Recommended Music: Sigur Ros, Manu Chao, Zum, Martyn Bennett

Having a laptop to carry your music collection around with you, and the convenience of files on a computer over on disks means I’ve been listening to more music than I used to. Here are some recommendations.

Sigur Ros are an Icelandic band who produce great symphonies of music from a typical keyboard and guitar setup. The lyrics are sometimes in Icelandic and sometimes in a made-up language but don’t be put off by that it’s great music to chill out to. I saw them at Glastonbury last year and they were superb but the show would have been better if I’d had a deck chair to relax on.

Manu Chao is one of the most popular Latin American musicians, behind Shakira (I have a cousin named Shakira after the pop singer, don’t know if that’s a good sign or not). Lively music that’s great fun to listen to.

Zum I heard on some radio show and bought their CD through their website. Sadly you can’t download their music (I’ll make an entry on that topic one day). Eastern European Gypsy music mixed with Argentinian Tango makes this another under-marketed genre (or two).

Finally Martyn Bennett, a Skye based musician mixing traditional Scottish music with modern beats. Grit is his best album yet and features recordings from Scottish and Romany folklorists. Various bits to download on his website.

Olympic Slalom Course

This is the canoe slalom course in Athens for the Olympics. It looks exceedingly nice, I think I can even see a conveyer belt going from the bottom to the top to bring paddlers back up. I would be happy to have the French build one in my back garden if I had to promise to give them a gold medal or two in return.

Travels to Dublin

I went to Dublin for a meeting of the World Gathering of Young Friends. I might add an entry about WGYF at some point because it’s a very exciting event. I took a train to Stranrar, which is a bonny town but not that well signposted, and boarded the high speed catamaran. The polis gave me a hard time boarding, who was I, where was I going, what for, had I been before, give me your bags so we can search them. Maybe I looked suspicious or maybe they just had too much time on their hands. Stena’s high-speed catamaran is a lovely ferry but you can’t get out of deck which spoils the fun of going on a ferry. They show second rate Disney films on all the TV screens which is surprisingly enjoyable if you’re in the mood. I stayed with my Great Aunt in Belfast which was nice since I’ve hardly ever seen her.

The train to Dublin takes two hours and costs 33 quid, the trip to Belfast also cost 33 quid so the total is about the same as a trip to London. Dublin is a very nice city but seriously overloaded. It’s full. More full than London. The traffic is in gridlock, also the River Liffy is often called the River Whiffy because it smells. Dublin also has a large pointy structure called the Millenium Spike or something similar.

The WGYF meeting went well enough, I think I’m now incharge of pre and post events which is a bit scary. I couldn’t find any open wireless internet in Dublin but I’m sure it’s there. They have a National Gallery which looks suspiciously like the Museum of Scotland. They also have a groovy new tram line which everyone seems very proud of.

The train back to Belfast turned into a bus because the Irish are just as bad at railways as the British (which as fast as I’m concerned isn’t as bad as everyone complains about). Then I got the most dodgy taxi ride to Belfast Harbour, the guy didn’t have a metre, shoved four of us in the same taxi all going different places, took me through an area of town with a lot of “No Surrender” graffiti and Union Flags to stop and fill the cab up at his company’s pump without turning his engine off. I’ll take a private hire cab next time.

Books I’ve Read Recently

The best book I’ve read this year is Quicksilver by Neil Stephenson, a hefty 900 pages of amazing history, a blend of science and adventure that works well. I hope to read the sequels soon.

I went through a Scottish phase and read Rob Roy by Walter Scott which was disappointing because it wasn’t about Robert MacGregor at all but about an English banker who runs into Rob a few times, plus the verbosity of novels from that age annoys me. I read some of
Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains because I’ve met Al Kennedy at Faslane nuclear weapons protests but it was completely uninteresting to me, a bunch of short stories that just arn’t exciting. Lanark by Alasdair Grey is a classic with an imaginative version of hell and a two book autobiography stuck in the middle but essentially not that much fun and very bleak. But-n-Ben a Go Go on the other hand is fun and well worth a read, a Scots science fiction novel set in a world where Scotland has been submerged by water and everyone lives on ships.

Darwin and the Barnacle seemed like the most interesting book on the shelf of my friend who works for Faber and Faber. A very detailed biography into the decade that Darwin spent investigating barnacles (forget the Galapagos islands, barnacles have a dozen different ways of reproduction) it ultimately failed to link into his evolution theories.

Finally I gave up on the Silmarillion by Tolkein. On this third attempt I got to chapter 3 and decided the whole thing was just silly. I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit but this is written in the style of a bible with characters you can’t follow or care about. (‘And then Vlobadobadob spoke to the Elven king Thingy etc etc.’)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon is excellent. It also has a lot of sentences started ‘And then’ but in this case it’s because the narrator really does have a mental condition (a form of autism) which prevents him having emotions. A great story seen from the point of view of someone who can’t understand what is happening, very enlightening.

On my to read list is the second Maus comic from Art Speigelman (second world war story with mice as Jews and cats as Nazis). The Garbage King by Elizabeth Laird and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (which is meant to explain scientific thought up to the present day in a fun way). Currently I’m reading The Collapse of Chaos which is about complexity and simplicity.