Mixtape Monday, Vol 10

Leftfield, Live on The Other Stage, Glastonbury, 2000

2000Poster.jpg
Only just realised now, in 2016, that Bowie played the year I went. And somehow Travis were above him on the bill. 

I’m not a massive fan of festivals unless I’m performing. Never really was, although I used to grin and bear them in order to see my favourite acts all on one day. I’ve only been to Glastonbury once, in 2000, the year when they were carrying roughly double the number of people onsite as they were supposed to. And yes, I was one of the people who didn’t buy a legit ticket, instead paying some bunch of scousers to go through their gap in the wall.

Glastonbury has changed a lot in my lifetime. I’m not going to offer judgement on whether it’s for better or worse, as I don’t have the first-hand experience to back any claims up, but certainly most agree that it is a lot less anarchic and chaotic than it was 2 or 3 decades ago. I personally tend to feel that if you are organised enough to have everything in place to actually get a Glastonbury ticket through the appropriate channels (register 36 months in advance, fill these forms in triplicate, passport photos of every bodily orifice, blood sample of your first-born son, and, most ludicrously, be up at 10am on a Sunday to order the ticket) then you have no place going to Glastonbury, but that’s just me being a miserable bastard who resents the success of others really isn’t it?

Anyway, on to today’s mix. I bring you a recording of Leftfield‘s amazing set headlining The Other Stage on the Saturday of Glastonbury 2000. Looking back, it really does seem like another world. Mobile phones were a rarity still, camera phones were science-fiction, food trucks were not the luxuriously gourmet experiences we are so used to these days, and scouse gangs ruled over the muddy pathways of Glastonbury with an iron fist. You may think I’m joking – that year was a bit of a nightmare in many ways, I’m not surprised they took a year off and then erected the kind of wall that would make Donald Trump envious. I don’t have a single photo from the whole weekend. Imagine that. I just went to something, experienced it, and didn’t document every single moment for posterity/my Instagram followers.

I travelled down on the Friday night after finishing a shift at Brownes Bar in Nottingham, along with a group of friends who also worked there. We arrived onsite just as the Saturday sun was coming up, having parked in some field nearby and wandered around until spotting some scallies offering safe passage into the site for a tenner apiece. Carrying our tents and sleeping bags and copious amounts of booze, we walked, and walked, and walked, searching fruitlessly for a pitch in one of the allotted spaces. This was our first clue that this was going to be a slightly different Glastonbury to what we had anticipated. Eventually we found a space, roughly 50 yards from a giant blue tent that we learned a few hours later was the dance tent. By some absolute miracle I had accidentally brought a pair of foam earplugs; they were to prove exceptionally useful that weekend.

_1681594_glast2300.jpg
No rope ladder for us when we went in, they’d literally just knocked a hole in the wall.

After a few hours sleep we rose to see that many more people had occupied the space between us and the dance tent. Walking around the site, as anyone who has been to Glastonbury will know, was a fascinating and eye-opening experience. For me, the people who get worked up about the headline acts are missing the point really, although given the price of the tickets these days, and the shift in the crowd over the years from hippy-traveller soundsystem weirdos to granola-munching Guardianistas wearing the latest festival couture (I’m generalising a bit maybe…), a few customer complaints are to be expected really. The real beauty of Glastonbury, certainly the memories that stayed with me best, was the oddities between the stages, the overall atmosphere – dare I say it, the “vibe”.

Of the Saturday, I only really remember 3 sections well. Coming up to my beloved Pet Shop Boys as they played Go West on the Pyramid Stage. Very late on at the Smith & Mighty tent, with my brother and his future wife who literally drove down from Derbyshire for a night’s raving, slept in their car, then drove back oop North (“ALL THE RAVERS TO THE FRONT”, Dan knows what I’m on about there, arguably his finest hour…), and sandwiched in the middle, an exceptional set by dance music legends Leftfield. I remember traipsing across Michael Eavis’s farm after the PSB’s set to get to The Other Stage, and taking our spot at what was the back of the crowd, a pretty considerable distance from the stage. After waiting for the crew to set up Leftfield’s stage, I remember glancing round and realising that we were no longer at the back of the crowd, but actually slap-bang in the middle now, as so many more people had arrived after us. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so stranded in a crowd as I did at that moment.

Incredibly, the video footage in the version below has managed to capture exactly what my eyes felt like they were experiencing, in every wobbly, shaky, fucked-up technicolour detail. The rest of the night is an even blurrier memory, so the bit where one of my friends was attacked by one of the scouse gangs for absolutely no reason is only a memory because I’ve been told it happened, the journey from the Smith & Mighty Tent to some field where we’d been told there was a sound system is like a strange hallucinatory dream, and getting back to my tent in one piece  was a minor miracle.

The Sunday was, for us anyway, basically a recovery session (we inexplicably ended up at The World Stage for most of the night), the Monday trying to exit the site in the blazing summer heat was a complete nightmare (turns out 200,000 people trying to get around tiny country lanes all at the same time is a recipe for disaster and gridlock), and the rest of the week was something of an emotional rollercoaster as our brains tried to get back on an even keel.

