Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Challenge #16: Sarah vs Pumpkin Carving

It's only taken 29 years, but I've finally got round to carving my first Halloween pumpkin. This challenge wasn't on my original list, but with Halloween just around the corner, it seemed like an ideal addition.

Pumpkins at the ready

I went for a Nightmare Before Christmas theme
I drew the design freehand by the way

Dan went for a Super Mario theme with a Boo Buddy

Scooping the brains out
Mine smelt funny cos it had a rotting bum

Poking the eyes out


Feeling very proud of myself

Dan's turn


I ain't afraid of no ghost

Candles in, fire brigade on standby

Pretty damn awesome, even if I do say so myself

Thanks to my parents for letting us destroy their kitchen with flying bits of pumpkin, rather than our own.

Verdict: WIN!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Music-related Adventures in the Nation's Capital

I love gigs, I love record shops and I love music-related exhibitions, so cramming all three into one weekend is my idea of heaven...

Someday All The Adults Will Die!

First stop was the Southbank Centre's Hayward Gallery, for a gawp at its punk graphics exhibition. 'Someday All The Adults Will Die!' celebrates the raw and unique feel of punk design during the '70s and '80s, and how bands, artists and DIY-ers adopted its style for posters, flyers, t-shirts, fanzines and record sleeves. Partly curated by Jon Savage, the knowledge on all things punk, this exhibition has some absolute gems from the early years of punk.

Like a hand grenade thrown at popular music, fashion and art, it's hard to imagine now just how shocking punk must have been in during its infancy, how different it must have sounded and looked to everything else that was going on. The story behind the exhibition and the punk graphics in general is displayed as you enter, complete with a great quote from Jon Savage, which I think really sums up punk's impact and legacy: "A few years later, people wake up and wonder what happened. They're still wondering."

Some notable items that got me all excited included posters and artwork from Jamie Reid, the artist behind the Sex Pistols' iconic, cut 'n' paste style 'Nevermind the Bollocks...' album sleeve.

Work by Jamie Reid

There was also an original copy of the front page of the Daily Mirror from 2nd December 1979, the edition that ran the famous 'Filth and the Fury' headline after the Pistols' notorious appearance on the Today show.
It also includes the story of the guy who kicked in his TV because he was so angry. Twat.

Daily Mirror from 2nd December 2012

What I'm thinking: Umm, this lot would look
lovely on my walls at home...

DIY Crass poster. They like their stencils.

Original t-shirts, mainly designs from Vivienne Westwood

Unfortunately, this was the last shot I was able to get, because Mr Security Man came and told me off for taking pictures. It means that I don't have a photo of one of my favourite pieces from the exhibition, a copy of the press release that accompanied promo copies of The Ramones' debut album, released in 1976. I also would have loved to get some shots of cut 'n' paste posters and flyers, and the whole wall of fanzines from '71 to '84, including an issue of Sniffin' Glue! Alongside the 'zines were two walls of 7" singles, all self-released by the bands themselves. Here's a little fact for you, the very first self-released 7" was 'Spiral Scratch' by The Buzzcocks.

The 7" allowed bands to record and release their own music for the first time because it was such a cheap format, which is why so many emerged during the punk years, as bands desperate to be part of that DIY culture recorded and issued their own music. Those records would make a lovely addition to my own collection.

After picking out sleeves, songs and bands I knew, I started thinking about all of those I didn't recognise, who those people were and how life turned out for them. There was a music room tagged onto the exhibition that offered an opportunity to listen to some of the bands/songs I was unfamiliar with, which was pretty cool. I heard some tracks from a scary Norwegian punk band whose name escapes me now and a Japanese trio called Mirrors.

Someday All The Adults Will Die! is on until the 4th November. Go! Now! It's free!

