Thursday, 17 September 2015

Madonna gets New York Rebel Hearts rocking at Madison Square Garden

THE lights flicker to the deafening roar of 20,000 New York Madonna fans packed into a hot and sweaty Madison Square Garden - the arrival of ‘The Queen’ is imminent.

It is hard to believe amid the glitz, the hype, the unbridled hysteria and adoration of the crowd, that we are back where it all began more than 30 years ago.

Madonna legend holds that the then unknown Italian-American wannabe rocked up to Times Square with just 36 dollars in her pocket and a dream of being a superstar.

And as the frenzied excitement threatens to shake the very foundations of the building, I think it is safe to say she can tick that one off her list.

Yes Madonna is back on the road for her 10th world tour - Rebel Heart - named after her 13th studio album released at the end of last year.

This is the fourth show on a mammoth 70-gig extravaganza which will take in America, Europe, the UK, Asia and Australia.

Rebel Heart kicked off in Montreal, Canada, last Wednesday amid much speculation as to whether  the veteran singer, now in her fourth decade of entertaining, would be up to the job.

As the first reviews started to trickle in it was clear not only is she still very much up to it, but that she is still as slick and polished as ever.

And why would that come as a surprise? This is the woman who after being dragged backwards off a flight of steps at the Brit Awards a few months ago, was back in full cape doing the same stunt in front of thousands last night - minus the stumble this time.

Madonna has set the bar very high for herself and make no mistake expectations are very high in every arena and stadium she sets up her stage.

But as the show gets underway to the unmistakable Madonna mix of tight choreography, stunning sets and sheer star presence it is clear Rebel Heart will not disappoint.

The stage lights up before a backdrop of flashing Madonna shots in varying guises as an image of the star asks “are you with me?” - a resounding ‘yes’.

An army of medieval warriors carrying cruciform spears arrives before Her Madge descends from on high in a fortress-like cage to launch into the opening track ‘Iconic’.

It’s a fitting start because it’s not the lights, the costumes or the eye-popping spectacle which has just unravelled which draws the first gasps, but the arrival of Madonna and the knowledge that for the next two hours devoted fans will get to breath the same air as their idol.

As elaborate and flamboyant as Madonna’s performances are, there is one thing they are not, and that is gimmicky.

After all, who needs flying cars, pantomime palm trees, giant tongues and blow-up hotdogs when there is really only one thing worth looking at on this platform -  the most iconic pop performer of our generation.

She leaves the tacky props to those less ingrained in pop legend, there really is little comparison to be made between the 57-year-old powerhouse and the ever growing community of Rihannas, Katy’s, Taylors and Gagas.

Madonna displays an astonishing ability to evolve without appearing dated, the show contains all the elements of raunch, religious iconography and cheeky innuendo you would expect from the one-time ‘Queen of Sleaze’ but at no point does it ever seem cheesy.

Whether she’s cavorting with male dancers a third her age or gyrating in a thigh-revealing flapper-girl getup, with every swish and flex of her athletic body she leaves the viewer in no doubt that she is in absolute control not only of her brand, but of how she is perceived.

When she grinds up and down a go-go pole trampling female dancers decked out as semi-clad nuns, she is not being slutty but is once again testing the boundaries of social acceptance.

As Miley Cyrus has us cringing at her elongated tongue and childish ‘twerking’, Madonna, 35-years-her senior, has academics still  pondering her message and infallible relevance as a cultural icon, expertly juxtapositioning sexuality and religion, vulnerability with power.

The show moves through a carefully-constructed set of themes - Joan of Arc, Samurai to Tokyo Rockabilly, Latin Gipsy and Party.

Madonna fans will know this format of old having been used by the star on every world tour since her 1990 Blond Ambition spectacle.

One difference this time round though is that Madonna’s energy, though staggering, is slightly less pumped.

The dance routines look less exhausting to watch and many of the numbers have been slowed down to ballad pace for this tour.

But she is 57 for goodness sake, an age at which most of us would be starting to think about comfy slippers and early nights.

And that’s not to say she doesn’t bust some impressive moves, you try hanging upside down on a pole and singing without dropping a note.

Another standout in this show is that Madonna, for the first time on a major world tour, appears more laid back and happy on stage.

There is less intensity in her presence and a softer, cheerier, ‘let’s just have a great night’ vibe to the whole thing - perhaps she is mellowing, after all let’s face it, she’s nailed it.