Plastic Free Lent – A Qualified Success

And so here we are, pretty much at the end of Lent. My attempt at going plastic free for this period? A [very] qualified success. I’ve certainly used a lot less plastic than if I had not taken on this challenge. Have I come near to going plastic free? Not on your nelly. Have I managed to only purchase and use plastic when absolutely necessary? About that…

IMG_9410.jpg
Cucumbers – always shrinkwrapped. Courgettes – never shrinkwrapped.

 

As I’ve written here and here, on a whim I accepted a friend’s challenge to try and give up plastic for Lent. What I’ve learnt is that plastic is everywhere. And often in places where it’s impossible to know until after you’ve purchased, got home and used an item. If you don’t plan ahead, living plastic-free on-the-go is remarkably difficult, even in a city like London.

One thing that I’d never really paid attention to is the prevalence of plastic as a lining inside canned food. There are perfectly reasonable health and safety reasons for this, as there are often issues with food being kept in opened tins in the fridge. But the problem here is that so few items actually list what material they are made of, and whether those materials can be recycled or not.

Here’s a couple of laudable examples that I stumbled across in Iceland in my desperation to find hangover-friendly food that was plastic-free.

But on the whole, good luck trying to work out what your packaging contains. This seems like one of the more achievable goals that could be aimed for in the no-doubt long and winding road towards sustainability – if it’s impossible to make informed choices, how can consumers vote with their wallets effectively?

My experience in this month or so has been pretty straightforward. 95% of produce is off-limits if I am staying true to my goal of avoiding plastic. Food preparation for extended periods away from home is utterly essential. As the month wore on, I got lazier and lazier – in part, just bored of the mundanity of it, in part a reaction to various brutal hangovers that made that kind of brainwork entirely unappealing. My diet became a lot less varied, as numerous staples were suddenly off-limits. The convenience of pre-packed salads and stir fry veg was sorely missed. Nuts and seeds too. I probably broke the record for the most cans of baked beans eaten in a single month, and shares in sweet potatoes are presumably 20-30% more valuable now too. I’ve got in the habit of having a tote bag stuffed in a pocket for those impromptu trips to the shops on the way home that would previously have necessitated a plastic bag.

IMG_9405
The very rare “non-plastic produce tub”

The packed lunches I’d made for trips to gigs away from London were actually extremely tasty, and far healthier than anything I would have bought on the road, certainly much, much cheaper than eating out for every meal, and slightly cheaper than buying sandwiches etc from random shops. Space was an issue – suddenly I needed 2 bags for a weekend away instead of one. And, ridiculous though this is, I felt very self-conscious cracking open a tupperware container filled with my lunch on the train – I’m sure that this isn’t an uncommon response, as we’ve all become so conditioned to buying convenience foods in disposable packaging. Even though I logically knew that what I was doing was entirely fine, I felt like a dork doing it. Maybe that’s just me, but the lack of other people ever doing similar suggests I’m not alone.

In my desperation to get away from the same old food after a couple of weeks, I took chances on some things which were genuinely horrendous, solely because they appeared to be in plastic-free packaging – this one in particular stands out. I implore everybody to avoid this absolute abomination. You’ll note the somewhat misleading example on the front… [Dis] Honorable mention goes to Quorn’s “Gammon” steak monstrosities, easily the worst meat-substitute product that I’ve ever had the misfortune to eat. Seriously, they’re disgusting.

IMG_9595 (1).jpg
“Cheese”

I was able to find a lot of plastic-free produce at good old Borough Market, although I’m not convinced that I have pockets deep enough to afford that to become my regular greengrocer or cheese-dealer. And even there, cucumbers were, of course, shrink-wrapped. Apart from baby cucumbers, which are never shrink-wrapped. I’d love to find out what committee it is that makes these decisions, because they appear to be set in stone.

I was actually never really tested on a lot of items that would probably have proven most problematic, as a direct result of my fondness for 2-for-1 hoarding when I go to the shops – I didn’t run out of deodorant, toothpaste, shower gel, fairy liquid, washing tablets… you get the point I’m sure. I’m told that Lush do soaps and deodorants that come in non-plastic packaging, but I never had the need to find out myself, and the only Lush I know of is in the Westfield in Stratford, which I only venture into when things are truly desperate.

I did stumble into a solution for one issue when looking for some wooden clothes hangers – I’d run out of kitchen roll, and as a regular wok user they are kind of essential for keeping a steel pan properly seasoned. The shop I went into had a massive roll without it being shrink-wrapped, no idea if this is a normal occurrence, but its the first time I’ve ever seen it sold without plastic wrapping.

IMG_9594
Handy

And at a gig at Shoreditch House I spotted this as I grabbed some treats from the sweety shelves – Edenware compostable cups. This is the kind of thing that needs to be supported as much as possible by retailers and consumers if we are to tackle this issue effectively.

