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Friday, June 29, 2007

Clubbing: Generator @ Kambar, Cambridge

Following five days hard labour, the weekend is finally here and what better way is there to let off steam than to dance until you drop? Tonight's club of choice is Generator at the Kambar located opposite the Corn Exchange Box Office.

A quick look on their website reveals that the Kambar is housed in a Grade I listed building made up of beams salvaged from wrecked sailing ships dating back to 1624. In its long history, the building has been used as a butcher's, a tea shop, private housing and a restaurant.

Tonight it's a nightclub run by husband and wife team, Richard & Sue Reynolds, and a very successful one judging from the number of revellers inside. Kambar regular, DJ Neil Ogden, is on the decks playing a mix of punk, pop and rock. The music ranges from oldies like Velvet Underground and Joy Division, through The Smiths and The Cure right up to present day anthems from The Killers and The White Stripes.

The d├ęcor isn't quite what you'd find in any other nightclub, mainly a dirty brown, with most of those ship's beams still poking through, some coated in anti-vandal paint, and the furniture looks like it fell off the back of a lorry. Then there's the bar which is replete with cans, not a pint glass in sight. Shots come in those little plastic cups you get out of vending machines.

Some may go so far as to describe this place as a "dive" but this place isn't short of supporters. In fact a good share of tonight's clientele pay the Kambar a visit at least once a week to let their hair down. The alcohol is cheaper than most of Cambridge's other clubs (I heartily recommend the Sex On The Beach), the music's treble isn't drowned out by the bass, the entry fee is a mere £3, and there's no dress code (barring the ridiculous).

Song of the night goes to The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" which has me bouncing around linking arms with smiling strangers. I think this may be the moment when I understand what the Kambar is all about - being yourself. I spend half the night slumped in a bean-bag tapping my foot to the music and chatting with friends, and the other half throwing shapes to all my favourites. All because that's just what I felt like doing. I'll certainly be back to do more of what I feel like in the future.

© Johnskibeat

Commissioned by the Local Secrets online magazine...

Film: Shrek The Third

This third instalment of the saga of the lovable ogre begins with the newly-weds, Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz), filling-in for the ailing King of Far, Far Away (John Cleese). As he weakens further, the King asks Shrek to take his place or find Arthur (Justin Timberlake) the only remaining heir to the throne. Unwilling to relinquish his dream of returning to his swamp with his bride, Shrek heads off with faithful sidekicks Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss (Antonio Banderas), leaving Fiona and her royal friends to guard the castle.

Meanwhile, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), having been humiliated in Shrek 2, is determined to make his own "happily ever after" and recruits a band of ne'er-do-wells to storm the castle so enabling him to claim the throne for himself.

So begins the kind of adventure that we are now used to seeing in the Shrek films. This one is easily as good as the others with its usual smattering of toilet humour and rapid action sequences, all displayed in glorious animated form. In fact the computer-wizardry is even better than before. Lush forests, lapping waves and even mirror-reflections are nigh-on pixel-perfect.

The audience tonight mostly comprises parents and their kids and there are very few moments that don't raise a chuckle or shriek out of one of those groups. The Gingerbread Man's "extra jelly-tot" gets the biggest laugh out of the kids and Pinocchio's "not lying" scene tickles the adults the most. Again, the humour is pitched perfectly to suit all ages.

Just when you feel the writers may have ran out of ideas they throw in yet another twist, such as when Merlin (Eric Idle) uses magic to teleport Shrek and friends back home, only to have Donkey and Puss exchange personalities with inevitable hilarity. There are moments of musical genius too - watch out for the Frog Chorus singing "Live & Let Die" and the Snow White (Amy Poehler) version of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song".

The only notable criticism I have is Arthur's transformation from puny school-kid, who even the geeks bully, to brave and noble hero seems a little sudden to be believable. Despite this flaw, the character is instantly likeable, if a little slow-witted, and by the end the audience are all rooting for him. Certainly the choice of Justin Timberlake to voice the character is bang on the money and his portrayal of the sullen teen is believable enough to keep poor Shrek on his toes.

This may be the last we see of Shrek, save for the odd TV appearance (Dreamworks' are currently filming a half-hour TV special called "Shrek The Halls" which is due in early 2008), but this film has already done enough to make the smelly green giant one of the most successful animated characters of all-time.

© Johnskibeat

Commissioned by the Local Secrets online magazine...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sport: The Copyright Cup 2007

If I said I was playing in the Copyright Cup would you know what I was talking about? The name needs some explanation I feel.

Well, several months ago now eleven librarians from the National Library of Scotland (NLS) went in to their closets and each removed a pair of old, battered and, no doubt mud-encrusted, football boots. This innocent gesture began a chain of events that ended up in the NLS inviting three other copyright libraries to join them in Edinburgh for a magnificent tournament of football.

So it was on Friday 1st June 2007 that several football-obsessed Cambridge University librarians, one being myself, caught the 10:33 from Cambridge bound for bonnie Scotland and an exhausting weekend of advancing inter-library relations.

