Category Archives: General
I always say, but then feel weird saying ‘good luck’ on getting your exam results. It should depend entirely on your hard work throughout the year (or two, or three); no amount of luck on results day, good or bad, is going to change that. Even if the envelope spontaneously combusted, it all goes through automatically online now!
Fourteen years ago, I opened that envelope. I had made firm and insurance choices for university, but as both universities gave me the same offer, I was either getting in to university or not. It certainly made opening that envelope even more stressful than if I had even the remote possibility of a backup plan. They may as well have written ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a slip of paper in black felt pen and sealed it in there.
It was a ‘yes’, thankfully. But as I’ve learned over the years, if it had been a ‘no’, it wouldn’t necessarily have been the end of the world. It would have been a setback and a major disappointment, with a tangible and natural emotional response. But I’ve had the opportunity to see that there are second chances. I’ve taught people who didn’t get the A-Levels they needed, who have gone on after their foundation year to do really well on the same Physics degree as the rest of us.
If you got the results you wanted, give yourselves a well-deserved pat on the back, and a well-deserved break from the stress over the next couple of weeks. If they’re not what you hoped for, you still need a break, and when you feel ready, regroup, be objective. It’s not as simple as the memes make out: it’s not as simple as believing better things will happen merely by thinking positively. But success is still a possibility. There are also many, many definitions of success.
They say that friends are the family you choose. The fact I’ve chosen to think of my parents as friends shouldn’t be incompatible with this. There are many who tell me how much they admire how close we Nemeths are as a family, and how special this is, but I also encounter people who – I guess the best word I can find to describe it – are troubled by our closeness.
I completely understand that not everyone is close with their relatives, and that in extreme circumstances this can be due to events which no-one should have to go through, making any connection totally untenable. But enduring forced separation, whatever forced it, should make strong connections even more precious, not less.
Even amongst those who aren’t ‘troubled’, there is still a perception that I am somehow hampered by my parents, that I could have achieved so much more without them if I’d flown the nest, or cared less about what they thought, or stopped letting them tell me what to do. At this point, I’m hearing a parody of the recent We Buy Any Car advert in my head: “my parents even let me say all this in a blog!”
To be fair, I haven’t helped myself. I often say “my parents this“, or “my parents that“, without clarifying the deeper meaning behind it. I don’t make the assumption that I have to explicitly state that my parents are more experienced than me, often know better than me (not always, they’re human), that I look up to and respect them, and so if they think this or that, it adds tremendous weight to what I could say on my own, even though I happen to agree with them. Nor do we always agree. Nor do I assume that I have to clarify that we don’t always agree, in order for the full weight of “my parents…” to come across in the way it was intended.
I’ve only just learned to drive. If I said to you “my driving instructor said I must stop at traffic lights”, would you tell me that I shouldn’t listen to their experience? Should I be allowed to make my own mistakes? Am I really going to allow my driving instructor to tell me what to do?
OK, at this point you may argue – quite rightly – that this is not a good analogy. There are rules of the road. There is the Highway Code. There is also common sense. But common sense still has to be learned, and it has been passed down, from generation to generation, whether in print, in traffic law, or in driving lessons. Doing the opposite of common sense, just to be seen to be doing it differently, would be foolish and reckless.
But let’s be more realistic. Parental advice is more like the later lessons. Read the road ahead. Slow down just in case there’s a hazard around that bend. Make sure you can see both ways coming out of a junction, and stop if you can’t. It does sound a lot like being told what to do, but it’s far more subtle. They’ve seen more roads than you have. They’ve seen more of what happens on those roads. There’s no reason why taking their advice necessarily stops you going your own way, but it will help you to do it using experience you haven’t had to gain for yourself. If instead you choose a different route, based on their experience, is this really being told what to do?
When I listen to my parents, I am making a conscious decision, as an adult, to take advice from adults who are wiser than me, care deeply about my future and well-being, share many of the same interests and thought processes, who also happen to be related to me. Some of us find many of these qualities in people who are not related, whether they be friends or partners, yet it’s only parents who apparently exist on a different strata of human being in some people’s eyes. This is unfortunate, and to me, it doesn’t make sense.
Going back to me potentially achieving ‘so much more’ if I’d been ‘more independent’ – let’s be objective. I often wonder what it would have been like to move away to university. I have sometimes allowed myself to be swayed into thinking that I was prevented from doing so by my parents, and it’s all too easy to skew my own memories if I forget to be objective. The reality is that I was impressed by the university I chose right from the day I visited there on a college trip. I’d seen it often from the bus. I’d walked past it, orbited it, and always been curious about it. On open day, it didn’t disappoint. I went to other open days, and some universities came closer than others, but Swansea was still in first place. It just happened to be on the doorstep. Others cited this as the very reason I shouldn’t even be considering it, but if this was the only argument against, it was a pretty poor one. Swansea was a win-win: it was my favourite university, and I lived a minute’s walk from a bus that would get me there reliably each morning (at the time, at least – it’s not quite so convenient now as it used to be, but the declining bus service is a different rant). Maybe I shoulda woulda coulda lived out, but I saved a lot of money by not doing so. I missed out on some of the nightlife, but I also missed out on not getting regular sleep because other students not doing physics weren’t missing out on the nightlife. I missed random fire alarms, and having to move my belongings back and fore each holiday. I didn’t miss my parents. Well, I did miss my parents, but only for a day, not weeks or months.
