Good, Bad & Strange
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 An American Wedding – March 2008

Conversation at Kelly’s Bar after the wedding

“We met the rabbi several times and we knew him quite well, but the priest we didn’t really know at all.  It was only when we went to see him that we realised he was married and had a kid.”

“Isn’t that a touch unusual?”

“Well yeah. So I asked him not to mention his wife or kid during the ceremony and he didn’t, but he turned up with his wedding ring on.  Fortunately most people aren’t checking out a priest’s ring finger, so I don’t think anyone noticed.”

DJ / MC during reception

“Will you please all stay in your seats for the first course folks.”

With plenty going on at the start of the reception (see strange things below) this announcement isn’t as strange as it first seems, although I did have an image of twenty or thirty old biddies dancing around with soup bowls in their hands playing on my mind for some time afterwards.

At the end of March our friends Steph and Dave got married, so we went to New Jersey to help celebrate a typical American Wedding.

Here's the good, bad and strange. 

Good Things

Steph & Dave – Possibly the happiest couple I’ve seen at a wedding, fully in control and extremely relaxed throughout.

Spring Lake – A pleasant town on the Atlantic coast and a wonderful backdrop for the wedding.

Cocktail hour and reception – Free booze all day long and very tasty food made the reception (and the cocktail hour that preceded it) very enjoyable indeed.  

Photo montage – Dave has plenty of photo editing experience and Steph can smile, a lot. So the photo montage that was played before the reception was entertaining and stylish, as opposed to tacky and embarrassing.   

Bad Things

Waking up hungover – We flew to New Jersey on Friday evening and drank too much when we got there, so Saturday mornings’ hangover was unexpected and unwelcome, whereas the hangover on Monday (the day after the wedding) was expected and unwelcome.

Taxi back to the hotel – On the way back from Kelly’s bar, at least twelve of us were ushered into a minibus, before being driven for five minutes.  We were then relieved of cash on a per person basis.  I feel we may have been ripped off, but I wasn’t sober enough to dispute or prove it.  

Car hire – We got our hire car for very little cash, which was good, because it wasn’t worth much.  It was slow and functional but a bit crap, a bit like us the day after the wedding. 

Strange Things

Dual Ceremony – Steph is Jewish, Dave is Catholic, so they got married by a rabbi (smiling, benevolent, slightly disconcerting) and a priest (frowning, feisty and wearing a wedding ring).  Fortunately Steph and Dave’s presence shone through as several thousand years of mutual hatred simmered below the surface in a ceremony where the rabbi outdid the priest in every department, except for looking mean. 

On the squint hotel room – We stayed at a charming hotel along with the bridal party, our room was spacious, comfortable and boasted a working real fire that I was determined to light, but never got round to it.  Judging by our bedroom floor the hotel was built by someone who had never owned a spirit level.

A different style of wedding – In the US, weddings are a little different to the UK.  Steph and Dave got married at 11:30am; we then had a cocktail hour, which included a buffet, before the reception where the traditional meal was served.  The bride and groom had their first dance at the start of the reception and the speeches were also made prior to the meal being served.  There were no father of the bride or groom speeches either, the maid of honour and best man got to speak instead.  The reception finished at 5pm at which point most people went home.  Those of us that remained got changed into casual gear and went to an after party at the aforementioned Kelly’s bar. 

Invisible dogs – A new law has been passed in some of the states that forces dog owners to tether or fence in their dogs.  One way of doing this is to make your dog wear a collar that responds to signals when the dog crosses an electric fence buried underground.  The dog gets a shock and doesn’t cross the boundary.  We saw a sign in a front garden in Spring Lake telling us that their dog was confined by an invisible fence.  We wondered if the shop selling the signs was doing better business than the fence providers, after all if it’s an invisible fence, how do you check it’s there; before or after an invisible dog bites you?

Are you nuts? – On the flight over we were soberly informed that we had two passengers aboard with severe nut allergies and that we couldn’t even think about opening a bag of nuts on the flight as it could cause problems for these people.  I was disappointed I hadn’t picked up a pack of dry roasted in the terminal to threaten them with.

The Reuben – At Kelly’s bar some of us ordered food.  I went for their Reuben sandwich, the bar’s special.  It was a scary looking thing coated in cheese which probably had more calories in than all of the rest of the food and booze I consumed during the day put together.  But I ate it anyway.

Click on the picture below to see the photo album (opens in a new window) 

 London Marathon – April 2008

Shouts from Supporters at Mudchute Station – Seventeen miles along the London Marathon Course

“Come on Jim.”

“Come on Dave.  Well done, keep it going.”

“Come on Sue.”

“Come on Spiderman.”

Many of the runners had their names printed on their tops, which helped the crowd shout out personal encouragement.  Not everyone needed their name showing - with great power comes great responsibility and the thought that you probably would have been a lot more comfortable if you’d worn your shorts.

As we currently live in London, we decided to watch a local sporting event.

Here’s the good, bad and strange.

Good Things

The Runners – Over thirty thousand pounded their way through twenty six miles in various modes of dress and varying levels of comfort.  The elite men went past us at the seventeen mile mark at a quicker pace than I can sprint.

