Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve

I'm glad I posted my retrospective yesterday because this morning I received some news that might have coloured it slightly. Back in April, one of the guests at my 30th birthday party was Martin, the husband of one of the designers I worked with, Allison. He looked a bit peaky back then and in conversation said that he was going to the doctors to see if there was anything wrong with him.

There was.

Martin was diagnosed with stomach cancer and given a prognosis of six months with the chemo. When I last saw him, he was in Velindre hospital - the specialist cancer unit - looking very ill, but alert and happy. Although I didn't feel like I had much faith, I prayed with him. There have been lots of prayer meetings, special mentions in our prayer times in work, and regular emails.

Two days ago he took a sudden turn for the worse and was rushed into hospital where he died.

It's not as if we were exceptionally close. We met a few times before he got ill, and we saw him a few times in the past eight months. But he was a warm, kind, interested guy, with a creative artistic streak, a good sense of humour and a sincere smile. After talking to him for a few minutes, I felt like I'd known him for ages, and that's rare for me because I don't really like people that much and find it hard to make friendships.

I've heard the 'explanations' for why good people die young and none of them really help. When I was a headstrong and certain teenager I could put up a good argument why, even though God could step in and save people He would perhaps choose not to. Now I feel like grabbing him, shaking him by the cosmic shoulders and telling him, in no uncertain terms, to get in the game.

I was talking today to an older and wiser friend - a man who's been a doctor for nearly 40 years, and a believer for longer - and his honest gut opinion is that cancer is evil. It's satan's last desperate throw of the dice because satan hates human beings (I don't give satan a capital letter for a reason - see here). That doesn't help lessen the pain, but at least it gives a focus for my anger.

And I think back to what Luther said - that the only place we really see God is on the cross. And how Paul described Christ emptying himself. And I try to get my head around the idea of death and finitude and mortality becoming part of the eternal nature of God - that in that mysterious trinity, not only is death experienced for eternity, but the pain of abandonment, and the pain of harrowing loss is also part of God's nature. And I remember Peter's assertion that God didn't abandon his Son to the grave. That somehow life triumphed.

On a rollover inspirational calendar that Cath has by the computer it said this a few days ago: "Faith is seeing light with your heart, when all your eyes see is the darkness ahead."

Saturday, December 30, 2006

It's nearly 2007

With the end of 2006 now in sight, I think it’s time for a bit of a retrospective. So, here’s some of the things I’ve learned this past year.

Adcortyl is the stuff to use on mouth ulcers
Bonjela is rubbish in comparison
Coke explodes when you add a Mento
David Tennant is a better Doctor
England can have the best footie team in the world according to the pundits, but when it comes to the big stage they suck royally
Funny emails aren’t professional
Global warming means the poorest people are going to get literally washed away
‘How to be Good’ by Nick Hornby is brilliant but depressing
In a galactic war, being on the losing side doesn’t mean you fought on the wrong side (thank you, Mal Reynolds)
Japanese B-Damen instructions are easier to read in Japanese than in the ‘translated’ version
Karaoke is a great way to make a complete ass of yourself
Legoland is great, but you get odd looks if you go there without kids in tow
Mull is a great place to go on holiday, mainly because it’s almost deserted (and it's got lots of quiet, wee places to visit - like this one)
Nizlopi are possibly the coolest live band ever
Office politics means my pay won’t go up, but there’s plenty of money available to create new management positions
Poppycock cashew nut popcorn is so nice I’m salivating as I type
Queen’s Radio GaGa has never been murdered so badly as when Dave and me killed it on the Songster game
Returning to old writing projects means extensive re-writes
Sunburn is a possibility when holidaying in Scotland – no, honestly, it happened to me
Thud! by Terry Pratchett is the best book to read if you want to understand religious fundamentalism
United 93 is not the best film to watch the night before you fly to Belfast
Vox pops are frustrating, tiring, demoralising and stressful – but doing them still beats a day in the office!
Weevils live in the sewers of Cardiff, and wear boiler suits for some reason
X-Box consoles are insanely large
You can lead a workplace prayer meeting using six stress balls that you’ve ‘acquired’ at a marketing expo to illustrate your main points
Zoids are as much fun now as they were when I was a kid (actually they're more fun now because I can afford to buy the big ones!)

Friday, December 29, 2006

It's a nice little problem to have

The hardest part about Christmas is finding homes for all the new stuff I've been given. Artoo-Potatoo will join Darth Tater and Spud Trooper quite easily. Books go on the shelf. Nightmare stuff in with the ever-growing collection of Nightmare stuff. Clothes go in the wardrobe etc. etc.

But suddenly I've got a collection of B-Damen. After Irony Boy gave me one in our pre-Christmas House Christmas, he then found a Jap import version cheap in Yeovil for me. I also found 3 import versions in our new fancy 'out-of-town, but nearer my house now' Toys 'R' Us for the ludicrous low price of 96p each. Suddenly I have an armada of the things and I'm not really sure where to put them.
Still, I guess the hassle of finding space for all my new toys is a nice hassle to have.

Another addition to the Spud Wars family...

Monday, December 25, 2006

It's Christmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas!

I've never been considered much of a fashion guru, but at least I'm organised when it comes to seasonal underwear. The 'pigs in Santa hats' Joe Boxer shorts are on (probably not a contender for 'helps underline the real meaning of Christmas' award). The Jack Skellington socks are on. And I'm ready for a big day of Christmas fun and family togetherness.

And, in the spirit of Christmassy togetherness, Cathy's pants have 'ho ho ho' all over them. However, she wasn't chuffed when I referred to them as her "ho pants". Can't think why...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Match report: Shrewsbury 0 Barnet 1

Well this was a bust. Freezing cold night, plenty of pre-match hype, a win last time out, what could be better than a game against the 17th placed team in the division?

I'm on a run too - this season my record for Shrewsbury games is seen: 2, lost: 2, scores: both 0-1. And when I went with Dad to see table-topping Cardiff the score was 0-1 then.

But despite the defeat, this was an entertaining game, more so if you were a Barnet fan. League 2 is a tight division again, and despite their lowly position, Barnet were the better side - obviously they've taken a while to hit their stride. They were first to the ball most of the night and could actually string more then one pass together, while Shrewsbury looked inept in both boxes. The decisive goal was an amazing volley from outside the area which dipped into the top corner past Town's decidedly dodgy loanee 'keeper. Not a bad goal to lose to, even if the game was a bad one to lose.

Plus, I felt very happy for the visiting fans, who, as Dave pointed out, deserved a medal for travelling on a Friday and standing on an inhospitable terrace. They went totally nuts when the goal went in, and again about ten minutes later when the whistle went. It reminded me why I go to football games - the feeling when you win against the odds, away from home, on the longest night of the year.

I just wish I felt that feeling more often, but unfortunately I'm a Shrewsbury fan!

Friday, December 22, 2006

House Christmas

Last night we had house Christmas. This was because Viv has to work over Christmas, we're visiting rellies and Irony Boy is off to his homeland - although, technically, he isn't part of the household; he just pretends to live here when ordering stuff off the web.

One of our Christmas traditions is to watch Bernard and the Genie. It's a BBC film, written by Richard Curtis of Blackadder and Four Weddings fame, which we have on video from 1991. As you can imagine, it's a bit crackly and faded by now, so maybe it's time to lobby the BBC and get them to release a decent version on DVD.

We also opened some presents. I was given another B*Damen to keep the one I bought a few months ago happy. Or, maybe they'll fight... who knows?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

News of other projects

For the first time in a couple of months I've had time to update freelance theology, with a very seasonal post about Gabriel. This is the first new post on the new look freelancetheology.com which has come into existence thanks to my hardworking sidekick Irony Boy. The new logo was designed by Matt the designer (as I call him). (I don't know what I'd accomplish if I wasn't surrounded by talented people!)

What I'm really hoping for is some free time to add some extra stuff and answer the backlog of questions that has built up recently. But carving out time in my schedule isn't something I'm good at.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas factoid



Something that Cath and I learned at San Diego Zoo is that boy reindeer lose their antlers in the autumn, while girl reindeer keeps her antlers until well into winter, so that they can compete for food. Which means... that Santa's sleigh-team is exclusively female! Which explains why one of them is called Donna. (And before the pedants attack - you know who you are - I know it's really Donner).

But this then leads to an obvious question. If Santa's herd of reindeer are all female, does he have to hire in a stud reindeer from time to time? Or is that Rudolph's job? And where have all the male reindeer gone? Is Santa a secret exporter of venison? Hmmm.

(If Santa turned one of his reindeer into a spitroast, would it be possible to have a real Donner kebab?)

The other thing about San Diego Zoo is that they had the first panda cub to be born in the Western hemisphere. When we saw it, it was sleeping in a tree, looking like a plastic bag that had been blown there by the wind. Apart from the fact it had a paw, of course. We saw pandas doing what they do most of the time. One was eating and two were sleeping. The reason they sleep so much is because the bamboo they exclusively eat is actually toxic to them, so they have to sleep off the toxicological effects.



