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Friday, April 29, 2016

James Went To Bucharest

Early last year, myself and my most important advisor (family excepted) decided that we would have a party weekend away somewhere.

Ideally I wanted to go to a country I’d never visited, and again ideally somewhere inexpensive.

We batted a few ideas around but given that we intended it on being a clubbing weekend, and most of my favourite DJs nowadays are from Romania, it made sense to visit the new centre of minimal techno – like visiting Berlin would have in 2004 when the last wave of minimal was really starting to make waves.

For a variety of reasons it didn’t happen – money, studying, work, detoxes and more detoxes – the dreadful nightclub fire then put paid to any chance of going in late 2015 as most nightclubs were closed whilst safety checks were carried out.

We did consider doing Time Warp in Germany instead but Easter clashed, and I really did have my heart set on going to the heart of the scene that excites me so much right now, so many great producers and DJs – Barac, Cristi Cons, Arapu, Priku, Dubphone, Kid Chriss, Zefzeed, VincentIulian, Vid, Petre Inspirescu, Rhadoo, Raresh, Groovesh, Funk E, Egal 3, Nu Zau, NTFO, Livio & Roby, Lumieux, Melodie, Mihai Popoviciu, Motiv, Dan Andrei…

I could go on and have probably missed some obvious ones – maybe one or two of them are actually from Essex but you get my drift.  The Romanian scene is currently as exciting as Berlin 10-15 years ago, or Chicago 30 years ago.  Something very, very special is brewing and I wanted a taste.

There was a slight problem in that very few events in Romania are advertised more than a few days in advance – unlike over here where promoters are probably about to start selling NYE tickets.

And there was a more moderate-sized problem – Sunwaves, a pretty massive minimal techno festival in Romania started the weekend after.

The only reliable source to hear of events was checking dozens of Romanian DJ pages the week before but I’d been checking every week and there were always some good events.

However I spent all week prior to leaving, looking for something on the Friday night (to avoid too traumatic a plane journey back on the Sunday).  No minimal techno.  I spent hours combing Facebook.  Nothing.  Nada.  Nicht.  Until late Thursday evening, finally a party appeared – I’d never heard of the DJs but their music was nice so all was sorted.

The very early morning wake-up and obligatory early morning beer ensued, British Airways supplied the transport and 3 hours in an aeroplane later, I found myself back in the 20th Century.

Despite the ridiculously cheap taxi prices, we decided to get the train to the city centre, assuming it would be something similar to the Gatwick Express.  Instead, 10 minutes or so on a rickety minibus, we found ourselves in a car park with some kind of Chernobyl-inspired walkway to the dilapidated one-platform station.  I even thought I could see Chernobyl in the distance.



But it was warm, the sun was shining, and we had some new Romanian friends (one was a hottie) and the train going the other way was a proper Communist-era monster.  I was suitably impressed.



Sadly when it came to getting our train to Bucharest centre, it was a more modern affair – albeit replete with cracked windows where rocks had been thrown at the train.  I’m clearly not the only one who preferred the Communist-era trains.

Our Romanian friends proceeded to warn us about the dangers of pick-pockets and thieves in the city, advising us to avoid groups of people, along with advising us not to get a taxi at night.  They were quite emphatic on the dangers and I was becoming a little duly concerned.

So my first impressions of Romania were that it was poor, still well in the 20th Century, and also possibly quite dodgy.  Though it was green.  There were loads of trees.  I like to think that Britain has a lot of trees but Romania puts it to shame on that aspect.

Our hotel was a non-descript Communist-era Ibis.  We did have a little look at Airbnb but many of the buildings in Bucharest were either dilapidated or identikit Communist-era apartments so they were not exactly appealing.  Oh and we did have a quick check on our party destination – the party was cancelled.  Sigh.

In the evening we went out for dinner at the Gram Bistro.  It didn’t serve what I was hoping for but I did get a small rib-eye steak.  Apparently in eastern Europe they do not know that you can cook a steak anything other than medium.  And meal portions were on the small size – there were no fat people in Romania.  It was warm enough to eat outside and watch the world go by, drinking fairly cheap beer and eating fairly cheap food.  Oh and surprisingly they also did a very nice blueberry cheesecake.