They get me to work every day, and they get me to gigs. Yes, I could have learned to drive sooner, but with money I didn’t have to spare, which is why I chose not to. Yes, I could have my own car now, seeing as I’ve recently passed my test, but 1) I can’t really afford to buy or maintain one at the moment, 2) where would I put it, 3) isn’t it more environmentally-friendly to car share with the other people I live with, who I just happen to be related to, and happen to share the same musical interests as me? My parents, you say? No, they’re friends I’m bringing to the gig, or rather they’re bringing me to the gig. They really enjoy the music, and promote it loads. It’s a win-win, for me and them. Did they give birth to me? Yes, I suppose so, but they’re actual people and everything.
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe, said Carl Sagan. Yes, I could be more independent. But no-one is truly independent. I could shun the kindness and generosity of these adults I happen to live with, citing the fact that they are my parents, but if this is the only argument against, it is a pretty poor one.
My sister and I were early adopters of 3’s Skypephone; first the S1 (one of which is still used by mum, the other one having had its screen squished into oblivion by dad), followed by the glitzy S2. I remember a confusing dialogue taking place at the time of purchase: I was toying with buying a USB internet dongle (this was before the days of Mi-Fi), but the S2 had the capability of acting as an internet dongle as well as a phone. I suggested that I may be tempted (for the first time) to sign up for a contract, if I could have my internet allowance on my phone, rather than a separate dongle. I tried and tried, but was repeatedly told that that simply wasn’t the deal: you had to have a HSDPA internet-capable phone (without the internet), and a separate dongle (which couldn’t also be a phone). The mind boggled, I gave up, and went instead for two Skypephone S2 phones for a special offer of £100 (£69.99 each).
My phone worked brilliantly; at the time a huge, vivid colour screen compared to what I was used to, animated swooshy icons, smart exterior. I loved it. Unfortunately my sister, by chance, received the dud. She tried to tell me repeatedly that there was a problem with it, and for far too long I refused to believe her, thinking it was ‘just new’, she hadn’t gotten used to it, or maybe there was a bug, but it would be fixed in the next update. Alas, the support for both models of Skypephone was abominable, which was such a shame as the initial marketing surge promised so much potential (right now, in 2014, support for Skype on the…erm…Skypephone is being discontinued as we speak, if it hasn’t already been). When I finally realised that my sister wasn’t lying about the phone becoming a gibbering wreck after ten minutes of operation, with key presses producing cryptic nonsense befitting of the Enigma machine, I tried to take it back. It was repaired, and again, and again. Each time, it came back no different (except for a sticker on the display that you had to peel off, making it feel as if it had been given a once-over, even though this much was becoming increasingly doubtful). On the final attempt, we were told that if it was sent for repair again, and nothing was found to be wrong, we would have to pay for the cost of sending and returning it. I decided to ask if there was any way of getting a refund, but after checking on some sort of price checking website which looked like one for recycled phones, we were told its current value was no more than £3. I didn’t expect the full £69.99 retail price to be returned, or even £50 (half the price of the £100 deal for two phones), but since I’d only ever received one working phone, it would have seemed fair to me to return at least £30 (the difference between the retail price of one phone, and the deal price for two). But nope. £3. I decided to keep the phone…a pretend phone would cost more than that! And, who knows…maybe I’ll be able to fix it or salvage bits from it myself one day (wonder if I could use the screen on my Raspberry Pi?)
I can’t remember exactly when I purchased my (Blackberry-esque) Nokia E63, but it was shortly after receiving this disappointing news; probably some time in 2009. Android OS was but a fledgling, and Symbian s60 was at the cutting edge. I remember the excitement as I tried out the phone in the shop, pulling me from the cloud of dismayal at the failure of my sister’s Skypephone S2, and the worry that mine may fail the same way, someday soon. The fact that the salesperson pulled me out of that gloom and won me around to buying my Nokia was certainly no mean feat and probably deserves some sort of award. It was a unique combination of events: nowadays, it’s easy enough to listen to internet radio on your phone, but back then it was something entirely new to me. Having recently started my show on Off The Chart Radio, I was keen to listen to as many of the other presenters’ shows as possible, but couldn’t unless I was next to a PC. That was all about to change, thanks to the Nokia’s prominent Internet Radio app. It may have appeared basic, but it did everything you’d need it to; there was an internet radio directory, but there was also an option for you to add your own station, and it adapted to use the lower bitrate streams when using mobile data. It was perfect. It did email, Windows Live Messenger, Skype, had a full QWERTY keypad, looked professional; my first true smartphone. I remember the excitement as I unboxed it for the first time, and the horror as I thought I’d made a big mistake as we reached a part of the road with no street lights on the way home and I couldn’t see a thing I was typing, then the surprise and elation as the whole keypad brightly and evenly illuminated itself as if by magic!
