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The Review of Life - Day 5 - Mr Hudson Sat 21st Jul, 2007

Mr Hudson are a band who had a fair bit written about them a few months ago when their debut album was released. The album is really good, but didn't make them really famous. Everyone i know who has heard the album really likes it, and now they are touring to, i imagine, become more famous. I went to see them in Bristol back in May, and on Tuesday in Birmingham.

 

The Bristol gig was amazing. The Thekla is small enough to be close to the band, and the average Bristolian's ability to get excited at a piano solo or gig on a boat or cheap cider, or basic ally anything, is unsurpassed. The atmosphere made it, but the band were on top form that night, Mr Hudson, the lead singer, has an actual personality, unlike most newer bands, and the rest of the group seemed to know what they were doing.

 

The gig was good enough to convince Martha and me to make the trip up to Birmingham on Tuesday night to go and watch them at the Glee Club.

 

The Glee club in Brum is a purpose built comedy club, and possibly the best in the country, and they also put on live music as well.

 

The gig was good, same set list as Bristol, with two new additions, a new song possibly called Clear Blue Sky, and another song using something from a Bob Dylan song, but i was trying to be cool and didn't ask anyone what the original song was in case my bubble of coolness was burst.

 

The problem was not the band, the problem was the audience, and not all the audience just a few members.

 

The Smoking Bloke

 

There was a bloke smoking. I didn't see anyone else smoking, apart from one bloke in the toilets, but the bouncers were more interested in throwing out the two blokes snuck into a cubicle together. The reason i noticed this bloke smoking during the actual gig was the stream of smoke rising up from his badly gelled head.

 

The smoking ban has meant that because so few people rebel, the ones who do might as well hold a giant sign above their heads, or wear a brightly coloured hat, with an arrow attached, and maybe a fluorescent penis sown to the peak.

 

My problem was that the bouncers didn't seem to notice, and while i am happy enough to be a bit of a prick about those things inside my own head, i am not comfortable letting that prickness out in a public arena. The main part of my brain was focused on enjoying the band, but the other elements kept wandering over to him and the other people annoying me.

 

The Bleached Clones

 

A group of girls standing near the stage. Martha and myself were also near the stage, but off to the left, or if looking from the stage, the right.

 

The were dancing, and singing along, but were singing with their backs to the stage. What is the point of standing at the front if you are going to not look? You might as well just spend your time at a gig watching the rest of the audience instead of the band.

 

And they were dressed the same. Not exactly the same, but that thing people do where the mould into each other. Same style of skirt and top and hair and shoes. Martha and i once went to the Glee dressed almost identically, on purpose, blue jeans, red t-shirt, pink and red cowboy style shirt, to see if there would be reactions. There were. Why then, when people do this because of a lack of imagination and tribe type tendencies, do they go unnoticed?

 

The Bleached Clone Kissing the Boy

 

It's a gig. Clubs are where you go to suck the face off of a stranger, but here, feet from the stage, one of the clones slipped away from the group and found an unsuspecting innocent and proceeded to explore his mouth with here big fat cloney tongue. She was attractive, but attractive in that way where you feel all her features are only a few degrees away from making her look like a Jim Henson creation.

 

She also had a boobs pressed up and out, almost turning her double chin into quads, and teased this boy to an inch of his life, then sashayed away to join her friends, and refuse to face the band.

 

The Couple Wearing matching T-shirts.

 

They were both proclaiming “Rock”. The t-shirts, not the couple. For some reason they proclaimed the opposite of rock, whatever that might be. And i don't think it is roll.

 

The Boy in the Wheelchair

 

I kept worrying that the bleached clones were blocking his view.

 

The Girl that Martha and I both know, but not well enough to have an actual conversation.

 

Her name is Ellie, and she is very nice, and was there with a bloke called Tom who was also very nice, but my mind kept drifting off to think of subjects of conversation in case the evening meant that the four of us engaged in a long chat. All i could think about was the bleached girl building up and then destroying the scared boy.

 

The Girl at the Front who was dancing too much.

 

I am not sure, if i was Mr Hudson, i would have been able to resist asking her to calm down. At gigs there is always one person who enjoys it a little bit too much. At comedy gigs there is often someone who may know a bit about stand-up, who laughs louder than anyone else, to show that she/he gets the jokes that may have passed over the heads of mere mortal punters.