Food and drink wasn’t quite as cheap as I’d hoped in Bucharest but it was still cheap.  £10 for a steak, £2 or less for a beer, £3 to £4 for a double vodka and mixer.

Afterwards we discovered Bucharest’s version of Friar Street with a variety of bars pumping out rnb, cheesy deep house or random pumping cheese.  We found a bicycle themed bar where much of the seating and decoration was made out of old bike parts and was pumping out half-decent tech-house, although punctuated with the odd dreadful track like a saxophone-filled remix of Faithless’ Insomnia (insert vomit).  The bar was pretty decent – but sadly, it was empty.


We didn’t find any minimal techno and after a bit more wandering around decided to give up and save ourselves for Saturday night, via a pretty crap piece of pizza.

I’m not allowed to tell you how long I waited for my accomplice to apply her make-up on Saturday, but I was happy enough to drink a warm can of beer, straighten my hair and try to assess our party options for the evening, along with restaurant options.

Prior to our trip I had been wasted enough to agree to go to a raw food/vegan restaurant whilst in Bucharest and I stuck to my promise, despite really requiring bacon and eggs.  For those that don’t know, raw food is totally uncooked food (assuming I’ve actually been listening) and the theory is that it offers a higher vitamin/nutrient intake.

Everything looked weird, although the cakes looked amazing (if a little weird too).  I discombobulatedly plumped for some (uncooked) cheese in peppers with some salad leaves.  I ate most of it.


The cake was more appealing, I had a large slice of the chocolate cake (no baking, no cooking, remember) and the chocolate was very strong on the cocoa front.  Kind of nice but it wasn’t cake and I’d had enough by the end.  James does not leave cake though.


Needless to say, I will not be swapping to a raw food diet any time soon.  I did get chatting to the (assumed) owner, who was an occasional minimal techno producer, and apparently it was somewhere that Rhadoo often eats at.  You do know Rhadoo, don’t you?  He recommended Club Guesthouse for the evening – which is what we had planned.

Next up was a walk to the park, through generally much nicer buildings, including the rather impressive building housing the Democratic Socialist Party.  Of course, why would socialists just have a plain old Communist-era building?

I should add that we had glorious sunshine and temperatures around 20’C.  I was getting quite a bit of attention – was it the mullet?  Was it the bright pink socks?  Maybe it was my pretty accomplice but I suspect it was my beauty grabbing all the attention.  I would just like to add that Romanian women are hotties.  Spanish women are sooooooo 2015.

It was a very large park, much of which was slightly unkempt, a large lake to walk around and a very pleasant setting.  Inside the park was a museum – Bucharest isn’t exactly known for its culture – around 80 historic village buildings had been transplanted to the park – old houses, an old church, mills, etc – from previous centuries.  It was interesting to see how people in Romania used to live centuries ago.



We looked for somewhere to have a beer on the walk home but everywhere we saw was (surprisingly) very exclusive looking – quite a contrast from the majority of the city that we had seen so far.

In the evening we went to the delightful Beca’s Kitchen.  They had about 10 tables, there were just a handful of dishes to choose from – 3 fish and 2 meat dishes for my requirements.  I could have done with a mixed grill after earlier but went for the herb-encrusted salmon – with a cuboid of zucchini, tomato and some other stuff in.  Super tasty.

Later on we found our minimal techno.  Club Guesthouse was a simple space, with a bar on the front, toilets on the left, dancefloor at the end and a crisp, clear and fairly powerful soundsystem.  I truly felt at home with Melodie’s minimal warm-up.  One track was just absolutely sublime and I cannot wait until I work out what it is.

However the minimal didn’t last for that long – Cab Drivers came on afterwards and played a mixture of dub techno, tech-house and techno – some good, some not so inspiring.  We stayed until around 5:30am, probably about as long as we could push it with a midday check-out.

