Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Scorpio's story

This is another excerpt from the first Zodiac Team book, currently in progress. It's the story of how one of my favourite characters came to join the Team...

"It must be amazing to have worked with a legend," said Scorpio.

"Well, yes it was," admitted Capricorn. "Of course the way we’re going we’ll all be legends too."

There was a pause. "You really think so?" asked Scorpio.

"Oh, undoubtedly," said Capricorn.

Scorpio smiled secretly to herself: not bad for a screw up reject pilot. A legend… she liked the sound of that.

Nearly four years previously, as an UDFEG Air Force Flying Officer, Scorpio had stood before the ornately carved desk of the Flight Colonel, looking like a pupil called to the headmaster’s office. The Colonel had been recalled to active duty a year into his much-awaited retirement and hid his resentment poorly. The young woman in front of him had been waiting in nervous silence for nearly a quarter of an hour while the officer reviewed a large file.

She came to a decision. "Sir, permission to speak, sir."

"Denied," replied the Colonel without looking up.

"Sir, if this is about the refueling problem, I accept full responsibility and-"

The Colonel’s sigh cut her off. He tossed the file aside and steepled his fingers together, fixing her with a piercing gaze.

"Yes, full responsibility," he said. He folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. "Of course you take full responsibility, you always do. Your willingness to take full responsibility for your actions would be highly commendable if it wasn’t the reason you have been bounced out of six squadrons in less than two years!"
She didn’t respond. What could she say to that?

"Officer, you are a damn good flier, one of the best I’ve seen. But you are also a soldier and no amount of natural ability or bravery in the line of fire gives you the right to do whatever the hell you feel like!"

The Colonel paused to let his words sink in. "Since you’ve been in my wing there’s been no end of trouble. Fist-fights in the canteen, rookies out after curfew, accidents, pile-ups, injuries to support personnel. I have had to unruffle feathers from the mess room to the control tower and why? Because of you and your-"

"Sir, I-"

"And you interrupt senior officers!" The Colonel’s voice took on a harsher tone. No longer an exasperated avuncular old man, he was a Colonel, a position earned through courage and sacrifice. Earned the old way. The hard way. And this upstart flyer needed to learn some respect.

"No, Flight Officer, not this time. No appeals, no arguments and I do not wish to hear your side of the story. I am taking the steps that should have been taken by your first commanding officer and dismissing you from the squadron. Understand that? Not a transfer, a dismissal! For the good of the entire Combined Air and Space Arm!"

The pilot stepped backwards in shock, reaching for the chair that she had refused when she had first reported to the Colonel’s office. She sat down, so numb that she almost missed the seat.

"Wha… what do I do now?" she asked, tears springing to her eyes.

The Colonel eyed her coldly. "You can stop your pathetic snivelling for a start. The waterworks won’t sway me. The decision has been made. And as a fully trained fighter pilot you will spend the rest of the war in an internment camp to prevent the rebels turning you into a prize asset. Mavericks like you need to be kept under close scrutiny."

Her tears were real now, although they were of anger. The door of the office swung open, but she was barely aware of the Military Policemen who had clamped a firm hold on her shoulders. She tried one last appeal. "But there must be something I can do," she pleaded. "I’m not a complete write-off!"

The Colonel allowed himself a thin ghost of a smile. "Oh but you are," he said.
The month in the internment prison passed excruciatingly slowly. She refused to accept that she had been lumped in with traitors to her race, losers and drop-outs. Within three days she was in solitary for punching a political dissident who had referred to her as a military lackey in the dining hall. She was out for less than a day before a savage revenge beating saw her returned to solitary for her own protection.

Then from out of nowhere came a summons to the Administrator’s office. Eyes glazed due to the calmative drugs administered in her food, she meekly accompanied the armed guards until they took up station on either side of the door. She entered the room and walked over to where the Administrator sat at a desk piled high with unread reports and computer print-outs.

The large woman handed her an envelope wordlessly. It had been opened already, but the contents had been replaced. Inside were call-up papers and an itinerary.

"Looks like you got bailed, missy," remarked the Administrator with a smile.
Two days later the troop transport docked at Trans-Lunar, the asteroid that had been ‘parked’ in geo-stationary orbit around Earth’s Moon and turned into an intermediary boarding station for traffic to and from the lunar surface. She was directed by several helpful members of base personnel towards a cluster of domes separated from the main docking facility. One of the domes was a hangar with a sling-shot ship launcher. A Sleeq shuttle sat in the barrel ready to launch.

A petite blonde stood waiting by the entry ramp. Her icy stare immediately precluded any possibility of small-talk.

"You’re late!" snapped the blonde.