 

At music gigs the equivalent is the manic dance or over enthusiastic singing. This girl did not stop jiggling for the entire duration, bouncing, and wobbling, and jumping. There was a lot of jumping.

Basically, the girl at the front was at one extreme of a spectrum, with the bleached clones at the other. The key is to be somewhere in the middle and let the people on the actual stage occupy the edges. Oh, and they are the only ones who should be allowed to smoke because we are meant to be looking at them.

 

 

The Review of Life - Day 4 - Pie Minister Tue 17th Jul, 2007

Not all of these will be about food. A lot of them of them will be about music and films and TV programmes as well, but there will be a lot of food. Just not all food.

 

Pie Minister pies are fast becoming a Bristol favourite. We are proud to have some sort of ownership of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and Wallace and Gromit, and Tony Robinson used to live here, and the Pie Minister pie has joined that illustrious group.

 

Bristol people seem to revel in tiny victories. We leave the big victories to those cities who don't mind working really hard to secure international prestige, and relish the little victories that come out of nowhere, with little fanfare and then go on to do quite good things.

 

Not for us a national stadium or international cultural festival, nothing excites a Bristolian more than the amazing reviews for a new pie company.

 

Pie Minister pies have been made since 2003, starting in some blokes kitchen and now available in two main shops in Bristol, and several pubs all over the city, and now in several parts of the country. I got an excited phone call from Martha when was in a pub selling them in Camden, and got a picture message on my phone of the stall at the Glastonbury festival from a friend who had to wait in line for half an hour to get his pie and mash.

 

As a creature of habit i tend to nearly always go for the Chicken of Aragon, a chicken pie with various other bits in it (apologies for the lack of research today, i am writing this without the benefit of wireless internet because i am in my mum and dads house and my dad has a pacemaker and having wireless internet could turn our front room into that bit from Alien when it leaps out of John Hurt's chest. Possibly).

 

If i don't fancy chicken, and i nearly always fancy chicken, i plump for the PM pie which is a steak pie with a little bit of kidney, and other stuff.

 

Yesterday (oh, and this gives away how i do the Review of Life, because i write it the day after, because it would be a real shame if i had already written the entry for a particular day and then had note worthy experience just before going to bed, doing it this way means that i can assess all the activity of the previous day and focus on the one i feel is most relevant) i decided to go for the Porky Pie. I am not sure why i went for the Porky pie, why this was the pie i chose to buy, i just went for the pie that caught my eye.

 

The Porky pie is a pork based pie, with other stuff, and was, as all Pie Minister pies are, lovely.

 

The secret to a good pie is, i think, two fold. Filling and pastry. I have no idea how to make pastry, see yesterdays entry for evidence of my culinary dyslexia, but this stuff works a treat. It has a solidity without being too tough. It doesn't strain or buckle with the force of the contents within, or get soggy after coming into contact with the juices that accompany the meat.

 

But it is also not too hard to get into, doesn't need industrial implements, and is aided in collapsing by the gravy that comes with the pie.

 

The pies are also a good pie shape, the type of shape an art director would choose if they had to create pies for the set of a musical about pies. They are deep and round, with little balconies of pastry rising above the basic form of the pie. The space gives you the chance to have a delve into the contents from a great hight, and also makes you feel you are about to chomp into something from a Dickens novel, or Tim Burton film.

 

The filling does justice to the pastry container. There is none of that disappointment of opening the gates to meaty pleasure and being confronted with meat tinged air, limp vegetables and a bit of grizzle resting with indignity in the corner of the sphere.

 

The lumps of meat are full and fat. The chicken i usually partake of feel and tastes like real bits of chicken, the steak in the PM pie is real bits of steak, and the pork for the Porky pie is so much more superior to the meat in a standard pork pie, and without having to navigate that disgusting jelly arse-pick stuff.

 

A pie should feel like a real meal inside a pastry shell, like its Cornish cousin the pastie. And the Porky pie, and in fact all the other Pie Minister pies, feels like the filling would not annoy or anger you if served on a plate with various extras and no pastry.

 

I could just be filled with Bristolian nationalism, i could be just getting carried away with the hype that always comes when discovering something great made in Bristol, or i could just love my food. I do love my food. But i really do think that Pie Minister pies are great, perfect examples of independent companies focusing on making great quality produce, and i think possibly the only way to prove to myself that the latter comment is the truest, i will search up and down this land of ours, sampling other pies to discover where in the pie hierarchy the Pie Minister lies. Wish me luck.