Waking up was painful, and the first beer took forever to drink.  We soon realised that the hotel bar was hosting some kind of Romanian Pop Idol contest – the only time I’d seen anyone in Romania looking gay kind of gave it away.  And the piano, and occasional singing.  But there was no motivation to go elsewhere.

We had a disappointing incident on the way home.  Some taxi drivers do try to rip you off, though even their rip-off prices come to £5 which is hardly extortion.  But we’d agreed a figure with our taxi driver to the airport, who looked like a thug, smoked in the taxi, drove angrily and looked like he was about to chase some driver down who I couldn’t see had done anything wrong.  He tried to charge more than we’d agreed – twice what was on the meter and we refused.

Eventually he stormed out of the taxi and literally threw our suitcases on the ground in the hope of breaking something.  Twat.

Apart from that, everyone we met and spoke to in Romania was really nice – the raw food restaurant owner came and joined us at Club Guesthouse, people were warm, friendly and helpful – most people spoke English very well.

Not at one point did I feel unsafe or like there were people looking at my wallet.  Of course I was only there two days, but I thought Barcelona was far more dodgy than Bucharest.

I had an excellent weekend away.  Yet I’m not sure I would recommend it unless you are the type of person to go for city breaks away from the usual western European trail.  It certainly doesn’t fit into my must-visit list, though very few places do.

It’s a good city, up and coming, cheapish beer and food, hot women.  Not a lot of culture.  Great minimal techno scene – if you can find it!  There were plenty of tourists.

I had a great time in Romania.  I’d go back for Sunwaves – or to go to Transylvania.  But there are many other countries on my list too.  I'll certainly be back in eastern Europe though.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

James Went To Theatre

It’s about 16 years since I went to the theatre.  You are far more likely to see me dancing away in a nightclub, having a few beers whilst watching the football or in a nice country pub having a roast dinner.

I’m not exactly your average uncultured Neanderthal, but the theatre isn’t something that I generally consider as an evening’s entertainment.

And then I heard the shocking news that Reading Council were considering closing down South Street Arts Centre.  How dare they?  What a disgrace.

Oh wait a minute – I’ve lived in Reading for 17 years and haven’t even been inside.

The opportunity came up to try to impress a very attractive young lady, erm, sorry, I mean to take my closest friend out to celebrate passing her accountancy exams, and I decided that this was a perfect match – neither of us had been to the venue, both are intrigued by culture – my friend being someone that actually does occasionally go to events more cultural than techno in a sweaty nightclub in Hackney.

So I looked at the line-up for South Street Arts Centre on quite a shabby Reading Arts website (which has thankfully recently been refreshed and re-launched), became utterly confused as I had no idea what to go see, and almost randomly picked BE Festival, more on the basis that it was 3 short performances so if anything was boring, it wouldn’t last too long.

The online ticket booking process was obstinately painful, particularly with regards to signing up – had I been in one of my more impatient modes, I may have given up and signed up for BJ’s bingo hall.

South Street Arts Centre looks like the archetypal 1960’s mass-produced local education authority school building that you have fond/painful memories of.

Head right when you arrive, around the corridor, and you arrive at the bar with a very sweet and softly-spoken young lady pouring reasonably-priced drinks into relatively sturdy plastic glasses.  There are plenty of chairs spaced equally around round tables in 1990’s school canteen style.

If you head left instead, and around the corridor, you will arrive in the theatre.


It isn’t the largest room ever – I think I read correctly that in theory, around 300 people could fit in – one assumes more standing than seated, and that would be quite a squeeze.

For us, there was a stand with 4 rows of seats – I didn’t count but I’d estimate that there were around 48 seats set out, and most were filled so it was a cosy little audience setting.

In front of us was a stage, and for the first performance, a projection screen with video being streamed as we awaited our Juliet.  She arrived and sat down, wearing just tights and a t-shirt.

Neanderthal me’s eyes lit up as I realised that she was very, very, very slowly taking her t-shirt off.  And I do mean very slowly.

The first ten minutes were quite intense and I was wondering what the hell I was doing here when I could have been watching the Merseyside derby.

