TV

‘Knowledge is Power’. Cursing the Game of Thrones leak

“Knowledge is Power”. When he published the maxim in his book, ‘Meditationes Sacrae and Human Philosophy’ in 1597 I doubt Sir Francis Bacon had considered plot lines to be of such vaunted importance. The world was a simpler place back then with the only form of hacking coming from a blade on flesh.

At the weekend, the first four episodes of season 5 of the phenomenally successful HBO TV series leaked online. For a show that revels in scandal this seems slightly poignant. If only punishments were as severe as they are depicted on the show as there is a special place in Hell reserved for anyone who decides to ruin the surprise. Anyone with an internet connection, and even the most basic knowledge of torrent files, could quickly get their fix. They also had a choice not to.

For those who could not wait long enough they could unwrap their torrent files then have to wait a month sitting on plot lines and twists until the rest of us catch up. Or they could be an utter bastard and slyly, smugly inform their mates that they knew what was coming, then tell them. Call me old school but some things are worth the wait and a week between episodes keeps the tension building. The scheduling also means that fans of the show have something to get them through Monday. Cheers, Sky Atlantic.

Anyone that can keep a secret is to be venerated as even the slightest hint of a spoiler can now be dissected instantly. We have all been teased by trailers yet each of those is carefully constructed to get you into position for the main course. Dropping a spoiler onto a Facebook status leaves that appetiser of a show or a film cold and desecrated yet we all know an utter bastard only too keen to ruin it for everyone else. “LOLZ. Just you wait til halfway through episode 3 🙂 🙂 :)”. Piss off.

Curse you Twitter. That episode of The Likely Lads seems from a different age altogether where they only had to avoid a newspaper headline. Match of the Day can now be ruined by a cursory glance on the BBC Sport handle while waiting for the bus. What has been seen cannot be unseen and what is glanced upon cannot be forgotten.

Everyone wants to be the first to know then the first to come up with the viral meme. Some events are just too big to avoid, no matter how hard you try. Christ, I knew about the Red Wedding before I had sat down to watch a single episode. Then again, those who have binged on the leaked episodes are still behind the real knowledge keepers, those who have taken the time to read the books. Sir Francis Bacon might even approve of that.

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Uncategorized

REVIEW: Courtney Barnett at the Sheffield Leadmill

You could forgive Courtney Barnett if you found her taking sanctuary in her dressing room as the clock ticked down to show-time. A lot has been written about this beguiling 25 year-old since the release of her two debut EPs, paired together in ‘The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas’. Last week her debut album ‘Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit’ piqued interest and gained rave reviews, no pressure then.

Yet instead of cowering under the weight of new-found expectancy she could be found just two deep from the front excitedly snapping away at opening support act and fellow endearing Aussie, Fraser A Gorman. This being Sheffield she was left unattended, probably best for someone who will later breezily describe how an afternoon’s gardening led to a panic attack.

The Leadmill was close to sold out, barely a surprise when you consider how much Sheffield has sound-tracked the banality of life with dry, witty, quick-fire lyrics. Consider Jarvis and Turner then you can easily slot in Barnett for deadpan delivery complete with her ever-so-cool-but-don’t-call-it-cool Melbournian drawl.

The current face and sound of slackerdom opened her set with ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party’. An unassuming, millennial anthem of meh which centres around the line ‘I wanna go out but I wanna stay home’. Thankfully, most in the room were glad they ventured out despite weather that daylight savings won’t fix.

Courtney Barnett (Photo courtesy of the ever helpful Jon Downing)

Courtney Barnett (Photo courtesy of the ever helpful Jon Downing)

There is an endearing charm to Courtney Barnett that is hard to pin down. Her patterned t-shirt, exuberant guitar licks and the way she gently disarms any loose heckling. Maybe it is the fact she quietly started her own record label, Milk Records, to take care of her and her musical chums. Maybe it is the playful sketches and homemade aesthetic that adorn her album artwork and merchandise. Maybe it is just her carefully selected points of view. Like many Australians I have met she shares her suburban status with a more far-reaching outlook. From my time in Melbourne I could picture the Swanston Street commuter captured so eloquently in ‘Elevator Operator’ catching the 96 tram. Mainly as this was my favourite route, taking in hipster Brunswick and ending at St Kilda Beach. I knew the troubles of house hunting away from all the coffee shops, even if I failed to venture as far as deceased estates in (De)Preston.

