Monday, 31 August 2009

The Holiday

With all the health issues I've not reported on the holiday... here's a quick(ish) summary.

We flew to Boston, pick up the "beast".

Yes the most American car you can get. "The beast" was the nickname it quickly got!

We drove down to Connecticut. In the week staying there we visited....

Mystic Aquarium
Mystic Seaport
Essex Steam train and riverboat
Providence RI (Shopping and nice small city place)

caught up with some work colleagues and other friends,
and visited a few other places. You have to go to the casinos near there just to believe them - we ate there and marvelled at the money senior citizens in the USA will pour into slot machines in those places. There's a twisted sense of irony as well that the locals on the whole don't seem to get... the casinos are on Indian reservations who can avoid the local gambling and tax laws. So these down trodden poorly treated native peoples suddenly are some of the wealthiest about building these fantastic casinos. It's all a bit odd frankly. 40 years ago the Pequot tribe was hanging on to it's reservation by finger tips while the local councils tried to oust them off the land to allow it to be built on. They lived on in caravans (trailers) to stop that happening. If you ever are there you must go the the tribal museum just around the corner, very interesting.

We then decamped up to Boston MA. Actually we stayed just over the Charles River in Cambridge MA just behind MIT. My Son is very keen to move there to work/study but the $90,000 yearly budget minimum has tempered that enthusiasm slightly.

We did trips out to Salem MA, Plimoth Plantation and ProvinceTown but largely stayed inside Boston going to the aquarium, museum of science, doing a Duck Tour and other stuff.

We all love Boston, it's a smallish city, it has some USA like themes in the grid of the back bay area but in the downtown and North End is more like a European city in layout and feel at times.

So a great holiday, slightly upset by us having to cut the Plimoth trip short due to my vertigo attack and now me being ill back home has meant the holiday has lost a little of it's instant lustre. Still we had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Vertigo update

There is a possibility that this could become a Vertigo's sufferers blog frankly. But that might be, at the moment at least, somewhat negative so I'll try to deal with it as quickly as possible.

I had the huge attack whilst on holiday which was quite frankly absolutely bloody awful.

Since then I had an attack the day after we got back, I thought probably due to lack of sleep, the traveling, flight, fatigue of traveling etc. However I've not been right all week and had another bad attack Sunday evening. Luckily it wasn't as severe as the other two and didn't last as long. However the continuing of them and that I don't feel very good today isn't a good look forward thing is it.

So Mrs F, my son and I have been doing some investigations...

The medical opinion so far is that I have Migraine associated vertigo (MAV). This is the most common type and the headaches and way I feel afterwards point to that. However I had a nystagmus - weird flipping movement of one of your eyes in a test which isn't common in MAV and if it occurs normally it is vertical not horizontal like mine. Also I get Tinitus before and after the attacks (actually for the last two weeks pretty much constantly) which is like MAV. If it is MAV the initial plan is dietary, I've been this route before, you avoid the 5 C's... Chocolate, Caffeine, Cheese, Citrus Fruit (inc bananas), Chinese --- that is really avoid MSG.

However the nystagmus might point to Meniere's Disease. My Grandma had that and went deaf as a result of it and the operation they did on her ear. However 3 years ago a hearing test showed a contra result to Meniere's i.e. my hearing is worse in the unaffected side... i.e. my right.

So who knows. But I'll say this, being as incapacitated as this is really getting me p***ed off.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Sue Menhart Band - live

While we were on holiday in the USA we were lucky enough to catch up with my good friends The Sue Menhart Band with my great mate JJ on lead guitar. We saw them play a bar gig in Groton CT at Sneaker's Cafe. Sadly due to my daughter being underage and the lateness of the hour for her we had to leave early but the band were on good form and it was great to finally see them in the flesh and they seemed to be going down really well already before we left with a mix of covers and their original numbers. I have to say one impression is that there is a lot more live music opportunities in the USA than over here, many clubs and also many more town etc. sponsored events.

They recently had a TV appearance on Poughkeepsie Live that is captured below in a couple of videos.

For more stuff on them go to their web site.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Update and something to listen to.

Saw the GP - yesterday was another day of hell btw, I'm off work for 2 weeks.

Okay - saw this guy busking in Cape God check him out.

and go to for more.

Brilliant... anyone want to either sign him up or get him over here to do some gigs?

