Tuesday, 25 August 2015

A Mighty Tribute (Act)

In an ideal world, were I of a mind to do so, I would create a tribute act for Talking Heads.

We would be called Stop Making Sense, or possibly Found A Job if that were already taken (Third option: Houses In Motion - all now (c) 2015 as band names until I hear otherwise!) and we would tour - doing all five hits and doing occasional fan-shows where we just play all the way through the set of the seminal concert film Stop Making Sense (made by Jonathan "Silence Of The Lambs" Demme)

But back in the real world I suspect that there is probably not a great deal of desire for a Talking Heads tribute act and that once we'd played Road To Nowhere, Once In A Lifetime and maybe And She Was our audience would largely stare at us in apathy wondering when they were going to hear a song they knew.

Possibly then there might be, as a second option, space in the world for a Joy Division tribute act.  Despite the early death of singer Ian Curtis and being almost entirely ignored by everyone other than a cult following for many years they seem to be experiencing a posthumous level of attention that they could never have expected to achieve at the time.

I say the above because my saxophone teacher is currently in a band.  A proper actually gigging, writing their own material, band that might actually become a big thing in their own right - only one of their members is very publicly against tribute acts and has decried the ones he had to endure on his recent holiday...and I can't for the life of me understand why.

OK yes - going out and creating your own thing is a noble achievement and worthy of attention: but it's very hard to make a living from and besides there are various problems with that:

Take for instance the average cruise ship, casino or, if you will, ceremony of nuptials.  You don't want Sonic Death Monkey turning up and scaring your guests away - no indeed.  There's a reason why Come On Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners is a cliche of the DJ at the British Wedding - it's because it always gets people up and dancing (though if I never hear it again...)

There's a reason why Dancing Queen by ABBA always gets played around 1am in the sort of disco that still has UV lighting and a semi-permanent pool of beer by the toilets - because Girls Of A Certain Age are genetically built to scream "wooooh-hooo" when they hear the opening chords and throw themselves on the dancefloor - destroying anything foolish enough to stand in their way

New music is great - but at an average pooling of a random group of people, only brought together by family ties, inebriation or both you need something that they know.  Any new band will tell you how hard it is to get a gig because of this - but if they're good enough then a following will start to happen

Also - as you may have noticed - there is a certain point in your career as a New Inspiring Voice where you inevitably become your own tribute act.  Too much success and ten years down the line no one wants to hear the new songs played, they want to hear the classics that made them like the band in the first place.

Finally, of course, new bands need somewhere to play - and those places need to attract punters in order to keep their doors open.  Bands with a name, or a known repertoire, are an easy sell - and who knows they may have a support slot.

And let's face it - going to see The Rolling Stones is very expensive.  These days you need a second mortgage to buy concert tickets - so why not see The Counterfeit Stones for £10 instead of £80

And some of these bands have very inventive names (although the majority are just "The INSERT COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Pink Floyd" or else named after songs) - my favourite of which include The Joshua Trio (U2) and the all-female punk band Sex Pissed Dolls

But at the end of the day the reason I feel these bands should be championed rather than ridiculed is that ultimately anyone getting up and learning an instrument and putting music into the world - even by someone else - is doing a good thing.

On a final note though I just want to contradict myself entirely: increasingly many years ago now I went on a creative writing course at a local college - on which was a man who was determined to write and have a Mills & Boon (hack romance) novel published.  This chap had analysed their books down to the Nth degree and knew what should be happening on Page x, paragraph y.

At the time I was rather saddened by this idea and wondered why anyone would want to subvert their creative juices to achieve such a thing...but really, isn't he doing the same as a tribute act only without a guitar?

Answers on a postcard please.  Meanwhile: here's Sonic Death Monkey:

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Not Nece-Cecil-ry A Good Thing

I have to say I have my doubts about this current trend of naming and shaming through social media

Not, I hasten to clarify, that I'm in favour of dentists who go shooting furry animals for fun - honestly, at this stage in our evolution I can't help but feel that when the robots finally rise up and overpower us we will, if we have decimated the planet for fun and profit, somehow deserve it.