Charity – The vast majority were running for charitable causes and huge sums were raised for good causes, very definitely a good thing.

Community – The level of support almost made me feel I was living in an active, lively community that really cared for the principles of sport and portraying London in the best light.  Later on I realised it was just an excuse for a piss up and the chance to get your face on the TV, but at the time I was quite impressed.  

Support – In our area, support was undiscriminating, every runner was clapped, cheered and encouraged.  All along the route the locals came out and did their best to show that London can put on a decent sporting spectacle.

Bad Things

Pain – Seventeen miles was too much for some of the runners we saw go past.  Dehydration and misery were etched on many faces and the occasional bloodied nipple was not a pleasant sight.

Guilt – Thirty thousand ran, we didn’t.  Did I feel guilty?  For a minute or two I might have.

Tony Blackburn – BBC Radio London parked a crappy old Routemaster bus (yes they are crap – but that’s a different argument) in the park opposite Mudchute station and broadcast their anaemic drivel while the runners went past.  Apparently Tony Blackburn was on the bus, but fortunately we left before he got anywhere near a microphone.  If you live in London and listen to Radio London try switching to XFM – it’s so much better.  Mind you even Capital Radio is better than Radio London, but then that’s a bit like saying it’s better to eat dog shit than horse shit, at the end of the day they're both shit. 

Strange Things

Entertainment – Along the route as well as the BBC, several bands, DJs and other forms of entertainment were going on.  Next to Mudchute station a group that helps young people get involved in drama, sang and danced.  They were called Ten Sing and were involved in raising money for cystic fibrosis sufferers. They provided us with a lot of entertainment.  Their choice of songs was very apt for teenagers, (I Predict a Riot, So much for my Happy Ending) while not exactly inspirational for the runners who generally looked a bit confused as they went past.  Their band did a vaguely decent jam of AC/DC’s Back in Black while they were waiting for the singers to get ready and the groups dancing was, well, they’ll probably get better, let’s leave it at that.

Variety – Several Spidermen, Supermen, Fred Flinstones, rhinos, girls wearing tutus, blokes in drag and a bloke with a tree strapped to his back ran past us amongst the thousands.  It’s hard enough to run a marathon as it is, but plenty of people seem to want to make it more challenging by dressing up, which is one reason why London’s marathon is one of the strangest.

YMCA – You’ve run seventeen miles, but you recognise that tune and when the chorus comes round you can’t help but do the moves, causing a huge smile to spread across the crowd, mainly because the three blokes running with you have automatically done the same thing.   

A city fit to live in? -  Irony on marathon day.  What’s the best way to watch thirty thousand people pushing themselves to their physical limits?  In our area, it was with a beer in one hand and a bag of crisps in the other.  Next to the Radio London bus was a London Pride beer tent and they were passing out free samples at 10am in the morning, a fine example for us all to take on board.

Click on the picture below to see a few photos (opens in a new window)

 Foo Fighters at Wembley – June 6th 2008

Conversation between Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins during the Foo Fighters set

“When you think of Wembley stadium, what do you think of first?”

"Freddie Mercury.”

Somehow I think most non-Americans would probably come up with the FA Cup or 1966 and “they think it’s all over”, but there you go. 

Along with 80,000 others we made our way to the new(ish) Wembley stadium to see the Foo Fighters play on a Friday night. 

Here’s the good, bad and strange.  

Good Things

The Stage – A vast revolving stage with a walkway that must have been fifty metres long at the front, complemented the vastness of the stadium and enabled Dave Grohl to wonder around stoking up the crowd like a loon during some of the longer instrumental breaks.

The Setting – Wembley may be a dump of a London suburb that is horribly inaccessible, but the new stadium provides an excellent setting for events like this.

The Set – Marvellous throughout, starting with “The Pretender”, passing through a clever acoustic reworking of “My Hero”, extra long twisted versions of “This is a Call” and “Stacked Actors,” before a cracking finish with “All my Life”.  Done, done and on to the next one indeed, or the encore at least.  The highlight for me was a more or less solo version of “Everlong” half way down the vast walkway.  Truly wonderful stuff.

The Seats – Club Wembley is nicely set up with comfortable seats and good views, certainly not the Wembley I remember as a kid watching international football.   The price of beer was another welcome surprise, £3.50 a pint might sound a tad expensive, but it’s on par with London prices at the moment.  I’m told it costs a lot more to drink when England are playing there.

The Spectators – Yes I know they are a crowd, but I’m working on a letter S to start each point theme here.  For the most part noisy, happy and good natured, with the exception of a few tossers in the section above us (see bad things below).

Bad Things

Communication Breakdown – We had tickets that told us we should go through Entrance 4, which didn’t exist.  Several fairly helpful, but generally useless, stewards pointed us in varying directions after hastily referring to scraps of paper they had been given a few minutes before the crowds turned up.  Eventually, almost by accident, we found the right way in.

Trampled Underfoot – After the gig, we waited forty minutes to get into Wembley Park station, all the time corralled by miserable police officers on horseback.  You may be the law, but you can smile you know.  Eventually we got home, but by then, with the help of the police and Transport for London, the buzz of the evening had very definitely worn off.

