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Friday, 30 December 2011

Pop goes 2011....

At this time of year thoughts inevitably turn in two directions - on one hand reminiscing about the highs and lows of the twelve months just gone, and on the other setting out our hopes, dreams, expectations and targets for the year ahead. Whilst there are countless personal goals that I'd like to see come to fruition in 2012, one of the most important, and, hopefully, achievable, will be to GET CREATIVE! Primarily I plan to do this through writing, be it in the form of blog postings, short stories, poems or even tweets, but I also aim to put more effort into enjoying the pleasures of making music, in particular dusting off my piano far more regularly and attempting to push myself a bit further than the same Grade 5 pieces circa 1999, which is my groundhog day as far as tinkling the ivories is concerned.

As 2011 hasn't been the most prolific of years in terms of my own output, I decided to take the time-honoured approach that fills many a column inch and tv retrospective at this time of year. So here, in no particular order, are some of my audio-visual highlights of the year that was....

POP GOES 2011 - Ten of my favourite songs of the year

1. Coldplay - Paradise

You can knock Coldplay all you like, but it's hard to deny that in spite of somewhat lacklustre lyrics the dramatic production and anthemic chorus of this song are addictive. Although Chris Martin has been the subject of much criticism over the years, the continued popularity of the band speaks for itself, and much kudos should be given to the band for their recently revealed long term support of the excellent Kids Company.

2. Ed Sheeran - Lego House

The debut album from flame haired singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has proven himself to be a most versatile talent; with everything from ballads to rap tackled with panache. Lego House is in itself a sweet love story, but it was the memorable video  starring fellow ginger legend Rupert Grint as an obsessive Sheeran fan that really made this song for me.

3. Kasabian - Re-Wired

A great stampede of a singalong track from the ever reliable Kasabian.

4. Birdy - People Help The People

I always loved the original version by Cherry Ghost, and Birdy's cover more than does it justice with haunting vocals lending a different, but equally mesmerising feel to the song. Birdy's debut album has been criticised for consisting entirely of (admittedly well chosen) cover versions, but the undeniably talented fifteen year old is apparently working on her own material - definitely one to watch in the future.

5. Adele - Turning Tables

An unoriginal choice I know, but Adele's 21 is a truly great album, albeit not the best thing to listen to when going through any kind of relationship crisis or indeed feeling a bit sorry for yourself. Heartfelt lyrics, soaring melodies and big, bold vocals make this an album which I return to time and time again, with Turning Tables being just one of the many great tracks worthy of instant 'classic' status

6. Foster The People - Call It What You Want

American indie-rock band Foster The People released their debut album 'Torches' during 2011 and several of the tracks have already been picked up for use in tv adverts, trailers and even on the soundtrack to perennial video-game favourite FIFA 12. The album is full of joyously upbeat, rhythmic tracks melding modern electronic sounds with rock and pop flavours, and this, the most recent single release, is one of those pieces to which its impossible to resist dancing.

7. The Wanted - Glad You Came

An unashamedly cheesy choice here. The Wanted are far from the greatest of boy bands - they're certainly not The Beatles, Take That or even JLS. With the almost nursery rhyme like simplicity of the melody and naff lyrics (Hand you another drink, drink it if you can?) this is certainly not a classic, but boy is it catchy. For some reason this song ear-wormed its way into my head to such an extent that I can recite it by heart - much to the chagrin of my colleagues when I spontaneously perform it in the office.....

8. Lana Del Rey - Video Games

The retro stylings and husky voice of Lana Del Rey mark her out as something a bit different to the multitude of other female soloists who have achieved success in 2011. There has some criticism of her  'authenticity' , (Del Rey being the trailer trash stage persona of Lizzy Grant, in 'real life' the daughter of a millionaire) but I found her live performance on Jools Holland's 'Later' mesmerising and look forward to hearing her debut album, due for release in January.

9. Lady Gaga - Born This Way

Hard to believe that this song was only released in the past twelve months, such is its 'instant classic' nature. A brilliant crafted pop song (albeit one that pays a heavy homage to 1980s Madonna) with a clear, loud and proud message that celebrates difference. Love her or hate her, you can't deny that Lady Gaga does a great job when it comes to empowering lyrics, catchy choruses and general barmy brilliance.

