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Saying goodbye

On Friday evening, during a quiet night in with eline, I received a phone call from Paul Sticks, who told me that a good friend Donovan Smith had passed away earlier that morning. The news was, suffice to say, a massive shock to the system, one I'm still trying to get over, and something that will be some time before it becomes a distant memory. If you didn't know Donovan from Vagabonds, Reptile, the London Goth Meetup Group or various Steampunk events around London, he was a cheeky, witty, fun-loving chap who always had a glint in his eye and a taste for the absurd. Excellent at the art of bizarre conversation, I remember having many conversations with him, usually outside some club night where we'd both escaped the heat of the dancefloor to have a quiet cigarette, where we would truly talk about anything and everything under the sun. Sadly, it seemed that his chirpy demeanour belied something much more serious, and, as is often the case for those of us who aren't quite so forthright about our personal feelings with others, he did, more than once, try to find solace at the bottom of a bottle. However, despite this, he managed to charm everyone he met, and, as his facebook page shows, he will be very much missed by many people.

In light of that news, it was suggested that yesterday evening's Reptile was made the place for those of us who remembered him to come and raise a glass in his honour. I headed along, and, on my way, I found myself asking just how well I knew Donovan. As is oft the case in friendships, especially between men, we seem somewhat reticent to open up our hearts fully to those around us, and so discuss everything but the way we're actually feeling. When we lose someone, we then find ourselves trying to justify and examine our friendship with that person, and end up wondering just how well we knew our friend, as we never got to address the actual issues that affected us. However, I know that Donovan revelled in the company of others, and you could see him visibly light up when someone he knew hoved into view, so I think I can take some solace in the fact that I contributed to making his short life a little better.

However, once at Reptile, I found out that we would be making the toast to Donovan at one. I therefore chatted to people until then, and, when the time came, met up with Paul Sticks, Lily, Steph, Jules, Rain and everyone else who was there who knew him, and made our way to the very cramped and busy bar to make the toast. It was then mentioned that someone had persuaded the DJ to make an announcement and play one of his favourite songs, but it seemed that no-one had told the DJ when to do so. I therefore offered to go to the booth and talk to him, and, upon reaching there, was told "oh, I was waiting for you - have a microphone and say a few words when this track runs out", with seconds left on the clock. I must admit, out of those who were there who knew Donovan, I was probably the least deserving of the task of eulogising our lost friend, but, to save the embarrassing pause and hopefully keep the attention of those on the dancefloor on me for as little time as possible, I mumbled a few words, and then passed on the microphone to a lass who had also thankfully stepped up to say something.

From that second onwards, time seemed to dilate. Suddenly, the world began to spin, and I actually felt my knees going slightly. I hung onto the edge of the booth, remember having a shouted conversation with a young lady who tried to thank me for saying something, and then all I can remember are heat and noise, and the occasional picture. I managed to get myself a drink and sit outside, talking to Karen and others, saying goodbye to people as they called it a night and peeled off in search of transport home, but throughout all of that, I could feel the absolute and utter void that the loss of Donovan meant to me - here was someone I would never see again, talk to, laugh with, trade insults with, ever again. I'm slightly ashamed to say that I took the oft-prescribed method of dealing with this heartache, and proceeded to pour as much alcohol into that void as I could manage - ironically exactly the same method that Donovan would have used. I'm pretty sure I didn't say anything untoward after that, but apologies if I did, just in case.

Even now, while I wrestle with the hangover and sit as quietly as possible to try and stop the pounding in my head, I can feel that despair pouring in again - it is going to be some time before the loss of our friend becomes something that can be tolerated and put to one side, but I console myself with the thought that he wouldn't have wanted us all moping about him. I can see his Cheshire Cat-like grin now, and that warms my heart. Goodbye, old chum.

New Year's Resolve

Firstly, a very Happy New Year to you all. I do hope you had a riotously good time last night, saw the new year in with a bang, surrounded by good friends, and aren't suffering too much from it all today. If you are, I'll do this as quietly as possible.

The past year has been a bit of a mixture of success and failure, good luck and misfortune, but absolutely full of things to do. One of the most fantastic things of the year still has to be moving in with eline, which I'm incredibly glad for, and seeing the house as it grows into something of our own. Of course, as mentioned last night in a conversation with monted, moving in with a loved one is the ultimate way to hermit oneself away from many other social engagements, and so this year, I hope, will be one where I can see more people, re-establish some old friendships, and perhaps even mend a bridge or two.

