All this stuff.

I wouldn’t class myself as being a materialistic person. I do like films, I do like music, I do like books, I do like gadgetry but I’m not one for designer clothes and fads and things of that ilk which is why the last twenty-four hours has been a real surprise to me.
I decided to take the first step towards a minimalistic lifestyle, my reasons for this are as follows;
– I feel cluttered and loaded constantly.
– I needed to give myself more direction.
– It would help me avoid working on my short stories for yet another day.
So I read up on minimalism and the minimalistic lifestyle, and decided that I could only ever follow it to a point. They would put this down to my fear but I don’t think that is the case. I just wouldn’t be comfortable in a room that was just my desk and a laptop, I need a little something else.

I started by writing out what I wanted, how I wanted to be and where my focus should be directed. I then started working through the piles of everything I have collected in the last quarter of a century. With two bags of clothes, two bags of rubbish, a box of books, a box of DVDs and CDs to send off and a big pile of documents for shredding you would think I were typing this post from a stark Kubrickian landscape but my room still looks exactly the same, I’ve barely skimmed the top layer of stuff but already I can see where I could develop from there.
We all own a lot of things that serve no purpose whatsoever. That’s one of the few things that annoys me about Christmas, I enjoy giving people presents a lot more than I enjoy receiving them but I often wonder what becomes of the things I give to people, if they ever get any real use out of them or if it just becomes another thing to sit on their shelves or line their drawers. I’m going to try really hard this year to think about what happens beyond the time of giving, when the tinsel comes down and we are left with a stark January. I would like to hope that I can give people something that they will look after and cherish, rather than just assign a space and disregard for months at a time.

The 2nd Law – an album review.

And so, like a battered spouse returning to a lover who hasn’t quite beaten enough sense into them this morning I streamed Muse’s 6th studio album, The 2nd Law. It wasn’t actually that bad to start out with, Supremacy is a good opening track, bearing in mind I was expecting the weeble and bob of dubstep to ring out before a guitar chord could be struck. It’s grandiose in a Bond opening track kind of way, and the riff is typically Muse in a good way, there’s a bit of Kashmir thrown in for good measure as well with the strings, I’ve got to confess that seeing how I set out to hate the album, and dismiss a band I have followed for over a decade it was starting to draw me in.

After Supremacy comes Madness which doesn’t sound as out there and awful as an album track as it did when I first heard it on YouTube as a single track, it fits nicely, and while it’s not Uno or Muscle Museum or Bliss or Hypermusic or even Invincible, it’s not wholly dreadful despite the bass sounding like someone was messing about and forgot to return the settings back again before releasing it. It starts heading into this strange Queen vibe with the solo, and that’s not a wholly terrible thing either. If Muse want to continue down the stadium rock avenue then Queen are a good band to draw from. The closing vocal harmonies are also very Mercury. After that comes Panic Station which sounds like Queen being covered by Scissor Sisters, it’s not Muse but it’s not unlistenable either.

From there it starts to completely lose me though. Survival still sounds like Muse were given twenty minutes to pull a song together about the Olympics, it doesn’t fit and it’s lyrically one of their worst. Then unfortunately we get to Follow Me which starts out meaning well but soon ‘drops’ into the kind of chorus that would make me head to the bar, it’s very of the moment and I don’t mean that in a good way, I mean it’s very lazy and derivative and just not the band that I thought they were. I completely understand that bands do need to develop, especially by the time they’re releasing a sixth album but this is not growth, it’s not even enjoyable.

Just as we are getting somewhere again afterwards, and I’m slowly accepting the way the songs are going, the layers of vocal and the choppy U2-esque guitar we get to Unsustainable, which to me should be called Unforgivable. I am not a fan of dubstep but I don’t think what is displayed here is even good dubstep, it sounds like a fad track and I hope it’s something that Muse will later laugh off, like it’s their Frog Chorus, that’s how it feels. Even for them the news report intro is heavy-handed and obvious and then it just descends like a car losing control and plummeting off a cliff edge.