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

back from hols

I'm back from hols but far from healthy and rested... long term readers of this and the blog-that-went-before will know that I suffer from vertigo, not a fear of heights but where your balance, vision and hearing gets screwed up. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

Well I had a massive attack, the worst I've ever suffered last week on hols, which lost us a day, me a night and the entire contents of my stomach several times and a huge doctors bill as Mrs F had to call out a doctor I was in such a bad state. I was a bit better later in the week and the flight home was okay which I'd been concerned about but today, first day back is awful again.

Enough of my moaning, despite my health hassles the holiday was great, very busy and we all loved Boston especially my son who I think is seriously looking at moving there now. We stayed right next to the MIT campus and he would love to go there for post grad work. We'll have to see.

More sometime when the computer screen isn't moving about so much.

Friday, 14 August 2009

New England

Has been very hot and humid!

We've been busy visiting a bunch of places in CT - off to Boston soon after a quick visit to RI.

We've hired a Mercury Grand something... the quintisential American car :-)

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Something to give a listen to

An old colleague and friend of mine... This is Giles Toller and Rebound

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

My festival experience

Let’s be honest here… I’m nearly 50. I live a pretty comfortable cosseted existence. I have a nice bed to sleep in every night, a very nice house, my car has air con etc. When I travel it’s normally in good quality, i.e. I don’t fly budget and I don’t hitchhike. I like train travel as well. I normally stay overnight in hotels… roughing it would be a Travelodge normally :-) Something without en-suite is a very uncommon occurrence for me. I am a wuss – there you go.

So I’m not equipped for sleeping under canvas in a sleeping bag in a field with a load of other people in tents.

I ended up going to Sonisphere a bit unplanned, simply a week before my son was going with someone else then suddenly not and he very much wanted me to go with him instead. That was very nice of him I have to say and given I’d bought the tickets as a birthday present his reciprocating knowing I’d love to see many of the bands on the bill was a great gesture. However from the start I was not looking forward to the camping.

Friday – we packed all into the rucksacks – my son having a huge one that he has used on expeditions before. Me with a more day sack type thing packed with my clothes. We went by train, largely as my son already has his tickets booked and I thought it all part of the “experience”. We got into the family campsite headed to the back away from the road and toilets and pitched the tent. Well my son did – I held things on occasion as he is the expert of many scout trips and knows this stuff backwards. A two man tent! This thing looked only marginally bigger than the coffin I’m planning to order myself! But my head is going “stick with it, it’ll be okay”.

So sometime after midnight on Friday we head to the tent and somehow manage to get ourselves in and ready for the night ahead. Well first the disco sponsored by an energy drinks company as a clear stunt to sell more of their product to those that wanted to party all night was thumping away but the earplugs helped a bit. But the claustrophobia of the tent, the heat and the crampedness in the sleeping bag did not. I had a terrible night. I now realise my normal sleeping position is virtually in the foetal position. Try doing that in a sleeping bag! Also in a tent next to your son who is crammed in as well. He tried to explain you can only sleep in one position – get into it and stay there. Well I don’t I roll about etc. Nightmare! I was drifting in and out of sleep. Then somewhere in the middle of the night I woke up, hot, disorientated, uncomfortable as my wriggling had meant the zip of the sleeping bag was under me jamming into me and no doubt the reason I woke, the roof was almost on top of me, I couldn’t breath, I was having a mild panic attack. At that precise moment I just wanted to get out the tent and walk off into the distance. The only thing that stopped me was the moment of sense saying “Where to?”. I breathed hard and stayed with it.

When we rolled out the tent at 7am on the Saturday my son knew it was not going well – there is bonding and there is bonding… :-) I had had some rational thought in the hours of crap sleep the night before and we headed off to the camping supplies store up the other end of the site. My son selected the cheapest double skinned two man tent and I gladly purchased it. He pitched it next to his in double quick time. Again he was my life saver as there were no instructions and I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do! Now at least we had more space and the one I had had a taller roof which helped my claustrophobia tendencies. I also listened to the advice of – “Get in, get into one position and stay with it”. Saturday night was much better. Sunday okay although my son was so asleep that night I failed to rouse him first attempt on Monday and he only appeared when I was already back with breakfast.