Shhhh, don't disturb the snoozing panda cub


Playing "Spot the hippo!" with the friendly baby hippo

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Prawn madness

Occasionally certain news stories catch my attention and bug me. Like this story about how prawns caught of the coast of Scotland are going to be shipped 12,000 miles to Thailand to be shelled, before being shipped back and sold in Scottish supermarkets. Why? Because it's cheaper to pay somebody in Thailand to shell prawns by hand than someone in Scotland to shove them through a machine.

In fact Time magazine makes the comparison that it costs $12 an hour to pay a Scottish worker (which with today's exchange rate works out at about £6), while a Thai hand-sheller only gets paid 50c a day. And the environmental impact is mad too - as Friends of the Earth put it: for the sake of a few extra quid, the prawn sellers are destroying the world.

I don't know what's the saddest aspect of this whole tale. That workers in Thailand are on 50c a day. That half a tonne of carbon will be pumped into the atmosphere for every tonne of prawns shipped round the world and back again. Or that someone somewhere has the job title 'Director of Scampi' on their business card.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Illuminated by darkness

Bit of a profound way to describe a thought I had this morning at about half 7. It was very dark this morning, and as I sat munching my wheat bisks (none of that fancy branded cereal for me) I noticed just how incredibly dark it was outside.

And then the thought struck me: What if the sun doesn’t rise today? Of course, I know that I was being ridiculous, because the earth revolves on its own axis once every 24 hours, and day was going to follow night as surely as nauseous regret follows the snaffling of a dozen mince pies. (Not that I’ve done that… recently.)

But that half moment of fear made me realise that in pre-scientific times there was no sure way of knowing, which is why the Egyptians et al used to celebrate the sunrise every day (or at least I think they did – perhaps I ought to look historical trivia like that up). And how do I really ‘know’ that stuff about the Earth on its axis, other than that I’ve been told about it and apparently there’s this invisible, un-measureable, unquantifiable thing called gravity that would stop working if the world suddenly stopped spinning. So, the sun was going to come up because we hadn’t all been catapulted off into space while we slept – what a comforting thought!

The upshot of all this frenzied brain activity was me being a bit more grateful when the sky started to lighten than I usually am.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Angel's delight

I wrote this drama a couple of years ago and my friends Doug and Michelle were the angels, hence the descriptions... I think Maria and Lewis were Mary and Joe and baby Llewellyn was Jesus, but I might be wrong about that.

Angel's Delight
Characters: Mary, Joseph (Joe) and baby Jesus, Gabriel (an angel), Gabrielle (another angel), Narrator

Scene: Mary & Joseph are sitting with the baby Jesus in a ‘manger’ (baby-seat).
Enter Narrator

Narrator: It was a long time ago, in a galaxy not too far away,
When a baby was born and laid in the hay,
Of an animal’s manger and there, in with the sheep,
His mam and his dad were too exhausted to sleep,
And under the starlight that seemed strangely bright,
They thought of what brought them to that place that night
And they talked about all the extraordinary things,
That they’d heard from the strange people with wings.

Mary: You know, Joe, I can’t really believe you stuck by me. Even now that we’re here in Bethlehem and the baby’s been born and everything. I don’t think I could have done it without you.

Joe: Well I didn’t do much. Just let you hold my hand during it. (He massages his hand) The doctor said I should get the feeling back in a few days.

Mary: Yeah, sorry about that.

Joe: It’s OK. Just remind me not to hold your hand the next time you have a baby.

Mary: Well, if it’s yours…

Joe: It had better be mine!

Mary: I think it will. The angel said I was going to ‘be with child’ and have a son. So I guess that’s all done now.

Joe: Oh, yeah, the angel. I remember meeting the angel. It was like a dream. Maybe it was a dream. All I remember is beauty and light and long blonde hair (he sighs and look wistfully off into the distance).

Mary: Are you sure?

Joe: What?

Mary: Well that doesn’t sound like the angel Gabriel at all.

Joe: Gabrielle.

Mary: What?

Joe: You pronounced it wrong. The angel was called Gabrielle, not Gabriel.

Mary: No, he was called Gabriel and he was big and loud and spoke with a funny accent.

Joe: He? Don’t you mean she?

Mary: No, I don’t mean she. You don’t get more he than he was. He was like all the he you could be.

Joe: Are we talking about the same angel?

Enter Gabriel and Gabrielle.
Gabriel: Hi guys!

Gabrielle: You made it safely here, then.

Mary: Gabriel!

Joe: Gabrielle!

Mary & Joseph turn to look at each other.
Mary & Joe together: Oh, riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight!

Narrator: With that mystery solved, mam and dad had to smile,
At the angels who had come down to earth for a while,
One was pretty and kind and had long blonde hair,
The other was manly and loud and his head was quite bare,
Mam and dad partied with the people with wings,
And were joined later on by shepherds and kings,
While the baby slept on – his condition quite stable,
Proof of sorts that this story is no ordinary fable.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Do you want a free book about sandwiches?

No, seriously. I've got mine already. All you need to do is follow this handy link that I'm giving you to Amazon and do what they tell you to do. Then you'll never be stuck for what to stick between two slices of bread again. Hurrah.

(Oh and you'll need this code: HELLMANAMZN2 at the checkout screen to get the book free and free delivery!)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Things I've learned this week from watching QI repeats

That a rock discovered in Cummington, Massachusetts, was called Cummingtonite. Ooh er.

That, despite being a mammal, a duck-billed platypus doesn’t have mammary glands. Instead a mummy platypus ‘sweats’ milk to feed her young. And in fact, all mammary glands are evolved sweat glands. Which kind of makes most of the top-heavy girls in Loaded seem slightly less attractive.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

You know it's time to go on a diet when...

.. you’re discussing your possible costume for the upcoming ‘multinational-themed’ Christmas do and you have a conversation like this:

“Actually, I’ve got some Japanese clothes that I could wear.”

“You could come as a sumo wrestler, Jon.”

Thanks for that.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A short story for Advent

This story was performed as a dramatic reading by my friend Chris Bidder at a special Christmas service a couple of years ago.

Christmas Journey

So we travelled for miles.

Balthazar had got it into his head that the strange sign in the sky meant that a great king was going to be born and everything was packed up and we set off in a long baggage train to some foreign place.

I dunno. We ended up in this dirt-poor country that wasn’t a patch on Persia. Their capital city – well don’t make me laugh – it wasn’t up to much. And then all their holy men told us we’d come to the wrong place.

Balthazar decided that we had better move on and we went to somewhere even smaller. We hunted high and low. Man, you wouldn’t believe how many babies we squinted at. But Balthazar said no to each one and we went on to the next house or pub or shack.

Some of the guys started complaining but I knew Balthazar had never led us astray before. I must admit though, even I gave up hope of ever finding this child.

On the outskirts we discovered this barn and then we all saw the thing in the sky again so we knew we had at last found the right place.

There wasn’t much room in there but we all crammed in. I had to squat between a donkey and a goat and that donkey had travelled a few miles if you get my drift. Still, there we were, handing over these gifts to some kid who was going to be the king of nations or something. Who knows?

We went home a different way so I never got to laugh at their capital again. But I’ll always remember that trip. There was something special about that night and when I think of it, I’m proud that we went all that way.

I consider myself very lucky to have been Balthazar’s camel.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Sequal to Super Mario Rampage

With 4 awesome ways to kill koopas


Free and fun Games
from Venus Arcade Free Online Games

I don’t know what people think I do in my spare time

I got back into the office today and walked right into the middle of a media problem. Someone has told assorted media types to phone us about something we don’t comment on. And there’s plenty of brown stuff hitting the fan and you-know-who is trying to clean it up.

In the middle of this chaos, I get this email from the person who inadvertently set the whole thing in motion, which says:

Also, on the subject of my press coverage, [your boss] wants a three-way with you, me and him poss on [suggested date]. Would you be able to set something like that up please?

I think the answer to that has to be no, doesn’t it?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Working with the general public

You never know what someone will say when you stick them in front of a camera. That’s the joy of doing vox pops, and today was no different.

After throwing ourselves on the mercy of the lovely Demelsa, we were allowed to film inside the Eastgate Shopping Mall in Gloucester, instead of out in the squally rain and the cold. We got a good mix of people, which was what we were looking for. However, the older generation of black passers-by were very reluctant to participate, which was a real shame. We now have an off-balance collection of mainly white people putting questions to camera.

We did have one star though – a gentleman who approached us (always a winner, those). He was given the question “Why doesn’t my wife understand me?” and was instantly up for it. “That’s my question!” he said.

Then looking at the camera, he asked, while theatrically throwing his arms around:
Why doesn’t my wife understand me? Whyyyy? What’s wrong with her? Whyyyy doesn’t she understand me? What can I dooo?


