Thursday, August 30, 2007

Facebook group

I've started a group called 'I support a REAL football club'. If I haven't sent you an invitation via Facebook, you can still join up.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Arachnophobe

When I was a kid, my parents decided to follow their starry-eyed evangelical dreams and become missionaries, which is how I ended up in Sibanor, a little town in the Gambia. While out there we were told in no uncertain terms never to touch creepy-crawlies, never to climb trees, and never to put our hands into holes in the ground.

The prescription on tree-climbing was to prevent the most common form of snake bite - when a climbing kid put his hand on a dozing venemous snake and startled it. When I returned to this country I discovered I have no upper body strength to speak of, and I've never been able to climb trees, or for that matter ropes in the school gym.

But the worst bit of my African childhood conditioning was the fear it instilled in me about bugs and other creepy crawlies, particularly spiders. To this day I freeze involuntarily when something scuttles out from behind a cupboard, or from under a rock in the garden. I'm getting better at dealing with smaller bug-type things. I doubt I'd be trapped in my home office now by a spider in the doorway (that happened once!). But I still get a reaction when an unexpected critter suddenly makes itself known.

This evening we came home from a shopping trip and I went into the bathroom to take my contacts out. I noticed the window had been left open, so I leaned over the sink to shut it. Except that in the sink was the largest spider I have seen in years. It was easily a good three inches across if you count the legs (and I do!).

Like a big pansy, I screamed and then my conditioning took over and I just had to get out of the room. Fortunately Cathy and Abby were home, so they could deal with it. I felt a bit better listening to them from the safety of the kitchen as they agreed that actually it was quite a big spider and I wasn't a total wuss. Meanwhile I had a severe case of the heebie-jeebies and even felt like I was going to throw up.

I know being scared of spiders is illogical. But when I see one, with no warning, and it's bigger than usual, I revert to being the little kid who knows the back yard contains real nasties (like scorpions, fire ants and snakes). And it scares all the logic out of me.

On the bright side, my illogical fear does have a rational cause. At Greenbelt I met someone who was phobic about buttons. Yes, buttons. I have no idea what causes that kind of phobia.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Gig review: Delirious? (at Greenbelt)

It must be about ten years since I saw Delirious? rock out at the Newport Centre. I have to admit my aversion to Christian music means I’ve turned down opportunities to see them since. But as we were at Greenbelt (for free) and therefore had the chance to see them without it costing us an arm and a leg, I thought it worth taking the risk.

My preconceptions were ill-judged in the extreme. They were, quite simply, excellent. Admittedly I only recognised one song (History Makers), but as they had all the words back-projected in unique creative patterns for each song, it didn’t matter. It took on the feel of an outdoor worship session, admittedly with perhaps the best worship band you could ever expect to hear, and yet it worked as a performance as well.

I had a discussion a couple of weeks ago with my brother and sister-in-law about how many modern worship songs leave me cold, especially the ‘love poems to Jesus’. Seriously, people wonder why the Church is losing men, and then expect us to sing about feeling Jesus’ gentle touch as our intimate companion. Frankly if this is what blokes are supposed to sing about, it’s a wonder we have any homophobes left in our churches. Except, of course, the song is about Jesus, so it’s OK to sing about how he’s gentler than any other lover.

Thankfully there was a healthy dose of reality in Delirious?’s worship songs. Our God Reigns stood out for me in particular, as it juxtaposed the state of the world with a powerful declaration of faith. The crowd-enhanced rendition of Martin Smith’s ‘Majesty’ (one of the few songs without back-projected words) was another high point. And they neatly avoided the ‘sing about Jesus as if he was your girlfriend’ trap.

In fact the only negative point was when three spotty teens pushed past us as if they were heading for the front and then stopped right in front of us. I had a bit of a go at them because they were taking the mick stopping there, but they resolutely ignored me and wasted the opportunity to do the right thing and move.

We eventually sorted out the problem when Cathy tapped one of them, said ‘excuse me’ the same way they did, and led me by the hand to stand right in front of them. There was nothing they could say because they’d just done it to us, even though I heard them muttering. And as some of the older members of the crowd called it a night and left we ended up with a fantastic view!