But what are we trying to achieve here?  I mean, Cecil won't be any less dead will he?

And of course Cecil is merely the tip of a much bigger iceberg.  About a year ago now, on her honeymoon, a friend of mine went to a zoo in Thailand where she and her husband were invited to stroke and cuddle with some "tame" lions - sounds innocent enough so far, but after the event I looked into this and found out that lions and other animals are specifically bred and treated this way in some zoos so that they will approach the nice hunters when they get too old to be cute.

Even despite the game reserves, zoos and preservation attempts we are losing the battle because there is always a quick buck to be made by a local trying to put food on their family's plate, not worrying that their trade will be gone once the species has failed.

And again: I want to make it clear that I think shooting and killing something for fun is shameful and wrong and should be consigned to the history books - but I question the value of naming and shaming.

Firstly - if these people were happy to be photographed with their dead prey is it really likely that a few hundred people sharing their photo is going to change their minds or make it any less socially acceptable?  Right now in the UK a very strong Conservative party is motioning to relax some of the rules and regulations around Fox Hunting - something that surely no one was calling for.  We all understand the need to control vermin and pests to livestock - the problem we have is dressing in red outfits, yelling Tally Ho and making a day of it.

And yet it persists - does the tide of public opinion against people going fox hunting stop even a single hunt?  Somehow I doubt it.

Secondly - have we thought about the ramifications.  OK so you and your immediate friends might be level headed individuals ready to yell "shame", but sooner or later that post is going to reach someone willing to take the law into their own hands.  Sure: what this dentist did was not very nice, but the guy may well lose his business, has had death and arson threats and is probably at threat of having his friends and family reproached by association.

A few years ago there was a famous case in the UK of a farm that was breeding animals for fur - there was an almighty clash as animal rights protesters blockaded the house, throwing firebombs at the buildings.  Whilst I respect the feelings of these people that unnecessary cruelty to animals is a bad thing, I cannot condone actions to stop it that bring us to the level of animals ourselves.

Is that really what we want?  What problem would that solve exactly?  Surely responding in this way makes us as bad as the killer with the gun in his hand.

By all means protest, sign petitions, contact your local politician and continue to work for a world where this sort of thing no longer happens - but don't endanger someone's life in the process

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Tray A Little Tenderness

I always feel a little disappointed that establishments like the Hilton allow riffraff like me in.

There should, in my opinion, be a long coated man at the door who reaches out with immaculate white gloves and gently stops me with a polite but firm “I think Sir will feel more comfortable in another, lesser, establishment”

Places like the Ritz, the Hilton and that are owned by anyone who has a child named after a major city are probably not the sort of places to which the likes of me would usually gain egress and the fact that they will allow me to stay there in return for the exchange of small pieces of paper (or increasingly the swiping of a plastic card) in some way cheapens them.

As you may have guessed by now a few nights ago I stayed at a branch of the Hilton on the one of my increasingly rare work visits (these occur every year or so and are usually to do with training or meetings) – paid for out of the company coffers. We were down to visit a site that already had a Bright and Shiny New Practice that we wished to emulate and also to have a team bonding day for what is increasingly a disparate group of ragamuffins who are spread to the four corners of the universe.  Quite frankly though: if the two people required to give us the briefing on the aforementioned Process had come to us it would have been a hell of a lot more economic than shunting a team of 16 people half-way up and down the country.

I had chosen to stay overnight the night before in a desperate attempt to be even vaguely awake for the meeting and in the knowledge that the trains from my local station to this site were about as frequent and believable as sightings of the yeti.

Staying in a hotel on company expenses is not what it used to be – back in the Good Old Days you used to get a generous food allowance and pretty much be able to book wherever you wanted to, arriving there in a gold plated Rolls-Royce if one should desire to do so. However: these days everything has to be In Budget and therefore affordable – so you get enough money to feed a hamster and bus fare home if you’re lucky. However: I had managed to swing it so that I could get the Hilton as my hotel is on this occasion as it was just about in budget.

