Sunday, December 19, 2010

Really? REALLY?

A bold claim.

When I think back to my childhood, I remember Sodastreams being crap. You had to buy the fabulously expensive syrups (made from unicorn blood and rocking horse droppings judging by the price) and the carbonating canisters, and you ended up with a drink that tasted a little bit like the drink normal people bought in the shops, but not quite. You got the same effect much more cheaply by buying Panda Pops.

Greatest Christmas present ever?

Yes, if you want to get your kids used to disappointment at Christmas.

That would work as a new caption.

"Sodastream - how disappointment tastes"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Best bits of 2010, part 2 - TV

I always say that I don't watch a lot of telly, but thinking about this haas made me realise that maybe I watch more than I think I do.

So what were the highlights of 2010? Well in no particular order, they would have to be:

Camo Daleks with Union flags beneath the eyepieces in Doctor Who - the best Daleks ever. Although then they were blown up at the end of the episode by "proper" Daleks in primary colours that looked crap. Still, a Dalek asking if the Doctor would like a cup of tea was awesome.

In fact the series of Dr Who with Matt Smith replacing David Tennant was really quite good, although I wasn't too fussed about the over-arching storyline.

Season 3 of Chuck had some good moments too. The first half of the season was fairly awkward, but the last few episodes were gripping. I watched the series on DVD (thanks, Connor, for lending it to me) as it was shown on Monday nights when I was on youth. There is a danger with series like Chuck that it will get overwhelmingly silly after a while, yet so far it has managed to avoid that.

Season 3 of Outnumbered was very good, as to be expected. This is the one comedy show that has me biting my knuckles with embarrassment on a regular basis. The stand-out episode for me was one where Sue's incredibly annoying, flighty sister brought her American self-help guru husband over to meet the family. Karen, the little girl in the show, mercilessly questioned him until he cracked. It was awesome and painful to watch at the same time.

There was also a brilliant joke that was trailed extensively before the season - when Karen is told that a woman can be any shape or size she wants to be. Karen turns her head on one side and says 'What about a hexagon?'

Two new shows from America that are airing on Sky 1 seem to be producing the goods. I haven't seen too many episodes of The Middle, but what I have seen has made me laugh. And then there is Raising Hope, made by the same team who produced My Name is Earl, and very funny. Like MNIE, the central cast of misfits and losers are cringe-inducing, yet loveable. They have good hearts and that's what makes them work as character.

Raising Hope is also one of the best stories of unrequited love I've seen in a while. Jimmy's attempts to woo Sabrina capture that sense of desperation about not trying to look too desperate; of wanting someone but trying so hard not to scare them off. It is poetry.

A love story of a different kind has shown up in the latest series of The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon has a girlfriend, possessing equal brainiac weirdness as him. I quite like 'Big Bang' (especially as the Barenaked Ladies composed the theme song!), and it seems to be maturing quite nicely as a sitcom, with no signs of flagging yet.

But there is one stand-out TV moment of the year for me - from the second series of Castle, itself a great show despite being a detective series. I normally avoid detective shows, but this has enough quirky charm to keep me interested.

It stars Nathan Fillion, one-time star of the great Firefly. One episode of Castle begins with Fillion, as Rick Castle, dressed in his old Firefly garb for Hallowe'en. His daughter Alexis asks him what he is meant to be.

"Space Cowboy," he says.

"Didn't you wear that outfit, like, five years ago," she asks condescendingly.

"Yeah," he admits, before saying in a small voice, "but I really liked it."

That is probably the best TV crossover inside joke I have ever seen. It was brilliant. Definitely my highlight of the year.

Friday, December 17, 2010

You can't be black and Welsh, according to Cardiff Council

Or any other skintone, apart from white, at least according to the 'Community Engagement form' I just filled in for them.

The categories for ethnic background only included 'Welsh' in the white section.

Sorry, my non-vanilla amigos. The best you can be, according to the form, is 'British'.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dream jobs, calling, commitments and California

At the moment I am tempted to apply for a job in California. And not just because of the weather. It’s a company I admire. It would be a taxing job I would love. So, what’s stopping me?

I guess there’s the sense of duty and of calling. I have become involved in my church youth programme and leaving would create a hole there. Yes, it could be plugged and I’m not so deluded as to think I am irreplaceable. But if I’m serious about what I do there, then I have to be serious about staying there.

Then there’s my current work, which opened up for me while I was on redundancy. It offers me opportunities to make life better for people. It gives me the chance to gently influence. And I enjoy it, the work is often fun, my team is great, my managers are great (at least one of them reads this blog so I have to be nice – ha ha!).

What struck me as I walked to work (through the bitter non-Californian cold) was that this would be so much simpler if the job I’d seen in the Golden State was a church job. There would be no question, then, that I was being ‘called’. I could leave in clear conscience, knowing that I was serving God in another part of the world, therefore it must be the right thing to do.

Obviously I’m being facetious there. But I’ve seen and heard that enough in Christian circles. It’s the ultimate justification for quitting what you do where you are and going off and doing something else.

I’ve mentioned on this blog before my suspicions about serial church planters, who always seem to be upping sticks and leaving the ‘easy’ work of actually running a church to somebody else. In the quasi-evangelical / charismatic wing of the church, nobody ever seems to question the validity of this activity, even though in this country it is often about planting a particular brand of church in a place where that style of church hadn’t been present before.

There’s a street in Cardiff with a Starbucks, a Coffee #1, a Costa and a CafĂ© Nero on.

It’s all just coffee.

I know people will say, ‘Well, what about the church-planting Paul did in the book of Acts. It’s Biblical.’ To which I can only say, ‘Yeah, but a) we no longer live in the first century, b) there are churches already in most places, and c) you’re not the Apostle Paul. Sorry, you’re not.’

What church planting can do is exacerbate the factionalism that already blights the church scene, as yet another bunch of people pile in to a crowded space and try and establish a slightly different flavour of the same thing. Paul wasn’t big on factionalism. In fact, his tactic seemed to be to hunt out the pre-existing believers and join in with what they were doing, not just start from the ground up. But, hey, I could be wrong. I’ve only got a theology degree and fourteen different Bibles in the house.

This has turned into a slightly cynical commentary on church trends. But I do wonder if swapping cold and gloomy Cardiff for the sun-dappled hillsides of California would seem more acceptable to my churched friends if the job was in a church there.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Best bits of 2010, part 1 - Music

I've started this early this year, with a category that I don't have much to say in really.