But, annoying kids aside, this was a brilliant gig and I’d definitely consider paying good money to go and see Delirious? again.

Overall rating: 9/10

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Excerpt from Fanke Mo'Fanke

Disclaimer: This on-off project has been in process for about 7 years now. It started as a collaborative effort with a friend, but that didn't really work out, so every now and again I revisit it and add a bit to the story. I'm putting it on here for comments. Feel free to tear it apart.

The story so far...
Aspiring author Fanke Mo'Fanke left Earth in a bit of a strop, intending to see the galaxy. Unfortunately he got press-ganged onto a spaceship run by the sinister Dr Ambidextrous. He escaped when the ship made an unexpected stopover on a planet called Chandra, exploiting an ancient colonial loophole which allowed him to leave his ship and enjoy the protection of the colony authorities if he got married. While on honemoon with his wife, a cloned educator ('blue-blood') called Omaha, who likewise needed to get married to avoid a lifetime of servitude, the luxury vessel they were on was invaded by space pirates who took Omaha captive. Fanke ended up on a spacepod lifeboat with an assortment of other passengers...

The ship that approached them was a sleek rapid transit vessel with atmosphere capability and a three-cornered identification flag emblazoned across the wide expanse of tail fin.

“Trinodliates,” remarked Rachmann. “Damn slugs. We’ll all be shipping along in bruiseberry jelly.”

“They wouldn’t carry bruiseberry jelly in a ship that small,” said one of the bankers. “They use gigantic tankers to haul that around. We insure them,” he added, noting the looks on the other passenger’s faces. Bruiseberry jelly was a Trinodliate delicacy, famed for its unappealing stench. Bruiseberries only grew on Trinos and so the jelly concentrate fetched a high price on Trinodliate colonies or among the expatriate communities scattered around the spiral arm.

Fortunately the Trinodliates had a key-code airlock and soon the lifeboat’s passengers were all out. Unfortunately none of the crew spoke any human languages. Fanke knew the most Trinodain, the eight words he had learned from Skooj the navigator on The Mile High. ‘Brrt’ – ‘Yes’, ‘Frrt’ – ‘No’, ‘Baartliggy’ – ‘Glagworm stew’, ‘Krrp’ – ‘Maybe’, ‘Strrpillzanticcy’ – ‘solar resistant navigational deep-space compass’, ‘Boissk’ – ‘Fridge’, ‘Vam’ – ‘Hello’ and ‘Trrfnirrggrr’, which Fanke suspected was an extremely obscene term or possibly the word for ‘boss’.

Briefly he tried to explain that with an active vocabulary of really only seven words he probably was not the best spokesperson for the group. But then he realised that seven words was better than none and he could try and mimic Skooj’s accent as well.

“Vam,” he said smiling.

“Ah, Vam!” said the pink slug creature that seemed to be in charge, nodding it’s head and causing the four eyestalks to bobble around comically.

Behind the lead bobbler, about twenty more of the creatures began an echoing refrain of “Vam! Vam! Vam!”

Fanke pointed to himself. “Fanke,” he said.

“Vam! Vam! Vam!” said the creatures. The lead creature pointed disconcertingly to an eyeball and said a long chain of syllables rapidly. Fanke recalled Skooj’s name had been a shortened form of some horrendously cumbersome moniker. He rubbed his forehead in frustration. The creatures all reached up and gently brushed their eyestalks, copying him.

“Vam?” asked the lead creature again before another outburst of complete gibberish that ended in a low whistle.

Fanke sat down until he was at head height with the diminutive aliens. They watched him intently. One or two began lowering themselves down from the coiled addressing position to the more relaxed reclining position, but they were slapped by their colleagues and quickly resumed formal posture.

“Me, Fanke,” tried Fanke again. “Fanke!” he tapped his chest rapidly.

“Ah,” said the lead creature. He pointed at Fanke. “Fan Quee,” he said. He turned to the assembled crew and began jabbering at them. “Fan Quee, Fan Quee.”

“Close enough,” said Fanke looking up and smiling at the other humans.