My plan was to get something to eat at lunchtime and then just grab a snack at the train station that I could eat in my hotel room – however this proved to be more difficult than I had thought, because I couldn’t find my way around the train station enough to find anywhere that would sell suitable snacks. The platform, i decided, could only have been designed by Professor Rubik, In addition to which the train ride had been hot, sweaty and tiring – with corridors crammed with people, so I was pretty tired and just decided to get a taxi straight to the hotel and just order in.

There was no sign of the white gloved doorman when I arrived, so it was a relatively simple operation for me to go through the door, approach the lady behind the desk and plant my ukelele on the desk (having foolishly agreed to provide a section of “entertainment” to close off the day) – the major miracle being that in the two trains and three taxis between work and the hotel I had not succeeded in losing my microscopic instrument.

She looked at me in my jacket, T-shirt and jeans, with my windswept hair and must have assumed I was some kind of vagabond, because when I booked inand asked how much wireless access would cost me she gave me a free pass (which would normally have cost £8) as well as taking my payment details for the breakfast the next morning (£12)

I didn’t really want anything big to eat – having eaten out at lunch, and by now my feet were very tired – so I decided to look at the room service menu and based upon the selections, and even despite the fact I thought it was a ridiculous amount pay, I ordered an omelette that cost me £10

Now I don’t know about you, but I think £10 is quite a bit pay for a couple of whisked up eggs mixed into some milk – quite frankly I could have done that and I doubt it took their most highly trained sous chef to create my meal– anyway, it was okay and was sufficient for me. It took me awhile to find the free tea and coffee, which they had surreptitiously hidden away in a drawer next to the not – so – free minibar (cheapest item £3 for a chocolate bar) and to work out the remote control (£9 for a film)

The room was pretty much like any other hotel room I have ever stayed in and there was not much to do. I don’t know what it is like in other countries, but most Hilton’s seem to be out in the middle of nowhere, so once you are there they are pretty much playing to a captive audience unless you have transport – so my only option was to flick through the channels watching naff TV until it was time to go to bed and check facebook for humorous pictures of cats.

In the morning I woke up, showered and pulled back the curtains to the exciting view of another part of the hotel and saw that my bill had been pushed through the door during the night. When I looked at it I noticed that it was £5 more than I was expecting it to be and it was only then that I realised that they had charged me £5 for the tray at my meal had come on.

Not, I hasten to add, for the purchase of my tray (which quite frankly I could have found in a fairly 
decent pound shop), but for the “hire” of the tray. Had I not been so tired the night before I would have noticed this and ordered in a pizza (with free box)

I was actively incensed and paced around the room like a delegate from the Tourette Convention for a good couple of minutes – I could understand this in a budget hotel, where everything is optional or extra: but in the one kind of expects that things like trays required for delivering food on, is part of the price.

I took a deep breath. I calmed down. I went downstairs to breakfast: wearing my Manic Street Preachers T-shirt and jeans.

It was a small act of defiance that brought me little or no satisfaction as I piled my overly priced breakfast onto my tray and called for a second cup of coffee, but it was worth it for the look of horror on the faces of the two business types in suits who shared the left down with me.

After breakfast I made a hurried escape – before they could set the man in the white gloves on to me.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Where Do Songs Come From?

A question almost every writer will be asked at some point in their lives is: where do you get your ideas from?

Agatha Christie allegedly used to answer this all-too-often asked question by replying, "From Harrods, of course: where else?"

Terry Pratchett postulated that ideas are like lightning arcing through the air in search of the right head and that it was equally possible for an idea about quantum mathematics to hit the head of a camel as it was to hit the head of Einstein - which goes some way to explaining why camels look so permanently surprised.

I began thinking about this after a series of incidents where I have woken up at 3am with an idea bouncing around in my head and had to find some way of recording it before it was lost forever.  Where did this idea come from? Why did it arrive at 3am?  Why is it not possible for it to arrive at a more convenient time: for instance when I am sat with a piece of paper trying to come up with an idea.