We went to one stand-out gig this year - the Barenaked Ladies in Bristol. They were awesome and it was a privelige to be present when a bunch of very talented people were having fun making music and wanted you to join in. That's always the best kind of gig, really.

At the gig we also discovered Canadian singer/songwriter Joel Plaskett. We bought his album and have listened to it many times since. I would like to collect his other stuff but as it's only available in Canada, I've put off buying up the back catalogue for the moment.

We saw Terrorvision on one of their sporadic returns to the gigging scene. They were very good, although replacing the legendary Shutty meant they weren't the 'Vision of old.

Album-wise, there hasn't been much really that I was particularly convinced by. Crossfire by Brandon Flowers was fairly good. I enjoyed it. Have to admit I think the description of it as 'Killers Lite' just about summed it up.

The new Florence & the Machine album that she promised at the disappointing Cooper's Field gig back in the summer still hasn't materialised. Meanwhile a second special edition of 'Lungs' has been released with some remixes on. The bonus material on the first special edition was fairly low quality. I'm beginning to wonder if Florence is going to be a one-album success. Hopefully not.

Which leaves us with 'Everyone Wants to be on TV' by Scouting for Girls, which is okay, but probably earns my vote for best album by default because there wasn't much else out there.

Monday, December 13, 2010

By the wayside

Disappointment with other people is sometimes hard to live with.

Almost two years ago the (Christian family) organisation I worked for was rocked when the recently departed director left his wife and moved in with the lover he had apparently been having an affair with for almost a year.

We all had questions about it, but ultimately we will never know why he chose to do that. The aftermath was an alienated family, broken friendships, and a sense of questioning wonder that anyone would do that and claim that God was okay with it.

A couple of months ago a couple I've known for several years split up when the husband moved out. There doesn't seem to be a reason why he left. I remember their children being born and he seemed such a doting Dad. As a couple they appeared to be soul mates.

I admit I hadn't seen much of them the past few years, but I wonder how they could have grown apart. Another couple I knew from the same church recently split for good as well, finally getting a divorce after a long rocky patch in their marriage. I went to their wedding. I remember the groom's dad giving a speech welcoming his new daughter-in-law to the family.

Did all that mean nothing?

I've learned there are two errors I can make when facing disappointment with people. Firstly, I can assume that there was something I could have, or should have, done to prevent it. Maybe if I'd been a better friend or invested more in them as people, then they would have talked to me about their problems and I could have fixed things and prevented this from happening.

It's the delusional superhero response. The likelihood is that I would have been sucked in to the row and been forced to take sides.

The second error is to assume that everything that went before was false. This is the 'John Calvin response' to people who 'fall away' - they were never saved in the first place. It's harsh, and it presumes there is no further chance of redemption, but it does provide an answer for why Christians do stupid, sinful things regardless of the consequences; things they know they shouldn't do that hurt the people they said they loved.

Having said all that, though, I don't find the Calvin response satisfactory. It's too simple.

Maybe it's that after a while people think that the rules don't apply to them? That was possibly the case in the first example I listed. It's easy to get blase about matters of faith and believe that God is your buddy who will wink and look the other way whatever you choose to do. Particularly if you're successful at all this 'Christian' stuff; particularly if you have a ministry and people look up to you.

We can forget that we need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We can forget that promises matter to God. The thing that angers God the most, it appears to me, is people who break their covenants. Not just their covenants with God, but their covenants with people made in the image of God.

That's why offences against our neighbours - adultery, lying, stealing, killing - are such a big deal in both testaments. That's why - unpopular though it is to say this in church these days - divorce is regarded as a bad thing in the Bible.

I can believe that people mean the things they say and the vows they make, but then can change. I believe they can get overly familiar, even contemptuous, about their commitments, and about their faith. And I'm not so dumb as to think it could only happen to other people. (I'm fairly dumb, but not that dumb.)

When anyone lets their faith go by the wayside, that's a warning that anyone - including me - shouldn't take things too lightly. If we forget the Kingdom is a Pearl of Great Price we might cast it before swine.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Some advice

I have been collecting a few pieces of advice lately. Here are two.

First off, from a random place on the net, comes this reminder to retain perspective:

"Don't sweat the petty stuff, and don't pet the sweaty stuff."

Then via my good friend, Matt, a reminder that no job is too hopeless:

"Remember - you can't polish a turd. But you can roll it in glitter."

Aphorisms to live by, methinks.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Grace files, or a parable about unexpected joy

I meant to blog this a while ago. I found my lost file!

It was hiding in a second 'My Documents' that had been cloned on to the system where I had obviously saved it by mistake.

The Kingdom of God is like this. A man had all his other files accounted for, but had lost one. He hunted high and low for it, and then he found it. He said to his (desk) neighbours 'Truly it is time for rejoicing, for I thought this file was irretrievably lost, but I have found it! Come celebrate with me.'

So they had a cup of tea.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Social Network, or, Facebook: the myth

I saw this film a couple of weeks ago and really liked it. Script-wise, shot-wise and acting-wise it is pretty much perfect.

But it is also a fictionalised account of a story that plays a little bit too emotively with the truth.

So, is it a good film? Can a film be technically perfect, while misrepresenting true events?

That in itself is an interesting question. Can myth replace, and somehow convey, truth? (Well, we all read our Bibles, don't we?)

The real truth of everything that happened in the formative years of Facebook is known only to the participants, and even then we have to account for subjective bias.

But this movie works because it rings true. For one thing, none of the characters are particularly likeable. They are all flawed in one way or another. They take each other for granted. They act in their own interests. So far, so true to life.

Criticism has been levelled at the film for being misogynistic. I'd say that's misguided. Yes it shows young men taking advantage of young women and treating them disrespectfully, and it doesn't outright condemn that. But speaking as a man, this is how many men act. Portraying it isn't misogynistic. It's embarrassing to think such chauvinism is perpetuated, but not portraying it would be dishonest.

In another way it rings false. Mark Zuckerberg has said that in reality Facebook was a lot of hard mundane graft, not partying with co-eds. Experience seems to support Zuckerberg. The geeks I know don't party hard while coding.

The end verdict is that it's a believable version of events and really that's what counts. I loved the way the story was told, and am smart enough not to believe that it's true. That's kind of how I react to films, especially ones 'based on' a true story.

And there was one stand out piece of dialogue. Zuckerberg is asked whether The Facebook is finished and says it will never be finished. "It's like fashion. It will never finish." I loved that line. There are so many things in life that will continue on. Facebook is probably one of them. The general trend towards technology is another.