It was all I could do to keep the boom mike level I was laughing so hard. I just hope it gets used on the relationships DVD that comes out next year.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Flushed Away

If I was asked to submit an endorsement for this new venture from Aardman and Dreamworks it would be: “This is the film that made me see slugs in a whole new light.” (Because they spend the whole film either screaming, singing or slithering away in fear.)

But seriously, Flushed Away breaks new ground in animation – CG that looks like claymation. That gives it the Aardman ‘look’ with smoother lines and ‘water’, which you need if you’re going to set most of your film in the sewers of London. Fortunately this isn’t set in the sewers of Cardiff otherwise surely the Weevils would have munched their way through most of the rat population.

The film’s storyline isn’t exactly original, but the script is smart and the animation top notch, with several blink-and-you’ll-miss-it visual gags in the typical style of one of the cleverest studios around. In fact, that’s one of the best aspects of this film – it doesn’t parade its jokes in front of the camera. You have to be eagle-eyed enough to spot them. Just for once it’s nice to see a movie where the film-makers have assumed a modicum of intelligence on the part of the paying punters.

Interesting though, that even in when voicing an animated character, Kate Winslet can’t keep her trousers on…

Jongudmund’s rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, December 02, 2006

November must be the month of love (but now its gone)

A couple of my longstanding single friends have hooked up in the past few weeks, although neither have been shouting it from the rooftops. Firstly Mark informed me that he was "with woman" when he rang up about something completely unrelated. Then I had to read Lorenzo's blog to find out he'd pulled successfully too.

Lorenzo's first date - trip to the cinema - is similar to mine and Cath's a dozen Novembers ago (yes, it's been like that). But whereas Lorenzo took his date to see the new critically acclaimed Bond movie, I went with Cath to see, wait for it... Airheads!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Santa's secret identity

Cath claims that I post things she’s said on here and take credit for them. So, to assuage her accusatory nature, I feel duty bound to point out that most of today’s post was her idea.

Have you ever wondered what Santa does the rest of the year. Well, maybe he’s moonlighting as the Jolly Green Giant. Consider the evidence…

1 – both Santa and the Green Giant say ‘ho ho ho’… but to mask his other identity, Green Giant always adds “Green Giant” at the end of his ho ho ho-ing
2 – you never see Santa and the Green Giant in the same place
3 – Santa used to wear a green outfit until he was famously outfitted by Coca-Cola in an ad campaign that changed popular culture
4 – we know from Lord of the Rings that elves are tall, but in Santa’s workshop they seem really small, which makes sense if Santa is really a giant!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Monday, November 27, 2006

Omni or Xeno?

Discussing last night’s Torchwood (Episode 7 ‘Greeks bearing Gifts’) today with Matt, we noted how, after only half series so far it seems that everyone on the team is bisexual. Or ends up smooching someone of the same-sex at least.

Except that this being a sci-fi show, most of the same-sex snogging is with aliens in a human body. Or a cyberwoman in stainless steel hotpants. (What was that about? Don't get me started on the potential chafing...)

But does having it off with an alien inhabiting a human body really make a person bi or homo? The debate is whether this makes you Omnisexual (i.e. you’d shag anything) or Xenosexual (i.e. you screw aliens).

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Another Sunday story - Beckham TM

Given the hugely popular reaction the last time I did this (thanks, Viv for being the only person who commented!), I've dusted off another oldie to entertain. Feel free to comment, even if you think it sucks.

Beckham(TM) 


The message that popped up on Mill’s computer screen was innocuous enough.

The subject-line ‘Vital Information for Immediate Action’ could have related to anything, but the call-sign in the sender’s box – three lion’s heads in a revolving shield - wrested Mill’s concentration away from the property description he was writing. He felt his heart miss a beat. 

A rapid glance across at his boss’ work-station revealed Mr. Harmer was wearing a virtual reality headset; a second look confirmed that his cantankerous employer was dozing rather than mapping a VR tour of a prospective client’s apartment. Mill hit the button to enlarge the message. 

It was a news item stolen from the club’s official web-page and sent to everybody on Gumboy’s list. The headline said it all: TOWN SIGN A BECKHAM™ it screamed. 

Quickly Mill scanned the story for details. The Beckham in question was no.148, officially licensed as a ‘grade 2’ and had been signed from West Brom. The Albion had originally paid 7 million eurosterling to the originators and accelerators Beckham Bionics. 

Mill paused in his reading. Beckham Bionics were a good company. Not as good as Beckhams Unlimited who kept both Manchester United and Real Madrid supplied with a new model every year, but better than any of the other corporations or the cheap foreign imports that flooded into Europe from the unregulated genome factories in Asia. 

No. 148 had played seventeen times for West Brom but had yet to hit the net for them – a poor return ratio for an average clone, let alone a grade 2 model. Now, with the Natural Alliance organising protests outside every home game, the Albion had been forced to sell their unnatural play-maker. And Town had somehow found the money to sign him!

Mill moved the message into his desktop scrapbook where he kept everything sent to him about his beloved club. He had never bothered finding out what it was supposed to be used for, but he had e-clips going back years stored in there. 

With the message filed, he tried to get back to the task in hand, but found he could not concentrate. This was a huge gamble for their small club – cloning was still an inexact science and the burger bars and supermarkets of London and Manchester were allegedly full of Beckhams who had not made the grade. No goals in seventeen games? Why had the board signed him? 

Mill checked his watch. He was now into the ‘lunch window’ and the reserves would shortly be kicking off down at Rowley Park. Of course no.148 would not be playing today, but he might get a glimpse of him. He hurriedly struggled into his threadbare suit jacket and silently left the office. 

No.148 was not present, but Gumboy, Hoots and Dom were there, watching the latest bunch of hopefuls looking for a contract do their best to impress the Town coaches. The season was a week away and there were apparently still squad vacancies to fill. 

Mill nodded to Dom and Hoots and snagged Gumboy’s elbow. The two of them began walking along the terrace as Mill opened his sandwiches. 

So, we bought a Beckham, then,” commented Mill. 

Yes. He’s been a failure at West Brom and the nature nutters forced him out,” replied Gumboy. As ever, Gumboy was chewing nicogum vigorously as he talked. 

Will he be a failure here?” asked Mill through a mouthful of what transpired to be mainly bread. Fillings always proved elusive in the sandwiches supplied at work.

He’s on a one-month according to the guys down there I’ve talked to. He’s got five matches to prove himself.” 

Your opinion?” asked Mill. 

He’ll play five matches,” said Gumboy, ever the optimist. 

They watched the game. The reserves beat the opposition – a local college side – 4-2, but the game was less thrilling than the score-line suggested. Then Gumboy suggested the four of them go to the Cross. Mill hesitated, but then figured that he could lie to Harmer and say he had been out on a circuit of the properties all afternoon. 

The Cross Bar was the pub attached to the stadium. It was deserted except for Len the barman and Old Yarrold. Whether Len or the old man ever left and went home was a matter for some debate among the fans who were usually found in the saloon. 

Slowly, as the offices in the business parks emptied, other faces appeared, Statto, Moggs, Ant, Carwash, Col, Yak, the regular crew. The main topic of conversation was the new signing, the only definite signing of the close season so far. After several seasons of mediocrity in the lower leagues, this was the first time in ages that the club had put so much faith in the form of cash into a player.

Everybody had an opinion on no.148 and rumours abounded as to the origin of the money. Moggs swore blind it was the result of a drugs racket, but no one believed anything Moggs said anyway. 

For once Old Yarrold had no trouble in making himself heard. The younger fans, some of whom couldn’t remember the bad old days before the new stadium had been built, let the old-timer speak. He was, as ever, getting into some of his favourite reminisces, about the last truly great Town squad that had taken the club to the brink of what was then known as division one before running out of money. Mill had heard the stories before and was only half-listening as Yarrold spoke. 

Back then we didn’t have cloning. All the best players were unique. Never had to sign no knock-offs neither. We had players back then you wouldn’t believe. Like Rocket Rogers and Towtruck Tilley. 

"Now old Rocket once hit the ball so hard from close-range it took the goalie into the net with him and Towtruck, why he could stop a man going past him by just leaning at him ever so slight. 

“I was once sitting in the very front row at the old Meddah, when Towtruck went in for a tackle right in front of me. The guy flew up, I think he was playing for Micklesfield - this was back when they were in the league of course - and he flew up and over the advertising boards and right onto me. 

“Now, I’d just come back from the buffet with a steaming hot cup of Bovril - this was before they banned meat you see and we used to have this beef drink called Bovril - and this poor fella got the whole cup of Bovril all over him. 

"Not only had he broken his leg, but he had to be rushed to hospital and treated for scalds as well. And you know, Towtruck, he never got a booking or nothing.” 

Mill cast a sideways look along the bar to Gumboy who stopped chewing for a fraction of a second and rolled his eyes. 

Hey, Yarrold,” asked Gumboy, leaning back on his stool, “What do you think about the new signing?” 

