On the record 2017, Part 5: A poptastic celebration

I was supposed to post this at the weekend but I was a little busy keeping an eye on all the action from Glastonbury. The thing is that this year, far more than at any point in my entire life, I had heard of some of the artists on the stage, and knew many of the songs being played. It was a revelation!

The one thing I haven’t developed yet is a method and indeed a motivation to seek out new songs. Apple Music make it pretty easy to hear songs you don’t know, they have playlists and regularly updated charts and an entire radio channel for that purpose. I just haven’t quite figured out how best to go about it. Anyway, on with the albums.

Week 21

  • One More Light, LINKIN PARK
    I like the odd Linkin Park song or two so was interested to see what they’ve come up with this time. It veered a lot more towards pop than I’d anticipated, there wasn’t the rage and angst there used to be, which is interesting. Good album but nothing really stood out.
  • Kylie, Kylie Minogue
    Aw, lovely Kylie’s first effort is a poptastic celebration. It’s all very Hit Factory, which is no bad thing as long as you know what you’ve signed up for. The classics are, of course, fantastic, and the rest of it fills in the gaps nicely.

Week 22

  • El Dorado, Shakira
    Really love this album! It’s fun, upbeat and a wonderful eclectic mix of styles and languages. It’s standard Shakira, but there are lots of influences in there and you can tell she was just having fun with the whole thing. Great job.
  • Songs From the Big Chair, Tears for Fears
    Hmm, not sure about this. The good songs are incredible. Everybody Wants to Rule the World is up there with the proper classics. Head Over Heels, very good. But there are also some real low points. It’s a totally mixed bag.

Week 23

  • Harry Styles, Harry Styles
    Not one of my favourites, but a good job by Harry. Nice to have something completely different from his One Direction antics, but I’m not sure the faux seventies style really does it for me. They seem like good songs, well crafted, and the album works well as a whole, but it’s not really to my taste.
  • The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill
    It’s clear this is a work of art, something that many hours of love and attention have gone in to. I like the songs, but the school classroom stuff didn’t really add anything to my listening experience. Nevertheless, Hill has such a fantastic voice and her talent shines through from start to finish.

Week 24

  • Witness, Katy Perry
    Was super excited about this album arriving and thankfully not disappointed. It’s a superb pop journey stacked with great beats, intriguing concepts and thoughtful lyrics. There does seem to be more of a political or philosophical edge than previous efforts, but I think it all works really well.
  • The Last Broadcast, Doves
    Another hit and miss album. Like a couple of the songs but much of it is just a bit too experimental and lacking in actual tune-age for my tastes. Really like Pounding, There Goes the Fear is okay, the rest I can take or leave… and probably leave, if I’m honest.

Week 25

  • Melodrama, Lorde
    Quirky and well crafted, this is a concise and compact album that feels like a lot of effort has gone into every single song. I worry some of it has meanings that go beyond me, but if I just settle back and listen then it’s a great selection of songs, ideas and lyrics bundled together brilliantly.
  • Blue is the Colour, The Beautiful South
    Adore this album, lots of great songs and I like the blend of Paul and Jacqui’s voices, and the way they work together and apart. The singles are great, but I particularly love Little Blue, a real favourite. My only complaint is with Liar’s Bar, as the gravelly voice Paul does drills all the way through my ears and makes my eyes want to fall out.

W is for Windermere

I knew it had been a while since I last went on an Alphabet Adventure visit, but looking back now, I’m horrified to find it’s been over three years. Ridiculous. So, I stopped putting it off, and dashed to the Lake District to have a gander at that body of water known as Windermere. It’s famous, apparently, for being the longest lake in the UK, and it’s very pretty, but I have to admit, I was expecting a little more.

Early start in the Lake District.

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I took a Lake Cruise from Bowness down to Lakeside, which included a brief trip on a steam train, a walk around a very small but refreshingly modest aquarium, and then a journey by boat back up to Bowness again.

Boat

Lake side.

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The boat trip was good, it was fun to see how long the lake is and get some views from along the way. It’s good to peek at what is nestling lakeside and see who has houses that lead right to the lapping water. There was the occasional audio guide on the boat but I couldn’t hear it at all, so missed out on all the facts. On the way back, too, I got really, really cold, so was quite happy to get my feet on dry ground again.

