Monthly Archives: October 2020

Acclaimed Albums – Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 224/250Title: Straight Outta Compton
Artist: N.W.A
Year: 1988
Position: #109

When I wrote my post for Appetite for Destruction I made a comment about how coronavirus meant I didn’t have a listening mindset for the previous three weeks.

I wrote that post five months ago.

Since I want to get back into my blog stuff  – albeit with a reduced posting schedule in order to maintain sanity and to try and build my lead back up a bit – I thought it was time for an album. Especially as, given that I will be working from home for many more months, I am unlikely to be making my way through either the books or comics list.

Straight Outta Compton may not have been the most normal way for me to get into list, but it was the kick I needed on a Thursday morning to help me get through the day. In the six and a half years of doing this blog, and this list, I think that my views of hip-hop music (as well as RnB in general) has improved. True these aren’t the albums that end up topping my end of the year lists, but I am more open to them – which is a step forward.

On the whole, when it comes to hip-hop from this list, Straight Outta Compton is one of the better of the bunch. I preferred this to their contemporaries Public Enemy – but there is part of me wondering if that’s actual preference or the difference that five years of music listening has done to me.

However, one thing that I continue to butt up against is the misogyny. It’s not in all the tracks, but boy when it appears it just makes me feel like trash for listening to it. I know this is an album older than I am and that things have improved since then, but some of the woman-hating machismo in this album is just terrible. The rest of the album is pretty good though.


World Cooking – Japan

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Japan
Progress: 78/193

Although the post for my last world cooking country went up two months ago, it has actually been six months since I last made anything for this challenge. It started out because of the panic buying in March followed by the quarantine meaning ingredients were hard to come by – then other things happened.

Usually I keep a tight watch on the continents in this challenge to make sure I do a different thing week on week. However, as this was my first one back, I wanted to go with something that ranks as one of my absolute favourites – which is how I ended up making Japanese food and, because of taking too much on too quickly, ended up needlessly panicking about everything I made despite the fact that everything ended up tasting amazing.

Since I cook a fair bit of Japanese food anyway – mainly tonkatsu, yakisoba and curries – I wanted to make something that was a bit more out of my regular cooking routine. I was originally going to make three things, but given the complexities of the two I did end up making, I ditched the idea of trying to make tempura for the first time. However, I did find out that there is a Bengali version of this using squash blossoms – so all is not lost.

Main: Futomaki

When it came to deciding on what to make for a country, sometimes you have to go with the obvious choice because you know it’s going to be perfect. I mean, there are few foods out there that are as quintessentially Japanese as sushi. Also, and I completely forgot about this before I started writing, it allows me to cross something off.

List Item: Make your own sushi
Progress: Completed

As Bob Ross would say, this was a happy accident.

Now, back in the mists of time I have made sushi before. However, it has been many many years – and the last time I sliced my finger so bad that the blood loss made me want to throw up. So, despite loving sushi, I haven’t been the most eager to return to it. Plus, given the rules and variety, there is something quite daunting about making sushi.

For this challenge, therefore, I decided to keep it ‘simple’. Rather than make multiple types, I opted to just make sushi rolls. I don’t have specialist equipment other than a rice cooker – so these are all hand rolled (without a bamboo mat) and the rice was cooled with a handfan. Also, because of expense reasons and availability, I used risotto rice instead of proper sushi rice. In the end, they’re both short-grain rice of the same species and behave pretty much the same.

Thanks to Just One Cookbook, I was able to perfectly season the rice. I didn’t follow her ideas for the futomaki filling though, instead I went with what I enjoy: salmon, cucumber and avocado. There was also some surimi in there for my husband.

This sushi was a lot easier to make than I thought it would be. I haven’t had sushi since lockdown began, so to have it seven months or so later made for a delicious homecoming. Given how expensive it can be, especially if you get it as a delivery, I think I might actually start making my own as a part of the larger cooking rotation.

