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Tuesday 5 January 2016

The continuing decline of popular music

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 5th, 2016 at 11:18 am and is filed under Music.

A quick recap:  Twelve months ago I spoke about the worry of the number of songs in my ‘favourites songs of that year’ playlist dropping sharply.   I basically have playlists in iTunes for every year since I have enjoyed popular music and put it into it the songs I have enjoyed during that time. It’s a reflection on how much popular music I have listened to, enjoyed, and the playlists are all called ‘My…’ followed by the year, so as to indicate how it’s a personal playlist of my tastes. I’ve retrospectively created these playlist for the pre-iTunes era – but just replicated what would have been a compilation tape, CD-R or MiniDisc at the time.

In 1988 (at the height of my teen-buy-vinyl phase) there were 81 songs. It dipped in the 90’s but hit a interesting high again in in 2008 of 66 songs, and 2009 of 64 songs (in a post-divorce ‘I’m enjoying life as much as i can now’ phase), only for it to drop to 28 songs in 2013, and stay low at 29 songs in 2014.

Well – at the end of 2015, I have another count-up of how many songs, and the good news is that in 2015, the total has gone up, looking better than the previous two years with 35 songs enjoyed by me during the last 12 months. Oh! But then I noticed something which brought a sense of dismay.

I’ve currently got 4,446 songs in my iTunes collection, and all of them (all of them!) have got 5-star ratings that I’ve applied at some point.  Obviously songs that appear in the ‘My…’ playlists are generally 3-stars and above.  Why would a 1-star or 2-star song appear in a playlist of songs that I’d enjoyed.

For me, a 1-star song is ‘poor’ (and yes, there’s an argument for why would have a 1-star song in my collection, but we’ll save that for another day), a 2-star song is ‘Ok’, and 3-star song is ‘Good!’, a 4-star song is ‘Really Good!’, and a 5-star song is a special rating, only assigned to songs that I think are outstandingly special.

And here’s what I noticed.

My 2015 Playlist

My 2015 Playlist

In every year since 1986, I have had at least one 5-star rated tune. The most I ever had in one year was in 2009 when I had 11 of them. Even last year out of my total of 29 songs, three of were rated by me as 5-stars.

But for 2015 … out of my 35 songs, none of them are 5-star rated.  Eleven of them have 4-stars, twenty-one of them have 3-stars, and three have 2-stars. But no 5-star ones.  Shit! There was no tune last year that made me think I every time it came on and indulge in a world of old-man dancing, and completely not care about anything else that is going on in the world the for the 4 minutes that I listened to it.

And that’s saddening. That makes me slightly worried. It my taste in popular music declining further, and what if I never have another 5-star song again my life. I’d like to think it won’t happen. Surely there will be another new tune in the future that uplifts me, motivates me, inspires me, and is a joy to hear every time I hear it.

But what if there isn’t?  What if that’s it? What if I never have a another 5-star pop song for the rest of my life?

I’ll check again in another twelve months, and see how 2016 has turned out.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Parkrun : 4 Years of Running

This entry was posted on Sunday, November 8th, 2015 at 9:00 am and is filed under General, parkrun.
My 'PB' Happy face!

My ‘PB’ Happy face!

“Why don’t you do a Parkrun?” says my friend Richard to me in an email. “What’s that?” I email back – no need really, as the moment after I reply to to him I am already searching the phrase online and find the website straight away, where the first thing I do is try and work out where my nearest one is. Wormwood? Possibly! Richmond? Yes, that’s close. Hang on … Gunnersbury, that’s that park just down the road from me, right?  It is! I click on it, go to the course details page and come the day – the last Saturday of October 2011 I am forever sucked into a world that I had no idea just how involved I would get into at the time.

Richard had been with me on a couple of Tube Challenge attempts, and up until that point my own effort into getting fitter to be faster – and hopefully a World Record Holder again – was to use the Couch to 5Km App on my iPhone, and run around the local streets of Ealing.  But Richard told me that I might enjoy runner longer distances, on a regular course where they time you and give you your result for you so you could measure your improvement.  I thought I’d give it a go.

I clicked around on the Gunnersbury Parkrun page for a bit, and was rather worried to notice that there weren’t any previous results. I figured this was just a glitch and that I would go along anyway and see what happened. So on Saturday October 29th, I rocked up to Gunnersbury park at 08.45 in the morning, and joined a small group of people that progressively grew larger.  A very boisterous and chatty girl told me that yes – I was in the right place, and when I told her that it was my first ever parkrun, she then told me that this was Gunnerbury’s first ever parkrun too.  By utter chance, I’d completely managed to stumble upon the inaugural event of the Gunnersbury parkrun the same week that I had chosen to do my first ever run. I loved the serendipity of that.

That's me! Running.

That’s me! Running.

I got round in 31 minutes that day – 31 minutes, and 0 seconds exactly – and was the 151st person out of 163 runners. I know that, because I’ve still got the text on my mobile phone when the result came though (I could never delete them), oh and because it’s listed in my spreadsheet of every parkrun I’ve ever done – but more on that later.

I remember I walked part of the course that week. Somewhere around the 3Km mark I stopped running – catching my breath – before running again and walked again for a bit around the 4Km mark too. I went again the following week and improved my time, the third week I went I couldn’t run at all past the halfway mark and got angry with myself and gave up and went home – I still can’t believe I did that – but I was back for five more runs before the end of the year was out, improving my time in four of them, and I eventually managed to get all the way without stopping. My average time for 2011 was 28m and 44s.

And so it evolved.  We were focused on the Tube Challenge, and everytime I went out running I told myself (when it got hard) that I was doing it for my fitness – and possibly the Tube Record, and that’s what kept me going. That’s what kept me motivated on those cold February mornings, when I had friends emailing me saying “You’re mad!”, and the sensible option did seem to be to stay in a nice warm bed at home.

