25 April 2011

So I dub thee...sad but true

Yes ok, the title is a bit obvious. Or will become so.

We wandered down to Loughborough today as there was an English food fair on. We went with a certain trepidation, having been very disappointed by the French fair last year. Anyway, this was much better, good food, surprisingly good coffee, although sadly, no cheese. I felt like some stilton, but 'twas not to be.

Anyway, S decided to catch the bus home (whcih could have worked out better), and being the good boy scout, I'd thrown my ipod+headphones in the backpack for such an eventuality. For the first time in years, possibly 10 or more, I listened to Metallica 'Metallica' (that's the black album). It stood up reasonably well.

As a young 'un, I well remember this release. It was huge. Metal had been on the rise for awhile, even if it had devolved into a plethora of power ballads. I was, of course, aware of Metallica - and in the Hutt and Wanga's, it was assumed everyone had knowledge of the back catalogue, and the argument over '...and justice for all' or 'master of puppets' was similar to the F v H Marillion argument.
I was more in the justice camp, based on 'One' whcih demonstrated interesting musicianship. And lyrics that, at that age, seemed deep.
None of this prepared us for how big the black album became.

So looking back, how does the black album stand up? firstly, it sounds like a Bob Rock album. Which it is. There's a massiveness to the drums that seemed common to Bob Rock albums of the period. BTW Bob Rock even looks like you'd expect a Bob Rock to look like. What struck me today was what a boring drummer Lars is. There's very little in the way of creativity, a lack of fills, just thump the buggery out of them. Lars, and I believe me I never thought I'd say this, makes Niko McBrain (Iron Maiden) look good.
Lyrically, it's bad. But given the music, it works, and there's certainly less clangers than most prog albums. But it's Kurt who shines through the album, there's some wonderful touches in there, and the variety seen in teh album, seems to come from him. I'm presuming the eastern touches are his btw.

No matter what Metallica said about Rock, and a lot of it wasn't very pleasant, he did wonders for James' voice. there's a maturity and power that was only hinted at int he earlier albums. Lyrically, it's also better than some of the earlier stuff. Sometimes.

What really set the album apart from other metal albums, were the singles. Six of them. They kicked things off with Enter Sandman, which still rocks the big one, and is a superb album opener. But who-ever had the idea to release Nothing Else Matters as a single, earned their money. Although in retrospect, releasing it as single#4 seems a bit silly. It's an interesting power ballad, and what really sets it apart is that it's in 6/8 time. That's very odd for a single, even more so for a metal single. Try counting along to it, most singles are in 4/4 time, that doesn't fit for 'Matters. Oh yeah, and Michael Kamen did the arranging. No surprise there either.

The album is still loud, and needs to be played loud. But there are elements of 'samey' especially on 'sd2' in the tape/vinyl parlance. This harks back to the more thrash approach of the earlier albums. What really surprised me was that I still know most of the words, and it still rocked along. So yep, really enjoyed this relisten. Certainly a very good rock album, and at the time one of the heavier ones I owned. My tastes have changed since then, and in the metal stakes, have gotten much heavier. But this still stands up nicely, even if it does push (occasionally) too much into thrash for my liking.

At the time, I may have given it a 9/10, I think that's scaled back to 7/10 now. And Lars' drumming did annoy me...


22 April 2011

UK voting

On the 5th of May the UK is voting on reform of their electoral system. This resulted from an agreement the Conservatives had when forming the coalition with the LibDems. Back when we all sang 'i'm with nick'. 
Currently UK MPs are elected using first-past-the-post, a situation common to a lot of democracies, even if it results in:
* a two-party system
* election of MPs who may not have 'won' (earned?) a majority of the vote. 
It's the latter that the LibDems have emphasised and used to demand the referendum, obviously it's impossible to know how many seats would have changed under a different system at the last election. Some press reports have suggested 35 seats (mainly to libdems or labour), but it's still guesswork. But to explain this, lets assume there's 100 votes in an electorate, and 10 candidates. 8 of those candidates get 10 votes each, one gets 9, and the winner has 11. That's 11% of the vote, and they are now an MP, simplistic yes, but it happens that way. Doesn't make a lot of sense to me either.

