Friday’s Bloggers4Labour Meetup

Bloggers4Labour had its first anniversary last Thursday, and a meetup was arranged at a Whitehall Wetherspoons. On first hearing about it I hadn’t intended to go – I’m not good in pubs generally, nor around people I don’t know, and also I’m only political in phases. Skuds put some of my fears to rest and convinced me it would be fun, so on Friday I headed down to London. I arrived half an hour early, so wandered down to the embankment and back. At around 1900 I headed inside, spotted the famous B4L sign and introduced myself to Andrew, the creator of B4L. Others soon arrived, and eventually there were1:

Andrew – B4L
Andrew – Andrew Brown
Skuds (real name Andrew) – I found that essence rare
Damian – Pootergeek
Kerron – The voice of the delectable left
Neil – Brighton Regency Labour Supporter
Paul – Mars Hill
Paulie – Never trust a hippy
Tom – Let’s be sensible

B4L: ChattingIt’s most odd meeting people whose blogs you read daily – everybody’s strangely familiar, but at the same time, not. I relaxed very quickly, and had an excellent time.

Neil’s blog is always provocative, and at one point he remarked on his ability to offend people without meaning to. At this very moment an Old Guy walked past and stopped, spotting Neil’s camouflage jacket:

Old Guy: What rank are you?
Neil: I’m not in the army
Old guy: What rank are you?
Neil: I’m not in the army
[Old Guy walks away, then turns and comes back]
Old Guy: That’s very confusing, you know. It certainly fucking confused me!
[Old Guy makes wanking gesture, and leaves]

We were very impressed at this ability to offend without doing anything at all!

Conversation ranged from religion to the smoking ban (we were all of one mind on this, so it didn’t last long) to classic television. Unfortunately the others were sadly deluded over the best Doctor Who – it’s Jon Pertwee, clearly. This conversation had natural continuations…I have been told that I must stick around for a second series.

B4L: More chattingI realised after a couple of hours that everybody around me was drinking beer, while I was on lemonade. Somebody else had bought me the drink, and I realised that I’d completely unconsciously been using the supplied straw. Not terribly manly, but I felt so comfortable that I wasn’t bothered 🙂

Unfortunately due to limited space we were forced to split onto two tables, so I didn’t get to talk to Damian, Paulie or Andrew B very much. I’d certainly like to hear from Damian about what it’s like to run a blog with more than a couple of dozen regular visitors. Next time, hopefully.

I was very surprised to find it was 2300, but I’d had a great time. It was the complete antithesis to dancing the previous night. Many thanks to Andrew for arranging it, and to Skuds for his help.

Update: Other people’s roundups – B4L, Andrew Brown, Skuds, Kerron, Neil, Paul, Paulie and Tom.

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Bloggers4Labour Meetup

I’m off to the Bloggers4Labour anniversary meetup in London this evening. I was happy to find that not only are there direct trains to London from Stratford, but it’s a chiltern train that goes through Banbury, so there’s a £15 return ticket! Given that I was once charged £80 to visit a client in London (they paid!), I’m happy with that.

Bit nervous about the meetup – half the reason I blog is because I have the social skills of a mole – but hopefully it’ll be good. They’re all terribly nice people, after all 🙂 My political credentials aren’t quite so hot as most, but hopefully that won’t matter.

I’ll stay overnight in London, but am seeing Jerry Springer: The Opera in Birmingham tomorrow night, so have to get back in time for that. I’ve no idea what I’ll think of the play, but I’m too intrigued to let it slip by 🙂

Dance Competition

Lynsey and I were at the Tower Ballroom in Edgbaston on Monday night, for a dance competition. We were just watching, rather than taking part! You may be wondering, what dance competition? If I could remember, I’d tell you. They must have said it 100 times, but it’s fallen out of my head. It was the Midlands Open Championship, or something…I’ll check with Lynsey 🙂 Whatever it was, there were three competitions: professional ballroom, amateur latin and amateur ballroom.

The show started at 2000, and we got there for 1930. I drove down Broad Street for the first time ever on the way, which wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. Our bags were checked on entrance – for video cameras rather than bombs, I think – and we walked into the hall. I was impressed!

The Tower Ballroom

I was expecting the average club with a floor that could be cleared to create a dancing area, but it was actually quite swanky. We were the first of our dance group to arrive, so we sat at our floor-edge table and people-watched. Other people slowly arrived, and we exchanged pleasantries. Before long the competition started.