Kerbdog at The Garage

It's been 15 years since their last album, 'On The Turn', was released. It's been 14 years since they split up. Aside from the occasional reunion gig, mainly in Ireland, Kerbdog have remained off-radar for a fucking long time. So, when rumours on Twitter began surfacing about a one-off London date I just about pissed my pants. In the year that I've witnessed reformations from Refused, Ugly Kid Joe, Black Sabbath and Soundgarden (I missed out on At The Drive-In, but that's an open wound I can't talk about too much), adding Kerbdog to the list was an opportunity not to be missed. And that's how this whole weekend came about.

A lot of people had travelled a long way for the gig, outside in the queue we got chatting to two lads from Stafford about '90s music and waiting forever to see Kerbdog. It seemed to be a common theme. It also made me laugh how specific the age range was, everyone was in their late 20s or early 30s. There was certainly no need for the '14s and over' comment on the ticket, it's highly unlikely anyone under the age of 25 would know who they were.

It was also very funny how excited a bunch of grown-up girls and boys can get when they finally get to see something they never thought would happen. The atmosphere in The Garage was like Christmas. A group of about eight dudes were so excited they came dressed in matching Scooby Doo costumes, one even stage dived.

It was an awesome set mainly made up of 'On The Turn' tracks, with a few from their debut thrown in too, and I enjoyed a great barrier view down the front. When they played 'Sally' the crowd went absolutely mental, in fact, it's been a long time since I've seen so many people crowd surfing at the same time. There were a couple of fuck ups, of course, and the band looked pretty worn out afterwards - then again so did the crowd - but you wouldn't think it had been so long since they were touring band.

View from the front

Kerbdog's Cormac Battle and Dan

Rough Trade

Independent record shops are awesome, but are sadly dying off. I always try and seek one out when I'm visiting a city - cos they're the only places that have them these days - and I always buy something. I can't help myself, it's like crack to me.

Before I get into how awesome Rough Trade is, let me do my preachy thing about why you should buy independent. They have a wider and better selection of music than you will find in HMV, because they stock more than just that pile of bilge played by Radio 1. They sell more than just major label releases. They have proper genre sections. They stock vinyl. The staff are actually interested in and know stuff about music. You can buy something you can look at and hold in your hand! Oh and they don't tell their staff to cover up their tattoos.

As record shops go, Rough Trade is one of the sweetest experiences I've had in recent years - second only to Amoeba Music. They have a punk/hardcore section, American/Canadian section, they've got some cool music documentaries, a decent book section and 7" and 12" racks. Impressively, they even have a tape section, all independent releases, with some beautifully packaged. I love just trawling through the racks, looking at album covers, letting band names jump out at me. I came away with '119' by Trash Talk, 'Couple Tracks' by Fucked Up and a stunning Sex Pistols re-issue with foldout sleeve. I could've bought much, much more.

Other little touches that make Rough Trade special are the old school photo booth, and its black and white pics that adorn the walls, and hand prints,signatures from Billy Bragg and Nick Cave. Apparently Sonic Youth have also signed the ceiling somewhere, so spotting those squiggles is a game I'm planning for my next visit.

Looking suitably rough outside Rough Trade East.
I'd just washed my hair with tea tree shower gel.
I wouldn't recommend it.
I would recommend a trip here though, you can find it just off Brick Lane.

Awesome haul of goodies picked up over the weekend.
Items of note include Sex Pistols 'God Save the Queen'
 re-issue 7" - well it is Jubilee year -
 and '119' from Trash Talk.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Challenge #15: Sarah vs Snowboarding

Way before this blog and my list of things to do before 30 came along, learning how to snowboard was the one and only thing I really wanted to do before my milestone birthday. It's always looked like such a cool and fun sport, for years I've been saying I'll get around to learning at some point, but I've never actually done anything about it. Luckily, this list gave me the push I needed and so I booked myself onto a course that would teach me how to snowboard in a day at Tamworth SnowDome.

Up at 5.45am to be in Tamworth for 8am.
Someone get me caffeine. Now.