Dessert: Strawberry Shortcake

For my birthday last year, a friend of mine got me a really pretty Japanese cookery book called Tokyo Cult Recipes. Since then, I’ve really wanted to make something from it for when I did Japan for this particular challenge. So rather than make the spaghetti recipe, I went for this really lovely cake.

If you watch enough anime, you will have seen this cake somewhere. Recently I have seen it reference in Nichijou and in one of my favourite scenes in K-Onand it also has the honour of having it’s own emoji character. Like, outside of making mochi (which was never going to happen because I am not a rabbit and I don’t have the proper equipment) or something using matcha, this is the obvious choice for a Japanese dessert.

I may have gone a bit crazy with the piping (but hey, this is only my second time using a piping bag), but I couldn’t help but want to make this cake pretty. The sponge is extremely light with a cherry syrup soaked in and a thick layer of cream and sliced strawberries in between the cake layers.

Aside from the false start where I was convinced I ruined the cakes by not folding the ingredients properly (which turned out to be untrue), this cake showed me how much fun baking can be. I have already had a request to make this as a birthday cake and that been told this may be one of the best cakes I ever made – so this is a real winner of a recipe and this whole post has reminded me just why I did this global food challenge.

🎻♫♪ – Gurrelieder by Arnold Schoenberg

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
87/501Title: Gurrelieder
Composer: Arnold Schoenberg
Nationality: Austrian

This is weird. I haven’t written a blog post in months (as explained in my last post) and I am having to get back into the swing of things with a post that – quite coincidentally – goes up on my birthday. So a happy birthday to me, you made it through and will continue to do so. Now, let’s talk about a classical piece that has one of the best pieces of album artwork that I have ever seen.

Gurrelieder is described as a cantata, meaning a choral piece of music for multiple voices. However, that’s also how you could describe an opera… so I am not entirely sure of the difference between the two other than general feel. The use of the voices in this piece didn’t feel operatic. Must be something about the orchestration and how it’s performed I guess.

When I picked a classical piece out of the random bucket (as we have a bucket now for three of the different challenges) I never imagined it would be one where the third act essentially required a chorus of zombies. Okay, I am embellishing a little bit – but when you read the description, it’s hard to not think of the Thriller video in a classical context with 13th century clothing.

My weird mental picture aside, everything about Gurrelieder screamed an epic romance – albeit about the mythologised life of a very important Danish king. It’s an interesting first thing to write about and I look forward to what classical piece comes next now that I am back.

2020 – The Summer That Wasn’t

Back in January, which feels like a year ago by now, myself and the husband booked ourselves on a two week dream trip to the cities of Eastern Canada (Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto). Like with Japan and South Korea, the idea was to take a bit of a post break. However, this trip didn’t happen. I mean, they aren’t even really allowing people in at the moment.

Putting in for the cancellation of the plane tickets and hotels for what was going to be an amazing trip with whale watching and Niagara Falls provided a bookend for what has undoubtedly been the worst months of my life.

Thanks to COVID-19, my industry went beyond bananas and I have been part of a team doing horrendous amounts of overtime to the point where the legality has been questionable. The amount of work, the lost weekend days and the incredible pressure drove me to some of the darkest mental places I have ever been to. Darker than many of those that caused my total breakdown when I was teaching.

List Item: Shout as loud as you can
Status: Completed

This wasn’t quite how I envisaged ticking this one of, but it happened as a wider part of this summer. Screaming until I was hoarse. Screaming because I just couldn’t take it. Then having the guilt and conscientiousness that made me log back into work some 40 minutes later.

List Item: Accept a personal flaw
Status: Completed

Given what this summer was, I learned a lot about myself. I also accepted that I should have probably sought proper help after my post-teaching breakdown and that a lot of those patterns are still there. Patterns that became heightened this summer and ended in me having a day off sick where literally all I did was sleep. I am now getting help and we’ll see where that goes. If I am able to just get my panic reflexes back under control, then I don’t really care what I have to do.