“Unless Fan Quee means ‘please eat me’ in their lingo,” said Rachmann sourly.

"Mr Rachmann, must you be so negative?” asked Mrs Grissel in an imperious tone and then the arguing started.

On the floor Fanke looked at the lead alien who looked back at Fanke. Mrs Grissel and Jack Rachmann had tolerated each other in the confines of the lifeboat, but now that they were technically safe they were both not going to stand any more nonsense. Mr Grissel ineffectually tried to halt the tirade on both sides while the bankers started moaning at both of them too. Fanke rolled his eyes. The alien smiled back.

The assembled ranks of Trinodliates parted to allow two more pink creatures through hauling a small cart. Aboard the cart a silver tray steamed gently with a huge pile of noodles and a familiar looking sauce.

“Frrt baartliggy,” said Fanke flatly.

The Trinodliate nodded. “Brrt kayoooomba baartliggy!”

“What is it?” asked Mrs Grissel, breaking off hostilities at the sight of what appeared to be food.

“Trinodliate food. Their staple diet,” said Fanke.

“Is it safe?” asked the chef.

“Oh, yes,” replied Fanke. “And very good for you. There was a crew member on the ship that took me to Chandra who would eat nothing else.”

“What was he, ship’s idiot?” sneered one of the Malibou bankers.

“No, ship’s navigator. Top universities, scholarships, everything,” said Fanke. It was true; Skooj had been ridiculously over-qualified for the ragtag Mile High crew.

He watched them eat the Glagworm baartliggy, all of them except Rachmann. The moustachioed older man chewed gum that he claimed offered him all the nourishment he needed. Unlike any of the others, Rachmann had noticed that Fanke was not partaking in the meal and winked at him.

Sidling over he said: “You know what that stuff is, don’t you?” He waggled his eyebrows conspiratorially.

Fanke nodded. “Glagworm stew.”

“Your former navigator was a Trinodliate?”

“That’s right,” said Fanke

“Well, I think I ought to point out a couple of things then. First, don’t mention your friend’s name because it was probably an outcast from their race. And second, have you noticed that when people are hungry they stop thinking laterally. Nobody here questioned your navigator story because they all assumed he was human.”

“You’re not human, are you?” said Fanke.

“No, I’m a Ruuj. I was on the Paradise Moon on a scouting mission, in disguise of course. My business partners wanted to know if there would be any problems with us opening a casino on board. Of course that’s all been rendered immaterial now.”

“A Ruuj?” asked Fanke. He had heard rumours of the shape-changers from the space-hogs in the crew.

“No, of course not, just a middle-aged business man with an interesting moustache.”

Fanke peered at it and noticed that instead of hair the moustache was a finely constructed mesh of incredibly thin tiny tentacles.

“It strains the oxygen from the air straight to my under-skin gills,” explained the Ruuj who Fanke still knew as Rachmann. “Look I’m about to leave. I don’t think I want to stay for this part of the pleasure cruise. But you are an interesting fellow. If ever you make it to Ruujmikon, then look me up.”

He passed Fanke an encoded business card. Fanke stared at it and as he did so an emblem appeared on the blank white card.

“See you around,” said Rachmann and then he was gone.

Fanke blinked twice, but Rachmann had just disappeared with a shimmer of light. He held the card tightly in his left hand while reaching out with his right through the space where the man had been sitting. So, he had witnessed a Ruuj “Dispersal”. That put him in a lucky category of one. The space-hogs had mentioned this legendary talent, but even the most drunken crewman on his first night’s leave would never believe Fanke had actually seen it happen.

“Where’s Mr Rachmann?” demanded Mrs Grissel in her most authoritarian tone. There was a slight tremor in her voice that betrayed her uncertainty.

“He’s left,” replied Fanke, still looking at the card.

“What do you mean ‘left’? Where did he go?” demanded the chef.

“Mr Rachmann was not all that he appeared to be. He had the means to leave and so he took it.”

“I knew it,” said Mrs Grissel triumphantly. Turning to her husband she announced. “He was in the secret service. That's why he was so damn obnoxious!”