 

 

The Review of Life - Day 3 - Philomena Olver's Roast Dinner Mon 16th Jul, 2007

I do not know much about cooking. I know how to use an oven, and a frying pan, and sometimes a grill, but in terms of all that boiling, stewing and roasting, i am a complete and utter novice, which places my admiration for my mum's Sunday Roast either, bordering on either the deification or naive.

 

I have had a lot of Sunday Roasts. Sunday afternoon is the time when chips and burgers and fried chicken should be eschewed for a selection of meats and vegetables. I love a carvery, love a posh Sunday Roast with vegetables i don't know the names of, and meats that would not look out of place resting on a big, long table in front of Henry the 8th (VIIIth).

 

I have settled for a Wetherspoons in Edinburgh at 10 o'clock in the evening when no other option is available, and have even walked several miles through Los Angeles to find a British theme pub and consume their version of a traditional Sunday Roast (not bad in the circumstances, apart from the use of mash rather than roast potatoes).

 

I can therefore claim, with 100% certainty, that my mum, Philomena Mary Olver, does the best Sunday Roast in the world. I am not sure why it is so good, why it is so superior to other examples i have tried and tested, but perhaps it is all the elements coming together in harmony that produce such excellence (like the Beatles and B*Witched).

 

Firstly, the meat. For me, her master-work is Roast Chicken. These are not top of the range chickens, reared for perfection and tenderness. Usually mum and dad will buy one from Tesco or Sainsbury on the day before i.e. Saturday.

 

The chicken is often put on to cook fairly early, usually before mum goes and takes Aunty Doll to church, or before dad goes to sing in the church choir (different churches) if mum has been designated to pick Aunty Doll up from church later.

 

I think this length of cooking allows the chicken to cook fully, without being blasted, therefore becoming tender and flavoursome in the process. I am doing the warm-up for Ready Steady Cook this week so i might ask Ainsley for his expert opinion and let you know the facts later in the week.

 

The chicken definitely gets a good three hours at least, and this time period is also, i guess, the reason the Roast spuds are so amazing.

 

I think the potatoes are the key to mum's brilliance. Almost every roast potato tastes different. Sometimes they are too small, or too touch, or too soft, or just right on the outside but really squidgy on the inside. I don't really know how to create the perfect spud, but i am going to use guesswork and creativity to have a go.

 

I think mum boils them a little bit (this may or may not be called par boiling. It makes sense if it is because par would mean part and boiling would mean boiling). Anyway, i have seen them go into the oven looking slightly cooked, and the colour of my skin, a kind of off-white.

 

When i wander past the oven trying to get a whiff of cooking chicken, i often gaze in and see the little spuds (although not too little, i think one of the tricks is too use a good size spud) gently resting next to the chicken. This seems to have the effect of getting the chicken juices, lets call it fat, onto the potato and i think it is this element of the cooking process that means that when they are on the plate they have a slightly crispy edge, the range of colours from pale to golden, richly enhancing the aesthetic quality of the meal as well as the taste.

 

At times we have also had new potatoes boiled with butter, and once or twice even some mash, but always as an accomplice to the rest of the spuds, and not a replacement. Never a replacement.

 

The vegetables are nothing special, usually some frozen peas and carrots or broccoli and cauliflower , but every now and then there will be a curve ball.

 

Unlike a lot of people i am a fan of the sprout, but most places you have them they are over cooked, turning a nasty muddy green colour. I like my sprouts a paler, green, and slightly crunchy to the bite.

 

One of my favourite surprises is the mashed carrot and swede combination. Nothing fancy, just some mashed carrot and some mashed swede.

 

The gravy, like the vegetables, tends to be no thrills. I am always amazed as the speed some people create gravy. Gravy seems like it should be a labour of love, chiselled out over hours to be the perfect garnish for a meal. I don't mind a fancy gravy, a red wine gravy, or maybe an onion gravy, but the simplicity of the standard, boil the water for a bit and bung the granules in, seems to work with the Sunday Roast.

 

The highlight for me, even more than the meat itself, is the stuffing, and this is where my mum comes into her own.

 

There is always one type of stuffing, and more often than not, two. You heard me, two.

 

There is your good old fashioned sage and onion, cooked separately from the bird, in a little glass dish, enough to nibble on while waiting for the meal to be served, and cutable like cake, so when eating your roast you can also imagine you are eating a slice of lovely meaty cheesecake to go with it.

