Playlist Pick: Pet Shop Boys, Heart

I have a mega-playlist on Spotify for ’80s chart hits that I like. Because I want it to be comprehensive, I’ve been working (on and off) since about 2012 on a project where I watch the video of every single track that was ever a UK chart hit in the ’80s… in band alphabetical order. It’s a long project (it took me about two years just to compile the complete list) and I’ve only made it to the letter ‘J’ so far in terms of watching the videos and adding the best ones to my Spotify playlist.

As such, I sometimes get a bit of a craving for hits by bands who are further along in the alphabet, and have a separate ‘holding’ playlist for this purpose! Pet Shop Boys are one of these bands and also one of my favourite acts of the era. I bought tickets for myself and Geth to go and see them in concert in 2020; the gig was postponed first to 2021 and now to 2022, so I need to be patient for that one!

In recent months (since about November) their 1988 number one ‘Heart’ has been a frequent late-night craving for me. I LOVE that intro. Makes me want to dance! (I don’t, as Geth has usually gone to bed by that point and my loud trampling would probably wake him up. Chair-dancing is fair game though.)

The video is a daft story about a wedding and vampires. ’80s videos were the best.

More musical ramblings next week.

2019 Pizzas #29: Dad’s Famous Hogmanay Pizza

I knew, when I decided to log pizzas on the blog for 2019 at the end of 2018 (a year in which I logged ciders, but now knew I would not be continuing to do so due to my decision to stop drinking alcohol), that the last pizza in the log would be Dad’s homemade pizza that he makes every Hogmanay. I also knew that it would be the best pizza I ate all year, because it is (and continues to be) the best pizza I have ever eaten.

A few notes about this pizza:

  • I always knew I would learn to make it myself at some point because it’s an important family recipe, but I did not expect that I would not end up posting this blog until after I had indeed made one myself for the first time.
  • I took pictures of the 2019 edition, but accidentally deleted them (this is NOT something that usually happens with me – I’m normally very careful about keeping all my photos!) so the pictures in this post are from other years instead.
Hogmanay pizza
Sitting ‘patiently’ with Grandad while Dad made the pizza, 1986.
Hogmanay pizza
Mum and Dad enjoying the spoils, 1995.
Hogmanay pizza
A whole pizza to myself, 2002…
Hogmanay pizza
…and again, 2005. In those days I used to eat the pizza earlier in the evening and then head out for a long night on the tiles! It was a great stomach liner in the days when I still had to worry about such things…
Hogmanay pizza
Dough rolling, 2009.
Hogmanay pizza
A perfect slice, 2018.
Hogmanay pizza
Dee’s famous Hogmanay pizza? Had to make it myself in 2020.
  • The basic recipe is in a 1979 cookbook that Dad has always used (‘The Art of Cooking’), but he learnt the best technique from some Italian friends-of-friends back in the early ’80s.
  • I brought about fifteen schoolfriends back to the house on Hogmanay 2000 when we were doing our alcohol-fuelled rounds of each other’s houses, just so they could all experience the brilliance of Dad’s Hogmanay pizza. Many of them still talk about it more than twenty years later.

The sauce is the absolute taste of Hogmanay for me. Since learning how to cook it myself, I’ve adapted some of the techniques when making pasta sauce. Toppings-wise you can have whatever you want, though for me it’s always been mostly peppers since I went veggie in 1999. The dough is thick and filling, though not filling enough that I don’t manage at least four large slices every Hogmanay!

I’m actually quite surprised that, in the end, I only ate twenty-nine distinct pizzas during a calendar year. I clearly have my recurring favourites.

A new food series for 2020 starts in a couple of weeks. I’m only one year behind now!

‘Race’ Review: Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation Retro Run Series ‘I Love The ’80s’ 10k Challenge

My first proper virtual for 2021 (other than the LEJOG accumulator I’m doing, which started on 1st January and lasts all year) was a 10k run that I did for the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’s Retro Run Series. I’d seen these virtual runs advertised online last year, and as an ’80s obsessive I was really keen to do the ’80s version.