Water, trees and sky but still so dramatic.

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Train

Not quite Hogwarts Express.

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The train was fun, although the track didn’t go round enough bends to be able to see the steam engine chugging along whilst also being on it. It’s private land, and the track travels extremely close to some houses along the fifteen minute journey. At one point, there was a man in his garden who stood and waved at the passing carriages. I can’t see him getting much gardening done if he does that to every train that passes.

Aquarium

Like I said in the introduction, the aquarium was small but I actually quite liked that – it wasn’t trying to be anything more than what it was. There were no huge exotic exhibits, just smaller, more domestic aquatic life. I did like some of the more unusual items, like the leafcutter ants, whereas the walkthrough underwater tunnel wasn’t as good as at other, larger attractions.

Tortoise. Just in case you were bored of all the landscapes.

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So, for the most part, a successful trip. I did feel that despite the nice surroundings, there really wasn’t so much special about Lake Windermere that couldn’t be found at any lake nearer to home.

Want You Back video – “We were on one endless road”

This year, in anticipation of their new album, I’ve become a fully paid up Haim fan. Somewhere along the line, these girls wormed their way into my heart. Whether it was listening to their album, or their radio show (currently on hiatus), or just following them on Twitter… I’m in love. Quirky and unique, with their own style and a comfort in their own skins, these ladies are also supremely talented.

They released the video for their new track ‘Want You Back’ and it’s one of those one-take wonders that is worth watching for many reasons, but above them all, for the three part air drum roll. I wish I had sisters to do this with.

Good things that happen

I really like the simplicity of the idea behind Three Good Things, an app that does one thing well. You are tasked with logging three good things for each day, with the aim of stringing together streaks of days and generally making your world a little bit of a happier place. The things don’t have to be life-changing, and they don’t have to be complex. You’re only given 100 characters to log each thing anyway, so the simpler the better. Examples featured in the marketing material for the app include having a delicious takeaway meal, or your favourite artist releasing a new song.

It might seem a bit hokey, this logging of good things, but actually you only have to try it for a couple of days to make a noticeable difference. Either you’re more aware of the things as they’re happening, because you’re thinking of what you can add to your list later, or you are compiling that list and see situations from your day in a new light. It doesn’t matter which way it works for you, that process tends to throw a bit more positivity into your day.

And boy, we could all use a bit of positivity at the moment.

Of course you don’t need an app to do this. Take a piece of paper, open a blank text document on screen, or just take a moment to think about it at the end of the day. You can get on with it at your own pace. But if you need a bit of structure and want the added benefits of calendars and streaks, then the Three Good Things app might be a good download.

The fault with Asphalt

About eighteen months ago, I talked briefly of my obsession with Asphalt 8 on the Apple TV, a game that combined third party controllers with Apple TV accessibility to make a brilliant and captivating racing game.

For a few months, this game was everything – I wanted to get all the stars for all the events in all the seasons, I wanted to upgrade all the cars and collect as many as possible, and essentially do all the things. My obsession lessened as other entertainments distracted me, but it was always there in the back of my mind – Asphalt 8 is brilliant, don’t forget to go back and play!

Well, I’ve been checking in every now and again and after looking at it last week, I’ve got to say, the obsession is over. I was tempted back into the game by their recent Porsche update, allowing you to have a go at racing Porsche cars where they have previously been missing from the garage lineup. Great fun.

Except, it’s almost impossible to find a car and then a track to race it. It used to be that you chose from a handful of different events to race and gain money to buy better cars. The better cars help you race better, win more, gain more money, buy better cars, and the cycle continues. It’s a system that has worked for most racing games since the dawn of time. (Or since the dawn of the Playstation, anyway).

In the intervening months since I have had a proper play in Asphalt 8, they have added so many bolt on elements of the game, it is totally unfathomable.

There are multiplayer races, event races, research and development races, several layers before you get to those bog standard season races. You can buy a car, you can collect cards to develop a car, you can purchase tokens to get a car. You can upgrade certain elements with cash, you can collect other cards to upgrade extra pieces. You can earn cards, or you can buy boxes that contain cards. There are daily tasks to complete, limited time events to run, and probably a lot more that I have skipped through in my haste to get back to something simple.

It’s not just that there are too many things to do now, it’s that every time you try and do something you’re bombarded by pop up screens giving you cards, tempting you to buy things, advertising new events. Just leave me alone and let me get on with a race!