That she could then solemnly expand on the perils of big business, complete with knackered truckers and ‘taxidermied kangeroos’ on the Hume Highway was impressive enough during ‘Dead Fox’. However, in an age of distraction it was ‘Kim’s Caravan’ that showed Barnett’s real precocity and left the room floored. A tale of a dying seal and the Great Barrier Reef being dredged beyond belief set to an agonisingly heart-breaking delivery and a resounding finale. Not many slackers can show so much soul-baring concern for the environment.

That’s not to say she does not know how to have fun. While her debut album showcases a labour of love, song craftsmanship and anxiety, tonight she looked to let loose. You sense that the spotlight still offers a glimpse into her inner awkward and being Australian means she can brazenly dismiss it, jokingly renaming ‘Debbie Downer’ to ‘Debbie’s Fucking AWESOME’. At other times she seemed far more comfortable tapping a guitar pedal, turning her six-string into a weapon of mass distortion and shaking her mass of thick, brown hair, as during ‘History Eraser’. Close your eyes during ‘Pedestrian At Best’ and you could imagine the screeching guitar and snarling delivery as a female fronted Nirvana circa In Utero.

For the encore she delved into the silly love song set in a swimming pool that is ‘Aqua Profunda!’ and a whimsical cover of The Easybeats’ ‘I’ll Make You Happy’. For someone who can belt out the line, ‘put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you’, she may have found an audience happy to disagree.

As this blog post is all about my opinion, and partly about my time in Australia, I am submitting it in the All About You Party. Get involved!

Mama and More

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Thai-infused haddock
Fitness, Lifestyle

New year, new diet. Is the Harcombe Diet ‘the one’?

Guess what. It is the start of the year and like so many others I have decided to go on a diet. This is not as daring as you may think, over a decade ago I did the Atkins diet and lost a couple of stone. This gives me prior experience into the rigours of a high protein, low carbohydrate regime and this year’s diet du jour seems to be the Harcombe Diet.

After half a bag of Haribo, a bottle of treacle toffee stout and a hot chocolate to keep me awake on Sunday night for the Superbowl, my diet started in earnest on Tuesday. A mere five days in and I have already experienced a few positive changes from Phase 1. Increased energy levels, few hunger pangs, few cravings and, more importantly, looser clothes. That is the main reason we diet, isn’t it? To simply lose weight. Whether it is to lose those Christmas pounds or fit into a wedding dress, it seems pretty endemic of society to wish you looked better than you do. But what if you wanted to lose the weight and feel better as part of a healthier lifestyle. You know, keep the weight off and function better, that is what I am hoping for with the Harcombe Diet.

At the start of every year it is hard to ignore the fad diets; the soup, milkshake or cabbage plans. The quick fix diets that shed the weight yet leave you starving. In short, they seem like a one night stand when you really want a marriage. Thanks to my Auntie I have been made aware of the benefits of keeping food simple; of adopting wholegrains and avoiding processed foods. Anyone that knows me would likely say I’m a food snob, I’m not, I simply enjoy making my meals from scratch knowing full well what goes in. In this sense, the diet isn’t that drastic a change, it is simply a case of buying different foods and putting others to the back of the cupboard. I have always tried to watch what I eat, now I am really paying attention.

That is what makes the Harcombe Diet so simple. Instead of calorie counting you work out what you are allowed and eradicate what you are forbidden. Every human body needs energy and the genius lies in knowing what the body requires to function, primarily in this case protein from meat and eggs. Also, instead of largely drawing your calories (arguably as much as 70%) from carbohydrates and vegetables you demand that your body extracts the energy from fats. Let it be known, ‘five a day’ is propaganda. While it remains important to eat your greens, the body can function on less than what many would want you to believe.

