Monday, 29 March 2010

New part-time job

Fulfilling one of my lifetime ambitions to work in a pizza serving establishment, and following in the footsteps of both my parents, at the weekend I started a new part-time job working in the kitchen at Pizza Hut. Well, I say both my parents. My dad did actually get a job there about 20 years ago and went to the induction session, but decided it wasn't for him and turned it down. My mum does work at Pizza Hut now though, and has for the last few years, so she hooked me up to get this job at her branch.

There's been many a time I've partaken in Pizza Hut's fine dining experience, especially the all-you-can-eat lunchtime buffet, so it's interesting to be on the other side of the fence, actually making the pizzas. All the other workers there are sound so far as well, even if it was strange that they seemed to know everything about me from my mum.

The restaurant I work at is near where we used to live at Crystal Peaks, so quite a way from my house in Crookes. That means it takes a while to travel there and back on the tram, but I like that end of town and I don't often get the chance to go back these days. Last night though, a bus broke down on the tram tracks while I was travelling home, illustrating the inherent limitations of trams and meaning I got home pretty late. No big deal though, 'cos it's the Easter break.

OK, back to the dissertation.

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Haha

Monday, 22 March 2010

Fruit, in a jar


Dole Fruit Jars are amazing.

It's sometimes hard to get your 5 a day, and canned fruit is an easy way to reach your target, as long as the fruit is in fruit juice and not syrup, but these tubs taste way better than your average canned fruit. I picked one up last week as they were on offer for 99p at Tesco, and even though the fruit tastes super sweet, like it has some kind of sugar or syrup in there, I checked the ingredients and it doesn't, it's just grape juice. The plastic tubs are pretty handy and reusable as well.

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Saturday, 20 March 2010

The Good of the Game: Football, Society and Globalisation

Last night I went to an event at Bramall Lane called 'The Good of the Game: Football, Society and Globalisation'. It was hosted by the University of Sheffield and was a panel discussion involving Howard Wilkinson (former England and Sheffield Wednesday Manager), Lee Strafford (Sheffield Wednesday chairman), Kevin McCabe (Sheffield United chairman) and other local and national figures involved with football. I'm not sure if the event was titled ironically, as the panellists ended up bemoaning the current state of football rather than discussing its potential for good, but nevertheless, it was interesting hearing what everyone had to say.

Topics included football's current debt crisis, how society engages with England's national team, globalisation's impact on football's connection to local communities and the future of the Premier League, and it seemed that the majority of the panellists were unhappy with the way football was being run at the moment, at least in the UK. Due to the global popularity of English football, there's currently a large amount of wealth involved in the game, but the panellists argued that too much of it was going to players and their agents, when it could be spent on sorting out struggling club's finances and nurturing football at a grass roots level. Whether such changes will be made is unclear, but it was mentioned that something will have to change soon, especially when it's predicted that the amount of money involved in British football is soon about to drop.

I went with a mate who studies Chinese at Sheffield University, and we were both interested in the development of Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United's relations with Asia, so after the discussion had ended we went and had a chat with the two chairman, Kevin McCabe first. Sheffield United already have a partner team over in China called Chengdu Blades, but things haven't been going too well for them - they just got relegated down a league for match fixing, and McCabe said he'd just recently fired everyone working for him over there. He still has plans for China though, and invited us back to discuss things with him again.

After that we went and had a chat with Lee Strafford, who also seemed enthusiastic about Sheffield Wednesday's overseas expansion, but when we pushed him on specifics he didn't have much to say. According to him, the club are investigating possibilities right now, but he seemed more interested in expansion into the US rather than Asia.

Being a Wednesday fan, it always feels strange going to Bramall Lane, and we stood out a bit 'cos just about everyone else apart from us was wearing suits, but all in all it was a great experience, and a rare chance to take a look behind the scenes at the two big football clubs in Sheffield.

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Monday, 15 March 2010

Underoath in Leeds

On Saturday night I went to see Underoath at Leeds Met University. I remember wanting to see these guys last time they came over to the UK two years ago, but never got round to it. Since then though I've been listening to Underoath a lot.

I first became aware of the band around the time their hit album They're Only Chasing Safety was released in 2004. I downloaded a couple of tracks and enjoyed what I heard, but never really gave them much of a chance after that. I think the next time I heard about them was during the controversy with Fat Mike at the Warped Tour in 2006. And some time after that I downloaded a great podcast where Underoath were interviewed by Alternative Press for their AP-Podcast. It was a really interesting interview, and they played a track from the band's new album at that time, Define The Great Line. I remember the exact place I was when I first heard that track ("Casting Such a Thin Shadow"), and it just blew me away. I got hold of the album, and then their next one when it came out, and they're two of the most important albums I own.

