I skid down icy streets and view my face in the reflection of a high street lingerie store

I was back at the shelters on Monday last week, then Tuesday evening headed over to MOTH Club in Hackney, which turned out to stand for Memorable Order of the Tin Hats and be some kind of re-purposed social hall for members of the South African military but really not a bad little gig venue. First on were Swedish Death Candy who self-define as "experimental psychedelic rock" and involved more in the way of walls of guitar noise than identifiable songs, unlike Abbatoir Blues, who were a bit more straightforward. I was there to see Yak, who were somewhere in between the two and all the better for it. It was a sweaty, messy affair, although suffered a little from being one of those gigs where a few guys are enjoying themselves so much on the dancefloor that it inhibited others from doing the same.

On Wednesday I continued my cultural odyssey with ketchgirl by checking out A Further Education at the Hampstead Theatre which had plenty of laughs, a couple of great characters (all the women, in fact), a peppering of ideas and a rather improbable plot. The next night I met up for drinks with my London-based school friends (albeit one of them has moved to Bath and one to Winchester since we started these meet-ups) in a Samuel Smiths off Oxford Street, then went back to N's, where I was afforded a lie-in as Friday mornings seem to be becoming my regular take-back time from the shelters.

I was going to see The Enemy at the Forum in Kentish Town in the evening, so arranged to meet J (the lad I had got to know from going to see The View) in the Bull & Gate, which turned out to be a mistake as it meant I witnessed the devastation refurbishment had visited upon a once beloved venue: the hall at the back where the bands played turned into a wanky dining area and the dark wooden booths torn out and replaced with offensive blandness. J and his friend were really friendly and fun, although the kind of blokes who drink rounds of pints with alacrity: we only went in for headliners (not the end of the world as I can't really afford to discover any other bands I like currently) and enjoyed them from a distance, then dived back into the pub afterwards.

I started off more of less okay on Saturday, despite having somehow put the time on my phone back by an hour, which I only discovered halfway through my overly leisurely (it turned out) preparations to head and meet N at the British Library to check out the little Alice in Wonderland exhibition, as well as their permanent 'Treasures' collection, which I don't think I'd ever seen before and was pretty mind-boggling: two of the three oldest copies of the Bible, the Magna Carta, the Gutenberg Bible etc. all just dotted innocuously around. My afternoon was less productive as my energy levels dived, but I did manage to make it out to Egham for the Angels game, coming back on the train with M&E, who had sandwiched it in between their European adventures.

M had gone out to see some relatives in Berkhamsted for the night, so I got the train out on Sunday and we went for a walk along the Dunstable Downs, which took in some nice tumuli (the Five Knolls), red kites and a little airfield, although it's hard to do day-walks from London where you feel like you properly get away from civilisation. We headed home after poking the ruins of the castle there and managed to cook dinner in pretty much perfect time for me to go down to the Scala for the Los Campesinos! gig. I caught the end of Bruising, but was more taken by next-on Oscar, who were oddly gentle for an indie band but pretty good. Los Campesinos! were definitely my gig-of-the-week, though: lots of raw energy, an amazing crowd who forced them back on stage for a second encore and I think all the more special for knowing that tomorrow, after packing out the Scala, they were turning up to their day jobs, just like the rest of us.

he went and took up with a Salvation Army band girl

I had a lovely afternoon last Sunday celebrating hysteria74's graduation, which means I also got to see her lovely new place and the enormous, underused garden she has access to, which I'm pleased to hear she has grand plans for. I spent that evening and Monday's making the most of having the flat to myself before M's return from her holidays, as Tuesday I went over to N's post-Book Group, where The Rabbit Back Literature Society had been pretty well received.

Gigvember kicked back in the next night: I was up at The Dome in Tufnell Park (with its annoyingly closed tube station) early as I was mostly there to see Hyena who were first on and really good; the next support were Traams, although their noisy wall of sound weren't really my kind of thing. The headliners were Dinosaur Pile-Up, who I'd seen Hyena supporting before, and engendered a lot of enjoyable jumping around.