Of course, as many of you already know, 2010 will be known as the year I quit The Job, where I've been for seven years, and many of you who know me personally will know I've been quite unhappy in for some time. This means there's going to be the massive paradigm shift of leaving work on the 17th of January, and striking out as a freelancer, which is somewhat terrifying, and will require some discipline, but I'm hoping that it will be good for my mental health, provide me with more interesting work, and, fingers crossed, pay a bit better than the pitiful salary I was on, which will, hopefully, give me a better quality of life and a better way of living. One of my main aims is really to work on my creativity, get back into drawing frequently in sketchbooks, learning new languages (technical and social), writing in this journal and online more, DJing more regularly, and playing my instruments again - all things which I feel I haven't been doing half as much as I should have.

This coming year, I hope, will be one where I can also refine some of the processes in my life. There are many things which I think could be achieved more easily, or perhaps enhanced by making small changes, and I shall be on the look out for ways to make those improvements. Whether or not you believe the idea that we're going through a time of austerity, I do think that there may well be some belt tightening to come, and I shall be using it to find ways of streamlining, or improving the efficiency of parts of my life, not always economically, but certainly using that as a model to work from.

So, from all that, I can already see how the year is shaping up to be a busy one, but one I'm certainly looking forward to. If you have resolutions for the New Year, I hope you achiveve evbeything you set out to do, and, to put it much better than I ever could, I leave you with a New Year's Benediction, with which I heartily agree. I hope you manage to surprise yourself.

A busy few days

After the somewhat disappointing news last week that I had been unsuccessful at my interview on the Isle of Wight (thank you all for the kind words), I ended the week feeling somewhat discombobulated. My final day at work for the week, on Thursday, was extremely busy, and I really didn't feel like I was all there, as I was too distracted by thinking about what I was going to do next, and my granfather's funeral the next day. When I finally managed to get away at the end of what seemed a very long day, I felt shattered, both physically and emotionally. eline and I managed to get out to the Shaftesbury for the Sluts meet, where we met up with lots of people, including an origamitiger, who was very pleased to be in the country, and managed to cheer me out of my funk for a while. We chatted to people, and had a few drinks, but then had to leave early to get to my parents house, with whom we were travelling across to Herefordshire the next day for my grandfather's funeral.

The funeral itself was good - a fitting tribute that we all agreed Grandpa Bill would have been proud of. The start at the crematorium was hardest for me, as I've always found that it hits me hardest when I see the coffin itself, and eline was rather lovely and supportive while I blubbed a bit. I was also rather narked at the fact that the vicar decided to give the whole sanctimious Christian angle on things, telling us all how God giveth and God taketh away, when all I wanted was to just remember my Grandfather, and be thankful of his life. As we left the crematorium, a piper started up in the distance with Amazing Grace, which set me off again. We then went back to Ledbury, where my relatives lived, and had an hour's service of remembrance, with more sanctimony from the vicar (I'm so having a humanist funeral when it's my turn - not going to let some petulant godbotherer use the opportunity to push his agenda down people's throats), a lovely soloist rendition of Amazing Grace (which, as you may have guessed, was a favourite of my grandfather's, and as many of us agreed later, you could practically hear him humming along in the background), and then on to drinks at the local hotel. I managed to catch up with many of my relatives, as well as see some people I hadn't clapped eyes on for quite some time. Before long, however, we had to make the journey back to Buckinghamshire to my parents place, and then on to London.

Yesterday, however, was much cheerier, as it was indigo_violet and bootpunk's wedding. We started with the ceremony in Islington town hall, where I was asked to provide the music for the bride's procession and the signing of the register. The bride looked fantastic in an electric pink dress, the groom handsome in his tartan, and the whole thing went extremely smoothly, thanks in no small part to the military-style planning which went into the whole affair. After the vows were made, and the photos taken, we were shipped the The Prince Albert in Camden for the wedding breakfast in an old Routemaster bus. The food was lovely, some fine speeches made, and everyone there looked like they had a marvellous time. The final part of the day was at the Pipeline in Liverpool Street, where the wedding party was joined by other people we knew, and the drinking continued. I had to wait until the end for my DJ set, and found I was cut short as the bar's licence didn't allow them to get on any later, but I didn't mind, as I was merely happy to have helped with the proceedings. Everyone I talked to agreed that it was a fantastic day, and wish all the very best to the happy couple.