"I didn’t know where to find you," replied the newcomer.

"Shut up! Listen, you’re only here because of this." The blonde held up a heavily bandaged hand. "A zarq bullet went straight through it on the drop run. We’re going to be flying the retrieval. It’s hazardous and you might get killed. It’s also highly classified information that we’re even on a retrieval, so if at any point you decide you can’t continue with the mission you will be killed. It’s your choice."


"Four deep insertion ops. Do it right, you can join the Team."

"And if I do it wrong?"

"Just get in the shuttle."

"Who are you?"

"My name is Virgo."

"Like the star-sign?

"Just get in the shuttle."

Much later Scorpio found out the bullet that had passed through Virgo’s hand had come to rest in the neck of her former co-pilot.

She had to admit, reflecting on it, that the years of service together in some of the worst battle zones of the Earth-Palloshan Space War, had caused a strange form of respect to grow between the two of them. But she could never quite decide whether she could forgive Virgo for not telling her that the first retrieval run she performed for the Zodiac Team would be to the Palloshan home-world of Pallo Prime.

Monday, May 28, 2007

This explains Big Brother

Food for thought from Scott Adams:

"My hypothesis for today is that a person’s need for social interaction is inversely related to the quality of his or her imagination. In other words, if you have an excellent imagination, you might enjoy people, but you’re equally happy to be alone with your thoughts for large stretches. To put it bluntly, you fascinate yourself.

A key part of my hypothesis is the assumption that people have widely different powers of imagination. This seems likely. People are all over the map for every other mental ability. Whatever is happening inside the mind of the person with the worst imagination on earth is clearly very different from what’s happening in the mind of the most creative.

Presumably, if you have no imagination whatsoever, you need to get all of your stimulation from the environment, mostly from other people, or at least TV shows about other people. You wouldn’t want to be alone with your thoughts for more than two minutes because your thoughts would bore the living piss out of you."

Scott poses the question: "Do you have an unusually good imagination? If so, do you enjoy being alone more than most people?"

And that does fascinate me. Because for a long time I thought I had difficulty making friends, until I took a Birkman profiling test which showed I was 'selectively sociable' ie I only look to a few people for approval/support. I did another psych test which revealed I was an introvert with extrovert characteristics. So I can get up and speak to a room full of people - but that doesn't make me an extrovert. I recharge my batteries by spending my downtime by myself.

Which presumably is why I can spend hours writing a story in a universe I'm making up off the top of my head and not feel tired, but twenty minutes into my work day in a crowded office and I become Lethargico, the Sloth Superhero.

And it also explains why people who I can only charitably describe as dullards buy Closer magazine*, care about whether D-list celebrities have tan lines, worry over Posh Spice's weight, and will watch the imminent new series of Big Brother.

*it even has the word 'loser' in the title. I mean, come on...

Sunday, May 27, 2007


"Maybe not going up is for the best."

Less than 24 hours after losing 3-1 at Wembley, the revisionism has kicked in with my little brother leading the charge.

Instead of welcoming fallen giants Leeds United and Nottingham Forest to the new stadium next year, we'll get a trip to the Lancashire seaside to see newcomers Morecambe. But we do have derby games against Wrexham and Hereford which will ensure all 10,000 shiny new seats are sold. And there's an expectation of more than another scrap against relegation.

[And, for the first time ever, Shrewsbury Town led at Wembley. It didn't last long...]

[And, they now hold the record for the quickest goal to be scored at the new Wembley.]

[And, they had the first player sent off in a compettitive fixture at the new Wembley!]

As a final irony for the weekend, Dave's kickabout on Gay Meadow scheduled for this afternoon was cancelled because of a waterlogged pitch. I laughed.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

We played well.
But not well enough.
And those of us who were there,
Were there.
Whether the war paint helped I can't say.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Tom Cruise can act

Being off for a few days with a particularly vicious form of man ‘flu meant I’ve watched quite a few films, including quite a few where I had to take the shrinkwrap cellophane off before watching it! So, after Return of the King, Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Beetle Juice and Pirates of the Caribbean, I got onto a couple of films I hadn’t seen before…

Collateral is perhaps the film which proves Tom Cruise can actually act (unless you think the whole ‘Katie had a baby, so I guess Tom's straight’ thing is a diversion). As in Heat, Michael Mann uses the urban wasteland of LA to great effect, with the city effectively the third major character in the film. The ending is a bit contrived, but the plot works and everybody’s favourite Thetan in disguise puts in a great performance as Vincent. Playing against type as a bad guy clearly works for Tom, so hopefully he’ll take on a few more villainous roles.

