Monday, March 30, 2009

The expensive grimness of Aberdeen hotels

Took these pictures (Aberdeen remains one of the most atrractive cities in the country, complete with beach, harbour and great glowering granite edifices) last night while scouring Union Street for food (prior to settling on the honey chilli chicken) followed by an extremely disturbed night thanks to the propensity of Aberdeen Young Folk for partying into the not-so-small hours. It was 5.30 am before the last Bridge Street revellers went home. Student night, apparently.

Hotels in Aberdeen are a problem. They're all hideously expensive, even the rubbish ones, especially during the working week. Oil still shouts that it's got an expense account here. So the truly crap place that I'm staying - part of a big chain, dirty, shabby, scruffy, you name it - is £75 a night, Monday to Friday.

In the course of the last seven years I've stayed in almost every hotel in Aberdeen, and in terms of value for money, the best is probably the Premier Inn opposite the Lemon Tree.Same price as Travelodge but on a different planet for quality and service. The two chains nearly merged last year but in the end, it all fell apart. Good.

The Carmelite is a would-be boutique hotel with a nice foyer and restaurant but, in my one and only stay there (£60, cancelled flight, weekend rate) has half-heartedly tarted-up rooms from its previous incarnation as the Grampian. The Malmaison, just opened, will be like all the other Malmaisons - very comfortable, pretentious and overpriced - but it's beyond my reach expense-wise. The Patio down at the beach is, in its cattle-class rooms at least, a badly-designed, very noisy echo chamber. Ludicrously expensive if you're not fossil-fuelled

There are other establishments, of course - too many to mention in a single post. The pub-with-rooms where, when I complained about the absence of a toilet seat, I was accused of stealing it. The truly threatening bed and breakfasts (there are several, and none are cheap). The Copthorne - now getting to over £200 a night, I'm told -used to be nice but very 1970s and too dear to eat in. The Caledonian is OK but again, ridiculously expensive and worn at the edges.

Holiday Inn Express is clean, tidy and well-run but very difficult to get into. I like their no-nonsense all-you-can-eat breakfast too. If you can afford £150 a night. Unbelievable. The Station Hotel by the harbour is a warren and rather frightening.

Anyway, if you have to, go for the Premier Inn, or, if money's no object, Simpson's (which is ultra-dear) or the Malmaison. But for whom is money no object these days?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

In Aberdeen (again). Honey chilli chicken noodle chowmein and dragonfly king prawns with spicy dip!

To my favourite Chinese takeaway, just down from the awfulness that is my regular hotel in the Granite City. Secure parking and within BBC budget, though. It's either that or the Salvation Army.

I was amazed the old Suzuki GS1000G (American model, shaft drive, 80s muscle bike) started almost immediately after five months untouched in Stewart's garage. Not only, that, it needed nothing doing before blasting off towards Aberdeen today, fortunately in dry, if very windy weather. And that bulletproof Japanese parallel four never gave a hint of trouble. Much nicer to ride than my last bike, the much more modern BMW R1100R.

The John Gillan gig went well, I think, slightly low on numbers maybe, but a good 100 or so folk. All kudos to Funk Connection (11 of them) for donating their fee to Roxburghe House, the hospice in which John spent his last days.

It was a hard slog for me, playing across an empty dancefloor through loud foldback, plus a Phenergan and NorthLink hangover, to an invisible and largely inaudible audience. The songs are all about the lyrics, really...some nice comments afterwards, though, and it was all in a good cause.

Ridiculous £40 single for the train to Glasgow yesterday, but great to see Magnus. Out to Clydebank to get the bike, and then dinner with Mag and old pals Stewart, Maggie and Gill. First time in the pub during this 30-day bout of sobriety, and the ginger beer and lime went down...reasonably well.

Three and a half hours cold motorcycling at my age (the bloody railway ticketperson asked me if I was eligible for the over-55 discount!) takes a good two hours to recover from. The honey chilli chicken just about did the trick...two days in Aberdeen now to touch base with the TM production team as the show heads inexorably for its seventh birthday...on Wednesday.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Off to the Lemon Tree for the John Gillan memorial gig

Catching the boat tonight to Aberdeen.

Originally, I was transporting James to the National Youth Orchestra rehearsal weekend, which has been cancelled. On the back of that, I organised the collection on Sunday of my Suzuki GS1000 from Stewart's garage in Clydebank, and, when I was asked to m/c and play at the John Gillan Memorial Concert in Aberdeen, I was happy to agree.