List Item: Forgive someone
Status: Completed

On a professional level, this had to happen a lot this summer. I can’t really go too much into things, but there has been a lot of forgiveness that has had to happen else I would not have been able to move on. This has been a bit of a development for me as I can be one for grudges. So despite all the horrible stuff, there has been some real personal growth.

List Item: Keep a secret
Status: Completed

Given the confidential nature of work I’ve had to undertake this summer – this goes without saying really.


So, where does this all fit in with the blog aside from some crossings off of some longstanding items? Posts have still been going up, but I haven’t actually written a proper post in three months and before then it had been an additional three months since I was writing at least one post a week. When lockdown started I had a lead of six months and now it’s closer to six weeks.

I still want to do this blog and one day maybe I’ll get back to more than three things in a week. Being actually able to write this post and contemplate starting things up again make me think that I can start to get back to some degree of normality, so let’s see how the first posts look as they go up next week.

XL Popcorn – Strangers on a Train

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 831/1007Title: Strangers on a Train
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1951
Country: USA

Well this is it, the penultimate Hitchcock film on the list. It’s going to be a long time before I see his final entry on the list – Blackmail – but I thankfully have a lot of his other films on DVD in case I suddenly get the itch. Or I could just introduce my husband to the wonders of Joan Fontaine via a Rebecca/Suspicion double bill.

The conceit of the film is an interesting one. In a time before DNA and the related databases, could two men commit a murder on behalf of the other and get away with it. This is the central idea that draws you in, but sadly it’s not the film. Instead you have a film where, drunk on his own idea and on the idea of having his father murdered, a psychotic man kills the troublesome wife of a famous tennis player in order to force the other man to reciprocate of face being framed for a murder he didn’t commit.

Actually, when I think about this bait and switch, this is still an amazing idea for a film. The problem is that the actual murder in this film happens too early in the film’s runtime. What then unfolds is a slower paced blackmail scheme where the rather milquetoast protagonist lacks the presence to fully lead this story. I actually wish this had followed the novel more because that would have made for the better film and not had the almost perfunctory happy ending.

Not the best of his films to initiate a Hitchcock drought with, but between the framing of the strangulation and the amazing final confrontation on an out of control carousel I cannot see myself not throwing on another of his films in the mean time. Such a shame about Robert Walker’s untimely death – I was so prepared to find more of his films after his tour de force performance as the psychotic plan hatcher that finding out that he died in the same year that this film was released was a real blow.

What’s On TV – Project Runway

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 238/501
Title: Project Runway
Episodes Aired: 251+
Year(s): 2004-now
Country: USA

Ever since I caught a random episode of Season 10 where they had to design new outfits for the Radio City Rockettes, I have had Project Runway high on my list of shows I wanted to pull out for this list. However, thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race I have technically been ahead on reality shows for ages. With the COVID-19 crisis, and the social isolation that this has resulted in, I figured stuff the numbers let’s just watch something that will be fun.

With, at the time of writing this, there being 18 seasons of Project Runway and eight of the All Stars spin-off – it was difficult to think of the best place to jump off. A bit of research later and we settled on watching the fourth season first and then starting from the beginning. Needless to say, this hooked me nearly straight away and is such the right balance between awe, drama and couch ‘oh come on, I would have done it differently’.

I think, by now, most people know the premise. You get a bunch of people who want to make it big in the fashion industry and have them compete for a chance to get a collection shown at New York Fashion win and to get their breakthrough moment. Being a reality show, there is obviously some production work going on where they don’t necessarily stack a season with 10-14 potential winners – but I still find myself in awe of those designers that fall at the first hurdles.

I’m going to be interested to see, as I progress through the seasons, just how things develop. Already the differences between the first and fourth seasons, such as the storylines of the models taking a complete backseat (although the moment where a designer needed another designer to model his clothes because his model didn’t show was… amazing to watch) and I cannot wait to see how this series develops further. Although, to be honest, the idea of doing this without Tim Gunn doesn’t full me with too much confidence.

