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26.2 miles in under 3 and a half hours. Sounds easy on paper and I will be posting regular updates, the highs and the lows. Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Running update

Well last week was kind of a washout. I only managed to run 4 out of the 6 days and it's just not good enough. Only 23 miles were clocked up and that isn't going to get me round a marathon course in under 3 hours.

This week I have done 11 miles over Monday and today. I know tomorrow will be off the agenda as my mate is coming round to drink wine and download copious amounts of music. Then me and the wife will be up and out early. 

Thursday will be a 7 miler then Friday, Saturday and Sunday will see another 20 miles covered.

That's more like it.

Review: Bronson

I still don't have a purpose in life. I want to be successful, happy, have kids, a loving marriage, yada, yada, yada.

When I was 14 I wanted to be a music journalist, and I still do, although the goalposts have changed dramatically. Still, it's an ambition of sorts. I'll take it.

Michael Peterson wanted to be famous for being a thug. A violent, indiscriminate hooligan. And, by jove, he's done it. By changing his name to Charles Bronson, growing a Victorian wrestler's moustache and being bald as a coot, he is infamous. 

Played on screen by the raw talent that is Tom Hardy, Bronson isn't so much brought to life as set in stone. His crimes and temperament are legendary anyway, so being able to visualise it, rather than imagine it is no great achievement. 

The man spent 30 years in solitary confinement. And they said the Watchmen was unfilmable. Why did the director Refn try this of all biopics? The key lies in its execution and place in the film sphere.

It is an arthouse film. Refn's use of theatre, addressing the camera, panto, cartoon and lighting all serve to make a potentially boring 90 minutes utterly engrossing.

Much has been made of the lack of answers the film gives as to why Bronson is the way he is. That is not the point. Bronson is a buffoon, a cross between a Forrest Gump and Ronnie Kray. He has no point and to create this film, Refn has demonstrated that you don't need a conclusion. Just tell the pitiful story of this contemptible, mindless idiot. But tell it well.

And Hardy and Refn combine to leave you, not asking questions, but clapping your hands at a job well done. Hardy's unflinching, bulked up performance ranks alongside Stuart: A Life Backwards and I look forward to him making continually demanding and brave choices.

It is a film I will gladly watch again. Even though I find the character of Bronson so utterly vile and wanton, I can somehow ignore that and just watch a beautifully crafted film. I will not waste one second thinking about his plight, his aims, his point, I just wait with baited breath to see what the team will produce next time.

My Barclays Bank complaint

In these times of economic difficulties, it would seem a good time to ensure that your customers are getting the service they deserve. If this applied to me, then you think I deserve to be treated like rubbish.

Let me list a catalogue of errors made by yourselves and then please let me know how you intend to make it up to me. i am feeling distinctly unloved, even though I give you over £20,000 of my money each year to mess around with. First, at the end of October last year, I was the victim of fraud. So I canceled my card and filled out forms for you to find out where the missing dough was. You never got back to me with the findings that this form was supposed to, ahem, find. Maybe it was an 'Inaction form', in which case, it did its work. My card took over a month to come through, following several phone calls, and if I may be blunt, balls ups by your Croydon North End staff. That's over a month without a debit card in the run up to Christmas. I don't have any loans and no credit cards (is that why you hate me?) so my current account is my only source of dosh.

Secondly, I ordered some statement copies so i could prove to a company that i had paid them a cheque so they would let me go on their course to better my life. One month later, no statements, but you took £5 out of my account anyway and sent me a sodding chequebook. Who is running the show there? Are you on Sir Fred type bonuses, lighting big fat cigars with my £5 bills and laughing? I could not go on the course, so you have set my personal development back 6 months.
When I called to get the £5 back the guy on the end of the line finished the lengthy call with a sales pitch for contents insurance. I nearly laughed myself silly. It's all take take take isn't it with you lot. How about showing me some love. I even foolishly tried to set up a savings account nearly a month ago and still have not heard a peep from you.

What is wrong? Have I upset you? Did I steal your marbles when we were little? Please let me know why I shouldn't go elsewhere with my moolah. Yours, stultifyingly dumbfounded, Jim Emery

Monday, 16 March 2009

Review: Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle

Stewart Lee, 41st best stand up ever! A great, original comedian who is back on our screens tonight in his own show.

Chris Moyles's literary ambitions get rightly, roasted as does Dan Brown. Radio 4 grasping popular culture and its comedy content, all a precursor to an attack on the autobiography of Asher D also hits the spot - brilliantly.