 

As well as the sage and onion, there is nearly always a big glob of sausage meat, actually stuffed up the chicken. Simple sausage meat (actually sausages can be used, if squeezed from their skinny covering) with some seasoning, the joy of having this as well as the sage and onion, is only surpassed by the added attraction of possibly finding a bit left over in the carcass later on in the afternoon.

 

So there you go, the perfect Sunday lunch. I will not even bother going into the pudding, there will be so many other occasions in this Review of Life that i talk about pudding, that i might as well just leave today with the memory of meat and gravy and vegetables and stuffing and stuffing resting on my taste buds.

The Review of Life -Day 2 -The Trailers before Harry Potter Sun 15th Jul, 2007

Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix is out, and i went to see it, and it was quite good. There will be lots of reviews of this film, done by real film critics, and no matter what they say, or how you interpret what they say, everyone who goes to see it will think it is quite good. Not brilliant, not rubbish, just quite well made, well acted, nice to look at, and a little bit weird to see how they have all aged over the past 5 films.

 Very few people will review the trailers though, and after writing this i may discover that there is a reason for this.

 

Trailer 1 – Happily N'Ever After

 

If i had made a fairly cheap looking computer animated film i would probably want an advert for it just before Harry Potter. However, if i had made a fairly cheap looking computer animated film it would probably not be an obvious Shrek knock-off, it would probably contain quite a lot of fairly cheap looking computer animated sex and i would not give it such a rubbish title.

As soon as you read that title you know things are going to tricky. I am not a grammar fascist like my girlfriend Martha or my comedy protege John Richardson, but anyone who chooses to use such a rubbish grammar based reference so predominately needs a good kick in the CGI face. (note: look out for the self deprecating call back towards the end of this piece).

There are several good rules of thumb (or rule of thumbs, i am not sure) for ascertaining the quality of a film from the trailer. I can quite happily claim now that Happily N'Ever After is going to bite, suck and probably masticate.

 

  • Thumb 1 – If your announcer announces that the stars are “Sigourney Weaver and Sarah Michelle Gellar”, then not only have you gone to draw number three or four as opposed to the top draw for your voice talent, but if this is one of your main selling points, then the rest of your selling points are going to be “The cinema will have chairs” and “Who knows, it might be raining".

 

  • Thumb 2 - “From a Producer of Shrek and Shrek 2” implies to me that said nameless “producer” was in charge of photo-copying or the green felt tips.

 

  • Thumb 3 – I am still not sure you can have more than two rules of thumbi. The trailer tends to consist of a variety of scenes that make people want to see the rest of the film. The artistic geniuses behind these trailers then pick out the best bits to make the punter think that if they have put those amazing bits in the trailer, the film is going to be amazing. If the only highlight you can get for the trailer is a badly animated gnome hitting his badly animated head on a non-animated wall, then the rest of the film could consist of the animators scratching their balls and going on facebook.

 

Trailer 2 – Evan Almighty

 

Very expensive looking. Lots of shots of the lead actor screaming and gurning and growing a beard. Animals. Morgan Freeman.

 A comedy for Christian people.

 That'll do.

 

Trailer 3 – The Simpsons

 

Have seen a lot of Simpons trailers, they have been teasing us for a while and have probably made at least 5 different ones. Gradually the plot seems to be becoming clear, but they could put anything in that trailer and i would still come out singing “Spider pig, spider pig, does whatever a spider pig does”.

There were moments during the actual film, when Harry was shouting or something was shooting out of Dumbledore's wand that i was still singing to myself “Spider pig, spider pig, does whatever a spider pig does".

 

Trailer 4 – Transformers

 

Know your audience. If you are making a trailer to try and get 14 year old boys (and people who have the mind set of 14 year old boys, basically most men) then this is the way to do it.

Loads of noise, loads of things blowing up, i just surprised there wasn't a little screen that popped up that said “And we'll teach you how to talk to girls”

The clincher, the factor that makes me know this trailer is astoundingly successful? I was in the cinema with Martha and a gay male friend, and while Martha was not that impressed, The Gay was positively foaming at the mouth.

 

Trailer 5 – I Am Legend

 

Ok, so if you have read this far and maybe my review yesterday of Starburst Choozers, then you may not need reminding that slightly esoteric things excite me. If you are still not convinced, then my little yelp when i saw this trailer would settle any doubts.

