“Fermentation and civilisation are inseparable.” — John Ciardi
As a rule, I loathe clichés. I find the obvious to be tedious and the common inane. And yet, there are some tropes that pervade our culture so deeply that they are inescapable. Boy meets girl, the dishonest politician and Italian food and wine. I hope we can all see which one I’ll be guilty of today.
Staying consistent with aversion to all things predictable, I steered well clear of Rome for my first visit to Italy. Instead, I braved the rugged hills of Tuscany. Where the tenacious olive groves roam and the elusive balsamic vinegar is said to live.
A harsh and unforgiving beauty
Silliness aside, my arrival in and around Florence was timed to be just after the chill of winter had been driven out. It had been far too long since I could bask in the dry heat of properly…
View original post 718 more words
It is with some difficulty that I am writing this post, because thinking about losing Hamish still moves me to tears.
Hamish was a Gordon Setter – a big, beautiful black and tan dog with a heart like a marshmallow and a passion for tennis balls that passed all understanding. It was just under two months ago, on Friday 9th of May – my beloved father’s birthday – that he passed away, on a warm spring day with the bluebells and rhododendrons in full, glorious bloom. He would have been ten in September.
On that Monday he had been happy, healthy, splashing about in Llyn Brenig with his friend Lexie. On Tuesday evening he ate his turkey but didn’t seem interested in his biscuits. I wasn’t unduly concerned, but on Wednesday my instincts told me he just wasn’t well, so I phoned the vet. I could see that the inside of his eyelids –…
View original post 883 more words
This is a letter I wrote to Scott Rowley – the Editor in Chief of Classic Rock magazine. Hopefully I will get a reply, but we will see.
Dear Classic Rock,
I wanted to get in touch to convey my disappointment that Classic Rock is still pandering to lazy visuals of half naked women to sell your product. I’ve been a subscriber of Classic Rock magazine for several years, and find the journalism for the most part to be of a very high quality and very interesting, apart from the need to describe Nico as being ‘ball-achingly beautiful’, as I came across a few issues back. What difference does it make how much she makes a man’s balls ache? Have you ever had a female journalist describing a male rock star as being so hot he makes her ovaries ache? I don’t think so. Just imagine reading that and thinking how pathetic and juvenile that sounds, and that is exactly how I felt about that sentence.
As surprising as this may sound, women such as myself do read this magazine as well as men. However, I open the latest issue to find that even though a lot of effort has clearly been put into compiling the new CD Shoot To Thrill, the cover of a model thrusting her tits out and with little more than a studded belt to cover her groin is frankly quite pathetic. Why is this needed? Yes I want to hear about new bands, yes, being a magazine editor myself I understand that you want to inject some excitement into it, but this sort of ‘let’s get a woman in her underwear on the front’ choice surely is just getting embarrassing. Why is the classic rock award the statue of a naked woman? Seriously – please tell me why. Do you think only 15 year old boys read this magazine? All I can imagine is that you were all sat round a table and somebody said: ‘Well, rock fans like breasts, so let’s just get some breasts involved.’ I’ve got a pair of breasts, they’re really not that exciting.
I know fully well that you are aware that women like metal and rock as well – yes we are a minority compared to men in these genres, but why does this mean that we have to be subjected to this? I know there is still this misogynistic streak that unfortunately still prevails amongst a minority of men who are in the metal world, and I have heard some truly horrible comments about women from men at metal gigs, but I also know that this view is held by a few pathetic, childish men who can’t handle the fact that women are as perfectly entitled to enjoy heavy music as much as they are. This is why it disappoints me so much that a mainstream rock magazine like Classic Rock can’t seem to move on from women being there to get her cleavage out.
I feel we are under-represented in this magazine, and not just under-represented, but patronised and reduced to a mere caricature of tits and lips. On page 13 you have a Lucy Hellings as a highlighted contributor, and then I look at the new supplement and again it’s just more models getting their perfect bodies out. Come on!! Give me real women in metal – there are some fantastic bands out with women in like Royal Thunder, Alunah and In This Moment just to mention a few. I want to know what they think, not just to see how hot they look in a leather corset.
If you think I’m over reacting, just look at the Metal Hammer awards earlier this year. What was the need for the women on stage whose sole purpose was to walk the winner from the curtain on the edge of the stage to the middle of the stage? Really – that was necessary was it? Did you think Corey Taylor was going to get lost halfway across the stage and wander into the drum riser?
