On September 25, 2018 / Tagged: , , ,

I’ve always enjoyed travelling. Not just the being in new places part, although that’s good; I mean the act of travel itself. Air, land or sea, there’s something about travelling somewhere, moving, that I’ve always enjoyed. I think a part of that is the feeling of being semi-isolated. If you’re travelling then it’s basically OK to cut yourself off from the world, to switch off the phone and ignore the people who aren’t in your immediate vicinity, because you’re in transit. It’s a great time to sit back with some music, a film, a book (maybe even work, if you insist), and compose your thoughts.

It was on such a trip recently that I was listening to Stranded, the album by Roxy Music. I was on a plane, going… somewhere or other, I can’t recall. Since I first listened to this album, it’s one that I keep coming back to. And in particular, Mother of Pearl has always been a standout. I love the musicality – the whirlwind first couple of verses giving way to a more laid back melody, which perfectly matches the lyrics. It’s a great song. A Great song, even.

I’ve been looking for something
I’ve always wanted
But was never mine
But now I’ve seen that something
Just out of reach, glowing
Very Holy grail
Oh mother of pearl
Lustrous lady
Of a sacred world

Anyway. On this flight I had the album on, half-listening and half daydreaming. Then part way through one of the songs it grabbed my attention, a complete “fuck me this is good” moment. That song was Psalm.

Up to this point I’d always enjoyed Psalm, but not really got it. But at that moment it made sense. The music, pared-back, with every note perfectly placed. The lyrics, steeped in irony and dry as a martini. The song starts gently – peacefully, as you might expect a psalm to be. But with every bar, every beat, the song slowly builds to a withering crescendo:

And then you’ll see all that you should
Forget all your troubles
You will feel no pain
He’s all that you need
He’s your everything

And that’s why I love travel. A chance to gather your thoughts, get some distance (literal and metaphorical), and see things anew.

‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
Come in, she said
I’ll give ya shelter from the storm

Shelter from the Storm is one of my absolute favourite Bob Dylan songs. It was originally released on Blood on the Tracks in 1975; in my book a rare example of a perfect album. No weak songs, and everything working together to make something greater than the sum of the parts.

I recently came across a recording of a live version from 1976. It’s very different to the album version, and sounds phenomenal.

Suddenly I turned around and she was standin’ there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns
Come in, she said
I’ll give ya shelter from the storm

Oddly enough although I’ve known the album for years, it’s only recently that Shelter has jumped out at me. Dylan’s songs are like that; you’ll listen to them hundreds of times and still find new things, come to the song with a new point of view, hear it in a different light.

As with many Dylan songs, it’s appeared in film and TV pretty frequently. A notable example is the end of a film called St Vincent, where there’s a version with Bill Murray’s character singing along to it. I’ve sung this song (and others tbh) in a manner similar to this many, many times.

Well, I’m livin’ in a foreign country but I’m bound to cross the line
Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine
If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born
Come in, she said
I’ll give ya shelter from the storm

As many different versions as there are, I always come back to the original album version. The performance on the album perfectly matches the tone of the lyrics, particularly the way he sings some of the lyrics (“I bargained for salvation and she gave me a lethal dose/I offered up my innocence I got repaid with scorn”). A proper gem of a song.

How to make renting worse

On April 18, 2018 / Tagged: , , ,

The BBC is currently running an article called “Four ways to fix the rental market“. These are four ideas designed to “make renting more secure and more affordable while maintaining a good supply of homes for rent”. The ideas are a mixed bag, to say the least.

Idea #1: Make renting more secure by extending the length of contract:

In England, about half of renters are on Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreements. This allows landlords to evict them without reason. […] The housing charity Shelter would like tenancies to last for a five-year period – with landlords only having the power to evict their tenants if they break their agreements or don’t pay the rent.

At the last election, Labour campaigned for three-year tenancies.