IMG_9729

So where do I go from here? Certainly, I will be much more aware of the issue going forward, and much more careful about the packaging of the food I buy. Away from food (which is already problematic in many cases), things are far more difficult – the tyranny of plastic packaging is such that it’s incredibly inconvenient to avoid it, to the point of basically being impossible for your average person on an average budget.

How can we tackle the issue? Its hard to say – I think the labelling on packaging should be required to say exactly what is in it, and whether it is recyclable. One approach could be a small tax on plastic packaging, with the proceeds used to go towards cleaning up the mess plastic causes, but in truth that doesn’t really fix the problem per se, although it would hopefully encourage the use of more biodegradable substances for packaging. I’d love to hear your suggestions for potential ideas to move this forward – this is an issue that appears to be at the beginnings of a public groundswell, people realise that the status quo is unsustainable, but don’t really know how to be helpful as the options are so limited and disparate. For real change to be effected, there probably needs to be a focused effort to change very specific things that will have real-world, practical impacts. Its likely that this might (at least in the short-term) mean small price increases or less convenience, which is never a popular thing to push for – but the alternative is we keep polluting the planet with a substance that will still be here causing problems long, long after humans have disappeared from the face of the earth.

Here’s some links that you may find interesting related to this topic

Splosh – refillable cleaning products

New York woman attempts to live without producing waste

The Anti-Packaging Movement

Detroit Zoo stops selling bottled water

The sustainability subreddit

Perfect Tens

Reddit-alien-1-

I’m a confirmed Reddit addict. That’s not unusual these days, and a lot of people across on Facebook are without even realising, as they share videos and memes that appeared the week before on the internet’s biggest single driver of traffic, usually ripped and repackaged by the likes of Unilad, with the equation following an as-yet gnome-esque (to me anyway) business plan of Step 1 – steal memes and videos, Step 2 – ?, Step 3 – profit.

Well, anyone can set up a subreddit, and I decided to set up one – r/PerfectTens. It’s essentially a home for absolute stone-cold classic music, of any style or genre. I enjoy putting things up there (all too infrequently mind you), and checking out what other people have posted as well.

For those of you unfamiliar with Reddit, users can upvote or downvote content, with the more upvoted things moving up what is essentially a time-sensitive league table, before falling away to be replaced by newer content. Please feel free to join up, subscribe to my subreddit, and pass judgement on the music (and post your own favourites too!)

So, without further ado I bring you the top 5 tracks from Perfect Tens!

My First Ever 7″ Record

Even though I don’t actually own a record player any more, I do sometimes pine for the heyday of vinyl. I grew up with a healthy selection of 12″s occupying the dining room, which introduced me to Tom Waits, Pink Floyd, The Sugarhill Gang, Depeche ModeThe Muppets, The Prodigy, LFO, Pet Shop Boys, The Smiths and many more. At one point I owned somewhere north of 5000 12″s and around 1000 7″s, but sadly elected to sell the vast majority of these when I moved to London for the sake of space and convenience. Anyone who has ever moved house with this amount of vinyl will understand why I did this, even if they don’t approve.

1280-jp-record-shelf-1.jpg
Not my records. Appear to be alphabetised. One of the worst mistakes I ever made as a working DJ was alphabetising my collection, that’s 3 days I’ll never get back.

It’s been written about many times before, but there is something special about the ritual: taking the sleeve from the shelf, sliding the inner sleeve out and removing the record (although of course us DJs would rotate the inner sleeve so that the record fell out nice and easy without having to take the inner out), placing it on the record player, aboard the heavy rubber “placemat” for want of a better word (I didn’t see a slipmat til I was 18). Growing up, this was then followed by starting the belt drive turntable, carefully holding a duster on the record just enough to gather any debris, and gently wiping/flicking it away, before lowering the needle to the run-in grooves and dropping the lid back closed, those few seconds of crackle and static setting the stage for the music to follow.

 

5999-1
Not sure whether this is the right one, but it was definitely a lot like this

This moment was brilliantly committed to musical history by Fake Blood when he did his version of John Cage’s legendary 4’33” as part of Cage Against The Machine, where he spliced the intro crackle of 312 of his favourite songs together – as he put it “those 2 seconds of silence and crackle is like opening the cover of a book”.

But of course, for a long time my musical palette was limited to whatever my parents or older brothers owned, and whatever was on the radio. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m lucky to have a family with good taste in music. But I was keen to get involved, and I had my own ideas about what was really needed on our stereo.

I was an avid watcher of Top Of The Pops and The Chart Show around this time, I guess I would have been about 8 or 9. One day a song came on, and along with the video, really stuck with me. That song was Level 42 – Something About You, a bona fide classic.

I remember his suit in particular making a huge impression on me, and indeed, maybe that’s where my dubious penchant for ridiculous patterns and prints hails from. Thankfully I haven’t also gained a taste for bowler hats, bow-ties and canes.

images
Looking good m8

 

I enjoyed this song so much that I recorded it off the radio and everything. I played it to death, enjoyed singing both the lead part and the falsetto secondary vocalist part. I probably jumped around and waved my hands in the air, as if I just didn’t care. And then one day I found myself in Lowestoft, with the fiver my Granny had given me on arrival for my trip there.

