Thursday, 28 February 2013

Little talk of monsters

At ten past nine on Friday night Of Monsters and Men took to the stage, emerging from the dark shadows behind the instruments like creeping, dark woodland creatures from one of their own songs. After some uncertainty about what to expect on the night, our first night out childless after the birth of Sophie, we stood transfixed in the packed O2 Academy for the duration of the following hour and a half, bewitched by the Icelandic act’s music. The bands two lead singers Ragnar Pórhallsson and Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir held us and the rest of the crowd’s attention easily with their beautiful, soulful voices which accompanied the other five musicians on stage before the packed old cinema house. Of Monsters and Men are probably classed as something along the lines of indie folk rock but have a very distinctive sound. An earthy, melodic, exciting noise that rears from quiet ballad to epic drums, Of Monsters and Men's music is a mix of Arcade Fire, Mumford and Sons and, fellow Icelandic band, Sigur Ros. Merely comparing them to other bands however probably doesn’t do them justice and could possibly act as a distraction to anyone considering listening to them.
Whilst running on the treadmill one day last year I happened to notice the fantastic video for their first single “Little talks” on the gym’s tv screens and I’ve been enjoying the band’s music since. The animated music video tells the story of five sky sailors (the five blokes in the band) discovering a meteor and a mythical female creature, played by female lead singer, Nanna. The rest of the video follows the sailors as they decide to try and help the female creature get home and back to her people depicting the story of them on their dangerous, treacherous journey.
The animated video itself reminded me of the kind of artwork created by the likes of Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman, the basic, child like depictions of the moving figures reminded me of J.R.R. Tolkien’s own illustrations for his Middle Earth books.
The video was actually created and produced by design team We Were Monkeys, Mihai Wilson and Marcella Moser, and since the single “Little Talks” the same team have went on to create another video for the band's next single, “King and Lionheart”.
After downloading their first album “My Head is an Animal” last November, Ka bought us tickets after hearing of their live tour hitting Glasgow in February not quite comprehending the feelings of uncertainty and guilt we’d be feeling at having to leave a 13 week old baby behind when the night of the gig actually came around.
so we travelled into Glasgow on Friday night leaving the sleeping Sophie in the care of my Mum and Dad. Lynsey Ann had also invited herself round and was going to join Mum and Dad for dinner, a large fish supper bought from Emanuels around the corner, whilst Sophie's mild snoring buzzed out from the small baby monitor at the end of the couch. So, after giving Sophie one final check, as she lay sound asleep in the moses basket, we bid Mum and Dad farewell and jumped in the car to head for Gardenhall.
Ka and myself were not the only ones going to the gig. Pauline and her mate from work, Dawn, had also purchased tickets for the same concert at some point at the end of last year and I offered my services as taxi driver. Ka and myself left the house on time, and drove round to Pauline's house to pick the two work colleagues up only to find the two of them supping beers and just beginning the process of putting their dinner out. Sitting patiently with our jackets on Ka and myself watched the two of them eat, not making them feel rushed at all, whilst Pauline repeatedly told us how she loved us, before the four of us finally headed into town. Unfortunately we missed the support act and when we left the square bar nearest the large hall’s entrance after purchasing our first drink we only then realised how busy the place was.
It wasn’t just busy, it was mobbed busy. I hadn’t expected such a strong crowd for the folkie band from Iceland and had obviously completely underestimated their popularity. It didn’t stop us fighting our way down through the hall to the front of the main standing area within only a few metres from the front of the stage. It was a great gig with the band’s two singers, Pórhallsson and Hilmarsdóttir, on top form with their acoustic guitars and their vocals, working perfectly together, bouncing off one another just as they mirrored one another, standing at the front of the stage, under the lights and in the dry ice, left and right, male and female, left handed and right handed whilst the other guitarists worked around them, the trumpets and pianos played to their right and the tall, bearded drummer with the big, whacky hair yelled at the crowd from behind his kit on their left.