Some people have described The Social Network as the movie about Facebook for people who hate Facebook. But, if so, this is a sinister message for them, because the central premise of the story is that there is no stopping point.

And that's food for thought for all of us.

Jongudmund's rating: 9/10

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

All you need is vole!

I'm not sure why you would want eight inch high letters L-O-V-E as ornaments, and neither it appears did someone in John Lewis, Cardiff...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The real meaning of Christmas #2

"And, verily, when Mary had given birth, she took hold the child and wrapped it in swaddling bands and layeth him in a manger. Then she turneth unto her husband and sayeth 'How about a cuppa, Joe?'" - The Gospel according to Starbucks, chapter 1.
(Also I like the way its 'Perfect for Gifting'. Not 'giving'. Gifting. When did we stop giving and start gifting?)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Marketing synchronicity

It's so nice to see a company make sure that all their communications potential supports their brand.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A little light relief for Friday

This Venn Diagram has been shamelessly pilfered from If anyone would like to buy it me on a t-shirt for Christmas I will be happy...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I really didn't like this book, for three main reasons.

The first one is quite petty. But basically I found myself agreeing with Phil Whittall. And those of you who know me and know Phil and know how we go way back will know how painful that is to admit to. (My tongue is in my cheek as I type that.)

When I say agree, I agree mainly with his points (articulated in this post) about unnecessary episodes of violence, including graphic descriptions of sexual torture.

Rape and sexual violence is real in this world. It's horrible and it is wrong. There is something very screwed up about turning it into entertainment.

And there are three gruesome incidents that actually could have been cut from the book without much being lost. That they were written and included says something about the writer, Steig Larsson. Phil relates how Larsson witnessed a gang rape, which traumatised him. Well, it may have been catharctic to write about ultra-violence, but really that should have been shared with a therapist, not the book-buying public.

The second reason I didn't like it is that I really wasn't that fussed about the main characters. I had a vague sense that the male lead, a good-looking forty-something financial journalist, was a wish-fulfilment character. The author was a forty-something financial journalist, which kind of gives it away.

Thing is, if you are going to turn yourself into a hero, then make a bit of an effort. Being the kind of guy everyone sleeps with and who falls arse-first into money, and who gets even with all the bad guys in the end, is improbable. It makes you look pitiful.

And thirdly, the denouement was shit. [SPOILER ALERT]

So, the missing girl had been alive all along and living in Australia.

Somehow the police weren't able to work that out. But nobody is that good at disappearing. Certainly, not 16 year-olds. We were meant to believe that the Uncle who was obsessed with her disappearance had spent thousands of kroner to try and find out what happened, but no one had worked out that there were two family members with the same name out there! It was just rubbish.

And then there were the last couple of chapters after all the excited unveiling of the serial killer (!) that covered the financial journalist's vengeance in print on the industrialist who had bested him in a libel case. And it all worked out perfectly. And everyone was happy. And all the bad guys got their comeuppance! And the Famous Five got to eat tea with their Auntie and washed down the ham sandwiches with lashings of ginger beer.

Give me a break.

There was a taster for the next in the trilogy at the end of the book. I thought I'd read it. Oh, another girl getting tortured. Great.

This is where I diverge from Phil. He said he might read the other ones in the series. I won't.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I'd heard a lot about classic Doctor Who stories, and Earthshock always comes up as one. So I borrowed this DVD expecting to be mildly entertained.

I was... but not in a good way.

Frankly, this was dross. Okay, it was TV science fiction filmed in 1982. What was I expecting?

Weeeellllll.... a bit more than this. It dated from the days when a Who story had to be at least four episodes long. Which is fine if you have enough material to fill just under two hours. If you don't, then you get a lot of filler.

I think the script meetings must have gone like this:
"Quick, we have another 19 minutes to fill in this episode."
"Right. Er, let's have them walking down some more tunnels..."
"Okay, but why would they do that?"
"Er... because they heard someone else walking down the tunnels?"
"Good idea. Then we can film the baddies walking down the tunnels too!"

At one point one of the characters says 'It feels like we've been walking for hours.' I know, love. It felt like I'd been watching you walking for hours, with no discernible progress.

Then there was the Doctor getting captured and being held prisoner on the bridge, where he could walk around at his leisure and poke things on the control panel. I know saying that a science fiction show was unrealistic sounds stupid, but this was people acting in a way contrary to how people would act. No matter how ludicrous the situation (and Doctor Who has had some ridiculous situations in the past), the thing that was most unbelievable about this show was the way people were portrayed.

And Cybermen are meant to be scary, emotionless, resolute killers. They aren't meant to stand around chatting like night watchmen talking about the football. Villains who aren't in any way villainous are a waste of space.

Apparently a sedentary lifestyle can lead to you developing a venous thrombosis. Watching this would make you wish for one, just so you'd have something exciting happen.

The thing is, I know next time someone offers to lend me some 'classic' Who, I will probably find it hard to turn it down. There must be somewhere I can get help.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


Two weeks ago in work I was on a creative roll. I wrote about three pages of nicely paced succinct copy, teasing out ideas for a book I'm writing. Last week I went to look for the document and couldn't find it. 

 I think I have done the thing that I always roll my eyes at when other people do it. I think I forgot to save the document before closing it down. 

 I was certain I'd saved it on my personal machine, not the network. I have rummaged through the temporary files on my machine. I have even put a call in to IT and risked looking like an utter fool in the eyes of the geeks. 

 To no avail. 

I just have to accept that I have lost it and move on. Hopefully at some point I will be able to recapture those lost thoughts. Who knows, I may write something better. But for now only one word sums up the frustration I feel. 


Monday, November 08, 2010

Runnin' with the Devils

People of a certain age and musical preference will get that title.

I have been to see the Cardiff Devils play for the last two weekends and have seen them win twice. Obviously a lucky mascot for them. Although they already have their own mascot, Lucy Fur.

Last night my friend Bryan was there with his wife, Elaine, and two of their friends. It was reportedly Elaine's first live sporting event of any kind. In the first period Bryan got hit by a puck (shoulder injury, probably not as bad as he made out, the wimp), and then in the second period, the group won the 'Domino's hot seat' competition and got a free pizza.