Saturday, August 25, 2007

417

We introduced a couple of friends to Yahtzee last night and I scored probably the best score I've ever racked up in a game. Of course, to do that when you're introducing people to the game is a bit embarrassing, especially as you have to keep saying things like: "It's very rare to get a Yahtzee, oh look, there's my second one..."

So, with over 100 on my upper section, and every box filled on the lower section, plus the extra Yahtzee, my 417 won the day. It also took the shine off Irony Boy's double-Yahtzee game as he could only manage to get into the high 300s. Would it be wrong to admit that made it even better!

We then went to a second round where I won again with a very respectable 270-something. Next time we play I know I'll struggle to break 150!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

More banned chocs

Life group social at ours last night and, as usually happens, we were inundated with sweets and stuff. One guest brought some Nestle After Eight chocolates which weren't the flat kind of After Eight's I remember, but were more like 'proper' chocolates, complete with minty fondant filling.

Why does evil taste so good?

Cathy reckons this is true...



I guess I'm just lucky I dance like a mentalist then...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Third time's the charm

Last night I introduced my Dad and brother to the cinematic brilliance which is Transformers. Of course, this meant I had to see it for a third time, but, hey, I'm not complaining.

Admittedly, this time round I did start asking myself obvious plotting questions like, why does Optimus Prime carry Sam and Mikaela away from the encounter with Sector 7, when they could have just ridden in his cab in truck form? And he'd have been less obvious as a lorry than as a fifty foot robot running through the city. Plus there seem to be one or two continuity errors. For example, how does Sam get his jeans back on after the cool CD-player Transformer rips them off?

But still, it's a film which stirs my soul, particularly Optimus Prime's speech at the end of the movie: "I have witnessed their capacity for courage and, like us, there is more to them than meets the eye. We live among them now, hidden in plain sight. I'm Optimus Prime and I'm sending this message out to all autobots who have survived in hiding: We are here! We are waiting!"

Yeah, bring on Transformers 2!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Lichfield

A day trip with the folks to Lichfield today, mainly to have a look round the cathedral. If you've never been it's worth a visit, to admire the pseudo-gothic architecture scarred by the civil war and blackened by the industrial revolution.

The West End of the three-spired cathedral is covered in statues of the great and the good of Christendom. There, lurking in the porch of the big main door, guarding the entrance, is a four foot tall effigy of St Matthias. Opposite him is St Barnabas. I've always found it a quirky coincidence, considering the church I was raised in was Barnabas, that his statue is positioned directly opposite my saintly namesake.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dinner pitchside

After watching the mighty Shrews stumble to a 1-0 win over Bradford on the Saturday, we returned to 'don't-call-it-New-Meadow' for Sunday lunch.

The only problem with being a vegetarian is the number of chefs who are terrified of producing something bland, so go for something a bit way out. So, for the first time ever in my 'try-anything-once' life, I sampled the gastronomic delights of a savoury cheesecake. Bizarrely it was topped with caramelised onion, figs and pears, meaning it was very sweet.

Still, an interesting culinary experience, made all the better by a copious supply of new potatoes. The spicy carrot soup for starters was kickin' too, and the apple and sultana crumble was a top notch dessert. You don't expect fine dining at a football ground, just like you don't expect Town to be topping the table after two opening fixtures which looked incredibly tough before the season kicked off. But this is a new era and the feeling that anything can happen is building.

As we waited for our coffee, we went for a wander out onto the newly consecrated hallowed turf. I posed in the dug-out for photos and laughed at Dave's impressions of various STFC managers down through the years. It's new, but it's already home.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Late night driving

The A49 (aka the road to hell) was closed above Leominster, so we had to follow a diversion through some backwoods villages. As we zoomed along country lanes eating McCoys crisps a thought occurred to me.

You don't drive in Shropshire - you rally.

I made a girl cry

But I have no regrets. I know, I'm a mean so-and-so aren't I... Perhaps an explanation is in order.

A friend I work with told me one of the articles in the new magazine (due out any time now) made her tear up. She then told me I'd better not have made the bit up that moved her.