The supporting sketches, none of which will be repeated with catchphrases as nauseum, are the right length and give the show a depth and makes it even more likeable.

Can Lee do any wrong? Not in my eyes. I am a snob, like him and despair of the pit of thickness people are happy to wallow in. Being a bit clever seems to be taboo nowadays. Ask the University Challenge types who accepted their disqualification with utter dignity. 

His rambling, descriptive, deadpan style is a great antidote to the sketch cockery of Little Britain, Tate, Corden and Horne. I say deadpan, there is always a knowing smirk at the corner of his mouth and for those of us who are in on it, it's an added plus.

Will the dumbing down of society and culture desist in the wake of this show? No. But we can feel that bit more smug, and we don't care.

Rolling Stones - Cocksucker Blues

This film has been banned, ever since its conception in 1972. There is a court order, which still applies today, stating that no-one may view the film without the director being present. With that in mind, I present a review based on spurious speculation....

Presented in black and white and colour, the film follows the Glimmer Twins and the rest of the Stones (Mick Taylor era) on tour to promote the awesome Exile on Main Street album.

 Interspersed with intimate footage of Mick and co are up close and equally personal moments of the band performing. The cameras get so close to the action, even when they are playing to thousands of fans. And this less than three years after the murder and mayhem at Altamont.

But there is a reason for this blase attitude and that is the copious amounts of powder flying about. One of the reasons it's banned is because it shows the touring party, including Jagger, openly sniffing the marching powder backstage.

A lengthy passage showing Jagger in a trance performing Midnight Rambler is spellbinding, as he crawls around and stalks the stage. This is in glaring pinks and shows the band romping in its full majesty. This then cuts back to the entourage talking about and experiencing the joy of cocaine, once more.

Then the film takes a darker turn as Richards and a couple of pals go straight for the horse. It is no wonder they never wanted this shown. While he is strung out in one part of a room backstage, Ahmet Ertegan, founder of their legendary record label is just feet away. It truly is a different era.

The cast of beautiful people also includes Stevie Wonder, Andy Warhol, Biance Jagger and Tina Turner, all of them just players in the main story of the kings of their world, Mick'n'Keef. "Anything to get away from those 39 people" Mick says at one point as they are driving down a freeway. It's clear that touring was tedious business at times, even among the drugs, mayhem and nakedness.

The live bits are gloriously loose and ramshackle. Without the sheen of trained camera angles and Scorcese being coerced by Jagger into how to do his job it shows the band at their best. Wonder joining them onstage for Uptight and Satisfaction is a mess but so uplifting and Jagger and Keef combing for a raucous rendition of Happy is brilliant.

It is after this Keef vehicle that we cut to a naked groupie with her legs open, covered in cum. This opens up a whole section where groupies dominate proceedings, handing out spliffs, jacking up and being naked. This is the part of the tour you only hear in articles, but it's all there.

If you can get yourself a copy of this film and can get a sit down with the director to see it, I urge you to do so. I hear it's very, very good...

Friday, 13 March 2009

Great game for Comic Relief, set up by Peter Serafinowicz. I plumped for Aubergine Vincent. Only £2 a go. Fun for all the family. http://www.justgiving.com/peterserafinowicz

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

How To Buy music

If you are looking for inspiration on what music to buy next, I have already sung the praises of The Wire magazine if you wanted to look forward and discover music.

If you wanted to look back, though, you could do worse than checking out this website:  www.muzieklijstjes.nl/mojohowtobuy.htm . Yes it's Dutch, but as it collates information which is purely artist names and album titles, all the info is in English.

It lists the top ten albums of the best releases of a certain artist, band, label or genre as voted for by the readers of Mojo magazine. And they are usually pretty spot on.

So, if you wanted to kickstart a John Martyn or Quincy Jones collection, this is for you. I have found these lists invaluable and I hope you do too. Let me know if it helps in any way.

Monday, 9 March 2009

The marathon with no race

Today is the start of my marathon training. I haven't signed up for one yet, but that's just detail. I will be running 6 days a week and that will be a total of about 50 miles each week. I will let you know the ups and downs as I go. I started with a gentle 4.5 miler today and continue with a 6 mile run tomorrow.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Thank you so much - you're the greatest

Took in a bit of the old culture today in old London Town and visited the Photographers Gallery, just off Oxford Street.

The wife and I were making our way upstairs and a woman stood at the top, waiting for us to pass. I went up first and sort of nodded my head in a thank you type manner. Then my wife made her way past the woman and didn't make any gesture. The woman at the top of the stairs then said very loudly, "Well a thank you wouldn't be too much trouble would it?"