Richard took me in early 2012 for my first ever spot of tourism – we went to his local parkrun at Bedfont Lakes, and I realised that not every Parkrun was done in a park. This also instilled the idea in me that of course – visiting other courses could be a more frequent possibility.

Getting my shirt for 50 parkruns

Getting my shirt for 50 parkruns

During 2012, I visited five other courses, mainly with my new friend Mark who I always chatted to at Gunnersbury every week, and as he had a car he could give me a lift. I started a spreadsheet on my computer of my run times, I liked having a graph to see how I was slowly improving every week, I made a note of my halfway times (Gunnersbury is still one of the few parkruns where they shout out your halfway time which is a really nice touch) it turned out that Arlene the event organiser (and the chatty girl that I met on the very first one!) told me that she got the idea from Wimbledon where they also do it.

And then I discovered that other friends of mine were also running their local parkruns. We would text each other and compare times. Start to meet up at other friends local events, and then I’d come back to Gunnersbury the following week and people would say “Ooh, we missed you last week”, and it was nice realising that that there was a friendly bunch of people there to socialise with beforehand – and more importantly over a cup of tea in the cafe every week after the run.

I went running midweek a lot in 2012 to improve my time. I went running a lot really.  I learned that to get good at running 5Km if helps to run further during the week. Or do some hill running.  A longer-than-5K-hilly-run midweek, then makes a relatively 5Km flat run on a Saturday a lot easier and my parkrun times improved.  I also felt like it helped ease my natural anxiety which I suffer from, and also because because back in 2011 and 2012, I was technically unemployed.

You don’t get a lot of freelance work when you’re starting from scratch when you don’t have a portfolio to fall back on, so parkrun was something that I really looked forward to as a highlight of my week, something that I could focus on. It was great to have a purpose to get out of the house, talk to people, and when you don’t have a lot of money either – it was amazing that it was free.

Some people at Gunnersbury (I’m looking at you, Kelvin) often tried to get me to sign up for the local running club. “No thanks”, I would always say “As it costs to join, and the moment I’m paying for something, I feel obliged to go”. Which is totally true because I know how I work – if I ever had to pay to going to parkrun, I would never have been as much as I have.  Going along under no pressure, going at my own speed and it not being a race with anyone (expect, maybe your own time!) is what makes it brilliant. People get cheered over the finish line when they complete in 20 minutes.  People get cheered over the finish line when they complete in 40 minutes. No one judges you. Add on top of that that it’s run by volunteers who just give up their time and it’s brilliant. It didn’t take me long either o get on board with volunteering, and over the course of four years have done most roles, including the prestige of being Run Director a few times too.

Winter parkrun!

Winter parkrun!

I also get a kick out of being up out and early on a Saturday too. It’s still one of my favourite times of the week, being out of the house before 8am, where the streets are still quiet and you know that around the country, hundreds of thousands of people are still in bed, most likely sleeping off the night before, but here I was – crossing the main road devoid of traffic on the way to park, out in the fresh air, and the getting the blood pumping around my body and the air in my lungs, and I bloody loved it.

Yes some weeks you do question yourself. Getting up at 7am when it’s still dark and there’s snow on the ground outside, and you HAVE to wear a hat and gloves or you will just be so cold is not easy, but by 2Km you’ve warmed up, and often by 4Km, I was stuffing the hat and gloves into my pockets as I ran having got too warm.

I loved my local parkrun so much that I made a video for them about it, you can see it here.  Some weeks I would also take along my video camera to allow us to have a ‘video finish’ too as people crossed the line. I’ve put a couple of those online here too.

I kept a log of all my times in a spreadsheets – quite obsessively so.  If you’re not into running but you’re a bit OCD (as I am) about numbers and data, then … well maybe you should get into running.  It got even more extreme when my girlfriend bought me a GPS watch one Christmas which logs every run you take along with times, elevation, a plotted route, and generally more data than you could ever possibly want.

I have every date, time, age-grade percentage, position, halfway split, averages and graphs of my run as I went.  I know that in 2012, my average 5Km time went down to 28m 23s, but in 2013 it went up to 28:38. No worries in 2014, it came down to 28:00 and currently down in 2015 I’ve got it down to 26:58.   Four years into running and I am the fittest I have ever been, despite the fact that I am obviously older than when I started!



My time on that first run was 31 minutes exactly, my PB now (at Burgess Park, not Gunnersbury!) is 25 minutes and 9 seconds, almost 6 minutes faster – I could run 6Km in that time now.

We eventually got the Tube World record back in 2013, but I kept on going to parkrun.  I kept updating my spreadsheet, and I started to venture out more and do more and more of the London parkruns.  Currently, I’ve done 24 of the 43 in London, it was when I had done about 15 of them that I realised obviously that I was going to have to be able to say that I’d done ALL the London ones, so am now trying to get round them all – something I hope to have done by the end of next year. I’m also trying to take just 9 seconds off my PB and get that ‘magic’ sub-25 minute time.

Happy 4th Birthday Gunnersbury!

Happy 4th Birthday Gunnersbury!

Parkrun has been brilliant. I’ve met a load of lovely people … too many to name here, but I’d like to name some of them, I met up with an old colleague Stuart that I used to work with at the BBC that I hadn’t seen in years. Likewise a former colleague Bob who I didn’t recognise until he overtook me one morning and shouted “Come on Geoff!” at me, as he sped past.  Every week a lovely lady called Pam would say to me “Ooh, I was out last night, going to take it easy today Geoff I think”, and despite being older than me, would then run round much faster than me and always ‘beat’ me.  (She is the ‘The disingenuous dasher‘ on the amusingly brilliant list of Different Types of Parkrunners). I would be amazed at how Kirsten would continually beat her PB, a few seconds every week in a constant fashion. I loved Kevin for being encouraging to me in a non-patronising way. Paul for recommending that I go track running (even though track running is not for me), and to the lovely Roger for pacing me around on numerous occasions helping me to get better times. There are many others, sorry If I’ve missed your name out, I could list loads.