XL Popcorn – The Firemen’s Ball

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 830/1007Title: Hoří, má panenko (The Firemen’s Ball)
Director: Miloš Forman
Year: 1967
Country: Czechoslovakia

I actually took a week off from watching 1001 films. The first break in years (other than holiday breaks of course) because of just where my head has been at. Returning to films, it only made sense for me to pick something a bit lighter like The Firemen’s Ball – a Czech comedy that takes a satirical look at communism set at a firemen’s ball. The fact that I later found out that this ridiculous farce is based on the screenwriters’ attendance at an actual small town fireman’s ball just made an already great film even better.

At just over 1 hour 10 minutes, The Firemen’s Ball wastes no time in setting up and executing a number of narrative threads and in painting the whole community as a bunch of cheats. The corruption in something as inconsequential as a local beauty competition (which ends up in none of the girls actually wanting to do it and them locking themselves in the bathroom) and how a charitable act of giving away a table full of goods to a needy man leads to mass theft – well it had me smiling all the way through.

Knowing that Miloš Forman would go from this and end up creating both Amadeus and One Flew Over Cuckoo’s Nest is extraordinary. Like everyone knows at least one of those two films, but I think that this is just as much essential viewing. It’s not often that you get an Eastern European comedy on this list – but to be honest this would be on the 1001 without that being a defining trait. It strikes an excellent balance between you laughing at the obviously coming punchline then, at others, catching you off guard with something utterly ludicrous.

1001 Songs – 1979: Part Three

Usually for these posts I insert YouTube clips so you can listen along, this plugin doesn’t appear to be working anymore. Sorry about that.

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Outdoor Miner – Wire

Not sure I’ve ever heard of a label asking a band to make a song longer for a single, but with the album version clocking in at a slender 01:44 – you can see where they were coming from. This is a post-punk song that has the potential for mass commercial appeal – like I can hear this song in a lot of music I listen to that’s being made now, but also it feels like a song that could have been in a car commercial. Really like this one.

Rapper’s Delight – The Sugarhill Gang

Thanks to comedian Paul F. Tompkins, I cannot hear the name ‘Sugarhill Gang’ without thinking of his character Cal Solomon.

This is not the first rap single. I’ve heard rap before when doing this list, so I am already seeing this as a bit of a development from there. It’s also weird that I’ve heard ‘Good Times’ by Chic, which this song samples heavily.

What this is, is one of the most important singles in American history because of how it helped to raise the profile of rap. It was controversial at the time since it took an art form that is improvisational by nature and gave permanence to a single performance.

California Über Alles – Dead Kennedys

Given how quickly it appears that punk exploded in 1977 and left post-punk in its wake – it’s interesting to actually hear some purer punk that was still going on. I mean it makes complete sense that these bands would still be going, but it took a lot of songs before we got here.

Weirdly though, I cannot hear the delivery of this song without thinking of ‘Rock Lobster’ by the B-52s. Means that there must be a surf rock element here holding it all together, but the predominant genre is very much punk.

Typical Girls – The Slits

Back in the world of post-punk, but this time with a bit of a reggae influence. Also, one of the rarer instances of an all female punk group – giving a different perspective in this genre than I’ve really had before. Because of the reggae guitar breaks, this isn’t really a song for me – but it is interesting to hear a very different take of a genre that I’ve heard a lot of in these 1001 posts.

Atomic – Blondie

For me, ‘Atomic’ is one of the great songs. The lyrics mean nothing, but you cannot help but sing along to them. It’s a genre mash-up of new wave, rock and manages to fit in a disco-style dance break. The beginning guitars are a rip-off of the kid’s song ‘Three Blind Mice’. Somehow all of these elements make this brilliant feel-good song. Maybe I’m biased because I love Blondie, but it sounds like nothing else on this 1001 list.