This phone’s been a part of my life for a long time. Other, allegedly better phones have come along (don’t get me started on the iPhone…in short, chargers breaking, all the time) but I’ve resisted change. I was even given an Android phone as a gift; it’s great, but on a different network, so it’s become more of a mini internet tablet for occasional use, than a phone. I’ve kept my Nokia E63 going despite the leather-effect slip-on case literally falling apart around it (I haven’t even replaced the case!)
But there was one problem I couldn’t ignore. At first, I didn’t even realise there was a problem; I just thought the battery door had come loose, so I closed it again. Then it was loose again. Then it wouldn’t secure. Had the phone’s back cover had its day? I didn’t think so, the lugs all looked fine, the catches looked fine, I could see nothing wrong that would stop it closing in this way…until I noticed, by looking at the phone from the side, that the back cover was bulging ever so slightly near the middle. “Hmm, that’s odd” I remember thinking as I pulled the cover off once more, then got a bit scared. The battery was swollen.
“Ooh err…that doesn’t look good!” That was a dramatic understatement. I looked online and found various severe warnings about even using the phone at all, let alone charging it. I was terrified at the number of days I must have already been using it in its on-the-point-of-exploding-into-a-fireball state. I started looking for batteries online, but brand new batteries from Nokia would have cost a decent fraction of the cost of a new phone. For a few days I had no choice but to risk charging it; I had other phones, but none that would accept that SIM. I felt I should have been wearing goggles and heat-proof gloves (and flame-retardant trousers) every time I pressed a button. I ducked for cover every time I forgot and ended up putting the phone on tables a little too heavily.
“Aha! Batteries for £5! Bargain!” as I looked on a well-known reputable shopping website. Then I read an article which described how a load of counterfeit batteries had been released onto this well-known reputable shopping website, and I was glad I’d decided to wait to get one. These batteries had the potential to be as explosive as the swollen one I already had, or at the very best were said not to work very well at all, with shocking battery lives. Scary stuff.
When I found www.battery-megastore.co.uk, I was therefore understandably skeptical. It was a shop I’d never heard of, but it seemed trustworthy and had a comprehensive range of ‘old’ phone batteries, and at a price (£12.98 inc. VAT and P&P) that seemed like a reasonable compromise between too-good-to-be-true and the full official retail price from Nokia itself. I’d seen some mixed reviews about their delivery of some makes of battery, but delivery of Nokia batteries seemed to be OK, so I chanced it. A bubble-wrapped envelope arrived on schedule, and the new battery (unswollen, and with its official hologram sticker) has been charging and discharging happily since July 2013. Battery life and behaviour is as good as new. I am a very happy first time customer, and if I’m ever in need of another battery, I now know where to go.
I hate how throwaway our culture has become, and this is a definite win for keeping old but still completely usable tech going. On that note, next up, I need to see how I can revive my old iPod…I’ve heard you can buy an adapter to replace the hard drive with a flash card…
The last weekend of July 2014 was another epic journey for our trusty runaround, the Nemethmobile. The car has now clocked up so many miles that the digital odometer has suffered the distance-equivalent of the Millennium Bug, rolling around to zero after it hit 299,999 miles, much to Dad’s surprise and amusement.
After a lovely National Youth Choir of Wales concert in Wrexham, North Wales, we pointed the car towards Gloucestershire. Mum had identified the Almondsbury Interchange Hotel & Restaurant, which offered us a very reasonably priced family room. My first port of call is usually Travelodge, but the availability that weekend was (unusually) very poor: in fact, there were no family rooms at all in the nearest ten hotels to Gloucester (possibly, as we’d later find out, due to the WOMAD festival). Whilst we often use Travelodge, it’s good to be forced off our ‘default setting’ once in a while. A friendly phone booking left a good impression, and we were informed that the reception was open 24 hours: this was important to us as we knew we’d be arriving in the early morning. The room was spacious, incredibly clean, and the beds very comfortable. The shower was straightforward and all the better for it; showers with temperature controls purport to be better, but they can be tough to turn especially when wet, and it normally takes me a good few minutes to get a comfortable temperature out of them. Call me old before my time, but a hot and cold tap is far more preferable, not to mention the option of a full bath. Little things, too: there were enough seats for people in the room (something which you tend not to take for granted as travellers on a budget), and even a bedside cabinet and lamp each, as well as enough cups, tea/coffee facilities, TV, hairdryer, etc. (I really wanted to use the trouser-press, just for the sake of it…) Continental breakfast was included in the room price, served in a pleasant restaurant room, and the cooked breakfast option for £2 was more than reasonable.
The gig I’d be playing at was a private party a few miles from Gloucester. Usually, for ‘long-distance’ gigs, we’re travelling specially, and we rarely get a chance to look around the area I’m playing in. This made a lovely and leisurely change. We nearly rejoined the M5/M4, but not being in a rush (and generally fans of weird and wonderful single-carriageway routes), we took the A38 instead. It’s only now, looking at the map properly, that I’ve realised how circuitous a route we must have taken to Chipping Sodbury, in order to even pass anywhere near to The Fleece Inn at Hillesley. Immediately intrigued by the words ‘community pub’, we headed inside, by chance catching their second anniversary celebrations of buying the pub. It’s always lovely to see what can be achieved if a community pulls together, and I had to have a commemorative tankard as a memento. It was filled at my request with ‘Velvet Ale’; the label asked if I could taste the peaches, and I could. We even tucked in to some chilli and pulled pork rolls for lunch, and then watched the enthusiastic line dancers accompany the live musical entertainment in the outdoor marquee.