Jongudmund’s rating: 8/10

Do you remember when pre-recorded videos were expensive and so you taped films off the telly? I revisited those deprived days of yesteryear and watched a film Cath taped back at Christmas. Down with Love is a ‘screwball comedy’ (danger! danger!) with one major flaw: Renee Zellweger. I don’t know what it is about her, but she has a very odd face. When she smiles it crinkles the wrong way, and when she doesn’t smile she looks slightly retarded. I have no idea how she has made a career playing romantic leads.

But, weird-looking leading lady apart, the film’s passable. Ewan McGregor is always god value and David Hyde Pierce is surely one of the most gifted comic actors around, even if he is playing yet another version of Niles Crane. While there are some funny scenes, and some decent dialogue, most of the key scenes are contrived and the performances smelt so much of ham I thought I was in the sandwich meat aisle in Tesco.

The thing which struck me most though, about the film, is that seeing him in thick glasses and a side parting, Ewan McGregor would make a great Clark Kent. Why wasn’t he signed up to play Superman in the limp ‘Returns’? With a knowing smile and a slightly feral glint in his eye, he’d be a fantastic Superman.

Jongudmund’s rating: 5/10

And is it nerdy that when I watched Beetle Juice I recognised Glenn Shaddix's name because he played the Mayor in Nightmare Before Christmas...?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Day out in Worcester

It seems a perilous place, albeit with free parking if you're willing to explore side streets. I got accosted by a slightly intense emotional mugger (you know, pours out his woeful life story, then asks you for cash) who seemed to have stalked us from when we left the SPCK Bookshop.

We had pizzas at a nice Italian restaurant, which a local mouse seemed to like too, because he kept popping up from among the cracks in the floorboards.

Then, much later, outside McDonalds, we witnessed the unfortunate sight of a 'well built' young lady adjusting her short shorts and standing on the street corner in just her thong in the process. Shudder.

The reason we were in Worcester was to see Nizlopi play at the Marr's Bar, a venue described as 'intimate' in the pre-show publicity. That must be 'intimate' as in 'tiny and rammed to the rafters'. It was the third time we've seen the band live, following Greenbelt and the excellent show last year at The Point in Cardiff Bay.

With hit-and-miss support from some random competition winners, it was a great night out. As before, they chose to play a couple of songs out in the audience, which, with the lights down, made the night very special. As an added bonus this time they played 'Clear' with the awesome rhyming couplet of 'shaolin' and 'towel in' (you've got to hear it to get it), which they'd promised us last time but didn't sing.

With the curfew curtailing the gig at midnight, they weren't allowed to do an encore (boooo! to midlands licensing laws!). After braving the aforementioned horrors to get drinks at the home of the golden arches, we drove off into the night, arriving home in the wee small hours, tired but happy.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Smash and Grab

Milton Keynes Dons 1
Andrews 74
Shrewsbury 2
Cooke 58
Cooke 76

That's right folks, next Saturday I'm going to Wem-ber-ley!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Spidey 3

Reports of Spider-Man’s demise may have been premature, but it’s hard to see where the franchise can go after this latest installment. The film isn’t half bad, although I have to admit I was more thrilled with the trailer for Transformers beforehand. Now that looks amazing.

The problem with Spidey part three is primarily the time it takes to get going. Maybe I’m in a minority, but I find the Aunt May character incredibly boring. In most of the ‘rocky relationship’ scenes I found myself distracted by Kirsten Dunst’s peculiarly pointy teeth. And then there’s the cheese factor too – really, what is the likelihood of Spidey being cheered on by a street full of New Yorkers with the backdrop of an American flag?

And I know I’m not the only person who felt that Peter Parker’s turn to the ‘dark side’ should have had more obvious signs than changing his parting to a moody emo ‘fringe in your eyes’ look, a black suit and eye-shadow. Gosh! How evil!

I was also slightly disappointed, given the high quality of the two main villains involved, how little screen time they got, especially Venom. But there’s an interesting subtext to Spidey 3 – when Spider-Man offers Sandman forgiveness instead of taking revenge, he makes amends for giving in to his own dark side previously. In teaming up with a former enemy (I’m not going to spoil it and say who), and appealing to him for help, he breaks down old, misguided hatreds in the face of a common foe.

And in those two instances, perhaps Spider-Man reveals something of the psyche of contemporary America; a move away from posturing next to a flag and going it alone towards a world where even long-time villains are capable of redemption. Or maybe it’s just a comic book flick trying to do something a bit different.

Roll on Transformers.

Jongudmund’s rating: 7/10

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

And you're basing that observation on what exactly...?