What is and What Should Never Be - £50 for a gig.  Ok it was worth it, but that’s not the point, for £50 you should get a whole days entertainment, not just three bands, the first of which (Against Me) came on too early for anyone who was working that day to see.

The Rain Song – The weather stayed good for the gig, but I still got quite wet as a result of the tossers in the tier above us chucking half finished pints on top of us every now and again.  

Rock and Roll – We turned up on the wrong night. Jimmy Page and John-Paul Jones joined the band on stage the following night and played a couple of classics, the bastards.

Strange Things

In-ger-lund, In-ger-lund, In-ger-lund – Didn’t hear it once, didn’t see anyone in a footie shirt, didn’t hear any talk of footie, couldn’t even see the pitch as it was boarded over, if you didn’t know it was one of the most famous football stadiums in the world, you certainly wouldn’t have guessed it that night.

Supergrass - A fine band reduced to a support slot.  Sad rather than strange really, we saw them at the Astoria a couple of months earlier and they played a fabulous set.  At Wembley, more or less the same set faded away on the breeze as they proved they’re not really a stadium band.

Freddie Mercury – I know I mentioned this in the conversation above, but it was still strange, perhaps not as strange as the Mercury-esque sing-along that followed, with the crowd proving that any daft noise a performer can make (think a-ow-ee-a-ow) a crowd can make more loudly and a lot less tunefully.

Empty pint pot snake – During the Supergrass set an enterprising bunch of folks on the pitch decided to help recycle the plastic pint pots.  At first it looked like people had just picked on some poor bugger and decided to throw pint pots at him. It soon turned out to be a concerted effort to build the largest plastic pint pot snake ever.  By the time Supergrass had finished, at least twenty people were supporting it and several hundred pots had been stacked in a snake-like manner.

I’m forever blowing bubbles – Talking of singalongs, while I was getting rid of my first couple of pints in the cubicle based toilets in Club Wembley a tuneless git a few doors down starting warbling the West Ham song.  Not too strange really, until the end of the tune when two others joined in and we got three part cockney harmony.

Triangle Solo – Well if you’re going to employ a bloke to play the triangle you may as well give him a solo spot, for thirty seconds, at Wembley, in front of 80,000 screaming fans.  It went down very well, strangely. 

Sadly we forgot to take our camera to the gig, so there's no pictures for this one. 

 Good Bad & Strange

 Liam's Stag do – Cambridge and Newmarket - July 2008  

Conversation at Newmarket racecourse 1

Paul - "You really look like you fit in here Rory, with your brown jacket and your brown shoes and your, um, checked shirt."

Rory - "Hmm thanks." - Not sure if it was a compliment, slight tense feeling in the air.

John - "You see Rory; the thing you have to remember about Paul is that he's a twat." -  Easing the tension in an instant 

Conversation at Newmarket racecourse 2

"This place could do with some strippers." 

Conversation at Newmarket racecourse 3

"We're up here in the grandstand, just behind you."

"So is that you waving at me, or someone else."

"How the fuck would I know if anyone else was waving at you?" 

Repeated conversation at various places

"Ali, for the last fucking time - thanks for the offer, but no, I don't want a drink from your hip flask"

Conversation in a Newmarket pub showing the calibre of woman that was prepared to talk to the group

"So what do you do then?"

"I'm a technical architect."

"Oh I love art."

This GBS is stitched together from the contributions of John W, Matt, Rich and Ali, with a few of my own added in.  Pictures were kindly provided by John C.  Thanks for your efforts lads and for a great weekend for that matter. 

Having considered a variety of alternatives to celebrate my last weekend of freedom, I decided to forego Phnom Penh and Munich and settled for a day at the races at Newmarket and a couple of nights out in Cambridge. 

Here’s the good, bad and strange.

Good Things  

The Company – Every one a fine fellow. 

Rickshaw ride on Saturday night - An excellent way to spend ten lazy minutes.

The Females in Cambridge and Newmarket - Barely saw a minger all weekend, and most of them were dressed to impress. Ah, if only I was 20 years younger I’d move there tomorrow.

Newmarket Races – The home of flat racing is a splendid course with great facilities and top class racing.

Japanese Moon – The Teri Aki restaurant had fantastic food, friendly service, nice décor and sadly, the best man’s arse on show through the window when he went outside for a smoke.   

Bad Things

The Aftermath – When my hangover started on Sunday, it settled in and stayed for nearly a week, as my liver tried to recover from the kind of booze onslaught that I would've thought quite mild ten years ago.

Bad Last Pint - I was very unlucky that the last pint I drank on each night seemed to be a bad one. The 17 I had before that had all been ok, but it was that bad last pint each night that made my head hurt in the morning.

The Hotel - You literally couldn’t swing a cat in the hotel rooms. I’m just glad I got there early and had a room to myself. At one point I was changing my trousers and broke the window with my arse - nearly. Last time I let Liam book a hotel for me. He just can’t cut it.