10. Christina Perri - A Thousand Years

This features on the soundtrack of the latest Twilight movie, but forgive it for that as it's a beautiful song. Her tattoos and individual style make Perri refreshingly different, but her songs, wrought with emotion and angst, will be sure to strike a chord with a massive audience beyond the inevitable teenage vampire lovers.

SQUARE EYE HIGHLIGHTS - My top 5 tv shows of 2011

Again in no particular order.....

1. Fresh Meat (Channel 4)

Fresh Meat was a real joy from start to finish; a comedy drama that perfectly captured the characters and experiences of university. From the writing team that previously brought us Peep Show, the programme was frequently hilarious but also succeeded in making the audience really care for the characters, tackling serious topics including politics and grief in a way that blended effortlessly with the humour. Really looking forward to the second series due to hit screen in Autumn 2012.

2. Misfits (Channel 4)

As the third series hit screens I was concerned as to how this ensemble led show would cope with the absence of the cocky Nathan, portrayed in series 1 and 2 by the brilliant Robert Sheehan. Fortunately his replacement Rudy (played by Joseph Gilgun of 'This is England' fame - of which more below) stepped perfectly into his shoes as the comic, carnally obsessed member of the community service superhero crowd, and this series was just as entertaining as its predecessors, with a flawlessly executed blend of comedy varying from the irresistibly scatalogical to pitch black dark; blood and guts horror and superhero antics worthy of the finest comic book.

3. This Is England '88 (Channel 4)

The follow up to the harrowing This Is England '86 was never likely to be a barrel of laughs from start to finish, and true to form it tackled some very dark subjects. Shane Meadows's writing is as strong as ever, and the performances of the whole cast (with particular praise to Vicky McLure and Joseph Gilgun as Lol and Woody) will surely be showered with awards in the same vein as the preceding series.

4. The Walking Dead (FX / Channel 4)

Sure the plot is sometimes ludicrous and Andrew Lincoln's american accent still a bit disturbing, but series 2 of The Walking Dead shaped up to be just as much fun as the first. Post-apocalyptic drama with lashings of gore - what more could anyone want? (See also True Blood - Sexy vampire / supernatural drama with lashings of gore.....FX is definitely home to the best US shows)

5. Frozen Planet (BBC1)

The penguin rock thief. Polar bear babies. Sir David Attenborough.
Nothing more required to be said - instant classic.

Keen to hear any readers thoughts on anything that I may have missed from this list - and here's to hoping that in 2012 I manage to drag myself away from the TV / radio long enough to post blogs / creative writing stuff at least weekly!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A couple of poems

I've not been writing much in the way of short stories recently -whether this is due to a lack of time, the absence of inspiration or sheer laziness isn't quite clear.... Probably a combination of all of the above.

I have however written a number of poems for writing group tasks - here's a couple which were inspired by the topics 'Before and After' and 'Invisible'.


The sun shone down
In an illusion of summer
A cool coastal breeze caressing bare arms
Palm to palm, fingers fused
No words.

Silent communication
From smile to smile
Knowledge shared, perfect understanding
This is it, you, me, us
Airplane trails in the sky
The distant sound of children’s laughter
A discordant ice cream symphony
Other lives, other worlds
Spinning round
But I am here with you
In this time, in this place
Cocooned in the safety of impenetrable belonging
In your certain presence

In your certain love
Nothing can touch me
As a handful of ash
Thrown to the wind
Questioning all I held true
Alone in thoughts I stumble through
Where did it go
That faith once held
The certainty of the seasons
Rebirth, light, life; consumed
by endless winter
Separate souls spiral
In opposite directions
No longer recognising myself
Through the fractured mirror
Mapped with cracks
The sun still shines down
An illusion of summer
The cruel April breeze stings as I see
Palm to palm, fingers fused
You and her


Futures mapped only upward
Or treading a steadfast linear path
Through a blinkered lens they do not see
The cracks in the pavement beneath

Or comprehend how easy it is to fall
To a place where neither routine nor ritual holds
The alarm clock without dominion
The night without comfort

Unseen, unrecognised
Hers is an inconsequential existence
Not observed, never documented
Days pass without words

On the town hall steps symmetrical smiles
Embrace the beginning of a journey
Wellwishers wave them off
To that uncertain destination

Unnoticed she glides between
Picks the confetti off the floor
Each scrap, each token placed
Into the crumpled carrier bag that swings from her arm
Next to yesterday’s news.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Her Revolution

This week's Leeds Savages writing group task was to write something based around the topic 'Revolution'. This resulted in a wide variety of contributions from members covering everything from aeroplanes to plate spinning via spooky mirrors and slavery - certainly a broad spectrum of interpretations of the the subject!
This is my poetic contribution....