Obviously, I take a certain amount of journalistic offence at the accusation that I make quotes up, even though it has been known to happen in the past. But this was a 'golden quote'. You tend to get one or two in every interview. Someone says something and you just know 'that has to go in'. I knew it was gold when I scribbled it down.

So is it wrong to feel good about making someone else cry? It's cool to think I can spot a golden quote and write it up properly.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Marketing the King

Elvis is back in fashion and part-work maestros deAgostini are pushing a new series on the King, helped by ads in every break on Channel 4 and More4 last night in the two and a half hours of telly I watched. (Big Brother, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, My Name is Earl, for anyone who’s interested)

The ad for the magazine series makes me laugh because halfway through they explain how each issue comes with “authentic replica artifacts”. It’s the juxtaposition of ‘authentic’ and ‘replica’ which tickles me. What exactly is an ‘authentic replica’?

I think what they mean is the copy of Elvis’ school report they give you hasn’t just been made up out of thin air – it is a reproduction of Elvis’ actual report. But surely many of the people who will be buying this stuff – hardcore Elvis collectors – would know what was in his school report anyway. And if you don’t know already, they could print anything…

Home Economics
Elvis likes making burgers and is very proficient with using the deep fat fryer.

English
Despite using the wrong tenses, Elvis has made considerable progress. But he must learn that he is “all shaken up”, for example.

Social studies
Elvis’ concern for the inhabitants of our penal system is evident in his heart-warming essay on why every inmate in a cell block would benefit from listening to music.

RE
Elvis’ knowledge of gospel songs is very helpful, although he must stop trying to entertain the class.

Music
If Elvis could learn the bassoon, I’m sure he would be a valuable asset to our school orchestra. Unfortunately he insists on playing guitar in a highly excitable way. I’m afraid his musical future is limited if he refuses to play a proper instrument.

Attendance
On more than one occasion Elvis has refused to attend particular classes. Frankly, we are growing tired of hearing Elvis has left the building.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Forbidden sweets

Trying again to eat more healthily and what happens? Someone brings out a big tin of evil Nestle Quality Street with, mmmm, toffee pennies in, as a thank you for helping shift 400 boxes of envelopes from one store-room to another.

Now I have double-guilt, despite the envelope-moving exercise.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Virgin Media come good

Got home today to find a piece of junk mail from Virgin waiting for me, announcing that we now have Setanta Sports on Virgin cable for free. Wahey. But, even better, all premier and football league goals are now available for free on the Virgin Media website.

So, for example, if you wanted to see Shrewsbury stick four past Lincoln, all you'd have to do is visit the web-page.

I have to admit the spat with Sky which saw me lose Sky Sports News (the perfect breakfast accompaniment) annoyed me because it seemed more about the colossal egos of Branson and Murdoch than about consumer service. But with the website goals and the promised Setanta Sports News channel launches, Virgin may well have redeemed themselves.

Evan Almighty

I’d heard mixed reviews on this, although everyone said it wasn’t as good as Bruce Almighty. It isn’t, but don’t let that deter you from watching it. There are some clever moments – the number of times Gen 6:14 crops up to convince Evan that he is being called as a new Noah shows some imagination went into the script. The Go-4-Wood/Gopherwood delivery firm also stands out. But there’s nothing as funny as Bruce Almighty’s ‘Yahweh prayer-mail’, which is probably the best filmic joke for theologians ever.

As the leading man, Steve Carrell is passable. As an actor he can produce the goods when required, but his cause is hampered by the scripts over-reliance on slapstick and pratfalls. It’s not that Carrell can’t do slapstick, it’s just over-used in this film and gets tiresome. He’s ably supported by Lauren Graham, playing his long-suffering wife, Joan (Joan of Ark – geddit?).

The story itself is fairly predictable, which kind of sums up the problem with the film – it’s clearly aimed at kids and the blue-screened in animals lack reality. But there are enough moments to make you stop and go ‘hmmmm’. These vary in their heavy-handedness – one or two are real clunkers, but generally the saccharine is kept at bay and it’s nice to have something to think about later.

