On the record 2018, Part 1: Hard rock, maybe, but no screaming

Album time!!

I had a bit of a crisis of confidence at the beginning of the year, realising there’s no way the next twelve months could be as good as the previous twelve – all those incredible albums that came out last year and made it a brilliant journey, it’s impossible to repeat that, isn’t it?

Well, we’re off to a good, if not exceptional, start. Pop, folk, country, rock, and even a bit of reggae. A little bit of everything to kick the year off right.

Week 1

  • Gang Signs and Prayers, Stormzy
    Stormzy burst onto my radar over the last few weeks, and so I had to start the year with the album everyone is raving about. I enjoyed it, although found it to be quite eccentric, a lot of different pieces thrown together. Still, there are some real highlights, and of course, Blinded By Your Grace is a wonder.
  • Wish, The Cure
    I’ve been waiting to listen to this just so I can quote The Wedding Singer legitimately, but I’m glad I finally got round to it. This is a slightly happier sound for the band, and I really enjoyed it. It was quite distracting how much the songs and particularly the lead singer reminded me of The Killers, but hey, The Cure came first!

Week 2

  • hopeless fountain kingdom, Halsey
    Great album this one, I loved it. Having only heard Bad at Love before, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect, but I really enjoyed the concept and the way the album worked together. It kicks off with a bit of Shakespeare and winds through love and hate and many great songs.
  • Duran Duran (The Wedding Album), Duran Duran
    The thing about Duran Duran, and I think I found this when I listened to Rio as well, is that I really enjoy the music. Yay, Duran Duran, great songs, great voice, fun to listen to. But if you asked me anything about this album now, just a few days later, I couldn’t tell you. Ordinary World is fantastic, the rest mostly forgettable. But it’s so good when you’re in it! Weird.

Week 3

  • Camila, Camila Cabello
    I was expecting quite a lot from this debut album from Camila, and in the end I think I’ve ended up a bit disappointed. It’s a really strong debut, lots of good songs and I like the pop vibe tinged with the latin edge, but it’s very short and I’m not sure it’s going to end up as a top five.
  • Tease Me, Chaka Demus & Pliers
    This was a bit of a weird one for Mr C to pick, but actually, I really loved it. The famous songs, Tease Me and Twist & Shout, obviously are fab, but I enjoyed all of it. Lovely, chilled reggae vibes and lots of Chaka Demus saying, hey Mr Pliers, my turn. Such fun.

Week 4

  • Ruins, First Aid Kit
    Mixed feelings about this album, really. The two are exceptionally talented and their songs and harmonies are really clear and good and strong. The trouble is, the style of music is, for me, better suited to background listening, which is fine, except I find the close harmonies quite distracting (in a good way), so can’t just let it wash over me. I’m not really sure where this album fits for me, but that’s not to say it isn’t a good one.
  • Hysteria, Def Leppard
    I was a bit nervous about this, thinking it was going to be quite hard, heavy music but it wasn’t. Hard rock, maybe, but no screaming and shouting, so all good. It’s not an album that had huge standout songs, although Pour Some Sugar on Me is fun, of course. But otherwise it’s just some really good, solid rock.

Week 5

  • The Time is Now, Craig David
    This is just Craig David through and through, exactly what you’d expect from the guy and pretty much what his sound has always been (perhaps a little more grown up than before). The only oddity is his song with Bastille, which is great, but sort of sounds different to the rest of the piece.
  • Sings the Songs that Made Him Famous, Johnny Cash
    My obsession with Johnny Cash is growing, so this is his second album and I loved it, naturally. It’s similar to the first – lots of short snappy songs, great train-like guitars and fab beats. There were more backing vocals than before, I felt, which gave it a different ambience, but it still worked for me.


Recently, I discovered that NOW TV had six series of Gladiators available to watch on demand. I’m such a huge fan of Gladiators (bigger than I even realised, as a couple of episodes in, the theme tune made me a bit weepy!) and although I’ve seen clips and odd episodes over the last decade or so, this is potentially the first time I’ve been able to watch a concentrated batch of Gladiator goodness.

(And we’re talking really concentrated. Like, ten episodes across the course of 36 hours. Which didn’t happen. At all.)

I don’t know what it is about the show that I love so much, but I know there are some things about it that are so much greater than TV shows these days. Firstly, many of the contenders are participating to be a role model for other people – usually kids. They put health and fitness above many other hobbies and want to go on this show to encourage others to do the same.

Secondly, the exploits are all taken seriously. This is no Ninja Warrior or Total Wipeout, where the contestants are all made to look stupid. These are serious people who have trained to participate in the events, both contenders and Gladiators alike.

And there’s a wonderful sense of camaraderie. Sure, there’s plenty of competitiveness floating around, there’s the odd moment of tension, and there’s the Wolf trying to stir up trouble wherever possible, but for the most part, people are good sports and want each other to do well. The moments where the entire arena wants that person to get up the Travelator, despite the winner crossing the line a full minute ago, those moments are wonderful.

