Manchester to Edinburgh

Last week was a bit odd. I was scheduled to fly to Edinburgh on Tuesday evening. The flight was delayed because of the windy weather, but it got really rough on approach for our landing. I heard a cockpit alarm go off just before we touched down. The engines burst back into life, and we streaked back up into the sky. The pilot apologized, did a loop over the Forth, and tried to land again. With the same result. We wouldn’t get a third meaningful vote attempt. The pilot said that he’d been flying in to Edinburgh for many years, but he’d never seen it that bad. We’d be diverting to Manchester, which had an open slot for us (Glasgow and Newcastle were full) and good enough weather to land.

It was midnight when we taxied into our stance at Manchester. It took another twenty minutes for a shuttle to take us to the terminal. (As an unexpected arrival, we were last in the queue.) Although we’d been told that ground staff would be available to meet us with further instructions at arrivals, there was no-one at first. Eventually a lone rep came and told us that there would be no coach to drive us the rest of the way to Edinburgh. It was late, the weather was foul, and no coach company would commit to putting a driver out in those conditions. There were no staff to help us make other arrangements either: we were asked to make our own arrangements, and easyJet would reimburse us.

Fair enough. When I’m travelling solo, I try not to let these things bother me. It’s an adventure! I walked from the terminal to the nearby airport hotels. The Hilton was full, but I got a room at the Crowne Plaza. In the morning I got up and took a relaxing train journey up north through the Lake District to Edinburgh, finally arriving at the office a little short of 15:00. My colleagues kept expecting me to be stressed or upset about it, but I was like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Another travel story.

(Also, privilege. This would have been a disaster for many people. )

That wasn’t the only oddity of the week. Although on Tuesday I definitely went through my pre-travel checklist, I still managed to forget to put my paroxetine tablets in their usual spot in my wallet. I discovered this as Abi was driving me to the airport, but it was too late to turn around for them. “It’ll be fine,” I figured.

Well, not quite. I’ve gone without my tablets for a day or so before, but I start to get funny head symptoms. My head feels mildly clamped, like I’m wearing a hat, except I’m not. Then there’s a funny jolting sensation that follows when I move my eyes or change focus.

Abi sent me a strip of tablets by overnight post, but despite showing as “delivered” on PostNL’s tracking site, they never showed up. I had taken my last tablet on Tuesday, and I was fine all through Wednesday. The head symptoms were quite noticeable towards Thursday evening, and by Friday morning I was feeling rough. My tongue felt thick, and I was tripping over my words. My peripheral vision was jumpy. I was also thirsty all the time.

Fortunately our wonderful office manager Sarah-Jane pointed out that NHS pharmacies can fill emergency prescriptions for travelers. At lunchtime I popped round to the pharmacy round the corner, spoke to a very kind and understanding pharmacist, who took my details and dispensed me a week of tablets. I took one as soon as I got back to the office.

By Friday evening the head sensations had faded, and when I woke up on Saturday morning I felt normal again. Which is just as well, because Alex and I were driving down to Venlo for the Fontys University open day.

Venlo seems nice. It always feels comfortable to hear Limburgs accents all around again. Also lots of German. I feel like I should spend some time brushing up on my German again.

Area 11 at G2 Glasgow, Saturday 16 February 2019

Alex, Fiona, and I saw Area 11 in Edinburgh a few years ago. Alex travelled to see them on his own last summer. And last weekend the four of us all took a trip to Glasgow to see them at the G2 on their “Everybody Gets A Piece” tour. It was fun!

We flew from Amsterdam to Edinburgh on the Saturday morning, and picked up a rental car. It was too early to check in to our hotel, so we drove in to Glasgow and did some lunching (fish and chips for Alex, haggis for Fiona) and shopping. By mid-afternoon we were all tired, so we headed for the hotel, had a bit of a rest, and then came back in to town for the gig. Fiona decided she was too tired, though, and stayed in her room.

The concert was good, varied, and incredibly loud. No, seriously. I like loud concerts, but I’m not sure I would have survived that one if I hadn’t had earplugs with me. The first opening act was local band Dancing With Dakota, who were metal AF. They were also bathed entirely in a blue light so far into the violet my eyes couldn’t focus on them, and I didn’t even notice they had a drummer until I saw the photos afterwards. I thought they’d been playing with a backing track.

By comparison, Misery Kids sounded like a boy band. I absolutely don’t mean that in a bad way! Just that their uptempo melodic sound and catchy choruses were so stunningly different from Dancing With Dakota that you could be forgiven for thinking you’d been teleported to a different venue.