So now, it's on to thinking about what to do next. eline's term starts on Monday week, and so I've been considering my options. Suffice to say, I'd really like to go with her down to Portsmouth for a year, and was thinking that perhaps contract and freelancing work may be the way to go. I understand entirely that it may well not be terribly pretty in a financial sense for a while, but it will give me the chance to be more creative, and I may well have enough contacts to keep the work coming in at a steady rate - either from people in London, or finding contracts to work down in Portsmouth. If any of you have had experience with freelancing, I'd love to know your thoughts, and if you have any recommendations or advice on the matter. I hope that it might just well turn out to be the change I need.

Relatively speaking

The reason as to why you're not seeing much of either myself of eline this weekend, is becuase we have my aunt and uncle over, visiting from the Cotswolds. They arrived yesterday, have already been bamboozled by the passageways and tourists in Kings Cross, bemused by an African taxi driver asking if they were "from the country", and extremely well fed and watered by eline's incredible cookery skills. We're off today to show them round London, hopefully take them on a boat trip down the Thames, and show them some culture with the Sargent and the Sea exhibition at the Royal Academy.

In the meantime, my photos from last weekend's surfing in Newquay for part two of CJ's stag do can be seen here.

Sunday catch up

bootpunk's stag do last night was excellent fun. I'm probably breaking some long-held, unspoken rule by talking about it ("rule one of Stag Do, is that you DO NOT talk about Stag Do", or something...), but it actually was quite a well-behaved affair. There was bowling (in which many of us found we were rather rubbish) at Bloomsbury Bowling, my first time there, and rather fun, so I may well go back again. After which, we went across town to the Pipeline Bar, for a swift drink before walking down to Bodeans, Tower Hill, which, as it should be at any stag do, involved plenty of meat and booze. Our group then headed on to Reptile, which ended up being our last stop, as, throughout the evening there, the groom and various memeber of our group peeled away into the night, in search of our respective beds, leaving myself and dj_alexander and a few others to finish the night off. I danced rather a lot, spent time chatting to enlyyl, rainstorm328, sinbadsilk and more, managed to break the zip on my New Rocks, and stumbled home at the godforsaken hour of 4am. Still, no fights, no strippers (we must be getting old, or something...), and a good night all round. Definite success. I hope everyone else's head isn't hurting too much today.

In other news, as I've mentioned to a few of you, I have a telephone interview on Tuesday for a rather cool role which will be a distinct improvement on my current situation (about £11k per year better, in fact). All good, except that I hate telephone interviews, after having had a rather catastrophic one with Just Giving earlier in the year. I hate the fact that you can't see the person's face, and therefore guage the reaction of what you're saying. What's more, I can't really organise time off for it, so I'm asking for a long lunch-break, in which I'm going to hopefully find a quiet place with wi-fi where I can take the call. Aleks Krotoski, she of Bits, The Guardian Tech Podcast and The Virtual Revolution, has a rather good blog post on where to find such things. Ideally, if I can find somewhere I'm not having to shout over bad music, that would be a definite plus. Seeing as I'm starting in Vere Street, any recommendations of places in the area would be most welcome.

I've also been working on my online portfolio, which I no doubt shall be using during the interview. For those of you who don't know, I have a website portfolio at SableDesigns, but have also been playing with Behance, where I've been putting up a few projects which I've worked on over the years, and you can see the results here. Do go, take a look, and let me know what you think.

Really must get round to sorting out my usericons, too. Hmm.

Right. Off to combat the hangover with the judicious application of toast and tea. Happy Sunday, everyone.

Here I go again...

Those of you following my intertubes-related exploits will probably know that I am officially rubbish at keeping anything up. I've been on this here Livejournal for around eight years now, have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, LinkedIn, Blogger, Wordpress... the list goes on and on, and I always end up forgetting about them, and failing to keep people updated on things. I was thinking about this, this morning on the way to work, and have surmised that, (a) as I've been on here the longest, (b) a whole lot of lovely people I know are on here too, and (c) LJ seems to be the best platform to actually write things on, I'll try and maintain this instead, occasionally dipping into other formats, as and when I can.

So, what's been happening? Well, the lovely eline and I are making plans. Big plans, which, if all goes ahead, will certainly mean a big change in life for the both of us, for the coming year. It's all a bit up in the air at the moment, so I'm going to have to be vague about it for now, until things are more concrete - I've mentioned it to a few people, but I fear if I make it more widely-known, I may well jinx it all. However, I can tell you that some of these much-needed variables to get things in action are tantalisingly close, and I'm really rather excited about the whole thing. And yes, when I can tell you, you'll hear/read it here first.