22)_Lowestoft_Beach_&_Prom_(Jon_Gibbs).jpg
Tried to find a picture that captured the majesty of Lowestoft High Street, but this will have to do.

There was a record shop I’d been in a few times. It’s not there any more, and Google is failing me in my efforts to verify my memory, but I believe it was called Jack’s Records. I wasn’t used to having cold, hard cash at my disposal, and when I was it was generally immediately spent on the maximum amount of sweets (that’s candy to our American friends, please don’t vote for Donald Trump, thanks) that I could fit into that budget.

wham-main-2
It’s a miracle that I don’t have any fillings, I must have eaten thousands of these. 

So in I trotted, not really knowing what to do. I was too young to have that fear of record shop staff that developed later in life, which then faded when they started realising I was basically a cash dispenser for them and began to treat me nicely. I had a little browse around and then saw something I recognised – Level 42! Not the band, obviously, but the sleeve for their record! Except, hang on, this isn’t the record I love, this is something else entirely. It was Children Say. Well, Something About You was, to my ears at the time, basically perfect. I’ve always been a very logical person (my dad often teasingly calling me Mr Logic in my formative years), and so I made the completely sensible calculation that a new song by the same band that did the old song must be at least as good, and probably better.

I don’t think it’s terribly controversial to say that it isn’t as good. Or even close. It has a certain something, and I probably played the record more than it deserved just out of loyalty to my purchase. I’d like to say that the B-side saved the day, but this jazz-funk went miles over my head. Although look at the style on Mike Lindup, the keyboard player. Magnificent. Marvellous stuff.

Which brings me to a few things that writing this piece has brought to mind. Firstly, does anyone out there remember their first download? Will that have the same emotional resonance? Possibly, but I doubt it. I certainly don’t remember mine. It was probably a virus on Kazaa or Napster I’d guess, masquerading as music or porn that I wanted. I remember this memory remarkably well given my age – it was a bright, sunny day, the shop was dark and a bit dank (in the pre-meme sense). I don’t remember the actual transaction, but I assume I paid for it, I was a good boy. I know memories are very imperfect vessels, but its there, giving me a link to that point in my life, regardless of the strict accuracy.

And then there is the relationship I then had with this magical piece of plastic in a paper sleeve. That was my record. The one record I owned. It deserved the respect of listening to over and over and over, until it revealed itself to me. I mean, it ultimately revealed that it wasn’t very good, but that’s beside the point. This was true throughout my teenage years; I would save up pocket money or money from my part-time job, and then buy an album, which I would then listen to intently for weeks until I could afford the next one. These days, I get so much new music emailed to me that in many cases I basically scan intros, skip to halfway through, then a bit further, then if it doesn’t at the very least pique my interest it gets deleted. Records that I would today just discard ended up becoming firm favourites. Music is forced to be more instant, and as a result often less permanent, in order to avoid just being ruled “BORING!” and tossed aside while the conveyer belt hurls more at the world’s listeners.

I certainly don’t want this to turn into an “Old man yells at cloud” rant, I am delighted to have put my days of spinal curvature behind me and not have to carry several hundredweight of plastic and cardboard around to play my gigs, and it’s much kinder to my bank balance to not have to fork out the best part of a tenner for a track any more. But our relationship with music has changed as a result I suspect, and I do worry that it’s not necessarily for the better. C’est la vie.

2119

8 days into plastic free lent – my observations

As I posted last week, pretty much on a whim I decided to challenge myself to go as plastic-free for Lent as I possibly could. Even while writing the initial piece I started to realise the scale of the challenge ahead. Now, after about 8 days, I am panicking a bit – partly over my ability to do this challenge, and partly over how this issue can ever be overcome when plastic is so utterly ubiquitous.

bad-packaging-design-individually-wrapped-bananas-teaser-photo.jpg.600x315_q90_crop-smart

The obvious issue is food. In an instant, the vast majority of food (especially convenient, on-the-go foods) became off-limits. Goodbye Haribo, I miss you. But what shocked me was the absolute monopoly plastic packaging has even on fruit and veg. Sure, you can buy loose apples and carrots and onions, but try finding an outlet that doesn’t shrink-wrap cucumbers. This reminded me of a quote from a Frenchman who came in to oversee Tesco in the UK, bemoaning how Brits simply wouldn’t consider buying a cucumber that had been shrinkwrapped, yet are entirely comfortable with courgettes being loose. Go figure. Celery, kale, green beans and all manner of other items are pretty much impossible to find without some plastic packaging, be it supermarket or greengrocer. Just now I was at the supermarket and noticed that its 99p for 3 bell peppers in plastic packaging, yet 60p for a single loose one!

IMG_8960.jpg
Good luck getting something healthy to eat on the go without plastic packaging that isn’t an apple or a banana

Canned foods offer some respite from the pessimism my stomach has made its default setting this week. Yet even then problems persist – looking to save money by buying multipacks of sweetcorn or baked beans? Wrapped in plastic, tough shit. Although not true of canned tomatoes for some reason, which have carboard 4-packs. I’m yet to work out why this discrepancy exists.