Aside from the weight loss one of the bonuses I have noticed is an improved brain function and this is no coincidence. The brain is composed of 60% fat yet it still needs energy. This can come from two sources; glucose from sugar and carbohydrates (BAD) or glycogen from fats broken down by the liver (GOOD). You can argue that a diet mainly composed of meat and vegetables is how a caveman would get his fill yet maybe, just maybe, this is ultimately how our bodies have been designed.

It is only in the last couple of centuries or so that we have adopted more extravagant means of cooking which, in turn, has introduced processed foods and a higher intake of sugar. Incidentally, today’s society is not only nutrient starved but time starved. Without distractions we could find the time to cook a meal from scratch yet we now grab ready meals and cereal bars. These may fill us up but soon enough we get hungry again and snack away, riding the emotional highs and lows of a sugar rollercoaster.

It may just be the pleasing glow that looser clothes gives anyone yet I feel calmer, more emotionally in control. I doubt that this is a coincidence either as only so much quickfix joy can come from a pack of Haribo before your mood turns as the sugar hit fades away. During the past five days I have strolled past open packets of biscuits in the office, added Stevia to my brew with no real qualms and decided against a bag of popcorn to accompany a Friday night film. Even my beloved weekend beers and spirits haven’t really been missed, even if it did mean turning an invite down on Friday evening. One thing I have noticed is that falling asleep has been harder yet with lesser kip I am yet to notice a drop in alertness.

The last few days have been difficult but not as tough as I imagined. Once you have got through the first day you know you can do it again. Once you have dismissed the easy option of a chocolate bar you know it is doing you good. I even managed a boxing class on Wednesday night and could have gone longer. Yet it has not been plain sailing; I have noted that the black coffee from the vending machine at work is barely fit for human consumption and I have really missed fruit and dairy. Apart from that, it is relatively simpler to follow. Just remember, stick to eggs, meat, vegetables (apart from white potatoes and mushrooms), natural live yogurt and a portion of oats or rice. I know what you are wondering so here is what I have had during Phase 1.

Green salad with salami and honey mustard dressing

Green salad with salami and honey mustard dressing

Day 1.
Breakfast – Porridge with water and cinnamon
Lunch – Salad of little gem lettuce, baby tomatoes, red onion, red pepper and salami coated with a honey mustard dressing (yogurt, honey, wholegrain mustard and lemon juice). Half a carrot, cut into strips, and a pepperami
Dinner – Gammon steak with brown rice and steamed red cabbage. Six tbsp. yogurt

Lamb chops with rice and wilted spinach

Lamb chops with rice and wilted spinach

Day 2.
Breakfast – Two rashers of smoked bacon with a fried egg
Lunch – Same as Day 1
Dinner – Two lamb chops with brown rice and steamed spinach

Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled Eggs

Day 3.
Breakfast – Two scrambled eggs (oil instead of butter)
Lunch – Same as Days 1 and 2
Dinner – Chicken breast with steamed spinach, red cabbage and roasted sweet potato. Six tbsp. yogurt

Chicken breast with steamed red cabbage, wilted spinach and roasted sweet potatoes

Chicken breast with steamed red cabbage, wilted spinach and roasted sweet potatoes

Day 4.
Breakfast – Porridge with water and cinnamon
Lunch – Salad nicoise (green salad with a tin of tuna and olives). Half a carrot, cut into strips, and a pepperami
Dinner – Chicken breast with steamed spinach, red cabbage and roasted sweet potato. Six tbsp. yogurt.

Thai-infused haddock

Thai-infused haddock

Day 5.
Breakfast – Two rashers of bacon and two fried eggs
Lunch – Small green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette and a pepperami
Dinner – Thai-infused haddock, steamed with lemongrass, chilli flakes, soy sauce, ginger powder and lime juice.
A glass of red wine

And on the sixth day, Lord Harcombe said let there be fruit and low fat dairy and there was. Hallelujah.