October Drift were yet another change of pace, their style dark and grungy, with a front man unafraid to traverse the side wall of the venue all the way to the merch table. No crowdsurfing, but I’m sure he was tempted.

Now I love discovering new music, but to be honest, by the time Area 11 came on I was feeling a bit tired. It was an early gig – the venue’s doors had opened at 18:00, and there was a 22:00 curfew – but I’m an auld mannie and I need my rest. I thought they were good, and I loved hearing their new songs, but they also seemed like they were holding back and not rocking out quite as much as when we saw them a few years ago. Maybe they were tired and tense, too – it was the first night of the tour.

Set List:

  1. Cassandra part 1
  2. Cassandra part 2
  3. In The Blind
  4. Everybody Gets A Piece
  5. Versus
  6. Red Queen
  7. All Your Friends
  8. New Magiks
  9. Panacea and the Prelogue
  10. Curtain Fall
  11. The Contract
  12. Heaven Piercing Giga Drill

(No encore – they felt they were cutting it close to the curfew already.)

The merch guy recognized me by the end of the evening. Between Dancing With Dakota and Misery Kids, Alex and I had gone to load him up with a tour T-shirt, a Cassandra Rising longsleeve, a beanie hat (+1 for Fiona), and a nifty zip-up hoodie. Between Misery Kids and October Drift Abi got herself a shirt as well, and I decided to give in to temptation and get myself one of the zip-ups too. And then immediately after the gig I had to get Fiona one of the Cassandra Rising shirts as well, because on reflection I realized that it was the one she would have wanted if she’d been there. So: “You again!” Yes. It me.

Alex had another portion of fish and chips on the walk back from the G2 to the Buchanan Galleries car park, and Abi and I shared some falafel from the excellent Falafel To Go hole-in-the-wall (literally) on Hope St.

On Sunday we went in to Edinburgh for a bit of lunching (more fish and chips for Alex, more haggis for Fiona – they have to get their Scottish deep fry when they have the chance) and hanging out. I dropped Abi and Alex at the airport in the later afternoon, before driving up to Mum & Dad and stopping off at the chip shop in Stanley for, yes, some more haggis for Fiona.

On Monday I took Fiona to Fife to stay with her boy C. Seeing as it was close by, I went in to St. Andrews for a bit of a wander. The last time I was in St. Andrews was a few years ago, and it had felt incredibly upscale and upmarket – the lingering royal afterglow of William and Kate. Perhaps it was the cold and grey weather, but this time it felt a bit more casual and studenty. I mean, it’s still St. Andrews, so let’s not get carried away. The bones of the place were showing through more clearly.

On Tuesday, Mum and Dad and I went in to Perth for some lunch and shopping. (I got myself a pair of slippers I intend to leave at the office, because why not be comfortable?) We also paid a visit to the Fergusson Gallery, which was a rare treat. I couldn’t have told you who Fergusson was before I went in, but I certainly recognized a few of his works. It’s a small but lovely gallery. In the evening I picked up Fiona from her overnight stay.

Wednesday we headed back to Edinburgh. Fiona spent the day with C, while I zoomed back up the M9 to return Dad’s reading glasses that he’d left in the car the day before. We flew back home in the evening, exhausted.

Mixed Media, Sunday 10 February 2019

Films:

High Flying Bird movie poster
  • High Flying Bird: Soderbergh at his best, with a powerful script about race, wealth, sport and passion. Compelling and subtle.
  • How To Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World: lovely cap on the trilogy. The bad guy was kinda meh, and the comedy more subdued, but it makes up for it with gorgeous animation and a sweet, emotionally resonant story.
  • Thoroughbreds: Deadpan murder girls. Not a comedy, more of a Hitchcockian tension-building thriller. Anyone with a teenage daughter should be suitably wary.

Books:

  • ⭐⭐ Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker: potentially life-changing, as previously mentioned
  • 💩 Gathering Prey by John Sandford: dull. The last 200 pages are essentially a single shootout scene. The “Prey” books are at their best when protagonist Lucas Davenport is investigating and executing political manoeuvres. This has practically nothing of either. The only redeeming factor is that Davenport’s daughter Letty gets some good protagonist time. She needs her own spin-off series.
  • All-new Inhumans vol 1 (Global Outreach) and vol2 (Skyspears) by James Asmus, Charles Soule, André Araujo, et al: lovely art, but the characters failed to ignite my attention.