They don’t point out that this also allows tenants to leave without reason, usually on a month’s notice. For a lot of tenants this flexibility is good, because you can move on a whim. It also ignores the fact that tenants are free to negotiate a longer term lease with their landlord, if this is what they want. They may also be able to secure a lower monthly rent, because for a lot of landlords the knowledge that their tenant is staying put for 3/5/however many years is valuable. It’s expensive to find another tenant.

Idea #2: Limit rent increases. Sigh. The price of a thing is a signal about the relative supply and demand of that thing. High prices mean there is high demand relative to the supply. If you limit the price, then there’s no incentive for people to introduce more supply. You end up with a shortage of the thing you’ve price-limited. It would also cause landlords to skimp even more on maintenance and investment, so over time would reduce the quality of available housing.

Idea #3: Make things easier for landlords. Faster evictions, exemptions from stamp duty, etc. This actually isn’t a terrible idea, but it seems somewhat contradictory to the first two. If you acknowledge that these things would help, then you’re acknowledging that the problem is restricted supply. So why restrict the supply further by making the market less liquid and introducing a price cap?

Idea #4: Built to rent. This isn’t an idea, more an observation that large companies are buying property to let it to people. The article asserts that “the huge advantage from a tenant’s point of view is that the duration of rental agreements is much longer”, but this is only an advantage if you want a long tenancy. A lot of people don’t.

This is all dancing around the issue that in parts of the UK, the supply of housing is constrained relative to the demand for it. There are some ways around this, namely to reduce the centralisation of the economy (and government) around London and to loosen the planning regs so that it’s less expensive for people to build new houses. But although those things have half a chance of solving the problem (along with many more), they won’t get implemented. For one thing, the majority of homeowners see their homes as investments; if the supply of housing increased and property values decreased, then the government responsible for that would be out on their ear sharpish. For another, I suspect that a lot of Londoners and people in government actually quite like centralisation; Londoners because they get more money spent on them, and the government because it means they keep more power in Westminster. Which is fine, but don’t come moaning to the rest of us that you’re paying £1000 a month to live in a room in a shared flat.

California Dreamin’

On February 21, 2018 / Tagged: , , ,

These photos of Los Angeles by Franck Bohbot are fantastic:

I went to LA for the first time last year, spent my birthday there in fact. Before I went, a few people told me that it’s a ‘love it or hate it’ kind of place. I loved it, but I can’t exactly put my finger on why.

The photos in this set really take me back. One of the things I enjoyed when I was there was just walking around, taking it all in. Especially at night. When the city’s lit up it takes on a different vibe. The atmosphere is just a little bit more loaded, things a bit more on edge, everything a bit more alive. I’ve not been anywhere else like it.

John Elton

On February 12, 2018 / Tagged: , , ,

Stumbled across this clip earlier on YouTube. I’m a big fan of Rowan Atkinson, but haven’t seen this before. Kept me very amused for 5 minutes or so (more like 10, now I’ve watched it again to post it here).


On January 29, 2018 / Tagged: ,

Last week I visited Dunkirk for a day. I was travelling back from somewhere else1 and decided to stop off on the drive back to the Eurotunnel. The inspiration was mostly from seeing Dunkirk (the film) last year; I enjoyed the film a lot, and wanted to see the place for myself.

I didn’t get to do everything I wanted. I skipped trying to see the shipwrecks at Bray-Dunes because I missed low tide, the Operation Dynamo museum was closed for “embellishment” – always a good word in the context of retelling history – and I obviously didn’t have much time as I needed to travel back. So I mostly just ambled around, seeing what I could see.

I’ve been to a few places like this, and I always try and imagine what it would’ve been like at the time that the historical event happened. At Dunkirk, this was hard. The city was besieged twice in WW2; the first – and more famous – time was in 1940, by the Germans when the Allies were trying to escape. The second time was in 1944-45, when the German units stationed there were surrounded by the Allies as they advanced across Europe. All this fighting caused quite a bit of damage to the city, to which the French have rather selfishly responded by rebuilding things.