Gangsters – The Specials

I don’t usually like ska, but wow if this song didn’t crawl into my head. I have yet to listen to the debut album by The Specials for the albums challenge, but after listening to ‘Gangsters’ I think that their take on the genre might appeal to me. After all, this is the band that gave us ‘Ghost Town’, so I should have had a bit of faith. It’ll be interesting to see how I respond to a full album of this though.

Cars – Gary Numan

The second Gary Numan song (after Tubeway Army’s ‘Are Friends Electric’) in the 1979 section of the 1001 list and it is another classic of synth music. Like, this is one of those songs that I don’t think I have ever heard all the way through before outside of playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, but it is so synonymous with this era and style of music that I feel I heard parts of it for all of my life.

I don’t think I know any of his music from after 1979, like he basically threw all his tricks into one big year and then just became irrelevant after he became iconic. Very strange.

Babylon’s Burning – The Ruts

A technically proficient song where we see another reggae-infused punk song, this time with a harder rock vocal and overall feel to it. Honestly, that’s all I have to say on it. It’s a decent enough song, but I’m not sure I find it too interesting.

Message in a Bottle – The Police

And so we close out the 1970s for the 1001 list after who knows how many years and posts. We have seen the rise and explosion of punk, the emergence and destruction of disco and the resilience of reggae to outlast so many other genres. It’s fitting therefore to end on a song that infuses two of the three big musical trends.

‘Message in a Bottle’ is no ‘Roxanne’, then again few songs are, and it’s weird for me to hear Sting put on a full reggae accent when I mostly know his voice from ‘Every Step You Take’. I’m, again, not the biggest fan of this sub-genre of music but it’s one of the better songs of this batch.

Progress: 526/1021

What’s On TV – Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 237/501
Title: Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
Episodes Aired: 3
Year(s): 1990
Country: UK

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit originally aired over the course three weeks, we opted to watch the whole thing in one night. This was interrupted by me having to make a call to the bank because of them blocking my card due to a fraud attempt… but we achieved what we set out to do in watching this coming of age drama about a girl growing up as a lesbian in an incredibly religious Christian sect.

Watching this in 2020, this still feels like a bold piece of television. I know we live in a world where there are more LGBT characters than ever and the depiction of LGBT youth has gone from strength to strength – but there is something more daring in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Whilst this can be very funny, it is also a story about coming to terms and having to carve out a future on your own.

So many people still have to go through these journeys and I, as someone who didn’t have to go up against anything within my own family unit, can only watch depictions like this in awe. It’s little wonder that the novel this is based on, as well as this great TV adaptation, feature on countless lists of essential LGBT content, the fact this adaptation is regarded as one of the best miniseries in British TV history further speaks of its power.

XL Popcorn – The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 829/1007Title: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Director: John Cassavetes
Year: 1976
Country: USA

This was the film where I was hoping John Cassavetes would win me over. Hoping because this is not my final stop on the Cassavetes train before finishing the 1001 list and, whilst this is the best of the three films I have seen so far, I am still not close to wow territory. This isn’t as bad as my relationship with Godard (which, after a conversation with a cinephile friend of mine, I don’t feel as bad about), but I know there is something just not connecting here.

As stories go, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is pretty great. The owner of a nightclub racks up so much gambling debt (whilst celebrating paying off his last round of debt) that he has to take on an assassination contract or himself lose everything. The aftermath of this assassination that was never meant to be successful, again, looks great on paper.

However, so much of this film ends up dwelling on needless detail – like showing us the nightclub routines in excruciating detail, that any tension starts to dissolve and you are left watching a poorly executed burlesque piece loosely connected with Paris. Ben Gazzara is brilliant in his role as the owner and reluctant assassin, his strange earnestness being oddly compelling. The final scenes go a long way towards breaking your heart, but by then it’s too late – I’ve disconnected from the film and wanting to be back on my island in Animal Crossing.