Friday, August 30, 2013

The Middle Class Have Ruined Festivals

Leeds Festival
Leeds Festival (Photo credit: Effervescing Elephant)
So another weekend of Leeds/Reading Festival has come and gone, tens of thousands of kids are shell-shocked and stinking by Monday morning and are crawling home. Later they'll be out and about telling everyone about how their first festival experience was amazing and that Leeds Fest 2013 was the best thing ever.

Well it wasn't, Leeds/Reading has become a bit shit.

The first problem with these new breed of mega-fests is the line-up. It does not matter that the organisers have grabbed every indie rock band in the UK and shoved them into a tent, you're still only going to see 10 bands' worth of full sets in a day.

Look at this line-up from a festival I once went to. It was called Monsters Of Rock....

Iron Maiden
KISS
David Lee Roth
Megadeth
Guns N' Roses
Helloween

I know that most middle class kids festival goers won't understand this as a festival bill, so let me explain. Monsters Of Rock did what it said on the tin, it presented 6 really big bands, all on the same stage on the same day. Look at the that line-up! Guns N' Roses are fifth on the bill, and they were already shifting millions of albums, the album Appetite For Destruction #1 in the US charts, #15 in the UK charts and would stay in the charts eventually rising to the #5 position in the weeks after their Donington appearance. The bottom placed band on the bill, Helloween, were at the time at their most popular following the release of their Keeper Of The Seven Keys album pair.

Who were positioned 5 and 6 on this years Leeds bill ? Editors and Don Broco, Bring Me The Horizon and New Found Glory, and for Sunday, Twin Atlantic and Earlwolf. I think perhaps there are two bands from that six who might fill the O2 Leeds, and two or three who would might well be regarded as pub bands. We got Guns N' Roses fifth on the bill, you got Don Broco, guess it sucks to be you.

The best festival idea was Reading 1987 where there were two main stages side by side but in front of the main audience, thus allowing bands to play in quick rotation without the half wait for monitor testing and guitar tuning. Although as I remember, there was a delay to clear bottles of piss from the stage after Bad News played.

The main problem with the modern festival though is that all my whining about crap line-ups does not matter. Kids don't go to festivals for the music, they go because all their mates are going, they go because Leeds Fest has become the middle-class rite of passage, the thing you do at the end of the summer. I know of kids who have gone to Leeds and have only seen a single band over the whole weekend, honestly, I'm not making this up. You go now to the festival because it's the scene thing to do.

Everybody buys their tickets early and it doesn't matter who is on the bill, you're still going to buy them. This faux popularity is commercially spot on, I can't argue with that, but it has packed the festivals with hundreds of bands that you wouldn't go and see for free if they they played in the pub down your road, so don't kid me that seeing half of these bands is the "most amazing thing ever."  The main stage line-up is weak, and most of the satellite tents feature bands who normally play in front of their girlfriends and parents.

This early must-buy mentality has even affected the over festival I go to these days, Hard Rock Hell.  HRH is a niche festival, indoors and in the winter in a holiday park in North Wales. It caters to an older classic rock audience and features mostly older or well established bands alongside a small host of small acts. A few years ago I could afford to wait until the bill was announced before buying tickets, now it's become so popular that 75% of next years gig + accommodation tickets will sell out during this year's festival. Would I have bought festival tickets for this year knowing that Black Star Riders (a 'supergroup' featuring mostly ex Thin Lizzy musicians) were headlining ? Possibly not. If I don't buy next year's tickets this year, and then they announce Coheed & Cambria and The Dropkick Murphys as headliners, then I'll be kicking myself for not buying in.

The other reason that the middle-class have ruined festivals is this. We took tents to festivals, and then we packed them up and brought them home. We also tidied up what rubbish we could and left it bagged up. Apart from plastic bottles of course, we threw those at other audience members all weekend.

Gund N' Roses versus Don Broco ? Perhaps I'm wearing my rose tinted specs, or perhaps festivals just did use to be a whole lot better.
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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why Are You Wearing A Ramones T-Shirt ?

