City limits

Recently, I’ve been trying to watch more educational television alongside all the more sensational Netflix stuff or traditional half-hour comedies. This desire has meant checking out a lot of BBC Four and BBC Two, and I really enjoyed the four-part factual show on the latter: World’s Busiest Cities.

Presented by Anita Rani, Dan Snow and Ade Adepitan, the show delved into what makes four very different cities across the globe tick. After the first episode, I was a bit confused about what the aim of the programme was – it felt a bit like a random selection of insights into a city that didn’t necessarily tie together. However, after watching more episode, I realised that the randomness of it actually was the point. These cities are huge and sprawling and you never know what you’re going to find around the next corner.

Particular highlights for me included the ever-increasing Mexico City where people just rock up to a patch of land and start building, the fact that almost every city seems to have some tunnelling work going on (so Elon Musk’s aim for a super-quick boring machine will appeal to many!) and the madness of a Russian commute that takes more than two hours each way every single day to cover a very short stretch of ground.

The three presenters offer unique and differing ideas too, with Anita focusing on the people and culture, Dan quite naturally seeing how history is brought into the present, and Ade learning how the city works, rests and plays.

If you’ve got access to the iPlayer or fancy snapping up the programme on iTunes, I can highly recommend it, and I hope there are four more cities in the pipeline for a second series soon.

Life is cool in the pool

I was kind of in two minds about Carpool Karaoke branching out on its own. It works brilliantly as a sketch on the James Cordon late night show, but to stand on its own two feet? How would that work? Could it sustain a longer show? And what would it be like without James?

Well, the answer is that for the most part, it’s still as brilliant as it was before. There are some niggles, but the overall result is an entertaining and still laugh out loud funny programme.

We’re about halfway through the series now, which kicked off with an epic Will Smith episode that did feature James Cordon… right up until the part where he was left on the top of a tall building.

The episodes vary in length and quality. Some of them do suffer from not having a lead presenter, you can tell the conversations sometimes take a little while to break the ice. Some partnerships don’t seem to work at all – the Metallica one was a bit odd – but some of them are genius. The recent episode with John Cena and Shaq had me in stitches almost constantly, whilst it was a revelation to see the full family Cyrus bulging the sides of a people carrier.

The kind of format it is means it’s always going to be a bit hit and miss. Maybe you don’t like the people, maybe you don’t know the songs, but overall I think it’s a big success – and it must be a great relief to Apple after the bizarre and baffling misstep that was Planet of the Apps.

You’re welcome, childhood

This video came as a complete surprise to me. I didn’t know that Josh from Drake and Josh was a video blogger, although I did know that he had got all thin and had fallen out with Drake about the wedding. Sad times.

Except not sad times because that meant we got this amazing video.

So much to love about this, but of course the reunion itself is the main thing. The joke about the wedding is wonderful, and the bonus appearance at the end too. Plus I love that Alexa gets a say in it.

And then on top of all that, it’s just a really well done video blog. Great camera work, strong visuals, perfect pace and funny content. Makes me wish I was a video blogger, but hey, once you’ve got the Drake and Josh reunion on the internets, I’m not sure there’s anything else to add.

Home bass

I bass therefore I am

A post shared by @mrschristine on

I’m still quite new to the whole bass playing thing and I’ve been looking around the App Store for instructional apps. Whilst the scope is limited for bass guitar itself, the arena of musical tuition is incredible. I so wish these things existed when I was a kid and was trying my hand at all kinds of different instruments.

For now, though, I’ve settled on Yousician, an app that covers four instruments including bass. They have instructional video and exercises that can pick up your playing and make sure you’re doing it properly. Of course there are badges and rewards, and a daily goal, but for the most part, Yousician is just a good encouragement to pick up the bass each day, learn something new, and get a bit of practice.