Deal was I'd then stay in Glasgow with James and Magnus until Susan brought Martha down to the mainland for her orchestra rehearsals. Alas, we've not found anyone to look after the dogs, so I'm now hastening back across the Great Sea of Separation so Susan and the boys can go gallivanting in (wait for this!) Pisa. The one in Italy.

I get to babysit Lulu.

Oh well. I'm looking forward to the gig tomorrow night, actually, with Funk Connection and Wray Gunn and the Rockets. First live outing for the battered old Fender Malibu I bought recently on eBay.

The gig will celebrate the life of John Gillan, a well-known figure on the north-east music scene, a former Lemon Tree DJ who also worked at Bruce Miller's. All proceeds go to the hospice Roxburghe House.

See you there!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Do not go to this blog if you're interested in 7-inch singles and are even slightly short of time...

...thanks to those nice folk at Electric Roulette, I've been pointed to the truly wondrous So Many Records, So Little Time, blog, which is by someone who Knows About These Things. Edwyn Starr's Agent Double-O-Soul is worth the price of admission alone. All the MP3s are straight from vinyl. And he's right. Wheatus DO rock!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fog, windylights, Martha in Orkney and a lifeboat cake won in a raffle

CALAMITY! Friday was Brae Up Helly Aa, an event much anticipated by young (14 year old) daughter Martha, who had planned for weeks to attend with her pals. She had worked out that, despite having to get up at 5.00am to catch a flight to Inverness (school council duties, the glamorous modern lifestyle of the school pupil) she would be back by 7.00pm, and ready to party.

But, as Susan and I drove north from Lerwick, the lovely warm weather was chilling down into spectacular fogginess. The Shetland Aerogenerators site was, as you can see, becoming seriously fluffified, and soon Sumburgh was haar-bound. By which time Martha, plus various other school pupils and teachers, were in Kirkwall. Stranded.

Where Flybe put them up overnight in the Kirkwall Hotel, complete with £20 vouchers for dinner. Each, not for the entire flight. It's fair to say that Martha was...not best pleased with this turn of events. But enjoyed smoked salmon, fish and chips and chocolate torte. Many, many thanks to the teachers involved for looking after her, and to Elaine from the SIC for making Flybe provide breakfast!

Marf arrived back safely this morning, bright, breezy and ready for 'da hop' tonight (follow-up dance for survivors of Up Helly Aa) Young people. We picked Susan up from the NorthLink ferry where she'd been helping out at the RNLI coffee morning, and it turned out she'd won a cake!

And very nice it is too...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

May I cautiously recommend...The Gaslight Anthem?

...there's another video at the band's website. Someone described them (I paraphrase) as Springsteen if he'd got Hungry Heart recorded by The Ramones. The album (The 59 Sound)I have learned to love, but I had to get beyond the Springsteen references, (music and lyrics) not to mention quotes from actual Boss songs. They do come from New Jersey. Painstaking and wholly admirable choice of guitars, if I may say so. Especially that Les Paul Junior. Or is it a Melody Maker? I'm never sure.

In the end, The Glasight Anthem thing works because it's done with such passion and panache. I know, I said this about The Hold Steady...Anyway. They're supporting Springsteen at Hyde Park and they'll be doing their own gig at T in the Park. See what you think. There's more on YouTube.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A wee walk around the Knab before work

Some snaps from a day so nice it lent magic to every part of Lerwick. Well, most bits. People were in a good mood, everyone was chatty, the coffee at COPE (freshly roasted on the premises) tasted wonderful. It takes about 40 minutes to walk from the BBC Radio Shetland studios down past the amazing Brucefield Stores (proud to be Zetlandic, as opposed to Shetlandic) to the sea, and then up past the pitch-and-putt course ( when is it open?) to the Knab, the rocky promontory that marks one of the entrances to Lerwick's harbour. Then down towards Twageos ("two geos", or rocky inlets) with views of the island of Bressay, and the oldest and most picturesque part of Lerwick, complete with an old boat used as a garage roof.

Back to my little cubby hole in Pitt Lane, and ready for two hours on air...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Walk, don't run

Every piece of advice I've received about taking up running can be summed up in two words:



Or, at the very least, walk with short periods of almost-jogging. More sort of...joggling. Or jiggling. In my case, these tend to last a maximum of a minute and a half before exhaustion sets in.