We then headed off, swinging by the gig venue to make sure we knew we could find it later, then on to Tetbury. The Chipping Court Shopping Mall brought back fond memories of the range and character of shops we used to have in the Oxford Street Arcade in Swansea years ago – unusual antiques and artwork – and it was lovely to just browse as we walked past. Emerging on the other side, we had to look at the wine cork stools next to the table outside Vinotopia. I remember thinking how convincing these giant corks looked, which must have been made of stone, so I assumed…then I looked closer and thought it was some sort of wood…and then, on tactile testing (or, in other words, like a toddler, I had to reach out and touch it), it was actually made from cork! Our intrigue was held for the crucial amount of time to be tempted in. Of course, us not being connoisseurs, the thought crossed our mind that the lowest price wines here may be beyond our price range, but we were immediately put at ease by the knowledgeable staff, who recommended a selection of reasonably-priced good wines. We bought a gift of wine for a friend and a recommended rosé for ourselves, and on mentioning we had a long distance to travel home (and a long time to wait to do so), the staff went the extra mile and donated us a polystyrene box so we could keep it as cool as possible. It is this type of ‘shopping experience’ that is forgotten when everything you need is available in the supermarket, where you zip up and down the aisles spending hardly any time contemplating, in some ways similar to the difference in the process you go through to buy a CD in an independent record store and doing the same in a supermarket, or online. In the latter case, you normally already know what you want, you just may need help to find it. In an independent store, there’s always the possibility of finding something new that you’d never thought of trying. If we’d passed the bottle of rosé that we bought in a supermarket, our thought process might have stopped at “that’s an interesting colour”, as we tried to keep in mind the loaf of bread we were actually heading towards picking up. At an independent, dedicated store, as happened in Vinotopia, this became the springboard to a dialogue, and of course a sale, but one which brought pleasure to the seller and customer, rather than an emotionless bleep before you hear the words “unexpected item in the bagging area” for the fifteenth time.
Good gosh, I am old before my time! I said “good gosh” as well, didn’t I?! Golly.
There were many more wonderful shops in Tetbury, as well as one of the British Toilet Association’s Toilets of the Year 2007 (there’s a British Toilet Association?!), and we were wowed with the range of crafts in Artique, which was a Tardis-like shop, extending much further back than you would have expected from the front or the ‘front room’. Incredible large wooden murals were plentiful in the back outdoor area, and unusual crafts and textiles all around.
We’d remembered seeing a sign for a farm shop on the way there, so headed back in that direction to try and find it. The Farm Shop at Hawkesbury (Upton) was behind a house, seemingly in their (large) back garden, and despite worrying that we’d interrupted the owners’ garden lunch, they were more than happy to open the shop for us. There was a plentiful selection of local cheeses, meats, jams, icecreams and breads. We had the scones with cheese for an evening snack when we got home, and they were delicious. I’d never tried cinnamon icecream before, either.
How amazing is this? My incredibly talented friend Becky has created a three-dimensional model of the Nemethsphere, with incredible attention to detail!
I want to take it everywhere, but it’s far too precious…I don’t want to lose it or break it…but if I get the opportunity to take it on tour safely (and get a few pictures in the process), rest assured I will.
I’ve always been interested in science, media and music. In my experience, it’s been difficult for some proponents of science to understand how or why media and music have become such significant parts of my life, but they are there, and they aren’t easily suppressed. I should know…I’ve tried! When it really mattered, of course, I managed to commit the required resources to the completion of my thesis, and I’d have been tremendously disappointed if I hadn’t. However, almost as soon as the thesis had been submitted, I committed to an extra weekly radio show on Off The Chart Radio, took on more gigs with Henry Marten’s Ghost and Thistledown, and even started making enquiries about playing bass with a band.
While I was bogged down in thesis writing, I was harbouring ideas for blog posts, getting spontaneous ideas for show playlists, and wishing I was on the stage instead of sat behind a computer. Naively, I believed that there’d be nothing better than to plough myself into music (and radio) once university finally came to an end.
However – fortunately or unfortunately – my triad of core interests like to coexist in harmony, and the further I push in one direction, the more I’m pulled in the other two. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying my much-needed brain-break from physics; the fiddle-playing is going fantastically, and is even earning me just about enough to break even (after a good few months, and following severe austerity measures regarding my gadget-buying). Now, though, I find that I am actually starting to miss academia!