IMG_8959.jpg
Nuts

Stepping away from food for a second, you have the reality of toiletries. Nobody wants to smell bad. Even people that smell bad don’t want to be that way (I assume), they just have defective noses and cowardly friends. Pretty much everything involved with the bathroom involves plastic – even bars of soap are usually packaged in some sort of plastic, particularly multi-packs. Toothpaste, deodorant, moisturiser, shaving gel, the list goes on. I am a keen runner, and one of the uncomfortable realities of running longer distances is jogger’s nipple – I assuaged this in the past with Vaseline, then graduated to Body Glide, both of which are in plastic containers. I guess I could use plasters, but is that any more environmentally friendly really? Plus they’d come off within a few km on a sweaty mess like my torso. I bought myself some cycling shorts the other week, before realising that I’d forgotten to bring a bag, so I had to stuff them in my pocket to take home, and then realised they have a little plastic tag in them with pricing/sizing info etc. Every little aspect of human existence in the modern Western world seems to come wrapped in plastic.

not-only-does-zyrtec-separately-package-each-pill-they-also-lock-them-in-a-dungeon-of-plastic
I heard you like plastic cases so I put yo pill in a plastic case with 13 other plastic cases then put all those in a plastic case

This whole issue is replicated in virtually every product and industry that I’ve encountered in this first week or so. I am someone who routinely stores a lot in my cupboards, and so it hasn’t seriously impacted me yet. But its starting too. If I forget to prepare a packed lunch or snacks for trips away DJing, I am basically left with a choice of apples or Greggs pasties. Water is an issue, I have a metal Klean Kanteen I bought a few years ago, but the lid on that seems to have a habit of leaking, which is problematic if it’s in a bag with several thousand quid’s worth of electronic equipment! On the bright side I’m losing weight. I imagine I’m saving some money in the short term too, as its stopped a good handful of impulse purchases that involve plastic.

However, in practice this challenge is demonstrating to me the futility of my efforts. It’s inconvenient to such a point that no normal, busy working person could possibly be expected to do this off their own bat and succeed 100%. There are ways for me to source certain things without plastic, but they involve planning, travelling and expense far beyond the logical boundaries of modern life. I want to eat cheese. Of course I want to eat cheese. Cheese is delicious. But do I want to have to traipse to some artisanal market stall on a specific day of the week to first ask how they wrap their cheese (can’t be having accidental plastic incidents), and then pay £17.43 for 100g of cave-aged ewe’s milk fusion cheddarlydale to grate on to my beans on toast?

IMG_5773.jpg
I may have exaggerated the cost of fancy cheese. Incidentally, Picos Blue, otherwise known as Picos de Euopa, is the greatest cheese in the world

My solution to this dilemna is basically to do my best, and not beat myself up when that’s not perfect. I really, really want peanut butter in my life, even more so now that I basically can’t have nuts or seeds as a snack because of their packaging. I am not about to start making peanut butter, and even if I was there is more plastic in the wrapping of a bag of peanuts than there is in the weird little bit of cellophane around the top of the peanut butter jar I bought tonight (small admission, I bought 7 jars. I shouldn’t shop when I’m hungry.).

IMG_9035
Lovely Peanut Butter. Pretty sure that the plastic on these is superfluous, if they are air-tight then the middle bit of the lid can’t be pressed down, right?

I bought Body Glide, but the biggest available one to mitigate the fact that its completely against the purpose of this whole exercise. I may be a hypocrite, but I’m a hypocrite that doesn’t have blood coming out of his nipples. I’m carefully making sure I take a shopping bag everywhere, and packing up food in tupperware for when I’m away for a day or two (that may seem a bit contradictory for Plastic Free Lent, but re-usable containers that I already own are fair game to use). I’m confident that my plastic use will be less than 10% of what it normally is in any given period before now, and that’s a big change.

But where real change can come is only through legislation and efforts from industry to minimise the use of plastic, and once alternatives are more widely available, the public acting on that and using spending power to cement that change. How the hell we get there, I have no idea. I’ve never really been massively involved in campaigning for anything, much less against a billion-dollar industry like plastics and the many different areas that currently depend on plastic to wrap things up. Efforts to change the way we wrap our foods have to come from us, telling the industries involved that we want at the very least some alternative options. It’d be instructive to hear some of the economics involved – do peppers that are in plastic last so much longer than loose ones that they can be that much cheaper, or is the pricing a structural tactic to encourage a bigger purchase?

But for now I’ll keep on trucking, and if any of you have suggestions and information for places where I can buy everyday items with minimal or no plastic, then PLEASE comment for me, as I’m gonna be living off sweet potato, broccoli and canned beans if I’m not careful.

Protect your ears!