The outcome of this is that the town looks… well, like a modern city2. Which makes it hard to imagine what happened there; it’s difficult to picture scenes of warfare and peril when there’s kids playing on the beach, people lunching in bustling restaurants, and couples ambling along the promenade.

What did strike me though was a sense of the sheer magnitude of what happened there. How those days in 1940 were a branching point in history. That if something different happened, the story of humanity would’ve taken an entirely different path, and the world would look very different today. If you think about history as a procession of days, most of those days probably aren’t significant in a world-changing way. They all matter in aggregate of course; there’s everyday evolution and change that inexorably drives things forward. But history-defining, seismic moments are rare.

I can’t imagine anyone involved at the time really cared about any of that though.

  1. Fucking Bruges 

  2. And a bit of a crappy one at that 

A New Career In a New Town

On January 25, 2018 / Tagged:

I’ve had a blog running at one site or another for well over a decade1. A while back I set up this site, with the intention of moving the blog there at some point or other. Since then I’ve been building the site on and off; which mostly means that I came up with a design, implemented it, then 10-14 months later went back to the site and changed it all.

I’ve just finished the latest iteration of messing around with the design/layout/etc, and it’s at a point that is mostly good enough to actually use. Odds are I’ll still keep messing around with the appearance of this site. I’ve got a few things I’m already considering changing, but it’s all minor stuff. The main structure of of how this will all be presented is sorted, so there’s no reason not to start using it.

I enjoy writing. The intention here is to write for myself and see what happens. I don’t really have a specific topic I want to write about, just what’s rattling around2. I also don’t have a schedule I plan to stick to, other than “more than once a year”.

The first few posts here are cross-posts from my last place. From now on, I’ll be here.

Let’s see what happens.

  1. Where the hell did that go? 

  2. Hence the name of the site 

Films 2017

On December 20, 2017 / Tagged:

I go to the cinema regularly. When I do, I keep a record of what I saw and write a short comment about the film. This is the list of those films. Some of these I went to see multiple times, but I’ll just list them by first viewing.

I’ve not listed films seen outside the cinema, because I don’t note those down (and there’s no way I can remember them all).


  • Manchester by the Sea – Walked out half way through. I thought it was ok, but it was one of those days when I wasn’t in the mood for an onslaught of misery. Haven’t tried to watch it again.
  • Passengers – Actually quite an enjoyable film to go and see on a dreary January night.
  • Silence – I had no preconceptions of this, and was very impressed. It’s very long, and the topic isn’t something I’d usually go for, but I thought this was a masterpiece.
  • Split – Rubbish.
  • La La Land – Loved it, didn’t think I would. Looks great on the big screen.
  • Jackie – Got bored. Walked out.


  • Lion – I thought I’d hate this. How wrong was I? For a film about a guy using Google Earth a lot, it’s surprisingly compelling.
  • Lego Batman – Watched this on a Sunday afternoon with a fairly decent hangover. Maybe for that reason, found this to be too hectic to be enjoyable.
  • The Founder – Actually pretty good.
  • Hidden Figures – Better than expected.
  • Fences – Denzel Washington indulgence.
  • John Wick 2 – Not as good as the first one.
  • Moonlight – First time I went to see this, the power in the cinema cut off after 30 mins and didn’t come back on. I went back a week later and thought it’s pretty good. Not sure if worth an Oscar.
  • Toni Erdmann – So weird. So funny. So thought provoking. Watch this if you haven’t already.


  • Free Fire – Bloody good fun.
  • Logan – Just from the law of large numbers, eventually someone had to make a good superhero film. This one only spoiled by the person in the cinema who insisted on talking very loudly to the person next to him.
  • Kong: Skull Island – meh.


  • Get Out – Very very good.
  • Power Rangers – Bad. So bad.
  • Their Finest – Saw in on a Sunday evening to while away some time. It served that purpose well.
  • Lady Macbeth – Didn’t know anything about this before seeing it. Thought it was interesting, dark and really compelling.