After giving Dawn a quick lift to the bus station to await her journey home, and getting Pauline back to Gardenhall, Ka and myself rushed home around half past eleven to find Mum, Dad and Lynsey Ann chilling out before our television. They’d spent the evening watching the Coen Brothers’ patter filled classic The Big Labowski for the first time. After taking off our jackets Ka and myself individually checked Sophie who I don’t think had moved since we’d left four hours earlier. Our wee baby girl remained sound asleep in the moses basket, proving that we could in fact, contrary to paranoid feelings of guilt, leave our sleeping baby safely in someone else’s care for an evening. This proven fact will hopefully come in handy in the years to come, though we probably will need a little more practice at it.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

A chance of showers

We have shower power!
Yes, we finally have a shower in our new home.
Since moving in towards the end of August Ka and myself have been cleansing ourselves in the bathtub. Bathing in the tub every morning or night was a novelty at first but soon became a pain, especially when you had to stand around for five minutes at seven o'clock in the morning whilst the rest of the house slept, blurry eyed and shivering, whilst the bath slowly filled up with water. I'd end up kneeling in the tub, facing the taps, ducking my face forward under the water, bowing repeatedly in an effort to waken myself up, probably looking like a watery Damian Lewis.
We purchased the shower back in September on one of our very short visits to B&Q. The visits are short because the wife can't stay in a B&Q, or any kind of home improvement or DIY store, for longer than five minutes, itching to leave as soon as she can.
Whether you’re in for something essential or just a wander, Ka will get impatient within minutes.
I've been pondering on buying a drill for the past few years and always end up borrowing Dad's when there's been need of holes in my walls because of these all too short visits. If I ever get the chance to wander I'll look over the bathroom suites, the doors, the shelving and perhaps pop out to the garden department, dreaming of building a better home, all the while Ka will be huffing and puffing all the way behind me.
It's ridiculous really, considering the amount of clothes shops she drags me round when she's in need of a new outfit, and I don't even get anything out of that. At least being dragged around B&Q could lead to some stylish home improvements or new decor for our home. What do I get out of being dragged round Debenhams, Zara and River Island apart from yet another mind-numbing shopping experience. Ka’s idea of shopping usually involves finding something relevant in the first shop, spending four more hours going around other shops, and then ending up back in the first shop you started in and carrying out the purchase of the item found on the first visit, a purchase that, if made first time around, could have saved you four hours of your life.
You can get a lot done in four hours. Paint many a wall, put up a few shelves or maybe just settle back and get a good chunk of your book read.
Perhaps not fit an electric shower though.
We were told fitting a shower was going to be a costly exercise as the large electrical cable would have to be fitted into the house travelling up from the downstairs fuse box into the loft and then down the bathroom wall into the newly acquired shower which would require around £70 worth of expensive thick electrical cable. By the time January came round I was more than willing to spend the money. We needed a shower and I'd had enough of worshipping in the bathtub every morning.
After contacting various plumbers, I found that many of them showed little interest, having to rely on electricians to help them out on the wiring side thus making their part in the operation rather profitless (in so far as a plumber is concerned anyway). The last plumber we got in charged us £25 for a washer for our downstairs toilet so we wanted to make sure we got the right guy in for the job. Eventually one of the many plumbers contacted me via text and popped round to the house last week to size up the operation. It just so happened this guy took care of the electrical side as well as the plumbing so he was more than willing to help us out.
David the plumber arrived early morning yesterday to measure up, asked for £120 and then disappeared again to get materials. Before leaving the house in the morning, I’d somehow got it into Ka’s head that there was the feint possibility he was a conman as he’d asked for more than half the money upfront. Keeping this in mind Ka ended up getting a little jittery when the ‘getting materials’ absence stretched to an hour long and took it upon herself to check the toolbox he’d left behind, just to make sure there were actually tools inside and not a small note saying something along the lines of “thanks for the £120”.
Thankfully, our suspicious minds proved to be just that and David strolled up the front path at around half past eleven and got straight to work. Unfortunately he didn’t finish until half past seven, disturbing not only little Sophie’s routine but, more importantly, Ka’s with it.
David the plumber was a laid back, easy going kind of guy who managed to drive Ka a little bit nuts with his favourite phase, “slowly but surely”.
Every time I asked David the plumber how he was getting on he’d hum these three words in reply which soon had Ka growling with impatience.