Her revolution began quietly
Small changes to the daily routine
Skimmed milk instead of cream
One sugar instead of two
Tiny acts of defiance, subtle
But he knew, oh yes he knew
The look on his face when he sipped his brew
The accusative tut as it swilled round the sink
Brow furrowed at the effort of making his own drink
He knew, oh yes he knew.

That accidental red sock
Those white shirts now pink
Oh what would the lads think?
After a hard day’s dallying he gratefully fell
Between fresh cotton sheets
For a night of pure hell
What caused the itching he never could tell
Bundling bedding into the alien washing machine
Bemoaning the effort to get the stuff clean
He knew, oh yes he knew.

Head pounding he awoke to
The thing he liked most
The smell of her best Sunday roast
From bed to table stumbled down where
He found no place was set
One fewer plate, one fewer chair
She did not need to look at him to picture
The frown as he reluctantly spread
Cheap jam on three day old bread
She knew, oh yes she knew.

She hadn’t needed to say a single word
But was sure that her job was done
After years as his slave she could finally see
A man in her thirty year old son
He knew, oh yes he knew
Had always known but
Not wished to believe true
The lesson she’d finally imparted by stealth
If a job’s worth doing, then do it yourself.
He knew, oh yes he knew.

Cocktails and Dreams

A short story written for a Leeds Savages writing group task....


The right honourable Michael Faraday, Member of Parliament for Winfordshire South, examined the room service menu enthusiastically. Although hungry he turned straight to the drinks page, desperate for something strong to relax him after a long day of false smiles and forced platitudes at an extremely dull regional trade conference. The names of some of the beverages made him raise his conservative brow - he could just imagine the gossip if he were to try and claim a Slippery Nipple on expenses. Singapore Sling, Sex on the Beach, Dark and Stormy - the exotic names on the page before him seemed somewhat out of place in the bland, soulless service station hotel, and eventually he decided to pass over the cocktails in favour of a dependable Best Bitter.

Order placed he opened the window slightly in an attempt to get some fresh air into the stuffy box of a room, then kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the bed, flicking on the television in pursuit of some entertainment to accompany the pie and a pint that would soon be making their way to his room. Flicking through the channels Michael was disappointed to find the schedule dominated by identikit light entertainment shows showcasing the dubious talents of supposed celebrities ranging from women who had apparently attained fame purely by bedding some spotty faced football player to failed politicians who were now prostituting themselves on the 21st century equivalent of Its a Knockout in a desperate effort to pay the bills. “There but for the grace of God go I” he muttered under his breath as he watched a former Home Secretary tumble head first into a vat of slime as a braying crowd pointed and laughed. With a knock on the door signalling the arrival of his order Michael turned the television off again; he’d rather eat in silence than have his enjoyment of dinner sullied by that audio-visual claptrap. Not that dinner turned out to be particularly enjoyable; the pie crust was soggy and the supposed steak filling undistinguishable from cat food. Even the eagerly anticipated pint was a flat, weak disappointment.

In an effort to improve the evening Michael decided to hire a film; maybe the kind of guns and profanity filled thriller that his wife would usually forbid from being shown within their house. Michael lifted the leaflet listing the current movie choices from its position on the bedside cabinet and scanned down an uninspiring list heavy on rom-coms and light on action. The adult movies selection was somewhat tempting, although he did question whether Naughty Nurses 8 would live up to the high standards set by its apparently award winning seven predecessors. He was about to discard the leaflet and settle for an early night when the back page caught his eye.

“New and Exclusive to Sleepy Inns – Dreams to order. With the unique Dreamtime Headset you can enjoy the dreams of your choice. Want to be an action hero, or share an intimate experience with a top model? Now at last you can live your dreams, all thanks to Sleepy Inns and Dreamtime Incorporated.”

Intrigued, Michael read on.