Downsides - it would have been nice to hear Like A Prayer, for any old-schoolers this is now the one we all hope for, and it’s a shame she missed out Ghosttown and Joan of Arc from the new album.

But the show will not disappoint British fans who have another two months to wait until the Queen of Pop lands on our fair isles to play London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow.

There is something here for everyone, the young and old, die-hard fans and those who just like Madonna’s music and fancy a good night out.

Rebel Heart plays London’s O2 Arena on December 1 and 2; Manchester Arena on December 14; Birmingham Barclaycard Arena on December 16 and The SSE Hydro in Scotland on December 20.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Cloud fanciers welcome the the newly-named Asperitas

ANYONE who’s studied the weather will know the trauma of getting your head round all the various cloud formations.

After splitting into categories of height, shape and rain-bearing capability the brain can blur - especially when identifying them in real life.

Cirrus clouds may look vastly different from burgeoning cumuli on a diagram, but try differentiating them in a mackerel sky filled with altocumuli, stratus and lenticular formations.

Ok, the last one would be unlikely as rare lenticular clouds, which look like giant spaceships, usually only form when air flow over mountains in layers producing the lens-like structures.

There are many less common clouds which are usually left off the standard graphic pondered over by meteorologists.

Mammatus clouds hang like giant udders under cumulus clouds, nacreous clouds form much higher up than their counterparts appearing as a pearly haze while eerie noctilucent clouds cast an etherial glow in the night sky.

Now there is another to add to the list, the newly-named Asperitas (Latin for roughness) is about to be officially listed in the International Cloud Atlas.

Looking like rough or turbulent seas, it has just been put forward for inclusion in the atlas by the UK Cloud Appreciation Society.

“It’s really exciting to see Asperitas that bit closer to becoming official,” said its founder Gavin Pretor-Pinney.

“It’s great that the general public and amateur observations have influenced the atlas, it feels very democratic. 

“The internet has resulted in increased connectivity, these days everyone has a camera at their fingertips, and this has resulted overwhelming evidence for this new type of cloud”.

My first thoughts ….. Yes - there really is a UK Cloud Appreciation Society……..

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is currently updating the International Cloud Atlas, first published in 1896, and has now presented details of the new cloud to the World Meteorological Congress.

(Picture: Met Office / Ave Maria Moistlik)

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Summer 2015 WASHOUT to last THREE MONTHS

Whoops - it’s bad news again regarding the long-range weather forecasts, experts are now warning us to wrap up for a wet and chilly summer 2015.

As we continue to bask in unusually high temperatures the outlook for the next three months is less hopeful - with summer weather in England and around Britain is shaping up pretty gloomy.

A turnaround in weather patterns has led forecasters to the dismal conclusion May, June and July are likely to be cool and wet.

The grim outlook is bringing back soggy memories of summer 2012 - the wettest British summer in 100 years.

And it comes on top of the mini “Arctic plunge” which this weekend threatens to send thermometers plummeting below freezing.

We've been warned to watch out for snow across northern high ground while the rest of the UK will feel much fresher than of late.

With chilly Arctic winds it could even get close to -9C (16F) in the north by the weekend and through next week - though that is a 'feels like' temperature.

The change will also trigger a wetter spell as a band of heavy showers sweeps in off the Atlantic just before the weekend.

Although parts of Europe are looking at a warm summer the UK is not, according to Weather Services International (WSI) meteorologist Dr Todd Crawford.

He warned long-range forecasts put May, June and July all cooler than average.

He said: “We have had a bit of a pattern change in April relative to previous months.  

“The semi-permanent low pressure in western Europe has been replaced by mild high pressure, while the northerly winds to the east of the high pressure has resulted in a relatively cool month across parts of eastern and southeastern Europe.  

“The latest data suggests this pattern will rule the day again in May.  

“As we head into summer we continue to expect the pattern to reverse again with a generally cool and wet summer expected across parts of western and southern Europe.  

“Meanwhile, a warm and dry summer is expected across Scandinavia, eastern/southeastern Europe, and western Russia.”

The grim outlook comes only  days after some forecasters raised hopes of this summer turning out to be a scorcher.

The change will come as a blow to millions of Britons who had banked on the recent “heatwave” being a sign of things to come.

Temperatures rocketed into the 70Fs over the past fortnight putting this April on course to be one of the warmest on record.

This week promises more blue skies and sunshine with the mercury nudging similar temperatures especially across the south.

Weather Network forecaster Chris Burton said the dry and fine weather is thanks to high pressure over the UK although it will get cooler by the end of the week.