There is someone who has seemingly managed to strike the perfect balance (in my opinion) between these three interests: Brian Cox. I rarely identify with a public figure to such an extent that I’m willing to call them an ‘idol’. In fact, I generally shy away from expressing strong opinions, as many will know when they hear me ‘critiquing’ music (basically, I hate saying anything bad about anything). On the other hand, if something’s really good, my getting up from the metaphorical fence (that I often like sit on) should be enough to let you know that I’m being genuine. He’s the “rockstar physicist”, and whilst I don’t really seek fame, I quite like the fantasy idea of becoming the folk-world equivalent.
After reading a couple of tabloid interviews with Professor Cox, I started to wonder exactly how well we compared. He’s 44, I’m 26…but in my (not exactly scientifically rigorous or exhaustive) comparison chart, we seem to match up on quite a few things already. We inhabit different echelons in terms of notoriety, perhaps, but I was struck by the fact that neither of us wear watches, and would respond in exactly the same way if asked why. (I wonder, if pressed, whether Brian would reveal he also found it irritating to wear a watch when playing an instrument or writing, so simply dispensed with wearing one at all?)
|Dr. Jamie Nemeth||Prof. Brian Cox|
|PhD in intense-field atomic physics||PhD in high-energy particle physics|
|Plays violin||Plays keyboard|
|Presents a radio show||Presents numerous radio and TV shows|
|Likes to lie in||Likes to lie in|
|Puts simple things complicatedly (sometimes)||Puts complicated things simply|
|Doesn’t wear a watch
(“No, I just use the clock on my mobile.”)
|Doesn’t wear a watch
(“No, I just use the clock on my mobile.”)
|Opposes university ‘top-up’ tuition fees||Opposes university ‘top-up’ tuition fees|
|Inspired by space and astronomy||Inspired by space and astronomy|
|Regularly watches The Sky At Night||Has been on The Sky At Night|
(I’ll probably keep adding to this list…)
|Has been on the set of a Doctor Who episode||Has been on an episode of Doctor Who|
A couple of weeks ago, I’d been offered the possibility of attending an assessment day in London, for an exam marking job (ironically, if successful, the job will be work-from-home, but that’s another story!) Unfortunately, partly due to internet problems at home, and partly due to the supposedly gadget-mad Jamie not accessing his dedicated job-related email account via other means, I received the email at 7pm…inviting me to attend at 12:30pm earlier that day. To say I felt disappointed would be an understatement, since I’d received nothing but rejection letters up to that point (perhaps pessimism was another factor in my late receipt of the message; I wasn’t expecting an email that required any action from me, let alone so quickly). Even though it came with no guarantees of a contract; this was the first positive thing to happen to me in the world of post-PhD employment, and I’d gone and dropped the ball!
Thankfully, after sending them an email to let them know I would be interested in attending a subsequent assessment day, I was invited to go along on the afternoon of May 3rd. Serendipitously, Virgin Soldiers (one of my favourite bands of all time, and still receiving enough votes to keep their song ‘Moving On’ in my radio show’s Unchart Top 5 after over a year) were playing that very evening, at 229 The Venue, Great Portland Street. James Beeny (from the band) couldn’t believe the coincidence, and neither could I. The plans were (hurriedly) hatched, with mum being a calming influence, and expressing a wish to accompany me as a fellow, massive fan of the band!
We’d be leaving Swansea on the (only) Megabus at 4:30am, which was due to arrive in London’s Victoria Coach Station at 9:30am, but due to diversions it didn’t until around an hour later. Can’t complain about the coach; we were treated to a double-decker, which (on the top deck at least) was cool and comfortable. I even had an electric socket so that I could charge my phone, although I didn’t bring my laptop, so I couldn’t try out the Wi-Fi. I expected to stop at Cardiff, Bristol and Newport en route, but not at the University of the West of England‘s Frenchay Campus in Bristol, which brought back memories of when I used to see the very first Megabus double-deckers (which were not coach-style) parked up outside my own Swansea University…sadly they don’t stop there any more…but I digress. Didn’t get much sleep on the coach, though, which didn’t bode well as I’d been awake since the previous day, and couldn’t have slept early the night before due to my midweek radio show at 11pm…and the assessment day involved a ‘basic skills test’. I was beginning to worry just how ‘basic’ these would be…I don’t like complete unknowns, not when it comes to me being tested at least.
A short walk from the coach station, we happened upon the Traveller’s Tavern. We’d planned to have breakfast in London, but as we’d arrived late, we opted for just a coffee each, which was served with a welcoming smile. This wasn’t the turbulent stereotypical London we expected to encounter on ‘landing’; everything was relaxed and laid-back, outside and inside.
We didn’t get much further down the road when we encountered da Scalzo, an Art-Café Pizzeria, which tempted us inside with the offer of bacon butties (me) and porridge with berries (mum). This was also lovely, though I was worried as to the financial direction that our London adventure was taking. I could get more money out of the cash machine, but that’s not really the point; I’d come in search of money (i.e. the marking job!) and already had the outlay of the transport costs, which weren’t being reimbursed.