So what are the options? Obviously the status quo, and a form of proportional representation termed 'AV', or Altenative Vote. This system allows voters to rank the candidates (but no party vote as in NZ MMP) in order of preference. When counted, if no candidate gets above 50% of the votes cast, then the lowest polling candidate is dropped off, and the votes for them reallocated on the basis of second choices. This continues until one candidate achieves 50% of the votes. 
One thing to note, and it's something that hasn't been made too obvious, is that you are under no obligation to provide alternatives, if you only like one candidate, just vote for that one.

The campaigns, both yes (to AV) and no (to change), has been hampered by some nuptials next Friday. 

Unusually there's no campaigning under party lines, leading to some interesting meetings on the campaign trail. Although the toxicity of Clegg means he's been effectively banned, which is somewhat ironic.

The No campaigners point to hung parliaments, unstable coalitions (more irony!),  a lengthy parliamentary tradition, and generally appealing to the inherent conservatism of most people.
The Yes campaigners point to the unfairness to smaller parties of FPP, and how AV will help engage the voting public, and provide a more balanced and open electoral process.

My concerns are that:
* voter turnout will be low, as it's not linked with anything, not even (in most cases) local elections. Optimistic estimates are saying 20% of the enrolled voters, I'm not sure it'll reach 15%. That means that the electoral system change will be decided on by those who are passionately for/against (which is fine), and old people. Sadly old people are more likely to vote conservatively. 
* even at this late stage there is a huge level of ignorance within the populace. Not only concerning the subject of the referendum, but also, incredibly, when it's being held.

Most people agree that AV isn't the best option, but then again when referenda are held, when is the best option ever selected? I seem to remember, that MMP wasn't the best option either...

So my views? I think AV is a better option that FPP, if only as it should focus politics back, slightly, on the electorate. That maybe slightly optimistic, but the current system where you've effectively got two parties, local interests are often subsumed into party views.

That doesn't always hold, and I'm well aware of the blanket nature of my comment. The libdems came from no-where in the last election, based largely on disgust of the other two, and that Clegg came across very well in the debates. But even at the time, knowledge of who the rest of the libdems were was low. Cult of personality?

I have problems with AV,MMP etc that although they encourage more involvement in political awareness (sometimes) - at least initially - I don't think they're sustainable. NZ, with MMP, has been held to ransom by petty grandstanding politicians (ahhh Winnie, you idiot), although it has brought more of a voice to smaller niche views (eg. Green's). 
But when I've flicked through results in electoral systems that have some form of proportional representation, the impression I'm left with is after a period, the system reverts to a two party race. 

That makes sense from a systems viewpoint, where you'd expect things to move back to a normal distribution. I dare say there's some study out there demonstrating this in political systems. I might even try and find one later.

It's fair to say I'll be turning up to vote, and will probably go for AV. I have no time for people who a) do not enrol to vote, and b) do not exercise their democratic right, so if I'm going to be all wankerish about that, I do have to make the effort myself :)
Will it change things? I don't think it will get through, there's more money in the No team, and conservatism is the default english approach (from what I've seen). And any momentum the Yes team had after the election, has been nullified by the public perception of Clegg, and the number of competing interests at this time of year (Easter, wedding, even FA cup finals).

A lot of this is my thinking, so those of you who have Pols degrees...go forth and rip !


17 April 2011

A recap of the last few days

Before I start, there are no guarantees this is, in any way, interesting. But it is, generally, true.

Just been for a nice bike ride, down through Belton, Diseworth (a cockney query?), and back around via Long Whatton and Hathern to home. Lots of hills, sun, nice views, etc. Those four villages are all pretty (Diseworth and Long Whatton in particular), showing up the dilapidated village we're in. Sigh. There were more small hills than I expected, whcih was good. For those playing at home...

View Larger Map

My pot plant (basil, coriander, parsley, not actual pot) exercise is causing daily excitement, after an initially disappointing start. What do you mean they aren't visible after a day, rubbish! Anyway, I now have all three herbs poking their little shoots through the dirt. The two almost dead plants I had (basil and parsley) are now resuscitated. It's all go in my world.