By the time the shower was out it’s box and up on the tiled wall of our bathroom where it belonged the bathtub was full of dust and cement, the walls and ceilings covered in holes and cracks, some of the house’s carpets had been lifted disturbing floorboards and skirting boards and the two bigger kitchen cupboards had been emptied in order to gain access to the stopcock, so the kitchen was covered in pots, pans, Tupperware and oven dishes, not to mention the entirety of Ka’s cleaning equipment, a vast artillery of cleaning products. You’ve never seen so many Mr Muscles. As a result Ka was on the edge of her seat the whole day, fidgeting, moving around nervously and talking through gritted teeth as the dust swirled around us.
Sophie, on the other hand, was quite happy. She lay back in her deck chair, laughing and giggling at the disturbance, smiling and intermittently laughing whilst I gave my calming talks to Ka.
David the plumber smiled at Sophie and reckoned she was a cracker, revealing that he himself had four kids.
Four kids? Four?
Good gawd, no wonder plumbers charge so much for their services if they all have the same family planning issues.
Whilst David had been out getting his materials that morning I had been driving around Glasgow. The car had to get serviced and I had a sleep monitor to pick up from Yorkhill Childrens’ Hospital which Sophie had to get plugged into overnight.
The service cost me £112 at Chaz’s favourite servicing garage in Hillington Industrial estate. Whilst the car had been in, I went a wander with my latest tome, ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell, the author, not the googly eyed bloke from ‘Peep Show’. After almost buying a new bathroom in Bathroom Continental and successfully leaving with only a business card and some growls from a grumpy looking saleslady I strolled down to the Burger King and bought a hot chocolate and read my book.
‘Cloud Atlas’ is being released as a big, impressive looking movie next week, directed by German filmmaker, Tom Tykwer, who directed the fantastic ‘Run Lola Run’ back in 1998, and the Wachowski brothers, one of which is now female, and presumably a sister, since the two of them were made famous for creating the Matrix Trilogy. Starring Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent and Halle Berry, among others, the movie looks like a bit of a ‘must see’ but unfortunately I must read the book first. I have a week. A near impossible feat which I’m sure I’ll fail in achieving but I’ll give it a shot.
After walking back up and settling down in the garage’s waiting room to continue reading, next to another car owner gent, the mechanic informed me I had a dodgy handbrake which needed attention, immediately putting my service charge up. Settling down to get on with the story of musician, Robert Frobisher, three loud women sat down in the chairs opposite. The two sisters and their mother spent the next 45 minutes chatting up the mechanic behind the reception, loudly, talking about their planned dinners for that night, noisily and shrilly berating the younger sister of the two for not knowing how to cook sausages (she had been planning on deep frying them). Once the car was ready and the handbrake in full working order, I politely refused an invitation to dinner and headed to Yorkhill.
As Sophie has been born with a cleft in the roof of her mouth she has to go into hospital for an operation at some point this year to close up the gap in her soft palate. Before this takes place Yorkhill requested that we plug Sophie into a sleep monitor for the night in order to record her breathing, her heart rate and her oxygen levels throughout a normal night’s sleep. So Sophie was wired up before bedtime, the wire sensor wrapped around her foot as it refused to stay on her big toe, which is where the doctor had advised it to be positioned. With Sophie being only three months old her big toe is not exactly big anyway so wrapping any form of taped sensor around the digit was going to be a challenge to begin with and that was before she started wiggling it from side to side in an effort to escape my fiddling hands whilst looking up at me with her big, innocent blue eyes, the hint of a smile over her lips. The wee tyke managed to get the sensor off twice during the night, making the machine’s alarm go off. The shrill, short, bleeping made both Ka and myself spring awake from our beds in shock and look around the darkened room in confusion before we realised what was going on. Sophie remained sound asleep, only flinching a little when I rummaged through her blankets and wrestled to pull her foot from within in order to get the sensor attached once more. We should find out in the next few weeks when Sophie’s operation will be. Whenever that’ll be, I’m sure I’ll still be attempting to read ‘Cloud Atlas’.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Pointless lovers

Being full time parents is bad for one thing.
Sitting on the couch.
Obviously the sitting on the couch phase will pass once baby starts crawling, walking, running, jumping and climbing but at the moment parenting involves a lot of sitting around, bouncing things on knees and watching tv.