I would like to see more women in your magazine, and that doesn’t mean women with their backsides out covered in tattoos or women with their cleavage out selling whatever the fuck it is, I want women to be treated in the same way men are, in order to try and rebalance this adolescent slant. I will interview these women myself if I have to, and at no point will I describe my ovaries exploding at the sight of Slipknot.
This 2009 film directed by Norwegian Tommy Wirkola, Dead Snow sees a group of Norwegian medical students head off to the remote snowy mountains of somewhere to die horrifically. The horrific deaths come courtesy of a bunch of Nazi zombie soldiers that have been lying around under the snow since the second world war. The obligatory weird guy who turns up at the cabin once all the students are settled in and drinking tells them of a force of Einsatzgruppe – an SS death squad – that terrorised the area in the Second World War before an uprising of the locals chased them off into the mountains to freeze to death. Or not quite death as it turns out as they may still be roaming around picking off anybody daft enough to ski to the cottage rather than get the car with everybody else.
The guy leaves, apparently happy to peddle the bullshit to gullible tourists, but far too wise to believe it himself, and the students shrug it off and amuse themselves braving the
-10°C temperature to have sex in the outdoor toilet. After one of them has a dream that his zombie-chomped friend
was in the house, they look under the floorboards and find a box of gold and trinkets which the Nazis had stolen from the locals before their untimely demise, but unfortunately they remove some from the box. Apparently the zombies are based on the Scandinavian folk law tale of undead draugr protecting its stolen treasure – also used in the Elder Scrolls game Skyrim.
So, the zombies close in, people start being ripped apart, and it becomes a race back down to the cars. With chainsaws.
I really enjoyed this film, despite the watery plot which didn’t make much sense anyway when there were already ‘awake’ zombies killing people before the gold had been touched, because it’s got a sense of humour, and the students have a good stab at acting, even if the plot and dialogue doesn’t really require it. Plus, there’s gore. Loads of gore. Gore fountaining all over the pristine white landscape as zombie keep erupting out of nowhere and get hacked, bashed, axed, shot, run over with snowmobiles and minced with a chainsaw, sorry, forgot to add ‘hammered into a decapitated mess’ to that – whilst the students get chunks taken out of them and their heads ripped off because they made the classic mistake of smashing one zombie to pieces, and then turning round to grin at their mates without looking behind them to see if there were any more lurking under the snowdrifts. However, it’s so over the top, it’s hilarious, and setting the hacking and slashing to a gloriously rousing song makes it even better. See:
It’s quite short, it makes a mess, and you get to see somebody machine gunning zombies on a snowmobile – what is there not to like?
In a zombie-ridden landscape you have to order around a group of survivors who have decided that no more will they run from the shambling, moaning hoards of zombies sweeping the land, and will instead sit down right where they are and rebuild their future.
You’re presented with a small city with various buildings such as malls, fast food places, farms, churches and assorted other buildings placed in a grid pattern. You have the middle four, and 12 people, who contain one leader, a couple of soldiers, scavengers who are good at bringing back food, builders and some randomers. With your motley bunch the idea is to expand the small stronghold whilst still keeping it well defended, scout the areas around you, encourage survivors to join your camp and kill zombies to reclaim sections. Often your camp will be attacked by zombies, the rise of which is blamed on a tulip-eating cult in The Netherlands, so you need to make sure you’ve got enough people manning the police station roof.
Unfortunately there aren’t little zombies lurching and staggering around outside your walls, which would have been great to see. Even better if you could throw them around Black & White-style, or take a couple of pot shots, but no, all you get is the grid and a file of reports after every day telling you how your associated missions went. There are nice little points such as when a soldier looses an eye, she gains the nickname ‘Cyclops’, but the reports get repetitious and the game itself is pretty slow, so not something you could zip about in on your lunch break. There is an evil graveyard with a portal in it, apparently what the zombies are coming out of, but despite me sending waves of soldiers at it several times, it didn’t seem to do anything, so I presume you take over the whole map and then have a final showdown. It’s alright, but I played for an hour before deciding that this really wasn’t worth more of my time.
A side scroller with music of incredibly annoying proportions, where you control a pig that thunders along eating apples, clicking with the spacebar to make it jump gaps and other obstacles, with the pig running faster the further you get. I think you can hit things with the bolt of lightning above you as well by dragging down with the mouse, but the controls are so poor you might as well plough through whatever obstacle it is that you’re trying to hit. Unfortunately each time you plummet to your doom down an abyss, you have to sit and wait for the game to reload and get faced with some scam adverts, and it’s generally pointless in every respect.