Them wide-eyed hippy fellas in the togas might have gotten it right, you know,” said Yarrold darkly. 

That’s what’s ruining the game these days. Seeing the same old players year in year out.” And with that he sipped his beer and stopped telling stories, a happenstance so rare that the regulars found it unsettling.

We’ll see in a week,” said Gumboy privately to Mill as he popped a fresh tablet of nicogum into his mouth. 

 Dawn broke on the new season. For Mill this meant waking from a nightmare where he had been mistaken for the new Beckham and was being pursued by a torch-bearing mob of fans around the pitch at Rowley Park. He shivered as he jerked awake and then turned the radio on. 

The cheery news presenter was describing the possible impact of the Town’s new signing. Mill lay staring at the ceiling until his ‘phone rang. It was Moggs asking when he would be down the Cross. Mill sighed and got up. 

The lucky Town shirt went on first, closest to his heart, followed by the tour T-shirt from the summer he had travelled around Alba watching his team beat various nonentity sides in a pre-season tournament three years ago. Then this year’s replica shirt went on over the top. Dressed in three layers already, he pulled on his match jacket, the denim hidden beneath an armour coat of pin-badges. His club baseball cap completed the outfit. 

He checked the pockets. His season ticket, special ‘writes on all surfaces’ autograph pen and an assortment of objects to bring good fortune like the battered trading card of Town legend ‘Tricky’ Mickey Brown, were all in their correct places. 

Heaven knew how Beckham no.148 felt, but Mill already felt sick with anticipation. He skipped breakfast and left the house to catch the bus to the stadium. He was psyched. He was ready. He needed a beer. 

No.148 received the loudest cheer as the line-up was read out, which was disappointing for Town stalwart Hugo Ralphs, making his record-equalling four hundred and fifty-eighth appearance for the club he had represented for nearly fifteen years.

Standing in their usual space, Mill and Gumboy looked around the ground, marvelling at the unusual sight of a full house. The excitement caused by Town’s new number 7 had brought the stay-at-homes out of the woodwork in their thousands. 

Kick-off came and went and it seemed that, with the ball being pitched high over the midfielders by alternating sets of defenders, Town’s new signing was never going to get a touch. 

Then it happened. Ralphs went up for a header and returned to Earth with a cut forehead, the culprit being the burly centre-back with the high-flying elbows. 

A defensive wall formed, trying to screen out the danger. Slowly, deliberately, the player placed the free kick, with the white seven standing out on the blue and amber shirt like a beacon in the night. 

No. 148 took three steps backwards. The wall shuffled nervously. 

A look up. A sudden hush. 

And then, so quickly that the crowd could barely follow it, the run up, and the dull thump of boot on faux-leather. The ball that flew from Beckham 148’s foot was the most amazingly fast and accurate free-kick Town supporters had ever seen. It flew past the goalkeeper who saw it far too late and into the top corner of the net. 

The crowd erupted. The tiny section of the crowd with the placards saying "Say NO to geNOmes!" disappeared in the euphoria.

No.148, number 7, the grade 2 Beckham, had scored a most spectacular goal. Mill stood open-mouthed as Gumboy and Statto danced a jig of delight along their row. Moggs was shaking him, pounding him on the back and yelling in his ear. Col was standing on the barrier cheering. Dom, of course, was hurrying back from the toilet. 

Beckham 148 had two hands raised accepting the praise as the crowd mock-bowed to him. Rowley Park had found its messiah.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

I'm in Four Four Two - not that you'd know

A while back my brother and his fanzine compatriots "bought" the loyalty of a disgruntled Aresnal fan who had invited bids for his support on eBay*. And now there's a picture of the 'new Shrew' on page 58 of the December issue of Four Four Two.

I'd been talking to Dave moments before the picture was taken, and so just above 'new Shrew's' shoulder, there's me - and if you know where to look my dad's in the shot too! Dave gets 3 mentions in the article, which is almost as good as my credit in the front of the When Saturday Comes Half Decent Football Book. (I wrote the bit on the mighty Shrewsbury)

* How this worked - this chap, Steve Brown, was sick of all the Ashley Cole transfer nonsense and the move to the new stadium and whatnot so he put his club loyalty up for bids on eBay. For the princely sum of £102.63 Dave and co 'bought' him and have spent the "transfer fee" on a shirt and scarf for him, plus his entry into a couple of games. Yes, I know it's strange.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Gripped

Sometimes people use weird phrases that don’t really make sense but sound super spiritual. Like for example, this grateful email I received this morning:
Good morning Jon
Thank you so much for this article which is great. We appreciate the support in making the magazine as real as possible to a wide audience and for His glory
with kind regards
in His grip
Rosie*

*name may have been changed to protect identity, or it may not, who’s to say?

I feel like writing back and saying:
Good morning Rosie
Glad you liked it.
Best wishes
in his clenching grasp
Jon

Thursday, November 23, 2006

"Bad" songs

I’ve been ripping my CDs onto my computer for a while now, enjoying being able to produce my own compilations and playlists. It’s my version of making a concept album. The other day I decided to arrange all the songs on my hard drive in alphabetical order, and started listening to them. Not only does this mean I have several different songs with the same title, but I’ve also discovered a list of “Bad” songs, and here they are:

Bad Actress – Terrorvision (not their finest hour from the album that was not their finest album, but still a decent song)
Bad Boyfriend – Garbage (the kick off track from Bleed Like Me, again not their finest album – hmm, I spot a trend)
Bad Day – REM (the bonus addition on the In Time greatest hits compilation, but pretty good tune, being towards the rockier end of the REM canon)
Bad Medicine – Bon Jovi (I’ve added this in even though it’s not on my computer. I’ve had this song so long my copy is on cassette!)
Bad Reputation – Halfcocked (off the Shrek soundtrack; it’s the song when Shrek takes out the opposition in the tournament)

Now, disdaining the obvious (‘Bad’ by Michael Jackson), what other ‘Bad’ songs could I add to this list. (Is that a challenge to you the reader or what?)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Been mega busy

A lot has happened in the past ten days. For starters I had a great time on a writer’s course by Ullswater. There was plenty of laughter, thought-provoking insight into the craft of writing, and excellent food. The only downside was having to bomb it back down the M6/M5/M50 on Wednesday in time for a big event at church.

Thursday Mum and Dad came down to stay for a few days, which meant a bit of a squeeze what with Abs already here too. Friday night I went with Dad to see Cardiff lose 1-0 to a late QPR goal in what their boss called the “worst display of the season”. Typical ‘me and Dad’ timing really. It was a good game overall though, and an enjoyable night out.

On Saturday we took the olds for their first show at ‘the Armadillo’ (also known as The Wales Millennium Centre, or “that building what’s in the background on Torchwood”). We saw Amazing Grace, a musical written by Mal Pope about Evan Roberts and the Welsh revival of 1904. Not being a huge fan of musical theatre, I wasn’t really expecting it to be quite so good, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how engaging it was.

The opposition to the revival from the professional preacher Peter Price gave the story an antagonistic edge. It’s the height of irony of course, that the churches which most revere the memories of the revival would probably be the modern-day Peter Prices if anything as chaotic and popular broke out today. Or am I just being a slightly bitter anti-evangelical saying that?

Sunday was Cath’s birthday. We had a day out looking at fancy ducks in Slimbridge and bizarrely bumped into Nick Page, one of the authors who had been contributing to the writer’s course. A real ‘Gosh, hello’ moment!

By Monday we breathed a sigh of relief as everyone left. By now I was feeling incredibly tired – so knackered in fact that when I got home from work I crashed on the sofa. An hour later when Cath woke me I had no idea where I was, what time it was and why I hadn’t changed into my pajamas before going to bed. Then Cath gently explained that it was only 6.30pm and I hadn’t actually gone to bed…

Fortunately I could have a bit of a lie in yesterday because I’d booked the day off to spend with Cath. It was the 12-year anniversary of our very first hot date back in 1994. I’d arranged for us to visit the Severnwye llama flock out by Chepstow and we had a great time meeting the animals, including the three camels. They seemed to be especially fond of coats. I got away with a nibbled sleeve, but Cath ended up with lots of gooey camel slobber down her front.

After making friends with some real animals out in the cold, we watched some of the cartoon kind in the warmth of the cinema and enjoyed Open Season. Then, armed with pizza, we sat down to watch the DVD of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that Viv gave Cathy for her birthday.

Like Lord of the Rings, this was one of those movie adaptations that I was really scared about. I love the Narnia books, and have done ever since I was a very young child. Fortunately they didn’t monkey around with it too much. The extra scenes worked very well and the effects were nothing short of magnificent.

And I think I’ll always see Ray Winstone as a beaver from now on. (Now that’s a sentence I never thought I’d type.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

I’m a cinematic ingrate

This week I’ve seen two films for free because Cath’s a whiz at getting preview tickets (although, alas, no free Rolos this time), but I have to admit if they hadn’t been free I don’t know whether I would have gone to see them. And even now I’m not sure whether they were worth it even for free.