I've determined to do any running where no-one can see me. And as there's a very nice walk around part of the Hillswick Ness, involving some flat ground invisible from any houses, I can stroll off nonchalantly and try some fast waddling with only the gulls watching.

So...I got back from work at 5.00 pm to find it was light and, in fact, quite sunny. Off I went. There's even, as the tide was out, a beach for me to do my Chariots of Fire jiggle/joggle. I find the slow motion bit comes very easy.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Teetotal day eight: Send for the lifeboat!

As you will see if you check out my booze blog over at Drinking for Scotland, I'm currently engaged in 30 days of alcohol-free existence. Which is proving both surprisingly easy and oddly irksome. This is today's post:

Third fierce coffee of the day. Dave Hammond and his German TV producer colleague arrived aboard the Charles Lidbury, the Severn-class Aith Lifeboat. I was out for a wee walk-cum-jog along the Ness of Hillswick when I heard its motors, and then she (why is it 'she' if the name is Charles?) came powering down Ura Firth with a bone in her teeth. Thrilling sight. The RNLI is my default charity. Let's face it, as Mr Hammond says, if you live on an island and mess about in boats, it's not giving to charity, it's insurance.

By the way, it's quite a calm day, misty and warm for winter. That picture's courtesy of the RNLI.

Meanwhile, Susan, used to long stretches of teetotalism due to being on call, assures me that after a fortnight you just stop thinking about alcohol. I suppose it's a sign of its importance in my life that, while I have no real compulsion to have a drink, it's on my mind a lot. But, hey. It's 30 days. And there's always caffeine.

Just started John Bingham's book No Need for Speed: A Beginner's guide to the Joy of Running. The fates seem to be ganging up on me, dangling trainers and trackie bottoms. At the moment, I feel vaguely sick after jogging 100 yards. Mr Bingham's 'walking and jogging' regime seems sort of civilised. We shall see. Bicycles seem more fun.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Back in Shetland, and the new vinyl countdown begins!

Lovely trip back to Shetland in bright sunshine, and a nice smooth flight. A very short trip away - two nights - and a great time was had in Alva, as part of the BBC Radio Scotland Soundtown project. Hugely impressed with the musical quality of the out for Gamu Nhengu, who will be a star before anyone knows it, and for the breathtaking State of Mind,5th-year pupils with real verve, attitude and firepower. Lead singer's a dead ringer for the young Stephen Pastel, as well. You can hear yesterday's show, with those very live acts, on BBC iPlayer and there are pictures and the video for the school's comic relief song The Haggis, on the BBC Radio Scotland website.

Meanwhile, I'm grateful to Hendo/Steve frae Kelso and the excellent Electric Roulette website for news of all kinds of action on old-fashioned, but hopefully on-its-way-back-bigtime vinyl. Cohen singles, Dylan singles and more.

But it's the 'From the Capitol Vaults' project is almost too good to be true. Nurse! to the Linn Sondek-Ittok-Asak!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Soundtown agogo

It's years since I've been in Alva...I'd forgotten how spectacular the setting is, with the Ochils soaring behind the town. Fine day, too.

Tremendous enthusiasm here at Alva Academy for the show - three school bands are set to perform, we have a quiz between teachers and pupils and some other teachers are being sent to detention...whatever that means. More importantly, there are fantastic cakes from local baker Baynes. There's the first radio play too for the single 'Haggis' written and performed by local pupils and teachers, all proceeds to Comic Relief.

All between 2.00pm and 4.00pm on Scotland's national radio station...or check out iPlayer if you miss it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Marketing radio: the viral video solution....

This was mentioned, somewhat sniffily, by Ed Stourton on this morning's Today Programme (Radio Four: the wife insists). But then, he isn't in it. Perhaps he wasn't up for wearing a posing pouch. Sure beats a red nose...

It's part of an experiment conducted by the programme on so-called viral marketing. It's a bit clumsy and too long, but it does illustrate the concept, I think. And all kudos to Evan Davies for agreeing to...participate so fully. Watch and wonder.
Notably few viewings, incidentally, but I am writing this before 9.00am...

Today want to know how far this video spreads through people like me blogging, tweeting or emailing it. Well... I think I've given them enough help.

Monday, March 09, 2009

More trouble at sea...

It was a brutal old day yesterday (Sunday), with 80mph winds and enormous seas crashing onto the Zetlandics. With an offshore wind, the top of the cliffs at Eshaness was no place to venture from the car, or even stay for long. A Citroen C4 was probably safe enough, but I wouldn't like to have been there in a 2CV...