It’s still hard some weeks, and I’ve been injured a couple of times too. But there’s always a moment where I tell myself that the half an hour of running that I’m doing is damn good for my health and will ultimately prolong my life.  I’ve genuinely felt healthier since I’ve started it and feel now that if I get ill with a cold or something trivial then I get over quicker that I used to be, because my whole body feels fitter and healthier that at any other point in my entire life.

Me and Alan on his 80th birthday run!

Me and Alan on his 80th birthday run!

There’s also a lovely gentleman at Gunnersbury who I can’t not mention called Alan, who is amazing as he’s done over 300 runs, and he’s now 80 years old.  I look at my stats now (at the age of 43) and think “If I average 36 runs per year” (which is what I do) … “Can I still be running at the age of 80?”.  I damn well hope so, I’ve worked out that I can get up to just over 1,400 5Km runs in my life if I do that.   They’ll have to come up with a new colour for a ‘1000 shirt’ by that time I would have thought.

Oh, and we lost the Tube World Record by the way. We held it for a year and a half, but at the beginning of 2015 someone went just a little bit faster. But that’s Ok – my latest parkrun was Gunnerbury’s 4th anniversary run. And at about the 4Km mark when I was feeling it and starting to wonder why I was doing it … I remembered the mantra I needed to maintain my fitness to most likely have another attempt in the future, and it spurred me on.

But mostly what spurs you is the huge friendly crowd, feeling like you’ve started your weekend doing something positive, being part of something that is non-committal and free, which is what makes me want to do it more.

So thanks parkrun.  And thanks Gunnersbury. Thanks for putting up with my oddness ‘Oh you’re the tube train guy, right?’ (If I had a penny…)  and thanks to everyone there that it was lovely to go back and see today for the 4th anniversary run.

I’ll pop back again at somepoint – I’ve just got 19 other parkruns in London to go and tick off my list. I hope you understand, I’m a bit obsessive like that you see …

My favourite parkrun memories from the last four years:

  • The week I set a new PB at Gunnersbury of 25m 36s, I was so exhausted I collapsed onto the ground whilst still in the finishing funnel, and my token had to be ‘set aside’ for me to collect and get scanned.
  • The time a paralympic athlete came down (complete with Olympic torch that you could have your photo taken with) and he ran faster than me with his false leg, than I was able to with two actual legs!
  • The week I followed Arlene all the way round, but in the last 100 metres I sped up and over took her to the finish line … thinking that I’d ‘beaten’ her, except that she’d sped up too, and as I slowed too early she beat me right on the line and finished just in front of me!
  • When I did my first parkrun in Scotland – Edinburgh – and I had no idea that parkruns there start half an hour later at 09.30, so I turned up at 08.30 when there was no one there an hour before it started! (But by 9.25pm, over 600 people had showed up)
  • When my friend Mike told me to go to Lloyd Park parkrun in Croydon. He made me think it was fast and flat – it’s not. It’s the hilliest and hardest parkrun in the whole of London, and is where I recorded my slowest ever time. Thanks Mike.
  • The week I went to Fulham parkrun and I found myself for a lap running alongside Sophie Raworth – the BBC Newsreader – and I did a classic ‘double take’ when I realised who it was. I then slowed, and she finished before me …
  • The week someone spotted me as I was running round. “Aren’t you the guy that does the Tube Challenge?” asked a young kid. “Yes!” I panted “But talk to me about it at the end please, not whilst we’re running round!”



Wednesday 16 September 2015

My band is broader

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 16th, 2015 at 8:31 am and is filed under General, Tech.

The year is 1999, and I am having an argument with my girlfriend.  She has some justification that I have spent the last 3 hours on the phone … online.  Playing a game.  And thus, her mum was not able to get through on the phone to speak to her like she normally did on a Sunday afternoon.

Me? I was estatic because I’d picked up a 56K modem, a considerable upgrade on my 28.K one which I’d had up until the day previously, so I thought a good test of seeing if I really could get 5Kb/sec down instead of 2Km was to do some major online surfing (using Netscape Navigator) and download some stuff at almost twice the rate that I was able to before.

Windows 95 Download

Windows 95 Download

This was an exception though as I was addicted to a particular online game at the time – logging onto your internet provider for many hours was one way of racking up a large phone bill.   When Windows 95 came out it was all about being online and connected, which for me seemed strange because you had to tediously ‘dial-up’ any time you wanted to do something seemed a long way away – I certainly didn’t envisage that time when you would have an ‘always on’ internet connection.

That did arrive for me though in 2002, when I moved flat and signed up with a cable TV service (then called Telewest) and they provided you with an internet connection that was ‘Ten Times!’ the speed of dial-up. i.e. at the time, the fastest speed you could get out of a 56K modem, was .. well, 5Kb/sec, and the standard broadband speed package then was for 512Kb/s, which would let you download stuff at 50 Kilobytes per second.  And it was glorious, as these were the days of Napster and Audiogalaxy too, meaning that some judicious downloading of music did take place – this was in the days before iTunes!

And then things got faster, as they upgraded their service.  I moved house again and had a brand new install – this times Telewest had turned into NTL, and their internet service NTL : Home doubled my speed to 1Mb, which should have been 100 Kilobytes per second, but I can recall it making out at 93Kb/sec.