“To order your Dreamtime Headset just dial 7 from the in-room telephone and it will be delivered to your room preloaded with thirty dreams to suit all tastes. Excellent value at only £29.99 for eight hours use.”

Picking up the phone, Michael figured that given how exceptionally boring the day had been so far there was nothing to lose by checking out this new innovation. As an avid reader of the Times Technology Supplement he was surprised that he’d not heard about it but given the pace at which new gadgets were flooding the market these days maybe he’d just skipped the article en route to the Style magazine, which had always guiltily been his favourite part of the paper. “A Dreamtime Headset please. And if you could please bill me separately that would be splendid, I’ve a feeling that the constituents wouldn’t be too pleased if I were to claim intimate experiences with top models on expenses, har har!”

The Dreamtime machine looked somewhat like an early Sony Walkman, consisting of some flimsy looking headphones on a narrow metal band attached to a plastic box with a small digital display and a couple of round buttons. Also attached to the box was a fabric eye mask similar to those handed out on long flights in an attempt to induce sleep in a cramped, brightly lit cattle class seat. All in all the set up looked rather clunky and dated, certainly not what one would expect from cutting edge technology these days. Along with the device Michael had been provided a thick instruction manual, but being a typical male he decided that reading this would be an unnecessary waste of time; after all, with such basic aesthetic design how difficult could it be to operate?

Michael tentatively pressed one of the buttons and the digital screen lit up with the words ‘Jet Fighter Experience’. He pressed the button again and the display changed to read ‘Great Barrier Reef Diving’. Another press and the screen flashed with ‘Adult Movie Star experience’. With a blush Michael quickly pressed the button again; much as that particular choice sounded tempting, it was possibly more than his heart could take. He decided to settle with the next option, ‘Serengeti Nights’. He’d always fancied going on safari, but Mrs Faraday’s general refusal to venture anywhere hot, dusty and lacking in a local branch of Marks and Spencer had sadly curtailed his thoughts of travel.

Eye mask and headphones on, Michael settled back on the bed and pressed the red ‘start’ button on the Dreamtime box. In an instant he felt a warm African wind caressing his face and could hear the sound of chirping birds and chattering insects dancing through his ears. He was surrounded by lush green plains and swirling clouds of abrasive sand that scratched at his cheeks. “My goodness, this is wonderful!” he exclaimed. “Why on Earth hadn’t I heard about this before? This really is quite spectacular.” He spent what felt like a good hour but could have been as little as a minute in the real world exploring the terrain, taking in the sights, sounds and even smells of a distant continent from the comfort of his Sleepy Inns memory foam mattress. The experience was so convincing that he was hungry for more, and without removing his eye mask he fumbled with the ‘next’ button on the device to see where it would take him.

The heat rushed away, replaced by an incredible sense of lightness. All around Michael could see unimaginably deep darkness shot with flecks of flaming gold, and beneath him an instantly familiar sphere of vivid blue, green, brown and white. “I’m in space;” he gasped. “I’m in space!” He spun around a few times, revelling in the sensation of complete weightlessness, but having never been enthusiastic about pursuits that involved one’s feet leaving contact with solid ground he could not help feel uneasy with this most ultimate isolation. A swift press of the button and he was relieved to feel his buttocks make contact with a comforting albeit butt-bruisingly hard wooden chair. A rancid fusion of sweat, beer and cigarette smoke invaded his nostrils and the deafening silence of the heavens was replaced with a pounding disco beat as barely inches in front of Michael’s face a slender young woman with unnaturally tanned skin gyrated in the skimpiest of knickers. Although this was a far from unpleasant experience Michael felt that this was not the best use of his Dreamtime given that he’d frequented the genuine Stringfellows only a couple of weeks previously, so he pushed the button once more, eager for a less everyday experience.

Whereas previously pressing next had instantly transported him from one fantasy scenario to the next, this time nothing appeared to have happened – the girl was still in front of him performing some feats of exceptional flexibility to a mash up of 80s tunes. Frustrated, he jabbed at the button repeatedly. “Come on;” he exclaimed, agitated, “I paid good money for this thing. I could get a private dance at the Sapphire Lounge for a tenner, so why would I spend three times that on a virtual version?” A few more jabs at the button and the whole world suddenly seemed to slow down until the girl before him was frozen still with one leg behind her head and an unconvincing expression of mock ecstasy on her face. The scene then sped up and the woman continued to grind and thrust as if possessed by demonic forces. Michael tried to prize himself from his chair but was rooted to the spot.

