Sunday, 20 March 2011

Leeds Beer, Cider and Perry Festival 18/03/11

I manage to miss the Leeds Beer Fest every single year, so I had to make definite sure that I'd make it to this one. I booked the afternoon off work, I ate my tea in the train station (ultimate chicken and bacon sarnie, vegetable samosa) and got to Pudsey Civic Hall for quarter past four. This year, I meant business.

Instead of writing a big long boring blog about it, and partly because I've only just stopped being drunk, the review and high points of the festival will be noted by way of the Live Tweets I sent straight from the scene. That's right, I am a real roving reporter.

And there you have it! The festival itself was an impressive affair, and everyone was extremely friendly. Also, the tuck shop was a gorgeous thing to behold - jalapeno crisps, TWO types of pork scratching, every type of Pepperami, penny sweets...pretty amazing stuff. And then there's the Beer-Cream van. If there's one thing the festival showed me, it's that summer isn't far off, and I'm getting very, very excited about that. MOAR BEER PLZ!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Musical Stimulation

Sometimes, something special will stop me from functioning properly. Not much has changed from when I was a kid - things that would keep me awake at night consisted of Impending Christmas Day and A New Muse Album.

My taste in music might have changed slightly over the years, but the overwhelming excitement when my favourite artists release new stuff - anything; albums, singles, a bootleg, can sometimes be a bit too much. I'm glad that I can still get this excited about music. I know a lot of people who are numb, or at least pretend to be, to almost everything. What's the point of being awake if you aren't alive? I've done a lot of thinking recently, and I've decided that pessimism and cynicism are for chumps. If I want to stay awake all night to wait to hear a song I'm excited about, I will. If I want to play a song 17 times in a row because it makes me happy, I will. I mean, I'll also go outside and do regular people things too, but every now and again when a little gem like this appears, I won't be berating myself that it made me feel a bit sick. Childlike enthusiasm is a rare beast in these grey days. I'm keeping hold of mine.

So, without much more wittering, here are the two songs that have been tearing through my headphones/speakers/mind. The first is Burial's new track, which he worked on with Thom Yorke and Four Tet. I must admit, when I first heard about this collaboration, I thought I was going to throw up. Massive "OMG I'M GOING TO DISNEY WORLD" overload. Give it a few listens and all the pieces fall into place. There are only a few artists that I love as much as Burial, and this didn't let me down.

Next is a song I discovered on Tensnake In The House - an album that came out last year but somehow managed to pass me by completely. It's by Mount Kimbie, another duo who managed to escape my (admittedly wonky and bad at receiving tips) radar, but whom everybody seems to have heard of, so I must be a bit thick. This track, in my opinion, is beauty in musical form when it's on headphones. It takes on an ethereal oddness when it feels like there's only you and you alon who can hear it.

I know I don't usually post about music, but I felt I really had to this time. If you want to read more personal music posts and hear music you might never have heard before, check out my friend Zoe's blog - she posts EVERY DAY and alongside the new music there are old gems from electronica past.


Thursday, 3 March 2011

National Dyscalculia Day

As hundreds of adorable kids trundle off to school dressed up as their favourite literary characters (a colleague's son has gone all out to imitate the Caterpillar from James and the Giant Peach - bow tie and all. Very cute) for World Book Day, you might be forgiven in overlooking another cause who's awareness day lands on this date.

Today, March the 3rd, also happens to be National Dyscalculia Day. I'm  not expecting you to know what dyscalculia is, because that would be ridiculous, given that there is rarely any acceptance or information given out at school about this learning difficulty. So I'm now going to try and explain what it is.

Dyscalculia is a specific learning difficulty that according to studies, affect from 3-6% of people. That really isn't that many people. However, many more people suspect they suffer from it, despite not being diagnosed or receiving the help they need, because it is not as well known as other, similar learning difficulties such as dyslexia. As you probably already know, dyslexia is a neurologically-based disorder which makes it very difficult for the sufferer to read, spell and write in their native language. Words on a page can appear jumbled or blurred, and writing is extremely hard; the sufferer's handwriting may also be unintelligible. It was only defined as a specific learning difficulty in the early 1980s, until which point sufferers had been completely without help. Previously, dyslexia was thought to be a combination of hearing and sight impairments, and was often punished due to a perceived lack of effort on the sufferer's part. Since the 80s, huge strides have been made to improve the provisions put aside for dyslexic people, and it has been found that with timely support and intervention, it is possible for a dyslexia sufferer to read and write without much difficulty.

Dyscalculia on the other hand, was not defined as a true specific learning difficulty until the mid 1990s. dyscalculia, as a rule, is similar to dyslexia in that it hinders the ability to read, understand and dissect information; however, instead of being related to written and spoken language, it is based in and around numeracy. dyscalculics find it extremely difficult to read and understand numbers, whether alone or in a mathematical context. Although a dyscalculic person is mostly defined as a person with an average or higher than average IQ, no dyscalculic has problems with maths alone, but also struggle with problems being able to learn to tell time, left/right orientation, rules in games and much more. It is based around the logical and lateral thinking parts of the brain, and in many cases does not affect the sufferer adversely in creative or artistic endeavours. Because of the unknown or misunderstood nature of the disorder, many people do not realise they have a learning difficulty, and live their lives simply accepting that they are unable to "do maths". 