A year later (it’s now 2004) and they upgraded the service again – this time it maxed out at 3Mb/sec and the amusing part here is that by now I had a laptop with WiFi, but the 802.11b router that I had could not deliver the full speed that NTL were pumping down the coaxial cable to me because it couldn’t keep up – I only got the full 3Mb per second when plugged in using a wired ethernet connection.

In 2006 I moved to the USA, to find that the cable company their were called Comcast, and their minimum default speed was now 8 Megabits per second, which seemed outrageously fast – I remember thinking “Surely it’ll never go faster than this, and I can’t see a need for it either”, but this was before widescreen and HD movies and television had taken off and file sizes were smaller.

Which is why it was a shock to the system when in 2009, when I moved house in America again – my new place had the blazingly fast speed of 24 Megabits per second, which just seemed stupidly fast.

And thus it stayed… from 2009 right up until 2014 when even when returning to the UK, Virgin Media had now taken over all the cable companies in the UK, and I was getting 25 Megabits per second (Actually, before I signed up with them I had broadband via my copper phone wires, and I was lucky enough to be close enough to the telephone exchange to get 17Mb/sec down, which for a phone line is very good).

And then we’re up to today – to 2015, when I moved yet again – and I took my cable service from Virgin Media with me, and bizarrely they offered me a ‘New Customer’ install package, and a deal which mean that if I took their higher speed internet, it would actually work out cheaper … so strange.


So the men in their van turned up, plugged in the coaxial, gave me a nice shiny new Super Hub 2, and left me to it. The first thing I did was a speed check, to find a mind-boggling 117 Megabytes per second down (and even 7Mb/sec upload speed too!) which left me astounded. (And i’m only meant to get 100, and 6MB/s up, but often I get up to 10MB/s up)

When I went from a dial-up modem to my first broadband experience, it increased my speeds tenfold. Now it’s gone by over ten that to be the 100MB/sec rated connection that I have today.

Which can only leave me to consider – how much faster can it go? What is the top rated speed that you can get out of coaxial, or better still – if you had a fibre connection right to your home, or even straight into the back of your computer?  How fast will our internet connection speeds in another 25 years time? Stick around, i’ll see if I can remember to blog about it.


Monday 9 March 2015

Turning Fifty

This entry was posted on Monday, March 9th, 2015 at 7:00 am and is filed under Getting old.
Keep Calm

Keep Calm

The year is 1997

And I am twenty five years old.

I drive my car on the Saturday evening involved over to the cricket club near Croydon where the fiftieth birthday party is taking place.  I have a card and present which I’d wrapped at the last minute stuck on the seat next to me.

I arrive on time, which means I am early compared to most other people which makes it a little awkward at first, although it gets better as more people arrive.  The main person that I know is the person who is turning fifty, and I know them very well – along with his wife and a couple of other relatives as well.

The rest of the evening is a little awkward as I now am in a world where a beer is bought for me (even though I didn’t really want one), and I feel like I don’t have a lot in common with others to talk about.  I don’t have any dirty jokes to swap, or stories of being out on the lash late last night, and I definitely feel that I am judged as being the weird geeky one.

I do spot though that that someone has nicely created a ‘Gallery of 50 years’ using old photos of that person’s life although I note that there is a distinct lack of pictures of a particular person in the gallery.

Mainly though, what I remember is that the evening culminates when a stripper arrives.

Someone has booked one, and we all get to watch a young lady in her twenties strut about in lingerie as the build-up act, for the finale to be just for the birthday boy to be suitably entertained with when he alone gets a ‘chest only’ view of the particular person hired.  Everyone whoops and cheers … well, maybe no everyone, but I know that I didn’t as it felt a bit awkward.

The year is now 2015

Straight away, I’d like to say “Fuck! Where did the time go?” as that is my first thought of seventeen years later, as I am now 42 years old – only eight away myself from the big ‘Five Oh’.

No, I am not turning fifty myself just yet, but one of my friends is.  A good friend, someone that has helped me with something in the past that I will forever be grateful for, and someone with whom I have a lot in common with.

This person isn’t having a party. They might be having a small social gathering hurriedly arrange at the last minute, but it won’t be held in a cricket club where there are signs – stolen from all around the world from when the club goes on tour – brought back as trophies and stuck on the wall.

And this person most certainly won’t be getting a stripper, so there will be no pert jiggly breasts thrust in towards them on their big day.

I thought about these two people and the turning-of-their-five decades a lot the other day.  And the contrast between them.  Two people, both known well to me and yet I have totally different relationships with, in how I interact with them, talk and swap stories with them, and generally deal with the differently when I meet them in real life, and they celebrate their 50th in completely different ways. And I just find that fascinating.

The latter doesn’t have a 25 year old son to come to his non-existent party, the former probably couldn’t imagine not celebrating it in some way.

My Dad will be 68 this year – maybe he’ll have another stripper when he turns 70 in a couple of years time. My friend however will no doubt write a brilliant piece for his blog, and sound like anything-but a 50 year old, because I see him as someone who looks and acts much younger.

And I really hope that in eight years time, I still don’t look my age. And please – don’t book me a stripper.

Happy Birthday DG.


Tuesday 30 December 2014

The decline of popular music

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 30th, 2014 at 11:22 am and is filed under General, Getting old, Music.

A vivid childhood memory that I have when I was 11 years old, is coming home from school in the winter just as it was getting dark around 4pm, and coming home to my mum. She would make me a tea, and as a pre-dinner snack we would quite often have some Bovril on toast (with thick, crusty white bread) which was delicious, and we’d take it with our tea into the front room to eat it, where my mum would have the Radio on – Radio 2 to be precise.