It was not the content, or those seemingly mandatory shots of deserted big city streets that feature in the trailer of every “horror” film since 28 Days Later, or even Will Smith doing push-ups. No, my yelp was the realisation that i was seeing the trailer for a film that they have not even finished yet.

 It's like Will Smith himself coming round your house and giving you a little talk about what he did at work that day. It's like licking the spoon of a great pastry chef before he even puts your cake in the oven. It's like watching pre-season friendlies while Rafa Benitez figures out what his starting line-up will be this season.

 It is watching a work in progress. And no matter how this reads, no matter how the rest of these reviews read, if you take no pleasure from the content or the writing or the layout, feel free to take pleasure from the knowledge that this is a work in progress, and things, as D:Ream said, can only get better. Shit.

The Review of Life - Day 1 - Starburst Choozers Sat 14th Jul, 2007

There is something not quite right about the new Starburst Choozer. Now, being a chocolate man, i don't feel 100% qualified in adding my opinion to the already raging debate (read all at snackspot.org) but as a consumer i feel it is important that i do my duty.

I have been a fan for a while, partly because of the rarity of them. Not every shop will stock this new beast from the Starburst family, so when you find a selection nestling in a corner with the fruit pastilles/gums, a genuine little shock of delight goes through my body.

I am like that when i see a Drifter. And a Star Bar. And a Twirl. And a Fuse, but i have not seen one of those for a while. And Monster Munch, but you find them everywhere so that shock might be there because i really like Monster Munch.

I am a complete sucker to confectionery marketing. If something is new and being advertised and shoved in your face on counter tops, i feel obliged to buy.

And conversely, if something has fallen off the PR bandwagon, with very little support from head-office, simply because it is not popular and cool enough any more, i feel that i am doing that snack a favour by liberating it from its sugary purgatory, and who knows, being the "local celebrity" that i am, maybe someone on the street will see me eating my packet of Munchies and think "Well, if it's good enough for Mark Olver, then it is damn well good enough for me.

The Starburst Choozer is currently in the cool gang. A multi-million pound advertising campaign, and alot of money spent developing POS for local shops and supermarkets (Point of Sale, i have done my research)

If this much money has been spent, why is the only place i can find them one shop in Bristol? I am sure they are scattered all over the country, but when i scan the collections of shops nationwide my eyes rarely rest on the Starburst Choozer. But in Bristol, in one store in Bristol, they are always there, next to the till, creating a barrier between me and the bloke serving. A useful barrier i must add because while that bloke walks with a limp, it seems like a limp caused, not by falling out of a tree whilst saving a little cat, but by chasing that cat up there in the first place, possibly with his penis out.

The reason there is something not quite right about the Choozer is the initial bite. There is something of the cough sweet about it.

I do not like a cough sweet.

The selling point of the Choozer is that it has all the fruity love of the rest of the Starburst range, but concealed under a fairly hard shell. The advert describes it as the "chews that ooze"  , and it really does. When your teeth bite through the outer layer of shell, the healthy filling inside can actually gush out. Now, i have had several packs, and have noticed that varying temperature conditions do effect the rate and consistency of the "ooze" but in optimum conditions (which i suggest are : being kept in your pocket of your jeans, front not back so not to crush them, and left for a few hours to get a little hot, but not too hot to start melting the outside of the chew, just enough to squidge the filling) there is an actual gush of flavour onto the tongue.

This seems to be the way that cough sweets work. Now, as i said, i do not like a cough sweet, but anecdotal reports suggest to me that when nibbling on a cough sweet, the medicinal stuff is placed within the shell and after a bit of chewing or sucking or biting, the magic potion is released and does it's lovely work.

What this has led me to discover, and if anything, The Review of Life is about my journey to self-discovery, is that my distaste for the cough sweet is based on the flavour of the sweets themselves and not the sensation of having said sweet gushing into your mouth.

The flavour of the Choozer is incredible. There are three combinations in a packet, raspberry and orange, pineapple and orange, or orange and mango, and for my money the raspberry and orange is the pick of the draw, as those flavours combine well, but also contradict, in equal measure.

So, in summary, because at the moment it is not very summery, the Starburst Choozer is well worth experiencing, and worth your 30p or 45p or however much they cost (i have not researched that bit) Feel free to contact me if you have difficulty chasing them down and i will point you in the direction of the shop in Bristol staffed by Gimpy the Cat Chaser.

 

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