He said thermometers will hit 72F (22C) in parts today (Tuesday) and through the week before things turn colder on Friday.

He said: “Dry and fine conditions will continue for a time this week as high pressure dominates the UK’s weather.

“Western and south-western areas will see the best of the sunshine and temperatures, with more cloud across northern Scotland and eastern England at times.

“Temperatures will reach the mid to high teens across southern and western parts of the UK, with a few sheltered spots perhaps reaching 21C or 22C on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

He warned Britons not to put away the umbrellas and raincoats with more wind and rain on the way.

“The area of high pressure is forecast to break down into Friday allowing areas of low pressure to move in off the Atlantic,” he added.

“This will bring a breezy and unsettled end to the week with all areas of the UK likely to see some rain over the weekend.

“It then looks like staying unsettled and cooler through the end of April and into the start of May with frequent rain-bearing fronts sweeping across the UK.”

The Met Office is predicting temperatures in low single figures in the north by the end of the week with the south just nudging 16C (61F).

Met Office spokeswoman Laura Young said: “This high pressure looks as though it will break down towards the end of the week when it will turn cooler.

“It will be warmer than average for the next few days until a northerly Polar maritime air mass moves in.

“There is also not going to be as much sunshine so it will feel cooler than it has done.”

WeatherOnline forecaster John Ejdowski said: “High pressure over the country will give some fine, dry and sunny weather to most parts of the United Kingdom with above normal temperatures.

“It appears a breakdown to unsettled, wetter conditions will come on from Friday. 

“A colder north west wind may develop by the end of the forecast period dropping temperatures to normal to below normal.”

Netweather said chilly winds will make temperatures will feel close to -8.8C on Sunday in parts of the north and not much warmer through next week.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Depression - my dark companion

I feel myself coming awake.

It’s a morning like every other - or so I think.

In the split second I pass from sleep to consciousness even before I open my eyes, I realise today is different.

My “visitor” is back.

The only clue he gave was the dreams which racked my brain moments before I woke.

They come back to me. Violent, distressing, morbid, painful, vivid. My chest pounds -  oh God please not again. Anything but this. The flu, a cold, measles, anything but this.

I want to roll over and disappear but the sounds outside tell me that whether I like it or not another day is here.

He shows up unannounced, uninvited and unwanted. All I can do is deal with him and hope he makes a swift departure. No other visitor is as unwelcome as this one.

He has dumped himself in his usual position and I am terrified. Sitting like a two-tonne lump of lead on my chest there is no mistaking him.

He is back and will play with me like a cat toying with a terrified mouse. He will play with my thoughts, manipulating, distorting and darkening them. He will steal my feelings and leave me empty.

I can’t move for him. I can’t acknowledge anything or anyone but him. I want the world to end and take me with it rather than face what he is going to put me though. I know there is nothing I can do.  He is not going anywhere fast.

I know he will demand my constant attention. He will stop me doing everything. He will wipe out all hope, expectation,  joy and anticipation. He will sap every ounce of energy as he clings to me like a fungus on the side of a tree.

He doesn’t make me sad he demands far more than that. In an hour I shall feel dead, numb, hopeless, worthless, useless. My face will flush in waves of panic and self-disgust. My teeth, gums, lips and fingers will tingle, my chest and stomach will burn and twist.

I can’t bring myself to move. Any sensation of being with myself is simply unbearable. I feel my 13-year-old fat all over me like a slug clinging to my bones.

I dread getting out of bed. I cannot bear seeing myself in the mirror. I hate every inch of what looks back at me and wish I was not here. My palms ache, tingle and sweat - there is nothing I can do not to notice them burning, itching and nagging me to pick at them. 

The more I resist, the more they pester me to tear at them and in the end I do. Violently.  They bleed and throb.

I need to be alone to deal with how bad this is going to be. I have already been asked what is wrong. My soulless “nothing” reply is a survival trick.

I climb out of the bed, exhausted, head pounding. In as much as I am able, I wash, so at least I can feel clean. In seconds I feel dirty again.

All bets are off. This visitor will not let me exercise, eat properly, read, listen to music, watch a film or do any of the things which make me happy. If I try he will throw a massive, steaming, stinking cow pat of guilt in my face. So I won’t bother. 

He is cunning and clever and won’t let anyone else notice him. He is here for me and me alone and demands my undivided attention. If anyone spots him he will fend them off and let me take the blame. 

He hides behind a smile, an overcompensating cheer and an ability to make everyone laugh. But he is there feeding on me.