On Thursday I was at Dingwalls with ketchgirl, again mostly for the first act on, who was Gaz Brookfield and had more people singing along than your average bottom-of-the-bill singer. It was one of the best performances I've seen from him, actually, albeit not the longest of sets. Next up were Mad Dog McRae, a folk rock group with what I think of as quite an Irish sound, although they were actually from Devon. Plenty of people were dancing along then, which should have served as an indication of what was going to happen when the main act, Ferocious Dog, came on, who turned out to be the kind of band which causes lots of sizable men in their 40s to strip to the waist and throw each other about. It was energetic folk-punk and pretty good fun, although sounded a little bit samey to someone who didn't know the material.

I was in the shelters Friday evening so took the morning off to compensate, which I'm loving as it means I actually do all those little domestic things that you never usually have the time or energy for. I'm having an unusually unplanned weekend too: after more domestic pottering, I met up with N in town yesterday afternoon, we saw some neon art in a Soho gallery, ate some cake, meandered around some of the more neglected rooms of the British Museum and went for a pint before I headed home to spend an evening hanging out with M. This morning we went on a spontaneous tramp to the Heath and N's coming over for dinner later.

too many sniffs and colds got up his Roman nose

I've survived a week of inducting this winter's minions and the first week of the shelters more or less unscathed, which is more than can be said for some flats above the O2 Centre here, which went up in flames at the start of last week: we'd smelt it in the morning, thinking there was some kind of early bonfire, but when I got back from work on Monday evening they were still trying to put it out and Sainsbury's was eerily deserted, as that whole section of Finchley Rd. was blocked off, when I wandered over to do a shop.

I was in Tuesday too, then went to the upstairs bit of The Garage on Wednesday to see Scottish metallers Vukovi: they were supported by Reigning Days, decent Devonian rockers, and the headliners themselves were really good, although the oddly immobile crowd slightly dampened the experience. I'd eventually decided to get a ticket for Dingwalls the next night where Fickle Friends (about whom I knew nothing) were playing, solely on the basis that they were being supported by Model Aeroplanes. Luckily they weren't first on as when I turned up there was an unexpectedly enormous and badly managed queue which took about half an hour to get me inside: all was well once I did though, Model Aeroplanes put in another good show, I almost didn't stay for the headliners, who hadn't sounded much like my kind of thing when I'd checked them out online, but was glad I did as they put on a fun show to an energetic crowd.

Then I hit Halloween season: the Friday night party at N's [Pet Sematary themed] was a smaller group but C&M, who I hadn't seen for ages, came along; we headed down to Victoria for a hangover-busting breakfast then met up briefly with Rachel & family, who had come up for emergency passport renewals, before I headed home to make a mini Wicker Man for my costume for Saturday night's [Villain themed] party in Egham. Lots of people came: the guys mostly managed to avoid last year's multiple clashes although we did have three Poison Ivys and two Cruella de Vils, suggesting there needs to be more female role-models in the world of villains.

I stayed the night in Egham but headed back pretty early to spend some time at home before heading out again in the evening to see CC Smugglers at The Lexington with ketchgirl. The support was Rodney Branigan, a Texan impressively able to play a guitar and mandolin at the same time without seeming to need to so much as look at either of them. I didn't know much about the headliners, other than that they had been on my list to look out for at Great Escape, but they turned out to be brilliant: energetic modern rootsy music from a bunch of rural British youngsters with a charismatic frontman.

I stayed for the first night of the nightshelters on Monday, then met my parents for pre-theatre dinner the next evening and took their case back to mine, attempting to do as much cleaning as possible before they came back from the show. On Wednesday I ventured into the unfamiliar gig territory of Tooting with local-boy R for a Radio X charity gig at the Tram Shed there, which had two bands I wanted to see on the bill. Broken Hands were first on and really impressed in their sadly fairly brief set, next up was Kimberly Anne, who I didn't know and didn't set my world on fire, then it finished with Nothing but Thieves, who had also been on my list (and had had the most effective publicity machine) at Great Escape: they seem to be doing pretty well for themselves and I enjoyed their rockier sound, even if the vocals got a bit operatic for me at times.