My previous snowboarding experience consisted of a one-hour taster session at Swadlincote Ski Slope a couple of years back, so there were two things I knew for certain about the course I was going to take: it would be awesome fun and it would hurt.

After collecting boots, helmet and a board, I stomped my way clumsily upstairs to meet my instructor, AT, and the other people on the course. There were only five of us, so it was a nice little group, although I was the only one who wasn't a dude. Later I noticed there were only two other women snowboarding that day, which I think is a real shame.

These are my snowboarding moon boots.
You have to do them up really tight to protect your
ankles, but it means you have no choice
but to walk like a robot. I added my own sound
effects as I walked along, but I think that's optional.

Boards at the ready. The floating head
you can see to the right belongs to a guy called Simon.
He smashed his knee into the wall during the
morning session, so he didn't get to finish the course.

Before we got onto the slope, we ran through the basic techniques. It turns out snowboarding is all about your toes, heels and head, so it helps if you can forget you have arms. Obviously that's easier said than done, especially when you fall over and you're natural reaction is to put your arms out to stop yourself. AT referred to this as something your stupid monkey body does that your brain struggles to override.

Toes and heels are basically the different ways you balance on the edges of the board and act as the brake, while all of the steering is done just by moving your head. Sounds weird, is weird, but it works. I found it easier to get the balance right on my toes to begin with and picked that up a lot quicker than the heels technique, where you have to stick your arse out at a completely unnatural angle.

My little board.
You have to put them down the wrong way
when you're on the snow so they don't slide away.

On the slopes.
You can tell I've been working hard as my
board's covered in snow. You would think 
it'd just slide off, but it sticks to it.
You have to slam it on the ground to get it off.

This is Dan having a rest

Here I am working on my heels with help from AT

Look, no hands!
This is me snowboarding on my own!

The key to balancing on your heels is down to how you stick your bum out. I struggled with it at first, partly because you can see you're going down a steep hill and partly because I couldn't get my posture right. AT's professional trick to assist people with the posture problem is to give them a wedgie. Yes, he gave me a wedgie. But it worked!

Just before lunch I was struggling to piece the different techniques together, but after a food and caffeine refuel I came back out and completely nailed it. I did a run of the middle and bottom sections of the slope, switching from heels to toes and back again and made it down to the bottom without ending up on my arse. It was a proud moment that I marked with a celebratory 'FUCK YEAH!!!!'

Then it was time to tackle the slope from the very top. It was pretty terrifying when I got up there and noticed it has a steep curve to the left, we'll refer to it as the death zone. AT came up with me to show me how to negotiate the curve of the slope without killing myself - the tactic is pretty simple really, keep to the right! I think this was the only time out of the whole day that I actually felt nervous, but once I pushed off I felt more confident about what I was doing and before I knew it I'd heeled and toed (that's how you do turns, but you're not allowed to call them turns) it all the way to the bottom of the slope on my own. I couldn't believe I'd actually done it.

It's a shame this picture's really dark because I'm
doing an awesome bit of snowboarding here
completely unaided. You can see AT following me
to make sure I don't kill myself on the way down.

This is how you celebrate when you've gone from the very
top of the slope to bottom without falling over.
The award for awesomeness goes to me.

Look at the dirty skiers behind. Urgh.

After my triumphant run we had a quick coffee break before we did our last runs. By this time I was completely knackered, but determined to keep going until the end. Unfortunately, on one of my last goes from the top of the slope, I got up a little too much speed and found myself straying into the death zone.

Even though I've learnt how to slow myself down and how to change direction, I panicked, started flapping my arms about and inevitably fell on my arse. My right cheek took the full force of the impact and at the time of writing - two days after the incident - is still killing me. It knocked my confidence a little, but I know exactly what I did wrong. So, I got back up and did another run, despite the pain, because I wanted to end the day on a good note.