Fast forward a few years later, and at the age of 14 (a little later than some of my friends) I finally discovered music, got my first record player, and with pocket money started buying 7″ singles. The first single I ever bought was in the summer of 1986, Madonna’s ‘Papa Don’t Preach‘ and I remember buying it from Boots (yes, Boots the chemist used to sell records!) for a £1 – discounted, as it had been number one in the charts already and was now falling away. I took it home and put it on – only to hear ‘Ain’t no big deal‘ the B-Side track. “That’s funny” I thought “They’ve put the labels on the wrong way round”, so took off the needle flipped it over only to hear ‘Ain’t no big deal‘ – it had been pressed on both sides!

I took it back to the nice lady at the record counter in Boots who promptly didn’t believe the 14 year old scallywag who was trying to wind her up, and only when I insisted did she then play it around the back, and I heard her say “Ooh, he wasn’t making it up!” to her colleague as she discovered the same. Years later, I massively regret this – and wonder how much it would be worth on eBay to a Madonna collector who could have a 7″ single mis-press with the B-Side track on both sides.

The first song in my 1986 playlist

The first song in my 1986 playlist

Anyway, ‘Papa don’t preach‘ is the first the record I ever bought, and thus would appear on the first ever paper list that I made of ‘My favourite records’ when I got to the end of the year. A year later when i got my first cassette walkman, I would make a compilation of my favourite records – mainly the ones i had bought, but some I had taped off the radio too – and took it with me.

Years forward again, and that tradition continued when I got my first CD Recorder, and then (even easier, and a format that I still like) a MiniDisc player – every time I bought a new current single, or record that I had enjoyed that year, I would add it to my compilation CD or MiniDisc for that year.

My Playlists

My Playlists

Enter… iTunes. Now in the year 2004, when it first came to the Windows platform. Straight away I discovered that you could of course make playlists, and I immediately created a ‘My 2004‘ playlist, for songs that I had bought and/or had been enjoying at that time. And then quite soon I realised that I could retrospectively make playlists for previous years, going all the way back to 1986, and the first time that I had bought a record, which is why the first ever song on my ‘My…‘ yearly playlists is the first 7″ single that I ever bought – Papa Don’t Preach.

And so it went – every week or so I’d updated my ‘current’ iTunes playlist adding in the latest new song that I was enjoyed or had bought – or indeed now of course downloaded, and at the end of the year it would then act as a musical diary of your year. “Oh, THAT song was when I was doing that…!”, and so on. Marking out the good times, the bad times, but in all – just defining your year musically.

And the best way in which it works is one of the simplest – I total up the number of songs that feature in that year for each playlist.

In 1990, when I was at my 18 year-old-self zenith, I had 75 tunes in my playlist for that year which is a very high amount! Yet by 1994 and 1995 it had dipped to just over 30 tunes – a time when I wasn’t enjoying my music so much.

In more recent times I can definitely equate getting an iPod and iTunes to 2005 when my number of favourite songs shoots up to 67, but then dips down in 2007 to 36 when I was having a horrible year of my life. In 2008 and 2009 when I was free from the shackles of the previous couple of years, I proceeded to live live to the full again and my tune count shot up. Look, here’s the graph showing how many songs have been in my yearly playlists…

How many songs in each playlist since 1986

How many songs in each playlist since 1986

Which is why I’m worried about 2014. As I get to the end of the year and I look at how many tunes have made it into my ‘favourites’ for this year, and I can see that it’s at its lowest total for a while. One of them is even a comedy song – The Axis of Awesome with ‘Phone$‘ which I heard before knowing the song that it was a parody of – when I find that song (Wings by Macklemore) I discover that it’s a song on Youtube that’s been played 56 million times and I have never heard it before. Seriously  – a 56 million time played song – that I have never heard of!

So my graph is dropping. In fact it’s dropped to just 27 songs which is the lowest number I’ve ever had in my ‘favourite’ playlists since I’ve been doing it – all 29 years of them. And I’ve thought about it – I’ve thought about it a lot.

I don’t think it means I’m unhappy. It’s simply a sign that I am now in my 40’s and my time is spent on other things that enjoying popular music. Popular music that is harder to discover now anyway, as ‘new music’ on Radio 1 just grates, and yet I am not ready to be my mother and switch over to Radio 2 yet. Which means I listen to 6 Music which plays music that I do like, but not all of it new meaning my chance of discovering ‘new’ tracks has fallen rapidly, and thus the number of new songs appearing my tunes playlists I think will now forever remain low for the rest of my life.

Maybe one day, it’ll dwindle completely – and I do wonder, how old will I be when I stop caring, and not make a yearly playlist at all?

Gotta dash, I just heard the toaster pop. And I need to go and butter it and spread some Bovril on it.

Sunday 15 November 2009

1,293 days later. The final tally.

This entry was posted on Sunday, November 15th, 2009 at 2:34 pm and is filed under USA vs UK, Video.

And I’m on my way home.

One thousand, two hundred and ninety three days later (thanks to the Date Duration Calculator for that one) and it’s time to take a one-way ticket back again.

Whilst reading through all my blog entries the other day it was fascinating (if not, slightly excrutiating) to discover my posts that I wrote when I had been here for 6 months, 12 months and a year and a half which I gave all ‘xyz days later’ headings, hence the title of todays post and video. It’s the final tally.

It’s been fun, Charleston – thanks. You offered a lot and I took it all, and obviously you will not be forgotten. But it’s strange how sometimes the smallest things are those that can stick in the memory the most.

Driving down past the American Theatre on King Street, seeing a CARTA bus around town or using a classic US blue coloured mailbox – will be missed. Shopping in the Harris Teeter, getting money from the Bank of America ATM – all those routine daily things with signs, symbols and slogans that you come to recognise, learn and love – are all about to NOT be part of my daily routine.