At work...

YS's boss - "Now YS, I want to make sure you know what we're doing here"

YS - "We're selling ice cream"

Boss - "Yes, so why hasn't that little boy got any ?" points to teenage boy

YS - "He's wearing a Ramones T-shirt"

Boss - "Er....and ?"

YS - "He can't sing the lyrcis to Beat On The Brat"

Boss - "But this is awful!"

YS - "I know, it's a travesty. I said 'Gabba Gabba' to him and he didn't even say 'Hey!' in return"

Boss - "No, I mean it's awful if you won't serve ice cream to kids wearing punk t-shirts"

YS - "But they're ridiculing a great legacy boss"

Boss - "No, just serve ice cream to everyone please."

YS - "Well, I suppose so"

Teenage girl - "I'd like an ice cream please"

YS - "I see you're wearing a Doors t-shirt. Do you know who The Doors were ? Sing the Alabama Whisky Song, now!""

Clueless teenage girl in Jim Morrison tee - "I don't know what you mean"

YS - "NO ICE CREAM FOR YOU!"

Today's Special


Monday, August 12, 2013

At The Chinese Supermarket

On my day off last week I popped into Sing Kee in Leeds to top up on the sort of ingredients that that the mainstream supermarkets tend not to carry, or to charge wildly over the odds for.



The preserved black beans I mainly use along with Oyster sauce for stir-fry dishes. The packet at the upper right in Chinese writing is preserved vegetable, this is intensely sour and I use it in Hot and Sour Soup along with the Shredded Black Ear Fungus in the packet in the centre of the photo.. The more mundane items are the lemon juice and bamboo shoot.

I bought some new items, new to me, this week. Some air dried duck liver sausages, Instant Tom Yam Soup Mix and a jar of Satay An Pho Bo Vien which is a deep red, looks intensely hot and is made up of 16% minced chilli with prawns and peanuts, sounds appetising! The Ayam Malaysian curry I cooked last week and it was delicious. The pack contains enough spice paste and coconut milk to make four servings of curry - I added chicken, onion, bamboo shoot, water chestnuts and peppers.

The young lady on the checkout was intrigued by the stuff I had bought and kept holding the items up and asking "Have you tried this before ?" or "Have you eaten this before ?" to which I answered yes to everything but the sausages which I had bought on a whim. "Chinese sausages, dice them and steam them with rice" Rebecca told me before adding. "English people never buy stuff like this, they only come in for Soy sauce and sweet and sour, you are very adventurous."

And so with shopping bag full and ego inflated I went on my way.

Shopping

I don't have a 'before' shot of what our weekly shopping used to contain, but here is today's haul...


Our weekly shop before we started WeightWatchers would have included ready meals along the lines of frozen pizzas and pasta dishes, cream for making sauces, cheese, steak, pork pie and dessert items like chocolate tarts and sundaes.

Now our weekly shop is incredibly healthy. Most of the high fat food we used to buy has either been dropped from our diet (cream, pastry, desserts) or we have exchanged them for healthier versions like WeightWatchers cream, Morrisons NuMe cheese, sweet biscuits and hummus, and semi-skimmed milk for full fat. Half fat cheese some years ago had the exact taste and consistency of shredded car tyres, I am pleased that this is a product which has improved greatly.

Our diet is very much weighted towards vegetables. I like to have a large evening meal, and if the meat content is limited to 100-150g (even less in a low ProPoint stir-fry) and the carbohydrate content is similarly low, then I have to bulk it out with plenty of vegetables otherwise I'm just going to raid the biscuit cupboard afterwards.

The Quorn is an experiment. I'm not giving up on meat, but I'm happy to reduce the fat content. If it turns out to be foul we won't have it again. I shall report back when I've cooked it.

There is some beer in there, and the gin and red wine are just out of shot - I'm not giving up on the real essentials.

Some diet things that are not worth trying...