Which isn’t to say they weren’t good films. Tuesday’s offering, Starter for Ten fairly accurately recreated the politicised world of student politics in the 80s, contrasted with the mundane-ness of ordinary life, the disaffectation of young people during that period, and the naffness of television programming. It does make you wonder where the mass-radicalism of the left disappeared by the 90s, and why anyone reminisces nostalgically about 80s TV shows. Yes, I remember University Challenge actually being this crap – perhaps the most accurate thing in the whole film.

The romantic plot involving members of the Bristol Uni team who are up for the Challenge is predictable – yet again the shallow, blonde stunner loses out to the passionate, grounded brunette. The stand out performance comes from Catherine Tate who leaves her hit-and-miss sketch show behind to prove that she can really act, and, with hardly any dialogue, uses just her eyes to leave the rest of the cast standing. Mark Gatiss also gives a credible portrayal as real-life TV ‘personality’ (cough, cough, splutter) Bamber Gascoigne. But overall, it’s a bit bland and twee enough to include the obligatory ‘it’s Christmas so it must be snowing’ scene.

In contrast, Breaking and Entering, is a bit more realistic about love, but as anyone who’s sat through director Anthony Minghella’s purgatorial The English Patient would expect, this is a film that is brilliant cinematically, yet drags. The story centres around Jude Law, partner to a depressed Swede, ‘father’ to a semi-autistic gymnast, and architect, who tracks down a teenager who keeps breaking into his office, then falls in love with said teen’s mother (Juliette Binoche) who is a Bosnian refugee. Only the amiable Martin Freeman lightens the mood, providing both comic relief and a sense of normalcy in an otherwise impossibly introspective tale.

Minghella obviously has a thing for Jude Law, teaming up with him for a third time after The Talented Mr Ripley and Cold Mountain, and also a thing for lovers having a tiff in a bathtub. This time it’s Jude and Juliette (who was also in The English Patient) instead of Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas, but it’s still far too similar a scene.

Perhaps a clue to Minghella’s impressionist directing can be found in having a half-Swedish character, because this slow-burning film with its loose ends (what is Binoche’s story from Sarajevo? What happened to Miro’s father? What is wrong exactly with Bea?) is very Scandinavian. Even when the characters do the right thing, the mood is depressing. But the biggest problem is that it is recognizably a great film, but I was incredibly glad when it eventually ended.

Jongudmund’s ratings
Starter for Ten: 5/10
Breaking and Entering: 5/10

"Is this a creepy transvestite I see before me?"

Which presumably is what MacBeth said to inspire the Rocky Horror Picure Show...

The guy who made that bizarre connection was on top form again yesterday. Over breaktime Phil the Metrosexual (we know he's metrosexual because he's worn three pink checked shirts this week, although they weren't as pink as Designer Dwyer's Barbie-esque jumper) was explaining about how he waxes his chest.

Rowena then said: "Does your wife like it, because I have to say the thought of it doesn't do anything for me."

Andrew (who's obviously only been half listening and misunderstood what Rowena's just said): "You don't wax your chest, do you Rowena?"

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Everything should be OK… by 2013

My beloved spouse has had a run of misfortunes recently: inexplicable illness, family bereavement, a recent dash to the eye casualty unit after a routine eye test freaked out the optician. In fact, generally, she does seem to be one of those people who are relatively unlucky in life. Some might say that being married to me was the icing on the cake as far as that’s concerned.

In God’s Debris, Scott Adams (Dilbert author and ‘interesting’ thinker – read his blog for more), uses probability theory to ‘prove’ that some people are more likely to be luckier than others. Most people experience about the median level of luck with good things and bad things happening in about equal proportion, but there are some people towards the top of the chart who have a real Midas touch, and others who bounce along the bottom getting hit by calamity after calamity.

On the plus side, living with someone who seems prone to being ill with various weird illnesses (mysterious swollen legs, misfiring endocrines, random detached retina) is a bit like having a ‘sickness lightning rod’ around. Basically, I’m not going to get hit by a malady while my lightning rod is there soaking up the possible illnesses. The odds are too high for us both to be struck down by something unusual, or even something usual. That’s why I have the muscular consistency of a doughnut but still have an OK cholesterol level, even though my Daddio’s had a quadruple bypass and my little bro has to watch his levels.

But, going back to the probability theory – you’d think that if someone was having a run of bad luck, they’d be fairly careful in life generally. I’m not overly superstitious, but when I got home last night and Cath told me she’d broken my shaving mirror, I did let out an audible sigh. Another 7 years?

Roll on 2013.

Ah, I love the English language

Computer spellcheckers are often unintentionally hilarious. I typed the word ‘Shropshire’ and it wasn't in the computer's dictionary. It suggested "trashier" instead!

Yesterday I was telling Matt my personal graphic designer who’s secretly called Philip, about my love for potatoes. “I’m a potato whore,” I said.

“Or a Potat-ho” was his reply.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Footie solidarity

The League Cup isn’t taken seriously by many teams, but Man U’s exit at the hands of Championship strugglers Southend United raises a chuckle. I saw Southend lose to Wrexham at the Millennium Stadium a couple of years ago in the final of the LDV Vans Trophy (now the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy) and they looked a pretty good side to me then.

I also saw the highlights of Chesterfield holding Charlton Athletic to a 3-3 draw then cruelly lose the penalty shoot-out, meaning they couldn’t claim their third higher level scalp of the season.

It’s weird how pleased I feel for Southend and how gutted I feel for Chesterfield. I have no affinity for either club, but there is a sense of solidarity with real football teams who triumph over the increasingly mercenary self-proclaimed ‘elite’. Football at the top level is indelibly tainted by commerciality and I’m getting sick of money football.

In fact, my best experience of football this year was watching Welsh League side Dinas Powys narrowly scrape a 1-0 cup win with a last minute own goal. The football was rough and ready, the facilities ‘rudimentary’, and the half time tea was nigh on undrinkable. But that’s what football is all about – committed local lads playing for the love of the game and because they want to win; chatting to strangers about the game – the grounds you’ve been to, the games you’ve seen; fluke last-minute own goal heartbreaks...

So, in a world where whining multimillionaires strop out of the football club that gave them their big break because an offer of £55,000 a week is “disrespectful”, is there hope for football? I think so, but not in the boring Sky Sports world of processions to the Premier League Title or equally dull Champions League meetings between the same clubs every year. If I had the money and the vacation time, a trip to North Cyprus to watch the cup for ‘nations’ who aren’t recognised by FIFA might be just the tonic to banish midwinter blues.

Tibet v. Greenland, anyone?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Weekend shame

It was only when my office compadre Matt challenged me that I was “going a bit nancy” that I realised I shouldn’t leave my CDs lying around after I’ve ripped them onto my desktop. The CD in question is a guilty pleasure that I indulged in last weekend. Yes, that’s right… I now own I don’t feel like dancin’ by Scissor Sisters. It wasn’t the only disc I bought at the weekend. I also bought the double-CD best of Van Halen (who I’ve mentioned before), but I got a few comments about that too!

It made me think. I actually do have a pretty shameful musical palate, of which the mightily fey Scissor Sisters are only the tip of the iceberg. So, here’s my run-down of secret guilty audio pleasures. I challenge anyone else to be brave enough to admit liking songs/bands that are as universally derided as these…

Ace of Base: Happy Nation (someone ‘borrowed’ my album years ago and I’ve always mourned the loss, much to Cath’s disgust)
Ant & Dec: The Cult of Ant & Dec (no, seriously, it was a couple of quid)
U2: Zooropa – you know, the album nobody ever talks about, not even U2. I love it.
Belinda Carlisle: We dream the same dreams (I know it's actually called something else) – I don’t own it, but I always sing along if it’s on the radio
Tiffany – I think we’re alone now – ditto, it's a singalong one
I own every Midnight Oil album, and I know every Thousand Yard Stare song (not the band from Arizona – the one from Slough)
I always sing along to Tom Jones and I love the single he just released with Chicane

I’m sure there’s more I could add to this list, or my close friends could add for me…

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Distracted by udders

Now you might wonder what I’m talking about with the title ‘distracted by udders’, but I’m talking about the film Barnyard, which I saw last night with Cath. This is another in the slew of animated films that have come out in recent weeks, but it ain’t as good as Hoodwinked, being a fairly derivative retelling of The Lion King. Except with cows.

And here’s the thing. The main bovine protagonist is Otis, the wayward son of Ben, King of the Barnyard. But why, oh why, do the very male-acting, male-voiced, definitely male Otis and Ben have udders? And why do they walk round on their hind legs with their udders swinging between their legs, or sit with their legs splayed and their udders on full show? I spent the whole film thinking: “My goodness that looks phallic…”

The thing is I’m not the only one who thought so. Cath admitted it was a bit odd (which as Cath is rarely critical of an animation is a weightier comment than you might suppose), my work colleague Rowena said the same and one film reviewer summed it up as “creepy”. And it was very unnerving.