I, meanwhile, had a rather uneventful time at both games, although as ever I had fun introducing people to the drama and chaos that is ice hockey. I went to the one the previous weekend with Cathy and her uncle and aunt, who both thoroughly enjoyed it and want to come back with Cathy's cousin at some point. Last night we were with the Glenwood Youth for Soul Mister, and we had some kids who hadn't been before.

It's rewarding introducing people to new experiences. Especially when your team win.

I also like the fact that we took the boys from the church youth to an ice hockey game, to cheer on the Devils no less. I know some Christians who would feel uncomfortable about the "devil" aspect of things.

It's less of an issue for me, because I have real certainties about 'satan', chiefly that the idea of satan as a 'personal being' is a bit of mistaken theology.

I'll acknowledge that there is evil in the world and opposition to the divine intent for humanity, but I wouldn't go as far as to personalise it. Humans are personal beings because we represent the imago dei; the ultimate personality. I'm not sure whether the opposition has such a personal element.

That's just a thought and some people may be huffing the word 'heretic' as they read it, but I like my theology to be underpinned by revelation (or reason, if revelation is insufficient). If you can construct for me the Lucifer story based solely on Bible verses, I'd be interested to hear it. And I see no reason to get into demonology. That way lieth craziness.

Belief in 'the devil' in certain sections of the church is almost a given, I know. To express a doubt is to somehow let 'the devil' win. But I'm not expressing a doubt. I'm expressing a certainty.

Whatever kind of force 'satan' is, it's not personal in the way we are personal as humans. The only way it could become personal is if we acted in the way of the imago dei, and rendered our personality to it, in the way that God rendered humans as personal beings.

In other words, like pets and other animals, we can anthropomorphise that which opposes us, until until it becomes an enemy powerful enough to win.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Toniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight I'm a rock and roll star

(That song should so be on one of these games...)

Lego Rock Band for the Wii is my new addiction. It's basically Guitar Hero in another guise, but better than the most recent Guitar Hero editions as you can have more than one 'band' on there, meaning you can play your own game.

One thing I like is that every so often you get to record 'albums' and name them yourself. I have resurrected my old band name, Cadmium, and have recorded two albums so far: A Kind of Heavy Metal and Elementalists. (There's a theme there if you can spot it.)

I will shortly be recording my third album and need a name for it. I'm tempted to call it The 'difficult' third, as a reference to the common problem bands face with their third album. By then they have usually run out of material they worked on in their gestation period and have to write something new.

Their are some third albums that buck that trend - the Killers and the All American Rejects managed it. And Bon Jovi made their name off the back of their third album (Slippery When Wet).

But it is weird how the third album is problematic. Dan Piraro makes an interesting comment in his book that I'm currently reading, when he says that people's perceptions of cartoonists is usually that they are in decline from past glories rather than improving with practice. I guess the same is true of many bands.

But really the reverse should be true. Great bands should get better with time and experience. So, why don't they? It's an interesting question.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Old poem alert: don't read if you don't like angst

Found this lurking in a little-used file on the system... It's a poem I wrote 6 years ago that is mighty pretentious, but has a nice rhythm to it I especially like the second line of the second stanza.

Winter Morning

I sought God on a grey day
With a short horizon and cloud hung low
Mist obscured where I should go
And when I talked, I talked in tongues
But now I’m mute
And the point is moot
The tree of life yields bitter fruit

I sought God on a dark night
In the vaults of Heaven, in a crypt of stars
And moonshine shone on prison bars
And when I sang, I sang sad songs
But now I’m mute
And the point is moot
The tree of life yields bitter fruit

I sought God on a cold morn
In a ghost-white forest, under haunted trees
A chill wind stirred a grave of leaves
And when I wept, I wept alone
But now I’m mute
And the point is moot
The tree of life yields bitter fruit

I sought God on a drawn eve
When my breath was warm and my skin was cold
The world was young, yet I felt old
And when I slept, I slept like stone
Forever mute
But the point is moot
The tree of life yields bitter fruit

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

'Fair' spending cuts will hit the poorest hardest

So, the news today was that it looks like the "fair" spending cuts are going to hit the poorest hardest.

Weeeeeeelllllll, who could have seen that coming? What, nice Mr Cameron and his true blue tory chums are going to further marginalise the marginalised. Shock! Horror! Surely not...!

Well, yeah. Because tories play to type. Conservatism in its very nature is about preserving the status quo. And the status quo is that there are rich people and there are poor people. And the rich people want to stay rich and the poor, well who cares, they're not important, or 'respectable', or stimulating the economy.

Since taking power the tories have announced they are going to 'liberate' the NHS, with a document that within the NHS is regarded as privatisation in all but name. The tories have used a notable tax-dodger to review public expenditure and identify wastage. Oh, and they upset middle class people by threatening to cut child benefit - which nice Mr Cameron resolutely and passionately declared they Would Not Do.

Last week I heard an interesting presentation by the boss of Mori, the opinion pollsters. He said that broadly speaking a majority of people liked the idea of a 'big society'. The problem was only a handful of people wanted to be the people serving others in the 'big society'.

Which reminds me that last year when I worked in the charity sector, some people I worked with got excited about David Cameron's idea that charities could partner with government to deliver services. 'How great!' they cried. 'A government who will work with us.'

They were idiots. This 'partnership' is a scheme to get charities to shoulder the costs of caring for the poorer ends of society when government withdraws. It's not partnership - it's the government saying "We don't want to do this any more... over to you! Yay now we can afford a tax cut at election time to our chums in the City!"

The thing is charities are unreliable. They don't have secure income streams. There is huge variation in what they can do on the ground in different areas. They rely on goodwill to get through most of the time. And they are feeling the pinch as a result of the recession.

Yeah, let's use them. What a brilliant idea.

Now you could say, "Well, Jon, it's obvious where your political sympathies lie and you just have an antipathy towards tories. This is your excuse for laying into nice Mr Cameron and his liberal desperate sidekick, who are both saying the figures have been skewed and the poor won't really get screwed. Where's the fair and even-handed reportage that we ought to have on this blog?"

You know what, no. No balance. I don't need to say anything when international slime-hound Rupert Murdoch is sticking up for Cameron. That's all the balance we need.

Film review: Despicable Me (3D)

There are two things about 3D movies that annoy me. One is when the 3D is completely irrelevant and doesn't really add much to the film. The second is when cinemas charge you extra for watching a film in 3D but don't give you a 2D option. That's just a price hike for no reason.
Also, at Cineworld in Cardiff they add the 3D charge on to the ticket price so that it isn't included in the Orange Wednesdays deal. Having worked in the cinema industry I know why they do that. It's very simple. If a cinema can gouge its customers, it will. Bastards.