Where will I eat now that Boulevard Diner isn’t in my life? Where will I drink now that Moe’s Tavern is 4,000 miles away? Simple things, easy to miss.

So I made this video.

A personal video of all those simple things that I will miss and wanted to be reminded of, which may make no sense to you at all – which is fine, because this video is more for me than anyone else really. It have me a chance to catch up with a few people that I wanted to say ‘Goodbye’ to as well.

Cheerio y’all.

As this is the last post on the blog, at some point I’ll tidy it up and make it look neater. I’ll keep my website as a whole going and keep alive all the bits I want to keep up as an archive, but there will be no more blog.
The social networking revolution has changed the the way we use the internet, which means you’ll just have to catch me on twitter instead. Take care people.

Saturday 14 November 2009

1,292 days later

This entry was posted on Saturday, November 14th, 2009 at 2:15 pm and is filed under USA vs UK.

Going home is easy now, as I’ve finished my packing. I literally had to sit on my suitcase to squeeze down the top of my bag so that I could get the zip to go all the way across. I’m taking back more than I brought across with me, and I’m still leaving behind a big box of stuff in storage which I’ll have to come back and collect on a trip at some point in the future.

Going home is easy now, because I’ve said “Cheerio!” to everyone, and – if anything – have had too much time to prepare myself and get all my shit together. I’ve done all the last minute errands, I gave Beverly a fire extinguisher as a leaving gift (sorry about the fire), so I’m all good to go.

Going home is easy now, because I’ve done every single UK to USA comparison that I think I’m ever likely to want to make, and written about everything that I wanted to write about. Although, I never told you the story of my old boss here who wanted me to go for a drug test before actually giving me the job, but was happy to “Give me a couple of weeks if I needed it” to let anything clear out of my system that may have been there, or the one about the extreme-southern-Baptist funeral that I once went to. Where the tragic death of a 31 year old woman from cancer that I knew suffered (in my opinion) the indignity of having her dead body lie in the coffin in the church whilst her husband punched the air with glee and practically danced for joy that she was “Now with her maker” – to the backdrop of a cheesy gospel music powerpoint slide show complete with ghastly typos and spelling mistakes in huge words projected on a screen – embarassing.

Going home is easy now, because it’s the reverse of what I did the best part of four years ago. I know who are going to be my friends from here in the future because they’re the ones that have made the effort or reciprocated accordingly to mine. I know who the idiots are, and the ones that I will not speak to so often again. I know how that works now because the reverse happened when I came here. I also now return to those people knowing more than ever who are the ones that are worth it.

Going home is easy now, as I’ve done my time here. If I were an American citizen to begin with who found myself in the lovely city of Charleston as part of my American life then I’d be wanting to move on now anyway. There are far too many people who get stuck in the rut of the unchallenged ‘easy’ life here, and are letting themselves waste away. They should get on up and out and move on and push on, but they are not. So I’m getting out – on and up – and it feels just great, thanks.

Going home is easy now, because I’m all wrapped up and done. Which is why when I post tomorrow here it will be the last time that I do it. Yes – my last. I’ve recorded a very personal video and actually thought twice today about posting it, but I will and then be done – all done, because now is the perfect time to move on – on many fronts – not just the going home part. Which I’m really looking forward to.

Friday 13 November 2009


This entry was posted on Friday, November 13th, 2009 at 3:53 pm and is filed under USA vs UK.

No 10 thingsSo here it is then – my ultimate list of why the UK rules, and the USA sucks.

Ok, no – I’m not gonna do that. Do you really think I’ve learned nothing during me time year? (Don’t answer that!). Far from it, I’ve learned loads.

But when reading through every single post I’d written (and I do mean that I really spent about two hours yesterday when I should have been packing) in the last three and half years on my blog here yesterday, I realise that a lot of it was all about pointing out differences, complaining about things, and working out what was better in each country.

And I’ve come to a conclusion … the final ultimate answer when it comes to UK vs. USA. And it’s quite simply this:

There is no Utopia.

There are quite simply good things and bad things about each country, and I am quite quite sure that if you were to travel the entire world spending time living in different places and environments then it would also be there the same there and equate that really, truly, no one place is better, it’s just what you get used to and what you make of it.

As human people that we are, we can actually be more adaptable and versatile than we reliase. Even the biggest sloth in the world could adapt if they they were thrown into a different reality, it’s just that it rarely happens to them.

Whereas I’ve been most lucky to have had the fortunate experience to take away with me forever of what it’s like to be removed from everything that was stable and routine, and have to to work out how to exist in a new world instead. And of the many emotions I can think of the five that I can pin it down to is that it was painful, upsetting, tiring, then challenging and eventually fun. Oh, and of course completely ultimately rewarding.

I remember being a little offended a few months into my time here when someone left a comment on my blog here that “I wouldn’t want to return to England anyway”, and they listed a whole bunch of reasons of why they didn’t like it anymore. Well, I can list a whole bunch of reasons (most of them which I pointed out at the time could apply to both countries) why living in the USA might be just as bad. So it is of course what you make of it, and what you decide you’re going to get out of your life.

The great stereotypes that exist about American and Americans (fat arses, no passports/untravelled, drive-thru-everything culture) certainly do exist – because a stereotype wouldn’t exists if there weren’t that fact for it to originate in the first place – exactly in the same way that what the Americans think of us in a certain way (bad teeth, England rains all the time, no space left in our ‘tiny’ country), but it does not mean that it applies in the majority – it’s just a small number of people, and there and many more that don’t fit the stereotype that you want to label them with.