I suspect that the amount of times that someone, even a great songwriter, sat down and said "right: let's create a classic song" and then did so are quite small.  Sure: there are plenty of people who can bash out hit single after hit single on demand and make a living out of doing so - but the truly great songs...well, I suspect they are a bit harder.

Elton John, I believe, allows himself a maximum of one hour to find a tune for the lyrics that Bernie Taupin has supplied - if he can't get to grips with it in that time then he abandons the song and moves on - personally I don't know how one would go about writing a set of lyrics and then handing it over to someone else to come up with a tune, but I would imagine that Bernie has to write quite a few lyrics before he finds one he thinks suitable to present to His Eltonness

The truth is that there is no easy formula or solution to this - otherwise we'd all be doing it: but here are a couple of examples of how you can start:

#1: Some form of physical exercise.
Preferably in the middle of nowhere and with no recording implements so that you have to keep repeating the idea to yourself until you get to a notepad/mobile phone/handily placed secretary - there's something about the motion and rhythm of exercise that is beneficial - particularly to song writing which is all about rhythm and movement

#2: Talking to yourself.
Some people say that talking to yourself is the first sign of madness: I say it's rude to ignore the little pixies.  However: talking to yourself is a way of externalizing your thoughts and making them solid - if you really allow yourself to relax you will often find yourself thinking in ways that surprise you and saying things that you have no idea where they came from.  If you get embarrassed talking to yourself try talking to the cat instead.

#3: Being in a creative space
Some of the best ideas come purely from being around other creative people and doing creative things - more than a few of my songs have come from just mucking around on the guitar and seeing what happens.  Most famously Dave Gilmour (Pink Floyd) has said that the notes for Shine On You Crazy Diamond just seemed to fall off the guitar - most likely whilst he was playing around and seeing what would happen

#4: Listening and giving it time
Some of the best songs I have ever written have come from things that people have said to me that have stuck in my mind.  Most recently a friend was telling me about her violin and it's history and it just stuck with me: I knew somewhere in the back of my head that there was a story to be told, but nothing came through immediately.  Then, one night, I woke up at 3am with a fully formed chorus in my head.

#5: Try not to interfere too much
I read an interview with Bono some years ago where he said something along the lines that songs were ideas floating in the air and that the more you reached for them and tried to catch them the more you changed the shape of what they were - scraping away the imagery this essentially means that the more you let the idea occur naturally the more pure it will be and that sometimes by messing around with an idea too much you can break it.  Having said that: the above mentioned song about the violin took me two days to finish writing, but is probably the exception to the rule as I usually try to get the idea down fairly quickly

#5: Practice
Ultimately if you have the time and patience to do so you should spend some time trying to be creative every day.  I saw an interview on TED some time back about creativity where the speaker said "Inspiration may not turn up: but you should" - and it's true, because if you train yourself to be receptive to the ideas that come along then they are more likely to materialize in the first place.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Yet More Film Reviews

#1: The Imitation Game

There are many big names in Hollywood – but at 19 letters Benedict Cumberbatch is surely one of the biggest

This quirky British actor is slowly gaining himself a reputation playing intense characters such as Khan (Staff Trek: Into Darkness), Stephen Hawking (TV series Hawking), Sherlock Holmes (TV series Sherlock), Julian Assange and now legendary mathematician and war time code breaker Alan Turing

The film follows the story of Bletchley Park – where the team test with the seemingly impossible challenge of breaking the Enigma code were based, focusing on Turing and his relationship with the rest of the team, although it does so in a semi-flashback some years later when Turing is brought in for questioning following a break-in at his apartment which initially leads to him being suspected as being a Soviet spy.