Here’s tip for anyone reading this who needs to recruit torture hardened professionals… you know the army, secret services etc. Most torture things I’ve seen go on about people being made to stand up for long periods of time, sleep deprivation, playing loud music and them and then pouring water on them. I’ve just spent a weekend doing that and paid for the privilege! If you want people who after a couple of days of torture simply smile and their torturers and ask for more you should set up a recruitment stall at the next Sonisphere festival!

The weather on Saturday was okay until about 6pm when the drizzle started but quickly it was a downpour and we donned our full waterproofs which were pretty successful. But I left a crease in my right trouser leg at the bottom and as we moved off at some point the puddle in it went straight into my boot. Bugger! That led directly no doubt to two blisters I’m struggling with now. Always keep your feet dry.

So would I do it again? NO! Sorry the music was great but next time I think if I planned to attend something like this it’d be as a day ticket holder with my car in the car park and a reservation at a nearby hotel. My son on the other hand is meeting his old scouting pal today and I think planning a walking and camping trek in Scotland or Wales before they return to uni in Sept. Good luck to him!

One final comment – on the journey home my son had on his walking boots, combat camo shorts, Iron Maiden tee-shirt, his “metal shades” and this huge backpack complete with tent and roll mat strapped on it. He is 6ft tall and has longish hair and is sort of growing a metal style beard – with limited success to be honest :-) It amused me to see the looks he got from some travellers in London as we headed onto the tube, simply people looking to not be in his way etc. Funny how just the appearance of someone can completely set some prejudice – he is one of the brightest brains at uni in his subject at the moment and one of the kindest, loyal and gentlest people you could ever meet. It amused me anyway seeing these people’s look of dislike/distrust. Don’t judge a book by the cover and all that.

Are you still out there Knebworth?!!

Postscript to last post

I realised I didn't mention two bands I should have...

Saxon and Anthrax, both old stagers from different eras and movements (NWOBHM and Thrash). Both played good sets and showed that the old boys still have it.

Also one thing I banged on about constantly over the weekend to my son - and any other poor sod that'd listen was that 30 years ago, pretty much to the day I was there to see Led Zep play the first of the last two shows they played in UK before Bonzo's untimely death. There I was this fresh faced 16 year old and that was the first big open air festival like gig I'd ever done. I remember Zep being just stunning and it is still often up there when I'm asked about my favourite gig of all time. Oh yes we slept in my brothers old Hillman car in the car park and Stevenage station, somehow the roughing it in those days didn't seem as big a problem :-)

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Sonisphere Knebworth 2009 Review

Are you still out there Knebworth!!!

Well I’m rather too close to 50 to frankly be doing two day metal festivals surely? I’m going to do two posts on this. Firstly this’ll be all about the music and the general stuff the second will be about my festival “experience” :-)

The general stuff

Knebworth is a good venue, reasonably easy to get to being right on top of the A1(M) just north of London and on the East Coast Main Line so easily reachable by train from many locations. It is a way out of Stevenage and therefore good no doubt that the majority of residents are pretty much undisturbed by the legions of music fans, unlike Reading where the whole festival pretty much spills into the centre of the town.

Camping facilities were basic to say the least. The tap in our bit seemed designed to turn the area about it into a bog instantly. Toilets would have been okay if they’d have been emptied more frequently, I know others have complained about this already – it was one of the major downers.

So we pitched up Friday afternoon and got the tent up and headed over to the arena to look about. The comedy Friday night in the tent was very good.

Come Saturday morning the queue for the showers was madness but we got breakfast from the camp shop then set off and found a great little Tea and Toast van – Tea £1 a big cup and 2 rounds of toast and topping £1.50 – bargain of the site. And the best tea we found all weekend.

Sonisphere has two stages set up at opposite ends of the site. The timetabling is good as there is hardly any time from one stage closing to another opening. This we liked over our previous Reading experience.

Top performances on Saturday… Linkin Park headlined the main stage and were really good. One of my top for the weekend although slightly tarnished by an odd encore where for the first encore they had Chester’s new side project play some numbers. Eh?! Why not play the other stage at some other point in the weekend? It lost the momentum a bit and the atmosphere as many left then and there were less to see the final encore back with Linkin Park. By the way the side project (Death by Sunlight – I think) wasn’t that impressive to me.