The goddamn bitch. I just said "Shut up, if you don't want to let people past without them giving you a fucking trophy, don't fucking bother." A smart come back. Now, I would only say this if I was in the right to do so.

The stairs were plenty wide enough for 2 people to pass each other. I had already said thanks with a nod of the head, she must have missed it. If you can't do something nice without expecting someone to bestow a knighthood on you then stay out of the being polite game. It's not for you.

I count myself as one of the most chivalrous people around and open doors for anyone who follows me. I don't drive, because I know I would still be at the same junction 9 days later, letting people out. To have my good name besmirched like this was grossly unfair.

Still, I was happy with my reply and that's the best one can hope for in a situation such as this. 

Monday, 2 March 2009

Andrew Collins

Back in 1994, the editor of Q magazine decided not to put the new and upcoming band Oasis on the cover, or even to feature them in its pages. He said he would wait until they had a top 10 hit.

Did this guy deserve to be in the top job if he wasn’t prepared to take a chance on a new band? It shows he wasn’t a risk-taker. The first person to say no would be the man himself – Andrew Collins.

In a talk he gave to my journalism degree class on Thursday evening, he was very self-effacing, humorous, nervous yet composed. From his days illustrating Puzzler magazine, to the heady heights of working on five of the big six BBC radio stations (“I won’t do Radio 3 – I don’t like classical music”) and interviewing Rourke, Winslet et al at this year’s BAFTAs, he waxed lyrical.

I would be the second person to say that his writing isn’t memorably great (he would be the first, again) but I have always liked his style of broadcasting. His partnerships with Richard Herring and Stuart Maconie have produced some very funny and engaging moments and his radio shows were always lucid and gave the listener rewards for tuning in.

It was interesting to hear how, as a freelancer, he keeps having to ferret for work, grabbing bits here and there. I’m sure it’s not as much of a struggle as many others in his position, but I expected him to be constantly in demand. His work ethic does, provide some clue to his relative financial status where work is concerned. He very rarely works evenings past 7pm and never on weekends, unless it is vital.

He responded to the various questions with long, in-depth and informative answers and had the class enthralled. He is very modest and thinks himself very fortunate to have had the life he has been blessed with. A mixture of luck, cheek, begging, hard work and valid opinions has kept him near the top of his game for 20 years.

At the end of the session, I got to thinking about risks. As editor of Q, he received a call from a 16 year old girl who demanded to write the cover feature on the Manic Street Preachers, who were about to release their first album. He refused and some ten years plus later, he spotted the girl’s name again, this time as a political writer for the Guardian.

Tania Branigan has since won awards and accolades for her reporting. What would have happened to her if Andrew had given her the dream start? His magazine’s profile could have been raised and that could give hope to a trade that is very cliquey and difficult to penetrate. Would anyone have taken that risk? I think the worlds press could be a lot healthier if people did.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

A favourite day out

If the wife is at work and I need to get out of the house, I know the best way to spend a few hours. And that's what I did today.

After an hour long run around Wimbledon Park and a quick shower, i head up to London town and make my way to the National Gallery. A few Titian's later and the hunger pangs from the run take hold.

Near Leicester Square, on the edge of Chinatown, is the Tokyo Diner. This unpretentious little eatery is perfect for the lone diner and I timed it right today and bagged a table for four. The Word magazine had plenty of room to spread out and I flicked through, at my leisure, until the Katsu Don and cold spinach in sesame sauce arrive.

The simple rice. pork and egg dish and vegetable side fills me up nicely, all washed down with endless free green tea. The bill is just £12 and they don't accept tips. the best way to 'tip' is to keep on coming back and to tell your friends.

After the scran, I had back towards Charing Cross to visit the amazing National Portrait Gallery. this is my favourite gallery and could do the guided tours. I know the place so well and always make sure I go to see the John Singer Sargent and Sir James Guthrie canvas's of important people from the Great War. They sit opposite each other and evoke incredible feelings. especially the face of a young Winston Churchill gazing through the amassed politicians straight at you. 

Other highlights on offer are Jillian Edelsteins' photographs including Blur; Julian Opie's Blur quadriptych; Andrew Tift's stunning depiction of the Kinnocks at home; Pete Postlethwaite by Christopher Thompson and the massive, ingenious acrylic image of a photograph of Sir Paul Nurse.

But the treats are endless and as I gaze into the eyes of the great and the good it truly humbles me. It is a remarkable place and a perfect way to spend an afternoon on your own in London