It’s a disappointing state of affairs, but I can understand how it’s happened. The current state of gaming ensures the number one task is to keep people coming back to your game. Whether that is by making certain actions take time to complete, or by stringing together daily rewards, or by adding more and more functionality to keep users interested.

Asphalt has obviously gone the latter route, but there surely has to be a balance. The game is now so overwhelming, I just don’t want to play. Why couldn’t the new updates been more tracks, more cars, and above all better stability?

I’m old, I know, and this is perhaps the way games are going to be from now on. But if so, it is 100% not for me.

What can go wrong, will go wrong

I’m trying to up my theatre game this year, so was glad to get a chance to see The Play That Goes Wrong. I’d seen a snippet on some variety show on TV and became quickly entranced with the idea of seeing the full thing on stage.

It’s such a brilliant show, starting simply but gradually building in terms of farce, disaster and hysteria. What’s clever about it though is that by the end, far from wondering what else can possibly go wrong for this poor haphazard bunch of people, you’re almost willing the next thing to happen to see just what lengths they will go to to try and keep going. I was even impressed with the pre-show action, featuring some silent comedy with a member of the audience. The cast are in character long before the play actually begins and it’s all the better for it.

I have, in the long distant past, enjoyed a brief and ill-fated stint at an amateur dramatics group, and with those experiences comes a real understanding of everything going on in this play. It’s great to recognise the different attitudes of the cast members (that this is their big break, that they are doing the best they can, that they just want to get to the end without passing out) as well as fully understand the simple notion of what can go wrong, going very wrong indeed.

But you don’t have to have attempted treading the boards to love this show. It’s a laugh a minute ride that sweeps you along until you’re exhausted. Highly recommended.

The WTA’s three-way comeback trail fight

We are rapidly heading towards the point of the year where Wimbledon takes over UK TV screens. Currently, the WTA and ATP tours are finishing up their stints on the orange clay, with the French Open still to come, but attention has already turned to the highlight of the grass court season (and arguably the entire tennis-related year). This year, there are no less than three women with everything to fight for heading into Wimbledon, and no Serena Williams to dominate, it couldn’t really be a more interesting battle all set to take place under the Centre Court roof.

Maria Sharapova

I’m still not really sure where I fall in terms of reaction to Maria’s comeback. I tend to fall on the side that she probably wasn’t intentionally trying to cheat when she failed the drug test last year, but I also do think she hasn’t shown the contrition we might expect from someone returning from a drugs ban. However, the frisson of tension that her return has brought has really spiced up some of the recent tournament. The Bouchard/Sharapova match that played out recently would not have been so interesting if there hadn’t been beef between the two players.

Now, Maria has failed to gain entry to the French Open and has agreed to accept her qualifying spot in Wimbledon without applying for a wildcard to the main draw. She’ll have to fight to get into the main draw with the rest of the players, and will have additional matches under her belt (for better or worse) if she makes it. Does she have the fitness to complete a full fortnight of competition? Or will she even make it through qualifying at Roehampton?

Viktoria Azarenka

I can’t say I was really a fan of Azarenka before she dropped out of the sport for a knee injury and then extended her leave to start a family. The screeching, you know? But she’s a good player and one of the few that could really challenge Serena and get under her skin. I do approve of an athlete that takes maternity leave and opts to come back, and it’s great that the sport allows her to keep her sixth place ranking if she returns within a year.

I really think it will be interesting to see what she can achieve. Others have returned from having children and been super successful, but we will soon find out if Azarenka’s Wimbledon target is too soon, or if she’s ready to return to the top.

Petra Kvitova

It was horrifying to hear what happened to Kvitova – attacked with a knife in her own home, and suffering injuries that have kept her out of the sport for months. But she has been nothing but inspirational about the whole thing. No doubt shaken initially, she took only a day or two before issuing statements that said she would do everything within her power to come back.

I haven’t been following her progress closely, but saw a picture a few weeks ago of her holding a racquet and training, and I felt gladdened. Now she has targeted a Wimbledon return as well, and it will be nothing short of wonderful to see her back on the grass court she loves so much.

Three incredible athletes all on the comeback trail, with everything to prove and a wide open draw that means anything could happen. It’s so exciting!