Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Meaning of Jihad

Contrary to what some media outlets would like us to believe, 'jihad' does not directly translate to 'holy war'.
To many, the word means 'struggle' - an 'inner spiritual struggle', and is in no way a military term.
It has only taken on negative connotations with the rise of extremist groups.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

current favourites

Saturday, 11 January 2014

William Blake - Auguries of Innocence extract

To see the world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Monday, 30 December 2013

My song picks of 2013

Happy 2014 to everyone I love and here's my soundtrack.

1. Pumped Up Kicks - Foster the People

2. Slumville Sunrise - Jake Bugg

3. get lucky - daft punk

4. my colleague's band The Downpage Liberation - Underpass

5. Go your own way - Fleetwood Mac

6. the 1975 - chocolate

7. Bastille - Pompeii

8. Empire State of Mind - Jay Z

9. Ho Hey - Andrea Begley
(The Voice!)

10. Jake Bugg - Two Fingers

11. What Difference Does It Make - The Smiths

12. Arctic Monkeys - R U Mine?

13. The National - Beautiful Head

14. Jay Z & Kanye - N*ggas in Paris

15. (For Sarah!) Cee Lo Green - Forget you

16. Aloe Blacc - I need dollar

17. Wake me Up - Avicii (for Becci)

18. Icona Pop - I love it (for Marien!)

19. The Eagles - Get Over It (for Daisy)

20. Rhinestone Cowboy - Glenn Campbell

21. Eat Sleep Rave Repeat - Fatboy Slim

22. (tribute to some spectacular dancing) I Knew You Were Trouble - Taylor Swift

23. On Top of the World - to Marien - Imagine Dragons (The day the car broke down)

24. best song ever - One D (had to be done)

25. Foals - My Number

26. Everything everything - Kemosabe (the alone in wetherspoons song)

27. Lana del Rey - summertime sadness

28. Clean Bandit - Mozart's House (the washing up and baking song)

Thursday, 19 December 2013

'Write what you know' - Book review of The Post Office by Charles Bukowski

Synopsis: a short novel about the mundane realities of working in an American post office.
Set in the 50s and 60s, the story is said to be autobiographical.

I can't quite remember how I happened on this book, but I had heard the author's name before and I tend to be a big fan of this kind of contemporary American literature, mainly because it is so readable and satirical.
It opens 'It began with a mistake.' which very much sets the tone for the rest of the book. The writing style is conversational and you feel you are being invited into the protagonist Henry Chinaski's life. 

Whether you want to go there or not is your decision, but I don't think you should be afraid of a 'depressing' read once in a while, in fact in failure there is often a good story to be told.

In summary, Chinaski spends much of his life working for the post office in various roles, sleeping with women he doesn't seem to have a great deal of respect for and betting at the races.

The story concludes somewhat miserably with Chinaski having quit the postal service, and still being no further forward in his life than where he began, and just about to embark on a meaningless relationship with two individuals he met whilst in a drunken stupor.

Although the protagonist is relatable, part of me wants to say get on with it, move forward, instead of stewing away in the same old chair filing mail and going home to women he obviously has no real regard for (though he claims to be more knowledgeable than they about how their life will go - spoiler: when his long term partner leaves him for another man, he tells her that he will be no good, which turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.)

He seems to have trouble identifying with other people, and an apathy as to where life will next take him. His disregard for work, yet the ability to remain in his position is a questionable judgement on his workplace and I believe Bukowski was trying to draw a parallel to what he had found to be true throughout his own working life.

“The streets were full of insane and dull people. Most of them lived in nice houses and didn’t seem to work, and you wondered how they did it.”

(Charles Bukowski)

“To not have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.” - Charles Bukowksi

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Spanish adventure

My favourite part of flying is take off, that bit when nervous flyers feel like they might die. Ryanair it was, with its eye-watering navy blue and mustard yellow colour scheme, sardine-packed seats and hostesses offering the minimal possible social interactions to pass as customer service. It was short and sweet on the way out, and it was no time before we were swooping over the sea, on our right a Mediterranean city with a thrilling looking stretch of beach. Worlds away from home.


One of the first things you notice when you arrive in Southern Europe is the warmth that touches your face when you step out of the conditioned aeroplane air. It reminds you that you don't need that bulky coat or various knitted garments any longer.
So you tie the weighty materials to your already overfilled rucksack and await patiently your turn to get through customs, sweating in jeans and boots, unaccustomed to the beautiful climate as the sun beats down through the floor-to-ceiling glass panes.
The panoramic view of jets awaiting take off is to be seen through tinted glass, protecting foreign humanoids from Spanish sunshine. 
I'm on holiday!