Yargh, you scallywags, what do I see before me? Apparently a ‘paradise that only the mightiest pirates can find’. We need to find some lost treasure and an old sea salt toting the obligatory shoulder parrot can tell me where it is! Unfortunately he is then promptly flattened by a cannon ball. So, we have to find the pieces of treasure map by ourselves or steal them from others in order to find the Lost Isles of Treasure Kingdom.
We’re out in the ocean, and here is our first target, a ship called Black Shark. During the battle, you can either fire your cannon, put out a fire on your ship, or improve the accuracy of your cannon and you and your opponent then take alternative pot shots at one another. You can also increase the size of your crew by inviting your friends to join the game, improve your ship, rename your ship so I proudly christen mine ‘Thundering Badger’, and all sorts of things. Well scrub my decks and shiver my timbers, I sink the Black Shark and get my reward, as well as some points to improve my damage, defence and accuracy.
Next I explore an island to see what’s hidden in the trees, barrels and dead bodies lying around the place and beat up a few more ships. I’ve only just realised that these are other people playing the game, not computer generated ships. Ah, so they’ll all probably shoot me full of holes as soon as I’ve gone. I’ll come back tomorrow and see.
Overall, pretty good fun, but as with Rebuild, this is going to take you a long time, and it also keeps trying to get you to buy extra things with real money!
This week’s winner is: Mighty Pirates
If you haven’t come across the TV and movie website Blinkbox, it provides a treasure trove of current films and programmes to buy and stream, but it also has a handy free section, which is a lot more diverse. And when I say diverse, I mean that half of it you will never have heard of and the other half isn’t worth hearing of.
One of those you may not have come across before, particularly if you live in the UK and don’t have Sky, is a Canadian TV programme called Relic Hunter, which you can watch the first and second seasons of for free on Blinkbox. Running for three series between 1999 and 2002, Relic Hunter followed an American archaeologist on her adventures around the world to find the mysterious and the mythical. Very obviously inspired by Lara Croft, it starred Hawiian actress Tia Carrere in the lead role of archaeologist Sydney Fox, an actress best known for playing Cassandra Wong in Wayne’s World and Wayne’s World 2.
Biting the dust after 66 episodes – has it stood up to the test of time?
The first episode sees Sydney and her British assistant Nigel head to Nepal to look for the fabled overflowing alms bowl of Buddha. So are you with me? Because here we go…
First off, slightly strange theme music going on here – very middle of the afternoon Murder, She Wrote territory, but striving to be a bit Indiana Jones. And there we have a skeleton falling out of a recess, and there they are in a pit of snakes, I think I’ve got the number on this one. She’s going to be sassy and gung-ho, he’s going to be ever so English and restrained. Bet you 10p.
Yes! I knew it! There he goes – ‘After such a secluded education in Cambridge you can imagine how nervous I was to land a position in America’. He makes it sound as though Cambridge is a 12th century monastery located on top of a mountain and they’re not let outside or near anything remotely female for three years. It’s Giles syndrome all over again, and also he looks like an even weedier version of Brenden Fraser. Classic ‘90s hairdo as well, got to love it.
He’s turned up for his first day as Sydney’s teaching assistant, so he gets shown into her classroom and there she is dressed in not much more than feathers and facepaint demonstrating a tribal dance to her class, with a grand finale of throwing her spear at the doorframe next to Nigel’s wibbling little face. I’m expecting that over their next 65 adventures he’ll learn to let his hair down a bit, loosen that repressed Cambridge-blaming attitude and learn to live a little, whilst she will maybe have her rough edges smoothed off as she realises that quiet people have their uses as well. Or maybe not, all three series aren’t here for free unfortunately so we’ll just have to guess.
And there she is in her office in her underwear getting changed and the poor boy’s gasping like a fish. At least he’s got 400 books with him he shipped over from England to keep his hands busy. Outside, a group of men from Nepal have appeared who have ‘found an ancient map’ showing where Buddha’s alms bowl was 150 years ago. That, and a handful of metal discs. This looks like pretty flimsy evidence to me but there’s a human element to it – a village is building a shrine to Buddha and wants to place to bowl there – so even though she’s literally only just finished her first class of term at the university where she is teaching, she’s drops everything to go to Nepal, taking Nigel with her.
Now we’re in Hong Kong where a slimy American waving around a copy of the map is trying to get the young director of a company he’s run into debt to engage in the appropriation of this never-ending cash cow of a bowl. I can feel a race coming on.