We went for a walk down to Belton (you'll see it onthe map above) yesterday as I was being dragged around gardens. WTF? In S's defence, she turned out to be not quite so keen, so we wandered around three (owners in Belton were opening their gardens to the public), then hit the pub for lunch. We quite like the Queen's Head for food, although I'd recommend their restaurant food over their pub counter stuff. The pub counter food is a bit pricey for what you get, and wasn't that good. They usually have a couple of local ales on, sadly the Belvoir Brewery ale had finished, so I was stuck with Pedigree. Somehow I coped.

Highlight of the news watch this week: courtesy of the Observer, "An 'unfortunate juxtaposition; has caused a few red faces at Clear Channel, the billboard company which placed an advert for the zombie TV show [The Walking Dead] on the side of a funeral parlour in Consett, Country Durham. It has now been removed'.

We've been watching a number of movies too,but they may get their own blog later.


14 April 2011

Terrorism isn't always a bad thing

From a music list I'm on:
Good Charlotte have cancelled their show for Kuta in Bali next week due to a terrorist alert issued by the Australian Government. 

Hard to argue with the terrorists there.

12 April 2011

Scotch report: Cabal meeting 3 (I think)

The cabal assembled, minus one - he'd decided a network conference, which didn't start until today, was more important than whisky.
In unrelated news, there may be a vacancy opening up in the cabal, usual bottle based bribes for entry.

For the first time we had more distillery releases than SMWS releases. And in an effort to look like we knew what we were doing, we'd focussed the SMWS releases on distillery 35 (Glen Moray). So let's take an increasingly disjointed stagger through last nights tastings.

SMWS Complex and Joyous - 35.32; refill hogshead, ex-bourbon, 1/183 bottles, 34yo 55.1%
Nose: christmas cake, sherry, ethanol (from the other doctor, nothing, i repeat, nothing, gets past him), cherry, marzipan, cloves
Palate: salt, massive mouth feel, chewy, liquorice, complex, christmas cake
Finish: massive, went on for hours, ale (weird ale aftertaste), honey, happy.

Addition of water produced on the nose, tea, parmesan and salt. And on the palate, more cloves and leaves.

Initially we gave this 9.5/10, but on reflection there was nothing wrong with this whisky, and so it's now a 10/10.

SMWS Explosive with tremors - 35.29; refill hogshead, ex-bourbon, 1/216 bottles, 22yo 61%
Nose: parmesan, wood, cherries, toffee, weaker christmas cake
Palate: salt/pepper, manuka honey, toffee, chewy
Finish: long, peppery and heat

Addition of water increased the salt taste and killed everything.

There were obvious similarities between these two, and in some respects the .29 suffered following the .32, but it's cemented the position of distillery 35 in our 'must try more' list.
7.5-8 / 10 for this one.

SMWS Ticklish and Dreaming - 35.49 refill barrique, ex-chardonnay, 1/273 bottles, 10yo, 59.5%
Nose: dark chocolate, ginger, cut grass
Palate: salt/pepper, honey (sweet), crystallised ginger, chocolate
Finish: medium, sweet

Additional of water caused the nose to decrease the chocolate, and the palate to become smoother but with increased chocolate.

We gave this one a 7/10. Again, distillery 35 is our friend.

And so concludes our SMWS vertical tasting.

English Whisky Co. Chapter 6 - 3yo, 46%, bourbon
I'd been wanting to try the English whisky for some time as it's had good reviews.
This bottling was very pale in colour, but then it's only had 3 years in the cask.
Nose: gingernut, vanilla, soap (I picked this, no-one else agreed, but I'm writing the notes), hint of pine, ouzo
Palate: salt, vanilla
Finish: pepper, short

there's not a huge amount happening, but there's big potential there, so we gave it 6.5/10 and 'could go far'.

Benriach Solstice 15yo port finish heavily peated. 50%
Nose: peat, iodine
Palate: peat, sea, salt, "drinkable laphroig", sweet
Finish: salt, port, sweet
And no change with water.

It's not just me. This is a very weird whisky. It seems wrong and yet it's very very drinkable. Nothing marries up, and yet, it works. Brilliantly.
We gave this a 9/10.
as I've said before, go buy a bottle. It's great. And buy it from Loch Fyne Whisky.