 I walk purposefully towards the exits marked Sordida like I know where I'm going and head for the desk marked Aerobus where there is no queue, wondering at the heaps of tourists piled around the information point with their baggage. Does no one have a clue where they're going? Does anyone need that many bags?
I buy my ticket for the centre of town - five euros ninety and embarrassingly speak in English to the woman behind the desk.
 I always feel bad not understanding the language of a new place, but I am reliably informed by my Spanish friends that the Catalonian dialect would be pretty difficult to get to grips with even if I did learn Spanish, it's a whole different kettle of fish.
 I enjoy a bus ride through the suburbs inside an air conditioned coach and notice huge billboards displaying international brands, the gleam of the Nissan plant and row upon row of flats with bicycles and washing draped in their cage-like balconies.


 I reach the Placa di Catalunya, it's different to how I expected.
 It's a huge square, the buildings not exactly beautiful, and it's teeming with people, criss crossing in every direction and going about their business, whether that be work, selling souvenirs or holiday making.
The low sun bounces off the gleaming ground in the square and I find it difficult to get my bearings.
 I want to linger but I am conscious that the sun is going down and I don't know where my hostel is.
(Placa di Catalunya in daylight)


Upon arrival, I am given a key card for a sixth floor dorm by the relaxed duo behind the check in desk.
I dump my stuff in a crisp white top bunk and descend the break neck ladder.
I grab a 'hippy burger' in the hostel bar which is the wild mushroom flavoured vegetarian offering and have a wander round the gothic quarter which is stunning in the twilight.
A mish mash of street artists are by the cathedral including a classical ensemble and some street dancers performing stunts to please a large crowd.
(Orchestra in front of the cathedral at dusk)

 The streets are wide and at night are packed with streams of shoppers, as post siesta is prime time to hit the shops.


 Back in the hostel bar I soak up the atmosphere and eventually get chatting to a Polish guy and an Italian guy. 
(The hostel bar "welcome to the melting pot")
We drink a LOT of sangria, by which point my head is spinning, and head to the Hard Rock Cafe where cocktails are consumed including a rather revolting watermelon margarita and then jump on the metro to Barceloneta where we are promised a beach party.
Note to English travellers, the measures are much larger here than in the UK; I watched with incredulity in the beach bar as I ordered the free vodka and coke which came with the club cover charge and watched the bar maid pour about a glass' worth of vodka with a splash of coke.
The Italian tells me he is a photographer and works in Mexico.
The Polish guy tells me he has been living in Scotland for the last six years and works in a factory.


On the beach at 2 in the morning, the bay curves right round as far as my dizzied mind can see.
I feel euphoric yet a sense of total calm in the slightly cooler night air.
 The curvature of the bay seems to mirror a building perched right at the end of the beach which is a hotel. The architect designed it in a half moon shape, it looks like a sail.
 It's the middle of the night and we're on the beach and I can feel the Spanish sand between my toes - it's magical.
 I'm not totally Spanish yet as I am too tired to party until sunrise and I make my way back at 3.


I have obviously missed my free breakfast.
I wasn't expecting to go out on my first night, then again I wasn't expecting to befriend strangers immediately either.
The hostel atmosphere means its pretty easy to talk to new people. 
It's half past ten and it feels nice to take my time and get ready slowly instead of the usual mad rush for work.
 Head banging, I navigate the metro to the Sagradas Familia where I experience my first taste of Gaudi.
I'm getting better at the metro - London, Paris, Berlin and Barcelona over the last few years have helped me on this one though I am conscious of the the warnings everyone gives about Barcelona pickpockets.
(Sagradas familia)


 I buy some tropical fruit for three euros for the amazing variety of colour in one little box. 
I hover on the pavement opposite the cathedral with the other tourists and wonder at the intricacy of the designs. Gaudi's work is just phenomenal. Crazy, but totally brilliant.
What stuck in my mind was that it was still a work in progress. It took so long for him to create his masterpiece that it outlived him! 
He was a perfectionist.
 I listened in to a tour guide talking about the religious symbols on the front facade. 
It was an incredibly busy design, which took some getting used to. 
I then bought some over-priced noodles - note to self I do not like Udon noodles which have a worm-like texture - and headed across town on the metro to take a trip up the Montjuic cable car which promised stunning views across the whole city, getting horrendously lost in the process.
Several coffees and awkward encounters later, it did not disappoint. 
 The thin wire that against all odds attaches the cable car to the line looks like it shouldn't and the little cars are buffeted about in the wind as we bob across the sky above the city.
(Nervous heights)

(At the top!)
I watch people take photos of each other with ridiculously sized cameras and then ask a kind German couple to take mine for me.
On the way down I chat to an Austrian backpacker and then realise I have lost my metro two day pass. What an idiot!