The ballroom competition consists of the waltz, quickstep, slow foxtrot, viennese waltz and tango. Latin is the rumba, jive, paso doble, cha-cha and samba. We haven’t yet started learning the paso doble or tango, but could watch the others with some understanding of what was going on. Or so we thought. It turns out that the emphasis in ballroom is in posture, rhythm and grace, and the steps weren’t any more advanced than we’ve been learning. This is quite cool, as you can imagine progressing from current standards to professional level without too much difficulty. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any way saying it’s easy! It just looks easy. I’m sure it’s extremely challenging to move perfectly while maintaining excellent posture. When watching, however, you can think “I could do that.”

Professional Couples

The latin, however: notsomuch. It’s so complicated! The steps are far faster and much more complex than anything we learn. It looks great, and I’d love to get as good as that! I don’t much like the tight lycra male-clothing (as for the women’s dresses, I shall simply say holy crap and leave it at that), but that’s a minor point.

Judges surrounded the floor and watched 20 couples perform each dance in turn, the dances lasting two minutes or so. Due to the number of couples, each dance was split into three separate groups. There were two rounds, a semi-final and the final. With three competitions, it took rather longer than we were expecting – the final awards ceremony was at 0100! It can’t be easy dancing at midnight, especially as it was possible for people to enter both the amateur ballroom and latin contests. While nobody did, if somebody got through to both finals they’d dance 40 times in one evening!

Latin Dancing - 2

The compere (is that the right term?) urged the audience to shout out the numbers of our favoured couples. I liked this – it was an interesting mix of refined dancing and local contest informality. We adopted a couple from Solihull and cheered them on. I think they came 4th in the end, which was pretty respectable.

Before the finals there was a cabaret presentation by Darren Bennett and Lilia Kopylova, both of whom appeared in the second series of Strictly Come Dancing. This was a complete surprise to Lynsey and me, but a pleasant one! Darren in fact won the series with Jill Halfpenny, while Lilia and Aled Jones came fourth(?). Apparently the two of them won the Latin competition at the Edgbaston ballroom three years ago. They’re married, as a matter of interest.

Lilia Kopylova and Darren Bennet

Unsurprisingly, they were excellent. I stood up to take pictures during some of their routines, and felt very out-of-place as there was very little movement in the room – everybody was entranced, I think! After dancing, Darren asked who we’d all vote for in the next series, to which Lynsey replied: “Anton!”

Regular readers will know that I’m not very confident socially, and I was nervous that without the issue of actually dancing I’d have trouble talking to the other people from the group. I didn’t do too badly, hopefully. I wasn’t sure of the etiquette when somebody picked me up a drink during their bar run – should I offer to pay, or what? I’m told if I spent any time in pubs I’d know these things 🙂

It was a fun evening, and I’m glad we went. It was certainly interesting to see the dances performed ‘properly’, even if the tango did remind me of a mouse trying to escape a cat 🙂

Ensorcelled

I sent a post from the train this afternoon but have just discovered it didn’t work (argh), so I’ve re-inserted it in sequence below.

Having a great time here in London. We just got back from the Katie Melua concert at Kenwood House:

Katie Melua

She was absurdly wonderful, and I’m completely in love with her this evening 🙂 I took 152 photos! Many more to follow, but we particularly liked this one.

Ed and Simon are having discussions about adopting gay penguins…I think I can talk them out of it. Their flat is very swanky, I like it! I shall buy it from them and move down here…what do you think?

Off to London

Note: this was sent from the train, but didn’t display properly for some reason. I posted it later in the evening and have inserted it in sequence, so apologies if you missed it first time round.

Just heading to London for the afternoon to see Ed and Simon. Couldn’t be bothered to drive so I’m on the Marylebone train, listening to the Skepticality podcast and happily relaxing. We’re going to see Katie Melua in concert this evening and I’m really looking forward to that – she’s my favourite 🙂

It looks like I’ve got a mortgage sorted out. We looked at various options and eventually contacted an agent online. After a few hours he emailed through the payments etc. without any details of the companies involved. One of the fixed rate schemes he found was great, so we paid him to get all the details and it turned out to be from the halifax. He now handles all the paperwork and I received all the documents to sign this morning. It cost

I Take it Back About the Engines

I sat in the Wellesbourne Aviation waiting area, flicking through the various pilot’s magazines lying around. I was reading ’50 ways to be professional’ when I heard:

Want to go flying?

I looked up and I swear it was Captain Jack, without the accent. If ever there was somebody who looked like an all-action-hero pilot, it was this guy. Not too long ago I’d have immediately felt inferior (yes, I was really that insecure) but my self-esteem has come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of months, so I took it as a challenge. That’d be great, I said.

Flying CertificateWe headed out of the small building towards the Robin 200 that would be my first experience flying a small aircraft. It was a single-propeller, two seater plane with a large sticker inside saying ‘no spins’. After an introduction to the various controls we taxied around the airfield and lined up with the runway. The instructor asked if I wanted to take off, at which I laughed, assuming it was a joke. Turned out he was serious, though, so I did.

