Sunday 31 October 2010

Halloween Past and Present

The last day of October -  Halloween (and a certain drummer's birthday, all the best Larry!)   It's been extra creepy this year as it is the first night of GMT, the clocks have gone back and it's been darker earlier.  I've always been interested in how ancient beliefs live on in our modern world and Halloween is a really good example of this.  Halloween is derived from the Celtic festival of Samhain, "summer's end", and the ancient British equivalent Calan Gaeaf.  The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the "lighter half" of the year and beginning of the "darker half".  The name Halloween is derived from All Hallow's Eve - the night before All Saints Day on the 1st of November.

The ancient Celts believed that the barrier between this world and the spirit world became very thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family's ancestors were honoured and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks. Samhain was also a time to take stock of food supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities and maybe that is why bonfires became a big part of Guy Fawkes night just a few days after on the 5th of November.

Soul cakes were small round cakes made for All Saints Day to celebrate the dead. The cakes, often simply referred to as souls, were given out to soulers (mainly consisting of children and the poor) who would go from door to door on Hallowmas singing and saying prayers for the dead. Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from Purgatory. The practice of giving and eating soul cakes is often seen as the origin of modern trick or treating.

Lanterns were made from hollowed out turnips containing a candle and they were placed in windows to ward off evil spirits.   We  had turnip lanterns when I was young, bloody hard work to carve!  God bless my mother for her hard work diligently carving those lanterns.  I'll always remember that smell when the candle burned the inside of the turnip "lid", it was the smell of Halloween for me.  Nowadays the turnips have been replaced with the American import, the pumpkin.

I've had a few young children round trick or treating, they were all very sweet, filled with wonder and had great costumes!  It got me to thinking what Halloween was like when I was young.  We used to get dressed up, though it was mostly homemade stuff, we couldn't buy much stuff in the shops like today, it was mainly scary masks that were sold, Halloween was not commercialised much in those days.  My friends and I used to go round houses, dressed up, carrying our turnip lanterns asking "Anything for Halloween" - trick or treating didn't exist then - and we were given sweets, nuts or fruit.   We used to hide and try to scare each other as we did our "rounds".  We'd go Halloweening (as we called it) by ourselves, childhood was generally more innocent and safer in those days.

Afterwards my mother always held a Halloween party for me and my friends.  She always made it brilliantly creepy, with delicious food including the traditional toffee apples.  We had games like dunking for apples, which was trying to get apples out of water just using your mouth, it was always fun.  Halloween is just after the apple harvest here in the UK so that must be why they feature so much in the festivities.

Now Halloween in the UK is vastly influenced by the US, and it strikes me as ironic that a festival that started in long, long ago in Britain and Ireland, which was taken over to the US by emigrants, has now come full circle back "home" with touches added by New World.  I suppose this is what happens over time.  It's also not just for kids now, adults have fun too which I think is great.

All the memories triggered me to look at my family photograph albums - luckily my mother was a prolific photographer and my childhood is recorded very well in pictures.  I found some photos of me at Halloween and here's one of them - complete with black cat and spider LOL!

Thursday 21 October 2010

Here We Go Again ....

Below is an extract from an interview Bono did recently with the Australian paper/website The Age.  Bono talked about some rather scary stuff re his back injury, and here's funny quote re his treatment whilst on tour:

Each day on tour, Bono worked with a German physio he refers to as "Hitler's doctor", who would "beat the shit out of me for 45 minutes", and a Finnish practitioner, "the Finnish fondler", who would "work me and try and unbuckle my body".

And then future album plans, you can read the full article here

First Spiderman, now Danger Mouse,  they've done Batman, so maybe the Bionic Man next? No, wait, Bono's the Bionic Man, Made in Germany now isn't he?  I'm giving up getting hot under the collar about some of U2's collaborations/plans.  All I am saying is three things:

1.   U2 is not a club band

2.   Focus

3.   Listen to Adam and Larry

They have spent much of this year working on an album produced by Danger Mouse, the alias for American production ace Brian Burton (Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz).

Due early next year, it will be preceded by a single in December.

"We have about 12 songs with Danger Mouse," Bono says. "It's the album we'll likely put out next because it's just happening so easily."

The singer adds that, in a stream of creativity, U2 are working on two other projects.

The first is a club-inspired album with Black Eyed Peas rapper, French DJ superstar David Guetta and Lady Gaga collaborator RedOne.

Also, Bono and guitarist The Edge are attempting to sell their bandmates, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen jnr, the concept of a U2 album based on the 20 songs the two have written for a Spider-man musical that opens on Broadway next month.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Restuarant Review - Alexandros, Carlisle, Cumbria

Name and Address
Alexandros Restaurant, Warwick Road, Carlisle, Cumbria


A small restaurant in the city centre.  Outer door opens straight into the seating area so it can feel cold if you are near the door.  Some of the tables are too close together.  They play Greek music which reminded me of many happy times I'd spent in that country.