Anyway, to the film. It's an animation. It stars the voice talent of Steve Carell, who I find is either hilarious or dreadful. And it's pretty funny.

The basic plot is that an evil super-villain, Gru, ends up responsible for three orphan girls, who aren't afraid of him at all. The outcome is fairly predictable for this kind of movie, but there are some unexpected detours along the way.

Interestingly, the central message is that Gru became a super-villain because his childhood was spent seeking affirmation from his mother, who never praised him. His eventual emergence as a parent of sorts (the kind every kid would in fact want - who wouldn't want a Dad packing a disintegration ray at a funfair, or genetically modifying the dog?) allows for an interesting redemptive finale.

There are also several stolen scenes featuring Gru's 'minions' - bizarre little creatures bred to serve him. They provide plenty of comedy throughout the film, and are destined to be made into all sorts of merchandise I'm sure.

I doubt this is the last we will see of Gru, his girls, or the minions. A franchise no doubt awaits. Hopefully though, the quality of the animation and the humour will stay at this high level.

Jongudmund's rating: 9/10

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Deepest, darkest...

The juxtaposition of these two books in a local shop made me laugh. Not sure which is more primitive...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Slow News Day in Aberystwyth

My buddy Connor saw this headline on a recent trip to Aberystwyth. Who says nothing ever happens in Aber?

It worked though. He bought a paper. Read the full account of his exciting day here (including WHICH clothes shop it was!)

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Vicarious victory

I have to be careful what I write here because a) my boss occasionally reads my blog, and b) we got a directive last week telling us that staff had to be very careful what they wrote on social media sites in terms of the reputation of our employers.

But anyway, I went to the Association of Healthcare Communications and Marketing annual conference in Sutton Coldfield this week. This is the kind of semi-expensive conference sometimes referred to as a 'jolly'. I'm not sure who goes on jollies, but I worked like a dog during this conference, starting with a 7am departure on the Tuesday.

I pretty much wrote notes all day, during my breaks I toured the exhibition researching ideas from other organisations and various compaines who could help us do a better job, then networked all night to both raise the profile of my organisation on a UK level and to represent Wales generally. Two 15-18 hour days that left me knackered.

So, not a jolly. But a brilliant opportunity to learn and be inspired.

The real highlight though was the Communicating Healthcare Awards on the Wednesday night. We were up for two awards and my boss Andrew had been nominated in his own right for a third. Our two awards were announced at the beginning of the night and we didn't win. Sigh.

Fortunately we had been put on a table with the Scottish contingent and we had some vicarious wins 'for the table' when one of the Scottish organisations picked up an award and a runner up. Celtic solidarity and all that.

Then the award for Communicator of the Year came up. "And the winner is... Andrew!" I let out a huge yell of triumph - so much so that our head of department Jonathon said you'd have thought I'd have won - and a slightly stunned Andrew headed to the stage to pick up his award from the NHS Director of Communications, Colin Douglas.

I still feel incredibly chuffed that Andrew won. He totally deserved it because he has worked damn hard to make a difficult comms message work, and there's a personal triumph to it as well. He said to me it was almost three years to the day since he had been let go from the place we previosuly worked together. (Now he has been recognised as one of the industry's best. That was always an 'interesting' decision by our previous employers!)

I helped to write his nomination (so, really the award is mine, ha ha) and can vouch that every word is true. No hyperbole. I did tell one of my new Scottish friends about my involvement in the writing and she turned to her Director of Communications and said "Ally, we've got to hire this guy!" But we had all had a little bit of vino by that point, so I don't think that was in any way serious. I'm not moving to Glasgow, don't worry.

Then there was dancing to some old school classics until midnight. Oh yeah.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Religion or racket?

I watched the Panorama show about scientology last night, narrated by the guy who went crazy last time he investigated the 'Church' of Scientology and end up shouting at one of the scientologist goons sent to intimidate him.

This time round the guy, John Sweeney, was interviewing one of the goons from the previous show, who is now a "defector" and has had to leave everything behind him to leave the 'church'. He can't speak to his family. He's lost friends. But, strangely, he hasn't lost his beliefs. He is apparently one of a growing number of 'reformer' scientologists who want to break the power of the established 'church' and rediscover the true heart of the movement.

It takes most belief systems a few hundred years to reach the point of schism like that.

Also in the show, Sweeney talked to ex-scientologist and minor celeb Jason Beghe (who? I hear you ask), who says he ploughed up to $1 million into the cult before giving it up. Sweeney asked him whether he thought scientology was a religion or a racket.

"Are those two terms exclusive?" asked Beghe wryly.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Disconcerting tech*

I'm not a tech person so to be left in charge of the sound desk for an event is a little disconcerting.

But nothing went wrong. I just paid attention when the bod told me which dials to twiddle and what flashing lights to look for. I'm convinced that often the fear of tech is what makes you make mistakes.

In fact the biggest problem we had was trying to fit a wide-screen projector's projection onto a normal screen, possibly the most non-technological tech problem you can have.

*This title deliberately apes the title of the previous post. I wonder who will spot it...!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Disconcerting texts

Got this text from a friend yesterday:

"We've received a notice in work from the [workplace name] christian fellowship offering dream interpretation to quote 'please send it (dream) with as much description as possible. Email it & I will ask God for the interpretation'. That's a little odd, surely!"

To which a sensible person's answer would be. "Yes. Yes, that is a little odd."

(My answer was "Awesome! Make something up and send it to them!")

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Disconcerting things #2

When you agree with someone you don't normally agree with.

This happened to me earlier this week in an interview with UCB Radio as Jon the Freelance Theologian. Paul, the presenter, read out a quote from Peter Tatchell, founder of gay rights group OutRage!, about the problem with freedom of speech is that anyone can say anything.

I may be the first interviewee ever on UCB to say they agree with Peter Tatchell, but when someone is right, they are right.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Disconcerting things #1

When you have an unwrapped chocolate in a box of wrapped chocolates (e.g. a loose Fudge in a box of Cadbury's Heroes).

Eat it or bin it? Eat it or bin it? Hmmmm.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bitter? Better? (Batter? Butter?)

A couple of weeks ago I saw a guy who I rarely see these days and he asked me how things were going and whether I felt less bitter about the redundancy thing earlier this year.