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Travel

The Grass Really Can Be Greener On The Other Side Of The World

Well, this was always going to happen, all it needed was a few inches of snow to make me realise. I really miss Australia.

Just over a year ago I landed at Birmingham Airport, hardly the most glamorous of venues to make my return to Blighty. As I walked into the chill of a British winter I thought I was ready to return home, clearly I was not.

January was always going to be a tough month. Seasonal Affective Disorder can be at its most disruptive, no matter how much light therapy you undertake or vitamin D tablets you gulp down. To top it off there is the hideous return to work in the new year and I find myself enduring the month. This isn’t just the winter blues, this is the sting of the travel bug.

Times like these I really wish I had not made as many friends who still remain down under. Just one quick scan on Facebook informs me that a few of them are attending the Australian Open in Melbourne. There are the inevitable beach selfies and Foursquare check-ins at a rooftop cinema. Seemingly every meal is served from a barbecue yet grilled meat not only entices people outside but rewards them in voting booths. We offer biscuits, over there they get a sausage in bread.

Thanks to social media it is almost impossible to miss what is going on in Australia, like continually seeing the best ex-girlfriend you ever let go.

Australians simply do certain things better. Take adverse weather conditions for instance. For a bushfire they pull together, neighbours are checked even if it takes half an hour to reach them and citizens genuinely heed good advice. Here it takes a few inches of snow to cause havoc. Motorists decide that their journey REALLY IS THAT IMPORTANT and they justify that ludicrous drive up the hill despite the ice. Over the past two days the footpath to my house has been an icy deathtrap, forcing me to walk up the road and judging by the steely glares of passing drivers the road is for their Land Rover, not a mere pedestrian. Just take a glance out of your window and have some consideration.

Australians like to let you know what they are thinking. It sounds simple enough but it makes a big difference. If they disagree with something sooner rather than later you will be told. For the record, I have just been called a ‘camel jockey’ by an Australian on Twitter for disagreeing on a geographical point (Australia does lie in Oceania, not Asia which can be confirmed by Wikipedia). At least he told me his view.

Back in Blighty it does not take long for me to realise that us Poms really do simmering disdain remarkably well. You would have thought that January was never-ending judging by the looks of resentment on the streets. It is the little things I notice, the smug grin on a man who just beats me to the supermarket check-out. The foolhardiness of the runner who simply will not allow patches of ice to disrupt his Saturday morning routine. The arrogance of a reveller on Saturday night who decides that the only way he is going to get served is to wave a £10 note at a barman. The simple act of saying please and thank-you going forgotten.

I miss being in a country with no discernible class system in effect, where a blue collar worker can be king. Where wages leave you wanting to stay behind and you can actually enjoy your time in an office without feeling the pressure of job cuts and an economy still in recovery. Life just seemed far more affordable over there. Sure, an $8 pint was ridiculous yet there was the impression that companies were happy to give a little back. Like, getting off your final stop using your myki card (the Melbourne equivalent of an Oyster card) before 7am being free, yes, free. Can you even imagine that in London? The extra public transport put on for sports events, while anyone wanting to attend a match at Wembley better check they can still catch the last train home.

This morning I watched the final of the Australian Open. Pretty much every time the camera panned over the Rod Laver Arena my heart ached due to remembering my time in Melbourne and Australia in general. Put simply, the grass really can be greener on the other side of the world.

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Football

United Can Do Sterile Domination But Can Van Gaal Take The Handbrake Off

Before the days of Super Sunday, me and my father would watch Football Italia on Channel Four. This was my first taste of trying to understand the beautiful game from a tactical viewpoint. There was the organised art of catenaccio to grasp then zona mista, the Italian version of total football. To me it was 22 players on a field trying to avoid getting too close to the opponent’s goal. However, I did take note of statistics and tried to argue that possession and shots on target proved that one team was performing better than the other. My Dad wisely informed me that only one statistic mattered; the scoreline.

For a few weeks, all seemed well with Louis van Gaal’s United. Following a 1-0 win against Crystal Palace there was a six game winning streak. Before the defeat against Southampton, the team was on a eleven game unbeaten run. All was rosy, wasn’t it?