At least one money worry had been alleviated; since we planned to stay to watch Virgin Soldiers, we’d be too late for the (only) return Megabus at 6pm, so I’d booked a return train ticket instead. It was only slightly more expensive, and presented me with the option of also purchasing a day travelcard for the Tube (London Underground), an option I never thought to consider as I was originally going to buy another Oyster card and pay for single fares. Seeing as I’d now be travelling from Victoria to Holborn, Regent’s Park and Paddington at least, this seemed like a sensible option at £7 (Zones 1-2).
Even though my only experience of the Tube had been the largely overground line from Paddington to Euston Square, this made me feel like the authority on this form of transport within the Nemeth family (despite mum being far more experienced). Neither of these stops were anywhere near preparation for Victoria’s Tube station; the nauseatingly speedy escalator was far steeper that I anticipated, so much so that I nearly fell over unceremoniously as it went from flat to sloping. Also, even though it said ‘keep to the right’, I’m hardwired to always keep to the left, so I did for a little while before someone politely said ‘excuse me’…then I processed the signs…then I realised why it was so important. Some people are in such a rush that they are not only negotiating the incredibly steep escalator without losing balance, but are actually running down them at quite some rate. It’s a pace I’m not used to, particularly not on this scale. Yes, in Swansea, someone might walk down an escalator in a shop, or even run down ‘for fun’, but they’re likely to be the only one for a period of minutes, leaving a large vacuum behind them. At the Tube station, there’s a panorama of ‘runners’ across several escalators (for me, seeing more than two escalators in one place was already highly unusual in itself). I can’t have been the only one who found this amazing; there was someone further down, facing the wrong way, pointing a camera upstream. The trains on these lines seemed much faster too, so much so that the perception of movement remained with me all day.
I’ve never been motion-sick, but combined with my nerves for the ‘basic skills test’, my stomach did feel rather unsettled. You had to be graduating soon or be a recent graduate to be an eligible exam marker, but unlike other (under)graduates, the last time I’d sat an exam was over four years previously, except for the viva…but this was based on a piece of work that I’d been effectively living through this past four years. The test wasn’t easy and called on all of the proofreading skills I’d honed at the student newspaper and over the course of correcting my thesis, but luckily it was a test of literacy only; I’d been worried they were going to pull out some equation that I hadn’t seen since A-Level, and that my mind would draw blanks, despite it being ridiculously simple to solve. Still, even though I consider myself literate, I managed to get a question wrong! I suppose 39/40 isn’t bad for a physicist who hasn’t taken a formal English qualification in nearly 11 years, but I still want to go back and find out if I really got Question 28 wrong, or if it was a glitch. I double-checked every answer, too…there was no time limit, so it seemed silly not to; I took time over the easiest questions, and took even more time over the ones that posed a challenge. Still, it doesn’t matter, I passed (try telling that to my brain, though!)
As a matter of celebration, we popped into the Princess Louise pub in High Holborn, which was just around the corner. The treat wasn’t really the cider, though. In our neck of the woods, pubs with intact original features seem to be an endangered species, with more and more being ‘gutted’ in the name of ‘improvement’, with little cosies (as I’d call them) being banished in favour of open-plan expanses. The Princess Louise was so refreshing, by being everything but ‘modern’. We opened one door to find another door, and another. A series of sections, each one different, each with beautiful wooden screens and glass panels…then there was the mosaic floor, and the mirrored walls. It felt wonderful, before even a drop of alcohol had touched my lips, and to think we’d happened upon it by chance. In fact, if I’d been on my own, I’d have gotten myself into such a fluster that I might’ve breezed straight past the pub without even having noticed it existed, and I’d have missed out on so much. In a busy, unfamiliar place, I felt at home. We asked a member of staff about the pub, and they explained how the owners (Samuel Smith’s Brewery) had striven to restore all of the original features. It would seem the work has paid off. Perhaps I’m an old soul, but I prefer my pubs (and any building, for that matter) with character, and the Princess Louise has this in plentiful supply.
We decided to head to the gig venue early, to avoid rush hour. We got to Great Portland Street without a problem, but arriving so early meant that we were in for a long wait. Mum suggested we find a chip shop, but something so ‘ordinary’ was not to be seen in the immediate vicinity. There was an enormous Pizza Express, of a size rivalled only by Swansea’s largest McDonald’s, but we had something simpler in mind. A quick search on Google Maps revealed the nearest chip shop was the Fish Bone, Cleveland St., Camden. After a fair trek (I underestimated the distance slightly…mum wasn’t pleased, and her feet were less so), we were relieved to find we could eat in. I don’t dispute their claim to being a ‘traditional fish & chip restaurant’, but it is the first chip shop in which I can ever recall having the opportunity to order a Greek coffee with my burger and chips!
We walked back to the gig venue, and we were still early! However, our timing couldn’t have been better, as Virgin Soldiers began to arrive. It was lovely to have a chance of a catch-up before the gig, as I’d already warned them we might have to shoot off early (we had to be in Paddington by 10:45pm). The last time I’d seen the band live (and the first time) was in Tunbridge Wells; I remember the event like it was yesterday…it’s hard to believe it was over a year ago. I didn’t bring any of my usual cache of radio-related gadgets this time. In fact, I didn’t even bring my camera. This was a deliberate move; I didn’t want to have to worry about the security of such paraphernalia whilst walking around London, but I also thought it would be nice to meet the band and enjoy the music without harbouring any ‘media’ expectations, especially with such limited time.