I can’t say I hate it, but it’s got a lot of skipability as an album. I’ll buy it, because there are some genuine moments of brilliance on there, but I wonder what is to come. I worry that I’ve lost a band that I once truly loved, that they’re going for a wider audience and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Babel – an album review.

Every person I’ve spoken to who has heard Babel seems to be very much in love with it. Every review of Babel I’ve read criticises Mumford & Sons for not breaking boundaries or pushing things forward. Quick question; why break boundaries when you can do so well on a second outing under the same heading? The truth is that the album is an absolute triumph and I’m glad that Marcus and co haven’t cut back on the wild banjo-plucking builds or the choruses that already sound like they’re echoing across festival sites and in amphitheatres. That’s what we want them for.

The only correct notion I’ve read in a review is that the cover looks like an M&S advert but I was always taught not to judge a book by its cover, and extend this to albums and films. Gathered inside Babel are fifteen songs that instantly feel comforting, like the smell of a loved one’s jumper. From the opening and title track to Where Are You Now it brings everything we all love about Mumford & Sons to the table of homemade preserves and cave cheese.

What I say is let the critics carry on, critics gonna critique and all that. They’d be complaining if Babel was a space jazz odyssey as well. Time will tell on this one but I think they’ve done well, and I look forward to the summer when we will all be dancing round our ciders to Whispers In The Dark and I Will Wait.

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A few days in Devon – Three.

When we awoke on Sunday I felt like I had lost half of my body, my legs were just dead weight, I hadn’t been prepared to walk that far. It made me wonder what I’ll be like when I’m out in the Sahara, and have to walk that distance every day. All I could do was hope that the weather was truly awful and that for the most part we would be confined to the inn.
By the time we had finished another hearty breakfast my good luck was in, wind whistled through the gaps in the old building and rain pelted the thin windows from all sides, there was no way we could really go on another adventure.

We took a quick drive down to Lynmouth, to buy some little souvenirs for friends and family, and then stopped in a cafe for tea, scones and shortbread. The weather was just unrelenting, and although we sat for a while and people watched we knew it was going to be a day where we were best of back at the inn so eventually headed back up the hill and settled in with some tea and biscuits to watch TV. I know that sounds like it isn’t the ideal thing to do when you’re away, but the fact of the matter was I couldn’t have done it with anyone else, and enjoyed it as much as I did with Kate.

Even when we did venture out to a pub that evening (under the promise that we would have lobster which was caught in the local bay) we found it so full of backwards, inbred, stitch-faced basterds that we didn’t feel comfortably and just went to eat somewhere we trusted we wouldn’t be gawped at for not being local.

Having spent a couple of days there I now completely understand why it is such big business in Kate’s house. Her, her siblings, and her parents have such a strong bond with the place, and have so many fond memories and it was really nice to be brought in on that, and to understand all of the references. I felt very lucky and very privileged.

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A few days in Devon – Two.

We woke up bright and early on Saturday to start out on our big adventures. While Kate got ready I laid in bed watching The Hoobs and reading 1Q84 which is quickly becoming an obsession. Once we were both ready we headed downstairs for breakfast which was one of the best fry ups I’ve had for a long time. It was for the best because I knew we were going to be out walking for the majority of the day and I would need my energy.

From the inn we headed up the road and through a graveyard where we were told we could pick up the path that would lead down the cliff-face to the little seaside town. As we were making our way through we noticed that the church attached was open. There was a sign up to say that they never locked it, and that it was a place of refuge, so we went in. It was absolutely incredible. I’m not really one for organised religion but the stained glass windows and the ambience of this tiny church really got me. We were the only people in there, I’d never had an experience like that before. I had a go on the organ and we took some photos and then we headed down the coastal walk and back to Lynmouth.