Snowboarding for an entire day is absolutely exhausting and I'm now aching all over, but it's one of the best days out I've ever had and I wish I'd got round to doing it sooner. The course covered the three different levels that take you to a recreational standard and I passed all three, so I am really pleased with myself. It's been a really worthwhile challenge, as I now have a skill I can use whenever I want and am already plotting when I can get back to Tamworth. I should also say that the staff at SnowDome, particularly AT, were lovely and really encouraging.

We both passed the course and are now recreational
snowboarders, which means we're allowed on
the slopes unsupervised!

My snowboarding experience in numbers:

3,000 - number of calories I burned by taking the day course
3 - times I went down the slope from the very top!
1 - run from the very top without falling over
50 - guestimated number times I fell over in total
50 - number of times I put my arms out as I fell when I shouldn't have done
50 - probable number of times I said 'fuck'
1 - can of Red Bull to give me wings
2 - massive coffees to keep me going
2 - the surprisingly low number of bruises I ended up with, one on my knee and one on my arse
3 - number of levels I passed to get to recreational standard

Verdict: probably the best WIN yet!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Challenge #14: Sarah vs The Mixtape

30 Songs For 30 Years

If you were to make a mixtape to sum up your life, what would you put on it? As challenges go, this one has been my toughest yet and has actually taken me months to complete. Compiling what is perhaps my ultimate mixtape, a collection of songs that somehow sums up both me and the last 30 years, was always going to be a bastard - where the hell do you start??

I started mulling over the tracklist six months ago, when I was making my list of things to do before turning 30, but it has finally reached the point where I've just got to stop and realise that not everyone can be included.

My first tactic was to write a list of the bands I couldn't live without and when that got out of hand I turned to picking out songs that I can't imagine never hearing again. Some have been chosen for the memories associated with them, others for their awesome riffs and, of course, there are plenty with lyrics that just click with me.

My love of making mixtapes stretches back as far as my love of music, but while my compilations have since shifted to appearing on CDs and as playlists on my iPod for sheer convenience, I still prefer using cassettes for this game (they still sell them in Poundland if you want to play along). It's what I grew up with, what I bought my first single on ('Any Dream Will Do' by Jason Donovan, in case you were wondering... I was eight, don't judge me) and what I listened to on the go right up until I was 21. It's not just the combination of music that I like pulling together, it's also the cover...

Yes, that is a picture of me.
According to my mum I did nothing but scream,
with fists clenched, for the first three months
of my life (to be honest, I would cry for three
months now if I had to wear pink dungarees), so
I think it's quite fitting that I grew up to
like punk and hardcore.

The Rules

My original plan was to create a mixtape of my 20 favourite tracks of my 20s, but it seems more fitting to have 30 songs for 30 years. Just to make things more difficult for myself the 30 tracks had to last no more than 90 minutes in order to squeeze them onto a C90 - good job I'm more into punk than metal otherwise this never would've worked - and every track had to be released after I was born, so post 1st March 1983.

While having the date restriction helped to cut down the volume of music I had to choose from, it also meant I had to leave out some of my most beloved bands/songs, including The Clash, The Sonics, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, XThe Misfits and The Ramones.

There were also some agonising decisions that had to be made, resulting in Weezer, The Smiths, The Descendents, Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, The Wildhearts, King Adora, Refused, AFI, Kerbdog and A Wilhelm Scream (I could go on forever with this list...) not making the final cut. It's important to point out though that my life is richer for their part in it.

About five times I thought I'd got the final cut, only to realise a key band/track had been missed out and the whole process would start all over again.

Just to give you a rough idea of how tough this challenge was, here's my music collection. Please note this doesn't include the shoe boxes of tapes that are stashed at my mum's house.

It's probably a good job I had a bit of a clear out a couple of years ago, otherwise this could really get out of hand. I'm already out of shelf space...

This is where the overspill ends up.

So here it is, my 30 Songs For 30 Years. My story in music. I hope you enjoy...

