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.


"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

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

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
Estella Mcnally
Jasper Buck
Zander Gonzales
Luciano Sprague
Lovetta Lavera

and what is the point of sending spam with one word ‘names’ like…
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

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Today, it would seem that I'm Anglican

Still in Haddenham, a very pretty village in Buckinghamshire. For the first time ever I’ve gone to a church where they’re ringing the bells to summon people like me to church. This is St Mary the Virgin in Haddenham. It’s 10.30am. It’s time for the morning service.

I’ve often thought about becoming a mystery worshipper for Ship of Fools, but have never actually got round to doing it. I know you shouldn’t rate churches, but I enjoyed this service. It had a good talk on prayer, and it was nice to go forward and kneel to take communion. But – and it’s a big but – the opening children’s action song was excruciatingly cringeworthy, and the five minute notice from the bearded PCC chap about how people weren’t giving enough money to keep the church going was no doubt necessary, but off-putting.

The reality is that, whatever the downside of the ‘congregational’ style (and there are many), at least notices like that are only heard by relevant people. If we’d been completely uneducated in church culture what would our perceptions of this really quite good church have been?

On an interesting note, the duck-pond outside the church, which is home to some very funky white ducks, is the same duck-pond that Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo fell into in The Great Muppet Caper. Strange, but true.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


“You’ve never been to Legoland?” was Rowena’s incredulous question yesterday. Well, today I have and, apart from the many screaming grizzly children, it was well worth the visit. I particularly loved Miniland, with its scaled down version of London’s skyscrapers (and Caerphilly Castle too!), and I also spent a few quid in the Lego pic’n’mix shop.

We didn’t have to travel too far from Viv’s family home in Haddenham where we were staying for a long weekend. The weather was fantastic considering it’s October. It was even a bit too hot when we sat in the sun to watch the (fairly lame) Johnny Thunder stunt show, and I had to strip off down to my T-shirt. Plus, they had a Cinnabon – the only one in the UK! Mmm, cinnamon doughnut fingers…

I must admit though, I didn’t think that much of the actual Lego shops. The clearance outlet was especially disappointing; and the regular shops were charging top-of-the-range prices, but, bizarrely, didn’t seem to have the full range of product. Perhaps I know my Lego too well to be bowled over. The only kit I hadn’t seen before was the Death Star II set, which weighed an absolute ton and was apparently the size of a small child when assembled.

Legoland is very much a kid’s day out kind of place, and we got some odd looks as four adults going on the rides. Next time I’ll have to borrow some kids so I don’t look quite so weird. The other thing I noticed, and perhaps it’s because it’s the end of season, but a number of the external Lego models looked like they needed a good clean. There was a certain aura of tattiness around some parts of the park, which surprised me considering this is one of Lego’s flagship investments. However, the modelmakers centre and hall of fame was classily laid out, and I could have happily spent a good few hours more in there.

I know as a ‘very mature’ 30-year old, perhaps I’m not the demographic they’re aiming for. But as Cathy said, it would have been nice to have a few more historical exhibits. I would have loved to see some of the sets I remember so well from when I was a kid, like the Technic Arctic Explorers series, or the space base from the 80s that I adored.

Whether the next generation of kids will ever get nostalgic for Lego Spongebob Squarepants (I kid thee not!) only time will tell!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Conversation stopper

Last night we had our first ‘life group’, which is Glenwood’s fancy name for house/cell/whatever term you use midweek group. As it was the first one it acted as a bit of an introduction. We went round the circle saying a little bit about ourselves. I always seem to think of the good things to say after my turn, so last night I didn’t mention Fair Do’s, or freelance theology but I did tell the group how I cut my thumb the other day building a Zoid.

With Viv and Ian being there, they talked about their plans for getting married next year on 7 July because 07/07/07 would be a memorable date. The conversation moved on to a more general discussion about the terrorist attacks on the underground on 7/7(2005) and I related how we'd been in Wick for the one minute memorial silence; how strange it had felt as the pub we were eating in had fallen silent, so far away from London.

Inge then started saying how certain dates stick in the mind. “Like today is October the fourth. On October the fourth 1942, we got bombed out in Frankfurt. It was terrible… bombs going off everywhere.”

What can you say after that?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

La Boheme

Last night I lost my opera virginity after “the Russes” bought us tickets to see the Welsh National Opera’s La Boheme at the Wales Millennium Centre (known to everyone who lives near to it as The Armadillo because it looks likes… well, a giant armadillo).