The Pear Tree on West Nicolson Street became the initial destination where all four teams met up for the draw. An event perceived by many as a chance to judge their opponents varying levels of fitness. First impressions were that there were more of those taller and younger than us and fewer not so.

As Ireland drew Scotland and England drew Wales out of the hat roars and groans went up. The Welsh were feared – any side with their own kit and team bus must be good. Friendships were immediately struck up, however, and all were quick to learn that this was a tournament not to be taken lightly.

Saturday began with a pre-match stroll up local landmark Arthur’s Seat. Halfway-up it became apparent that this wasn’t our best idea ever. 823 feet later and with aching bones, a muddle of chastened Cantabrigians steadily descended back to base-camp.

Not an hour later and all were heading for Peffermill Playing Fields and the semi-final play-offs. Team photos were taken and then anthems were sung (some National, some alternative) and the games commenced.

First game up for Cambridge was Wales and this proved to be a particularly tricky proposition. A well-drilled defensive unit of Siam Bhayro, Angela Pittock, Tim Cruickshank and Angela Fitzpatrick, thwarted many a Welsh attack but as the reds domination began to tell it became apparent that the breakthrough would come. Goalkeeper, Robin James, was making incredible save after incredible save and at half-time the score remained 0-0 and a well-earned breather for the Cambridge defence.

Second half began with the Welsh pushing their enormous centre-back, Huw Bonner into an attacking midfield role. Within minutes he’d made two searing runs into the box and the score was 2-0, one a towering header from a pinpoint cross on the right and the other a defence-splitting dribble and shot. Nothing for it then but to push more players forward in search of that elusive CUL shot at goal. And it worked. Two weak shots came in from Tim Cruickshank and John Clarke. One easily scooped up by the NLW keeper and one way over the bar. But at least the Welsh goal had been threatened. Ultimately though, the extra gaps at the back meant clearer NLW attacks and at the final whistle the score was 4-0 to the boys and girls from the valleys. Despite the long faces, we all agreed that the cheerleading CUL substitutes Chris Bell, Eleonore Migiet, Rachel Marsh and Claire Murnin, plus WAGs Louise and Hazel, had made the most noise and had kept the team going with their continuous chanting. Naturally, we claimed a moral victory for this reason.

Rushing across to find out the result of the other match we learned that Scotland had triumphed over Ireland 3-1. So tomorrow’s matches, to be played consecutively would be England v Ireland in the third-place play-off, and Scotland v Wales in the final.

After quick showers and some more bonding at the bar, it was off to the Ceilidh. Held at the Counting House, next door to the Pear Tree, there waited an array of food, drinks & a full Ceilidh band which gave the teams a chance to let their hair down and dispel the myth of the finger-wagging timid librarian once and for all. Kilts were worn with pride by a few Scots which added a real sense of national pride to the occasion. Cambridge got stuck into the ceilidh dancing enthusiastically and soon picked many of the intricate steps involved to their own and their team-mates astonishment. As the evening drew to a close all agreed it was a wonderful way to spend a night out in Edinburgh.

The morning of the last matches began with drawn faces and aching limbs; team-mates comparing bruises and minutes of sleep gained. A hearty breakfast soon revived spirits (those that had plumped for the haggis on the first morning chose something a little less adventurous) and the walk down to the ground was a lively one. A full warm-up was needed to remove the aches and then it was straight into the battle to avoid the wooden-spoon.

Ireland began brightly but soon it was England who began to dominate possession. Suddenly, the goal was in sight and a deft through-ball led to skipper Richard Young controlling in the area and side-footing adroitly into the net. 1-0 to the CUL. The celebrations were more an outpouring of relief than anything else. To leave without scoring in the tournament would have been a complete failure. Little were we to know that this match would contain eight excellent goals! Ireland equalised and then took the lead with their star-player, Stephen Hanaphy, causing havoc when pushing forward. The half-time whistle went and a rousing Cambridge team-talk ensued. “We can win this but we have to stay focussed”, was one cry.

Suddenly we were off again with inter-library loan officer, John Clarke, pushed deeper to midfield-enforcer, and manuscript fetcher, Ian Pittock, moved to the wing. This was working. More Cambridge pressure, a wicked Tim Cruickshank dribble, a late run and deft header from Clarke and it was 2-2. But, alas, Ireland forced it down the left wing and crossed for 3-2. Immediately, Charlie Cruickshank picked it up in midfield, went past two, nay three, defenders and blasted it into the Irish net. 3-3. But, woe of woes, poor tracking from Clarke and the team from Dublin had another. 4-3. With time ebbing away, a steaming run from Andrew Alexander and a pass into Jez Cruickshank’s feet and suddenly their was an opening. Jez looked up, a good 20 yards out, turned and blasted it high and wide to the keeper’s left for 4-4. The crowd screamed and hollered. What a match. As the final whistle blew Cambridge celebrated the draw like a victory. Bronze medals all round and a split wooden spoon which quickly went walkabouts.