Underoath have been around for a while now, and have gone through a few line-up changes, and the music from their first few releases is much different to the music they write now, but the stuff they're coming out with these days is amazing. They also seem like really passionate, decent guys personally, and I think that carries through to their music. In the AP interview, the host talked about one of his friends who said Underoath's album was his favourite of the previous year, because it felt like the band stands for something, and you definitely feel that when you listen. I also respect them for sticking with their label Solid State, even when they've had the chance to move on to a bigger label. Suffice it to say, I didn't wanna miss this opportunity to see them live.

I travelled to the gig by coach, and as we drew nearer to Leeds I saw that the city has an impressive skyline at night. It seems to stretch on for quite a while, at least for a UK city, and looks pretty urban and contemporary, when compared to Sheffield. I turned up quite unprepared - I had no map of where I needed to go - but as the coach pulled in I remembered that I'd been to Leeds a couple of times before. Once to see MxPx at The Cockpit and then again when I came to Leeds Festival.

The town centre is quite interesting. It seems to me like everything is bunched together in the middle, surrounded by a big circular road which runs around the outside. I still had no real idea where I was going though, so I went and asked at a Co-op nearby. I was pointed in the general direction and managed to find Leeds Met Student Union after about 15 minutes of walking, trying to memorise my route so I could find my way back to the coach station.

I showed my ticket and went inside, and I've never seen so many brutal looking kids. I guess it's just been a while since I'd been to a big gig, but everyone seemed to be really dressed-up for the occasion. I'd missed the first support, but I was just in time for We Are The Ocean. I could have done without seeing them as well though, as I didn't enjoy their set one bit. They must be semi-popular these days 'cos I asked my younger brother about them, and he'd heard of them, but I thought they were boring. Also, the sound was terrible, which I wasn't happy about, and the only member of the band who seemed to have much talent was their clean vocalist, so I was glad when they finished their set. Next Underoath's techs came on stage to set up the band's equipment, and then the lights dimmed, the intro music began and Underoath appeared.

As soon as they jumped into their opener, the contrast with the last band was apparent - Underoath went crazy, and so did the crowd. And luckily, the sound was much improved. I don't think I can remember a band playing a show with so much clarity and such a rich sound. It might be something to do with the massive synth and electronics rig their keyboard player has.

The band played an even mix of songs from their last three releases, and hearing all this stuff live was amazing. Underoath create such a deep musical atmosphere on their albums, and I was glad to see this carried through to their live performances as well - everything sounded just like the record, but in a good way.

One of the striking things about Underoath is how every member has a very strong and individual stage persona. They all look very different, and all move very differently, and it's a great spectacle. They look like a team, and share a lot of musical responsibilities on stage. The drummer sings a lot, the screamed vocalist played guitar in some songs, and the keyboard player and one of the guitarists had their own drums to help out with the percussion at some points.

The band took some time to chat to the crowd, and shared their Christian faith, which was greeted with a few boos, but more cheers. I've never seen a band be so blatant about their faith on stage, but regardless of whether you're a believer or not, you've gotta respect them for being so up front about it.

I lost track of time, but they played for a long while, providing the energetic crowd with some great breakdowns. And after finishing their set, then coming on for an encore, it was over. All in all, hands down one of the best live performances I've ever seen. Even someone who had no idea about their music would have been impressed. The aforementioned passion these guys have for music just bleeds through, and it immerses and inspires you.

I headed outside, grabbing a t-shirt to commemorate the event, and made my way back to the coach station. I ended up taking the long way round, but it meant I managed to see more of the city, and I was impressed. It's not too often I get the chance to venture outside of Sheffield these days, so other big cities are always a lot of fun to explore. As I said earlier, everything looks very modern, well-lit and well-designed, and Leeds is definitely somewhere I'd return to.

I found the station and headed to the waiting room to wait for my coach, realising it was the same waiting room I'd been in when returning from my adventure at Leeds Festival in summer 2008. Even the guy at the help desk was the same.

An interesting side-note was that the whole trip reminded me a lot of Japan. One reason is that I listened to Underoath a lot while I was there. Most mornings I would fire up Lost in the Sound of Separation on my MP3 player as I boarded the Portliner to uni. And I remember riding the night bus to Kobe after just arriving in Japan, listening to Underoath as I travelled through through the country at night, wondering what was in store for me in the year ahead. And just riding coaches at night like I did on Saturday reminds me of Japan. I don't think I've written about my experiences on Japan's night buses on this blog before, but suffice it to say, I had some experiences. In fact, night buses could have been in my post on the 3 things I hate most about Japan, but that's a story for another day.

Seeing Underoath has inspired me more than just musically. These guys are my favourite heavy band right now and I'm gonna make sure I get to see them again. Even though they're a comparatively big band, they're in music for the right reasons and it shows.

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Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Exam results

I've just received my exam results for last semester and I'm pleased with how they came out - 69 in Japanese and 70 in Korean.