Well, not really. Another point my Dad would make was that a large part of football was luck, many would argue that United were enjoying more than their fair share. In the victories against Arsenal, Stoke City and Liverpool, the plaudits went to David de Gea, not the forward line. The warning signs were there against Southampton when United eked out an undeserved 2-1 win and defeats could have easily come in away matches against Aston Villa, Spurs and Stoke City. United were getting away it and the team still appeared to be in transition.

Performances were disjointed and victories largely forgotten thanks to clinical strikers. Admittedly that is their job yet with a vast summer outlay bringing in the attacking talents of Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao it is fair to expect a bit more excitement and a few more chances. Yet following the 3-5 collapse against Leicester City, United have heeded a lesson to their gung-ho approach and arguably gone back to basics.

Sterile domination has become the buzz phrase to describe United’s recent performances. As if bonuses were paid out for successful passes rather than goals scored. Over the past few weeks United have ground out performances with no real expense spared. Instead of fast, expansive, attacking football it has been slow, ponderous and predictable.

Many have cited a lack of risk-taking resulting in nullifying attacking talent by a lack of positive service. Against Cambridge United, even Alan Shearer could note the opportunities missed when passing the ball forward into space. The players are there, they are simply not being managed properly. It could be something quite simple, like releasing the ball quicker to open up a few yards. Sometimes that is all a Rooney, Mata or a Di Maria needs to cause havoc and get bums off seats.

The ‘perfect performances’ that Van Gaal is striving for have arguably only occurred three times so far this season; in home matches against QPR, Hull and Newcastle. Each victory had an early goal in common helping to prove that taking the initiative is the best plan of attack. United have already shown that they are well equipped to keep the ball and maintain sterile domination yet this would be best employed to see a game out, not from the start. This weekend United face Leicester, here’s hoping that lessons have been learnt and they take the handbrake off.

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Lifestyle, Opinion

Katie Hopkins – The High School Bully Given The Airtime She Desperately Craves

Let it be known that this has proven to be one of the hardest things I have ever committed to page. Put bluntly, there are certain people that should never be given the oxygen of publicity, the banteriffic Dapper Laughs as a recent example. Katie Hopkins also falls into this category and I am reminded of that luminous pink slime in Ghostbusters 2 which gets stronger the more hate it receives. I really do not want her to be an inspiration for anything, let alone my own writing, yet the poisonous witch is on her own personal crusade to inspire people to lose weight. Or so she thinks.

Any publicity is good publicity but I really do not want to help promote her dangerous new show, ‘Katie Hopkins: My Fat Story’. This is a woman who craves attention like The Daily Mail designs hate-fuelled headlines. A brief synopsis then; woman goes from 8st 12lb to 11st 13lb and back again to prove how easy it is to lose weight. No surprises that this is due to air in the first week of January when many are ruing those extra treats during the festive period. To have Hopkins choose to pile on the pounds to then smugly declare how easy it is to lose the weight is close to insulting yet she has history here.

Alarm bells should be ringing that her initial claim to fame came from The Apprentice, a show that rewards selfish, egotistical behaviour with a bumper business deal. This is a woman who really does not care what people think of her and seems to revel in the hatred that her poisonous views provoke. Anyone that can anger Holly Willoughby has to be a special case.

Let’s just check out some quotes from the show shall we –
Re: putting the weight on she said, “After I put on my first stone, I stopped having sex with my husband. As a fat bird, I stuck to my pyjamas and getting naked in the dark. A fat belly is not an attractive thing, fat people aren’t sexy”. This is to paint a poisonous picture of what the ‘universally perfect body’ is (hint, it doesn’t exist). There is a significant proportion of men who fail to find skinny girls sexy, are you going to try and persuade them otherwise Katie?

Later on she said, “It is just ridiculous what people do to themselves. Fat people, I mean I really I don’t know how they look at themselves in the mirror.” So ‘fat-shaming is in and beauty is not in the eye of the beholder then apparently. What this also spectacularly fails to note is that despite what Hopkins may hope, a significant amount of obese people are actually comfortable in their own skins, presumably by the support of their loved ones who actually do like seeing them naked.