Also, spare a thought for my poor lovely eline, who is currently convaelescing at home with a rather damaged toe. After cooking a wonderfully sumptious supper on Sunday evening, we were moving a table, and a rather heavy-bottomed vase fell off, straight onto the middle toe of her right foot. Cue said toe going rather interesting rainbow shades, settling on a purple-black ensemble, and my poor girlfriend being in rather a lot of pain, as well as discomfort ever since, as she keeps catching it when she rolls over in her sleep. Poor thing.

Right, back to the grindstone. Hope you're all well, and everything.

Food, glorious food...

One thing some of you may not know is that, over the past year or so, I've made something of a concerted effort to improve my cooking skills, and my culinary knowledge. I've alwasy been a big fan of food, and have, over the time I've been living in London, taken every chance to go out and sample what the various venues in London have to offer, much, I must admit, to the detriment of my bank balance, but I personally, believe that an evening of excellent gastronomic experience, no matter where it is, is certainly worth it.

However, the point of this exercise is to go further than merely consuming the work of others, and to actually learn to make food myself, thereby benefitting from the ability to do so, as well as appreciating more how others do it, and hopefully digging myself out of that "microwave meal for one" rut. I never really received any instruction in cookery at school, save a few sessions when I was very young, where the only thing I remember making were flapjacks and Mars Bar cake, which, although my young self would have strongly disagreed, I'm sure you'll agree that man cannot live on alone. Therefore, I went through years of life with my sole culinary nous being the ability to read the back of a packet, and follow the instructions there stated. However, I was put on the right track by various girlfriends over the years, chiding me for my lack of culinary expertise, and it was euphuistica who started the ball rolling, showing me how easy it was to cut winter vegetables into pieces, throw in a bit of diced garlic and onion and fried halloumi, and you've got a simple dish that tastes wonderful, keeps for lunches in the fridge, and doesn't require the skills of Raymond Blanc to produce. Later on tar0r very kindly explained to me just how simple and fluid cookery was, throwing things together in any combination you cared to produce, until you managed to find one that worked, flying entirely in the face of my belief that cookery was some kind of careful art, which followed strict rules and practices, and would take years to perfect.

It was, however, eline who has provided, and continues to aid me with the best start in my gastronomic adventures. She started with the suggestion that I subscribe to Growing Communities, a local organic vegetable box scheme that would provide me a with a bag of vegetables every week to work from. Unlike Able & Cole and others, Growing Communities work on the besis of they give you what's in season and ready, rather than being able to pick what you want. This is better for me as a cook, as it means that I have to work with what I'm given. This, along with the fact that they like to throw in every week a vegetable that you probably haven't seen before, such as Romanesco broccoli, Kale, or Jersualem Artichokes, means that I'm continually challenged in my cooking, looking for new recipies to use, and learning how to cook each different kind of vegetable. That, alongside lots of inquisitiveness, cooking with eline, and gaining inspiration from various cook books and websites, mean that I've learned just what a joy cooking can really be, and how I can create great stuff to eat, really quite easily.

So, today, I've decided to put all my experiences together, and start a food blog, hopefully entertaining readers with my food-related exploits, and encouraging other late-developing cooks into the joy that is cooking for oneself and others. If you're interested, I'll be putting posts on there about what I cook, the tips and techniques I learn, as well as the various restaurants and other culinary endeavours I take part in. For starters, I'm going to make my next LJ post a review of a secret supper club I went to last night in the depths of Islington, so hopefully you can get a taste of what's to come - do join me if you're interested.

Clang, boom, steam!

Last night, I managed to get two last minute tickets for myself and eline for the London Steampunk Spectacular at the Cross Kings. This was a bit of a last minute plan, thanks mainly to the fact that flannelcat couldn't make it, and was kind enough to part with some tickets for us, but it really made me rethink some things about the Steampunk scene.

The thing is, as a bit of backstory, I got into the Steampunk when introduced to it by some friends a few years ago. At the time, there really wasn't much of scene to see - a few internet sites, including the excellent Brass Goggles, the odd mention here and there, and a lot of people with some interesting ideas, making their costumes conpletely from scratch, cobbling together their creations with merely their ingenuity and patience. The interesting thing to note here was this was a scene that had grown entirely from ideas and fashion, with no music scene to speak of - one of the best examples of this being the excellent Clockwork Cabaret, a podcast produced by two girls from the states, playing an interesting mix of goth, burlesque, jazz, rock, and everything else than vaguely hinted towards the concept (Tom Waits and Abney Park, of course, being firm favourites). After doing some research, and looking at the whole thing, I pretty much marked it down as an interest, and even went along to the odd event or two, including the rather fun Telectroscope event (photos). After a while, I became slightly disillusioned with the whole thing, as things seemed to be going round in circles somewhat, and the groups seemed to be full of people telling everyone about the cogs they'd found and stuck onto an article of clothing, or the raygun they'd been making from a two quid nerf gun they'd picked up in the local toyshop. One of my more recent complaints was the fact that there was plenty of steam, but no "punk".