  • Colossal – Sort of silly science fiction, very good fun.
  • Alien: Covenant – meh


  • The Red Turtle – Beautiful. This is a film with no dialogue that manages to say more than a lot of the films on this list. Well worth a watch.
  • My Cousin Rachel – Saw this on a Friday afternoon. Left after half an hour because I was too tired to concentrate. Watched it again later in the year whilst on a flight, and thought it was pretty good.
  • Baby Driver – Huge fun, and great on the big screen.


  • It Comes At Night – A decent horror film. However I had to think hard to remember what it is, so clearly not that good.
  • The Beguiled – Very good. Very tense, you don’t quite know where it’s going to lead which makes it really compelling.
  • War For The Planet Of The Apes – Meh.
  • Dunkirk – Absolutely phenomenal. Even though you know how it ends, amazingly tense the whole way through. Excellent sound design, awesome cinematography. I saw it twice on an Imax screen, and think it really benefits from the big screen.


  • A Ghost Story – This was phenomenal. An, er, haunting look at relationships, loss, grief, and all that big stuff.
  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – This had poor reviews and basically tanked at the Box Office. I can’t for the life of me figure out why. It’s quite funny, very odd, spectacular to see on screen and overall really, really enjoyable. People go on about Hollywood/action films all being the same (shit) superhero franchises done in the same way time after time, so it’s annoying they don’t go and see something so different when it somehow gets made.


  • Kingsman: The Golden Circle – Not good. It’s as if they didn’t understand why the first one worked.


  • Blade Runner 2049 – Great sequel. Worth seeing on the big screen.
  • The Death of Stalin – OK, but not great.


  • Ingrid Goes West – Very funny.


  • Murder on the Orient Express – OK, not great. Branagh a little OTT as Poirot.
  • The Disaster Artist – If you know anything about The Room then you need to see this. Oh, hi Mark.
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Good but not great, and not as good as Rogue One (or, in fact, the first Star Wars film from 1977). The ending feels a bit “tacked on”; although I think it was the right ending, the scenes leading up to it could have been paced better to lead you into it. Could also drop 30 mins off the running time without losing anything important.

That’s 39 films seen at the cinema this year. As I mentioned at the top there are a few I saw multiple times (1 film I went to see 3 times…), so that’s 40-odd visits to the cinema this year.

Setting the record straight

On December 7, 2017 / Tagged: ,

This is a lovely little article celebrating the Martini. Spoiled only by, er, the recipe it gives for making a Martini:

The best Martini will always be the coldest Martini. Lukewarm presentations just don’t cut it. If you can, put your glasses, your bottle of gin or vodka and your shaker in the freezer at least half an hour before your guests arrive. […] My recipe uses old-fashioned proportions–four parts gin to one part vermouth–in a silver shaker. (Silver will make your liquids colder than a glass shaker.) I toss in a dash of orange bitters (available from Fee Brothers in Rochester, New York), then shake. And I mean shake it!


  • Vodka does not belong in a Martini. If you substitute gin for vodka, it’s a Vodka Martini. This is an inferior drink1, and should never be referred to as a Martini.
  • Stir – gently – don’t shake. Shaking breaks the ice, dilutes it to fuck and ruins the drink.
  • 4 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. 4 to fucking 1?! If you’re 8 years old, maybe. Anything less than 6 to 1 can’t be called a Martini. 8 to 1 is the sweet spot.
  • Orange bitters. Fuck no. Gin and dry vermouth, lemon twist or a couple of olives to garnish, thats it.
  • He’s right about the temperature. Glasses in the freezer beforehand, and serve it fucking cold.

This is the simplest (and, depending on when you ask me2, the best) cocktail. Almost no-one makes it right, but now you won’t make that mistake.

That is all.

  1. However if you add a little bit of vodka to the gin you get a Vesper, which is delicious 

  2. I alternate between this and the Negroni