Benedict Cumberbatch is a highly skilled actor who manages to make Turing both an outsider and also ultimately likeable character, who struggles to communicate with others due to his obsession with the giant computer he is trying to build – the first of its kind. Keira Knightley is also strong as the main female, who due to restrictions on women working on the project has to perform her mathematics almost secretly. How much of the story, aside from the focus on the Enigma machine is true is debatable – however this is a tense and enjoyable story that keeps you interested from start to end and at the end, when you discover the eventual fate of Turing (for those who don’t already know at the start) you feel genuinely angry on his behalf and for those who suffered the same fate

This is well worth watching if only for the story of Bletchley Park - which may have been one of the best kept secrets of WW2

#2 The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

When the original film came out a couple of years ago it was the surprise hit of the year – a film about a bunch of old age pensioners who, for various reasons, decide to retire to a dilapidated hotel in India where they find a new lease of life.  The film appealed to a whole generation of cinema goers who were being overlooked in the rush to fill the cinemas with films about robots hitting each other and with a strong ensemble cast that included almost all of Britain’s acting elite, a plethora of exotic locations and plenty of humour it was an enjoyable and oddly life-affirming film

This sequel carries on where the first film left off – with the residents of the now flourishing hotel finally settling in as the young proprietor tries to juggle expanding his empire, the imminent arrival of a hotel inspector and his forthcoming nuptials. 

Cue Richard Gere turning up, wooing the ladies and much confusion as to whether he is/isn’t the expected Hotel Inspector (a plot that many have likened to an episode of the sit-com Fawlty Towers)
Pretty much everyone in the cinema seemed to enjoy the film and I have to say it was certainly nice enough to look at whilst it was happening, but there was something slightly missing from the film that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  

Perhaps it was the way that the plot twists seemed to be sign-posted for all to see or that the action all seemed a bit by the book but there seemed to be something of the heart of the original story that was missing from this.  

All in all it was an enjoyable enough film at the time and it carried enough good will through from the first film to get away with it – but it left me feeling oddly like I’d eaten an average takeaway meal: when you go for the meal you are thinking how much you are looking forward to it, and you scoff it down quickly enough – but at the end you still feel slightly empty and want to bite into something a bit more tasty

#3: Pride

And then we come to Pride.

It’s almost impossible to describe to anyone not from England what the words “1980s”, “Margaret Thatcher” and “Strike” evoke but the Miners Strikes of the 70s and 80s were one of the most turbulent times in our recent history – on the one hand you had an ancient industry that was struggling to cope in the modern world, competing against foreign fuels and finding the communities that lay behind the industry struggling to earn a decent wage and on the other hand you had a strong Conservative government determined to break the power of the Unions after decades of strikes no matter what the cost to the people – starving them out and turning the Police on them wherever necessary

And in the middle of all this, in a true story that history had all but forgotten, was a small Gay community surrounding a special interest bookshop in London that decided that they could associate with what the miners were experiencing at the hands of the police (having experienced brutality at the hands of the Police and others) and decided that they wanted to help

Finding that none of the unions wanted to be publically associated with a Gay and Lesbian group for fear of the negative publicity they approached a small welsh mining community directly and went on to become one of the most reliable sources of food and fundraising during the latter days of the strike

The fact that over a week after seeing this film I’m struggling to write this review without getting emotional tells you something about what an absolutely amazing film this was: funny and shocking, tearful and uplifting with a cast that included Bill Nighy (who seems to get everywhere), Imelda Staunton and Ben Schnetzer as Mark Ashton (the leader of the group) – it really is a film that you will find yourself going back to mentally time and again after the end credits roll

Clearly, being a period piece, this film uses some of the language and prejudices of the times and for me one of the most uplifting things of seeing this at the cinema was to hear the gasps of shock at the way people were treated purely due to their sexuality and to realise how much those attitudes have changed – although admittedly I was saddened to see that in the USA all references to Homosexuality have been removed from the DVD case to help increase sales (I’d be interested to sit in the front room of anyone who buys the film without knowing the content to see what they make of it as a result!)


I can’t possibly recommend this film enough – it is the best film I have seen in a long, long time and anyone who walks away from the ending without a tear in their eye is no friend of mine

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Darmok

One of the most disturbing news stories I have seen recently was something on my local news a couple of days ago. The report came from a local shopping centre where police had been negotiating with a man to come down from on top of the building. Sadly, however, he eventually jumped and died.