Jongudmund’s rating: If you go and see it with low expectations, you’ll probably get a lot out of it. 6.5/10

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Roll on Saturday

After their opening day 4-0 mauling of bogey team Lincoln away, the mighty Shrews saw off Colchester in the league cup tonight in the first proper competitive match at the New Stadium. Colchester are currently two divisions above Shrewsbury and had a good win themselves on Saturday, so this was a decent result.

First league home game of the season on Saturday, against Bradford City, and I've got my ticket! (Well, not actually, my dad's got it stashed somewhere safe for me). Bring it on!

Wingless wonders

After raving about Star Wars Pocket Models, Cathy bought me a few more packs. Unfortunately one of the TIE fighters (actually a TIE Advanced x1) in one of the packs was missing a wing.

I've improvised in the meantime using the little clip on explosions, which you're supposed to use during the game to count how many hits your ship has received, to make it look like it's in the process of being shot by an X-Wing. I've also emailed Wizkids, the manufacturers, so here's hoping they send me the relevant piece.

Counting my wingless TIE I now have a fleet of 23 ships ready for battle. The fiddliest ones to build have been the V-Wings and Droid Fighters from the prequels - it seems the styrene pieces are much easier to snap on those models than on any of the others.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Annoyance

Grrr. Today I had a bit of a strop when my boss got copied in to a memo from one of the high ups suggesting a REALLY OBVIOUS thing we should be doing when interacting with the media.

Long story, cut short: we already do it. If relevant high up had bothered to check with us first we'd have told him we do it already, and in the case he referred to had done everything he'd suggested so 'helpfully'.

I sent a 'helpful' email of my own to my boss pointing all this out. Fortunately, my boss toned it down before responding to the memo which kicked all this off.

As Alice would say: Never compose an email while snarling...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Star Wars Pocket Models

I think I might have discovered the perfect trading card game, having bought a couple of packets of these in the last week (well actually Cathy bought me one). In each pack you get six game cards, two styrene sheets of model spaceships for you to assemble (with a minimum of four ships in each pack), and the smallest dice in the world ever.

I’ve always loved stickers/trading cards ever since I was a kid. I think it’s the excitement of no knowing what you’re going to get in any given packet. I also like model kits, especially ones you can put together without too much hassle. So, I have more Kinder Surprise toys than a 31 year old should, a shelf-full of Zoids and B-Damans and a cupboard full of Lego.

But Star Wars Pocket Models ticks all the boxes. You get the mystery element, the ‘something to build and play with’ element and it’s all Star Wars themed. I’m not sure there’s any way you can improve on that really. The only downer is that it claims the game is ready to play straight off, when it blatantly isn’t. The set up guide says you need to start with thirty cards, or five packs’ worth, which is a bit naughty really.

But as the packs are only £2.99 each, I think I’ll accrue thirty cards before too long.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Waiting for the fatwa

The NSS put me on to this video from Pat Condell. Brave man!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

"Ooh, go on then, just a gnurt"

I saw this letter in the Times yesterday and it made me smile:

Hard cheese
Sir, My father, being of Orcadian stock, would use the word “gnurt” (silent G) to describe a small piece of food . To be precise, a gnurt was the exact quantity of cheese required to cover a buttered oatcake.
MAGNUS K. MOODIE
Edinburgh
Definitely a word to drop into conversation...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Simpsons movie

The big-screen debut of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie, starts with Homer objecting to pay good money to see a film version of a cartoon (Itchy and Scratchy in their case). Homer ‘stands up’ in front of you, turns to face the paying public and calls them suckers. It’s an attempt at irony which falls flat because after watching this you begin to suspect Matt Groening and his compatriots really do consider their fans to be suckers.

The main problem with the movie is that it feels like an overly long TV episode, admittedly with a few bits that might be considered ‘too hot for TV’ (Bart’s naked skateboard ride for example). But this isn’t one of the TV shows from the earlier (good) years of The Simpsons. Yes the jokes are funny, but they’re spread thinly. Most of the minor characters just pop up to say their catchphrases and that’s it. The best laugh is right at the end when Mr Burns tells Smithers that he doesn’t approve of suicide, but he might cheer up watching Smithers attempt it.