I started 2016 so well. Dry January went without too much pain, with me enjoying hosting a Sunday Roast on the 31st with a few glasses of wine to lubricate proceedings (let’s not mention the Bloody Marys at the start which we forgot to put vodka in though…). I then decided to see it through until my friend’s wedding on the 12th, a thought which lasted precisely 5 days, me ending up absolutely plastered on the first Friday of February. And of course, not only did I get drunk, eat about 4876235239592 calories worth of pizza, beigels and sweets at 4am, and miss Saturday morning Yoga, I also managed to lose my custom earplugs. As a man who spends most evenings in a club environment, this is what is technically known as A Bad Thing.

Untitled.jpg
Model of the inner workings of the ear

I resigned myself to forking out for a new pair, and rationalised the unexpected expense by remembering that I needed to get some new filters anyway (they come in 9db, 15db and 25db versions, which take out that many decibels volume, and eventually need replacing), and that I’d had these ones for a couple of years, so maybe my ear canals are a slightly different shape from changing over time… Anyway. I made the appointment, and then by sheer chance clocked a tweet a day later saying that it is Tinnitus Awareness Week 2016! Apart from being a neat coincidence (How neat is that?), it meant an extra 10% off the cost, after already getting the famous Eddy Temple Morris discount, so I was looking at £135 (which went up to £155 after I elected for a custom colour and getting my name on them for a tenner each feature).

IMG_8822.jpg
I clearly need to work on my photography skills, or maybe get a check up to see if I have Parkinson’s. 

I know that to a lot of people that seems a big lump of cash for something so tiny, and I felt the same with my first pair. But you know what? Its probably one of the best purchases any DJ, musician or clubber will ever make. You get one pair of ears, and if you knack them, tough shit, they are knacked for life. Nobody wants knacked ears, its rubbish. Tinnitus in particular can be utterly unbearable in severe cases, it’s been known to lead to suicide in extreme cases – if that’s not enough to motivate you, I’m not sure what is…

The process itself is relatively straightforward – a simple putty mixture is combined, placed into a plastic syringe-pump-thingymujig, and after a small cotton bud on a string has been placed halfway down your ear-canal, the putty is slowly syringed in to get an impression of the shape.

Its quite an odd sensation – the putty is a little cold, the pressure in the ear changes, and it feels a little like being underwater (only less wet, in my experience). You wait around for a few minutes (no talking as it might upset the moulds because of the link between your jaw and inner ear, that’s why when you yawn the sound changes a bit), then they gently wiggle the moulds out, and you are left with something like this (apparently my ear-canal is ideal for this, but I bet they tell all the patients that!).

IMG_8825.jpg
The Loch N-ear-ss Monster. I’ll get my coat…
IMG_8826.jpg
They’re breeding!

As you can see, lefty is a bit straighter than righty. Everyone’s ear canals are unique, and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

And that’s basically that – you can have them mailed direct to you (it takes a couple of weeks to get them done usually, but does vary depending on demand) or collect. It does take a while to get used to DJing with them in, but when I’ve forgotten or lost them I know about it when I get home after a loud gig. “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…” til I fall asleep! I got mine done at Harley Street Hearing, but my first pair were from Boots, and I know that there’s plenty of places all over the place where you can get them done.

 

Giving up plastic for Lent

In my life as a Godless heathen, I’ve never actually fasted or given anything up for Lent. This year however, a friend invited me to join her in the challenge of giving up plastic for Lent – that’s from Wednesday 10th February, through to Thursday 24th March. I agreed, without thinking it through, at all. I had no idea Lent was that long, for starters, I thought it was maybe 2-3 weeks. And then I started thinking about the implications of this challenge.

toronto-bans-plastic-bags.jpg

I like to consider myself reasonably environmentally friendly. Those who’ve seen Cowspiracy can insert their own methane joke there. I recycle pretty studiously, I re-use containers from take-aways and soup/salsa/whatever to store things in the fridge, I take plastic bags to the shops whenever I can. But a life without plastic is something I hadn’t really even countenanced until this was put in front of me as a challenge (which my friend was inspired towards by this post). I’m quite a fan of setting arbitrary boundaries in front of myself to affect my behaviour – I always try to do Dry January and Sober October, as in my line of work (DJing) it’s remarkably hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle without being able to say to people “Sorry, can’t have that shot – Sober October innit?”

2016 started in fine style thanks to Dry January reining in my worst excesses and allowing me to focus on work and wellbeing, so I was keeping an eye out for something to do for Lent. Even the casual observer will surely by now have realised how ludicrous our overuse of plastic packaging has become.

article-1361666-0D68EC10000005DC-346_468x397.jpg

What is less well known (although knowledge does seem to be growing thanks to activists) is what happens to this plastic once it is discarded. A huge amount ends up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a staggering size – estimates vary from 270,000 square miles up to 5,800,000 square miles! That high estimate is 8.1% of the Pacific Ocean…

Then you have landfill. The UK uses around 5,000,000 tonnes of plastic per year, of which only 24% is recovered or recycled. Roughly half of all plastic bottles used in the UK are sent to landfill despite recycling being available – around 240,000 tonnes.

This podcast by The Story Of Stuff talks about the issue at a bit more length than I am doing here. For now I am looking at the field of play, and trying to work out the rules. I guess I can use the plastic I already own, that only makes sense, as this is about trying to minimise waste. Then I need to make sure I recycle that which I bin.