In fact tv, as is probably often the case for many parents all over the world, is a saviour. Whilst it is more than wonderful to look down into the big blue eyes of your grateful baby as it sucks on it’s fifth bottle of milk of the day it sometimes, just sometimes, gets a little tiring and you need something else to look at through the sleep deprived blurred vision.
As discussed in a previous blog, my current watch is Vince Gilligan’s excellent ‘Breaking Bad’ which, strictly speaking, I shouldn’t watch with baby Sophie in the same room as it is an 18 certificate. Even though Sophie is not yet aware of the British Board of Film Classification’s rules and regulations, and hopefully the BBFC is not aware of her sitting watching, I’m still a little hesitant to have it on in the same room, even with her disapproving mother out the house.
Hoping that she won’t pay much attention though I still sneak the occasional episode whilst feeding Sophie, (I’m now on season 3!) and then deliberately turn her deckchair so that it faces away from the television in the time following her feed during which she smiles, giggles and wriggles. Usually Sophie goes for a few naps following a good feed, between wriggles, and during the covertly viewed episodes and as long as her first words aren’t methamphetamine or crystal I think we’ll be alright.
In my defence Ka watches her own fair share of inappropriate material whilst I’m out at work. This Morning and Loose Women is just the start. I had last Thursday off and had just poured myself a nice morning cup of tea in the kitchen. Ambling into the living room to see Sophie in her deck chair I immediately stopped in my tracks only to find a bespectacled man on the large television in the corner going over, in great detail, a man’s naked groin area. The man pawed and groped the dangling areas as he spoke to the camera to which I immediately spun Sophie’s deckchair around, away from the tv, before wiping up the coffee table from where I’d spat out a mouthful of tea. As it turned out the bespectacled man was This Morning’s Doctor Chris Steele going over the dangers and warning signs of testicular cancer, and while this is, of course, a very good and just cause to have a bollock naked man on morning television they perhaps should give you a bit of warning if there’s a baby about, not to mention a perfectly good cup of tea.
You wouldn’t get any of that on Breaking Bad, I told a confused looking Sophie, who was blinking, her wee mittened hands wiping at the few spots of tea that had reached her chubby cheeks from across the other end of the room.
After This Morning, Loose Women then comes on. A programme steeped in inappropriate behaviour, full of sexist, lecherous, gaggling women before an audience of easily entertained minions who laugh at the slightest inkling of a funny comment.
Other daytime highlights include the afternoon Channel 5 movie, an American budget television film usually based around some glamorous female experiencing some dreadful accident and having to live with the consequences or some attractive female being framed for a crime she didn’t commit, perhaps murdering her latest lover, and then staying out of jail just long enough to enable her to investigate and seek out the real culprit. Angela Lansbury would have had it solved in 40 minutes, not the hour and a half it takes these glamour pussies on Channel 5.
Ka's also got herself half addicted to another show called Tipping Point. This is a game show, of sorts, presented by every housewives favourite smiling lamppost, Ben Shepard, in which contestants compete to win as many discs as possible on a giant 2p machine. Ka assured me it was good, at the beginning of the first episode I seen. Within five minutes I’d turned the channel to see if Pointless had started yet.
Yes, Pointless!
Is anyone else out there addicted to Pointless? It’s not quite daytime television as such, it’s on before the news, at around five in the evening, but I see it as a great excuse to keep Ka away from the aussie soaps on Channel 5 (yes, those dire afternoon movies do in fact end, at some point) and the other awful itv quiz, The Chase, hosted by the bloke that used to be in Coronation Street. There’s even Pointless Celebrity specials on Saturday evenings now. The popularity of the quiz show has become sky high in the past few years. Both sets of Mum and Dads used to rave about it whenever Ka and myself popped round to visit and we wouldn’t have the faintest idea what they were going on about. Grace would mistakenly text Ka from work, a message meant for Dougie asking how he got on with the latest Pointless question.
Betty and Lindsay watch it on the iPlayer every night making sure it’s recorded everyday. Unbelievably it’s been on since late 2009 and episodes are now being repeated on the Challenge tv channel, unfortunately replacing The Crystal Maze and Blockbuster reruns.