My parents had been going to see Kenneth Branagh's new company put on A Winter's Tale and two nights later I was at the same theatre watching the same company putting on two Terrence Rattigan plays with ketchgirl: a short monologue (All On Her Own) performed by Zoe Wanamaker, which didn't do much for me, then the much more entertaining theatrical farce Harlequinade. It was all very knowing, with Branagh playing an actor running a theatre company who were also putting on a production of A Winter's Tale.

N came over last night and this morning we went down to the City for a tour of the ruins of a Roman house and baths under old Billingsgate with ketchgirl and turtledisc: the remains were mostly the hypercausts and pilae, with some bits of wall and tiled floor, but you could get a pretty good idea of the layout and the exposition was fantastic, in contrast to our tour of the Museum of London's archive the other week, and really made the experience. Back home now, after briefly poking around Borough and Spitalfields Markets either side of the tour, then I'm heading out to do the nightshelters again this evening.

watch our painted girls and boys join in the overwhelming noise

I've had a run of exhibitions recently: the Wednesday before last, N & I checked out The Koestler Trust's exhibition of prisoner art at the Royal Festival Hall, we happened to coincide by a guided tour from one of their volunteers and there were some great pieces in it. M's friend Marlena was over for dinner the next day and then on the Friday I went to the British Museum's Celts exhibition with hysteria74, which I enjoyed. The Friday lates don't seem to get as busy and they seem to have learnt from previous exhibitions by not having lots of things crammed closely into cases that people are bunching up to peer into. They were pretty explicit about the constructed notion of 'Celtic' culture and the last room was all about later revival and reinvention, which I was quite happy to skip through, but there were some great pieces in there.

Then the next day three of us were doing a tour of the Museum of London's archive near Old Street. It was themed around 'Ritual and Magic', fairly tenuously it turned out, but it was fascinating to see behind the scenes and the boxes and boxes of mothballed artefacts, Raiders of the Lost Ark style; they also have the Ceramics and Glass collection there, all out on shelves, which we were left to roam around at the end and it was pretty amazing to see the extent of. I spent some time at home then met back up with N for the evening part of his friends' wedding at the Hackney Downs Studios, which was a lovely occasion.

I spent the next few days being domestic, then on Wednesday we went to see Tankus the Henge playing at the Scala. Support came from the carnivalesque Cable Street Collective and the folky Patch and the Giant, although we were less enamoured of the in-yer-face DJing between bands. Tankus have lost a little of their distinctive quirkiness since we first saw them, but you can't expect a band not to evolve and it was still a lot of fun, the band clearly determined to make the most of their biggest gig to date.

Thursday was possibly a gig too far in my recent ticket buying spree: I'd booked to see Swim Deep largely on the basis that I'd caught the last five minutes of their set at Glastonbury and it had sounded promising, that it was just round the corner (albeit at The Hated Roundhouse) and they'd said something vaguely political on their Facebook. I've gone to see quite a few young bands recently without feeling particularly out-of-place but I was by myself for this one and it was basically me and a sea of 17 year-olds. The support were both fairly generic (Catholic Action and The Magic Gang) and Swim Deep were more electronic than my usual fare but it was fun and energetic nonetheless, culminating with a whirling dervish dancer joining them onstage.

Since then I have headed out to Essex on Friday night for a lovely dinner chez mistress_fran, which turned out to be surprisingly easy to get back to Tottenham from. Yesterday I went to the exhibition of Goya's Portraits at the National Gallery with M and cousin A, who came back to ours for dinner. I headed back out again late to Manor House where Eighteen Nightmares at the Lux had advertised they were playing at a 'Warehouse Party' in the area. N's housemate D had gamely agreed to come along with me and after quite a bit of wandering around we finally managed to track it down: it was more like a party in some studios than any kind of illegal rave but turned out to be really nice, a friendly crowd of young East London creative types, a few bands (The Straynge and The Dilenquents (sic) were the others) and then dancing the early hours away.