Apart from the swinging udders the rest of the animation was pretty good. There were some funny characters (like the thievin’ gophers who fence human contraband), but there was also a few long slow scenes. It seemed to take ages for the plot to get anywhere, most of the story was predictable, and the ending was contrived and nonsensical. I know, I know, “it’s only a cartoon”, but good cartoons have good stories and scripts. This had neither.

Jongudmund’s rating: 6/10

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

It’s always Splott to me

Well, Torchwood is definitely the Welsh drama to end all Welsh dramas – mainly because after seeing it most people won’t ever watch any more. But seriously, after a disappointing, derivative first two episodes, where the best aspect of the show was the aerial shots of Cardiff, episode 3 wasn’t bad at all.

I’ve yet to hear a genuine Kairdiff accent though, which is odd considering how many scenes are filmed in Canton, Grangetown or the Docks. We did however get a genuine Kairdiff joke in episode 3. After tracking down a suspect to Splott, the token Londoner on the team asks “Splott??” incredulously. So far, so true to life – no one really believes there’s a part of the city called Splott, until you go there.

Cue: Welsh guy who doesn’t seem to do anything in the Torchwood team yet: “I think the estate agents pronounce it Splow…”
(Jongudmund’s note for the benefit of readers: ‘Splow’ rhymes with ‘slow’.)

This, of course, prompted much hilarity in our house, as some idiots do indeed try and call it Splow and maintain a straight face. Everyone else thinks calling it Splow is even funnier than Splott, as it tries to gentrify one of the slummiest areas of the city. There are some nice bits, and some very nice people living in Splott, but for the main, it is the nearest thing Cardiff gets to slums now Tiger Bay has been demolished.

A Splott on the landscape
After years living in Cardiff, I’ve kind of become immune to how funny ‘Splott’ sounds as a place name. But Splott (or Splow) is a weird one. Etymologically, one theory is that "Splott" is a truncation of "God's Plot", as the land belonged to the Bishop of Llandaff in medieval times. Or it could be a derivation of "Plat" meaning a ‘grassy area’ of land. While the God’s Plot theory is nice, in the 1400s there are records of two farms: Upper Splott and Lower Splott, which would relate more to the idea of grassy fields in the middle of what was then mainly marshy fenland.

But now Splott is one of the most populous areas of the city. Odd name or not, people take a certain pride in living in Splott, as can be seen by the unintentionally humorous graffiti pictured below…

Fear the Splott Massive!

Monday, October 30, 2006

A couple of classics

My head of department occasionally coins ‘Cooperisms’ – phrases that are destined to remain in the team vernacular until we get tired of them.

Today’s classics:
1) Following a discussion on musical theatre and someone else’s reminiscences about The Rocky Horror Picture Show
“Isn’t that based on MacBeth?”
(this may very well become my staple answer to any comment made by a colleague over the next few days)

2) When trying to set a date for a recording session in an off-site studio…
“Well, if we can’t get December 9th, what about the 19th or the 25th?”
Humble serf: “Er… that’s Christmas…”

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Sunday story

This story is a couple of years old now and I doubt I'll get round to selling it, so I'm putting it up here for general entertainment. Comments welcome.

Welcome to Chillsville; Population 0

I don’t know how I got into the Dodecahedron. Maybe it was a fluke. I know I didn’t belong there among all the radiating chillers. You have to be cool to live in Chillsville and the Dodecahedron was the coolest place for the coolest people.
I was glad to get in there. I’d been everywhere else, seen everywhere else, done almost everything that could be done in Chillsville, at least the things that didn’t turn my stomach. Still, I never gave up on finding something new.

You hear lots of theories about the Dodecahedron. Something in the air makes time stand still. They say it could be an illusion, mass hypnotism, or just you have such a good time that you don’t notice these things. I noticed though. Yes it was a cool place, but to be honest it was still the same as everywhere else I’d been. Same old tired personas, acting as if they were unique and so conforming in the oldest way.

According to my watch, no time had passed, but then it never does in Chillsville. I wear it for show, not because I need to. (Although the fact that I need to show off my watch is worrying.) I talked to just about everyone in the club and none of them had any plans to leave when I asked them. I felt bored, like I usually do these days, and thought I’d take a chance at finding my way home. My tour guide had disappeared and was probably getting drunk, so I had to ask people if they knew where the door was. When I eventually got there the expressionless doorman didn’t want to let me through, but I persisted until he gave up blocking my way.

Outside it was dark and cold. The street was deserted and the doors back into the Dodecahedron had closed behind me. I decided to find some shelter while I waited for a cab and the only place with the lights on looked like an old library or something.

Messenger watched Spirit and gHOST play hide and seek around the columns of the nave. It was unusual in itself that gHOST was acknowledging their presence. Only on rare occasions would gHOST actually join in their juvenile games.

Messenger giggled quietly as gHOST sidled around a pillar to avoid Spirit, who was working methodically along the rows of vacant seats. Spirit’s lithe tail swished sharply from side to side marking its owner’s frustration. They had been playing for some time now and Spirit was used to winning quickly. It was either a rapid victory or Spirit would petulantly whine and dismiss the game as stupid.

Dust motes played in the light-beams that flooded through the high coloured windows. Each floating particle had been hand crafted over aeons. Messenger was no big fan of the sterile world they had, for want of a better word, acquired, and was putting time to good use while time was available.

Messenger released another fashioned spark of matter to catch the light as Spirit finally caught gHOST amid loud squeals of triumph. Then, as always happened when a game ended, the black doors to the outside opened. Another creature staggered through from the howling darkness outside into the peace of their dwelling.

This place seemed new.
At least I had never been here before.
And my watch worked.
Messenger and Spirit eyed each other cautiously as the stumbling fugitive entered. Neither of them wanted to commit themselves too early so, as always, it was left to gHOST to greet the newcomer, gliding down between the rows of seats, arms extended in welcome.

The reaction of gHOST prompted a nervous smile. "I’m sorry," he said meekly. "I didn’t realise there was a meeting in progress."

"There was no meeting until you arrived," said gHOST serenely. Spirit’s expression changed, eyes rolling upwards in despairing embarrassment. Messenger grinned faintly. This was a meek one. Usually Messenger could claim the meek ones easily. They were, after all, the inheritors.

"I didn’t mean to interrupt," began the new arrival again. "It’s just it was very inclement out there and no-one else seemed open."

"Of course, of course," said gHOST soothingly. "Have you travelled far?" gHOST linked arms with the stranger leading him towards the raised dais that dominated the top end of the long room.

"Just from the club across the road," said the stranger as gHOST ushered him into one of the luxurious chairs.

Messenger raised an eyebrow. From Chillsville? That didn’t seem right. Then Spirit jogged Messenger’s elbow and interrupted the thought.

"Let’s talk," purred Spirit quietly, indicating the far corner with a nod. Messenger agreed with a slight bow of the head. The unaligned was in gHOST’s safe hands and gHOST would not stake a claim.

They wandered away from the other two, through a light beam that fell from a high window. Messenger’s faint shadow overlapped with the curling fractal chaos that Spirit cast, causing a delicate ring of light to form where the two shadows crossed. "Don’t do that," hissed Spirit, annoyed at the effect Messenger’s shadow had where it impinged. "You’re messing up my karma. It will affect my status when I report home."

Messenger withdrew slightly so that both shadows stood side by side, one tall and ringed with light, the other squat and grasping like entropic smoke. It was odd how eerily different the delineation appeared, given their heritage. The war had transformed them both over the millennia, yet neither of them cared for it anymore.

"Do you know what’s happening?" queried Spirit, suspiciously.

"One of them has crossed the street," replied Messenger.

"Yes and do you know what that means?"

"What do you think it means?" asked Messenger.

"Don’t go all Zen on me," hissed Spirit. False arm muscles rippled with repressed gleeful rage. "If Chillsville are losing people then we are going back to how things were!" There was an unpleasant gleam in those deep red eyes.

"Is that a good thing though?" asked Messenger quietly. Spirit’s casual use of the word ‘Chillsville’ was irksome, a reminder that Spirit had always adopted temporal terms, giving them validity when they had none. Camouflaging intent with current language as if the old aim was something new was a crucial aspect of Spirit’s successes. Back when both sides still had successes. Back when they kept score. Before Chillsville.

"What’s up? Afraid you’ll lose more to me than you did before? How could that be possible?" sneered Spirit.

"Do you know how many unaligned are currently occupying Chillsville?" asked Messenger. There, the word was said and now occupied the eternal.

"No."

"The Dodecahedron is the last point on the tour. For the coolest, the furthest out. It acts as the boundary, the final fulfilment, to keep the unaligned from questing further in their curiosity. What we see from here is but the edge. Beyond The Dodecahedron, the city stretches for years."
"How do you know that?" asked Spirit irritably.

"It is my business."