At first, the app was straining to hear what was being played through the iPad microphone, but that wasn’t a very good solution. Built-in audio devices aren’t the best at picking up bass notes, so I kept missing out on full points despite playing as best I could. So, I invested in an iRig Pro kit that acts as a go-between for the guitar and the device, and now Yousician never misses a beat. I do, I miss plenty, but still.

Alongside working through lessons in the app, there’s also the joy of split-screening guitar tab apps and Apple Music. Listen to the song, work through the notes, play along. Once I start, I find this incredibly addictive – the joy of playing alongside the rabbit-hole of finding good bass tracks.

And once I’m done with all that, I watch videos of people, particularly Este Haim, playing bass and wish I was better. Like I said a couple of months ago, I really didn’t need another hobby, but this one has got right under my skin.

On the record 2017, Part 7: A pretty chilled out vibe that works for me

When I first started this album adventure, outside influences very quickly impacted on the selection of albums both I and Mr C made. Watching the movie Straight Outta Compton propelled NWA’s album near the top of my favourites list, whilst the death of David Bowie saw me sampling the delights of Heroes.

Since then, we’ve been focusing more on our own selections – we both have lists of potential choices. Mr C’s list is the larger one, covering all of musical history, whilst mine is smaller with only 2016 and 2017 to choose from. It’s been a while since we’ve deviated from the lists, but recently, there has been a big influencer on the choices – Carpool Karaoke.

After watching the first episode I was obsessed with getting a Will Smith album under my belt, and the next week I managed to have a completely Carpool Karaoke themed selection. Having seen Alicia Keys and John Legend jamming together in the car, I chose him for my new album and Mr C threw Alicia’s debut into the mix. I love it when stuff like this happens, crossing the streams and all that, because it just adds to my ever-growing musical knowledge and makes this album listening silliness all the more relevant.

Also, a bonus shout-out for Lukeh and Jeremy who gave me suggestions for current albums that I probably wouldn’t have picked myself. Such fun!

Week 31

  • Different Days, The Charlatans
    Nice and relaxing this one, I don’t know much about The Charlatans but this album has a pretty chilled out vibe that works for me. I quite like the interludes as well, not too intrusive and add rather than take away from the work as a whole.
  • Red, Taylor Swift
    I hadn’t realised quite how pop Taylor had already gone before she even got to 1989. This album’s first half is pure pop before reverting to the more familiar country sound. It’s longer than a lot of albums too and stacked with hits, plus a couple of good collaborations to boot.

Week 32

  • Pawn Shop, Brothers Osborne
    This was a recommendation, and I’d not heard of the band before. It’s proper country, not pop country that I usually indulge in, but it wasn’t as hoky as I’d thought it might be. The first half of the album is quite relaxing, and it’s all got a nice rhythm to it.
  • Look Sharp, Roxette
    Excellent album, it’s very eighties, so maybe hasn’t aged as well as it might have done, but the songs are all still great – the singles stand out, naturally, but love it all. Some of the tracks remind me of Madonna, but the combination of the two voices gives it a slightly different vibe.

Week 33

  • Truth is a Beautiful Thing, London Grammar
    I was keen to listen to this one, heard good things, but this isn’t really my sort of thing. Bit heavy, ethereal, quite like Florence and the Machine. Lead singer has a great voice but there isn’t much else to it, and I found it a bit of a slog to get through the whole album.
  • Big Willie Style, Will Smith
    Love Will Smith. Inspired to listen to this after his Carpool Karaoke, and really enjoyed it. The pop-rap style is totally up my street, great rhythm in rapping but slightly more palatable subjects than more hardcore rappers. Plus I know all the words to Men in Black, so can end the album in style.

Week 34

  • Darkness and Light, John Legend
    Was always under the impression that Legend was a bit whiney, you know, soppy laid back music, but I hadn’t realised Love Me Now was him. After being educated by Carpool Karaoke, I gave his album a go, but did find it to be a bit underwhelming. Love Me Now is a stand out track, the rest far less memorable.
  • Songs in A Minor, Alicia Keys
    This is one of the few albums that I listened to multiple times when it came out. I’m slightly obsessed with Alicia: such a good voice, amazing piano talent and just a wonderful presence, so it’s lovely to dip back into this familiar selection of R&B/pop goodness.