I spent most my coffee break today talking to some guy who rang in oblivious to my need for caffeine and a chat. When I finally managed to end the call I turned back to our team's breaktime conversation to catch our head honcho start an observation with the line:
"I think the thing is with strippers these days..."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Nil-Nil: feel the drama!

I’m not really a beer drinker, so sitting in The Grange pub last night with my pint of Brains Smooth was a deliberate ploy not to buy too many drinks in an evening while watching the mighty Shrews take on MK Dons. And it worked, although the barman did give me the evils when midway through the second half I was only two thirds the way through my pint. If the bar hadn’t been so sparsely populated (there were two of us in there) I don’t think he’d have minded, but it was fairly obvious I wasn’t planning on splashing out my hard earned on his beer. And I think he resented me for that.

Still for a couple of quid I got to watch Sky’s surprisingly unpatronising coverage of a fairly dull, if fast-paced, scoreless draw. The pitch, now free of ducks and even swans, was muddy, but held up reasonably well in what will be the last ever Town game on it.

I did feel nostalgic though, as the cameras panned around a ground I know so well, lingering on the crumbling terraces, the trees above the stands, and the parochial advertising hoardings, while the commentators dutifully reminded us that this was the last game at Gay Meadow after 97 years…

So farewell then, the family stand, where as a lucky mascot I watched Town decimate Grimsby in the old second division; goodbye Christmas Steel Stockholders, the blue ad sign on the Wakeman End where me and Jim used to stand during our sixth form years; arrivederci the Riverside, with its tiny snack bar and stinky bogs.

It’s the end of an era. And I watched it live on Sky in an antiquated, dilapidated pub where no one cared. Except me.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Why do you need a new ground?

Maybe this news item from Shrewsburytown.com will shed some light on it...
There was heavy rain in Shrewsbury yesterday and a lot of fans have been ringing to see how the pitch is.

Several inches of rain fell yesterday and this morning the pitch was covered in water, as well as a few ducks and a swan.

That's top quality sports journalism, that is. Not just ducks, but a swan too.

Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang

Bit of an odd film this one, halfway between thriller, comedy and satire on Hollywood. That’s three halves, which is a bit much to cram into any movie and this does suffer as a result. As a comedy it works because Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer are very watchable; as a thriller it passes but it’s complicated and a tad contrived; and as a satire, it’s very clever, but it loses its bite halfway through.

The thing that makes this movie stand out though, is that is finally debunks the myth that Americans don’t understand sarcasm. Not only is the sarcastic interplay between the two main characters well-scripted, obviously with an understanding of how wit actually works, but it’s excellently delivered, especially by Kilmer. One of the elements you need to make sarcasm work is a rapid, understated delivery which fools someone into thinking you’re telling him the truth. Kilmer has it and uses it well.

The only downside to the film is Downey Jr’s frequently tiresome narration. It’s hackneyed. Yes, the self-referential stuff is funny (“I’ve seen Lord of the Rings – we aren’t going to have seventeen different endings”), but it frequently interrupts the smooth flow of the story. There’s also quite a bit of swearing and some nudity, so depending on whether you rate or slate a film based on that, this might not be your cup of tea.

Watch it for: the Russian roulette scene – shocking but hilarious (“What? There was only an eight per cent chance…” “You idiot, who taught you math?”).
Skip it if: you don’t like Robert Downey Jr, or hearing the F word.

Jongudmund’s rating 7.5/10

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Zodiac Team extract

I'm finally getting round to doing something I've been meaning to do for absolutely ages - sending my science fiction novel about the Zodiac Team off to a literary agent. I don't know how many times I've written and rewritten the introductory letter, but it's ready to go.

Here's an extract from the story:

Military Strategy Officer Lewis R. Krakow smiled at the President, the Vice-President, the Chief Admiral and several members of the Admiral’s staff. Conspicuous in his unadorned black uniform, Krakow tried to catch the eye of a junior officer, Levski Tagge, who eventually approached him nervously.

"Is everything going according to plan?" asked Krakow.

Tagge, a nervous young man with watery eyes and a bad case of shaving rash cleared his throat. "They’re all in line, sir, except one."

Krakow sighed. At this point he would like to find whoever had had the idea of a big send-off of the battle platforms on a final voyage to the breakers yards that orbited Titan. Then he would have happily pushed them into an airlock and spun the wheel until their screams boiled off in the vack.

This whole thing was a security nightmare. The President and Vice-President of the United Democratic Federal Earth Government were sitting at the top of the tiered auditorium, looking out of a massive window. Only three feet of glass separated the most important people in Earth politics from vacuum. Below sat sixteen of the twenty Regional Commissioners, fourteen Continental Commissioners, three monarchs, and over a thousand other dignitaries shipped in from across the colonies. All to watch a row of spaceships fly away. What was the point?