"Thousands waiting to be aligned." Spirit’s blood red tongue nervously licked the surrounding black leathery lips.

"Try millions," said Messenger. Spirit made a whimpering noise.

"Mistakes will be made."

"Yes," agreed Messenger.

"My overseers are less forgiving than yours," said Spirit.

"You picked the wrong masters and you must work for them," said Messenger in a stern voice.

It was the oddest meeting I had ever seen. My guess was that they were rehearsing a play, which could be the only reason for their outlandish get-ups. The winged satyr was very realistic, but the make up on the regular guy was amazing. Without wishing to sound like a queer, his face was so beautiful it made you want to cry.

Then there was the drippy chick in the long flowing dress. I got her number straight away. She was obviously in charge of the drama group because she kept asking me questions and every time I tried to get up, she made me sit back down to talk to her.
The whole thing struck me as being almost a cult. But her brainwashing wasn’t going to work on me. Hey, I resisted the Hugo virus, right up to the point where I moved to the city. (Why did I choose to move to Chillsville, anyway?) A couple of well-placed words from this girl weren’t going to get me to commit to anything.

I asked her if there were any cabs this time of night and she laughed and told me that there weren’t any. Then I asked her if she had any transport that I could use and she just looked confused.

I decided it was time to leave but when I looked back down the hall, the doors I’d come through seemed to have disappeared. That was when I began to feel a little nervous
.
"You remember why we chose this place?" asked Spirit.

"I remember everything," replied Messenger, obliquely.

Spirit scratched an ear in a preoccupied fashion. The long nail rasped against the tough skin. "We chose it because it came with gHOST and we needed a filter. But since Chillsville was built, nobody comes through here any more."

"Do you even know what Chillsville is?" asked Messenger.

"Not really," admitted Spirit, with a wince at the pain caused by acknowledging ignorance in the presence of a rival.

"Like the original purpose of this place it was built to stop the unaligned from reaching us."

"Who built it?" asked Spirit, puzzled by this revelation and temporarily forgetting the ego-bruising pain caused by asking questions.

"The unaligned themselves."

"That’s impossible," protested Spirit.

"It’s true," insisted Messenger. "They postulated our existence and decided to create Chillsville as an intermediate place of rest that they could control. That is why the only unaligned we have served these past times have been the trauma cases."

Spirit looked uneasily around the space they had occupied for so long. It had once been formless, merely cold dark substance. The three of them had met on this bedrock and settled here. Then Messenger had decided to give it shape and depth.

Spirit had no idea how the adversaries could take void and render it with form, but there was no denying that it made things easier. Spirit felt comfortable here. The vortex that needed to be travelled in order to report to the masters felt unsettling now.

Meeting gHOST, back in that archaic non-night, had been a shock, but both of them had seen there was a need for an arbiter. Plus it was gHOST’s dictated responsibility to compel the unaligned and assess their story.

Spirit felt gHOST was sometimes too lenient, but Messenger, clinging to those ridiculous concepts of mercy and grace, always argued that gHOST was too harsh and strict. In rare equable moments, Spirit had to admit that gHOST struck a balance that was fair. Now a thought occurred.

"And gHOST?"

"Their arbiter. Created by them to ensure fair dealings. Chillsville replaced gHOST because no arbiter is necessary there. One does not move on. Until Chillsville can no longer contain the wanderlust, as seems to be happening now. He is the first of many. Chillsville was meant to satisfy every need, but it could not satisfy the spark that lies buried deep within the flesh."

Learning the origin of Chillsville shocked Spirit to the light-swallowing core, leaving confusion and anger. It was possible to exercise the rage on the unaligned being that had abandoned the safety of Chillsville for it’s own unfathomable reason. Without being conscious of it, Spirit raised an arm to rent open a hole into the vortex and cast the ignorant creature in, but Messenger’s firm clasp halted the action and slowly lowered the arm back down to Spirit’s side.

"Listen," said Messenger with a note of urgency.

Spirit grudgingly shook free of Messenger’s grip and concentrated on the conversation between gHOST and the unaligned stranger.

"But you can’t stay here!" protested gHOST. "This is not a prepared place for you."

"I tell you, I’m waiting for a cab, or for the storm to die down."

"What storm?" whispered Spirit.

"The vortex beyond," replied Messenger quietly.

"What kind of fool doesn’t recognise the abyss?" asked Spirit.

"Something has happened," said Messenger, ignoring the question. "Unaligned, yes I can understand, but unaware?"

The debate between gHOST and the newcomer continued as the dust motes danced around the two puzzled onlookers, reflecting the black and white light of eternities.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Good for another year

Talk about relieved. I put the car in for its MOT yesterday and it passed without needing any work done on it. I was a bit worried beforehand because last time it was serviced it needed new brake pads and the calipers were a mess, so I was expecting a hefty bill. But it passed – yay!

The great thing about the garage I take the car to is that its right opposite the entrance to Grangetown train station. I got on at Grangetown and had a free ride to Taff’s Well. As I was going to borrow the works van to help someone move house today I just chalked it up as a serendipity. Except that the move was cancelled, I didn’t need the van, so I ended up back on the train, expecting to have to pay this time because it wasn’t as crowded. I was wrong. Another free trip later (don’t they have conductors on trains any more??), and I was picking up my beloved Golf.

Finding the upside
My friend Carol, whose moving house, has been trying to move for ages but seems to have hit every obstacle going. Yesterday’s delay was upsetting, but I had an upside for her (of sorts). Cath had gone in for a regular eye test and the opticians had got a bit stressed and made an appointment for her in eye casualty this morning. Not having to help with the house move meant I could go with Cath to the ‘lovely’ Heath Hospital (where the new helipad is just about finished, I noticed), without letting anyone down.

After a few hours waiting to be seen (the irony!), Cathy had the usual sequence of eye drops and the eye doc had a good squint into the depths of her eyes. Turns out she’s fine, with a better field of vision than you’d really expect given the op she had 4 years ago to stick back a detached retina.

And her eyesight hasn’t really deteriorated in the past year, so as well as the clean bill of health, she doesn’t need new specs either! Hurrah! So, like me with the car, she had to pay for the test but nothing else.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ah, the elicit yumminess of banned chocs

Yesterday we went to a VIP screening of A Good Year, the new Russell Crowe film directed by Ridley Scott. I quite like Ridley Scott films and this one was as visually impressive as I’d expect, although the story had a bit of a twee ending. Freddie Highmore, last seen as Charlie of Chocolate Factory fame in Tim Burton’s gothic homage to Roald Dahl, played the young Russell, and was excellent, as was Albert Finney (who bizarrely was in Burton’s Big Fish and voiced a character in Corpse Bride). It did make you ask the question though: Is it worth winning the rat race if all you get to be is king rat? (Jongudmund’s rating: 7/10)

The great thing about these VIP showings is that you get a free drink and sweets. Last night I had a pack of Rolos – usually forbidden because they’re made by Evil Nestle (their full name, apparently), while Cath had a pack of Revels for what she maintains is the first time ever! It’s amazing how she can still surprise me after almost 12 years together. “You must have had Revels before!” “No, I never have.” I believe her because she got totally caught out by the coffee flavoured ones. Blurgh.

Irony of the night
Besides free drinks and sweets there’s also a raffle, which Cath and I both had a strange feeling that we’d win. And we did. The prize was a case of 12 bottles of award-winning wine. …And neither of us drink at the moment due to our meds.

Weird coincidence of the night
Irony Boy’s fiancĂ©e is out of town so he brought a housemate along as his ‘date’. Bizarrely she used to work at the cinema and left very shortly before I started there back in 2001.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Seen on DVD

United 93
Is it too soon to be making films about 9/11? Some people think so, and certainly this film made me feel a bit uncomfortable. The big question it left me with was 'what would I do, in that sort of situation?'

A couple of points:
1) Technically this film is excellent, with the gimmick of it being filmed in real time actually working for a change. The documentary feel is captured through close-range shots and the emotional impact is heightened as a result. In fact the opening half an hour is so normal that if you didn't know what was going to happen you'd find it tedious.
2) The hijackers are portrayed fairly sympathetically. One is a violent killer, The other three are fanatics, but still human. There is an interesting contrast at one point between the passengers muttering the Lord's Prayer and the hijackers praying or reciting the Koran in Arabic. Whether this juxtaposition of religiosity was planned, or just happened in the spontaneous filming, it is a very interesting part of the film.

Jongudmund's rating: 7/10

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
As a total contrast to United 93, we watched this big-screen version of the cartoon series. I have to admit, I do find SpongeBob entertaining, and this film was as good as the TV show. The song "We are men" that SpongeBob and his best buddy Patrick embark on after being given fake seaweed moustaches was hilarious. And any film that includes the line "I rode the Hasselhoff" is destined for cult legend status.

There has been some fuss about SpongeBob's close relationship with Patrick being more than just good friends, but personally I think that's sex-obsessed puritans seeing 'sin' everywhere. It makes me wonder if some people's ability to see homosexual leanings in everything is more of an indication of their own latent obsessions. This film was just silly fun.

