Friday, March 13, 2009

Under the influence

Some people who know me are aware that I lament the passing of Vanilla Diet Coke. To some it was an insignificant blip in the history of the soft drink, but to me it was the culmination in sweet, unholy goodness. Ever since I first supped the dubious alcopop sensation that may have been called barcode after purchasing said from a North Finchley off license, I have subconsciously sought the sweet nectar of blended cream soda.
In this instance however, I was aware that there was little chance of re-living my past beverage highs, as Red Bull hardly has the tastiest pedigree.

Red Bull Cola. Many would think this a very bad idea.

As you can see, the reverse is jam-packed with information, a ream of text identifying each of the ingredients that help to form this concoction.

Anyone who has gone to the trouble of actually decanting Red Bull from its aluminium resting place will be familiar with the garish orange/yellow appearance of the stuff, a hue not usually found in nature aside from the urine of the unwell. For their cola variety the Red Bull company has wisely decided to go with the traditional brown colouring, but unfortunately the ancestry of this beverage makes itself known, the brown shade is highly influenced by orange and results in a look which speaks of a dubious bitter or perhaps a foul herbal tincture from a ‘natural high’ shop. Which I suppose is fitting.

Initial pouring finds that the concentration of carbonation seems to be higher than that of most colas, the frothy head building quickly and quite high, and persisting for a considerable amount of time. Once the froth has subsided, however, the liquid seems a touch flat, as if the fizz is mainly there for effect rather than for the experience.

The Red Bull Cola odour reminds me of Panda cola and other cheap copies of the cola formula, a rung or two below supermarket own brands and containing a cloying sweetness that smells highly artificial from within a soft drink class that is already steeped in artifice.
However, there is a fruity undercurrent which links this to the strange smell and taste of its older sibling, Red Bull itself, whose signifiers include a fruitiness that accompanies the unnatural, almost overbearing sweetness of the brew.

The taste is an odd one. In a move away from that of Red Bull, and towards that of cola, the drink somehow manages to cancel both out rather than finding a mutual meeting ground, and combined with the flatness of the liquid it makes for an unsatisfying experience. The hint of the Panda cola smell is there in taste too, but is now joined by the more prominent feature of cola bottles, again known for the feel of artifice when compared to most cola brands, let alone the Coke and Pepsi giants.
Worse than this is the earthy aftertaste that you really don’t associate with the cola style of soft drink.

The can claims it consists of 100% natural sources and natural caffeine, as if that makes it less of a drug.
“Sugar, C02, caramel sugar syrup, natural flavourings from plant extracts, galangai, vanilla, mustard seeds, caffeine from coffee beans, lime kola nut, cocoa, liquorice, cinnamon, lemon, ginger, coca leaf, orange, corn mint, pine, cardamom, mace, clove; lemon juice concentrate.”

Nice to know that it’s no less ‘dangerous’ than a sugary coffee, but as you can imagine all of those natural flavours together don’t necessarily make for a good taste.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

One Day as a Lion

A few years ago I got my second tattoo.
On my right shoulder is an eight-pointed cross, with arrowheads at the tips, and a red circle at the centre with tendrils snaking along each branch of the cross.

Back when One Minute Silence, a British rap/metal ish band with heavy political convictions, were still together, I was part of their online message board, chatting rubbish and having debates about politics with other fans. We met up a few times, had days out and went to some of the OMS gigs together, which were infamous for their audience involvement - the OMS mosh pits were brutal, but fair. There was a bunch of dedicated fans who were fixtures in the London metal scene from the late 90s onwards, the pit crew, who used to police the mosh, creating an atmosphere where you could happily decide whether you wanted to just stand and jig a bit at the very front, back or sides of a venue, or get into the mosh proper and slam into people, get slung about and get involved in the 'wall' and 'circle' that may not have been invented by the pit crew, but certainly rarely happened in London gigs without them. Bigger gigs included inflatable hammers, human pyramids and once the pipes on the ceiling of the Borderline where destroyed, leading to OMS getting banned from Mean Fiddler venues for an unspecified period.
One of the people I met from the board was a tattooist in training. He had already finished some pieces on friends and had a fair bit of his own work on himself. At this point, maybe 2001/2002, I had already got a tattoo of the biohazard symbol on my back, between my shoulder blades, and I asked this guy to do the cross for me. He came round to my place one sunny afternoon and did it in my front room with the whole kit in a bag - fresh needles, sterilisation equipment, rubber gloves, the machines and inks. Like many of the fans we have drifted apart since the band split up and the message board was closed down.

The tattoo itself has faded, but that's no reflection on his work. At the time I still worked at HMV, and the nature of unloading vans and carrying armloads of stock meant I wasn't as careful as I should have been, and some of the scabs were knocked off before healing properly. I've meant to get it reworked for years and I might nearly have built the momentum to actually get around to it - I did plan on visiting a tattoist in Islington this weekend, but they are closed due to a convention in Manchester so I'll have to keep the momentum going in my head.

The symbol itself I think I first saw when I was maybe twelve or thirteen. I'd never liked sports and did my best to get out of that kind of thing at school - when I succeeded I hung around the upstairs of the school sports hall with friends who had similar ideas, and to pass the time some of us played Warhammer, the table top war games from Games Workshop. One of the factions besides straight good and evil was chaos, and the symbol and idea behind it appealed to me; pointing in every direction at once, you can't be certain of anything.

Here is one of the original designs, currently at home on the web as part of the hubbub for the release of the Warhammer Online MMORPG, which hopes to go up against World of Warcraft.

And here is my own version, permanently etched into my flesh.

It serves as a reminder to me that change is the only constant in life. No matter how good or bad things are, they will not stay the same, so equally there is no point to give in to despair, nor should you take anything for granted. That mindset has helped me get through the hard parts of life I've gone through so far, and it's helped me to appreciate every little thing that makes life brighter, from a hug with a friend, a walk through a park and hot and cold running water to the more traditionally appreciated things like a great night out or the excitement of a first kiss.

The reason I've not kept up with the scribbling here is that I've thrown myself into my new freedom. After the end of my old life, and after coming out the other side, I've jumped with both feet into this city, trying to eat up everything it has to offer that looks like it tastes good, and since the beginning of 2009 either with dates, family or friends, I've been out for 38 of the last 65 days. Little wonder I'm not getting enough sleep.
But right now all my problems are good problems, losing sleep due to too much to do is preferable to it being due to wanker neighbours, for example, and last night the comic Adam Bloom asked how old I was and then went on to say how I looked the same age as another guy in the audience who he though was 23 (he was 25). At thirty this is a hell of a compliment and it helps me believe that I can make up for lost time.

Maybe I won't keep up the pace that I've started this year with, but at this rate I'll certainly have fun trying, and before the year is out I aim to add to my tattoo collection and get the question mark inked on me that I've wanted for 14 years.
If anyone has seen interesting question mark designs in their travels, drop me a link, I'm open to suggestions.