He breathed heavily through his nose and clenched his teeth together. A thought struck him and he turned to Tagge. "Which one?" he barked.

"Pardon, sir?" said Tagge.

"Which bloody platform hasn’t shown up?"

"Er, The Wheel, sir. All the others are here with their crews for the final tour of duty."

That had been another mistake. Putting the crews who’d served on the platforms back on board to pilot them to their final destination. Many of those crews had been aghast that the symbiotic ships they had become enmeshed with were going to be destroyed. Krakow’s military police had put down two abortive mutinies already…

But surely there wouldn’t be a problem with Aries and his Zodiac Team? They were the most decorated insertion team in the whole combined services, world-famous folk heroes after liberating the citizens of New China from the turncoat Maoist Elite that had allied with the Palloshan. They had served admirably at Pel-Pel, Hiorsleigh – both in the horrific defeat and in the victory nine months later – and on Klailax fighting alongside the strange Klailaxuu.

Krakow’s mind was working overtime, replaying his last conversation with Aries, giving him the order to return in The Wheel from the Boundary Margin. Had there been any indication that Aries was going to go AWOL?

There was a rippling effect in the starfield outside the viewing window, as the light was bent by gravity, warping the fabric of the universe into a window. Then, The Wheel, an immense gyroscope-shape set around a long cylinder that housed a crushed artificial star, appeared, growing ever-larger with each passing micro-second until it matched the sheer vastness of the other battle platforms.

But it didn’t stop. Swinging violently in a new direction, The Wheel passed along the length of arrayed vessels. The Wheel’s aft ray batteries lanced down onto its unsuspecting and unprotected sister ships, slicing neatly through the corespace connectives and rendering them helpless.

Krakow leapt into action. "Shields up!" he barked into the command link. At his command, huge steel shutters rapidly unfolded down the viewing port, plunging the auditorium into sudden darkness, dimly lit by emergency lighting. Over the screams, Krakow heard several dull thumps and then noticed several dignitaries starting to float upwards from their seats. He ran out of the auditorium, sealing off the large room behind him. His magnet-soled boots connected with the corridor floor at the end of longer and longer leaps as the artificial gravity drained away.

Swinging into the Command Bridge of the space station, Krakow grabbed at the doorframe to pull himself inside. A large screen showed the critical hits – all eight gravity-well generators on the corners of the cube-frame that surrounded the station had been destroyed, their vital fluids boiling off into space as if they were ablaze.

"Status!" demanded Krakow.

Captain Ortiz snapped a salute. "No casualties, sir, but we are crippled. I have repair teams on the way."

"Docking bays?" asked Krakow.

"Still functional, sir, but without control over the gravity well, it would be too risky to launch any vessels larger than a shuttle."

"Damn it!" said Krakow, hitting the wall in frustration. The attack by The Wheel had neutralised both the platforms outside and any fast-contact units on the station.

"Sir, incoming transmission," said a technician.

"Route it to the main screen," said Ortiz. The picture melted from the diagnostic of the space station to a familiar face.

"Hello," said Aries. "I regret to inform you that I have decided to take operational control of The Wheel, along with my team, and to remove us from the jurisdiction of the Combined Services. It has been an honour to serve the Combined Services of the Earth Government, but in the interests of the peoples of Earth and the Colonies, I feel that it is necessary to preserve this ship and its fighting potential. I am therefore resigning my commission with immediate effect, and taking this vessel under private control."

There was a pause. Krakow, along with everyone else on the Command Bridge gaped at the screen.

"Oh, and Krakow, we’ve left a lifepod somewhere in the vicinity. I would count it as a personal favour if you’d be willing to pick it up. Goodbye."

The recorded message clicked off. All eyes swung to Krakow.

"A personal favour? Why, you utter-" Krakow’s words dissolved into a scream of rage. He turned to the technician who had first alerted him to the message. "You!" he demanded. "Did you track them, where did they go?"

"They dropped into corespace and disappeared in the direction of Rigel, sir."


"Sir, it’s been four minutes," said Ortiz. "They could have changed course three times already. There’s no way we could track them."

Krakow stood absolutely stock still, staring at the captain. Very calmly, he smiled. "Oh, I’ll find them captain. I can promise you that." Then, with the hip-swerving kick of a practiced zero-gee inhabitant, he left the Command Bridge.

In among the recycling

Shoch horror! The scientific system I used to assess each of the political parties for last week's election has been undermined by the discovery of three more leaflets in a pile of paper destined for the recycling bag. The real losers are the Socialist Equality Party, who I didn't realise had posted anything through the door, but Plaid and Labour also potentially missed out on some extra points.