We went for a Happy Hour meal and on offer was two courses for £7.95.  I had a Greek salad for starters which was lovely, with a tasty dressing.  For my main course I had beef stifado with rice.  The meat was very tender and just melted in my mouth, the sauce was rich with a hint of spice, delicious.  One of my friends had the moussaka which she said was wonderful too.  Portions were not massive, but being two courses for £7.95 meant it was enough for a very reasonable price.

Northern Star Rating
Ambience **   Food ***

An Intruder!

My little visitor!
I got up late this morning (after my very late night last night) and went to my kitchen to make breakfast.  Now anyone who knows me knows that I am not the best first thing in the morning, I need at least an hour to be compus mentus and sociable.  I opened the kitchen door, my dogs skipping at my heels keen for their breakfast.  Suddenly a very small, dark "thing"shot past me and disappeared into a corner of the kitchen.  I leapt back - suddenly awake - my boys looked up at me, and brave dogs that they are, shrunk back into the living room.  I peeped into the kitchen again and the flying intruder shot past me again.  What was it? My first thought was a bat as it was so quick, dark and small.  I plucked up the courage and went fully into the kitchen, and I saw a tiny, scared blue tit perched on the fridge.  It set off flying round in terror, I closed the door to keep it in there and tried to catch it with a towel, but to no avail.  So I moved the plants off the windowsill, pulled up the blind and opened the window.  It wasn't a big opening, but the little bird shot out to freedom in seconds. 

The mystery is, how on earth did it get into my kitchen?  It was not there the previous night and the window was closed, in fact no window in my home was open, it had been a cold night.  So I have absolutely no idea how it got in, weird!

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Autumn's Definitely Here

If Max stands still enough he blends in with
the autumn colours!
Well I can't sleep tonight so I thought I'd write a bit on my blog.  Yesterday was a real autumn day, cool, the trees not yet stripped bare, but the wind whisking up the leaves that have fallen and twirling them in the air, the orange/brown/red/russet tones of the season all around.  I used to hate this time of year when things were dying, preparing for the long sleep of winter, but now I don't really mind it, the colours are beautiful and the cool air bracing and I enjoyed being out with the dogs.

I met my friend Christine for lunch in town and, as always, we had a good natter, putting the world to rights.  Tonight I am going out for a Greek meal with two friends I used to work with, time to catch up on all the gossip!  We meet roughly once a month for a meal and each time when I've listened to what they have to say and see how stressed they are I breathe a sigh of relief that I'm not doing that kind of job anymore. And things will only get worse when the government announces all the cuts to the country's budget later this week.

I'm counting down the days until Debbi and I go to Dublin for New Year, 72 to go!  It'll be great to go back, I'm missing the city having only been there for three days earlier in the year. All I can say is roll on!

It's nearly 3am so I suppose I'd better try to get some sleep!  Night night.

Friday 15 October 2010

Chillin' Out

I'm having a lovely evening just chilling out with some good food and a glass or two of Merlot.  I did my last evening working as a cleaner at the village school tonight.  It was a nice friendly school but I was ready to leave.  Obviously such a job has to have a routine and I was bored with that, I'm not a person for too much routine.  So no more smelly boys toilets, no more sand in every nook and cranny in the classroom with the sandpit, no more glitter everywhere, cotton wool that sticks like glue to the carpet, no more trying to get an impossible amount of work done in the time allowed.  It was a job that ideal me for a while, it was close to where I live, got me extra money for my travels, but now it's part of my past, and I have a new job that is much more suitable for me and what I am good at.  

Writing of my new job, I was visiting an 86 year old lady this morning and I asked her what kind of music she liked.  I expected her to say Bing Crosby, Glen Miller, something like that, but what does she say -Westlife!  These lovely old people never fail to surprise me!

When I was driving home from the school tonight a song came on the radio that took me back in time.  It was Always the Last to Know from the early 1990's by the Scottish band Del Amitri.  I used to really like them, loved Justin Currie's voice and many of their songs had meaningful lyrics.  It made me think about the early 90's and the music I liked then.  I liked a lot of Irish bands that were around then too, Something Happens, The Stunning, The Four of Us, The Saw Doctors are some that come to mind.  They showed a lot of promise but none became big in the music world.  Wonder what's become of them?

My U2 fandom was at its height then as well, and now looking back I realise it was also the a very creative, forward thinking era for them musically and in their live performances.  It was also the time I got to know many of the friends I have now via sharing a love for U2.  There was a big gang of us who used to have great fun and madness together during the Zoo days.   