30 Songs For 30 Years - Side A

30 Songs For 30 Years - Side A by ssoRharaS on Grooveshark

30 Songs For 30 Years - Side B

30 Songs For 30 Years - Side B by ssoRharaS on Grooveshark

Verdict: possibly the most awesome mixtape ever and therefore a massive WIN!

So what would be on your ultimate mixtape?

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Challenge #13: Sarah vs Urbexing

Urban Exploration

I find abandoned buildings strangely intriguing. Places that were once full of life just left empty and still, as if they never held any significance at all. Whenever I look at the crumbling walls and boarded up windows, I can't help but wonder what stories unfolded within them and the scenes they've witnessed over the years.

While real urban exploration, or urbexing, involves entering abandoned buildings and having a snoop around, mine doesn't because I couldn't get in I didn't want to trespass.

King Edward VII (Upper) School

It's funny that my old school became the scene of my (not quite) urbexing, because some of the stories its walls hold are mine. Like every teenager in Melton Mowbray, the Upper School was the place I suffered through my GCSE years, bored shitless and desperately counting down the days until I could leave and get a job.

Anyway, King Edward was closed a few years back, boarded up and is now left derelict, so it seemed like a good place to have nose around, especially as I hadn't set foot on its grounds in 13 years. It also has no gate, which is pretty much an invitation really...

As you walk up the drive, through the gates of misery, this is the first building you see. It was the IT centre and I don't think I ever actually stepped foot in it. This was between 1997 and 1999, when there wasn't much to see on the internet. I'm not even kidding.

The building on the right was the dreaded maths block. I say dreaded because my maths teacher was a crumpled old battleaxe. She had shark eyes - completely dead - and probably should have retired about 20 years before I arrived at the school. Admittedly, she wasn't my biggest fan either, as I preferred playing truant to learning algebra. I feel it's important to point out here that I've never needed the algebra I never learned and I've done just fine without it, thank you very much. I think Bruce Springsteen was right when he sang: "We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned at school."

The building that you can just see a bit of at the back was the hall, with the language rooms above. There was a quad in front of it where everyone would meet in the mornings or at lunch time and where all the fights took place, while the sports fields are to the left. I didn't spend much time on there either.

The maths block

This is the maths block (on the left) with the English rooms pictured in the background. I find it funny that I chose a career that involves writing, as English classes here weren't really worth bothering with. My teacher, who insisted on being called 'mzzzzzzzzz' not 'miss' and looked liked Sue from Mel and Sue, insisted on re-arranging the seating plan every single lesson. It was a tedious exercise that took up most of the hour and left us with little time for any learning. I actually did ok in my exams, which is definitely down to me and not any teaching provided by that school.

This is the back of the art block, which led to the cookery rooms and some windowless cavern where I was forced to take some bullshit sewing class. It was bullshit firstly because my mum taught me to sew from a young age and therefore I didn't need to learn how to do it and secondly because I wanted to take graphics and they said it was full, so I moaned constantly until they let me change. Graphics was much better and was taught by a guy who only owned two jumpers, one burgundy and one blue

It may shock you to know that I actually liked art and it was probably the only class I always turned up to. Well, nearly always. I loved drawing as a kid and thought it was art I would pursue careerwise.

This is the back of the music block. The less that is said about my guitar playing abilities, the better. I think if it had involved listening to a lot of music I'd have been a star pupil.

And that's it for what I could access of my old school. Everything was fenced off and either painted with anti-trespass grease or spiked up, so all of the photos were taken through the fencing. I'd love to go in and nose around, see what's left inside. It's weird because I hated that place so much as a teenager, yet it was sad to see it all just left to ruin, left to sit there as it will no doubt do for a couple of decades before it's pulled down. On the other hand, I struggled to think of a happy story associated with that place. The day I left was probably my favourite, released into the wild clad in a spray painted skirt and Doc Martens.

Extra pictures of the sixth form

I can't share any stories of these buildings as I've never been in them, but they are pretty and worth a look.