By the time the Hrossey was on her way north from Orkney, early this morning, things had moderated quite a bit. So it was a surprise when news began filtering through of a major car-deck incident at 6.00am. Turns out a sand trailer which had been loaded in Orkney had tumbled over, crushing five cars. Nobody was hurt.

Sea conditions at the time were described as 'moderate'. This comes less than a week after two men were injured after the same ferry rolled unexpectedly and in January the Hrossey and the Hjaltland were both damaged by heavy seas.

The 180-odd-mile trip from Aberdeen to Shetland, twice a week via Orkney, is the longest ferry trip in UK waters and one of the most exposed. Still, NorthLink, operators of the route, is not having its troubles to seek.

Nobody is suggesting the two vessels used on the route are unsafe, but there seems little doubt now that they are less than ideal for purpose. They're flat-bottomed luxury skips that, by general consensus, cannot cope with the kind of weather regularly dealt with by the veteran ex-Baltic boats used by former operators P&O.

NorthLink are easy to deal with and onboard service is good. But this is not just a tourist route. It's a lifeline commercial service. We deserve better.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Diary done, now to rant about Red Riding and credulous TV critics

Right, that's the Sunday Herald Diary (aka Tom Morton's Week) off to the subs and I can concentrate on writing for free...

Last night's first film in the adaptation of David Peace's Red Riding books, has been hailed by foaming-mouthed TV critics as brilliant beyond belief. These people are clearly wrong. What's more, they didn't watch it last night, infected with ad breaks and in its proper broadcast time frame. They watched it on DVD, possibly weeks ago, or saw a preview in a theatre, feted with press packs, drinks and little snacky things. And possibly t-shirts.

They are also, it would seem, people who have never watched the original Get Carter (I think I've seen it five times, but it might be seven), and who seem to think Life on Mars was just about the cars and the tunes. Or read David Peace's books. Or seen Our Friends in the North.

Peace's books are dense, dark, somewhat dodgy affairs, hanging fictional and political extrapolations on real events. Tokyo Year Zero, his latest, is particularly opaque.

The TV adapation of Red Riding/1974 was self-important, set-designed to within an inch of its life, vacuously scripted and directed for visual impact rather than narrative sense. The acting was uniformly great, especially Sean Bean. Though I kept wondering what sometime Radio One DJ Sarah Cox was doing in it (actually Rebecca Hall). Property development is the key plot motif in both Our Friends in the North and Get Carter, and the similarities went beyond 'tribute'. Red Riding/74 was teeth-gnashingly derivative.

Shamelessly, I will now cut and paste from one of my Facebook comments:

The director loved his set design, didn't he? (Takes deep breath...) WHY do all 'historic' dramas decorate interiors ONLY from the exact time they're set in? Our house in the 70s had stuff from the 50s, 60s AND 70s. Interestingly, they got that right with the cars (though the Jensen - should have been an FF - was too new and the Ford Pops too ... Read moreold) The Viva HC was nice but not as cool as the glorious coke-bottle HB would have been But they tried to make architecture and interiors into characters. That hunting/Red Riding Hood wallpaper!

On the money Malcolm: the seventies weren't CGI brown, not even in Yorkshire. And some of the acting was brilliant - Sean Bean especially. Interesting to see Warren Clarke and David Morrissey in the background, warming up.

David Peace is a difficult, some (I) would say overrated writer, and squeezing his books into ITV segment was always going to be difficult.

Anyway. I will of course watch the next film, directed not by 1974's Julian Jarrold, but Oscar winner (for Man on Wire) James Marsh. That's the one based on the Yorkshire Ripper case. But if these gullible critics think this stuff is good, they should take a gander at Dexter, The Wire ( of course), and, to see what can be done with this kind of material by a really ruthless, non-arty big-time director (with perfect northern English credentials) Tony Scott's merciless Man on Fire (not Wire).

Not to mention the best ever British TV conspiracy thriller series, the still-stunning Edge of Darkness.

Which, by the way, is being remade for the movies by the original director, Martin Campbell, starring Mel Gibson and with a script by William Monahan, who brilliantly adapted The Departed. from the wonderful Honk Kong trilogy Infernal Affairs.

People are saying it won't match the original. Can I just say that I have a feeling it will be absolutely, stonkingly brilliant, with Gibson at his Payback/Year of Living Dangerously best? I sure do hope so. Underestimate Columcille Gerard Gibson at your peril.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Blogging for free or writing for money...