Week 35

  • Memories…Do Not Open, The Chainsmokers
    At first, I was optimistic about this one – I liked the style and the different guests bringing unique voices to various tracks. Unfortunately, it still all managed to sound similar – and a couple of the songs were just like Closer with Halsey. Good but not great.
  • 1989, Taylor Swift
    I’ve heard this a few times, obviously, but somehow I’d forgotten that there were just so many great tracks on here. It’s a fab album from start to finish, and I can understand why Mr C loves it so much. Listened to this just in time to start enjoying her new stuff too!

Taste Twenty Trial – 9. Liquorice root

The one thing it is easy to forget when you have a blog is that people are occasionally reading what you’re saying. It really shouldn’t be a surprise when someone says “Hey, why don’t you try this food, I know you’re trying to taste new things, I saw it on your blog.”

I wasn’t keen, if I’m honest, because this thing is called liquorice root. I don’t like liquorice, and it looked like a tree branch, which I’ve not previously had a fondness for eating either.

But, I’ve expressed a willingness to try new things, and I was told it didn’t taste like the black sweet-like liquorice I know and dislike. So I tried.

It doesn’t really make sense to me as a food. Others were chewing on this root, saying how nice the flavour was once you get into it. Well, I couldn’t bite into the root because it was too hard (being a tree branch and all), and I didn’t like the taste long enough to soften it up (being liquorice and all).

A little further research suggests it should be used as a flavouring, but my companions were content enough to chew on it. For me, it wasn’t really a successful tasting, but hey, it’s another one off the list!

Bite-sized reading

I can’t remember where I heard of the Serial reading app, but I downloaded it a while back and left it sitting on my phone for a while before I had time to play around with it. After finally investigating what it has to offer, I can’t now decide how I feel about it.

As with all the best apps, Serial Reader offers up a simple solution to a problem you didn’t know you had. Classic works, from esteemed authors such as Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells or Philip K. Dick, are broken down into manageable bite-size chunks and delivered to your device in “issues” – twenty minute blocks to help you work through the task of reading.

At first glance, I was thinking ‘oh great, something else that is pandering to the attention-lacking youth’ but on the other hand, I can see the appeal. Some of the most classic literature works are incredibly daunting and to have some kind of structure to not only help you start working through it but also to keep going when you might ordinarily have given up is not to be frowned upon.

One of my Life List goals was to get through a book challenge that included Moby Dick, War and Peace and far too many Charles Dickens’ books. Some of these were harder going than others, and as language continues to change and evolve, I can only see that becoming a bigger issue. These works are still very important, and so the way we consume culture has to adapt to keep up. We need guides to help break down Shakespeare’s genius and make it accessible, and it’s surely only a matter of time before more of the classics are treated in a similar manner.

It’s also something that classic fiction did a lot more than us – breaking stories down into serial chunks. Charles Dickens is one of the most notable writers of serialised fiction, so why not enjoy his works as they were meant to be read?

The app isn’t just about making texts more accessible, though, it’s also making a bit of a game out of the reading process. You can subscribe to a book and select your required options, then you’ll get one issue every day to begin your journey. The app gives you statistics about how far you are through the book and how much you’ve been reading recently, and who doesn’t love a good badge?

Some of the press clippings on the site suggest it’s the “reading mode of the future” but I would hesitate to go that far. What it could be useful for is those who need to get through a book for education purposes, or those that are studiously working through a list. It would have been really useful for me, and although I don’t want all reading to go this way, I am sad I didn’t get to try it out on one of those titles I was muscling my way through. It won’t change how you read books but it could help with specific titles, and I think that makes it worth a look.