Overall, the film's themes have been done before by the Simpsons writers, and done to death at that. The script revolves around toxic waste and pollution, a storyline featured in at least one episode per season. Government intervention is lampooned, but the only new satirical angle is the monitoring of private conversations under the new anti-terrorism laws – a reference which is comical, but parochial. Nobody laughed in our cinema when the scene played out, although it might have killed in America.

And many of the sub-plots were left unresolved. Bart develops a pseudo-parental relationship with Ned Flanders, which you’d expect to end in humiliating rejection for Ned and all his barmy Christian ways. But that never comes. And perhaps that’s what missing from the whole film. The original Simpsons got away with being cruel and made you wince at its satire sometimes. This movie is soft in comparison, and suffers as a result.

Jongudmund’s rating: Not bad, but if you miss it your life won’t be any poorer. 6/10.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

“Best of” compilations

I’ve been buying Garbage’s records since they first came onto the scene in 1995, even though their output has been inconsistent (stunning debut, uninspiring follow up, interesting third album, mediocre fourth). Along the way they recorded a Bond theme and released several funky limited edition singles.

There was a time when I bought their singles religiously, on every format. When I ripped them onto my computer I ended up with over an hour’s worth of ‘exclusive’ tracks (b-sides to those of us who still remember b-sides). But I have to admit there was a time, round about their second album, when I was a) a bit skint, and b) less than impressed with them, so there are a couple of gaps in my collection.

So when they recently sent me details of a ‘Best of’ I was mildly interested. But, apart from a new single there was nothing on there I hadn’t already got, and the remix CD which came with the limited edition version of the album was full of old remixes off singles anyway.

The additional problem, and this is always the case with ‘best ofs’ is that any ‘greatest hits’ compilation usually means a collection of singles, not the genuine ‘best’ stuff. When I put together a Garbage playlist on my computer about half of my favourite tracks were album tracks.

I expect, being the canny marketers they are, sometime in the next year or so, Garbage will release a ‘live album’ (aka a second version of a Greatest Hits album), and possibly an album of ‘rare and exclusive’ tracks. In the meantime, instead of buying the album, I went out and bought the new single, a sweeping orchestral track which sounded more like their third album, Beautiful, than their last album.

But better than the single, and kind of proving my point about why singles aren’t always the ‘best’ stuff to put on a ‘best of’, is the b-side (sorry, exclusive track) called ‘Betcha’. The lyrics are similar to the Pussycat Dolls ‘Don’t cha’, which it is obviously spoofing. But when Shirley Manson snarls “Betcha wish your girlfriend was a slut like me”, it gives me shivers.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Finnside Jokes?

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a children’s book for some time, or at least that’s my excuse for reading kids books (but not Harry Potter and the Phnub Phnub Bleerr, or whatever it is).

Over the past year I’ve read four of the Moomintroll books, including a couple I hadn’t read as a kid. Maybe it’s just they haven’t aged well, or they’re in translation, but how weird are those books? It feels like you’re reading something in code.

The stories themselves are stream-of-consciousness narratives which don’t seem to follow any thought-out plan. But it’s the characters which feel most like an inside joke, with you the reader firmly on the outside of the humour circle.

There are several instances where it seems a character exists only to poke fun at someone Tove Jansson knew. The Muskrat, for instance, moans a lot and likes to think deep thoughts and not be disturbed. I imagine him as being a caricature of a cantankerous, bearded uncle.

In my minds eye I can picture Jansson reading out her stories in family gatherings with everyone collapsing in fits of laughter when the philatelist Hemulen starts going on about his precious stamps, or the Snork Maiden almost falls over a cliff because she’s primping her hair, or whatever. It’s funny when you don’t know the people she’s sending up. It must have been downright hilarious if you did.

In Comet in Moominland, Moominpappa’s obsession with recording his life in his journal – to the point where he feels he has to go out and do something so he’s got something to write about – reminds me a bit of my own dad, ringing me up to check how many football matches I’ve been to last season (and where). Maybe it’s a common trait of dads. Certainly, I’m willing to bet the loving, resourceful, wise, distracted Moominpappa, and the knowledgeable, caring, permission-giving Moominmamma are basically Jansson’s mum and dad in (moomin)troll-suits. (And the thought occurs that Moominpappa would have made an interesting blogger.)