Stronachie (Benrinnes) 18yo 46%
Nose: peat, sap, woody
Palate: salt, peat
Finish:  pepper, med-short

Not a stunning whisky, but very drinkable which is why it had been purchased (level in the bottle supported this), we gave it a 5/10, but would be more than happy quaffing it.

Tomintoul 12yo Portwood finish 46%.
Nose: peaty but light, watery
Palate: sweet, salty, port
Finish: short, sweet

Very light, again quaffable, and again 5/10.

Another superb tasting, lots of excellent whisky, indeed not a duff one there. All of the general releases are available from Loch Fyne, who should be your indie whisky retailer of choice. And no, I don't get any kickbacks, sadly.

Love, B

Of plants and stuff

Of the lush green herb garden I have been promised by the seed companies, I have nothing. Nothing at all. Not even a cheeky hint of green shoot.

But on the plus side, it's been a lovely few days, sunshine. Yup, sunshine. It tried to confused me yesterday by getting cold and dribbling, but we're back to sun today.

Next, a whisky review.


7 April 2011

Discussions on coffee

Me: Hello coffee
Coffee: Hello Bruce
Coffee: Do you swallow?
Me: for you, yes.

And thus does my day begin.

6 April 2011

An evening of domesticity

I'm procrastinating while writing a policy document. And so I thought I'd regale you lot with how exciting my evening was last night.

S had decided she wanted boring vegetables, effectively steamed and then served. WTF? What's the point to that? Anyway, being the accepting, generous chap that I am, I did this.

For mine, I added a very very hot goan curry paste I'd made sometime ago and stored in the freezer, a bit of coconut milk, rice, then served. Superb. And very hot.

Then, for my life knows no bounds, I planted some herbs in my planter. The last lot died, cos the soil I had wasn't sterilised or something and everything was infected. So I got new soil, and they were offering buy 2 and get 3 on seeds, so I succumbed to that too. I was going to use plants I'd bought to strip, but hey lets go the whole hog in plant growing. I did have a parsley plant lying around so that's in there too.
So, presuming something grows, I'll have parsley, coriander and basil. Will keep you all informed.

Before you get too excited, the likelihood is that they'll all die.

And then I pulled the sink apart as it had stopped draining. I felt quite manly. It even worked after I put it back together. Nothing to this plumbing malarky.

In further plumbing news: our dishwasher is leaking badly. That one I might throw at the landlord.


2 April 2011

Scotch report : Glenrothes 1994

Wandering through Schipol airport it occurred to me that a wee dram over the weekend, with good friends and good music, could be a good plan.

A nice chap was offering samples of Macallan, not my favourite dram, but thought I'd give it a try since he was persistent. If I bought a bottle, I got a free glass. Temptation. Thankfully I've got *a few* glasses at home, and the whisky was digustingly sweet. Avoid the 1824 Macallan Select Oak, it's only available duty free and should be left to those who don't know any better.
I did feel sorry for him when someone walked past wanting to know where the Bushmills was. Awesome.

Wandering across the aisle to World of Whisky, I had a few more tastings, and quite liked the 1995 Glenrothes, although still a little sweet. So I went for the 1994, around 30 quid duty free, and it was most excellent.

Glenrothes 1994 16yo
43% 700ml

Nose: grass, sweet toffee, sherry, very sweet
Palate: sweet, tasty, citrus, sherry, toffee, kinda chewy
Finish: med length, tingly, sweet, hint of pepper in finish

7/10 very nice, superb 30 quid actually !

Those of you wanting a bottle, it's available through Berry Bros

I've never had much Glenrothes before, but on the strength of this one (and the other tasting) I'll be hunting out more.


1 April 2011

Comms strategy

I'm trying to write a Communications strategy, as we apparently don't have one - other than the usual high-level pointless fluffy one. Y'know, we intend will be the bestest, yes we will !!! rah rah team.

I'm don't intend to reinvent the wheel and am browsing the web to steal from others, and came across this - the opening statement in a Comm Policy.

Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.’Chinese Proverb

I mean really. It's from a Uni whose name includes a place where ships berth, and the area where one shovels food in.