According to Hopkins; “Being fat is hard work. You can’t be that fat and happy. If you’re too lazy to make a change then you’re going to be fat.” This is a mercilessly naïve statement which fails to address those that really do want to lose weight but for various reasons struggle. Some suffer from low metabolism rates as well as low self-esteem after trying various diets and not losing much weight. Some are suffering from crippling bouts of depression and find it hard to face the world, let alone go out for a run. Some lack the skills and time to cook healthy, nutritious meals for themselves.

If Hopkins really wanted to encourage obese people to lose weight she would, hopefully, be displaying a modicum of compassion. She would at least be trying to be helpful and sympathetic to obese people, maybe come up with a few healthy eating recipes of her own. Presumably we have seen this before and gotten bored of such noble behaviour from the likes of Jamie Oliver. Yet however disturbing her views on obese people are her methods are worryingly flawed, rapid fluctuations in weight have been proven as dangerous on the body, particularly the heart. Following Hopkins’ example is certainly not encouraged by any health practitioner.

Hopkins has the assumption that obesity is caused by apathy. In 2012 she told an obese woman that she wouldn’t employ her because fat people are lazy. This documentary is her chance to prove the misguided view that obese people are unwilling to lose weight. That is disputable, it can be incredibly difficult for a lot of people, it was for me.

Back in 2005 I was forced off alcohol and decided to go on a diet to lose some much needed weight. I had the time and know-how to cook my own meals but the most important thing was that I had the moral support of friends and family. The last thing I would have wanted was to see some smug TV personality tell me it’s easy. This isn’t an attack on freedom of speech, rather an attack on the editors and TV executives that allow her to be heard. Everyone is entitled to their view yet Hopkins is the high-school bully gifted a dangerous amount of publicity. The real contempt should not be aimed directly at her but at the media that continues to give her airtime.

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Lifestyle

Where have all the gentlemen gone?

I admit it, I hold doors and I’m proud of it. While that may not sound impressive it goes against a worrying trend, that gentlemen are becoming an endangered species. Let me explain.

At the main entrance of the office where I work there are three doors. A revolving door flanked by two which are opened by a security pass. I always opt for the one on the right and take a look back to see if I can hold it for anyone. Granted, this won’t win me any favours with the security staff yet I see it as a necessary, painless gesture of goodwill. I would like to say that I’ve received a smile and a thank you every time I’ve done this but half of the time it barely gets noticed.

This is my problem. I was brought up to be a gentleman, Ps and Q’s are a given. When you hold a door, especially for a few seconds, and it goes unnoticed you wonder what the point is. You begin to question your own good intentions, no wonder gentlemen are in short supply. I won’t change yet so many men find it easier to act like a douchebag and there is a market to be tapped.

There is a wider issue at hand here, the worrying growth of ‘lad culture’. A few weeks ago there was an encouraging response to the sexually violent preaching of Julien Blanc and the irksome, misogynist comedy of Dapper Laughs. However, a video from Blanc teaching men how to sexually assault women in Japan amassed over 50,000 views while 364, 454 followers of @dapperlaughs cannot all be wrong.

The two gained notoriety as they were so popular and had found a willing audience. While those two have grabbed the headlines it’s the cheeky memes of a woman’s place in the house is in the kitchen, etc. that are becoming dangerous. Funny? Not really. Frivolous? Certainly. The underlying message of disrespect towards women remains the same and there are men who find this sort of ‘banter’ acceptable. It isn’t.

The main worry is that acting as a gentleman is now seen as weak. When I go out to a pub or club I see a fair amount of ‘peacocks’; lads dressed to impress, necking shots, being loud and proud of it. Simply getting served is now a challenge in itself with various vexing techniques employed. From waving notes to grab attention to forcing an arm between other patrons so you can squeeze in the gap.

Alpha male culture is in, gentlemen are on the way out.

Mums' Days



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