So, to the final. I’d love to say this was the beautiful game at its finest, but I’d be lying. The Welsh humbled the poor Scots and despite a few attacks down the right from the boys and girls in blue it was an all-red walk-over. Camwy MacDonald banged in two, Huw Bonner lifted his tournament tally to three and two Welsh penalties were missed. The crowd cheered and booed in all the wrong places and the National Library of Wales rode out deserved winners 4-0.

The weekend ended with speeches in the bar. The NLW captain said how he was chuffed to bits to be hosting the next Copyright Cup and promised to make us all as welcome as the NLS had made us feel. Rachel Edwards, the organiser, thanked everyone for attending and making the event a complete success and all teams responded in kind by thanking her for making it more enjoyable than they could ever have imagined. Richard Young, the Cambridge captain, said “It is an honour for the CUL to be part of the first Copyright Cup, and this can only be good for public relations between the copyright libraries. I'm very proud of all my players, who have trained hard over the last 5 months to be ready for the tournament and we can't wait for Wales next year”.
Hear, hear.
© Johnskibeat

Click here to read the heavily edited version of my report on the University of Cambridge website...

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Holidays: The Algarve, Portugal

The sheltered bay shimmered in the brilliant sunshine. The golden sand called out and I obeyed. As I sank into its warm caress I felt a displacement in my soul. Begone, hard labour, for now is the summer of my content. Mmmmm... holidays.

Yep, it was good on that little beach, Praia do Castelo. Whisper the words in case others may hear and spoil the perfection. The sea was cool and the sun was scorching. The miniscule pebbled sand-stones were abrasive, but not in a bad way. The waves gently pushed me inland before slapping me like wet seaweed against the shore. It was awesome.

Our monstrous villa was a wonderful excess. Sleeps eight but housed just us four for the week. And its shining glory, besides the private pool, was the barbeque. Every day was barbeque day. Steaks, piri piri-marinated chicken, red Portuguese sausages and of course the humble burger. All this with accompanying fresh local salads and washed down with copious amounts of Super Bock and Sagres beer. Mmmm... beer.

So, the beaches and the villa kept us happy. Then there was the rest. Well, nothing much was open, despite the blazing sun and the fact that the place was teeming with tourists. Some of the waterparks and zoos were open but we just never got the time to try them out. Another week might have done it. We did make visits to Loule, Oura, Albufeira, Silves and Portimao, however.

Oura - Whilst searching for Albufeira centre we happened upon this little place and parked up. It was getting dark and the pubs and clubs were buzzing - mostly with the humble English tourist. We partook of the atmosphere and the beer in a few pubs (one had a live band playing English/American pop 'covers') before being dragged down a side alley by a local to a wonderful little bar. Free shots were set up and the night settled into a mix of good conversation, drinks and DJ'd musicology. We were occasionally interrupted by the odd chav on a bender but mostly it was incredibly pleasant.

Portimao - A short drive down to this bustling city whereupon we were spotted by a local chancer who helpfully showed us a parking spot and then demanded compensation for his efforts. This happened in several places and we eventually grew tired of it and soon saw through the charade. We worked out if you parked away from the centre and fled the car they couldn't come begging for euros. We were greatly disappointed to find no evidence of boat trips and so settled upon combing the sweeping beach, Praia da Rocha, for a good spot to bathe and paddle. After a good soaking we headed for the port itself and a further attempt to locate some trips up the river or along the coast but there really wasn't anything - as we'd been led to believe. The charter boat office was shut up and there were no departure times anywhere to be seen.

Loule - We visited on market day. We got there about 11:30 and made a quick sweep through the throng but there was so much to choose from we decided we'd shop just before leaving, so made our way into the centre where we found a very pretty fountain. There wasn't much else about so it was back to the market and lo and behold they were all but packed up! The market was shutting at MIDDAY! There were no signs to warn of such an early closure. We quickly went round the stalls but left disappointed again after spying a few fish and the odd bit of veg not worth haggling over. The hypermarkets would have to feed us for the week!

Silves - It really is a pretty place. The slow walk up to the castle took us up some lovely avenues and the castle itself was a very attractive sandstone terracotta. An accordion-player lulled us round the battlements and many photos were taken. We had a quick lunch in the nearby cafe before heading back.

Albufeira - Simply the most godforsaken place on the planet. It's worse than Reading at festival-time. Hundreds of English tourists touting you tickets for things you don't even understand. They just shout at you "Are you British?" "Want to buy a ticket?" "Come and eat in my restaurant". It's downright scary. Even the beach was being refurbished and the only sign of any watersports was a banana boat lying unused in a shed. We braved a cafe and an open part of the beach but decided our villa with its pool and barbeque was a much better place to enjoy the sunshine.

So, all in all, we had great company, a great villa, and a great selection of beaches, including Praia da Gale, Praia da Sao Rafael and Praia da Coelho. Gale in particular was very picturesque with a split beach; one side was sheltered and the other was wide and open.

I'll leave you with the best night of them all...
Castelo's Restaurant Por do Sol. Steak On A Stone. Sea Bass. Bottle of cheeky white. A lot of Aguadente (Firewater). And Liverpool squeezing past Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final. Magic.
© Johnskibeat

Click here for my report published in the Algarve Beach Life online magazine...

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