There’s a natural nostalgia to this show for me, I used to watch it with my brother in the good old days, but I think it’s more than that. Take away the slightly dodgy presenting skills and the emphasis on people’s vital statistics, and you’ve got a really quite inspirational plus hugely entertaining programme. I didn’t see the more recent remake (yet), and I don’t know if it had the same tone or whether it was well-received (I understand Sky axing it came as a bit of a surprise rather than it being a show with ailing ratings). I really do think there is a space for this kind of programme though. Healthy competition, promoting fitness, and creating some well-loved Gladiator characters that you never forget.

Better Watch out

I love Apple’s activity badges, I’ve talked about them a few times here already. I find them incredibly motivating, particularly with the recent upgrades that have made the programme more personalised and more responsive to your performance. Rather than your standard “get your move goal every day of the month”, you now have specific calorie, kilometre, or time goals measured in absolutes or averages, with a new and different challenge each month.

Apple Watch and Phone showing activity data
Credit: Shutterstock.com

It’s brilliant, if only because it gives you something to work towards that you might not otherwise have thought of. In fact, you sort of have to treat it as though that’s the only reason because quite often these badges aren’t functional. Apple came up with a “Ring in the New Year” challenge last year that was repeated in 2018, but some people managed to get the badge in December.

I picked up a badge last year that I didn’t actually achieve, whilst Mr C has been on the receiving end of working super hard and achieving the goal only not to be rewarded with the badge itself.

Like I say, for us, it’s more about having the goal to work towards and it’s the fun of actually doing it that makes it worthwhile. But for many people, and for me at the start of the process, it was more about getting the tangible badge to prove you’ve achieved something. And if you can’t rely on that, then the process actually becomes demotivating rather than having the more positive effect that Apple want.

I’m sure it’s just a bug or two that needs to be ironed out, and I’m also sure that Apple have some people working on it, but I hope they can sort it out soon so I can truly shout about how good the system is. There’s another one-off activity challenge coming up this month and the badge is adorable so I hope it doesn’t break this time!

Film Watch notes – further improvements

Soon, Film Watch will reach its ninth birthday, having catalogued over 800 films so far and still going strong. More than anything, for me, it’s a handy reminder of what’s been viewed and an easy way to settle arguments between Mr C and myself about a) whether we have watched a film before and b) what we thought of it. The actual live blogging of the film is less important to me after the event, but is hugely important to ensure I’m paying attention as the film goes by.

I wrote a few years ago about the evolution of my note-taking process, starting as it did with a notebook and pen, and eventually graduating to an iPad. I thought it was worth a quick update, because the process couldn’t get much more streamlined at this point, unless they develop a way for your thoughts just to appear on a blog the moment you think them.

When last I checked in, I was typing up the notes on an iPad, getting the timings from an iPod, and then using iCloud as a better-than-iTunes-but-still-quite-clunky syncing process. Things haven’t changed enormously since then, but a few tweaks have made the publish process even easier.

Firstly, split-screen on the iPad means I no longer have to use two devices to keep track of everything. I can have my notes taking up two thirds of the screen, and the clock app tucked away down one side.

Secondly, I’ve used a few different apps for taking the notes, settling for a long time on Word and using Dropbox to sync the files back to my Mac for blogging. But, I’ve really been loving the Bear notes app, and find that the magic of tagging files and them syncing immediately through all your devices makes the process ridiculously easy.

So from here, I can quickly and easily transfer to my Mac where I publish to the Film Watch blog. In reality, I could go from initial thoughts to publish all from the iPad, but I find the process of getting images into the WordPress app and in the right place somewhat awkward on iOS. Hopefully this is the next step in the evolution, but as it stands, it’s almost perfect as it is.

All about that bass

U2 made an appearance at the Grammy’s last night, playing in the apparent freezing cold grounds of New York’s Statue of Liberty. Now, I’ll be honest, Adam Clayton isn’t exactly one of my bass heroes, but I’m rapidly rethinking that after seeing his instrument of choice for this performance.

I’m still not clear on how one plays guitar with gloves on – fingerless or not. But I don’t blame them, it looks flipping freezing out there.

It’s so pretty!

(And so expensive!)

Shame it’s a limited edition otherwise I’d start saving up right now.

Diaries with friends

I love Dawn French enormously. She recently released a new book/diary, wherein she shares her thoughts and feelings and lists and photos throughout the year, and you do the same. It’s an interactive sort of book, where there are plenty of spaces for you to add your own notes and doodles, over and above the actual space for diary entries.

I love Dawn French so much that I have done two things I wouldn’t normally do: bought a physical book, and then written in it.

It’s gorgeous and uplifting and encouraging, and I’m using it as a way of keeping track of inspiration and gratitude and general optimism.

Dawn’s been sharing photos of what other people are doing with their books, and whilst I don’t think I can be as creative as these in terms of art and doodling, I can already see that this book and I are going to be good friends this year.

Portrait of a lizard

Ordinarily, you wouldn’t find me in the reptile house of any theme park or zoo. I’m not that keen on zoos anymore, and dude, there are snakes in there. However, our visit to Drayton Manor was on one of the coldest days of the year, and snakes do at least have the right idea when it comes to sleeping somewhere warm.

I was snapping pictures here and there, still testing out the reaches of this iPhone 8 Plus camera – a huge improvement on my last. And somewhere along the way, I took this:

I never thought I’d be using portrait mode on a lizard, but damn if it wasn’t worth it.