But slowly it started to fit into place.  It was a recreation of Romeo and Juliet – the actress was Juliet – the audience were Romeo.  The actual Shakespeare was in Spanish, which was quite a wonderful touch – I probably understand Spanish as much as ye olde English.

It was translated on screen too, and much of the play was spoken in English.

She did bring over the emotions of Juliet brilliantly, and the initial slow intensity had really drawn me into the play, to my surprise – the pace of the performance matched the emotions in intensity at times – and from a vague northern-understanding of who Shakespeare was, seemed to match his playfulness and humour at times too.

A really brilliant play and 30 minutes I will remember for a long time.

The second performance was about an Irish man and a ball.

When he blew his whistle, we had to close our eyes.  When he blew it again, we had to open our eyes.  Right…  After a few whistles, I went back to schoolboy mode and thought “bollocks” and kept them open for a bit.

But then I realised that the whole thing only works if you follow along.  So close and open my eyes 100+ times I did.

It was split into 5 chapters, with movement, juggling and occasional comedy the central strains.

I didn’t quite get the point to it – though I’m not entirely sure there was a point.  It was interesting, especially the part where the audience had different views of what happened – as we had picked red and blue tickets upon entry and each group flitted between open and closed – hence trying to generate the feeling of missing out on what others were seeing.

There was a chapter where he got changed from one grey outfit to another.  I decided to open my eyes to see if he really was getting changed on stage, I saw that he was in his boxers and about to take them off so I quickly closed my eyes again.

It was interesting, thought-provoking and enjoyable.

Finally we had a young chap from Italy who was very keen on some recently-deceased scientist who is apparently very well known in his home country and wanted to replicate her through some kind of interpretative dance (ish) but needed help from the audience.

So someone was looking after a countdown on his phone, someone controlled the lights, three people controlled the music and four helped him on stage with surrounding movements and helping undress him from being this famous female scientist.

He was very fast-paced in his description to his assistants of what he wanted to happen – your stereotypical passionate Italian.

There was plenty of humour mixed in, especially with his facial expressions when trying to ensure his assistants did their jobs – lots of winks, sly pointing, etc.

As a performance it was the lesser-enjoyable of the three but still pleasantly amusing, clever and definitely watchable.

It will not be 16 years until I next go to the theatre.

If you are vaguely curious then I highly recommend booking a ticket to a show.  I had next to no idea what to expect and just plumped for something close to random.  I paid £14.00 for the ticket which is less than half the price of a football ticket and arguably far more enjoyable.

Just take a risk.  You'll probably be very pleasantly surprised.  And they have a bar.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Complaint: M&S Southern Fried Chicken

Dear M&S

I normally love your food, however yesterday I was having a fat day so thought I would treat myself to some southern fried chicken - namely your box of drumsticks and thighs.

Now I love a chicken thigh but hate drumsticks - they are like comparing MDMA to Meow Meow. One classy and beautiful - the other rough as a badger's bum but better than nothing.

So I was hoping it would be roughly half and half but out of a box of 7 chicken pieces - 5 of them were drumsticks!

5 drumsticks!

Just 2 thighs. Very negative discrimination.

Very disappointed, I won't be purchasing them again.

Apart from that, keep up the good work.

Regards
James Winfield

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Dear Mr Winfield

Thank you for emailing us about the southern fried you recently bought from us. I’m sorry you were disappointed with the quality on this occasion, due to the ratio of drumsticks to thighs.

We have rigorous control agreements with all our food suppliers, ensuring our quality is maintained to the highest possible standard. Despite the care we take, we’ve clearly not been successful on this occasion.

I would like to inform our Food Technologists of your comments and for you to be refunded. It will therefore be really useful if you can get back in touch with the information below.

    Product code (barcode). If unavailable, please provide a description of the product.
    Use by date / Display until date
    Batch code (this is usually in the form of a time e.g. 12:53)
    Full name
    First line of your address and postcode

As soon as we receive this information we will report the issue to our technologists and suppliers. At this point we can also arrange for a refund to be sent to you.