I didn't have much luck sleeping for too long once I did get back home but I'm just having another domestic Sunday, with N coming over for dinner later. It all gets serious at work tomorrow, with our seasonal caseworkers starting in preparation for the Nightshelters opening in a week's time. I'm going to be actually working back at the shelters for the first time in a few years, which I realised I hadn't really considered when I filled up my November evenings . . .

In a dead seaside town, I tried to change my mind

Two weekends ago was the last Empire of the year, one of the two-night events, from Friday to Sunday, which I slightly prefer, and it was pretty much the perfect event: there were a couple of showers but not at crucial times and the ground remained firm, group-members who like to get involved in plot seemed to have plenty to do, we had a couple of fun battles and I had two sociable late nights of carousing, thanks in no small part to the magnet of knife-club.

N came over the evening after I got back and then on the Tuesday I met up with my friend R at Bar Wotever, in part to support the under-threat RVT but mostly because it’s such a friendly night. It had a set from an Americana band called Auburn, which wasn’t really my sort of thing, alongside its usual assortment of more eclectic cabaret.

Wednesday was Book Group (M’s choice, Graham Greene’s Ministry of Fear, seemed to provoke plenty of discussion) and I rushed off from there to the Barfly for an XFM Exposure gig, introduced by John Kennedy himself. I'd been keen to get there in time for the support as the first band was Eighteen Nightmares at the Lux, who I’d seen supporting Queen Kwong a couple of weeks earlier. The middle band, Broken Hands were really impressive too, the whole line-up having a fuzzy/acid rock theme, but Yak still just about managed to steal the show, Oli Burslem crashing around the crowd in a storm of hair and guitar. Then I was back in Camden the next night to see The Jacques at Our Black Heart: supported by Sisteray who were punchy, political and well-worth following up on, although I was less excited by velvet-jacketed Queenslanders Millions.

I spent Friday night at N’s then headed out to Godalming the next morning to have lunch with cousin H and family prior to a joint visit to our Granny, who seemed on pretty good form. I wiggled across Surrey for the Egham Game, getting back into the swing of Angels after missing a couple of sessions, although happily I didn’t seem to have any less of an idea about what was going on than anyone else. I was at home on Sunday, which meant decorating, although we’re getting close to being done with the landing now, and N came over for dinner.

This week I had drinks with Ralph in Waterloo on Monday, hung out at home with M Tuesday and went out to see The View at the Electric Ballroom on Wednesday. I arrived during the support, Electric Child House, who didn’t set my world on fire, but The View themselves didn’t disappoint and I randomly encountered a guy I’d previously sold a ticket to in the crowd, which added to the fun. I ate out in Soho with N on Thursday then had some after-work drinks with colleagues on Friday before heading up to the Dome in Tufnell Park just in time to catch Pretty Vicious, who had smaller crowd than I’d expected but it livened up eventually.

On Saturday morning I caught the train down to Seaford to meet up with cream_horn and others, taking over his parents’ house again in their absence: we strode across the surprisingly sunny South Downs, saw a Long Man and a Horse (but no goats), then hung out listening to music in the evening prior to a late-night seaside stroll, an excellent way to spend a day.

so free up the cheaper seats, here comes the Greek Tragedy

I had the weird timezone thing coming back from holiday, we were kinda flying overnight, just a rather compressed one which had lost a bunch of hours: this could have worked out well but I didn't sleep at all anyway as that would have interfered with in-flight entertainment. So we left Portland on the Monday afternoon and arrived back in London around Tuesday lunchtime. I was straight back in work on Wednesday but the drop-in didn't re-open until the following week so I was able to ease myself back into things.

After going round to N's on Thursday night, I headed down to Peckham the following evening to see Lovely Joe, who was down: although slightly randomly the friend he was staying with had gone out, so we were sat by ourselves in the garden when her housemates come home, they were very friendly though and easily distracted from the fact that they were all moving out over the weekend by the chance to hang out convivially. I ended up crashing over but raced home in the morning to start the Bank Holiday weekend's planned decorating boot-camp, which was interrupted only by N coming over on Sunday evening and a lot of cooking, something I'd not done any of while I was away.