And then we get to the tricky stuff – shopping when plastic is off-limits. Do plastic-free bin-liners exist? I like nuts and seeds to snack on – to my knowledge these are sold almost exclusively in plastic containers of various types. Does this mean I have to shred my own veg for stir frys? How do I do that without buying a plastic-based mandolin slicer? Hang on, I’m supposed to buy an iron tomorrow, I haven’t thought this through at all. Irons are largely plastic right?

Basically, I’m fucked. Anyway, join in with me, much like I’ve gone mostly veggie these days, if I can go mostly plastic-free, then that’s a lot better than doing nothing. I’ll probably do some periodic updates about how this is going and what is proving harder and easier. Feel free to comment with questions and suggestions about this idea, it’s something that will test my brainpower and resourcefulness no doubt, so I will need all the help I can get!

The New Media – Podcasts

In the last couple of years I have become something of a podcast junkie. Obviously, I have my musical favourites (I’ll cover them another time), but where they really come into their own is the spoken ones. I feel like I have a far more rounded and informed worldview than even just a year ago, simply by seeking out podcasts that cover issues I’m interested in, and by people who’s opinions or worldview are maybe at odds with mine. Understanding why people see things differently is a crucial life skill in my very humble opinion, and lets face it, we’re all wrong plenty of the time, and when we’re right we won’t get far persuading people to our worldview if we don’t understand what makes them tick.

So anyway, here’s a round-up of most of my favourite spoken word podcasts, across a range of topics.

99% Invisible – short podcasts about aspects of design in the built world. The host Roman Mars is great to listen to (check his TED talk on flag design to get a flavour of the show), the title comes from the quote “Great design is 99% Invisible”. Rarely anything other than engrossing

Song Exploder – artists explain the process of making particular songs, which is a real pleasure for someone in the industry like myself, but also a brilliant window into the world of creating music for fans. Guests have included Bjork, Chet Faker, MGMT, Joey Bada$$, Harry Greggson-Williams (who scored The Martian) and many, many more


Waking Up With Sam Harris – endlessly fascinating scientific, religious and philosophical discussions. Sadly, Harris is somewhat infamous in many circles because of his strident views on atheism, religion and in particular Islamic extremism (he was the guy Ben Affleck had a wobbly at on the Bill Maher show). Having listened to his podcast for a while, its clear that he’s not the bigot many paint him as through selective quotations, and is actually a fascinating thinker who is not afraid of taking on sensitive issues from a generally liberal perspective, and is completely unafraid of going against the liberal grain, as his views on Radical Islam and gun control attest. The interview with a former Westboro Baptist Church member is essential listening, and the episodes with David Deutsch and Max Tegmark are just wonderful brain-food, if a bit hard to comprehend at times for a layman such as myself! 

Dan Carlin – Common Sense & Hardcore History. Dan Carlin is just a phenomenon, possibly the best podcaster out there. The HH series on World War 1 is truly a tour de force – as is the Wrath Of The Khans series actually. I can’t recommend these highly enough. Anyone with even a passing interest in military history needs to listen to those 2 series. His Common Sense podcast is an excellent, reasonably neutral, look at US Politics.


Distraction Pieces with Scroobius Pip (long-form interviews with subjects of varying backgrounds). Pip’s easy way with his interviewees and curious nature has made Distraction Pieces a real hit – in the modern age, its nice to hear someone given an hour or two to talk as well, as so many interviews on TV or radio are barely 5-10 minutes long, and more often than not just there to sell something. Guests range from stars such as Simon Pegg and Russell Brand through to a fascinating episode with a refugee telling her story of settling in the UK, and what she went through to get to this point


Joe Rogan podcast – long-time comedian and UFC commentator Joe Rogan was someone I’d been recommended many times, but never really got into for quite a while. I found his style a bit brash at first, and mistakenly believed him to be a bit of a “jock”. In fact, while he sometimes instinctively leans towards worldviews I don’t fully agree with, he’s incredibly open to having different sorts of guests on his pod, and on letting people state their case. Sometimes they talk him round to their point of view, other times he manages to open their eyes to different ways of seeing things. He churns out a ridiculous amount of content, so it’s sensible to pick and choose, but there is some brilliant, brilliant stuff to get stuck into. And he even somehow manages to make the adverts entertaining, which is nice. 


Serial – season one was a bit of a phenomenon, and genuinely brilliant. The tale of a did he/didn’t he murder case, that still splits public opinion even now. Season two started quite recently, covering the case of a US soldier who walked off-base in Afghanistan and ended up spending 5 years in captivity, and its…. its…. well, its OK. Its not bad, but it’s nowhere near as gripping or interesting as its predecessor, but that’s a hell of a bar to have to try and reach. I’ll keep listening as it’s still extremely well made and about a topic I find fascinating, but it’s a long way from the heights that season one scaled


This American Life – slices of American life, from same people as Serial. If you care about the human experience, and trying to get a window into what makes people tick, this is essential listening. It definitely approaches the world from a pretty liberal standpoint, but its not really a political pod. It’s more about just giving normal people a voice, and through this better understanding how we all bumble forwards in our own little universes.