It would seem that the nation have become Pointless lovers.
The two hosts even presented a Bafta the other night?! Judi Dench and George Clooney clapped when they walked on stage?! George Clooney watches Pointless?! Amazing.
Alexander Armstrong and the other big Frankenstein dude must be in that studio for months at a time, standing, or in the Frankenstein man's case, sitting, there listening to all those people struggling to come up with the most obscure, correct, answers possible. The enormously tall Richard Osman (the Frankenstein man), sits at his desk, pen in hand, behind his computer, and rhymes off exactly how pointless all the contestants’ answers are. He’s either amazingly intelligent or just a very fast googler.
Disappointingly, like ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’, which I haven’t watched in years, I’ve never seen a Pointless winner. Well, with the exception of last Saturday’s Celebrity edition when that annoying cricketer with the constantly screwed up eyes and big chin hit the jackpot with his teammate after having to come up with ‘International’ Brit award winners.
Not exactly a hard question. I could have won £2,500 for that. You don’t wouldn’t need to be an egghead to get a few decent pointless answers there.
Eggheads now there’s another one. Boring as hell but strangely compelling. A bunch of regular boring folk, facing off against a bunch of ,apparently, celebrity clever folk. In fact that smug woman who won ‘Who Want to be a Millionaire’ is on that show. Yes, in that case, I did see someone win ‘Millionaire’. Then there was that Army major who cheated. His wife was coughing in the audience or something wasn’t she?
I’d had enough. I need to get out more.
Either that or just get Breaking Bad back on. Or American Horror Story… or Person of Interest… or Ripper Street. Unfortunately I'm not allowed to watch any of them when Sophie is about either.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Bath time, Boris and Bowie

I'm still feeling guilty after Thursday night.
Sophie was in her luminous green bathtub, gifted to her by her Uncle Colin and Auntie Jillian, kicking and bobbing about the usual for seven o’clock on an evening. As it was Thursday it was my turn for bathing baby Sophie, as I’m generally never home in time Monday to Wednesday. Holding her small body semi afloat in the tub Sophie lay back, a looking around little uncertainly as usual, but generally content. Sophie’s big wide eyes gazed up at the ceiling taking the occasional break from the plaster to look up at me as I struggled to keep her at the same horizontal angle.
Sophie likes to moves around, you see. She likes to try and turn herself around in the shallow depth of water and explore it as she lies but then usually changes her mind at the last minute as the water hits the side of her big eyes and it’s usually at this moment she’ll start to freak out and moan for help. Generally speaking she does like the bath. Sophie certainly doesn’t cry and scream when in the water but she also doesn’t laugh and giggle, she merely lies back and looks around, sometimes with a look of wonder upon her face, as she sporadically kicks her legs out to splash the water over the end of the bath on to whom ever is bathing her. Her arms remain outstretched at either side, evidence of her uncertainty with the wet surroundings, occasionally jerking and moving as she sometimes grabs for the side of the bath or the hair on your arm with her small hands, which are topped off with her unclipped long nails. Sophie will usually be quite content until it’s time to leave the water, at which point she’ll then start screaming the place down.
Thursday was different, however. Sophie started screaming early.
Whilst holding Sophie with my left hand, her head cradled in the palm of my hand and my arm under her back, I reached down to grab one of her toy plastic fish with my other hand. These plastic fish only occasionally join Sophie in the bath. They are small, colourful plastic toys with a hole at the mouth where they will fill with or, if squeezed, release water from. Sophie sometimes likes getting the water squirted from the fish on to her tummy so, in order to keep her entertained, I reached for one of the fish with my right hand. Unfortunately, just as I did this, Sophie decided to take one of her exploratory turns and swivelled her head round on to it’s side in the palm of my left hand. Looking up I realised Sophie had moved and was inadvertently gulping water. Spinning my baby back round on to her back I accidentally forced Sophie to gulp down the water she’d taken into her mouth and after a rather heavy gulp, worthy of the best Scooby Doo impression after seeing another particularly scary ghost, her gulping mouth grimaced and an intense scream was released from within her. The crying and screaming refused to cease. No matter how much I tried to placate my wee daughter, she was not having it. Not even to put her pyjamas on. Ka trudged upstairs to investigate the intense screaming and ended up taking over. Sophie would not be pacified. Her father had tried to drown her and was no longer trustworthy. So that was me for the rest of the night. Riddled with guilt. Waved away with a frown and an impatient hand whenever I approached.