Hmm, how do I say this without betraying my cool, detached-blogger exterior? It was bloody brilliant! The skies were clear and it wasn’t too windy. I flew for pretty much the entire 25mins we were in the sky, only handing over control for the landing. We couldn’t go find my house as it’s within BHX’s airspace, but we took a look at Stratford and the various surrounding villages as well as spotting the gliding field I took off from on Thursday. I learnt how to alter the pitch and banking angle, as well as the rudder and throttle. There were even in-flight refreshments provided (polos); I expressed disappointment at there not being a waitress service and was told she’d ‘foxtrot-oscared’. After a good few turns, rises and falls I was told to head back to the airfield. After a second’s thought I pointed and said “it’s that way, right?”, to which he said “bloody maths and physics students”. So I was quite proud of myself 🙂

The only big mistake I made came right at the end, when I stepped out of the plane, onto the wing and jumped forward onto the ground. The first thing I’d been told was to always enter and exit the plane from the rear due to the presence of a rather large propeller at the front. Even when the power’s off there’s the potential for it to start spinning, apparently, so I must remember not to do that again!

I received a certificate and extremely scary brochure detailing the costs of training for a Private Pilot’s License. It’s pretty much a minimum of

Engines are for Wimps

I arrived at Snitterfield Gliding Club at about 1800 on Thursday evening and chatted with some other Spice members for a while as we watched the last of the afternoon session come in to land. Before long we were given an introduction to the gliders. The three we used were two-seaters with a closed canopy (they have one open-canopy that lets people on the ground hear the screams):

My Glider

We all had to wear a parachute because of club regulations, although weren’t shown how to use it as apparently opening it below 2000ft, the maximum height we attained, wouldn’t do much good. Go figure 🙂

The ‘control tower’, incidentally, was an old double-decker bus. I thought that was great! I hung around taking photos while waiting for my turn. Whenever the gliders landed a man on a very cool buggy would head out and tow them back into position:

Glider and Tractorbuggy

Finally, at around 1920, it was my turn, and I walked out into the field to be met by the pilot. I got into the front seat, and we waited for the winch to become free. One of the ground staff took this for me:

Me in the Glider - 1

Not the most flattering photo, but it’s better than the other one 🙂

The glider is attached to the winch and after the slack is taken in there’s a short delay. Then, without much warning, the glider is pulled forwards very quickly indeed. It’s only a second or two before you’re up in the air, and at one hell of an angle.

Glider in Clouds

For some reason I wasn’t nervous at all, either before or during the flight. I just enjoyed it! After the jarring cable release we were floating freely, and I looked around to see Stratford. We were up at about 2000ft and you could easily see the entire town. I tried to figure out which road was which, but then it was my turn to play pilot. It was extremely responsive and I took it through a few turns as well as playing with the pitch.

View over the wing

Another view from the nose

We did a long circle to come about above the gliding club:

Snitterfield Gliding Club

and set down in a surprisingly smooth landing. It wasn’t as quiet as I’d been expecting – the wind was pretty loud – but it was easy to have a conversation with the pilot so can’t have been too noisy.

You could pay

Live 8: Final Thoughts

Sunset at Live8If I have any regrets, I wish we’d moved into the crowd a little sooner. I’d love to have sung along with Keane, properly watched Bob Geldof perform ‘I don’t like Mondays’, and swayed to ‘Everybody Hurts’. But, if I’m truthful, I don’t know whether I’d have lasted. I was approaching the limit of my standing ability after seven hours in one spot, and we were in a great place for a view of the finale so I’m glad we didn’t move. It wasn’t like we wasted the time either – we needed food etc.! I shall buy the DVD and catch up on the parts I missed.

I have a tendency to iconify pop stars, and it was an interesting experience being able to actually see these terribly famous people. Quite inspiring, really. Call me slow, but it brought it home that they’re just people – here are people just like me, but they’re on stage performing for two billion worldwide. It may be a pretentious thing to say, but all that really stands between anybody and greatness is hard work.

Even taking into account my propensity for hero worship, Bob Geldof is now my role model. He saw an opportunity to make a difference and took it. I’m sure there were no shortage of people quite willing to tell him that it would be a pointless gesture, or that nobody would pay any attention, or any number of reasons why he shouldn’t bother. But he did, and look what he’s accomplished. Of course there were hundreds of other people involved, but he appears to have been the driving force. His eloquence, passion and sheer dynamism were an inspiration. I want to be like that! Having seen him in the flesh, it doesn’t seem as out of reach as it once did.