Thank you again for bringing this to our attention. If you have any further queries in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Kind regards


Retail Customer Services
Your M&S Customer Service

************

Dear Sir

Thank you for your response.

Unfortunately the wrapper has long been thrown away so I cannot provide most of the details you require.

My address is below.

Kind regards

James

************

Dear Mr Winfield

Our Ref:- 83307

Thank you for taking the time to get back to us. I'm sorry to hear you no longer have the packaging for the chicken.

I have identified the product from your description and can assure you all the details are now on our system, which we use to closely monitor the performance of each supplier. I have also reported this matter to our Food technologists and our supplier directly. They will look into what has gone wrong and will take steps to prevent this happening again.

I can assure you our Food technologists will take action if we feel the highest quality standards aren’t being met.

As you've been disappointed, I've arranged for a £5 e-gift card to be sent to you to cover the cost of the chicken. This comes with my sincere apologies and very best wishes and will arrive in a separate email.

You should expect to receive this email within the next two working day and I would please ask for you to check both your inbox and spam folder for this email.

Thank you very much for bringing this to our attention. If we can help any further, please don’t hesitate to get back in touch.

Kind regards

Rhys Williams
Retail Customer Services

************

And I've just realised that I haven't spent my £5.00 gift card.  I'll take it straight to the Bracknell M&S...yeah.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

James Went To Parliament

I’ve long wanted to go to parliament.  I didn’t realise that they did tours.  I knew that you could go watch proceedings from the public gallery, though I was under the assumption that you needed an invite from your MP.

Luckily my sister took a “risk” and booked a tour for my Christmas present.  Quite how the heck that qualifies as a risky present I do not know – it’s a dream present.

It took a while to find a Saturday when we were both free but the preceding Saturday was it.  The big day.  I was rather excited beforehand.


We went through security – apparently you are not allowed knives or pepper spray – yes someone had tried to take pepper spray in that morning.  The police were everywhere – those on the front gate had powerful looking machine guns.

The tour started in Westminster Abbey – a grand hall originally built not far off 1,000 years ago, and the oldest section of parliament.

We then traversed through a corridor – a very wide corridor with a collection of marbles of great historical figures such as Somers and Walpole.




This was the last place that we were allowed to photograph.

Parliament itself has around 1,000 rooms and we probably saw 10, but pretty much the most important 10.  The building and the tour is split into three sections – the royal section, the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

The royal section in particular had many paintings of famous Queens and Kings, and also a selection of ‘frescos’ (those of you more culturally aware in terms of art may know what that means – I don’t), many of which disappointed Queen Victoria due to their poor quality – and the colours indeed have faded and have been damaged by pollution.

This section included the Queen’s entrance and her robing room.

Next up was the House of Lords, which accordingly to an earlier tour guest was “blingy innit”.  Indeed it was so with the well-known deep red leather seating and lashings of gold - too much for the liking of Queen Victoria.

Before we got to my particular highlight, there was chance to go through the connecting area that you often see journalists interviewing politicians, which has statues of great historical prime ministers such as Thatcher and Churchill, along with busts of other important prime ministers – the most recent being John Major.

Gordon Brown will not even get a bust (unelected) – Tony Blair might eventually get a statue though that is clearly quite controversial.  On average the decision takes 12 years from the particular prime minister stepping down.

Then we went onto the highlight – though first through the voting corridor.  And then into the House of Commons.  It felt slightly surreal being where my heroes and slugs debate, thankfully I got to stand on the government side – I think near where Jacob Rees-Mogg is often seen slouching.


It was a fantastic moment being there.

We than gradually made our way back to hall where we entered.

Our tour guide was excellent, camply passionate about history and royalty, able to answer all the questions fired at him.  The tour itself was approaching 2 hours long.  It was the highlight of my year so far.

I’m pleased that I decided against becoming the British Lee Harvey-Oswald when I was angry and appalled at the way that Gordon Brown was destroying the country.  It is taking some time to recover from his disastrous management of the economy and will likely be felt for the next two decades.