So there’s no lists today. No final ‘10 things I love…‘, or ‘10 things I hate…‘ which is what I thought I was going to do when I planned this final week of blogging a while back.

Just accept that in everywhere you go in life and whatever you do, some things are better and some things are worse. And it’s up to you to make the most of it, even if you are hopelessly out of your depth and feel that there is nothing you can do about it.

‘Farewell’ video coming on Sunday.

Thursday 12 November 2009

184 Weeks later

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 12th, 2009 at 5:06 pm and is filed under General.

I’ve been busy. No, really. I’ve been back today and read through every single blog post that I have written in my time in the USA, and been reminded of everything I did. Some of it is fun, some of it is well written. Some of it is embarassing to read, and some is just painful and I never want to read it again. But it’s all there, and it’s an excellent record of realising how much I’ve packed into just a short time.

Obviously I emigrated and went through the lengthy immigration process – interviews, blood tests, more interviews and jumping through the hoops to prove that you wern’t fresh over the border from Mexico and you were going to get a cash in hand job.

In my first week here I got married. Then I was homesick, jobless and friendless for several months which was just awful. Car-less too which meant just getting around by bike (& having it stolen and getting another one) Charleston is quite a bike-friendly town, but my goodness do you need a car to survive in America – yes. You do.

I had to evict the dope, coke and heroin dealer from my flat back at home, i.e. pays lots of MY money for the priviledge of kicking the wanker out of my property.

Then I got married again – except this time we told everyone. I built a giant papier mache camera. I created a table plan in the design of the tube map. I even sang at my own wedding.

I became a dab hand at taking photographs of other people’s weddings. I visited most of the south-eastern cost of America by car and discovered that a four to five hour drive is nothing in the USA.

I went to the beach a lot – taking advantage of Charleston’s 8 month long summer period. I experience the 4th of July and Thanksgiving. I learned to live in a town under the threat of hurriances.

I discovered that American women have really masculine names.

I got a job which took me up in planes, onto boats and videoing alligators and snakes. I recused a loggerhad turtle from the ocean, met a 13 year old that could do the Rubiks cube in 24 seconds, flirted with Miss Teen South Carolina, interview American Idol contestants and a guy that worked on the first atomic bomb. I even got to meet Cat Deeley.

Then I got seperated. And divorced. And stood in a court to say that yes I was quite sure that I wanted to split up actually, and felt like I was right in court-room-movie drama.

I bought a car, and was threatened with being sued when I tried to return it because it was broke. I bought another car, one that worked this time.

I went to Alaska. (As well as Boston, Chicago, New York, D.C. and Seattle), which was just a warm up for my road trip really.

Improv sneaked its way into my life. I ended up performing in shows on stage. I discovered a whole bunch of unforgettable people.

I helped launch a rather wonderful local news website in Charleston. I made them videos. Loads of videos. Loads of really good videos. I made awesome personal videos too.

I drank too much Starbucks. Far too much Starbucks. Got into trouble when flirting with the baristas too.

I crashed my car – twice. Got five speeding tickets. I managed to set the house on fire and called 911. I shot a gun.

And I drove round all the other mainlaind states on a ten week roadtrip, blogging, videoing and tweeting as I went.


That’s kinda busy. I’m going home to get a regular job and have a rest.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

The Best … Going Home to London Album in the World – Ever!

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 11th, 2009 at 4:49 pm and is filed under Music, USA vs UK.

Going Home AlbumI’ve been making a ‘Going Home’ playlist.

Glasvegas – Please come back home
The Clash – London calling
James – Come home
Supertramp – Take the long way home
East 17 – Around the world

“I’ve been around the world, but there’s no place like home”
Simon & Garfunkel – Homeward Bound
Crowded House – Better be home soon
Kayne West – Homecoming
Depeche Mode – Home

“And I thank you, for bringing me here, for showing me home”
Catatonia – Londinium
“Euston, Paddington train station please, make the red lights turn green, endlessly”
Pet Shop Boys – Home and Dry

Any other obvious ones that I’ve missed?

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Three and a half years later

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 at 8:51 pm and is filed under USA vs UK.

So I’m packing clothes into a suitcase today, and I’m hit with the strangest of thoughts.

I’m folding up an old crappy t-shirt that I remember I used to wear back in Britain, and started to worry that I might have had it too long. “Will it look weird if I go home with some of the clothes that I brought over with me? Will people notice? Will they have forgotten? Or will they say things like ‘But you were wearing that jumper [sweater] before you went’. Having a definitive time period of three and half years is making me think about all the things that have gone on in that time.

Most of all, it acutely brought into focus a whole bunch of technology-related thoughts. Developments that have happened in my time here. Things which are now part of my daily routine that weren’t before I left.

Facebook ListsFacebook didn’t exist. Ok, well it did because it was dreamed up in 2003, established in 2004, and really took off (mainly in US universities [colleges]) in 2005. But I didn’t get on board until the end of 2006/beginning of 2007. And since then, there’s rarely been a day gone by that I haven’t checked into my virtual world of friends.

And there’s a whole little conundrum waiting to unravel there. How much will I really care about American friends once I am back in the UK? Sure … all the time that I’ve been here, I always knew that I would (one day) return back over there and have the reverse of keeping track of people in England that I didn’t really see. So will my virtual world become unbalanced once I’ve gotten back into the swing of things back home? I’d like to think not, but you never know.

Twitter ListsStaying with social networking technology, what of Twitter? That definitely didn’t exist in May 2006 when I first moved here, but by the end of 2007 I had signed up to it. Strangely I was one of the few people that got in before it became popular, and when I was first on it – it seemed like no one else was, and I dropped off for a while. Come the beginning of this year though and I started tweeting again, and am now writing a book entirely based upon my 2,000 tweets from my travels around the 48 lower states of the USA this summer.