It was weird for me because I felt I hadn't been particularly bitter, in fact, the opposite. I had restrained myself and refrained from saying anything too angry and harsh in the heat of the month-long moment.

But apparently the blog posts I had written seemed bitter.

My reply was that I generally don't feel bitter. But, also, it's hard when you meet people who are still really struggling. It's hard not to get angry over the way other people were treated.

It's a bit like if someone is rude to you, it's fairly easy to shrug it off with a 'that guy's such a jerk' eye-rolling comment. But if someone is rude to your spouse, well, that is a different story.

I've always felt, as someone who tends to get angry quickly, that the test of whether your anger is justifiable is whether it is about yourself or others. I feel there is more righteousness in anger on behalf of other people.

I think as well what I have learned is that the true test of grace is whether you extend it to people who don't extend much grace to you. I am not by nature a gracious person. I can hand on heart say that if I was ever asked to boast about being gracious, all I could really say is that God helps me to be a better person than I would be left to my own devices.

And it is hard to extend grace to people who have acted gracelessly. It is hard to refrain from criticism when their are valid points you could make. And it is hard not to rip the heads off people who hurt the people you care about and don't seem to understand why anyone would be upset at the way they are acting.

That's the crunch time for grace.

Martin Luther King talked about needing the strength to love. Sometimes it takes all your strength just not to hate.

Am I over being bitter? Yeah. It was never really about me or my circumstances.

Am I done being angry? That one's harder.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

What do yooooouuu collect?

Comedy conversation on Tuesday in work. People were talking about nerdy hobbies and one colleague mentioned they used to collect stamps, knowing full well I still do.

"Heeeey," I said, before acquiescing that yes, it is a bit of a nerdy hobby.

Another collegue then said, "Oh, I didn't know you were a phila, philander, no that's not right."

"No, I'm not a philanderer." (People, including me, descend into giggles.) "But, thanks."

"I'm sorry, I meant... I got the wrong word." (Giggles)

"I can see it now. You're going to be talking to someone in the kitchen and go 'Oh, yes, you know Jon, he's a mad keen philanderer.'"

"Oh I could say all sorts. 'His wife likes it because it keeps him quiet. He goes to special events and everything.'"

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Book Review: A.S.Byatt - The Children's Book

I don't often review books on here, as I save that for my book group, but A. S. Byatt wrote one of the better novels I've ever read, Possession, so I was looking forward to this.

After I read Possession I felt depressed that I would never write as well. But this book has restored my hope. If this is the kind of book that top novelists can get away with, then there's scope for people like me.

Firstly, this book would be better without the frustrating tendency to lecture. I am sure that A. S. Byatt read widely in her research for the book. The problem is she wants to tell me, the reader, how much she knows.

There is an improbable number of chance meetings with famous people from the time - like Oscar Wilde, Auguste Rodin, and Marie Stopes. Even given the circles the protagonists move in, it gets a bit silly (especially the encounter with Stopes). She gets obsessed with the "young and beautiful" Rupert Brooke towards the end of the book, dropping him into the prose in a gossipy kind of way.

At times the story drifts into quasi-historical narratives about suffragettes or letters written by the Prime Minister's wife. Interesting, yes, but they get in the way of the story.

As a result some of the characters, especially the younger children, hardly get a look in to the story until the end, when they are suddenly introduced to the reader before being shipped off into the carnage of the Great War.

There are a couple of plot 'twists', but they are telegraphed well in advance with hints dropped like housebricks. I worked out there were parentage issues a long time before the characters did. I knew there was something dark locked away in the Potter's cupboard and guessed what it might be. And I knew who the soldier in the clay was bound to be.

I'm not saying that to big myself up. My point is, if I get it, then it's not much of a twist.

But there is an over-arching sadness to the book. A generation of free-thinkers and Fabians, socialists, artists and poets fail to change the world. Their children are raised with dreams of utopia and end up ground through the gore-mills of Flanders and the Somme. The tragic ends of life and the shattered families who are left behind are described so matter-of-factly they expend the reader's emotional energy far more than if written as melodrama.

So, on that score, it's a good book. Parts of the plot will probably live with me for a long time (much like Possession). Many vignettes ring true to life and are powerful because of it.

And yet I was left feeling that this had the potential to be so much better if the author could have restrained herself from showing off her learning.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Catching the zeitgeist with Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking's recent comments about God not being necessary for the beginning of the universe led to a question in passing from a new acquaintance and then to a post on freelance theology.

It's always good to have a current issue to address as it helps with the web traffic. Although I'm not sure that many people will be as interested in Stephen Hawking's comments about God as were interested in Robbie Williams singing about Jesus.

Read the freelance theology article here.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Newport County v Wrexham

I had an article published on When Saturday Comes' website previewing the Newport v Wrexham game I went to yesterday. (Read it here)

I didn't realise that the game had been switched to a Sunday (for TV broadcasting purposes, no less) so had an abortive round trip to Newport on the Saturday. Doh! At least it meant I knew where the stadium was the next time around.

I really enjoyed the game. Two goals, a comical missed penalty when the taker slipped and spooned his spot-kick onto the bar, some decent passing football in patches, standing on an old-style terrace where people could smoke, the vulgar witticisms of the crowd.

Trivia notes... Both teams had goalkeepers who used to play for Shrewsbury - Glyn Thompson who was sold as a youngster but didn't make it in the big time was playing for Newport and Scott Shearer was in goal for Wrexham. Newport's reserve goalie was also ex-Shrewsbury and also called Glyn.

Neil Ashton, another ex-Town man, gave away the penalty and got sent off early in the second half. Despite the miss, having the extra man meant Newport were the better side in the closing stages. (Yet another ex-Town player was on the bench for Shrewsbury, one-time Wales under-21 international Jamie Tolley.)

Both the managers were called Dean, both had been strikers and played in the Premier League.

Former Chelsea defender Frank Sinclair, now 38, was playing for Wrexham. They say that pace is temporary, but class is permanent. You don't get to be a top-level defender for most of your career without having some nous. He read the game well and it seemed every time a Newport player turned around in possession, big Frank was there to boot the ball away.

All in all, a good day

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

And another company who sucketh mightily: Tesco

I went to Tesco to buy a little Dell netbook and couldn't... because the staff couldn't find the key to open the electricals cupboard. After 45 minutes I left sans netbook and in a bit of a funk with Tesco.

They do have a decent contact system though. I got given a card with all their contact details on. Although the fact they have a card shows that obviosuly a few things go wrong.