Sucks that I nearly got a 1st in Japanese language, and after coming out of that exam I felt that if I was ever gonna get a 1st it would have been then. But 69 is still my highest mark ever from Japanese, so I'm pleased. And 70 in Korean. I've said it before, but I only seem to get 1sts from modules that aren't Japanese. I'm pretty sure it must have been this video assignment that secured it - our teacher loved it:



I only have 7 weeks of classes left now, a dissertation, one more exam, and then I'm done. I remember in 1st year I'd think how I never wanted to graduate 'cos I enjoyed uni so much. Now I can't bloody wait. It's been a good four years, but I'm totally ready to finish learning and start working. There's a possibility I'll be returning to Japan, but if not I have a sweet backup plan.

My dissertation should be no problem as well. I'm writing it on the dialect of the area where I went to study in Japan - Kansai - and it's going great. I handed in my outline and got a high mark, and the topic is something I'm genuinely interested in, so I'm enjoying writing it. Also, I have the three week Easter break to write the bulk of it, so things are looking good right about now. In fact, I'm enjoying this semester as a whole, especially compared to last semester. Classes back in Sheffield were always gonna seem dull after the year in Japan, but the department here had gone through some changes while we'd been away, meaning the quality of lessons had dropped quite a bit. Everyone was unhappy, mostly with one of our classes which was taught over the internet by a teacher who lives in Switzerland. And while that's still going on this semester, I'm now doing purely Japanese language classes, including a class on translating Japanese literature, which is interesting. Still, bring on graduation.

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Sunday, 7 March 2010

Uncle Ed

Last Sunday I watched the fitting finale to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics - Canada's victory against the USA in the men's ice hockey final. It was great to watch it with my uncle who's actually over from Canada at the moment. I'd been told he was coming over for a visit but had forgotten when, so it was a nice surprise when he called me up and asked me to hang out. After a rather dramatic and tense end we were both happy to see the Canadians win, and during the game my uncle was telling me all about Canada and how, although he's originally from Britain, he wants to stay over there long term 'cos it's such a great country, especially for bringing up kids. Chatting to him really got me thinking, and after doing a bit of research, I've found out that as a British citizen you can go over and work in Canada for up to a year, which could be something I could do in the future.

I've been getting into ice hockey quite a bit lately actually. Me and my mates went to see a Sheffield Steelers match for the first time the other week, and then my dad got hold of some free tickets, so I went again. It's a different atmosphere from a footy game, but it's a lot of fun, even if I don't understand all the rules yet.

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Saturday, 6 March 2010

The importance of artwork

Watching BBC Four's Hotel California: LA from the Byrds to the Eagles, there was a nice sound bite from Henry Diltz, the photographer who shot the cover of Crosby, Stills and Nash's self-titled first album. The quote struck me as it really illustrates the importance of an album's artwork, and also the fact that artwork was much more important back in the days of vinyl records. You wouldn't ever really hear someone say this about a CD, and much less about a digital download.

"People say 'I don't know how many hours I stared at that picture' ya know. I had a musician from England once told me, he said 'You know we used to sit there in England and look at that Crosby, Stills and Nash cover and say what is it like to be there in California? And just stare at that thing while the music played.'"

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Friday, 5 March 2010

Coach Trip

One of my mates is currently on Channel 4's reality TV show, Coach Trip. He's called Matt and we were in the same Japanese class in 1st year. He lives on the same road as me now, a couple of houses up, and I bumped into him sometime last year and he told me all about Coach Trip. Basically, it's a coach of British couples travelling to various tourist destinations throughout the world, but every day you have to vote for your least favourite couple, who are then replaced by another couple. It's not something I'd watch normally, but the recent episodes have been interesting. Episode 12 especially was pretty good.

It's on Channel 4 every day at the moment at 5pm, but you can catch all the episodes online at http://www.channel4.com/programmes/coach-trip/4od. Matt's managed to stay on since the start and rarely gets a vote cast against him, so I'm guessing he'll be on it for a while longer.

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Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Review of Madness album, The Liberty of Norton Folgate

My review of The Liberty of Norton Folgate got posted at Punknews.org.

I also had my review of Misery Signals' gig at Corporation published on the same site last year.

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Monday, 1 March 2010

Brian Wilson Live in London

Carrying on a theme from my last post, BBC Four recently broadcast Pet Sounds: Brian Wilson Live in London, a performance of Pet Sounds in its entirety recorded in 2004. Not sure what took the BBC so long to show this on TV, but it's great to see the album performed with a full band and a bit of a contemporary twist. Wilson's sound bites in between each song are priceless as well, and really typify the whole mood of Pet Sounds, showing this iconic, young-boy-in-love concept album was really written from the heart. The show is available for a few more days on iPlayer.

There are also a couple of other related programmes available on iPlayer which I haven't watched yet but look interesting. First, long-running BBC Four series Legends has a new episode called "Dennis Wilson: The Real Beach Boy". And after that I have something called Hotel California: LA from the Byrds to the Eagles lined up. You can't beat the BBC for quality programming.

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