Zero alcohol white wine - when they removed the alcohol they also removed the acidity, flavour and mouth-feel of the wine leaving a flabby, sweet and ghastly liquid. The other 90% of the bottle went into casseroles and risotto. I have a bottle of lo-cal WeightWatchers wine in the fridge, but I'm in no rush to actually sample it.

Skimmed milk - it doesn't colour your coffee and tastes just like water. Awful.

Coleslaw made with low fat fromage frais - this seemed like a good idea when I thought of it, but it just doesn't work. Coleslaw needs the fatty creaminess of the mayonnaise, even reduced fat mayonnaise, to carry the dish.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Dreams

I have just woken up from the strangest dream, I'll try to recant some of it before it fades.



I was living with a large group of people in a ramshackle building in a forest. We were preparing for the imminent visit by the Shrike and her partner.  I was giving advice to everyone to remain calm when the Shrike arrived and to do nothing that might be construed as a threat.

When the people arrived it was sudden, they were just in the building with us, and they came with an entourage of children all wearing the same blue uniform.

The Shrike herself was a short-haired, pretty girl wearing a military uniform, she was wreathed in green lightning. I felt compelled to tell her that at one point in my life I had been able to talk to cats, big cats, not the house variety, she was rather underwhelmed by this news. I felt sure that although the Shrike looked frightening, it was her unseen partner that actually held the power.

A small boy of Indian/Pakistani appearance ran up to me and gave me a hug. He was wearing one of the blue uniforms and I asked him whether his father knew that he was going with the Shrike. He said he did.

The Shrike and her group took food, supplies and clean clothing, and left behind three bags of laundry which I thought was a good thing as it would encourage them to return and then the small boy's grandmother would get to see him again.

Anyway, that was my dream, analyse that.


Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Countryside - Perhaps It Isn't For You

A swaledale ewe on the rolling fells of the La...
A swaledale ewe on the rolling fells of the Lake District near Keswick, in Cumbria, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I do like to encourage people to visit the countryside and get out and about in the more remote parts of beautiful Yorkshire, so long as you pick your litter up as you go. An incident on the way to work this week though reminded me that the countryside is a wild and dangerous place, full of unexpected hazards and strange terrors and that on that basis, perhaps it just isn't for everyone.

I was driving to work over the moor road when the car ahead of me braked for no apparent reason, and came to a halt. Then the cars' indicators started flashing.

Thinking that the driver had broken down I got out and went to see if there was any help I could offer. I am least mechanically minded person around so this was more a gesture of human solidarity that an actual offer of anything more practical.

Are you alright ? I asked the driver.

"There's a sheep" replied the young lady, and pointed. She was right, and not only was there a single ewe half concealed in the bracken, but the ewe had this year's twins close by. I must admit to being a bit confused at the lady's reaction.

"But why have you stopped ?"

"Because it might run out and get hurt."

What I wanted to say at this point was something along the lines of "Oh get a grip woman." What I actually did was to laugh a little, and then I pointed out that perhaps she could drive quite slowly past the sheep, and that in that way the beasts wouldn't get hurt and nor would angry road users (of which a fair queue was already building up) cause any sort of unpleasant confrontation.

In some trepidation the young lady put the car in gear and proceeded to pass the sheep so widely that she almost ran her own car into a ditch. I made the international hand symbol for 'that person is a nutter' to the driver behind me and we all proceeded on our way, just very slowly in case of unexpected ruminants.

Never before have I considered sheep to be a terror of the wilds. But before setting out for a drive along the moor and fell roads in Yorkshire perhaps you should consider whether the countryside is really for you, or whether you'd just be better off with a nice cup of tea and some re-runs of Eastenders.
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Italian Pasta with Vegetables (Without The Pasta!)

This recipe has become one of our favourite weight loss staples here at YS Towers (which has been downsized to YS Semi-detached).  Originally I made this as a pasta dish, but gradually I have cut the amount of pasta and made it into a very low ProPoint* meal, but still very filling and tasty.