It's been weird this week. I'm doing the Sunday Herald diary, as Alan Taylor's stand-in (have been for almost seven years) but the format has been changed, and now it's a 'My Week' (but not 'My Weekly') kind of thing, a day by day dissection of life chez Morton, and the wider world from my perspective. With added ranting.

Like this blog, in fact.

So I've found myself writing stuff in a wee notebook for future reference rather than punting it straight to the interwibble. It concentrates the mind wonderfully, the prospect of getting paid more for one article than I have earned, in total, from seven years of blogging.

Newspapers may be the Dead Tree Gazettes in this great digital age, and hacks may be hanging up their shorthand notes left, right and indeed centre, but at least journalism does offer money for words. I still don't see how I can make cash form this. Those Google Ads have made me the princely sum of 100 US dollars. In seven years.

Monday, March 02, 2009

It's a faecal matter, baby: why I hate chickens and reluctantly like Monty Halls' Great Escape

I am kind to our chickens. Or hens, as Monty Halls was sternly informed "we call them up here" during last night's Escape To River Cottage (North) Only With a Marine Commando And His Demented Dog on the telly. Alas, our hens do not repay that kindness. Failing to lay eggs and, despite being fed twice a day, shitting on top of the Citroen C4. Motoring critics in another life? The Citroen's OK but it is, alas, beginning to show signs of deterioration you wouldn't expect in a year-old car.

The Monty Halls (not the US quiz show host) series on BBC1 has changed its name at the last minute (Escape to Beachcomber Cottage was, ahem, just a little too similar to the Great Huge Faintly Etonian Whittingstall Person's Empire of Food. Though clearly Monty can barely cook). The idea is that Monty H becomes a crofter for a year (eight months, in fact) Various questions were begged by last night's episode: How the HELL did he do what thousands of others are constantly trying to in the Highlands, ie get hold of a ruined cottage in an idyllic spot and do it up? I know people who've been trying for decades to do just that. How the HELL did he get planning permission? How much did that RIB cost? (Anything between seven and 12 grand, I'd guess). And will that horrible dog be shot by one of his neighbours before the show ends? It wouldn't last five minutes in Shetland. How much slimy horrible bacon was cooked in last night's programme? Does he know how to make anything else? And how the HELL did they achieve such spectacularly lovely weather?

Having said all that, I really enjoyed it, and from what I can gather, the Applecross locals liked having Monty about for eight months (NOT the depths of winter, I note). He's a natural TV presence, is Mr Halls (though not the pooch). However, pieces to camera of the "it's great to be alone at last" variety just provoke cynical laughter these days: YEAH, APART FROM THE CAMERA CREW!

Great Sunday night downsizing-porn for the urban masses, without a doubt. But when I watched that Planwell roofing going on, all I could think was: get some insulation in. Some storage heaters. A Morso stove. You're going to need it...and in a couple of months, the midges and the ticks will eat you alive...

Meanwhile, back to the chickenshit. Oh, and the answer to my various questions (see above) is, without doubt, loads of money. It's made by Tigress, one of the giants in nature TV.

Except for the weather. Apparently that's something to do with the entire crew converting to Free Presbyterianism.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Springsteen and U2 for Hampden...Neil Young for Aberdeen, CSN for Embra...Cooder, AC/DC...squeeze those ageing rock fans until the pips squeak!

According to Norrie (cheers!) and The Sunday Mail (Billy Sloan) Springsteen is to play Hampden on July 14th. Which means a potential expenditure for the dedicated live music fan of, oh, lots. Because you could very possibly go to Ry Cooder/Nick Lowe/Flaco Jimenez (9/10 July)T in the Park (10/11/12 July) and then Springsteen the same week. Looks like £47.50/£55 for the Boss tickets. And then there's U2, just announced for August, and Coldplay/Jay Z. AC/DC. And Neil Young at the AECC. Good grief.

There's clearly been a bit of shoogling of dates to make sure clashes are kept to a minimum, but really, can anyone afford these levels of ticket price? One special gig, maybe, but in a row?

Stones tickets in 1973 for the Apollo, were, if I mind correctly, around two and a half quid, the same as an LP. When CDs were brought in during the 1980s, we were outraged at the cost - around three times a vinyl album and maybe double the cost of a gig. Now a CD is priced at an eighth of a stadium ticket. A stadium, where you'll face the elements, the awful toilets, rubbish sound and possibly a terrible view.

House concerts: the way ahead...