However, last night was a bit of an eye opener. We turned up, to find the usual types frequenting the Cross Kings, and found a few friendly faces. The organisers had pulled a masterstroke in getting Robert Rankin along as compere, who I had the pleasure of meeting and being a bit of a fanboy over later, but I'm quite sure his drycleaner will manage to get the stain out later. Mr Rankin introduced the first band, Saville Row a somewhat trendy-esque band which wouldn't have seemed out of place in the Hoxton area, which gave me my first realisation - namely that I'd previously seen the influx of various subcultures into the steampunk scene - a strong influence by goths, the burlesque and rockabilly scenes to name but a few, but it never occurred to me that the indie scene had their part to play, too (ironic, seeing as I'd heard very good Steampunky songs by the likes of the Decemberists and other darlings of the indie scene previously). The reason I'd turned up, however, was for the next band, The men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, a creation including the ex-member of the excellent Creaming Jesus, Andy Heintz, and the comedian Andre O'Neill. I had heard them through the previously mentioned Clockwork Cabaret, who played their excellent song "Stephenson" (a charming ditty about the fact there were four notable men in the Victorian era called Stephenson/Stevenson, with witty repartee throughout) endlessly. This, I found was where the punk was hiding - the mind behind Creaming Jesus ha taken their punk sensibilities (if that isn't an acronysm in its own right), and injected a herty dose of Victorian values and debauchery in for good measure. The result? A punk "grindcore" Steampunk band, throwing out songs such as "Manners Maketh Man" (a tenet which was actually the motto of my grandfather's public school, and was drilled into me at a young age), "Charlie Darwin" and "I Love A Girl In Goggles". needless to say, they took the crowd by storm, and provided me with a reason to love Steampunk again, giving a dose of anarchy, gout and buggery into a scene which I thought had become somewhat staid and stewing in its own juices. So much, in fact, that I completely missed Ghostfire, the headline act, as I was quite sure I'd seen the best event of the evening.

So yes - definitely looking forward to seeing what comes next - and buying The Men's debut album when it comes out in the next few months (the aptly named "Now That's What I Call Steampunk Vol.1"). One thing you can be sure of, however - I won't be sticking bloody cogs to items of clothing, or telling you about the raygun I made from a water pistol that I picked up in the local toyshop for only a few quid...

Smoking update

So, it's been a day and a half since I gave up smoking proper - my last cigarette being at 11pm on Sunday night.

Those of you who have seen me in the past week or two have noticed that I've been smoking, but that's due to the method I'm using, which, as mentioned previously, is the "Allen Carr Easy Way to Stop Smoking". For those of you who don't know, this basically encourages you to smoke whilst reading the book, and only stop once you've finished reading. All the while, it discusses the pros and cons of smoking, and explains to you why you should give up. What it doesn't to is remonstrate, chide, belittle or patronise, all qualities in people I've seen who, despite their best efforts to persuade me it's a bad thing, end up being more derogatory than useful, and, once this has been achieved, make my previous self, and other smokers, go running off to light up another cigarette.

The book's method, however, seem to have worked. Talking about the nicotine pangs, which I'm admittedly going through, but really don't bother me all that much (it's more of a mild discomfort, instead of an urgent need which people describe it as), and the main "brainwashing" methods, where you end up in a vicious circle, believing that you can't go on without a cigarette, and there really is no way you can survive without it, I feel quite ready for anything that the next few weeks have to throw at me, until the nicotine has properly left my body, and the physical withdrawal abates for good - a time I'm quite looking forward to, in fact.

One small thing I have noticed since giving up smoking, which is the fact that time seems to be going a lot slower. I'm not sure if it's a manifestation of the withdrawal symptoms, or perhaps something entirely different, but it does seem to feel like I achieve more in a much shorter space of time. I've yet to work out what is causing this sensation, and it's quite odd, really.


[meme] Ten albums that changed my life...

I's Saturday evening, and, while I'm swearing at the laptop for not doing what I want it to, and stopping me from doing anything productive, I decided to spend the time doing something much better - therefore, swiped from djpsyche....

Ten albums which changed my lifeCollapse )

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