“TV”:

  • The Blacklist seasons 2,3,4,5: I kinda went on a binge during January, and finished the remaining seasons I could hoover up from Netflix. Feels like that was almost the only thing I did in my spare time in January. I continued to enjoy it, apart from the first part of season 5, in which they briefly tried to turn it into a weird buddy comedy heist show. There are some shockingly good episodes of TV in here, though, with “Requiem” in season 4 as my standout favourite (the one where we see how Mr. Kaplan became Mr. Kaplan.) They wrapped up a lot of plot threads at the end of season 5. Although there was a notional “cliffhanger” ending in which the next volume of secrets was teased, I’d be okay if I didn’t see any more. The show takes a lot of moral liberties for the sake of story, and the compromises the characters make don’t land with enough impact.
  • The Punisher season 2: follows the standard Netflix Marvel show template. Sincerely made but unremarkable. It may be superfluous to say that it’s “very violent”, but, well. I keep thinking I don’t need more shows like this in my life, and then I keep watching them.
  • The Good Place season 3: continues to be adorable, fast-paced, witty, and continues to drive the premise further and further.
  • Russian Doll: This is straight up amazing. Takes the time loop of Groundhog Day and twists it. You may think you know where this is going to go, but you’re wrong. (Or are you?) Hilariously funny — I laughed out loud while watching this through headphones and my iPhone on an airplane, with a stranger sitting next to me — and moving. Natasha Lyonne is a cranky whirlwind, and a sheer joy.

Podcasting:

  • The Dream season 1 was a fascinating deep dive into multi-level marketing, and the people who take part in it.
  • The most recent episode of Willa Paskin’s Decoder Ring, The Grifter has some nice parallels with Jason Scott’s recent instalment about Robert Hoquim. In it he refers to an old (2015) episode of Reply All, The Man In The FBI Hat. These three episodes make for a fascinating look at con artists, and why they make for such engaging stories.

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Book cover for "Why We Sleep" by Matthew Walker

Every now and then a book comes along that makes me want to grab everyone by the lapels and shout “YOU MUST READ THIS” while shaking them vigorously. This book is like that, but I think it’s so important that I want to be cautious about how I pitch the message, so that I don’t put people off.

I first heard about it from Paul last year, but I didn’t get around to reading it until last month. Matthew Walker is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley, where he founded and directs the Center for Human Sleep Science. Over the last 10-20 years our knowledge of what sleep is and what effects it has on our brains and bodies has come on in leaps and bounds. Walker’s book summarizes the state of the art of current research, and the message is clear: there is almost no part of your overall health and well-being that is unaffected by lack of sleep. The recommendation for “enough sleep” is 7-9 hours per night for adults. Less than 7 hours a night is enough to produce objectively measurable impairments, both cognitive and physical. Unfortunately, humans are terrible at recognizing that impairment in ourselves. “I’m fine,” we tell ourselves, when we’re really not.

We all know that we should get a good night’s sleep, but most of us feel like it’s advice that doesn’t really apply to us. Western society conditions us to stay up late, and treat sleep like a luxury. We envy people who claim to get by on 5 or 6 hours a night, because they seem more productive than the rest of us. Except the science says that they’re putting themselves at increased risk of cancer, dementia, and mental health issues. Not only that, but they’re putting the rest of us at risk if they get behind the wheel when tired, or if they perform surgery on us at the end of back-to-back 12-hour shifts.

You can’t “catch up” on sleep at the weekend, nor can you bank it for the future. Weekend lie-ins may alleviate your exhaustion, but if you’re talking about the impact of sleep on memory, the benefits conferred by sleep happen on the day, not at some future time of your choosing. Humans are the only animals that voluntarily deprive themselves of sleep, and evolution has never needed to come up with a sleep storage mechanism.

Okay, so I feel like I’m failing at “not shouting at people to get across the message” bit. Let me wrap up by saying that if you’ve got ten minutes, read Matthew Walker’s recent article in the Guardian: “The best thing you can do for your health: sleep well”. If you’ve got an hour, watch the video of a talk he gave at Google. If you’ve got more time than that, read the whole book. It has changed my behaviour; it may change yours.

Bilderbuch

While skipping through my “favourites” playlist from 2015 ago, I came across the track “OM” by Austrian band Bilderbuch:

I loved this back then, and I still love it now. The lyrics have a callback to Falco’s song “Jeannie” from the 1980s, and combined with my trip to Austria in January, this has sparked off a wave of nostalgia and fondness for Austrian rap-infused pop-rock.

There’s always the risk that a newly discovered band doesn’t live up to the hooks that attracted you to them in the first place. I’m finding that after bingeing on Tom Misch for the last couple of weeks, I’ve now got Bilderbuch’s discography on constant repeat now. And I’m loving it.

(Their shout-out to Spezi in the song “Softdrink”? :chefkiss:)