But the disturbing side of the story was to do with the onlookers: some of whom were reaching for camera phones to record the incident, while others were actively joking and shouting for him to jump. I found this last section particularly sickening – particularly the young lad who admitted on camera that some of the people he was hanging around with (i.e. him) had been amongst those catcalling the man.

There is psychological evidence to show that people who are part of the crowd are less likely to take action than a person on their own to help somebody – i.e. there’s a sense of “well someone else will do it”, but the fascination with recording everything is relatively new. It seems that the ability to carry a broadcast quality camera around in our pocket and instantly upload anything to the Internet has not only turned us into voyeurs on our own lives, but also desensitised us to the world around us.

However: to actually laugh and joke and urge somebody to jump to their death is a far more worrying development.

This follows on from a week where we have had a number of problems with local kids, which started with a valve being stolen from our tyre, continued with a wheelie bin being thrown at our door and most recently, albeit not directed at us, an attempt to smash as many car wing mirrors as they possibly could in the street (a series of events which has convinced us it’s time to move somewhere less semi-evolved)

With all of the above I keep saying to myself that I can’t understand the pleasure that could be gained from performing these actions: nor why someone would want to single us out, when all we have done is to keep to ourselves. And the truth is that it’s nothing to do with us – we are just easy victims and they have no understanding nor empathy of the effect of their actions. It’s just senseless violence for the sake of something to do.

I have no understanding for the kind of life they have led that can bring them to a state of being where attacking someone senselessly, or jokingly calling for someone’s death, can have no meaningful context or can be seen to be funny. Where is the pleasure in that?

But then how can I possibly have any understanding? I grew up in a completely different area, with parents who taught me right from wrong. I grew up in a completely different world, where people talked with each other instead of burying their face in their iPad. Although the kids at our school were pretty nasty sometimes I doubt that many of them would have shouted at someone to jump off a building, if any.

And why should they care about me?  They live in a world where the only goal is self gratification and there are little or no consequences.

All of this is left me thinking about an old episode of Star Trek: The Generation.

In the story, entitled “Darmok” Captain Picard encounters a race who initially seem to talk in gibberish despite all attempts to translate them. In desperation the alien captain kidnaps Picard and takes them to the planet below, where he constantly says (amongst other things) “Darmok and Jilad at Tanagra”.

As the episode continues we slowly begin to understand that their language is entirely contextual and everything they say relates back to their ancient stories and history – the example being the story of Darmok and Jilad, who started off as enemies but came to be friends after they faced a battle together: only once you know this shared history does the sentence make any sense.

Although there is no realistic way that such language could have evolved the idea is an interesting concept – what would it do to our society if the only way we had of communicating with one another was to talk about shared experiences and relate them to our history? Would this foster a greater understanding of one another and read empathy for different viewpoints which it now became necessary to understand and relate to in order to do anything even as basic as trade with one another?

If we had no choice but to empathise with one another surely this would change the way we view our own lives and the world around us?


Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Live Organ Transplants

I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, but getting anything for cheap in the UK requires a level of deduction and planning rarely seen outside the offices of Sherlock Holmes.

For instance – if I were to travel between my house and London via train an “any time you want” ticket would cost me around £140 and even booking from A to C on the cheaper tickets would still be around £90. However: if I break my journey so that I buy a ticket from A to B and then from B to C ON EXACTLY THE SAME TRAIN AS THE MORE EXPENSIVE OPTION and then come back from C to a station there is actually further on from A I can actually do this for around £55.

Not that the travel companies will tell you any of the above, oh no: you need a good knowledge of the route, a lot of determination and to spend a good fortnight trawling the internet and typing in all the different variations you can think of

It was with this thought in mind that, when I had to recently travelled to London for the 1st time in about 5 months, I decided it would be just as cheap to travel down the night before and stay over if I found a suitably cheap hotel. As it turned out the journey down in the evening cost £10 and the journey back the next day cost £25 – so all I needed to do would be to find a hotel for around £45 and I would pretty much break even (aside from food and taxis), alongside the benefit that I would be less tired for the team meeting that was due to take all day.