The Price of Beer - Just because Cambridge is slightly closer to London than my house it doesn’t mean that they have to charge 3 and half quid in some places for a pint, robbing bastards.

Crap Trains – We waited for a train at Newmarket, only to find out that it had been randomly cancelled, which led directly to several pints in Newmarket, which would have been a good thing, except that I knackered my ankle leaving the pub and come midnight it hurt like fuck. I had to take Monday and Tuesday off, with my feet up. God knows how I drove back on Sunday.  

Strange Things

Sorting the Wheat from the Chavs – Newmarket racecourse had several social layers to it.  There was an area for the general public, the premier enclosure, where smart dress was required and then several smaller, but successively more exclusive areas, depending on your social standing.  

Drinks Rules at the Races – An extension of the idea above, in the premier enclosure you can buy any number or manner of drinks, but you can't take them into the grandstand or next to the course. Literally three feet away in the normal enclosure, you can rest your pint on the course railings.

Newmarket pub – With our train cancelled, we went to a pub in Newmarket where the bar staff were dressed in all sorts of interesting outfits to celebrate a member of staff leaving.  Even stranger was a woman in an orange top, who features in the conversation above.  Allegedly she was on the piss with her mate, brother, cousin, whatever. Great boobs, but as mad as a hatter and not a word of sense out of her trap.  Things could’ve got stranger still; it’s a good job we left.

“It’s Moyesee” – We were all relieved when Everton fan Rory embarrassingly threw himself at David Moyes and shook his hand. We all thought he was going to punch him and shout "That's for signing Phil Neville."

Are you Dancing? - Matt trying to lift Ali in a “Dirty Dancing” style, well past midnight in a dodgy Wetherspoons pub while that terrible “I had the time of my life” tune played in the background, was a sight I won’t forget in a hurry.

Hungry? – The hotel breakfast consisted of a selection of cereals, juices, cheese and ham rolls.  It was so good for one guest, a nice older lady, that she decided to take several of the cheese rolls with here in her carrier bag.

Trolleyed? - On Sunday morning as we sat having breakfast after a fairly long Saturday, a girl was pushed by in a shopping trolley after being out all night. We all looked at her and thought “That was how life used to be.”

Stoned? – On Friday night we had a good laugh wandering around Cambridge city centre talking to random folk, including a stonemason who showed us all the rude gargoyles on the buildings.

Loaded? – At the races, four of us had winning placepot tickets, having picked a win or a place in each of the first six races.  Each of us expected a big win and some of us were banking on it.  Ali, who hadn’t had a placepot bet, told us wisely to cherish the moment, just in case it didn’t quite work out.  We should have listened.  None of us won enough to cover our placepot stake.

Drunk? - On the Friday night John and Paul had a ”How long can we get these twats to drink before they have to eat" competition, I think they could have lasted the whole weekend if we hadn't gone to the Japanese restaurant.

Pulled? - The nearest anyone got to pulling was when the two John's managed to strike up close relationships with strangers that led to a continuous stream of text messages that kept them busy all weekend.  Unfortunately it was the car parking service.  

“Happy days,” as Ali kept telling us whenever he had the chance.

Click on the picture below to see a few pictures  (opens in a new window)

 Living & Working in London – February to September 2008

Conversation between three men on the tube, talking about a reported stabbing in the evening paper

“Fuckin’ typical.”

“Yeah. It’s every day now.  Fuckin’ terrible.”

“Yeah.  More bloody immigrants everywhere.  They’ll be to blame.”

“Bloody foreigners.”

Conversation between two female office workers on the way to the Tube

“I’ve got to save 800 a month to pay off my car loan.”

“How can you afford that new car?”

“I can’t; that’s why I have to keep doing overtime.”

Conversation on the tube late one night between two drunken teenage lads

“You should’ve seen this woman we delivered to today.”

“Was she tasty?”

“Nah.  She was one of them middle-aged women, if the doorbell rings when she’s on the phone, she’s fucked.   She just couldn’t deal with it.”

We finished travelling at the end of 2007 and after a brief stay at Rebecca’s Mums, we moved into a flat in the Docklands and went back to work in London.

Here’s a variety of good, bad and strange things about living and working in London.

Good Things

Choice – There is no doubt that London offers the greatest variety of choice in the UK, if not in Europe.  We saw some of the best concerts on offer.  The Foo Fighters were great at Wembley and the Wildhearts 15th anniversary of “Earth vs” at the Shepherds Bush Empire was equally as good.  Both events were only on in London.

Walking around – Most of central London is very easy to get around on foot and quite often it is quicker to walk somewhere then to get the tube.  Occasionally we would walk from the City back to the Docklands, travelling around five miles along riverside paths.

Free World Class Museums – Following the same theme of choice above, there are a number of excellent museums in London.  My favourites were the Tate Britain, the Imperial War Museum and the Natural History Museum, but there are hundreds of others and they are all free to get into. So as locals, we could pop in at lunchtime or after work, without having to worry about paying for each visit.

Getting away – London can be all consuming, so it was always nice to know that while we were there we could always easily get a direct train or plane to a huge number of places that were far more relaxing or at least more pleasant

Money – If you want earn big money, this is the place to be.  I earned roughly twice as much in London than I did in any of my jobs outside of the capital.