We arrived late and had to leg it up four flights of stairs to get in on time. I had a bit of a shock to find my boss sat on the end of our row. Elaine pointed out that he shouldn’t be sitting in the ‘cheap seats’ with the likes of us. The seats were very cheap – just a fiver, which made a night at the opera a much more affordable risk. At least this way if we hated it we could leave at the end of the first act. The good thing about sitting near the back is that we could get to the bar/toilets first in the interval. Score!

Another major plus were the subtitles in English (and Welsh!). Without them I would have been totally lost. The story is a romantic tragedy (hey! this is an opera) about a poet, Rudolfo, who falls in love with a sickly neighbour, Mimi, then tries to break up with her because he thinks that shacking up in his dilapidated flat is worsening her health. But it’s too late and she dies anyway.

In the car on the way home I pointed out that the whole thing should have been sponsored by British Gas as the main reason Mimi dies is because of a lack of heat. You could imagine an advert where someone explains the plot and someone chimes in smartly to say ‘they should have got British Gas’s super-duper home cover. It costs less than you think.’ The only problem is that the ad would only appeal to the 1% of the population who go to opera, but I suppose they might get the servants to investigate it further…

As to the performance itself – I’m not an expert on opera, but it seemed pretty good to me, especially with four reasonably long breaks in which to chat, which made it much more social than a night out at the cinema. It was a bit tricky to follow when the subtitles got out of sync with the songs a one point. The music seemed good (but I hadn’t heard it before so had nothing to compare it to), and the sets were superb. I tried to make a joke when the conductor came on stage for a bow at the end, saying “I don’t remember that character. Is he the vampire?” Sadly, Elaine thought I was being a bit of a dunce and started to explain that he was the conductor. Ho hum.

The message of the opera is that love overcomes, but obviously these ‘Bohemians’ with their free love and their poetry have to suffer the effects of their freedom (we can’t endorse immorality after all!). And so the poetry = poverty = death storyline acts as a warning against the bohemian lifestyle, with Mimi a victim not of love, which is virtuous, but of the selfishness of hedonism. Ho hum again. But I did like one stand out quote, when Mimi explains that “I don’t go to church much, but I pray to God a lot.”

The other stand out quote of the night was Elaine explaining that “You can move faster in high heels when you’ve had a drink…” Hmmm.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Boyhood hero becomes a rubber duck

I had an unexpected delight last night. I was taking a break from writing a new intro to my sci-fi novel and Cathy was watching CNBC when Conan O’Brien announced that his next guest would be none other than Mr T!

Apparently, after several years in the TV wilderness, Mr T is returning to the small screen with a “reali-T” show called “I Pity the Fool!” But this isn’t going to be your normal kind of reality show – “there’ll be none of that jibber-jabber!”

Conan did push him a bit though – accusing Mr T of laughing like a six-year old girl. He then hastily corrected himself: “a tough six-year old girl…” He also asked Mr T about merchandise including the Mr T rubber duck – perhaps the ultimate in rubber ducks based on tough guy actors?

Monday, October 02, 2006

In Touch

Just under a week ago I went on touchtyping course. My speed isn’t great yet but I do know where all the keys are without looking. I can now also type without sounding like I’m attacking the keyboard!

More importantly, last Tuesday was also my eighth year wedding anniversary. Eight years seems like a ridiculously improbable length of time, until I started to think about how different life is now from eight years ago.

Now: Living with Cath in Bromfield Street
Then: Living with Cath, Ab and Tez (in Bromfield Street – so that hasn’t changed!)
Now: working as a writer for a charity, my third full-time job since…
Then: self-employed selling Cath-designed greetings cards
Now: going to Glenwood church, the third church we’ve been going to since…
Then: going to Grangetown Baptist Church
Now: driving an R reg Golf, my third car since…
Then: driving an E reg Cavalier (the good kind with the boxy body shape!)

A lot of other things have changed since then. Ab moved to Gateshead. Tez moved to Japan. My brother got married. My parents started fostering Sarah, who has just turned 18. I’ve made a ton of good friends like Ian, Viv, the Russes, Sian, Cheryl etc. We travelled to California on the trip of a lifetime.

Of course, some things have stayed the same. For example, Shrewsbury Town are still in the basement division of the football league. But they did beat Everton on a memorable January day in 2003.

There’s an episode of Seinfeld where George says that if you take his achievements of a lifetime and put them in one day, he’s seem quite successful. I sometimes feel like that when I look at the list above. (George ends up stranded in a public restroom dressed only in his underwear in that episode, so maybe that’s a warning?)

But after eight years and a week, it seems worth saying that those eight years would have been rubbish without Cathy to give them some meaning.

(Ta, Irony Boy)