I sit in front of the doctor. I dread speaking.

“Can you give me my regular pills, please.”

If he agrees I know my visitor will shrink just a little. He will be just a little less powerful and I shall  least live be able to live with him.

“What is this all about?”

“What is upsetting you?”

“It’s all in your mind.”

“You can’t just take pills.”

“Depression is just a name to cover up another problem.”

“Have you been to counselling?”

I am able to answer none of these things. All I know is that I have suffered a severe and (albeit temporary) crash in brain chemistry. Nothing about this is “mental” - it is devastatingly and powerfully physical.

He looks at the computer screen and without looking back at me…

“Any thoughts of self-harm, suicide, irrational feelings?”

“No” (who am I kidding, all of the above)

I can’t explain. I did not invite this monster in, nor did something give him the OK to just take over. But he did - unannounced and unwanted.

“I’ll give you a month of these, but then you’ll have to come back.”

I know nothing has brought this on. It just happened. I cant justify it with a death, a separation, a failure, an attack, an accident, a disease or any beautifully tragic backstory. I have no reason to feel this dreadful.

The doctor tries to tweeze all of the above out of me, as do the well-meaning friends - “sorry to hear you’re feeling low”…..”come on what’s the matter?”…

I would be able to cope with feeling sad, hysterical, distraught or inconsolable. But this doesn’t even come close. It is indescribable, crippling, debilitating, numbing. 

My appetite swerves and courses in dips of persistent nausea followed by cravings for sugar, cakes, biscuits - I give in and within 10 minutes feel 100 times worse, if that were possible.

Pounding heart, blind panic, face burning, fierce heat.

My head is throbbing again with guilt, disgust, failure, total and utter hopelessness and the only way I can numb it is to promise myself I’ll starve tomorrow and exercise more than I ever have.

But the cycle just repeats itself.

I have educated myself to know the signs and the causes - a chemical plunge in brain noradrenaline and serotonin.

There is never a rational and convenient emotional cause to fit snugly into a tick box to keep the GP happy.

I know the treatments available and which work best for me. I visit my doctor armed with information and a well-rehearsed defence if he tries to brush me off with “stop being so silly” - believe me, that has happened.

This monster will never go away, it’s a bit like herpes - I am stuck with it for life …. but I can now deal with it.

Depression is not just the blues or even a deep sadness. It is far blacker and more dangerous than that.

People kill themselves when they are depressed, they rarely do so when they are sad.

I have one thing to thank my friend for, he has somehow made me more focussed, honed and violently driven to succeed.

Knowing he could pop in at any moment has led me to abstinence when it comes to any artificial high, alcohol being the worst - a glass of wine would be an open invitation so I stick to water.

Today will not be like yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that. I shall have to grit my teeth and face my foe head on while hoping he doesn’t hang around too long.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Rebecca Francis - the brutal face of human egotism

Nothing is more stunning than an wild animal in its natural habitat - bold, majestic, proud. Few of us ever get the chance to see this gift of nature.

It doesn’t have to be wildebeest sweeping over the Serengeti or a humpback whale hurling itself into the air. A dormouse or weasel darting into a hedge can do it for me.

I feel privileged to share the planet with God’s/ nature’s (whoever you want to believe in) most beautiful creations.

We are lucky, truly lucky to share the world with beautiful and precious animals despite their dwindling numbers due to the unstoppable surge in human population.

It is normal, I would assume, to want to protect, preserve, respect and revere these astonishing creatures.

Most people, at least many, share this sentiment - I would hope.

But not all. This week, thanks to comedian Ricky Gervais, we were introduced to Rebecca Francis (Ricky you have catapulted in my estimation).

Remember that name - Rebecca Francis. You may be hearing a bit more about her in the coming weeks.

Rebecca Francis. She is the flaw in my theory that deep down most humans are good, gentle and nurturing beings.

She is the opposite.

Thousands of people this week grimaced at images of her posing next to a slaughtered giraffe, blood-smeared and complete with proud grin and crossbow in hand.

This woman apparently believes animals serve one purpose - to satisfy her violent lust for blood and inflicting death on living things.

The picture sent a shockwave of outrage across the internet - her beaming face posing joyously beside her crumpled trophy. All smiles for the camera.

She came in for a barrage of criticism when this image leaked, but defends her actions saying the beast “was old anyway” and in dismembering it to make jewellery for the locals she delivered to it “a noble death”.

She has bemoaned the furious outcry when further pictures circulated on the internet of her mauling the bloodied corpse of a lion. Then a part-butchered stag and brown bear.