Whether the Make Poverty History goals are achieved in full or just in part, there can be no doubting that the world stepped back and took notice this weekend. Political change via entertainment in front of a hostile media (who quickly changed their tune come Sunday morning) – it’s an amazing achievement. I’m not going to say I was ‘part of it’, but I was there. And that’s something I can tell the grandkids.

It was one hell of an experience, and many thanks to Lil for being such great company, to the lady who gave me her tickets, and to her friend’s dog, who nine weeks ago felt a little horny.

Live 8: Memorable Moments

A few things I jotted down that haven’t really fitted in anywhere else…

Bob Geldof on Stage

The guy standing behind us during the Pink Floyd set was apparently a huge fan of theirs, and we knew when exciting things were happening because he kept saying ‘oh my god’. Apparently the band members putting their arms around each other was a big moment! Good for him – it’s nice to see such enthusiasm.

Large beach balls (and inflatable fish) flew around the audience from time to time, relying on people to punch them back up into the air. One landed on me twice.

Between acts the big screens would cut to footage from the other worldwide concerts. We saw Greenday, Bon Jovi, Will Smith, Destiny’s Child, Bryan Adams, and the Pet Shop Boys. And the Pet Shop Boys again. And again. I think the Moscow concert consisted of the Pet Shop Boys only 🙂

When Sting was playing the guy standing next to Lil was jigging around, and from my vantage point it looked very much like he was, well, wanking. Sorry to be crude, but he did! I don’t *think* he actually was, but I couldn’t get a close enough look to say for sure.

Shortly before Paul McCartney walked on stage for the finale, the audience began singing ‘Hey Jude’, which he then sang. How did they know?

Kofi Annan was there! Kofi Annan! He didn’t say much, oddly, but he was on stage!

Madonna

The most emotional moment of the concert, for me, was when Bob Geldof showed a film of starving African children, which ended by focusing onto one young girl. Bob turned around and said: “We don’t clap that, do we. This girl had ten minutes to live, and because of Live Aid she this year took her agriculture exam. This beautiful woman is here today.” At which point she walked on stage to the loudest applause yet. It was a stunning moment, I thought. She thanked the crowd through an interpreter, and then remained on stage while Madonna dedicated ‘Like a prayer’ to her.

As Lil and I were making our way through the crowd, the announcer said: “Ladies and gentlemen – Brad Pitt!”. You should have heard the screams. A woman next to us turned to the people around her and said “He’s promised to me, I just need to get near him” and promptly darted forward, pushing her way through the crowd. People were hoisted up onto shoulders and cries of ‘We love you Brad!’ abounded. He was quite eloquent, too.

The ladies toilets had no queue at one point! That was just weird.

David Beckham introduced Robbie Williams – the scream factor doesn’t really get much bigger than that!

View from Above

At various points the screen showed photographs of the world leaders who’ll be present at the G8. Only George W. Bush got booed.

George Michael made a surprise two minute appearance with Paul McCartney in the finale. It was rather odd – he walked out, sang one song, then walked off again. A good surprise, though. I’d have liked to have heard a duet between them on The Long and Winding Road – it’s a close call on whose version I prefer.

Travis sang ‘Staying Alive’, which must have taken some doing! Fran Healey said he had to wear particularly tight underwear, then proceeded to pull them from his trousers – they had a ‘Make Poverty History’ waistband.

I was watching Dido when somebody behind me said “Hey, she’s lip-syncing!” She wasn’t. The big screens had no sound, so the picture was necessarily a little ahead of the sound from the stage. Like she’d be lip-syncing 🙂

Peter Kay filled in time before The Who, but was a little strange. He walked out and said: “Hmmmm, what shall I sing?”, then lead us all in ‘Show me the way to Amarillo’. He was a bit weird after that, walking off for a couple of minutes after finding out that The Who would need some more time.

Ricky Gervais doing 'The Dance'Ricky Gervais said that Bob Geldof had just taken a conference call with Tony Blair and George Bush, who had agreed to quadruple aid, so we could all go home! Then he admitted that wasn’t true: “good news! There are still lots of poor people – we can carry on!” He then did ‘The Dance’ from The Office, to rapturous applause 🙂

Dawn French made the mistake of saying she wouldn’t sing, which prompted a chorus of ‘sing! sing! sing!’ from the crowd.

Most of the merchandise sellers were my age and very attractive. That was a bit mean, how am I meant to think straight and order three different sizes of t-shirt in varying quantities correctly in those circumstances? Not that I got to that point, as it happened.

Madonna, amongst others, swore quite spectacularly – we wondered whether the BBC had the show on a delay. They didn’t, apparently. 400 complaints! It’s not like the swearing was aggressive, though. Well, apart from Snoop Dog.