Wednesday 30 June 2004

More photos of derring do

A rare conjunction of Barry's insistent nagging, an evaluation copy of Dreamweaver and some slack time in the office has let me finally get around to writing up a couple of walking trips I went on a few months back.

Present, in all their winter glory, are a December weekend in the Lake District and a February ice-climbing trip to Scotland.

Monday 28 June 2004

Time Becomes a Loop

The audience at an Orbital gig is not a representative microcosm of modern multicultural British society. There's no young club kids, no crusties, no lager-louts and few women. Rather it's composed of old school ravers and those almost fashionable, slightly geeky guys that try just a bit hard; the bloke from the IT department that doesn't talk about Star Trek but still knows his way around a computer; the mate in the pub who is always pleased to show off the latest phone or PDA. They shop for the modern gadgets and hip t-shirts, but always carry themselves with the knowledge that no matter how hard they try, they still don't *feel* cool. People like me.

That's good because the Hartnoll brothers are the same. Album covers featuring diagrams of electron orbitals, iconic on-stage headwear that is nevertheless a victory of function over form; Orbital are not a fashionable band. They've never had the shouty bandwagon success of fellow "dance" acts like Underworld, they've never achieved the dinner party acceptance of Daft Punk or William Orbit. They've just steadily grown and retained their fans over fifteen years from the second summer of love through to now.

Orbital arrive on stage

Friday night in Brixton academy was their last ever gig. Sort of. After this one they're playing others in Glastonbury, Turkey, Scotland. But this was the last gig I'd see them at and the fifth time I'd seen them live in total. There's no intrigue or mystery with Orbital on stage, like Christmas dinner, the menu doesn't vary much: two blokes on stage prancing around behind a suite of futuristic boxes, recreating the loops and sequences from their albums and singles. It doesn't sound like a recipe for a joyful live show and I've no idea what they do behind their racks of sliders and knobs, they could just be pressing play on a CD for all I care, but somehow they press their buttons and twiddle their drum machines to build an overwhelming, all consuming experience.

This being a farewell gig, there were few surprises in the set list. When crowd-favourite Satan came on, a track no recording can ever adequately capture, it was like sharing a room with a storm. Thunder-clap bass lines pounded out in time with video scenes of despised politicians and atomic explosions. It was so big and loud my teeth started to ache. Halcyon + on + on was as beautiful as ever; spiralling, looping, twisting sequences combined with a heavenly vocal sliced and diced to perfection, before the inimitable Jon Bon Jovi/Belinda Carlisle breakdown, now with added Darkness. The Doctor Who theme (see, geeks) raised the hairs on my arm with the power of the grinding bass.

The set finished, as always, with Chime, a fifteen year veteran rave tune that refuses to age. As the familiar sequences started all of us in the audience went crazy; dancing like dervishes to the huge bass line, smiling and shouting, waving our hands in air spangled with gold from the enormous glitter ball that hung above the stage.

Eventually it all ended. The brothers embraced, couldn't say thanks enough, and we watched their head lamps bounce off stage. Ruffles and I just walked slowly out into the Brixton night, simultaneously giddied by ringing ears and the dancing comedown, and saddened that we'd never get to hear Orbital weave their live magic again.

Tuesday 1 June 2004

Drowning in words

A near permanent feature of the lounge of my parent's house was the pile of yellowing newspapers that eclipsed the radiator by the patio doors. My father, never one to miss a bargain or price saving even if that meant spending more money buying an unrequired item in a sale, had a subscription to The Times paid for almost entirely through vouchers. Every day another couple of sections would splash onto the door mat and be placed on the pile for reading at a convenient moment. Convenient moments were unfortunately rare, and over time the absence of reading eyes to convert the newspapers into tinder suitable for firestarting let the unread pile tower ever higher, and even though the low-lying strata in the stack of press were old enough to be reporting Queen Victoria's funeral, he refused to throw any of them out without first reading them.

I laughed at his inability to let print go unwitnessed, and threatened to surreptitiously remove papers over the course of weeks until the the stack evaporated. I exhorted him to free himself from the self-imposed reading obligation and spend time doing other things, typically things I wanted him to do like drive me to the cinema, but he always calmly refused. When he retired and freed up his time from the clutches of the Civil Service, he unhurriedly worked through the stack, cancelled the subscription and for a final trick somehow passed on the same habit to me.

I'm a magazine obsessive; I have subscriptions to Edge, New Scientist and Empire, I pick up Trail more often than not, always read Private Eye and Viz when Barry brings them home, and have a sneaking suspicion that given more leisure time I would incorporate The New Yorker, Cycling Weekly, MBUK and Surfing into my habits. Until Christmas, this was a punishing but sustainable load, but then, with not a small hint of revenge in his eyes, my father gave me a subscription to The Economist and I cracked.

The increased tide of reading was achievable to start with. I seized on the opportunity afforded by train journeys to plough through leaders, letters pages were consumed in bed before settling down for the night. I gave up on novels to keep abreast of Vicente Fox's presidency and the latest delays to Halo 2, it seemed a price worth paying. Gradually though, I have been overwhelmed; copies of The Economist spill from my laptop bag, four week old New Scientist's lie unopened on my bedside table. I have no idea what's top of the UK film charts as I can't bring myself to pick up Empire until I've finished this month's Edge. And every week three more magazines arrive to ramp up the Linhope word count.

I could simply throw away the older issues as current affairs and hot scientific topics become history and fad, but binning unopened magazines lies outside the traits I gained from my father. If things continue in this way I'll have to retire or move to escape my subscription oppression.