiting teenagers, coloured in luminous paint, stoned off their tits wandering to the next bar. It really was a magical place.

The original idea of being driven upriver in the back of a tuk-tuk, carrying a tractor's inner tube, and getting dropped off a mile out of town, so that you could float downstream, and stop off at a few makeshift bars on the shore for a Beer Lao or Mekong whiskey, had been overtaken by the attraction of Vang Vieng as a party town.

The lax attitude to laws meant that booze was free flowing, buckets (anyone who has been to Thailand nods in appreciation) were prevalent and drugs were widely available from the bars and restaurants along the dusty main road. You literally could open a menu and order a milkshake, pepperoni pizza and some opium to smoke, or some magic mushrooms for dessert. And then lay back and watch the endless re-runs of Friends episodes playing all day and all night.

I speak from experience, having visited Laos in 2008 (was it really that long ago?!) as part of a longer trip with my close friend Pedro -  whose name has been changed to protect his identity. I say experience, I mean I saw what was going on and only ever drank alcohol. Honest.

You got up in the morning, ate some brekkie and necked a beer to shake off the hangover, before paying a deposit for the tube and heading up the river. You start at one bar and essentially booze your way back to town, occasionally having a break from drinking in bars on either side of the fast-flowing river, by floating downstream, sat in the tube, with a joint or a beer in hand. Then continuing the liver-punishment by hitting the bars and wooden-shack bars until the sun comes up.

It really was great fun for a few days. One particular day we went tubing, and after a few hours partying (must only have been midnight) I, for reasons still unknown, wandered away from the party, without my beloved red Crocs, and somehow fell down a steep, nettled riverbank, along a deserted path. I was rescued at some point by three lovely Mexican backpackers, who like all Good Samaritans kindly took me back to their hut and fed me joint after joint, until I was able to stand and make my way home in the morning.

That was the end for me; after four days partying my arse off, I was spent. I wanted to see more of the real Laos and my body had reached its narcotic zenith. Pedro stayed for a few more days (and actually returned for some months a few years ago - fair play), and I retreated to the temple town of Luang Prabang, for some much needed R&R. 

But it was amazing to see, how something that was only really started less than ten years ago, with great intentions, and of people 'living the dream', turned into a messy tourist trap and was closed down by the Lao police. But fear not, somewhere else will spring up this summer. And I, for one, will be far away. Unfortunately.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


So I've been wanting to write a blog for a while - since I wrote once when travelling last year ( - but haven't had a chance till now - move to London, new job etc.

This is basically a spouting of my thoughts (Christ...) and at the moment, my thoughts are consumed by a 50/50 split of excitement and fear about the London Marathon 2012...

As an employee of Fuller's brewery down in Chiswick, I've been given an incredible opportunity to run in the marathon due to London Pride's sponsorship. And I have found out this afternoon I have got a place! I'm really going to take this seriously, as I know people who have tried to get a place in next year's marathon, but haven't got through the ballot (seems the Olympic ticket process has taken a similar approach...).

So this evening I went for my first proper run in about 6 months. I did a few jogs in the past few weeks, but nothing as dedicated - run, stitch, stop, repeat - but this time I warmed up, did sprints in-between and even warmed down! Serious.

Going to a running shop this week after work to get my 'gait' analysed, where they check which shoes are best for you. Think this is the motivation I need to get myself fit. Oh that and  4hrs 19 minutes - my colleague at work's time in '08.

The goading has begun.....