The gig started a little late, but this is par for the course. The venue had been laid out with seats and sofas down the sides, but with plenty of standing room in the centre. Joshy Connor was up first, a solo singer/guitarist who performed emotively, as well as wowing us with his command of the guitar. In fact, he used a different tuning for each song…I play a bit of guitar myself, but 1) not like Joshy, and 2) one set of chords in ‘standard tuning’ is enough for me to remember, and I don’t even know all of those properly, so how he kept track of all of this and kept all the lyrics in mind, even finding time to slot in riffs fairly frequently (sometimes whilst singing) is beyond me, and a worthy achievement in itself even if the songs had been rubbish, which they weren’t…the songs were fantastic, too! Following Joshy, we had the mighty Florida Room. I try to avoid direct comparisons to existing bands, but sometimes they help to give a context to my opinions, and convey the feelings that are invoked. I started to wonder if they could be the next Muse, but then I started to think they were more of a Maxïmo Park; I’ve never seen either of these bands live, but I imagined this is what it might sound and look like. In fact – dare I say it – perhaps Florida Room combined the elements I like best from both bands, and even took things a step further? It was a tight, energetic performance, with perfectly-placed harmonies to boot. I tend to be forgiving of tuning issues with vocals – it can be really difficult to hear yourself, let alone each other on stage – but no such allowances were necessary…the harmonies were pitch-perfect.
I would have attempted to write a full review of the night as a standalone blog, but that wouldn’t be fair to the last band – Talk In Colour – who I didn’t get to hear at all. An electronic/classical fusion, they seem fascinating from what I’ve read and heard on their website, and I’m sure they were also great live…they had a huge harp with them on stage, too! Annoyingly, whilst serendipity had served me well in the hours before the gig, it then abandoned me. When I’d booked train tickets (and decided against staying the night in London), Virgin Soldiers were due to be off stage by 9:20pm, and we’d planned to leave at 9:50pm to make absolutely sure we didn’t miss our last train (i.e. we’d have caught all of VS’s set, and a little bit of the last band, too). Now, Virgin Soldiers weren’t due on stage until 9:20pm, and (following some technical problems) they weren’t able to get underway until around 9:40pm. We knew we’d have to leave at some point during Virgin Soldiers’ set, but we were in even more of a panic due to the Tube website announcing that there were delays caused by a ‘trespasser on the line’ (stupid person – assuming it was a person – didn’t they know I was trying to stay at the gig as long as possible?!) Even though we were cutting things far too fine for our liking, we still only caught two songs…TWO SONGS! I suppose it’s two songs more than we’d have heard if we’d caught the Megabus at 6pm; we did get to hear two out of the other three acts live, and if we’d wanted to stay later we’d have had to fork out for accommodation (remember, I wasn’t being reimbursed by the job people). Still, I’m really glad the day worked out as it did. Thinking about it, if I’d booked accommodation, we’d have been checking in and sorting out other such mundanities instead of waiting outside the venue when Virgin Soldiers arrived…perhaps serendipity hadn’t abandoned me after all.
Tim Minchin is well-known for his whimsical, satirical, and downright hilarious musical contributions. Comedians in general are often tempted to tread dangerously close to the line that should not be crossed, with some (such as Jimmy Carr, for example) seemingly getting away with skipping over the line and back again under the guise of being ‘cheeky’. Unfortunately, Mr. Minchin seems to have discovered a hard line, rocketed past it, and didn’t get away with it at all.
The furore surrounds the song ‘Woody Allen Jesus’, which was due to be broadcast on The Jonathan Ross Show on Friday 23rd December 2011 (also featuring Tom Cruise and the Downton Abbey girls amongst others), but the footage was left on the cutting room floor after ITV’s Director of Television made an executive decision to remove it from the show. The news sparked several Twitter messages and Facebook statuses, as well as a variety of opinions voiced as comments on Tim’s own blog (to read Tim’s side of the story on his blog, and to view the readers’ comments, click here).
Having watched the video outtake on YouTube, I’ll admit I’m in two minds. In summary, the song attempts to draw parallels between Jesus and contemporary famous figures, which in many ways (since Tim is never anti-Jesus or anti-Christianity in the song itself) could be perceived as praising Jesus in his own unique way. However, whilst I’m all for free speech, and not someone who is super-religious, there are parts of the song that don’t sit well with me. Linking Jesus to Woody Allen (“short, Jewish, philosophical, a bit hesitant”, as Tim says on his blog)…that’s mildly amusing. I particularly liked the link to the Komodo dragon. The problem seemed to stem from the zombie link (Tim’s not alone in making this connection of course, death followed by resurrection etc.). Zombies are generally portrayed as evil (or at least mindlessly violent), which Jesus certainly wasn’t, whether you believe He was the Son of God, God himself, or simply an inherently good man. Worse, perhaps, was the reference to Jesus having a “fetish for drinking blood”. Maybe I’m wrong, but to my knowledge, He and his disciples only ever did this once (and this was metaphorical…He may have turned water into wine, but never turned wine into blood).