Oh, well, lesson learned. I'll just have to be extra vigilant next time we have some election fun.

Friday, May 11, 2007

B*Damen Army

Having built some belated birthday presents from Irony Boy and Dr Nicholls, here's a picture of my B*Damen army. I've only bought half these figures - most of them for 99p from the new Toys R Us round the corner. The dragon thing is a targetting device and the little guys themselves have a range of functions, including one-handed firing, dual-loading and bias-control so you can fire the pinball in a curve.

An Inconvenient Truth

I see quite a few films (just hit the films tag at the foot of this post to see what I mean). The problem is when you watch lots of films, it’s easy to become jaded. So, before watching this documentary, and only knowing it’s ‘star’ was a politician who didn’t quite make it to be president, and having done global warming to death in CSI Glenwood* last year, I wasn’t expecting it to really be interesting or good.
*stands for Contemporary and Social Issues group - good eh? I thought it up.

But on the plus side, Al Gore did appear in an episode of Futurama, so he couldn’t be all bad. And then in the first few minutes a clip of Futurama appeared in the film, making me think ‘hey, what’s going on?’

In truth (inconvenient or not) my prejudices were totally wrong. As a topic, climate change is something so massive it becomes meaningless, but the movie managed to give it meaning. Global warming can seem so big we’re all doomed, but the film ended on an incredibly positive and stirring message of hope – that we, as a race, can do something to avert catastrophe, and in fact we are doing something, despite the machinations of the current White House administration.

Topic aside, a documentary stands or falls on the strength of its narrating genius. The best docs in recent years have relied on either the strength of voice (Morgan Freeman) or the strength of personality (Morgan Spurlock); a narrator can blend into the background (Louis Theroux) or be antagonistically larger than life (Michael Moore).

So, how does Albert Gore Jr come off? Incredibly well, in fact. With a nice line in understated irony, self-deprecating comments, and personal history that illuminated the subject of the film rather than fed into a personal ego, his role should become a template for future documentary-makers. When he speaks of his sister who died of cancer from smoking, and how that made his father quit growing tobacco, he uses the story to illuminate how we are unsuspectingly caught up in the process of killing the planet, rather than appeal to our pity. It’s a tragic story, used respectfully by Gore to get his point across, and therein lies its power.

There are a few minor quibbles along the way, and one or two scenes seems a bit fake (Gore on the phone to a researcher seems very forced at one point), but generally, if you only watch one documentary among the blockbusters, make sure it’s this one.

Jongudmund’s rating 9.5/10

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Well, Wales is the land of song

Putting together some goodie bags ready for a PR frenzy on Monday, I rang another department to get hold of some promo DVDs.

"Hi, I was wondering whether I could beg, borrow, steal, acquire..."

"A choir? Why are you asking me for a choir?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Ho logoi egeneto sarky - my new tag line

In an email conversation today someone decided to sarcastically send me a definition of sarcasm. I hadn’t twigged before, but sarcastic comes from the Greek word sarkasmós, which is derived from sarkázein, which literally means ‘to rend flesh’.

Right, yes, sarx = flesh. I should have known that. After all ‘ho logos egeneto sarx’, is perhaps one of the most controversial phrases ever used by the author of the fourth gospel, and even now the jury is out on what "the word became flesh" is actually supposed to mean.

Perhaps in life, and with another identity always ready in case of emergencies, my tagline could be ‘ho logoi egeneto sarky’ (the words became sarcastic). I like the classical gravitas such a bon mot would give me.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Two games away from Wembley

A last minute equaliser in Town's last ever league game at Gay Meadow means they face MK Dons rather than the considered easier opponent Lincoln City (hmmm) in the play offs. But it also means they've finished in their highest league position since FKHL*. And if they can get a result against 'Franchise FC' (and stranger things have happened) on May 26 they'll be running out onto the gleaming green grass of the all new Wembley.

So, if you're free on May 26 and want to come with me, let me know. The good news is that tipping up for a Shrewsbury match, even at Wembley, can in no way be considered glory-hunting.

*F knows how long

Friday, May 04, 2007

Driving a van makes me feel manly

It's the big fair trade fashion show tomorrow, which means I got to be all manly today and drive the Transit home from work. I could be spending my bank holiday weekend sunning myself, but instead I'll be intimidating boy racers with my giant van and my complete lack of concern for driving niceties. It don't get much better than that.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Quantum voter

Sometimes I don’t decide who I vote for until I get into the booth and stand there with my pencil and ballot paper. It’s a ‘Schrödinger’s cat’ experiment, except without the cat. Or the box. Or the radioactive isotope. Or the hydrocyanic acid.