Heaven and Hell. Stunning probably my top of the whole weekend. The sky was as black as it can get and the rain sythed down which sadly meant the crowd was smaller than they deserved. But they were brilliant. Iommi’s guitar sound and playing just terrific. Sadly Coheed and Cambria had been delayed on a ferry in the morning and missed their slot on the main stage meaning they were rescheduled into the tent at the same time as Heaven and Hell – so we were torn. After seeing H&H start we nipped off but the tent was full – no doubt due the rain as much as anything so we listened to a couple of songs outside then headed back to H&H. Only timing sadness of the weekend really.

Bullet for My Valentine headlined on the second stage and were very good. They are a band I should check out more frankly as there were a few in there that impressed me. Also on the second stage the performance of the weekend goes to Airbourne. It was just pure AC/DC from the Bon Scott era – all the same tricks etc. Watching the front man climb 30 feet plus up the gantry in the pouring rain with no harness for one solo was hysterical if not a little frightening.

Other noteworthies from Saturday included Skindred – different mix of West Indian and metal were good value as were Soil who kicked off the whole thing. Alien Ant Farm impressed me more than I expected as well. They were good even if they don’t look like a rock band much :-) After the main stage closed we got in the tent to see Thunder’s last ever performance, I’d forgotten how good they were in their day and it was a great if too short performance and they revelled in the atmosphere.

Sunday. Thankfully brighter skies and many many more people – where the hell were this lot when it was raining on Saturday? Buckcherry kicked off on the main stage – good rock n roll stuff. Paradise Lost were worth a listen. Mastadon were okay but the sound was very odd, the mix just seemed all wrong to my ears. Then we hit my son’s pay dirt of Lamb of God and Machine Head both of who really got the crowd warmed and wound up. Machine Head were much better than the last time we saw them at Wembley in 07, the sound mix was better and the humour on stage much more apparent which was good to see. Avenged Sevenfold headlined the second stage and did much to repair the damaged reputation they had with me after what I thought was a very poor set at Twickenham last year. Sound quality was much better and the mix was right with the vocals at the right level – it showed in them as well they seemed a lot happier and having fun, oh yes and Synyster Gates looked really healthy rather than that white “just out the morgue” look he has previously had.

Feeder played a good set off the second stage and were well received, they are a band I like a lot. Nine Inch Nails played a fantastically entrancing set on the main stage which really drew you in, more than once someone would push past me and I was pulled out of the revere I’d fallen into with a bit of a jolt. I’ve never really listened to much of them, I intend to put that right.

Metallica headlined. Brilliant set with a mix of old and new. My son particularly loved them – but mainly they were his reason for wanting to go. It was a very good Metallica gig simple as that culminating in James Hetfield being ambushed by family and the crew with foam and silly string etc. as it was his birthday – great humour.

We just managed to squeeze in seeing a short, energetic and thoroughly entertaining set by Hundred Reasons in the tent before we called time for ourselves.

So… any bad stuff… Killing Joke – I’ve never got it and I doubt I ever will – so depressing! For one song the intro was about an artist they know who is about to have an assisted suicide due to MS (very sad) and will be listening to that song. Great that was cheery! Bjorn Again and Limp Bizkit we avoided as well simply as not for us and you do need a break in the day frankly. But really it was a good line up all round.

Bad stuff on the org front – not enough litter bins or litter collectors, toilets overflowing and the solution seemed to be simply to open the drain cocks and make the situation far worse from a smell point of view not to say anything of the hygiene point of view. Not enough showers. Shuttle bus service was rubbish – we waited ages on Friday for it. The organisers not wanting people to walk across the A1M junction – fair enough but when you wait far longer for the bus than the journey to walk it you wonder. So Monday we saw the queue for the buses and thought – to hell with that and we just walked into Stevenage stopping at nice cafĂ© for a cup of tea, we’re convinced even though we went a round about route a bit and had the tea it was quicker than waiting for the bus. The last bad thing was that a 15 year old boy was seriously injured when thrown from one of the fairground rides on Saturday. We saw a lot of stewards running about, ambulances and stuff and assumed something bad had happened but he sounds very lucky to be alive. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.

Good stuff – good range of shops – important when you read my festival experience! Well organised camp site for “families” like us. Good range of food outlets and not all the usual stuff as well – the little Tea & Toast van was our top favourite on that front.

Would I do it again… for the music yes… but read my other post on my festival experience before I pass final judgement… :-)