It’s quite worrying when Sophie goes into those fits of grief. A grimace will come over her face which will turn a pale shade of scarlet and Sophie will start shaking her head slowly from side to side as a loud scream slowly emits and grows from within her. It often reminds me of the lion in the opening credits of an MGM movie, except fiercer, louder and scarier.
Thankfully, Sophie seems to have forgotten the watery incident in the bathtub on Thursday evening and is now far more relaxed around me again after a Friday spent shopping with her Mum and Auntie Chris while I sat in the Central Quay office making up the promotional adverts for the week to come.
The estate agent dealing with the flat, (what are we calling them, “Your Maneuver”?), called today to inform me that our new tenant had now picked up the keys. Yes, finally. After six months the estate agent has finally found someone. Whether they’ll last or not is a different matter. Fingers crossed.
Ka and myself were back in the flat yesterday, giving it a little wipe down and taking photographs for an inventory, an itemized list of the flat’s fixtures and fittings.
That’s inventory, pronounced “invintory” rather than “invent-ory” as I have been inadvertently pronouncing it. Even though I know it is pronounced “invintory”, I somehow struggle to enunciate it this way. On more than one occasion during the conversation with Liz, the estate agent, I accidentally pronounced it “invent-ory”. This makes it sound like some form of waterway where you go to devise new creations.
Kelvin Okafor. Now there’s a guy that comes up with some fabulous creations. Ewan, my boss in the studio, showed me the BBC report on this guy yesterday. Okafor, an artist from Tottenham, draws with pencil and charcoal to create the most amazing photo realistic portraits you’ve ever seen. To look at them you’d think they were simply photographs against a plain white background they are that impressive. The report even said that a lot of his work is drawn from memory, which reminded me of another brilliant London artist, Stephen Wiltshire.
Wiltshire draws whole cityscapes, intricately detailed, all from memory. Recently Wiltshire was on the news once more after drawing the view of London city from the top of the Shard.
At 800ft high the triangular Shard is Europe’s newest and tallest building. Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, the Shard is part of a £2 billion redevelopment in its area of South London. The tall, triangular glass building is filled with offices, luxury apartments and restaurants and sure to be another major tourist attraction after its grand opening yesterday. Boris Johnson, with yet another of his fantastic, colourful, speeches described it as “the tip of a cocktail stick emerging through the skin of a super colossal pickled onion”. That’s one hec of a cocktail stick. Bigger than the one I seen in Edinburgh when U2 brought the Popmart tour to Murrayfield. They had an olive though, not a pickled onion, not to mention the giant mirrorball lemon on stage. The band must have been having some sort of mid life creative crisis back in ‘97.
Something David Bowie has presumably been suffering for the past decade after being away from the music scene for so long. You could argue that it’s not exactly “mid-life”, (that may have been Tin Machine) but on the Tuesday morning of January 8th on the dawn of his 66th birthday news broke that he had released a surprise single to the world. I heard the single “Where are we now?”, on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show in the car on the way into work. The slow, melancholic music was not what I had expected as a “comeback” single but, as the weeks have gone on, it’s grown on me none the less. Throughout the song Bowie reflects back on his Berlin days, where he escaped to in an effort to battle his drug addiction and whilst doing so produced ‘Heroes’, ‘Low’ and ‘Lodger’ hanging out with Brian Eno and sharing an apartment with Iggy Pop, surely a strange choice for a flatmate when you’re trying to get off the drugs.
Anyway, it’s now 5.30pm on Saturday evening. Ka is out for Agnes’ retirement shindig, in which they’ll be dining in luxury at Jamie Oliver’s George Square restaurant. Just as they’ll be tucking into their main course and sipping their wine, served up by the finest chefs and waiting staff in the land in the splendour and convivial surroundings of the tv chef’s Glasgow restaurant branch I’ll be taking Sophie back up to the luminous green bathtub. Wish me luck.