This is an excerpt from the email I sent them to complain:
I cannot fault the attitudes of the young woman working on the electricals counter who dealt with me, or Laura on customer service, or James the store manager (who had unfortunately walked into all this first thing on his shift). They were courteous and I could sense their frustration on my behalf.
However, it did take some time and several phone calls from the assistant on the electricals desk before any action seemed to be taken. The assistant was on her own so could not go and find the key herself and there seemed a distinct lack of urgency or response to her pleas for help. It seemed from her demeanour that the people she was phoning were unhelpful and 'not bothered'.
I was left with the impression that this member of staff was left unsupported, which compounded my frustration. Having worked in customer service myself, I know how demoralising it is to disappoint customers because of reasons beyond your control.
There were several things that could have been done better in this instance.
A colleague could have taken it upon themselves to hunt down the missing key or proactively check the places it was supposed to be rather than have to be directed by multiple phone calls from the sales assistant.
Obviously a better system for key handover would have helped. The key had apparently been signed back in at some remote location (downstairs perhaps), but was now missing. Quite how that happened (and the stock control issues that it raises) seemed quite unprofessional for such a well-known company.
Realising that a customer had been waiting fro 45 minutes, a manager could have shown some initiative to offer an apology and / or seek an alternative solution.
Like I said, the staff I spoke to were very sympathetic and expressed their frustration on my behalf. I did make these comments to the newly-arrived shift manager in a level and fair way, but also related my annoyance at the situation. Again a chance to be proactive was missed because nobody on the customer service desk offered to take my name and contact details to follow up my experience and inform me whether the lap top was actually available or not.
So, all in all, I am left with a wasted trip to an out of town supermarket, and a sense that Tesco may be a very successful company, but on this occasion it failed miserably at providing me with the item I wanted. Very little help, really.
And I did get an email back. But it was a missed opportunity...

Thank you for your email.

I am very concerned to learn of the problems you have experienced when trying to purchase a laptop from our Culverhouse Cross Extra store. Please accept my apologies for any frustration this matter has caused you

We aim to provide the very best service and it is disappointing when a customer is unhappy with any aspect of our operations.

I have passed your comments to our Store Manager, Huw Cowell, who will address the matter with the staff members concerned. This will ensure that this does not happen again.

I would like to thank you for bringing this matter to our attention and I am confident that you will not experience any further problems on your next visit to your local store.
Making sure it doesn't happen again isn't exactly what I was looking for. I'd be very surprised if it happened again because they apparently had 50 grands worth of electricals in that room and didn't know where the key was (off being copied perhaps?). I imagine they'll keep a close eye on the key. Great.

But it doesn't give me back my valuable time and it doesn't make me feel any better about my situation or about the numpty twazmuppets at Tesco.

I'm not exactly sure what Tesco could offer me as recompense, but the customer service lackey's confidence isn't it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Check the entire box set next time

How annoying is this? We have reached season five in our entire-run box set of the West Wing and the first disc is so badly scratched that it wouldn't play the whole first episode.

It's a brand new DVD. Some packer somewhere must have scraped the disc in.

And frustratingly, only guarantee things for 28 days. How are you supposed to watch every West Wing episode in 28 days to check for scratches. I have hunted on their website and they have no contact email that I could see - I think because it's been more than 28 days since I bought it. So now I have to phone them.

Things like this frustrate me. I don't know why companies bury their contact details. I've gone from mildly irritated with the disc to very irritated with Play.

The phone call won't be a happy one.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Swapping an orchard for an apple

Very occasionally the Internet provides an arresting thought or concept that makes the whole web thing seem truly worthwhile.

A couple of days ago, there was a post on Stuff Christians Like that made me think a bit. Specifically the idea that Adam and Eve traded a whole orchard for the sake of one apple.

I've made some bad trades in my time - looking at it like that made me consider a few things.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My current magazine slots

In all good newsagents now you will find not one, but two magazines featuring content by my own good self.

Stamp and Coin Mart have a full feature article about collecting the Statue of Liberty on stamps. I even made it on the cover next to the masthead!

Meanwhile the 'new season' When Saturday Comes is also out, complete with the regular pre-season preview supplement that I contribute to for the bit on Shrewsbury Town. (In case you are wondering I am very pessimistic, which as Town have won their first two league games and came back from 3-0 down to beat Charlton in the league cup, may come back to bite me on the bum later.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Football can be a cruel game sometimes

I went to see Cardiff play Burton Albion in the Carling Cup last night, with my friend Cheryl, who doesn't go to many games (it was only her second one ever).

At 1-1 in the 90th minute, Burton had the opportunity to cause a bit of an upset, but their striker somehow skyed over from about two yards out. The Burton fans thought they'd scored before that awful realisation that somehow the ball didn't go in strangled their cheers in their throats. Gutting, for them.

Even more gutting for them was that Cardiff went on to score three goals in the final period of extra time to give them a flattering win that didn't really match the even-ness of the game. One of the goals was cracking, though. A quality strike from the edge of the area by Ross McCormack.

This was my second match of the season (matching Cheryl's lifetime achievement!), meaning I've equalled last season's total number of games already as I only saw two all year.

The other highlight was when Cheryl leaned over to me and asked if all the players out there were full-time professionals or did they need other jobs. I told her that some of the Cardiff players were probably on half a million a year. She was shocked.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Big screen / small screen review, including Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3
I've taken a few days to blog about this film because I've needed to get my thoughts in order. Firstly, it's very good - the usual high Pixar standard. But I found it emotionally challenging.

The themes of growing up and moving on from relationships, as seen in Andy parting with his toys as he leaves for college, was arresting. There's a whole scene where the toys are trying to get Andy's attention, and can't understand why he has moved on. I'm not sure why that troubled me so much (maybe the fact that my house is full of toys plays its part), but it did.

There's a depth to this, that is far more than you'd expect from a 'kids' film'. I'm not sure kids would get it. Most adults won't either, I guess, because people don't expect to be made to think in movies...

Jongudmund's rating: 8/10

The Hurt Locker
The film that beat Avatar to the Oscar earlier this year. A lot of hype. And yet when it came down to it, not as much substance as I expected there to be.

It was very good and I'm glad I've finally watched it. Maybe it was more of a big screen movie rather than a DVD night in, although I'm not sure. There are some excellently shot scenes - a shoot-out in the desert; tense and confusing scenes in the city streets.