I emerged in the evening of BH Monday to head back to the Old Blue Last to see Queen Kwong play, who weren't quite as raucous as they'd been at Great Escape, although the frontwoman had some kind of cold which was probably why; the suppport, Eighteen Nightmares at the Lux had been pretty rowdy though. On Tuesday N and I swung by one of Fiona's shows, (her pieces were made from symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeast, which was pretty awesome,) then grabbed some food in Soho.

I ate out again on Thursday pre-Globe where we watched their production of the Oresteia which was worth seeing at least: I couldn't decide if the actor playing Clytemnestra was terrible or amazing, possibly both but definitely not anywhere in between, and they laid the 'message' on pretty thickly in the last play, but it kept the attention and was very 'Globe' in that it turned up the entertainment quotient. I was round N's on Friday night, we had brunch (along with his housemate) in Stoke Newington the next morning, then I was back home decorating for the rest of the weekend.

THis week's been fun: I started it by going down to Greenwich for drinks in a really nice old-mannish pub with my ex-minion (now far-outstripping me in the career progression stakes, and deservedly so), had dinner with N in Islington on Tuesday, then yesterday headed over to Shadwell for a night of rock bands at The George Tavern, which I don't think I'd been to before but was a great, shabby space in this amazing historical pub. There were four bands including Badly Stuffed Pandas (self-effacing and seemingly just starting out), Los & The Deadlines (social commentary, playing with form and a guitarist with dreadlocks that completely concealed him when he played) and The Survival Code (the most straight-down-the-line but my attention wandered). I was there for Arrows of Love, however, who I'd seen at jamese's birthday and there were a couple of other Party By The Sea attendees present too. They were every bit the fabulous chaos I had hoped for.


It was only a few hours in the coach down from Seattle to Portland, although another hot day so we didn't have energy for much other than trekking out to the North Eastern suburbs to our final host, who kept himself to himself more than the others but nonetheless faultless. We actually ate in for the only time during the holiday: we'd thought one of the advantages of AirBnB was that we could save some money by cooking for ourselves some of the time, but when we looked at prices it didn't really seem that way, although we did tend to end up in areas more likely to have an organic wholefoods co-op than a fuck off great Safeway. We made sandwiches some days but often ended up eating out twice a day, a couple of times in something more restauranty but often something with fries in a bar, although the brunches (we went to iHoP once but mostly in cafes) were probably the culinary highlight. We were certainly very glad of the opportunity to feed ourselves some salad as we hung out at 'home' and made plans for our final city.

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Portland probably had the least in the way of obvious sights and attractions of the cities we visited, we spent a lot of our days there just wandering around different neighbourhoods, but there was clearly a lot going on: the music scene seemed really vibrant and its quirkiness and independent spirit made hanging out in bars and coffee shops a joy in itself without ever appearing forced or irritating. It's perhaps more a city to live in than a tourist destination but I'm glad I got to see it nonetheless.


We'd caught the coach down to Seattle and in the end found negotiating the border crossing into the US less problematic than negotiating the right change for the bus out to our hosts once we'd got there. They were a US-Aussie couple in their 50s this time and lived up one of Seattle's many hills in Fremont, which turned out to be an enjoyably quriky and vibrant neighbourhood that we spent quite a bit of time in- we spent our first evening recovering from the four hour coach ride by just going out locally and poking around the area.

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Seattle was my favourite of the cities we visited, it was the biggest and had the most going on: several buzzy neighbourhoods and close to amazing scenery we only scratched the surface of. Like everywhere, the people were friendly but without pretension, we saw as much hair just left to grow long as trendy cuts; although there were a few posters for the upcoming elections (it has the US's only openly socialist elected official) there wasn't as much openly political activity going on as I'd expected, I guess the stalls and flyering I associate with activism have moved online in various forms these days.