Work - In 2008 I worked with a nice bunch of people in a pleasant environment and I was almost sorry to leave and start packing for Canada. 

Public Transport – For the most part London’s public transport system is heavily criticised as too slow, too full and too expensive.  However, if you compare it to the rest of the country, it is excellent.

Room with a view – Our flat in the Docklands overlooked Mill Wall dock and the view from our living room was easily the best feature.  See the photo album below

Cosmopolitan city – There are more languages spoken in London than in any other city in the world.  The capital is very cosmopolitan as a result and much the better for it.

Skyline – London doesn’t have a high rise skyline, but there are enough decent looking buildings to make it interesting, especially around Canary Wharf and the City

Bad Things

The changing face of racism – See the first conversation above.  Initially you might think that it was three old white boys moaning about foreigners.  Not any more, this was an Indian bloke and his two black friends.

London Evening Standard – The famous London evening paper is a rather repulsive and bigoted rag that does its best to enforce the “Oh, ain’t it terrible.” attitude of its readers.

Public transport – It’s better than the rest of the country, but it is still too slow, too full and too expensive.  I got used to wedging myself onto the DLR every morning after letting two or three full trains going past.  On good days you could find a rail to hold onto and maybe have a free hand to hold your paper.  There weren’t many good days.

Prices – Wages are high in London, but the horrendous cost of living more than matches the extra income.  I got used to the price levels, but any friends visiting me from other areas of the country were constantly amazed and then disgusted by the cost. 

Pedestrians – I’ve been to lots of places with stupid pedestrians, but Londoners take things to a new level.  I had never realised how much some people wanted to get run over, especially at the junction on the top of Bank station.

Crime – Far too much of it, with record levels of teenage stabbings during the time we lived in the Docklands.  One of those took place two streets down from our flat, but then you can say that about most streets in the East End.

Customer service and British Telecom – Customer service in the UK is often poor.  The worst of the worst being British Telecom.  They messed up installation, billing and termination on our line, showing their incompetence from start to finish in their technical and customer service.  There service was so bad that they decided to send me a refund cheque after termination.  Ironically, they sent it to the wrong address.

Letting Agents - We got our expensive rented flat through an agency in the Docklands.  Before we moved out, the agency went bust, while holding our security deposit (six weeks worth of rent).  Fortunately it was covered by an insurance scheme, but it took two months longer than it should have to get the cash back. 

Smells – London has a big river, a lot of poverty, lots of cars, lots of industry around its eastern and southern reaches and eight million sweaty bodies in it.  As you can imagine it stinks in lots of places, but the underground, especially near the river, has a rottenness of smell that I never quite got used to.

Greed – The fat cat bankers don’t look quite so smug now.  But when we first moved into the area, Canary Wharf was swathed in so much obvious affluence and opulence it was difficult not to be sickened by it. 

Strange Things

London work ethic – See the second conversation above.  The London work ethic seemed to revolve around earning astronomical amounts of money only to spend it all and plenty more besides. 

Scruffy smart people – There are a lot of extremely wealthy people in London and a lot of extremely well dressed people, but the really rich are often the scruffiest.  Just look at Boris Johnson at the Olympic handover in Beijing if you don’t believe me.   

Neurosis – Stressed out, wound up, generally twisted.  Go to London, you’ll fit in perfectly.  I’ve met and worked with people like the woman described in the third conversation above.

The Mayor – Talking of Boris, since Londoners got the chance to elect a mayor they’ve only made strange choices.  Eight years of Ken Livingstone followed by Mr Johnson.  What the hell are they thinking? 

Geography – After a short time in London the rest of the UK shrinks into insignificance for many people.  I had a conversation about a job in the north west at work one day.  My colleague asked me if I meant the Watford / Harrow region.  I actually meant the Manchester / Liverpool region.  Being from the Midlands I was also often asked questions like, “Is Burnley up north then?” or “Which is closer to Manchester, Leeds or Newcastle?”   

Race for Life / Run for Moore – Rebecca had run in the women only, cancer charity “Race for Life” several times.  This year I joined in and did the Run for Moore, the charity for bowel cancer run by Bobby Moore’s widow.  The sight of so many ladies in pink and men in red on Blackheath Common on a Sunday morning was a little strange to say the least.  The sight of me running five kilometres was even stranger.

Greenwich foot tunnel – We quite often liked to walk to Greenwich from our place in the Docklands.  To get there we walked under the river Thames in the Greenwich foot tunnel, which was built at the start of the 1900’s.  Walking under the river in the old tunnel was always a strange experience. 

Less is more - Work on the Docklands Light Railway extension meant a reduced service was in operation for a few months.  This forced us to walk to the next station along to get a train.  Strangely this reduced service was actually a lot better than the full service.

Free papers – There’s a free Metro at every station when you get on the train in the morning, there’s a City AM at the station when you get off at the other end.  There’s a free London Paper as you get on the train in the evening or a London Lite if you prefer.  They’re all fairly awful, but they help to take your mind of the smell of the person’s armpit that your face is being shoved against on your commute.