But I have never tweeted back home in London. London is a city of 11 million people, compared to the smaller 200,000 that Charleston has to offer. I bet people don’t tag #LDN for London there like they do with ‘#CHS’ for Charleston here, because the scale is so much different.

I’m going to have adopt to a whole new twitter lifestyle, and wonder if I really want to know the chatter about local Charleston events, whilst getting my head around my new home back home. But that shouldn’t be any different to me trying to get my head round what’s going in London now, whilst I’m still currently here. Should it? Either way, looks like the new list feature could come in real handy for me, just in time.

I’d never Geocached in my life until I came to Charleston. Now – in my last week here I find myself that I’ve set the goal of trying to get all the regular-style caches within the I-526 area. I’ve got six more to go. Looking at the Geo-Google-Cache Map of London brings up hundreds of caches. What do I do? Try and do all the ones within the M-25 area? The mind boggles. A world of geocaching in England awaits. I am practically salivating at the thought of it.

The DigitelI worked for two media/news organisations in my time here. The Post & Courier newspaper, and the rather wonderful Digitel news website. In the same way that I religiously checked the BBC news website every day that I was here, will I care about what is going on back in Charleston? How often will I click on websites to keep my finger on the pulse with what’s going on? When will I start not to care?

And you know, the iPod Touch and iPhone didn’t exist in my previous British life. Now I move back in the week that Orange get on board as O2 lose their exclusivity deal, and I can’t see myself having anything but an iPhone now upon my return.

And whilst in the iWorld, it occurred to me as I lay I bed last night listening to a podcast that I have downloaded every week for the past three years here, that I never used to listen to podcast back home in England. I felt like I didn’t really need to because I could listen to as much current radio as I wanted to. Here, it was all about the podcasts – subscribing to the one for Spurs, and my favourite technology related one. I always felt like I was a little outpost 4,000 miles away grabbing a lifeline back home when I lay in bed in the small hours of the morning, unable to fall asleep listening to them. Now I’ll be back home downloading them. How different will that be?

All that to worry about. And I still don’t know if it’s okay to wear clothes that I’ve had for more than three and a half years, dammit.

Monday 9 November 2009

223 tunes later

This entry was posted on Monday, November 9th, 2009 at 1:38 pm and is filed under Music.

My PlaylistsOne of my main obsessive compulsive behavioural things-to-do, is to neatly make playlists in iTunes called ‘My…’ followed by the year, which is a chronological list of my favourite songs throughout the year.

Back in the days of cassette tapes, I used to make up compilations (as everyone did) of my favourite current songs. That then switched briefly to CD – and even more briefly for me – to an era when I used MiniDisc, the best part about that being is that they were re-usable (unlike CD-R’s) meaning you could ‘delete’ a song that you liked hearing lots a month ago but not anymore and add in your new favourite choon.

So with the advent of iTunes and playlists (and smart playlists – still the most underused and underated feauture if iTunes I reckon) you can make all these sorts of things and keep them permamently. I even have one called ‘MD’ which replicated that MiniDisc era – and is simply just the last 14 songs that I have added and have 3 stars or above as their rating.

That star rating is most important to me amongst all the metadata I add onto my tracks (the year, the genre, the artwork, star-rating – all filled in for EVERY song in my iTunes) because you can look back and see what your favourite songs were for a particular year or any time period.

I can look back over the last four years, and be reminded of the happy times and sad times all because of the music I was listening to at the time and how I’ve rated them. And by counting the number of songs in each of my yearly playlists (I normally average about 60 favourite songs for the year, and I’ve gone back and retrospectively created playlists since 1986 – the year I started to buy music), I can see that in 2006 I had 64 songs, 2008 was 62, and even now in 2009 I’m up to 59 tracks. But the year of 2007? I have a mere 38 tracks in my favourites playlist.

Now does that mean that 2007 was a particularly poor year for music, or was it because that I was so unhappy generally that I was failing to get excited by the music at the time and unable to generate good memories by association. When I look back at my ‘My 2007’ playlist, so few of the songs really stand out as favourites for me.

So I’m using the 5-star rating system to see if it makes things clearer. I’ve added up the number of stars in total for each year and divided it by the number of tracks in that year to give us an average. And it goes as so:

2006 average rating = 3.09 [5 stars: 5 songs, 4 stars: 13 songs, 3 stars: 28 songs, 2 stars: 18 songs, 1 star: 0 songs]
2007 average rating = 2.60 [5 stars: 2 songs, 4 stars: 8 songs, 3 stars: 12 songs, 2 stars: 15 songs, 1 star: 1 song]
2008 average rating = 3.17 [5 stars: 4 songs, 4 stars: 14 songs, 3 stars: 33 songs, 2 stars: 11 songs, 1 star: 0 songs]
2009 average rating = 3.31 [5 stars: 4 songs, 4 stars: 18 songs, 3 stars: 28 songs, 2 stars: 8 songs, 1 star: 0 songs]

My 2009

So you could take from this, then when I turned up in America in 2006, I was happy (3.09 – When I thought that everything was going to be great), which then took a turn for the worse during 2007 (2.60 – realised that it wasn’t and marriage not going to last), which got better in 2008 (3.17 – became single again started to piece life back together) to 2009 (3.31 – the happiest I’ve ever been in the USA as I’ve had a brilliant year).

Now I don’t think that 2007 was a bad year for music at all. I just think it means because I was having a shit time in my life, that my unhappy mood was reflected in how receptive I was to hearing new songs and enjoying them at the time … and perhaps even more importantly when I look back upon those songs of 2007, the mood is still there and I find myself feeling glum, rather than happy. The power of music, eh?

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