Quite a few of the meals I have been cooking for our weight loss plan are very simple, one pot meals. Fast and easy to cook, and they can be taken in to work in a bowl and re-heated. They are also very easy to play around with, add some other things you like, take out the chilli if you don't like that bit of heat, add some chopped rocket for a bit of peppery bite, just have a go. You could leave out the chorizo for a vegetarian dish, but the sausage really imparts a nice richness of flavour.

This is the meal with pasta, chopped rocket and parmesan.


Serves 2 generously

Ingredients

2 tsp Olive oil
1 onion
2 sticks celery, diced
6 mushrooms, chopped roughly
100g green beans, trimmed and blanched
1 red pepper, diced
60g diced chorizo sausage
1 tsp garlic puree
pinch of flaked chilli (to taste)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
salt to taste (or half a chicken or veg stock cube)

Method

Blanche the green beans - drop the beans into boiling water, leave for about 90 seconds (depending on how crunchy you like them), then drain and put the beans into a pan of cold water to arrest the cooking process.

Chop all the other vegetables and gently fry them in the olive oil for 5 minutes. There isn't a lot of oil, so keep moving the veg so that it does not stick and burn.

Add the cumin, chilli, thyme and black pepper and cook for a minute.

Add the canned tomatoes and the tomato puree and cook for about 2-3 minutes, add the blanched green beans for 30 seconds of heating before serving.

ProPoints

I reckon this to be the equivalent of 2 ProPoints per serving, and a serving is a meal in itself. It's so cheap in points that you have have a generous spoonful or Parmesan cheese on top (for an extra 2 PP), or perhaps a glass of Valpolicella or two.

*ProPoints is a registered trademark owned by WeightWatchers. This blog is not endorsed by WeightWatchers. In mentioning ProPoints I have used information published by WeightWatchers. I have tried to be as accurate as possible, but the exact PP count might vary a little. To get the best from ProPoints I would advise joining WeightWatchers, I did and lost 4 stones in 5 months !
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Friday, August 02, 2013

I'm Three Quarters Of The Man I used To Be

Earlier this year, at the invitation of my best friend John, I went along to a WeightWatchers meeting with him. I've been overweight to some degree since my early 20's. On getting weighed at my initial meeting I was 16 stone 6lbs, or 230lbs in US usage. In the five months since that weigh-in I have lost exactly 4 stone, or 56lbs in weight.


I am now 12 stone 6lbs, I have run two half marathons and I can can wear a men's medium size shirt and trousers with a 30" waist for the first time in 25 years.

This all sounds like it was easy, but serious weight loss isn't easy. It involves commitment and perseverance, organisational skills and will power.

Nobody decides that they're going to get fat. Becoming big is just something that creeps up on you gradually. For me a lifetime of working stupidly long shifts in kitchens certainly didn't help. When you work 14 hour days you're always a little tired, or very tired, and when I'm tired I get hungry so I tended to snack at work and have 3 large meals a day.  The massive hours I was working also mostly ensured that I had little or no time, or inclination, to exercise. I love exercise though, I have always been a keen hiker when time allows. I'm also a bit obsessed with time and distance, I don't want to go faster, I want to go further.

So, on to the actual weight loss bit then and how I accomplished it.

I followed the WeightWatchers' plan. For months I entered every food and drink that passed my lips into my daily online log. This forced a realisation of what I could and couldn't eat and with it came a sea change in how I cook and prepare meals at home, and also with how to organise myself for dining away from home. WeightWatchers gives you a daily ProPoints allowance for food and drink (50g of reduced fat hummus is 3 ProPoints, a pint of ale 6 points, half a bottle of red wine 9 points), plus a weekly allowance of an extra 49 points for binging and splurging. Your own points allowance is calculated on your weight and changes as you lose weight.