An update on the ‘who should I vote for?’ experiment…
Lorraine Barrett has blotted her copybook with a negative leaflet on the eve of the election that attacked the Lib Dem council and blamed them for all the piles of rubbish lying around Grangetown and had a go at the Conservatives too. It did also include a list of things she’s campaigned for.
Revised total: 1 extra leaflet + 2 positive statements – 3 SMPs = no change overall

On the morning of the election another Lib Dem negative leaflet trashing Labour was posted through the door. It said ‘Good Morning’ on the outside, which was nice. Inside was the contender for most patronising piece of election post, telling people exactly how to vote and to "look for the bird!" on the ballot papers. I’m very unimpressed with the Lib Dems total lack of positive policies. Give them the bird, more like. But they have offered me a lift round the corner to the bowling green if I want one.
Revised total: 1 extra leaflet + 1 positive statements – 2 SMPs = no change overall (meaning the Lib Dems are still scoring 0)

I’m spotting the BNP an extra 3 points at the request of commenter the green arrow, but unfortunately I’m also going to charge him a slanging match point for having a go at UKIP in his comment. So plus 2 for the BNP, giving them a total of -11.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Stuff I learned from Mark Thomas’ book

Every job in the defence industry is subsidized to the tune of £13,000 plus change

That money comes out of our taxes

Far from being the impartial, fearless newsgatherer it wants to portray itself as, the BBC bottled it when the opportunity came along to expose arms dealers who’ve given money to the government

If the Indian government ever drops a nuke on Pakistan, it’s likely to be from a British-made plane

Most cabinet ministers visiting foreign governments are corporate whores touting the wares of Bae Systems

It’s illegal to sell torture equipment in the UK, but people still do it, and you can buy it on the web

The Labour government cares more whether you pay your TV licence than whether you are selling arms to UN-blacklisted regimes

If you’re going to break into an arms fair and cause havoc, one of the best ways is to dress up as a ‘penis of peace’ and hide a battering ram inside your giant papier mache cock – plus make sure you’re naked and greased up with olive oil to make life even harder for the security goons trying to grab you

Still haven't bought your own copy? Get along to Amazon.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


The Welsh Assembly elections are a couple of days away and at present I’m still one of those elusive creatures every vote-hungry politician is looking for: a floating voter; an undecided; a possible convert. A few years ago I voted basing my decision on whoever knocked on my door. I ended up being one of the 167* people who voted for the Socialist Party. I haven’t decided to do the same thing this year, otherwise it would be a toss up between voting for the Jehovah’s Witnesses or SWALEC.
*I’m making this figure up but it was stupidly low

Instead I’ve decided to conduct an experiment to see who is worthy of my vote. I’m awarding points based on the following categories up to tonight:
Number of items posted through my door (1 point each)
Likeability of candidate (based on photo), rated out of 5
Positive statements about what they’re planning to do (1 point each)
Contactability of candidate (1 point each for phone no, email and website)
And, in the interest of positive politics I’m going to deduct a point for every negative thing said about another political party (slanging match points)

I’m going to list them in order of desperation, ie based on how many pieces of post we’ve had. So, first up are:

The Conservative Party
Tagline: Making a Difference in Your Community
Number of Items: 5 (2 tri-fold brochures posted, 1 tri-fold delivered, 1 long postcard delivered, 1 A5 bilingual leaflet delivered)
Likeability: Nice smiling picture of reasonably attractive female candidate, Karen Roberts: 4/5
+ve statements – The long postcard has 5 on the NHS, 5 on building stronger communities, 5 on protecting our environment, that’s 15 on just one piece of free lit + 3 about council tax and another 3 on the NHS on the tri-folds. Also claim "Welsh Conservatives are committed to tackling climate change" and "have pledged to make significant improvements to the public transport network". Karen’s introductory letter cites "social justice" and the NHS as their top priorities. The A5 leaflet lists 15 pledges in English and Welsh, although there’s some overlap. Total +ve statements = 40 (!)
Contactability: 3 points, although when I phoned her I got an impersonal messaging service
SMP: Can’t resist slagging off Labour re council tax bills (twice), post office closures, NHS bureaucracy, and public transport. (Total = -5)

Grand total = 47 points.