So I spent some time on the hotel comparison websites such as Cheap-But-Not-Cheerful.com and also rang around 3 or 4 hotels before I finally spoke to a young woman with a heavy set Eastern Block accent who was far more helpful than the previous hotels had been and, as such, I decided to book with them requesting a room on the 1st floor as I knew they wouldn’t have a lift and didn’t fancy 20 flights of stairs!

So the day of my travel arrived and at 5:15 PM I boarded the slow train to London – arriving just after 7:30 PM, by which time I was too tired to face the thought of travelling on the underground and caught a taxi across London that actually ended up costing me more than the entire train journey so far! As I arrived I saw that the front of the hotel was covered in scaffolding, making it impossible to see the contours of the building. To be fair I wasn’t expecting a great deal – this was a one star hotel, which means it was as cheap as you can possibly get (hotels in England tend to go from 1 to 5 stars).

Inside the woman with the Eastern Block accident greeted me, telling me that if I wanted a remote control for the TV it would be a £5 deposit – which I politely declined, having taught my generic tablet device with me (complete with downloaded program about art from the BBC).

I followed her direction down the corridor and saw that the stairwell that I was due to climb was covered in clear plastic sheeting (the kind you see bodies wrapped in on CSI Punxsutawney) and it was then that my texts to my friend and occasional fellow blogger Argent that the hotel would turn out to be a front for illegal organ donation or the Russian Mafia/white slave trade came back told me, even despite the smell of plaster and paint that was clearly the true explanation.


I carefully climbed the stairs, making sure not to slip on the sheeting whilst also examining it for any tell-tale signs of blood or entrails, and let myself into the room.

The room itself was little more than a box with a single bed in each opposing corner and a small cupboard that served as the ensuite bathroom and toilet in between. The shower was a square that was barely big enough for a 12-year-old to clean themselves and the toilet was positioned in such a way that it faced an outward jetting part of the wall, making it impossible to sit down on the seat in a straight line with the system behind your back without first removing one of your legs.

However the room was clean and the bed seemed reasonably comfortable which was the main thing.

It was now so dark that I couldn’t see what kind of view I had, but with the window closed could barely hear any traffic.

This was when I inadvertently made my 2nd mistake. Earlier in the day I had listened to documentary about a musical group that had played a song in the style of a Slavic anthem and, what with my comments about the Russian Mafia, I found this stuck in my head all night long as my brain refused to shut up and let me sleep properly.

Now this is where things get really strange – because at about 11/12 at night another man let himself into the room and started setting up on the other bed – it turned out that the hotel had double booked the room, explaining the 2nd single bed. To be honest I should have gone down and complained – but I was far too tired and decided just to put up with it, as he didn’t seem to be making much noise.

However – at about 3 o’clock in the morning the door of the room was kicked in and a shadowy figure appeared in the doorway, leering drunkenly into the room. After a moment’s hesitation he apologised in a sick Russian accident and went away again to the room he should actually have been staying in. I got up and went to the door of the room, only to see that had been kicked clean off the hinges.

It was at this point that I woke up and found myself alone again in the hotel room – my fellow guest and the Russian Mafia bloke having been created by my imagination.  Sleep continued to come and go for the rest of the night, interspersed by a variety of songs playing in my head to the beat of a polka.

Morning came and I somehow managed to squeeze into the tiny space allocated for shower and washed myself – then it was downstairs to the basement where there was an array of beds and linen splayed out across the hallway outside of the breakfast room. Breakfast was beyond extremely cheap: consisting only of a tiny packet of cereals, an extremely runny yoghurt and some cheap orange squash – so I ate enough to feel that I had earned at least some of my additional £2 I paid for the privilege and checked out.

In the end, if you include all the taxis, it did end up costing me more than coming down on the same day would have – but the main thing is that I was awake, ready for work and still had all of my internal organs intact!