This constant focussing on what I eat (and by extension what we both eat, Meg is now doing WW with me) has changed the nature of our diet and the contents of our fridge. If there's cheese at home now it is Morrisons NuMe half fat cheese, bags of snacks are WeightWatchers own brand or supermarket equivalents, desserts and biscuits are the same, and the fridge is packed with vegetables and fruit.

The two biggest changes that the eating plan has brought about is that I eat much less carbohydrates in the form of potatoes, rice and pasta, and I eat less meat then previously, that meat also tends to be leaner (turkey breast is the best ProPoints to weight ratio). To fill up, I consume far more vegetables than I used to. Sometimes vegetables can be a little bland so I make good use of stir fried dishes with highly flavoured Asian ingredients and rich tomato based sauces.



I try to attend every WW meeting I can. It isn't that every week's advice is useful (although it may well be to a someone whose situation is different from my own) but the camaraderie is great, the group are always happy for you when you reach a new goal, and our leader Mary is always bright and positive, cheerful and full of encouragement. I'm sure that the success of any plan such as WeightWatchers relies heavily on the personality of its leaders and I have clicked with Mary's blend of happy cajoling and informing. Attending the meetings regularly makes you feel more involved with the process, you can get the friendship and support of the group and I'm sure that you are far less likely to fall of the wagon if you keep attending.

I have also heavily increased the amount of exercise I do. I have taken up running again using Runkeeper and Fitocracy. My initial run was less than a mile and a half, with frequent stops along the way. Three weeks ago I ran my first half-marathon distance, and just to prove it wasn't a fluke, I did it again a week later. Progress in exercise of any sort is slow going, I didn't suddenly get out of bed and become able to run for 13 miles. Instead it was a steady progression, the initial runs were very hard work and left me stiff and sore for a couple of days afterwards, but I kept going. Each time I went out I tried to run a little further. Soon I was doing a standard 4.7 mile loop down into Burley-In-Wharfedale and back. Then I ran down to the river instead of running through the Barrat Estate, that made it nearly six miles. Coming back along the main road instead of Menston Old Lane made it 7.5 miles. And it's all hills around here, I live at the top of a hill so I always have to face a climb in the last mile.

Over The Odda 10k in April, I was 3 stones heavier when I ran this

WeightWatchers sets constant goals for you, and your leader will encourage you to set mini-goals for yourself. It's a great feeling when you get your 5% Award and everybody gives you a round of applause, it feels even better to receive your 10% and my 50lbs certificate is in front on me on the desk right now reminding me of what I have accomplished and also serving to remind me not to slacken off and let the weight start creeping back up.

There are some things I have pretty much given up food wise. I do like KFC, but the huge ProPoints cost of my favourite fast food means it's only ever going to be a very rare treat. The same applies to donner kebabs, pizzas and quite a lot of take-away Chinese food. Rare treats rather than weekly staples. Chocolate, cheese and dessert wine are all infrequent treats as well. It's not that you cannot every have your favourites if you're going to follow a life plan such as WeightWatchers, but if you are serious about losing weight and keeping it off then you do have to look seriously at what you consume and make some choices about it.

The benefits though are great. I have lost count of the number of people who have complimented me on achievement and my new, slimmer figure. Everyone enjoys receiving a compliment, it makes you feel great. I'm loving the amount of exercise I can do, and the more weight I lose the better I can run, the more I run the more weight I lose, one fuels the other. I have purchased a whole new wardrobe of clothes in smaller sizes, I am actually wearing clothes that indicate my size rather than seeking to conceal it, including some skin-tight stretch jeans that might well not be appropriate for a man of my years but hell! I can fit into 30" waist skinny jeans so I'm wearing them just because I can.

Is the the end of the weight loss then ? I'm now inside the upper limit of my Body Mass Index for my height. I think that I would like to lose about another 7lbs or so and see how I feel about being 12 stones in weight.
It hasn't been easy, but neither has it been tremendously difficult. The support I have had from leader Mary, best mate John and from Meg I couldn't have done without, the biggest thanks go to you three. Many thanks though to everyone who has been so kind and so complimentary on my weight loss.


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