The most annoying statement I hear when I tell somebody that I have (as yet informally diagnosed - the resources were limited in my rural Aberdeenshire high school) dyscalculia is the grand old phrase: "Oh, I'm terrible at maths! I think I have it too!" Being bad at maths seems to be something people are perversely proud of, which I cannot understand. Numbers have mystified me for years. I wasn't always the bottom of the maths set - up until the age of about five or six I was one of the top in my class - second only to a genius child who would later be expelled for beating up a dinner lady. After that numbers became a sea of undefined shapes with strange, somewhat mysterious outcomes. As a rule, I try and explain dyscalculia as a "confusion disorder". Not a correct term, but it makes sense to me. There is no logical way, in my head, that when two numbers added, multiplied or worse, subtracted new numbers appear and they somehow make sense. I learn the answers to these sums, but I have no idea why they might be so. It's like telling me that the word "and" added to the word "shoe" makes the word "because". It just doesn't make any sense, but as most people think that it does, it must do, therefore I am the one with the issue. As with most other dyscalculics, I also have real problems telling left from right, when I read a map I have to turn it constantly to the way I'm facing, and I have terrible spacial awareness and balance problems. I'm basically a bit dumb, and fall over a lot. A slapstick dream.

In reality it isn't that fun. Counting change at a till is my worst nightmare. The shape of coins helps a lot, but simple additions and subtractions can send me into a swirling pit of anxiety and red-facedness. Even if I only have three items, I will not be able to guess at how much I might need to give the cashier unless I made the active decision to add it up as I went along or peer for an hour at the price tags. It could be £5, it could be £15. Debit cards have been a lifesaver. Just put in your card, remember the PIN (the shape it makes on the buttons, rather than the actual numbers) and away you go. No stress. Unfortunately, I did not know about dyscalculia until I had almost finished high school. Despite receiving fairly good/satisfactory marks for my other chosen subjects, I failed Standard Grade (GCSE) Mathematics twice. My stubbornness and refusal to accept that I was stupid meant I re-took it again in my final year, as an Intermediate-2 exam. I failed it again. My teacher at the time was unsupportive, and sat me at the back where I wouldn't disturb my year-younger classmates. He sighed when I asked for help. He called me stupid. He kept me behind and asked why I was wasting his and my own time. Four years later it would transpire that he was having an affair with an underage student at the time. (Completely unrelated, but I want you to know he was a total bastard.)

I do not want anybody else to wholly believe that they are stupid, clumsy and useless. You are not wasting anybodies time. Get diagnosed, and change the figures. There are more than 6% of us out there, I know it.

For more information, follow these links:
What is dyscalculia? The Dyscalculia Forum
What is dyslexia?
The British Dyslexia Association - Dyscalculia
The Dyscalculia Centre - Testing and Awareness
Follow @Dyscalculic on Twitter.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Why I am not going to the Bangface Weekender this year. Sob.

Every year at about this time, I start getting butterflies. Big clonking great flappy butterflies right inside my tummy pit. You see, usually at this time of year, I remember nearly every day that in a month or so I will be setting up shop in a Pontins chalet darn sarf, with nothing but loud noises, mates and several thousand gallons of liquid good times between me and the following week.

Ah, the ethereal lure of Bangface. The hundreds of yards of neon orange dreadlocks; the reverberating "WUB WUB WUB" of your kidneys slowly disintegrating into a low-frequency mush; the chalet parties after hours; the hangovers at the beach (and subsequent "Sand Gammon barbecue"; the large inflatable mascots; the utterly pointless but somehow magical flyover by a light aircraft pulling a semi-offensive sign. "Come join us!" the acid house smiley says to me, as I open the website for the 10th time that day. "I'll be there soon." I usually reply, a wry smile playing on my lips as I turn up some Altern-8 and pretend to get on with some work.

Alas this year is not last year, or the year before, or indeed the year before that. This year I decided not to buy a ticket to that rampant festival of joyful destruction. Although my reasons at the time were perfectly valid, they seem to be losing their relevance with every passing minute.

I decided that this year I couldn't afford to spend over £300 on Supernoodles, lager, slush puppies and other essential weekend rave items (never underestimate the necessity of babywipes when there is only a cold bath and the temperature inside the main room is approximately hotter than a hot-tub on the Sun) - nor could I justify a weekend of pure indulgence when up until recently all I had been doing was galavanting off around Europe like a jet-setting little shitbag, or living it up (sitting on a sofa in pyjamas drinking cheap wine) as an unemployed person. Now that I have a job, I intend to keep it, meaning that losing the ability to live for a week after the great event just isn't an option.

There are other, more sad reasons not to go though. Last year the number of little twat children jumping over the fence was unreasonable. As if they cared about Bangface. They just wanted a slice of the "no questions asked" policy. I'm beginning to feel old in groups of youngsters who haven't been to bed in two days. It just doesn't feel right to me. I want to feed them, and then put them to bed. This isn't the right attitude for Bangface. I fear I may bring the tone down.

Nothing ever stays the same. Bangface, although fantastic, will never top the euphoric heights of the very first weekender. I had no idea what to expect then. I wish I could forget it all and then go back fresh. Instead, I know this year that more and more dubstep children will take over the once-pure fields of hedonism, and slowly morph it into yet another land of SubDub monotony. I can't bear to watch. And so that's why I'm not going.

Saying that, if you've got a free ticket I will definitely come.
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