You can sign up to do a challenge for any decade from the ’60s to the ’00s, or even do all five if you’d like to go for the supermedal! You can also choose any standard distance from 5k upwards, and can change your mind about the distance if necessary before the virtual (as the medal and t-shirt aren’t distance-specific). I decided on 10k, as I really wanted to complete a 10k in January 2021, having not managed to do so in November or December 2020. As it happened, because of the snow, the only 10k I managed to do in January was on the treadmill, and I wanted to do a road 10k for the virtual. I eventually managed to get my ‘official’ 10k in on the first weekend of February – I was really glad that you could choose to do it any day before the end-of-February deadline! The website now states that you can do the runs at any time up to the end of May 2021, so still plenty of time to get those retro runs in if you’re interested.

I was really pleased with the run itself – my running had all been very slow over the winter, but on the day my legs clearly decided it was a race and so I managed a time that was fairly close to my official 10k race PB. One of a number of recent signs that are very promising for when I get back to doing real races again.

I didn’t listen to the ’80s playlist provided during the run, as I generally prefer to run without headphones. I will have a listen at home at some point though! Bling-wise I donated extra in order to get the t-shirt – I don’t normally bother with a t-shirt for virtuals as I have so many from real races and my drawer is getting a bit full, but the Retro Run Series ’80s t-shirt is a fantastic design, with a reference to the infamous Frankie/Hamnett knockoff slogan on the front, and a nice synthwave-esque neon/car/sunset motif on the back.

Retro Run Series t-shirt

The medal is also great, with the featured ’80s item being a ‘Sonny’ Walkman (avoiding a legal issue maybe?) and some nice ’80s colours and fonts that are a very welcome addition to my medal collection. Going to display this one with pride.

Retro Run Series medal

The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation are going to be doing another virtual series later this year, so I’ll be waiting with interest to see what they come up with!

Saturday ’80s Photo: Cats Don’t Change

While I was very little in the ’80s and so didn’t pick my own outfits, the clothes I wore back then look unquestionably vintage from a modern perspective (see for example the unfortunate-looking snow suit from a couple of weeks ago). Children’s fashion changes just as adult fashion does, and so I rocked ’80s jumpers back in the day just as much as the grown-ups did. Even if mine were usually hand-knitted with cartoon characters on the front!

In this photo from September 1987 (apparently an interesting month for me, as well as the name of one of my favourite synthwave bands in the modern day), my outfit is beautifully of its time, as is the bin in the background of the photo (I don’t even remember the last time I saw a round metal bin like that in real life!). Animals, however, are timeless, and so these two cats in the photo – both the one I’m trying to befriend and the one by the bin in the background – look exactly as cats do today, even though they’re both almost certainly long gone from this world. (It is possible for cats to live to about my age, but very unusual!)

Cats, September 1987

I adore cats. Looks like I always have!

Spring feeling

Since the snow melted last week, signs of spring have been everywhere, which has really helped my mood. The croci are budding nicely now along the snowdrops on the paths outside, and the supermarkets have finally started to sell daffodils – a month later than usual, but they’re very welcome! It feels warmer outside for running too, meaning I’m gradually starting to shed my winter layers. Last Sunday, I went for my first proper long run since September, and the weather made it really enjoyable. I’m really hopeful that I can get some good long runs done leading up to the point when races start again.

Since the announcement of the UK government’s roadmap for England on Monday, races (and parkruns… and of course non-running events too!) in 2021 finally feel like a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’, which is a huge source of hope for me. Scotland is still more up in the air, so I’ll have to wait and see what happens before I know when I can visit home, but on the whole I feel a lot more positive about the whole situation now that I’ve got a bit of certainty. I know the proposed dates aren’t set in stone, but at least they give us an idea of when restrictions will ease.

I’ve felt a bit out of sorts for the last fortnight because I’ve not always felt able to stick to my schedule. However, I’ve done a lot better with it the last couple of days. I think it’s just that I need to tweak it regularly to make sure it always works for me – over the last month I’ve been doing a lot more cross-training (yoga and walking) than I was doing when I first drew up the plan, and so like everything else, that needs to be scheduled in so that it doesn’t take up more time than it needs to.