 First thing.
I wander in and out of shops on Las Ramblas soaking up the atmosphere.
I also wander down the many ribbons of alleyways that weave in between the main streets which include an eclectic mix of touristy shops and the more unusual - I happen across a shop where you can rent a rainbow of different coloured bicycles, a legal highs shop, a sweet shop with a medical theme and various places you can buy paella.
The one shop that sticks in my mind from Las Ramblas is Desigual. 
It's colourful fashions and patterns entice me inside and I am wowed by the crazy designs, though the price tags deter me from taking a little item home with me.


During the Art Nouveau period, buildings started to be designed as 'living organisms' to be functional over the purely decorative styles of the Baroque era and nothing brings this more to mind than the Casa Battlo.
One of the absolute highlights of my sightseeing excursions about the city, this house, designed for a Mr Battlo I believe, encompasses the wild originality that is the Art Nouveau design.
A revolutionary design, the facade of the house is a pattern of delicate mosaics made from glass shards and balconies in a somewhat anthromorphic design reminiscent of skulls.
I can't begin to describe the wonderful experience I had inside the building but would suggest any visitor to Barcelona take the tour and support the preservation of the place. 

I don't have a set plan for the rest of the day so I consult my map and head for the arc de triomph, having seen the Paris one a few years earlier I want to know how they compare!
Easy in theory, but this is where my total lack of direction comes in and I end up wandering the maze of streets in between the two main stretches for a good hour.

(Here it is!)
(Salamanders everywhere, another Gaudi reference)


It's my last night and by about 9 I'm in the hostel bar planning a relatively relaxed night socialising with whoever as I'm catching an early flight the next day.
I try Vegas bombs with the barmen which are basically a mix of peach schnapps and red bull. 
I then order myself a mojito and start watching a film on my tablet when I am approached by a bar man who has informed me he hails from Codsall, Staffordshire and used to 'catch chickens in Uttoxeter'.
Small world!
He says "You're in Barcelona, you're drinking a MOJITO, it's your last night, how dare you watch a movie!"
He has a point.
I'm invited to join a string of hilarious drinking games by a lovely Finnish girl and an eclectic bunch of folk from Australia, America, Poland, Sweden and Finland.
We are taken by the locals down some side alleyways to a music bar called Nevermind, which offered popcorn and had a skate ramp inside it. 
We ordered 'jack the stripper' flaming shots and a delicious shot of chocolate and coffee liqueur mixed together with cream on the top which you had to drink without hands.
I'll let you guess it's name.
We have a bit of a drunken conversation about American politics while we follow the locals down some seedy side streets to get to the next bar.


The next bar was bright and full of mirrors. 
I learned the art of 'beer pong' which I was predictably awful at after a few drinks, in that I couldn't get a single ball in the beer. 
We sat outside, swopped travel stories and shared a sorry looking cigarette between the three of us. We were approached by the same old man several times trying to sell us his wares. 
We also get a bucket of what is hopefully water chucked over our heads for being too noisy, from a top floor window somewhere in the winding streets we explored that evening. 


Picasso. I wake up four hours later eager to see the final stop on my Barcelona wish list - the Picasso museum, a gem buried in the side streets of an unassuming area of Barcelona.
Picasso is an artist which I have always classed as someone I admire, a modern artist who I want to find out more about.
I don't believe I fully appreciated the diversity of his works before I spent some time at the Picasso museum.
It costs 8 euros to get in, it's difficult to find (especially with a hangover) and there's a bit of a queue, during which we are entertained by some of the best street artists I have seen in a while.
I wander round trying to take in as much as I can in the short time I have.
What stands out to me are the Las Meninas series, 45 paintings of different views of one Velazquez work.
I feel that his work often takes a second look to get to the heart of his thought patterns.
I feel I have only scratched the surface of his work.
Which is how I feel about Barcelona - four days wasn't enough to find out everything, I have merely scratched the surface and I will definitely be back for a second look.
(A park I happened upon with palm trees)