‘Lambini Gardens, it sounds peaceful doesn’t it?’ Oh Nigel, you’re so silly, look at you in your naff brown jumper. Cue shot of a very unpeaceful market where Sydney for some reason only known to herself leads him into a dodgy bar. ‘The golden carp is in here somewhere,’ she says. Woah, back up here. On the map she was given, there was a picture of what looked like some people possibly in a garden, and then an image of a koi carp. Somehow the name of this garden sprung into her mind, even though this is a 150 year old map, and she turns up in Nepal in the middle of some random market, and knows exactly which bar to go into, and that she has to look for a golden carp.
Anyway, she leaves Nigel to wander about looking lost and jumpy whilst she, for no reason at all, marches off down a flight of stairs to a dripping basement. I think it’s supposed to show off how unconventional she is. She glares down a rat, flicks a tarantula off her shoulder without breaking a sweat and finds the koi on a wall tile. This obviously indicates that something is hidden there, and she promptly pulls out a chunk of wall, which is revealed to be a koi carp hiding hole.
Upstairs, Nigel is already casting the shackles of his secluded education behind him by gambling with the locals, and also the dodgy American we last saw in Hong Kong. Turns out he’s Sydney’s rival in the game and managed to get the koi statue first that was hidden in the wall. Then he just hung around for the fun of it until she turned up and they could wrestle over the artefact. Nigel stands there like a giant lemon, so Sydney has to elbow some people in the face and drag him out of the bar, but the koi is gone. What are they going to do?
What they’re going to do is make like Indy and run through a market followed by some heavies, baskets flying around as people career into them, and it’s time to jump onto a steam train and don a disguise using clothing they stole from the market. And then get off the train again without it going anywhere. The ‘disguises’ are bloody awful because nobody else around them is wearing anything like it, but a swift coving of the face with the hood seems to flummox the heavies following them and off they go.
Back to the train. Pardon? You were on the thing two minutes ago and got off to parade around in your snazzy new outfits that definitely did not make you blend into the crowd. Well, they’re now back on it and somehow have managed to get their luggage back from wherever it was when they went to the bar. Hmm. Unless they stole somebody else’s in another attempt to be inconspicuous.
So now they’re in the middle of nowhere trundling along on a cart with Sydney theorising with absolute certainty that there isn’t just one carp ‘they’re all part of a mosaic’. How do you know that?! You’re making this rubbish up as you go along! Also, she goes off on one along the lines of ‘I know that he’s got it, and I know that he knows that I know he’s got it etc.’ Well yes, you know he has the carp, because you saw it in his hard and tried to grab it from him, that was hardly being subtle about it. ‘We have to be on our guard, he could be anywhere,’ she says. He’s actually driving the cart they’re on, clearly his grey rags are in the same category of miracle disguises that you two were sporting earlier on.
Eventually, they find where the koi statue is supposed to go and something is revealed in the depths of a disused fountain. Something which makes them tramp about in the rainforest. ‘We’ve come a dead end,’ says Nigel ruefully when they can’t find the Buddha statue. Don’t worry Nige, in a plot so thin as this who knows what could happen.
They realise they’re sat on Buddha, and find the way in. Smarmy American guy also turns up, after bribing the townspeople with his mobile phone. They’re rural Nepalise villagers, of course a mobile would be useful. Now they’re racing head to head through the cavernous cockroach-ridden belly of the Buddha and there it is, on a sunlit plinth in a room, which they then get trapped in and sand starts pouring in. Original this is not.
They notice a lever, which either ‘opens the door or releases the sand’. Which would render both shutting the door and pouring sand into the room completely pointless if you can just open it again. Apparently it’s one of the teachings of Buddhism, ‘not to resist’. So you stand there and breath. That doesn’t work so Sydney comes out with ‘we have to make the walls oscillate, maybe that will trigger the lever’. So they start chanting (saying ommmmm really loudly) and against all odds it does.
They get the bowl and a moral lesson is learnt, that what we think we need isn’t always what we actually do. There, doesn’t that warm the cockles?
And there we have it, a cut price Lara Croft / Indiana Jones mash up with a plot that gets made up as it goes along, people just seem to know where to go with no explanation as to how, and in the end she’s not much of an archaeologist because she gives the bowl to some villagers who if they already knew where the Buddha was, could have just gone and got it themselves. Daft but light hearted I think sums this up.