He pressed and held the button, hoping that it might reset the box and free him from the seedy situation. After holding it in for a few seconds everything went blank and it looked as if he had succeeded in escaping from the monotony of a virtual version of what was an artificial encounter at the best of times. Respite was however brief as with a trio of shrill beeps the box sprung to life again and Michael found himself back where his dreamtime experience had started Serengeti style. Although the warmth was familiar from his earlier visit, the whole atmosphere seemed a bit different this time; the chorus of birds and crickets seemed to have calmed, replaced by what sounded like a gentle purring. Michael spun around and found himself face to face with the source of the noise; a disturbingly real and not at all dreamlike lion bearing some extremely realistic teeth flecked with the blood and flesh of the last creature to have had the misfortune to have crossed its path.

Michael tried to remove the eye mask from his face but seemed to have lost all control of his real world self, the machine having transported him to that deepest stage of sleep where dream and reality are inextricably blurred. With his carnivorous feline opponent close enough to flood his lungs with its nauseating halitosis, Michael turned and started to run as fast as he could. He could feel the breath of his pursuer on the back of his neck when suddenly he tripped on some uneven ground. With a loud expletive he tumbled down – and then up. It felt as if he were falling but rather than moving closer towards terra firma he was being torn away, zooming at such a speed that within seconds he had burst through the atmosphere of the earth and was back in outer space. This time however the galaxy was not unnervingly silent, for the seedy stripclub soundtrack appeared to be echoing around the heavens, interspersed with the deep growls of the fearsome lion which didn’t seem to be the slightest bit bothered by its unusual surroundings. The only thing that provided a small amount of comfort was the fact that he now appeared to be wearing a bulky space suit, though quite how much protection that would provide from jaws of steel which were soaring towards him was something that he was not keen to find out.

If only he’d read the instruction manual he would have known the simple combination of buttons that would reset the device, but as Michael’s head was consumed by a whirling blur of lions, strippers and shooting stars, it felt increasingly like was he was trapped in a nightmare from which there was no hope of escape. Never again would he bemoan poor in-room entertainment; a cup of tea, a good book and an early night, that was the way forward.

It was 6am and the sun was just beginning to rise when duty manager Sharon Sands found the body of the right honourable Michael Faraday, former Member of Parliament for Winfordshire South, tangled in a duvet in a bush four storeys below the open window of room 314. Mr Faraday was naked other than for a pair of grey briefs but there was no evidence of foul play other than a few scratches across his face and torso which appeared to have been self inflicted. The coroner later concluded that Mr Faraday had not been awake when he had tragically fallen to his death, and although the distraught Mrs Faraday had no recollection of her husband having ever sleepwalked in their 34 years of marriage she was relieved that there had been no foul play. Once she had come to terms with her unexpectedly premature widowhood, Mrs Faraday realised that out of tragedy a wealth of opportunity was born. Michael had always been steady, dependable and trustworthy but he had never been the most exciting of men. Maybe now was the time to live her dreams; after all, what harm could it possibly do?

Lady Icarus

A poem written for a Leeds Savages writing task with the theme of 'artificial'


A little larger, perhaps, a little higher, perhaps
A little firmer, perhaps, a little rounder, perhaps
A little more like someone else
A little less like me
As little more than ordinary
Is the very worst thing to be

When you’re paying for perfection
There’s no point in second best
Take my money my soul my innocence
And give me a super pneumatic chest

My ma said count your blessings
But I was never blessed
With anything more than an ironing board
Two bee stings at the best

My ma said it’s how God made you
It’s how you were meant to be
Easy for you to say, I said
As an ample Double D.

Lift me shape me just remake me
A nip and a tuck so the boys will rate me
A little more like a glamour girl
A little less like me
Going under the knife to sculpt a new life
Make me the best that I can be.

My ma said don’t you dare forget
The place from which you came
Fear not, I said, I’m still the same girl
Just with better teeth and a more memorable name

Money might not buy you happiness
But it does buy real nice things.
And I know one day I’ll fly from here
With a pair of silicon wings.