Going to the pub – Every Friday lunch time for a lot of people, every day for some and every evening as well.  London’s business runs on alcohol like no other place I’ve ever worked.

   Click on the picture below to see a few photos (opens in a new window)

 Lollapalooza – August 2008 

It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Spend the last weekend before you get married, three thousand miles from home at a music festival.  We’d been to Lollapalooza in 2007 when we were travelling in the US and really enjoyed it, so we went back to find out if Perry Farrell’s creation would be as good again in 2008.

Here’s the good, bad and strange.

On Stage Snippets 1 – Radiohead

“Are you all right out there? We can’t really see that well, you seem quiet and we’re really jetlagged.” – Inspiring stuff from Thom Yorke near the end of their set.

On Stage Snippets 2– Rage Against the Machine

“Please step back five paces.  Help your brothers and sisters and just step back five paces.” – Constantly, throughout the set, sadly.

On Stage Snippets 3 – The Ting Tings

“We’ve been touring America and it’s been great.  Your tour buses are brilliant.  The ones in England all smell of wee.” – Insightful and entertaining.

On Stage Snippets 4 – De Novo Dahl

“This song is about what happens when keeping it real goes wrong.” – See the picture in the photo album to realise how real they weren’t keeping it.

On Stage Snippets 5 – Wild Sweet Orange

“We love playing for people and, that`s, what you are.  Thanks so much” – A few too many stimulants before they came on perhaps?  

Good Things

Stage placement & Scheduling – Seven stages and never more than five minutes between sets on adjacent stages means you never have those long dull moments between bands.  You know; the ones you used to have to fill with booze and drugs.  

The Setting – Grant Park is a fabulous place for any event and with no camping allowed; Lollapalooza felt a much cleaner festival than anything in the UK.

Other Good stuff, for no real reason than I liked them - Okkervil River, John Butler Trio, Foals, The Parlor Mob and The Blakes. 

Nine Inch Nails – By far the best set of the festival from Trent Reznor and his band.  Even if you hated the music the light show was incredible.  Fortunately I liked the music too. 

Gogol Bordello – If you like dancing in a stupid fashion, sweating, drinking and the idea of “gypsy punks,” then you really should go to see Gogol Bordello the next time they play near your town and wear some purple while you’re at it.

The Raconteurs – I wasn’t expecting too much, having only heard and not particularly liked “Steady as she goes,” and not being a big fan of the White Stripes.  But The Raconteurs were great, playing a really solid rock set with loud guitars and lots of sweat.  After seeing them I discovered that their second album is also excellent.  

Holy Fuck – Replacing the awful Noah and the Whale at the last minute on the main stage, first thing on Friday, Holy Fuck turned to be a fantastic surprise.  Playing improvised electronica and techno with live bass and drums give them an unusual, but exceedingly danceable feel.     

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - A good old fashioned soul revue, complete with excellent music from The Dap Kings who are a really tight soul band and entertaining singing and dancing from Tina Turn..sorry Sharon Jones. Even the sight of a fat bloke being pulled from the audience to dance with Sharon didn’t spoil the set.  Leaving before they finished to see Rage Against the Machine was a mistake though.

Ting Tings – I was expecting the first act on the main stage on Saturday to give us a few cheesy laughs that few of the Americans around us would fully appreciate.  I was wrong, they were great and lots of people really enjoyed the set.  More importantly I was pleased to have discovered what the B52’s would have sounded like if they were born twenty years later in Manchester rather than Georgia. 

Lederhosen’s Beer Garden – It looks like the organisers finally read my comments on last year’s festival and gave us an alternative to drinking the piss commonly known as Budweiser.  Lederhosen’s (see picture) wasn’t really close to being a German beer garden, but it was much better than the Bud alternative.

Blues Traveler – Any band that comes on to “America: Fuck yeah,” from “Team America: World Police” and does a version of “The Devil went down to Georgia” with a harmonica replacing the violin part, deserve to be in good things.  So that’s where Blues Traveler are.

Food – Wonderful pizza, noodles and ice cream at reasonable prices, other festivals and sporting events please take note.

Bad Things

Getting in - Where did all these people come from? Last year it took us about five minutes to stroll in on Friday morning.  This year we were waiting nearly an hour before we got through the wristband redemption queues, bag check and booze tag zone.

Innerparty system – The biggest disappointment of the festival for me. I’d heard a couple of their tunes and was suitably impressed, however after ten minutes of drivel I gave up and went to queue for a piss.

Rage Against the Machine – I like RATM and I was really looking forward to their set.  Sadly lots of other people were looking forward to it too and they were bigger, louder, drunker and more stupid than me.  It was like going back to the eighties when crowds were less controlled and pushing and shoving were common place in a rush to the front.  And this was all before the band came on.  When they did, the crowd surged forward and mayhem resulted.  We stayed around the back, but we could see people streaming back looking pained.  The set was often broken up by pleas to step back a few paces. Zack’s powerful political ranting was wasted on a bunch of tossers who just wanted to rage rather than see Rage.    

