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.


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


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

*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

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