Bravely Default II arrived in the post today! I’ve been looking forward to this game for over a year and am going to be spending every spare second playing it from this weekend onwards. While still making time for all my scheduled stuff as well, of course!

Croci

This week’s earworm playlists:

Saturday

Revo – ‘Horizon Of Light And Shadow’
Duran Duran – ‘Ordinary World’
5 Seconds Of Summer – ‘She Looks So Perfect’
Arcadia – ‘Election Day’
Clean Bandit and Jess Glynne – ‘Rather Be’

Sunday

Revo – ‘Horizon Of Light And Shadow’
Will Powers – ‘Kissing With Confidence’
Taylor Swift – ‘You Need To Calm Down’
Ed Sheeran and Stormzy – ‘Take Me Back To London’
Lindisfarne – ‘Lady Eleanor’
5 Seconds Of Summer – ‘She Looks So Perfect’

Monday

Joe Hisaishi – ‘Kokoro No Kakera’
Ryo and Chelly – ‘Great Distance’
5 Seconds Of Summer – ‘She Looks So Perfect’
Levellers – ‘One Way’
John Newman – ‘Love Me Again’

Tuesday

Revo – ‘Horizon Of Light And Shadow’
5 Seconds Of Summer – ‘She Looks So Perfect’
Technotronic – ‘Pump Up The Jam’
Pop Will Eat Itself – ‘Get The Girl! Kill The Baddies!’
Daft Punk- ‘One More Time’

Wednesday

Bloodhound Gang – ‘The Roof Is On Fire’
They Might Be Giants – ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’
Duran Duran – ‘I Believe/All I Need To Know

Thursday

The Beatles – ‘In My Life’
Nobuo Uematsu – ‘Chaos Shrine’
Robert Allen – ‘Bloxonius’

Friday

Vangelis – ‘Chariots Of Fire’
5 Seconds Of Summer – ‘She Looks So Perfect’

Phone Box Thursday: Dreams of Dressing Up

Another holding post while I continue my Doctor Who phone box hunt. This distorted-looking phone box will regain its proper shape once it’s out of the wardrobe…

Red phone box
Red phone box… on a fashion garment.

It’s part of the design of my ‘Oh London!’ skirt (shown here as part of my outfit for New Year’s Day 2019). I haven’t worn it – or any skirt, come to think of it – for well over a year.

I’m not sure how ‘dressed up’ I will get for post-pandemic events, because at the moment, after a year of leggings and loungewear, the idea of wearing clothes like that seems a bit alien and terrifying. Still, I do love my phone box skirt, so hopefully in the future it will be allowed out from the wardrobe again.

Playlist Creation: Five Favourite Videogame Soundtrack Tunes

As I discussed last week, I’ve not been listening to music in a focused way recently, so I surprised myself a bit last night when I found myself on Spotify, working on my playlists again. I have probably 50-odd playlists on Spotify as my music taste is fairly eclectic, but I hadn’t realised I’d never put together a videogame soundtrack playlist before (other than a specific one for Monkey Island soundtracks). Videogame soundtracks feature frequently on my earworm playlists, as both Geth and I play a lot of videogames and the music is often very catchy, so it’s about time I start collecting my favourites together!

I started this process last night, but it’ll be a little more involved than most Spotify playlist creation processes as most of my favourite videogame soundtracks aren’t on Spotify. As such, I’ll have to track them down separately and store them in my local files in order to put the playlist together. This could be a bit of a long project as a result, but it’d be a great playlist to have, so I will persevere.

I have a lot of favourites, but here are five special tunes that have soundtracked my gaming life (and my life in general as a result).