She insisted she “wants to live life to the full” and that killing animals makes her happy - her actions are after all  “100 per cent legal” she whines.

Not if I had my way Miss Francis - your actions would be absolutely illegal in every single statute across the world.

Your twisted arrogance and self-centred excuses astonish me and, it would appear, the rest of the world.

But more on that later.

Miss Francis states she has “dreamt” of hunting - killing animals for fun - since she was a child.

The “extreme huntress” claims she is “living life to the full with no regrets” and insists she is entitled to her bloodied rampages.

She kills not for food, or because she feels in danger, but simply for pleasure - “I don’t want to miss out on some irreplaceable memories,” she says.

With my stomach semi-churned I decided to do more research on this woman. I didn’t have to look far, she has a website displaying a gallery of kills from around the world.

She has maimed and slaughtered her way through through the plains of Africa, Alaska, New Zealand and across north America.

A quick look at the site will leave you in no doubt she is a dab hand with a crossbow and arrow - crimson-splattered zebras, rams, bears, moose - you name it, she’s killed it.

They are all laid out in grotesque glory, the self-styled star of the show never far away, grinning and smirking. 

If you were in any doubt of her fearlessness, a snap of her dragging up the jaws of a lion to expose its teeth would prove you wrong.

There is a selection of videos too. With coiffured, bleached-blonde hair and painted face Miss Francis shows us just how far she can sink to satisfy her gratuitous desire for violence.

‘High flying mountain goat’ shows her perched on a mountain ridge taking aim at an unwitting target below.

After firing the shot the animal stumbles and staggers in view of the camera before dragging itself a few feet and tumbling to the ground.

“What a shot” she exclaims, beaming with pride, before ‘high fiving’ her equally stupid-looking companion.

In another clip she rubs her hands gleefully as she points to a white-tail deer in a field saying “thjs is going to be so much fun… there is a beautiful buck chasing some does”.

You got one thing right Miss Francis, it was a beautiful deer, before you got your bloodthirsty hands on it.

I struggle to comprehend what exists inside this woman’s head - a mind darker and far more wicked than any I have ever come across. It gets even more revolting.

After bears, deer, boar and goats stop satisfying her depraved impulses she decides it is time to move onto bigger and better things.

Claiming the African plains as hers, and with no regard for preservation, conservation or moral standards, she systematically culls her way through a terrain of majestic creatures.

“There is only one place an arrow can penetrate a giraffe’s vital organs,” she states lumbering towards a giraffe, “right between the shoulder blades.”

The video shows blood spilling down the creature’s chest as she boasts “I put the arro
w exactly where it needed to be.”

Unfortunately for you sweetheart there are thousands of people emerging who are not afraid to say they disagree with you on that one.

“It didn’t take him long to go down,” she brags.

I am not surprised you stupid, stupid woman, you have just fired a 12 inch rod of steel through its heart.

“It was so exciting,” she goes on, rushing up for her close up.

“One of things that they do with this beautiful tail is that they make jewellery,” she concludes, “that’s fantastic, this ought to feed a lot of people.”

This exposes part of Miss Francis’s problem. She inhabits the very sad human-centred world which believes the entire world, nature, animals, plants, the environment and every single thing in it is secondary to the wants and desires of selfish and egotistical people like herself.

She believes everything and anything is fair game and as long as
there is a human gain in the end, it is justified.

It is not justified, my dear, and I fear you are only at the beginning of a very ugly backlash to your filthy practices being aired..

Mother-of-eight Miss Francis reacted with horror at the public outcry to her activities.

I’m within my rights, I have children, I’m being threatened etc etc.

Let me explain. You have propelled yourself to a new lofty height - that of the human face of cruelty, in all its glorious ugliness. You now have quite an audience, let’s hope their not quite as ugly as you.

I shall never understand people like Rebecca Francis. People who simply out of pleasure or to satisfy some perverse craving in themselves, snuff the life of another living creature and then sleep at night.

But I thank God for that because I could not live with myself if it was me.  She is now recognised as one of the most wicked, twisted and self-centred humans on the planet.

Mr Gervais, you asked her: "What must've happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal and then lie next to it smiling?”

I don’t think you’ll find the answer. In any case I am not really interested.

Nothing, but nothing excuses this vile behaviour.   I condemn violence in every shape and form including the threats against her, however, I believe heavily in karma.

Remember that word Rebecca Francis, karma, because if there is any justice in this world it will one day become your reality.