So where is the author in all these trollish happenstances? Is she the boyish hero Moomintroll, or his noisy, messy, small chum Sniff? Or is she the cool and detached Snufkin, watching and going along with the plans of Moomintroll? It seems everyone else she knows is in there somewhere. She must be in there too.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Not so special offer

Sky TV keep mailing me with their special offer for live football, broadband and phone calls. And it seems very special until you read the small print and find you need to pay for a BT line as well, and a one off payment for a box, and phone calls at certain times, and so on.

And then there’s the bigger objection, which is Sky TV are bastards who, by giving money to the biggest clubs have made top flight football virtually unwatchable. Every season is billed as the most exciting yet, but the truth is the Premiership is about as formulaic and processional as a Formula One race. The biggest hype is reserved for the end-of-season rush for the last Champions League slot, which could go to anyone, but will inevitably be either Liverpool or Arsenal. Since when has finishing fourth been at all important, in any league, in any sport, in any country, ever? Since Sky.

Such are the diminished ambitions of the majority of football clubs - don't win anything, just get into the Champions League and earn enough money to fund next season's unsuccess.

Of course the Champions League is yet another example of TV money ripping the throat out of football and gorging itself on the still-warm blood of pseudo-competition. The European Cup it replaced used to be a contest of champions. Now it’s various big clubs from around Europe cashing in, regardless of whether they’ve won anything in their domestic league or not. The last “British” (don’t get me started) winners were Liverpool, who have never won the Premier League and were top English team most recently when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. In what way do they qualify as champions?

So, Sky TV, stop sending me junk mail. You’ve ruined football. It’s a boring soulless affair and I hate you for that. Why don’t you sod off back under a rock and get your clammy, undead hands off things that matter.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Missing moobs

I was asked, as my newest alter ego Kev, to write a short piece on self-worth. And I did, using an old blog post as a launch point.

But between submission and publication the word moobs was changed to boobs, with no ‘man’ placed strategically in front of them. So I think I have achieved two firsts.

1) Professionally, to become the first person in my esteemed organisation’s history to have something published with the word 'boobs' in it, referring to breasts; and

2) Personally to somehow alter gender in the hands of a, presumably well-meaning, editor… and not only that but become the kind of woman who bares all on the beach and feels no shame in letting people know about it. Which, if I was a woman, I suppose is the kind of woman I’d like to be.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Another day for sleep

Cathy told me I would be unwise to go back to work today and I think she's right, given I rang in sick and then slept till gone 1 'o' clock. I hate ringing in ill. There's that feeling that in your weakness you're disappointing people who are counting on you, and always that half-accusing unasked question 'how ill are you, really?'

My dad rang to see if I went in and when I said how bad I felt told me: "You can always do work when Jesus comes." I'm not quite sure what he meant by that.

There is a (cynical) school of thought which says if you leave doing anything for a week, most 'urgent' things sort themselves out. There's a grain in that. A number of times I've responded to an urgent call to action, only for minds to change and my work to lie unused.

Cathy has printed and stuck a label on our monitor: "The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more." Perhaps this is true too: the reward for not treating anything as important is the realisation of what truly is important. All very Zen, I know, but hey, I'm post-viral and not really with it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Going post-viral

The tonsils are shrinking back to their normal size and I can swallow without feeling like I'm swallowing a razor blade, but I feel shattered. The good news is the white blood cells have done their stuff and fought off the infection. Now I just have to build up my strength again.

But that leaves me in the 'how-soon' zone. If I go back to work too soon, my body won't have recovered enough and I'll be vulnerable to another illness. If I leave it too late the work will mount up, and stress my defences out anyway. And on a wider note, should I feel more morally obligated to wait until I'm fully recovered to limit the chances of infecting my colleagues, at least one of whom is very prone to illness because of their ongoing post-viral syndrome?

When other people come into work ill and spread their germs around I curse their selfishness. So, should I take my time and recover fully?