‘Candion’ (Jazz Jackrabbit: Holiday Hare ’95, 1995)

An unseasonal Christmas example to start off with! Having spent about five years obsessively playing PC platformers – starting with Hunchy on the BBC Micro when I was very young and still spectacularly bad at videogames, then moving onto early ’90s offerings such as Jason Storm (I first played it on a black and white screen!), Word Rescue and Hocus Pocus – I spent pretty much all of 1994 and 1995 playing Jazz Jackrabbit, a Sonic-a-like for the PC. Every single one of the soundtrack tunes for the game’s thirty-odd levels brings back so many memories, but it’s this gorgeous MIDI rendition of ‘Carol Of The Bells’ from the game’s second set of Christmas-themed levels that stands out most for me.

‘Type A’ (Tetris, 1989)

I didn’t get a Nintendo Game Boy until 1997, a good eight years after the system had first come out. My younger brother Malcolm was fairly console-obsessed and spent most of the first half of the ’90s unsuccessfully pestering my parents for a Game Boy and/or a Sega Mega Drive. We were both keen viewers of GamesMaster on Channel 4 at the time, and one of my main memories of it is the constant background refrain of ‘ohhh I wish I could play that…’ Of course, having watched the episodes again on YouTube with Geth in more recent years and realising how eye-watering the prices were for consoles and videogames at the time – £50 for a single game in 1993! That’s £105 in today’s money! – I now understand why my brother’s requests fell on deaf ears! I, on the other hand, was perfectly happy gaming on the PC – that is, until I went on a school trip to France in 1997 and had the opportunity to borrow my friend Fiona’s Game Boy during the long boring hours spent on the coach. Realising the usefulness of portability (Mum and Dad were/are keen travellers and so I spent a lot of my life in the backseat of a car at that point), I requested one for Christmas that year. The prices may have been more wallet-friendly by then, as I got my Game Boy – and so did Malcolm, who wasn’t about to miss out on his long-awaited handheld system now that his big sister was getting one.

I had a few games for the system, including, of course, Tetris, which I believe was bundled with every Game Boy ever sold. I always appreciated the fact that you could choose from a selection of background music, something I don’t remember seeing in any other game of any era (I’m sure other examples exist but I’ve not come across them personally!). While I remember preferring the slightly classical-sounding ‘Type C’ when I was playing the game back in the ’90s, it’s the iconic ‘Type A’ that has seared itself into my brain for the rest of eternity.

Addendum: I can’t talk about the Tetris music without linking to the amazing ‘Russian history’ version!

‘The Swamp’ (Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, 1991)

However, on the odd occasion that I wasn’t in the backseat of a car, the second half of the ’90s (and all of the ’00s… and to some extent the ’10s and ’20s and presumably every decade for the rest of my life) were all about LucasArts graphical adventure games. In 1997 (clearly a big year in gaming for us), Malcolm bought a magazine with a demo for The Curse Of Monkey Island, sending us both down an adventure game rabbithole from which I have yet to emerge nearly quarter of a century later. I’ve played many, many classics from the ’80s and ’90s, as well as a lot of great adventure games that have been made in more modern times, but the Monkey Island series will always be the greatest in my eyes. The soundtracks – an inspired blend of Caribbean reggae and more traditional ‘pirate’ genres such as English hornpipe, composed by Michael Land – are so brilliant that I have a whole separate playlist for them, as mentioned above, so it’s hard to pick a favourite track. However, the one that I think I’ve always loved the most is ‘The Swamp’, a spooky epic from the second entry in the series. It’s like a thousand memories in one.

‘It’s Detective Gumshoe, Pal!’ (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, 2001)

I’m generally a late adopter of console and handheld systems. In my case it’s because I have such a backlog of old games that I don’t mind waiting a while to play the new ones (exceptions over the last year have included Paper Mario: The Origami King as I bought into the hype, Beyond A Steel Sky as I’d been excited about it for years, and Bravely Default II (arriving Friday! so excited!) as the previous entries were my favourite 3DS games ever. Geth is the same, which has probably been for the best this last year; I think we would have been inordinately stressed if we’d tried to partake in the PS5 / XBOX Series X launch palaver. I’d still like to get one or the other, but I’m happy to wait for a couple of years!