Identikit Kids – Not a band, but come to think of it, not a bad name for a band.  Getting back to the point, the uniform for young lads was bare-chested, long khaki shorts (with obligatory pants showing above the waistband) and cheap looking expensive trainers. See the picture in the photo album for a good example.     

Excessive Corporate Sponsorship – I’ve deliberately avoided naming the main sponsors of the event (except when I’m slagging off their products) as they’ve had enough exposure all ready.   

Smiley photo girlies – Another potential band name?  No probably not.  In this instance I’m referring to girls who are at the festival because their friends are, not because of any interest in music.  A smiley photo girl spends all of her time standing up on an expensive blanket with her friends, back to the stage, talking loudly.  That was fairly annoying, but the habit of taking endless pictures of herself and her mates grinning like idiots with a glimpse of a stage in the background, without ever watching or listening to the band was just too much.        

Too hot and bothered – The queue to get in was a sign, compared to 2007, there were vastly more people around, especially on Friday and at the south end of the park on Sunday. It was also way too hot on Friday and Saturday. The combination led to tempers getting frayed a lot easier than last year and may have contributed to the RATM farce, although I doubt it.

What we didn`t see – Sadly, schedule conflicts meant we missed The Black Keys, Love and Rockets and Flogging Molly. 

Budweiser – What’s the difference between piss in a plastic cup and Budweiser?  The Budweiser is served cold.

Strange Things

Bang Camaro – Ten lead singers, three guitars and a whole lot of metal.  A great, if strange, way to start the festival on Friday morning.

The Go Team – In less than an hour, The Go Team went from hip hop to pop and back again via Sonic Youth and Zulu rhythms.  Interesting, but strange.

The Favourite Song Syndrome – More prevalent in 2007, but worked this year for Duffy.  As soon as the last chords of “Mercy” died down, half of the crowd disappeared.  The same happened after The Raconteurs played “Steady as she goes”, which was great for us, because we could move a lot closer to the stage (see the pictures).      

Fake Plastic Fireworks – Radiohead play one of their better tunes and seemingly in time with the crescendos in “Fake Plastic Trees”, fireworks go off in the distance.  Is it part of the set?  No, the fireworks are down the road at the Soldier Field stadium for a pre season NFL event.  How do I know?  Exactly the same thing happened last year to enliven Pearl Jam’s set.

De Novo Dahl – On a smaller stage, early on Saturday morning, De Novo Dahl provided a distraction, dressed in matching red and yellow Victorian swimming outfits. They told us about something that is really important to them; dancing and played a cover of Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks.”  Keeping it real indeed.

Wild Sweet Orange – Along with the snippet listed at the top, we had “This song is about a house, so this is for everyone who grew up in a house,” and quite a few odd tunes from their album “We have reason to be uneasy.”  I liked them.

Devotcka – They did the soundtrack from Little Miss Sunshine.  That was a little bit strange and so were they.

Duffy – Good voice spoiled a little by the “I’m in America me, oh, what do I do now?” amateurishness of her stage presence.

Kidzapalooza rules – In the kiddie zone rules had to be strictly observed – (see picture)

The Cooling Bus – Getting too hot and can`t find any shade.  No problem, hop on one of the two “Cooling buses” and get the full benefit of air conditioning. 

Very Superstitious – There were plenty of kid friendly performances on the Kidzapalooza stage but we weren’t allowed to get too close, as we had no children with us.  However, we did manage to hear Perry Farrell performing a strange cover version of “Superstition.”

Explosions in the Sky – The instrumental guitar group sound great, even though they’ve only got one song and they played it on a loop for their entire hour long set.  

Gnarls Barkley – I wasn’t sure to expect from Gnarls Barkley and although we watched most of their set I’m still not sure what I got out of it other than reverse proof of the favourite song syndrome when thousands of people appeared within twenty seconds of the start of “Crazy.” 

Perry’s – New in 2008, Perry’s was a sort of dance tent, with room for a hundred or so people.  Most of the time at least a thousand seemed to want to get in.  I think Perry’s will be a much bigger part of next year’s festival. 

Click on the picture below to see the Lollapalooza photo album. (opens in a new window)

 Inspired by GBS 

The following story is from a friend of mine.  It isn't a good, bad and strange, although it has good, bad and strange elements, but it is well written and funny; so I've included it here.

Memoirs of An International Field Engineer  

I have been travelling with my job for over 20 years, visiting almost every country in Europe, a good part of the Middle East, parts of Africa, Mexico and the USA. You can imagine that I have found myself in many situations ranging from good to bad and certainly plenty of strange. The trouble is I’ve forgotten a lot due to my small amount of internal RAM.  

In about May 2001 I was assigned a short project in Dubai (UAE), to install a control system on a printing press which had been purchased by Gulf News who happen to print the Al Jazeera Newspaper, (this was a slight concern prior to arriving). However once I arrived I found that there was a good team of engineers on site from various other companies based in several different countries. The Gulf News staff who were very friendly and most hospitable had arranged a very nice hotel for us to stay in, located about 5km from Dubai City, (in other words – in the desert). We settled into our hotel and the next day we got to work as a team.  