The Liberal Democrats
Tagline: none
Number of items: 3 (black and white trifold, pseudo-newspaper, hand-addressed envelope with ‘personal’ letter from candidate, earning them a bonus point for originality, so 4 points awarded)
Likeability: Very wet-behind-the-ears-looking male candidate, Dominic Hannigan. But he does have a nice smile and will probably win lots of votes off grannies: 3/5
+ve statements: mainly based on Lib Dem council achievements, rather than any new promises. Positive statements include more police on the beat, free school milk, new libraries, green energy/climate change, new cycle/footbridge across the Ely river (worth 2 points as a genuine local issue), smaller class sizes, oh, and apparently Charles Kennedy visited Cardiff just to lend Dominic some support… Total +ves = 8
Contactability: mobile phone number (1)
SMP: a huge amount. Spends most of the pseudo-newspaper attacking Labour, with no positive statements on the front page at all ("Brown’s Budget Tax Con" is the Sun style headline). Also handily includes a ‘form guide’ on the back, where Labour and the Lib Dems are ‘joint favourites’, while the Conservatives are given ‘outside odds’ and Plaid Cymru are dismissed as "non-starters". In an ‘interview with the candidate, Dominic says: "Tony Blair has been such a disappointment". In the tri-fold, the negative campaigning gets worse, with "Many Tory and Plaid voters are now switching to the Lib Dems to help beat Labour." It also doesn’t help to have to include a grovelling apology for slandering a Labour councillor in your election communication!
Total = -16
(Ironically, at the end of the ‘personal letter’, after 3 goes at Labour and then pointing out that Plaid and the Tories have no chance against Labour, Dominic says: "Please remember my fight is not against the other parties but it is for your family and our area.")

Grand Total = 0 points

Plaid Cymru
Tagline: It’s time to make a difference
Number of items: 3 (glossy tri-fold, 2 black and white tri-folds)
Likeability: Jason Scott Toby is another young chap, who’s photo isn’t helped by the Plaid daffodil logo sticking out on either side of his head making him look like a moomin: 3/5
+ve statements: "7 for ‘07" pledges on the glossy Green tri-fold, including ending student debt, the environment, first home grants, community NHS, plus 6 very specific pledges on the reverse and 3 pacifist statements. States it’s politics very clearly: "We are a centre left party that wants Wales to take its place with other independent nations in the European Union." The two black and white pieces lead off with "Save the NHS" and "Time to crack crime". Pledges an alternative to Labour on the NHS with 2 promises. Total: 18
Contactability: 0
SMP: none on the glossy Green leaflet, the two black and white ones have a few. Attacks Labour on the NHS and the Lib Dems "3 year record of shame in Cardiff" and calls them FibDems, which is funny but not very mature. Total -ves = 8

Grand total: 16 points

Building a Better Wales
Number of items: 2 (2 glossy tri-folds, posted – unfold into a window poster)
Likeability: Frumpy incumbent AM Lorraine Barrett, poses at her desk: 3/5
+ve statements: transport, ending child poverty, 3 pledges on the elderly, animal welfare, the environment (8 pledges ranging from the general through to the oddly specific "A tree will be planted for every newborn & adopted child in Wales."), more powers to police and councils to tackle anti-social behaviour. Total: 13
Contactability: 3 points
SMP: none!

Grand Total: 21 points

UK Independence Party
Tagline: The real opposition
Number of items: 2 (2 different A5 colour flyers, one delivered in an envelope with a response form)
Likeability: no photos, no points
+ve statements: 8 (although one of the ‘positive’ pledges is to scrap the smoking ban)
Contactability: freephone and general website, so 2 points
SMP: doesn’t mention any other party by name, or inference, so no minus points

Grand Total: 12 points

British National Party
Tagline: none
Number of items: 1 (A5 colour flyer)
Likeability: well, their candidate, John Walker, isn’t a skinhead. Looks an OK chap from his photo: 3/5
+ve statements: (bearing in mind these are pledges of what they’d do if elected, not statements that are actually positive) opposes cheap migrant labour, political correctness, and corruption in government spending. 3 points.
Contactability: freephone (1)
SMP: Lists a five point pledge card that the "other parties" have signed up to. A quick calculation means that attacking four parties on five points equals twenty slanging match points. But they save their main vitriol for UKIP in a paragraph that’s worth reproducing in full: "PS Don’t be conned by UKIP either. Their leaders have used cheap Polish labour to do up their mansions. Their MEPs all broke their promise to hand over their huge Brussels expenses claims to help fund the fight against a federal EU. They’re just greedy English Tories in green wellies." Total SMP = -21

Grand Total: -13

So, according to the highly unscientific research I’ve just carried out, who should I vote for? Let’s look at the leader board…
Conservatives 47
Labour 21
Plaid Cymru 16
Liberal Democrats 0
BNP –13

I can't believe that after all that I may have convinced myself to vote Tory. I think I’m going to have to sleep on this one.