As such, I only got my first 3DS* in early 2014, three years after it had come out. Geth and I had been avid Wii gamers since the turn of the decade, but the Wii seemed like it was dying a death, as the official Nintendo magazine focused more and more on 3DS games. These 3DS games sounded REALLY good, and so I bought my 3DS for my 29th birthday. It was my first handheld since the Game Boy Colour (something I still almost regret buying** as I never actually bought any games for it, just used it to make my old Game Boy games look slightly more colourful. I only bought one because Malcolm spent the entirety of our 1999 summer holiday in France trying to find an affordable one in the supermarkets, and by the end of the holiday I wanted one too. Don’t buy into the hype!).

I love the 3DS and still play it a lot, even though I’ve got a Switch Lite too now. The system has provided what are now some of my favourite games of all time, such as the first two Bravely games, Fire Emblem: Awakening, and of course the brilliant Ace Attorney series, which was my first introduction to Japanese visual novel-style adventure gaming.

The Ace Attorney soundtracks are fantastic. The games were originally released in the early ’00s in Japan before being upgraded for worldwide release on the 3DS a decade later, and so the music is still very MIDI-sounding and retro. All the tracks are great, but my favourite is the character theme for Dick Gumshoe. (He’s not my favourite character but he has far and away the best music!)

*I’m now on my second. My first one died bravely in battle (like, literally in the middle of a Bravely Default battle) in 2016. That was a bad day.

**Almost, but not quite. Due to the vagaries of cartridge decay, my copy of Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land now refuses to play on my Game Boy, but plays perfectly on my Game Boy Colour. My Game Boy is still fine with my other cartridges, so it’s just one of those technical mysteries!

‘Leaving Earth’ (Mass Effect 3, 2012)

Around the same time as I was enjoying the Ace Attorney games for the first time, I finally got round to playing the Mass Effect series.

I mentioned earlier in this post that Geth and I are late console adopters, but we’re not as bad as we used to be. Back in the early ’10s, we waited a whole console generation so that we could pick up an XBOX 360 for cheap when the XBOX One came out in 2013. As such, we didn’t own the Mass Effect games until then, and though I watched Geth doing a couple of playthroughs in 2014, I didn’t get round to playing them myself until the following summer.

Mass Effect was a huge and important gaming experience for me. It was what inspired me to start running (because I watched Commander Shepard running around the universe and thought ‘I’d like to be able to run forever, too’). It shifted my expectations and perceived baselines around videogames, and has become a major comparison point for me when I’m evaluating new ones. Unlike the other games on this list, however, I wouldn’t say that the Mass Effect soundtrack is uniformly brilliant or even that memorable. It’s one particular track – ‘Leaving Earth’ from Mass Effect 3 – that stands out so much that it will always be one of my all-time favourites.

I always find it lovely that ‘Leaving Earth’ – along with many other soundtrack classics – was composed by Clint Mansell, who in the late ’80s and early ’90s was in Pop Will Eat Itself, one of the greebo bands loved by a teenage Geth back in the day. Greebo and epic soundtracks are worlds apart to me, but maybe not as much as I think!

In closer-to-home musical news: the Zoom band night I was attending on Wednesdays has come to an end for now 🙁 However, I intend to keep doing a bit of ukulele practice at the same time every Wednesday so that I don’t get out of the habit again. Maybe I’ll start learning some of my favourite videogame soundtracks on ukulele!

More musical thoughts next week.

Booze Alternative: Fizzero Zero Alcohol Sparkling Rosé

Along with the white version of Fizzero, I also picked up the rosé version from M&S.

I’m really pleased that so many alcohol-free wines have rosé versions because rosé was always my favourite type of wine when I still drank alcohol. I find non-alcoholic still wines uncomfortable to drink* because they ‘feel’ too much like their alcoholic counterparts, but I’ve really come to love the sparkling versions, as I’m able to perform that mental separation and so they don’t put me at risk of wanting ‘real’ wine.

Fizzero Zero Alcohol Sparkling Rosé
Fizzero Zero Alcohol Sparkling Rosé.

The Fizzero version, like its white counterpart, tastes very grape-y – a bit like grape juice. The rose flavour is a bit too subtle for my liking, but it is there. Another nice light alternative for summer.

*They’re great for cooking though!