One of the problems with being a travelling engineer is that there isn’t a lot to do in the evenings after work except for eating and drinking in the hotel bar, (or at least that’s all you can be arsed to do). It didn’t take long for the 20 or so engineers to form into little cliques. The usual groups emerged – The lightweights 1/2 to 1 pint per night, usually a selection of boring sporty types who were normally in bed before 9pm, these we mainly ignored. Then the medium range drinkers between 2 to 6 pints per night depending on the starting time and how hard a day they’ve had, (this group usually includes me). Finally there are the career alcoholics who are also generally avoided, these guys will drink as long as the bar stays open – it always amazes me how they can actually get up and go to work the next day.  

I teamed up for the evenings with two other engineers from different companies – Thomas a Swedish guy about my age (34 at the time), and Stefan who was German and about 23 years old. We were to be staying over in Dubai during the weekend and with the project going well it wouldn’t be necessary to work. After lengthy discussion we agreed that we would catch the hotel’s courtesy bus to it’s sister hotel on Jumeira Beach, (the lengthy discussion took about 3 seconds).  

The three of us caught the bus at 8.30 on the Sunday morning loaded up with towels, lotions, books etc… and arrived at the beach hotel about 25 minutes later. The hotel was fantastic – amazing gardens with little streams, ponds and plenty of palm trees, a large freeform pool with swim up bar, the beach was like talcum powder and the sea a beautiful sapphire blue. Of course we ignored all this and headed straight for the beach bar, which was just about to open.  

After a couple of beers and a snack we went and checked out the pool where there were already a few very pretty girls sunbathing. We changed into our swimwear, Thomas and I with Hawaiian style shorts and something of a tan. Stefan was sporting some very unusual swimming trunks (even by German standards), they were very tight and were made from some kind of fine red wool, they contrasted very well with his bone thin ivory coloured body and shock of black wiry hair. Thomas and I simultaneously and perhaps subconsciously inched our sun beds away from Stefan’s. 

By about 11.00am it was getting really hot and I suggested to the others that we all ought to apply sunscreen or we would burn. Thomas agreed that this would indeed be wise, Stefan scoffed at the idea and called us pussies as we began to smother ourselves.  

A little later we pushed each other into the pool and had a few games with a beach ball that we found. When we got bored of this we swam over to the swim up bar and ordered some beers. It was great just sitting there in the water – drinking and chatting. Stefan decided that he would go over and ask a girl he liked the look of to join us for a drink, she politely declined his offer (probably having clocked his peculiar woollen trunks). As time went on Stefan seemed to get more and more obsessed with girls – any one of them would have done as far as he was concerned. Thomas and I were happy to just admire the scenery as we were both happily married. To give Stefan credit, he did try very hard, asking several girls to join him at the bar (some of them more than once). After several knock backs he seemed to get a bit depressed and his drinking started to accelerate.  

Thomas and I had had enough and suggested to Stefan that we go back to the beach. A little way down the beach we spotted a row of wave runners that were for hire, paid for an hour each (cost about 60 Euros each equivalent), and recklessly zoomed off along the coast – excellent fun!  

Afterwards we took a sun bed each under the umbrellas near to the beach bar. Thomas and I sensibly applied more sunscreen as we noticed that we were looking a little pink – Stefan a little pinker. By this time it was around 2.30pm. After some minutes Stefan got up and went to sit at the beach bar trying it on again with some girls he’d noticed. He was getting steadily more drunk, whilst we stayed in the shade resting. He came back a while later and crashed on a sun bed in the full sun and went to sleep. I tried to wake him and warn him that he would get sun burned but he just grunted and told me to piss off. So I tried to drag his bed under the shade but it was too heavy across the fine soft sand.  

Our courtesy bus was due at 5.30 so at 5.15 Thomas and I got ready to go. We tried to rouse Stefan several times but to no avail, warning him that he would miss the bus and have to get a taxi later. We left him there in a drunken slumber in the baking hot Arabian sun, chuckling all the way back to the hotel.  

We didn’t see him at dinner that evening and were perhaps a little concerned so we tried to contact him by mobile phone and also called his room, but we got no reply.  

The next morning he was not at breakfast either, so we were getting more concerned. We arrived at work about 9.00am and there was no sign of him there either. At about 10.30 we spotted him walking in. His face was as red as a tomato and was covered in some kind of glistening ointment. He marched over to us pointing at us and stated: ‘YOU AND YOU ARE BASTARDS!’. Thomas and I looked at each other smirking, then back at tomato boy and replied ‘why’. He marched away.  

Later we went over to him and explained to him that we had tried to protect him, to get him back on the bus and that he was a grown man and not our responsibility. He sullenly agreed and went on to explain that he had indeed had to get a taxi back when he had finally woken at 7.00pm, and that he had woken that morning with agonizing sunburn, prompting him to ask the hotel reception to call out a local doctor. The doctor had been to Stefan’s room earlier that morning and smeared him with the strange glistening ointment.  

After a few days we had a good laugh together about it, Stefan’s face was now looking more like a peeling conker.

Pete Wood

March 2008

 Good Bad & Strange