Verdict: WIN (because it's my blog and I'll make up the rule as I see fit)

Monday, 6 August 2012

Challenge #12: Sarah vs Blood Donation


This challenge was inspired by my mum, who is the kind of person who always considers the needs of others before her own and who was a regular blood donor when she was my age. Although donating blood has been something I have wanted to do for a long time, like a lot of things I had just never got round to it. Partly because of finding the time and partly through fear. My main concerns were that it would hurt and I might faint and/or throw up.

Of course, the fact that 96% of us rely on the other 4% to give blood was also enough to shame me into taking action.

The blood truck

Drain the blood

There were a lot of people waiting to donate when I arrived, more than I imagined there would be if I'm honest, and there was a quite an age range, which was really encouraging. As it was my first donation, I was asked a lot of questions about my health, before the nurse did the prick test to check if I was anaemic.

The drop of blood is added to a solution and they time how long it takes to sink. Mine just floated there, unwilling to play ball and the nurse said they would have to do a further test to determine whether I had sufficient iron levels to donate. My heart sank slightly. If I was low, I would have to abandon the challenge.

Thankfully, the test showed I had a higher than average score and we were good to go. I was ushered into the express queue to wait my turn. Dan told me later that at this point I had gone very pale - I think it was because I was so nervous about the task ahead.

I needn't have worried though, because the nurses were so reassuring and helpful, and once the needle had gone in I didn't feel anything. Also, as it was my first donation, they let Dan come and sit with me to help take my mind of it.

The guy in the bed next to me looks dead in this
 picture, but don't panic I'm pretty sure he survived

The time went by really quickly and before I knew it the machine was bleeping to let me know I was done. And that was it, I had done it, with passing out or chucking up and I felt fine. In fact, I felt quite pleased with myself and proud that I had done something that might help someone else.

And then...

Once I had been unhooked, I was ushered over to the refreshments table for a drink and biscuits, so they could make sure I was ok. Just as I tucked into my third custard cream I felt my temperature rise really quickly and knew exactly what was going to happen next. My close friends refer to me as a flaker, because on odd occasions I like to add a little drama to situations by passing out. Usually somewhere really inconvenient like queuing to get into a festival site or right at the front of a gig.

Everything went black and seemed to move in slow motion, and I felt arms pulling me backwards. I came to with a cold towel on my head and a nurse fanning me. Apparently I started a bit of a domino rally, because right after I passed out a young woman followed my lead and did the same. The feeling passed as soon as it had come on though and the nurses were so quick to respond that I felt I was in good hands.

Adding a bit of drama to the situation

One of the nurses insisted I take loads
of biscuits and stickers home as a reward

My blood donation in numbers:

10 minutes 15 seconds - The time it took to drain a pint of blood from me. The machines beeps like you're in Super Mario World when it's done. Sadly I didn't get to ride home on Yoshi as a reward.

131 - My iron levels, the average is 115, but you need to be over 125 to donate.

2 hours - The time spent at the donation session, which was longer than normal because of...

10 seconds - The approximate length of time I was out of it following my dramatic fainting episode.

3 - The number of wounds I left with thanks to the prick test, anaemia test and blood donation.

4 - Number of months I now have to wait to donate again.

War wounds


I was so pleased that I managed to get through this challenge and complete it successfully. It is such a nice feeling to think I may help to save someone else's life and I couldn't help wondering where my blood will go, who it might end up with and the reasons they might need it.

Despite the slightly embarrassing fainting episode, I will definitely do again. The donation didn't hurt and it wasn't unpleasant, so please do not be put off by my post-donation dramatics, because it doesn't happen to everyone and it passes so quickly. Besides, the knowledge that you've done something worthwhile far outweighs a minor bit of fainting.

Well of course I look rough, 
I've just lost a pint of blood

Do something amazing, give blood

Search for your nearest blood donation session by clicking HERE.

Verdict: A very proud WIN!!!!