I often wonder why some of us refrain from saying something we think may offend, or at the very least, try to find a more tactful way to deliver the same message. On the other hand, there are those (comics particularly, perhaps) who go ahead and say it anyway. With free speech comes responsibility for the consequences. Tim Minchin comments on his blog that he is “f****** disappointed”, but I get the impression he’s disappointed that ITV’s Director of Television wasn’t more open-minded and appreciative of his work, rather than being disappointed in himself for not being more careful in dealing with controversial material. As a performer, I imagine Tim thinks predominantly of the immediate and future reaction of his fans, whereas ITV have ‘little’ things like the Ofcom Broadcasting Code to consider. Comedy receives some leniency, but there’s obviously a limit.
My mum’s hypothesis is that the material may have been pulled from the show more for Jonathan’s sake than anyone elses. Mr. Ross sums things up fairly well in his own words, saying to Tim after his performance, “you’ve got some balls doing that on a Christmas show”. Coming from Ross’s perspective (in case you’ve forgotten, I refer you to Sachsgate), this must mean it was pretty dangerous stuff!
Should it have been pulled? I’m not sure. If I’d been in charge, I’d have laughed too, but I think I’d have found it very difficult to justify NOT pulling it. It was undeniably clever, and as always with Tim Minchin, musically brilliant. Problem is, it was also venturing into ‘no-go’ areas of religion…at Christmas! Tricky.
(Having said all this, I haven’t stopped being a fan, I’ve just become a slightly more sceptical one…)
So, here it is…the culmination of nearly four years (less two days) of physics research. Somehow, despite having mumps (didn’t have time to blog about that), nanna being in and out of hospital, having to help tidy nanna’s house after burst pipes resulted not only in a flood but also a ceiling cave-in at her bungalow (thankfully when she wasn’t there), it got done. As the deadline loomed, my supervisor’s encouragement was followed by stronger encouragement – to work faster. Combined with a tardy fear of failure, the ensuing productivity surge blasted me through the 212-page document.
This stack of bound paper which had daunted me since the start of the PhD had suddenly materialised in duplicate. I’d not felt such a sense of achievement since I finished my undergraduate degree four years previously. However, finishing the PhD was entirely different: my life was carrying on like the train in a Tom-and-Jerry cartoon; the tracks for GCSEs, A-Levels and my undergraduate degree were already laid down, but the PhD was the box of spare track pieces Tom would be seen to hurriedly lay in front of the train in an effort to stop it hurtling off the rails and into the unbound expanse of the room beyond. I’d run out of spare pieces, and to buy any more would come at tremendous cost (i.e. the cost of tuition fees with no student loan to assist with living costs).
Of course, it’s not quite all over yet, as there’s still a viva to go. Perhaps I should have let myself enjoy the elation from submitting a little longer than I did, but I made the mistake of looking up viva advice the very next day and completely terrifying myself. Also, due to space issues I had to clear my desk earlier than planned, and the social network built up over the past few years seemed to fizzle out alarmingly quickly, as my office mates departed to their homes across the country. This doesn’t just feel like the end of a course…this is the end of an era.
I dedicated tonight’s Midnight Banquet (a feature on my Off The Chart Radio show) to Bill Steele, guitarist and singer in the Swansea-based bluegrass band Roots & Galoots. When they played in Pontardawe, I managed to collect a ‘100th gig’ celebratory keyring, which has remained on my bunch of keys ever since. I also had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Bill and the band for the odd jam. He will be sadly missed by all.
Roland Emmanuel, fellow member of Roots & Galoots, posted this announcement on the UK Bluegrass website:
The untimely death has been announced of Bill Steele, guitarist and singer with the Welsh based bluegrass band, Roots & Galoots.
Bill had previously played with his brother-in-law, Bill Titley, on the UK bluegrass circuit and was a regular picker at Terry Holland’s sessions.
It was Terry who gave R & G their first big break with an invitation to play at the Wharf in 2006. Many other gigs followed including a memorable debut at Didmarton and we quickly became established on the festival scene. Together with Bill’s great friend, Paul Morgan, R & G developed into a tight unit paying close attention to 3 part harmony. This was to become a hallmark of the band’s set with Bill regularly taking the lead vocal.
A key player in organising the Gower Bluegrass Festival, more recently his input and support at the ‘Bluegrass at the Buck’ picking session has ensured its success in promoting the genre.
Bill lived for bluegrass music and last year, even with a debilitating illness, he was determined to play at the La Roche Festival in France. R & G’s performance was well received and this year we were invited back to play at the event. With flights booked and all arrangements made, Bill was really looking forward to the occasion and, in a sense, the invitation gave him the drive to overcome his illness and live to play another day. Sadly, this was not to be but the band will continue to play on in his memory.
Condolences have already been paid to his family, especially to his children – Faye, Kim and Hazel who have been dedicated in the support of their father.
Bill’s untimely passing has been a shock to many but the tributes paid to this gentleman of bluegrass will ensure that his spirit will continue to be celebrated by all of us who were privileged to know him and play with him.