On the way back we went to the Red Lion pub – one of the local pubs that have voting bells so MPs know they have 8 minutes to dash back and register their vote.  It was near the Downing Street protest.

I did of course shout “Tory And Proud” and “Get A Job” to a few people walking past with Socialist Worker banners.  An interesting collection of people – 10% were part of the great unwashed, a good chunk were the usual socialist/communist anti-Tories, and the largest portion seemed to be there to get drunk, hoping to see a bit of trouble or themselves on TV before heading back to watch the boxing.  The pub strangely became much busier when it started spitting with rain.

And then we went for some Yorkshire puddings.  But that is another story…for another blog.

Next up – James goes to Romania.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Complaint: Wet Feet Winfield

Still posting my old complaints up - this is from where I bought some leaky shoes from Clarks in autumn 2014:

Dear Sir

I have only had these shoes for 7 weeks and already the stitching on the top is coming loose and when it rains my feet get wet.

If I lived in Dubai this would be fine, but with medium-long range models suggesting an unsettled first half to winter, I am going to regularly have wet feet.

Perhaps even worse, my blue socks with stars on now have a brown sheen from the bottom of my wet shoes.

I was under the impression that Clarks were supposed to be good quality but clearly not.

Too late to return them within the 28 days so now I am stuck with crap shoes and wet feet.

Wet regards
James "Wet-feet" Winfield

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Dear James

Thank you for taking the time to email us regarding your order 25446989. I was very sorry to learn about your disappointment with your Astute Drop shoes.

We're very proud of the quality of our footwear. To make sure we keep to the high standards we've set for ourselves, we carry out extensive testing on all our new materials and designs before they go on sale.

Just in case there are any complaints about our products, we give guidelines to all our stockists on how to deal with them quickly and fairly. They let us know about any complaints they receive and we use this information to help us improve for the future.

I am sure you will appreciate without seeing the footwear it’s difficult for us to comment.

Please return them to your local Clarks shop, along with your proof of purchase, so the manager can look into the problem and take the appropriate action.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us and on behalf of Clarks, I apologise for any inconvenience caused.




Kind regards

Contact Centre Agent

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The store were not keen to accept a refund but eventually were persuaded to do so.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Complaint: Rocket

Dear Sainsbury's

As you may be aware, I have been developing my capacity to travel into space.  I wrote to you some time ago to complain about my teleport machine rejecting the rotten strawberries that I had purchased from you.  You were kind enough to refund the cost of said strawberries.

My teleport machine, however, does not get me into space – it can only handle earth-teleportation as gravity has to be calibrated to the exact constant to be able to deliver without defect.

I have recently been developing a leaf-powered rocket.  Now I am some way off being able to travel to space, however I was hoping to use it today for my first ever flight to Bracknell, which you may be aware also has various extra-terrestrial beings within its confines.

But imagine my disappointment when I took out my rocket leaves from the fridge this morning and realised that they were totally soaked.  They had been in my fridge since delivery on Friday night, they were unopened but now they are totally unusable for rocket-fuel.  Plus they smell.

Please can you ensure future rocket-fuel is still viable until the expiry date.

If you have any suggestions for longer-lasting leaves to use in my rocket that would be appreciated.

Kind regards
James Winfield

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Dear Mr Winfield

Thank you for your email about your recent order.  We only want to deliver great quality products so I am sorry that the rocket salad was of such poor quality.  I can appreciate the disappointment this has caused you.

Our fresh produce should be continually rotated and replaced with the latest deliveries to our stores, giving our colleagues access to the freshest items.  They are trained to select those products with the longest shelf life.

We expect our colleagues to take care when selecting your shopping and to pick items they would be happy to receive themselves.  I realise we let you down on this occasion.  I have passed your comments on to the online manager, who will speak with our colleagues that shopped for your order and instruct them to take better care with all future online deliveries.

I have sent an evoucher for £5 to your email address to cover the cost of this itme plus an additional amount as a goodwill

We appreciate the time you have taken to contact us and hope to see you online soon.

Kind regards


Customer Manager