I liked a lot of Irish bands that were around then too, Something Happens, The Stunning, The Four of Us, The Saw Doctors are some that come to mind.  They showed a lot of promise but none became big in the music world.  Wonder what's become of them? 

Dublin was like a second home to me then as well, I visited a few times a year.  I must say, the city has changed almost beyond recognition since then, it no longer feels like the small town city it felt like then. It has lost something, but it still is a wonderful place to visit.

And here's me 20 years later and still a U2 fan and still friends with most of those U2 people I got to know then - some are amongst the best friends I've ever had.  I still visit Dublin regularly, luckily I don't live far away so it's an easy trip, and the city does continue to feel like a second home to me.  The early 90's had a vibe about it that still gives me a warm feeling when I think back to it.  Good times. 

Thursday 14 October 2010

A Chilean Miracle

I stayed up really late last might to watch the Chilean miners being rescued.  It was mesmerising TV, with the cameras on the surface focusing on the miners' arrival at the surface in the specially made capsule and another camera 2000 feet below where the miners had been stranded since August 5th.  It took around 8 minutes for the capsule to travel from the underground cavern to the surface, and during these times the camera would focus on the relative(s) of the next miner due up, the sheer joy evident in their faces.  It was very moving to see them re-united, I especially remember a little girl with tears in her eyes hugging her daddy.

These are just ordinary people, who for a while were thought to be victims of an accident in a mine known to be unsafe.  Now they are known to the world, and will be chased by the media.  In one way this could be good for them, they may get money they couldn't even dream of, which could enable them to live better lives in the future.  But it could also be very hard for them to deal with the unrelenting pressure of "fame" whilst also recovering from the trauma of being trapped underground for 69 days.  I hope it works out well for them, they deserve it.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Hectic Days

Life is really busy for me at the moment as I'm doing two jobs, it's a bit like being a fulltime worker again lol!  I have handed in my notice for the cleaning job, it served a purpose for me over the last year, but now I'm ready to move on.  I now also see a few lovely old people weekly for the charity Age Concern and I love it.  It's working with people and a caring role, which is my kind of thing, I've kind of missed that since I retired from nursing.  It is paid work, and my role is social - I chat to them, go through the papers, do crosswords, take them out for coffee or shopping or just a walk.  At the moment I'm doing both jobs which is making life hectic for me, but this is my last week of the cleaning so things will get back to a more normal pace for me next week.

Lots of rumours circulating in the U2 world about an announcement of UK/Irish dates for 2011 soon.  I think it could well happen.  Maybe I should keep the cleaning job, go back into nursing or sell my soul in order to afford it.  Those Irish guys are going to bankrupt me, as I know I just won't be able to resist seeing more shows if it happens.  I'm normally quite a "sensible" person, but sense goes out of the window when it comes to seeing U2 live.  But, hey, sometimes you've just go to go for things in this life!

Saturday 9 October 2010

Ciao 360 Tour

So the 3rd leg of U2 360 in Europe is finished, next stop, Down Under!  It's been a fascinating leg of the tour where the show has started to undergo a metamophosis into something more experimental and exciting.  Four new song have been premiered live onstage and some old favourites have seen the light of day once more.  And the biggest surprise was Mercy finally getting the recognition it deserves, albeit in a less raw and lyrically sanitised form - shame about that, I preferred the rougher, darker version, but it's still a fabulous song.

Below is Bad/All I Want is You (snippet) from the show last night in Rome.  As you can see Bono has had a wardrobe malfunction, the trews held up well but couldn't quite take the strain for the full tour, maybe Bono's been eating too much pasta.  Shame the rip isn't just a little bit higher .......

Saturday 2 October 2010

No Line on the Horizon a Failure?

The article below was printed in the Irish Times today.  It's a shame that Lillywhite has put it this way.  The album wasn't a failure, it did sell quite well, though wasn't a massive success.  But the album got good reviews by most people as an artistic creation.  After two good but safe albums, U2 took a risk and experimented a bit, that was brave, and many people (not just fans) welcomed and appreciated that.  It's not a great album, but they are trying to do something different to move on, and I view it as a step in the right direction, away from safety of the Noughties leading towards a U2 that, in the future, can maybe surprise and excite us once more.  It's pity that Lillywhite and U2 just seem to just measure an album by its commercial success.  They are in a position where the money doesn't really matter, were they can really concentrate on the music, I do hope they don't slip back into safemode.  Lillywhite also talks of Bono's massive determination, I hope that trait isn't just geared to commercial success, I hope it's also drives an artistic integrity.

The thing that gives me hope for U2's musical future though is what they have been doing live on the current 360 Tour European leg.  Playing unrecorded/unreleased songs for the first time live doesn't sound like a band that will run scared.  I hope I'm right.

Producer Admits Last U2 Album Was Failure