Currently about two-thirds of the way through Pacific North-West holiday with N. Our first stop was Vancouver: the flight (via Frankfurt!) was pretty bearable (as was getting to the airport despite the Tube Strike) and the magic of time zones meant we arrived in the early afternoon of the Thursday, despite many hours of travelling. We're AirBnBing it all the way round and so we struggled off to our hosts, a gay couple with a lovely place out in the Commercial Drive area of the city: which turned out to be a cool locale itself as well as an easy bus ride from Downtown Vancouver. They were really helpful and responsive to our needs, lovely guys, although homos of the isolationist kind, commenting how much more comfortable they were playing host to 'our people'. We went out for food locally and tried to stay awake as long as possible, although we'd both conked out by 9pm and I was wide awake by three in the morning as a result.

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Vancouver had a really chilled out vibe to it: we’d been lucky with the weather, but even so, it was pretty stunning with the mountains looming over it and so much waterfront. Some places we went to were busy but nowhere was ever hectic, the people were all really friendly and helpful and the transport system was great. We saw a lot of yoga/shiatsu/alternative medicine places, not to mention medicinal cannabis prescribers, and everyone seemed to own dogs, which we saw out and about everywhere we went. There was a surprisingly big homeless population too, they seemed to have a very concentrated encampment on Hastings, the road we went down to get into town, but apparently that’s because Vancouver’s the only city in Canada where you’re likely to survive the winter sleeping rough. What was amazing was that anyone poor or vulnerable seemed to be able to ask the bus drivers if they could catch a ride and the drivers would let them on without paying, which the rest of the community supported rather than resented.

you could be home with Oprah Winfrey

I caught another Great Escape discovery, Spring King, at the Old Blue Last near Old St the Tuesday before last, although they came atop a line-up of bands that could all be considered discoveries in their own right. Claudia Kane performed her enjoyably dark songs accompanied by a dude with an acoustic guitar, Drones Club were almost more an experience than a band, coming on like some kind of post-apocalyptic nuclear power-plant workers with their own accessorised dancers standing in the crowd, Yonaka were stylistically different again, female-fronted and big sounds. It was great to see Spring King again, clearly loving the moment and unabashed at getting one of their Dads up to do a stint with the saxophone at one point.

The next night I went for a few drinks with a friend of M's and cousin A (who M is trying to socially engineer into friends, in some kind of bizarre platonic set-up) which made me realise how little I just go to the pub for a drink with a bunch of people and what a shame that is. I was in Highgate on the Thursday to revisit the production of The Bald Prima Donna I had previously seen at the Network Theatre, with unexpected bonus anysbryd and ksirafai: it's unusual to see two performances of the same production so close together and was fascinating to see how differently a text can be interpreted, although some of the changes meant it didn't quite quite as much humour as before.

I worked half a day on Friday before escaping down to Cornwall and a camp site that had been hired out to celebrate jamese's 40th. It had been turned into a mini-festival site with food stalls, a cushion-strewn bar/dance tent, a stage for bands, a kids area and circus performers. I was there in time to see the lovely Arrows of Love, who I'm going to go with post-punk to describe, then the Ska-Reggae fusion of The Downsetters, who got everyone dancing, on the Friday night. After a stint as Official Bloody Mary Maker on the Saturday morning, I walked down to the beach (accidentally infiltrating the Boardmasters set-up en route) then wandered along from Watergate Bay to Porth before heading back. That evening's bands were The Simmertones (more Ska) and the rockabilly Caezars, who had a great energy to them, although it took people a little while to get dancing. The DJs went on until two and then we carried the party on back at the one non-canvas structure on site until the sun came up and the booze ran out.

I grabbed a few hours sleep before facing up to Sunday: luckily getting in early for the in-demand Sunday lunch before enduring the train back to London. Although I was back at work on Monday, the drop-in had closed for August, which meant surviving it whilst not feeling in the best of shape was a more realistic proposition. On Tuesday I headed out with N and his housemates to Pub Quiz for the first time in an age, then Wednesday was all about getting ready to head off on my hols!