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From there we took the water-powered Victorian-era Cliff Railway up to Lynton. At this point I noticed that we were the youngest people in the town by about fifty years and that it probably said a lot about our tastes, not that it mattered, it felt like we had discovered something that everyone else was missing out on. At Lynton we sat outside the town hall and wrote funny postcards home and to each other and then we walked out further to the Valley of the Rocks, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in England. There are three huge hills at its centre covered in loose rock that people climb, including the White Lady which has a tunnel of rocks on its peak that from a certain angle looks like a lady in a hat.

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We then headed down to Lee Bay to play in the surf, taking our shoes off and rolling up the cuffs of our trousers (or leggings) to splash about. We then ran out on the rocks that were still above sea level and made silly poses. We got back to Valley of the Rocks and had a pasty and some tea to cover our bellies before the long walk back.

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I then stupidly bet Kate that I could run up the biggest of the three hills in two minutes, because I was under the belief it was about half a mile. What I didn’t take into account is that it is a lot harder to run uphill, so it actually took me eight minutes and about double that lying on a bench at the top to recover. Elderly couples passed us as we recovered with a cheery ‘hello’ as they made their way along the top with no signs of difficulty. From there we headed back along the scenic route and down into Lynmouth again before taking the Sparrow’s Walk up to the inn again to ease our aching bones in the bath and then prepare for dinner with Kate’s aunt and her partner who don’t live too far from where we were staying. It was a lovey evening and the surroundings and pleasant company eased the pain of having covered over ten miles in a day and talking to each other through gritted teeth at points.

A few days in Devon – One.

Had a lovely few days away with my favourite. When we arrived on Friday morning we headed straight down to Lynmouth and went out on the tiny strip of rock that hadn’t yet been swallowed by the rising tide. I slipped and managed to get both of my feet engulfed in the incoming waves so had to walk to Watersmeet with soggy feet. Along the way I started to realise why it is that Kate and her family love it there so much, it’s so beautiful and so tranquil, there is no hurry or rush about anything, it felt like the kind of thing I was entirely ready for, I didn’t have phone signal the whole time we were there which was a blessing. We kept finding beautiful spots along the river to take photos and Kate let me disappear off, climbing rocks like I was a kid. Along the way she pointed out the exact spots where funny things had happened when she had been there previously.

When we got to Watersmeet we sat at a cafe that looked like the Weasley’s house, and Kate bought me a cream tea. Before we ate she insisted on placing some crumbs on a post for the local birds, seconds later we were surrounded. Kate said that she felt like Snow White, I felt like a character in a Hitchcock film.
As we got up to leave it started to rain and we made the journey back to Lynmouth with our hoods up. Once again I went hopping off rocks, taking photos and dashing back to the path to show off my bounty. When we got back to the beach the tide was on its way out and we went crabbing (another favourite past-time from Kate’s childhood holidays there), turning over rocks in search of crustaceans. The sun suddenly emerged and the beach was ours.

We got back to the town and had fish and chips sat up on the sea wall, all the while glaring at the circling seagulls. It was an experience that Papa John raved about and had therefore set high expectations of, I’m pleased to say it lived up to them, it was spot on. After that we walked out along the pier and trying to show off I splashed about in the water at the end of the pier where it sloped to meet the tide.
Once my boots started to dry I foolishly threw myself off the sea wall and lost my balance, gaining yet another shoeful of sea water. Kate rightfully laughed and called me names. With sea all up my jeans we got to the car and headed to the inn to check in. I told Kate to keep me away from the sea from then on.
The Blue Ball Inn (where we stayed) is literally carved into the side of a hill on the edge of a coastal walk, there are no other landmarks for a mile, it was brilliant. We checked in and then headed downstairs to eat dinner by the open fire.
With bellies full of fresh local mussels and pan-fried duck and a bottle of red wine we stumbled off to bed ready for the next day.

Home again.

I just got in. I had a lovely couple of days away from it all, I had no Internet, no phone, no contact with the outside world for three days and it has done me the world of good.
I’m off to bed now but you can expect a series of updates on my adventures this week, I missed you a bit.
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