Jongudmund's rating 8/10

Saturday, October 21, 2006

It was a long trip home

Impressions of Belfast
I wouldn't mind visiting this place properly. On Friday morning when we drove to the office we passed the architecturally stunning Queen's University (here's a picture). True on one of our trips we also passed an estate that proclaimed itself as a Loyalist community - complete with red, white and blue painted kerbstones - but generally it seemed a normal place.

In the airport I found a new sweet to add to my list of odd cinnamon flavoured sweets. Ritchie's Cinnamon Lozenges are quite mild and look like chalky dissolvable tablets, so not a patch on Hot Tamales.

We had some trouble getting from Bristol airport to Cardiff, with a vehicle breakdown (fortunately fixed by the RAC) and dreadful traffic congestion on the M4 by Newport and then on Atlantic Wharf because they'd shut the Butetown tunnel. It took me about 5 hours from landing in Bristol to walk in my front door 40-odd miles away. The irony is that we went in Helen's car because both me and June thought our cars were a bit unreliable at the moment... Live and learn, eh.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Long day in Belfast

Yesterday I had a 21-hour day that started with me having to get up in time for a 5.15am pick up from my house. A trip to Bristol airport and my first ever easyJet flight later and I was in Northern Ireland for the very first time.

The organisation I work for was running an event at the very swish Waterfront Hall in Belfast, but first we had a visit to our regional office in Lisburn. I've met the NI contingent a few times and they had NEVER told me that they had a coffee shop on the ground floor of their building. Good thing I work hundreds of miles away from those delicious tray bakes otherwise I'd be several stones tubbier!

The event itself was very good. Jeff and Kay Lucas were the speakers and they're both excellent communicators. Having been depressed myself, I particularly valued Jeff's honesty about how annoying Christians can be when you admit to being depressed:
"It seems you aren't living the victory!" "WELL, OBVIOUSLY NOT!" "What can we do to help you, brother?" "HOW ABOUT DISAPPEARING FOR EVER?"

I think I was luckier than most - I had sensible friends who knew that sometimes people get depressed and it is a real illness in the brain that needs to be treated properly. But I know where Jeff was coming from. It is hard to talk to otherworldly religious people about being slightly squiff in the head. And as a respected leader/speaker he might have felt that a lot more than a low-profile bodlike me.

After the evening came to an end we drove to the only Indian restaurant in the city that had agreed to stay open late. When we got there we discovered that someone who will remain nameless (not me!) had agreed to meet the Lucases at the front door of the Waterfront and forgotten them.

Eventually everyone got to the restaurant, and once we'd eaten we had the "short" trip to the Holiday Inn. I was quickly learning that when someone in Belfast tells you it's a 'short' trip that means 'the other side of the city, stopping at every traffic light on the way'. But we got there and, 21 hours after I got up, I gratefully collapsed into bed.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

It's only a film

Today I've learned not to watch films like United 93 the night before I'm due to get on a plane. Especially as everyone on the doomed flight did what I do - ignore the safety instructions. At least one of my travel companions, Ms Marjorie, had seen the film too so we could agree that it wasn't ideal pre-flight viewing.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Er, okaaaaaaaaay.....

Listening to a talk this morning on Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego:

"Imagine being burned to death! It's unimaginable, isn't it!"

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Animation review

Hoodwinked
As a big fan of animated films, I’ve been quite disappointed with the calibre of recent releases. But no more!

This is easily a contender for the best animated movie I’ll see this year. It has a decent script, clever jokes and a multi-dimensional approach to story-telling that was equivalent to the best episodes of Boomtown.

The story is really quite simple. At a woodland crime-scene an amphibian master-sleuth tries to work out what really happened to bring Little Red Riding Hood, her bound-and-gagged Grandma, a suspicious large talking wolf (who while definitely big, may or may not be bad) and a Germanic woodcutter together. It sounds weird, and it is, but it works. Throw in a yodeling goat, a genius spoof of xXx, a megalomaniac-but-cutesy confectioner, and the vocal talents of Patrick Warburton (who shines as the laconic wolf in his best role since Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove), and Hoodwinked hits just about every button.

Jongudmund’s rating: 9/10

Titan A.E.
This was the film that almost sunk Fox Animation Studios until they bought Ice Age to dig the studio out of a financial black hole. Having finally gotten round to seeing it on DVD, I can see why it bombed, but that’s not to say it’s a completely bad movie.

The problem is this could never be a movie to appeal to kids, but because the script has been dumbed down to try and reach the kiddy market, the story has lost the narrative edge it needed. The overall concept – that the evil Drej have destroyed Earth and the last remnants of humanity must find the lost spaceship Titan in order to survive – is too epic for a commercial 2-D cartoon of this nature. But I sense that it could have worked if the film-makers had been left to produce the manga-inspired sci-fi adult ‘toon that they were no doubt aiming for.

Jongudmund’s rating: 4/10

Madagascar
Again, another cartoon I missed on general release. I borrowed the DVD off my bro, who insisted that I’d find it hilarious. And, much of it I did. Sacha Baron Cohen as the King of the Lemurs was hysterical – a combination of good lines and a weird accent – and the penguins were the undoubted stars of the film.

However, I found the main characters were a bit weak and one-dimensional. Melman the giraffe, for example, seemed to be in the film for one joke. He’s hypochondriac. Jada Pinkett-Smith as a hippo is under-used (she seems to have about three lines) and while Chris Rock’s zebra and Ben Stiller’s lion are more-rounded characters, there’s a certain lack of personality to them.

Overall, though, the film is pretty funny, although the theme of out-of-place animals is getting a bit tiresome now. Admittedly Madagascar started the trend, but Over the Hedge is funnier, and The Wild has better voice talent just in the Eddie Izzard-voiced koala.

Jongudmund’s rating: 6.5/10

Friday, October 13, 2006

Another post about spam marketing and stupid names

Another trawl through the bulk mail folder has revealed yet more names that have been especially selected to dupe unwitting idiots to open a spam email. I've done this twice now and it’s still entertaining.

How stupid would you have to be to open an unsolicited email from…
Bella Kimball
etti miguela
Ronda Dodd
Ottilia Hilliard
ramona cyril
shoshana flores
Nelly Mcbride
zozo momoh
Shavonda
Estella Mcnally
Jasper Buck
Zander Gonzales
Luciano Sprague
Lovetta Lavera

and what is the point of sending spam with one word ‘names’ like…
cowgirl
clang (!?)
cholera (!?!?!)

My favourite from this haul was jennifer bran, who sent me an email titled Sweeter Tasting Sperm. Mmm, yummy. What is the recipe?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Wales 3 Cyprus 1

I have to admit that the build-up to this game wasn’t promising. After a 5-1 home reverse to Slovakia on Saturday, this really was a must-win game. But, like Richard and Phil from my office, I had a gnawing feeling that it could be a disaster. Fortunately I was wrong.

Wales started brightly in a muted atmosphere. 20,000+ people in a regular-sized stadium would be quite a crowd. But in the echoing heights of the Millennium Stadium, it felt like there was no one there.

The score at half time was 2-0 to Cymru, but the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for the announcement that England had slumped to the same scoreline in Zagreb. Craig Bellamy scored his first goal as captain to put the Welsh three goals to the good, but then they got cocky and started passing the ball across the back line. It didn’t take long for the Cypriots to win the ball and score a decent goal to get themselves back in it.

Wales had a number of other good chances, including a penalty appeal, and hit the post twice, but 3-1 was a fair result, and a result they needed. Next up – a friendly against footballing superpower Liechtenstein (a country that shares an unlikely connection with Uzbekistan), at the Racecourse in Wrexham. I doubt I’ll bother with that one.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Last Kiss

We had free tickets to this new film at Cineworld, which used to be UGC, and is now also known as ‘the mice cinema’. Despite the rodent problem, the screening was full. From the look of the people who turned up, it appeared that was because the students are back in Cardiff, and they don’t know about the potential exposure to cute furry vermin.

Featuring Zach Braff – hilarious in Scrubs and impressive in Garden State – I thought The Last Kiss was going to be a comedy. There were some funny moments – but it wasn’t a comedy. In that sense it was a bit like life. Sometimes you laugh. Sometimes you don't know whether you should laugh. And sometimes you scream obscenities at yourself while pounding the steering wheel of your car. Or maybe that’s just me and Zach Braff’s character in this film?

A lot of this film – which dealt mainly with relationship anxiety – rang true. Casey Affleck steps out from his older brother’s shadow and puts in a decent performance. Braff is perhaps too likeable, and too unconventional in his looks to get hit on the way he does, but I think he’s quickly becoming one of the best actors working today. The show-stealing star of the film, though, is undoubtedly Blythe Danner. Maybe I’m getting old, but she seemed a lot sexier than her younger co-stars.

Jongudmund’s rating: 7/10