The Economist Radio – provides bite-sized pods about current affairs, and on the whole they are a really good way to quickly get a well-informed, sober look at the news. 


The View From 22 – the Spectator’s podcast, usually very thorough, informed and interesting on different current affairs topics from a range of commentators. The magazine is generally pretty right-wing but they do a pretty good job of giving most sides a voice on the podcast.


Football Weekly – magnificent if you follow the game, but even if I didn’t like football, I’d probably listen, Jimbo is just such a brilliant host, and the rapport between the various guests he has on rotation is very easy listening. Wonderful rapport and (whisper that word) “banter” – that’s banter in the traditional sense of witty repartee amongst friends, rather than the Nando’s-munching well-rehearsed bollocks that passes for it these days.

The Big Interview with Graham Hunter – fantastic interviews with major figures in world football. Fascinating peek behind the curtain of professional football, some genuinely hilarious stories (The Harry Redknapp episodes in particular have some corkers about Merson and Kanu), and some insight into the pressures, frustrations and glory of football at the sharp end.


Adam Buxton Podcast – generally interviews, but a bit of him just waffling on the way he does, really good so far, although after a busy early start it has slowed down since his father passed away, which is entirely understandable. The Christmas shows that paired him back with his old radio co-host Joe Cornish (of Adam & Joe fame) were a real joy for fans that grew up with the pair. Possibly the nicest, most likeable man in show business.


The Bugle – great satire podcast by John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman, sadly seems to be done now that Oliver is a megastar in the USA though. The back catalogue is well worth trawling if you want a good laugh, many is the time that it had me on public transport trying to conceal the fact that I was in hysterics!

 

The Axe Files with David Axelrod – Axelrod was chief strategist for Barack Obama’s succesful 2008 & 2012 campaigns, and the stature of his guests reflects this. Happily, he’s not just setting up an echo chamber for those he agrees with – Mitt Romney, Bernie Sanders, Spike Lee, Nancy Pelosi, Alistair Campbell all feature, along with various others from the world of politics. Fascinating and illuminating to hear people explain why they push the politics they do, what motivates them, and realise that even those you completely disagree with completely are invariably coming at things from a sincere belief that they are trying to help the best way they can see.

Here we go again…

We’re just over a month into 2016, and its the usual parade of hopeful resolutions and cynical resignation as we all face up to whatever flaws our minds dare acknowledge. Well, the good news is that it is possible to change habits, build new ones, abandon destructive old ones. I mean, I’m not a great example of this, but I’m told that it happens.

Anyway, here’s some resources you might find handy on your road to a better you.

http://www.habitbull.com/ – dead simple app to try and form or break habits. Can be set up to be daily, x amount of days per week and so on. Has really helped me make certain things part of my daily routine.

screen322x572.jpeg

https://www.myfitnesspal.com/ – exercise and diet tracker, absolutely brilliant, highly recommended if you want to be more conscious of what you put in your body (fnarr fnarr!). The only pitfall is simply stopping using it, which tends to happen when you fall off the wagon, which is kind of ironic I guess seeing as that’s when you need it most. So you need to be disciplined and log everything, bad or good. It saves things you’ve logged before, so eventually it doesn’t take long at all to do. If you are trying to lose weight, its basically a battle of more calories burnt than you allow in, this helps you achieve that by putting the facts in front of you about how many calories are in your meals and drinks, and logging them for you. I’ve lost about 6kg this January with the help of this, despite indulging my burger and pizza lust plenty in 2016!

myfitnesspal-screen-shot.png

https://www.headspace.com/ – meditation app, short and sweet guided mindfulness meditations, really nicely put together. I liked this enough that I ended up buying the full version, and a lot of my friends are keen users too. I would still recommend periodically visiting group and guided sessions/classes if you have access to them (I’m lucky enough to live near the London Buddhist Centre), but its a great intro into a very helpful tool for coping with the incessant buzzbuzzbuzz of modern life!

Screenshot-2015-09-27-17.14.10.png

http://www.nike.com/us/en_us/c/running/nikeplus/gps-app – Nike running app, I’ve used Strava and MapMyRun in the past, but for whatever reason settled on this as my running tracker of choice for now. Seems more accurate than either so far, and Strava seems more geared up for cyclists (no pun intended). And despite being a 37 year old man, it is quite nice having athletes patronise me at the end of a work out for dragging my fat arse round Victoria Park at a snail’s pace. Also, much amusement can be had with the GPS mapper if you are as much of a child-at-heart as I am.

133700

https://www.moves-app.com/ – dead simple pedometer app to leave running in background on your phone, really encourages you to walk more. Does drain your battery a little, but nothing too terrible. Only major downside is that I feel utterly, utterly cheated if for some reason its off or my battery runs out while I’m out and about.

Screenshot_2013-12-10-13-32-46.png

If anyone knows of any other gems, apps or websites, please let me know!