It also managed to show how war provides an adrenalin thrill that becomes addictive, without ever going gung-ho, or playing down the horror of war. When a character gets vapourised by an IED, there's a highly believeable atmosphere of shock and horror. People get shot and stay dead. Blood doesn't spurt in cinematic technicolor.

I'd say it's a good film, but I'm not sure it's a great film. But worth watching.

Jongudmund's rating: 8/10

Dead Man Walking
This is one of those films I'd never got round to seeing, and it was on TV last night. The story is well-known, I guess. Susan Sarandon plays a nun who visits a death row inmate played by Sean Penn, who is the 'dead man walking'. Gradually she brings him to the point of repentance when he finally admits his sins and 'saves' him even as he is killed by lethal injection.

The brilliance of this film is the closely observed funny moments that seem to interpolate into the narrative, the way things do in real life. A sign that says 'Have much rabbits' prompts a character to ask "Are they selling or bragging?" "Maybe it's a cry for help."

Again this was an emotional film. When Penn turns to his spiritual advisor and admits he'd never foudn love until she had loved him unconditionally, and thanks her for loving him, I was moved. Redemption comes in many different ways and yet it is always powerful.

Jongudmund's rating: 9/10

THX 1138
This was George Lucas' first film, recently re-released in a Director's Cut. It's set in a dystopic future where humans are enslaved by the state and are not allowed to fall in love. It's very much like other films of that ilk - Equilibrium, The Island, and so on.

There is a dream-like quality to the film. Characters seem to appear, quite literally, out of nowhere. Scenes jump around. I was never quite sure whether I was meant to be seeing reality or what the main character, THX 1138, was percieving the world to be.

I really don't think this is a film for everyone. But if you're into science fiction, it's worth watching.

Jongudmund's rating: 6/10

Planet 51
A knockabout animated kids' film about a human astronaut who causes chaos when he lands on the inhabited 'Planet 51'.

There isn't much depth to this, but the alien pet who looks a bit like the alien from Alien and pees acid onto lamp-posts is very amusing. Truthfully I didn't care much about the other characters, but the animation is good and the design of the film is very nicely done in terms of the 1950s retro style alien vehicles and things.

Jongudmund's rating: 4/10

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Taking cannon to fools, when all you need's a BB gun

Sometimes I over-react to idiocy.

I did this on Facebook recently, flaming the Daily Mail over the way they reported the Government's plans on raising the retirement age (which whatever they say is going to affect the poorest more), and the comment flak began as various people who had somehow slipped onto my friends list despite Tory sympathies weighed in with their opinions.

But my point was more that the Daily Mail's reporting was an indicator of its right wing bias, and deeply hypocritical. It irks me. But what can you expect from the paper that supported Hitler?

I have my MP3 player pretty much permanently playing Tragically Hip songs at the moment. The line from Coffee Girl sums it up. Taking cannon to fools when all you need's a BB gun. You don't need much to discredit the Daily Mail. Not when it's own inglorious history is out there in plain view.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

I had a dream that I relished the fray and the screaming filled my head all day

I don’t often blog about my dreams but here was a strange one that may tell you more about me than you already knew. Or not.

Anyway... I dreamt that a friend of mine from Uni days called John was coming to visit Cathy and me. I was quite excited because I hadn’t seen him for about 10 years and since I had saw him last he had gotten married, and this would be the first time I’d met his wife. (Up to this point the details in the dream are true – I haven’t seeing John for about that length of time and he has got married and I have yet to meet his wife.)

Our house in the dream looked strangely like my parent’s house, particularly my childhood bedroom and the stairs into the lounge. (It’s weird how in dreams you can be in a place which you know is a, but looks like b.)

One thing I really wanted to show John was the new Millennium Falcon I had for Christmas a couple of years ago, with the working ramp and headlights and whatnot. (It’s a FAB toy!) I knew that John, fellow Star Wars geek and all, would want to see it.

I had to manoeuvre it carefully through the door of the upstairs bedroom to bring it downstairs. (Also true, as it’s so big you have to turn it on its side to get it in and out of rooms.)

What I hadn’t accounted for in my dream is that John and his wife had had three children since getting married, and they brought the kids with them – as you would. The oldest was about six and very hyperactive.

For some reason that freaked me out. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to hide the Millennium Falcon so that the kids didn’t play with it and break it. But I couldn’t think of a way to move it without the kids noticing it.

Fortunately I didn’t have to find a solution because at that point my alarm woke me.

I am not sure what that dream says about me apart from I don’t want to share my toys. Randomly I remember John telling me once that when he was a kid he had an original Kenner Millennium Falcon but insisted on taking it back to the shop because the cockpit hatch wouldn’t close securely and that meant Han Solo and Chewbacca would die when they were in space. But I’m not sure that had anything to do with the dream.

The title of this blog post is the opening couplet from a Tragically Hip song called Nautical Disaster about troubling dreams.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The season starts before the season starts

Cardiff City 0 – Deportivo La Caruna 1 (31 July 2010)
Cardiff City’s pre-season friendly matches were mainly away, but this was their showcase home friendly, against the one time La Liga winners who have faded a bit in the last few years. It also gave me an opportunity to visit the new Cardiff City Stadium; Ninian Park now being a motley collection of nearly-built houses.

Friendlies always lack ‘edge’, and for a moment I thought this was going to end up like the fairly dire game against Ajax I went to a couple of years ago. (The entertaining bloke behind me thought so too.) But after 80 minutes of possession football, the Spanish side obviously decided they had mucked about enough, strung together a series of clinical short passes and scored when the ball was stroked home from about four yards out.

The collective response from the crowd was ‘Oh.’ Personally I wondered why they didn’t do that earlier. Maybe they didn’t want to embarrass their hosts.

But what it showed was a different mindset between Spain and Wales. There were several times when a Spanish attacking midfielder on the edge of the area would look up, see no options and pass backwards, with the ball ending up eventually back with the keeper, who would pass the ball out to a defender on the other side of the pitch, who would try and develop something on that side of the field. It was strangely fascinating considering it was so dull.

Cardiff on the other hand would occasionally loft a ball over the top of the defence and their frontmen would try and run onto it. This was usually the end of their short spell in possession and we would be back to Spanish non-urgent passing.

Not the most interesting start to a new season, but educational nonetheless.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A plus for the A Team (movie review)

The thing about those shows you adored as a kid is that when you watch them as a grown up they are often howlingly bad. Knight Rider, Thundercats, Airwolf... even The A-Team isn’t quite as good as I remember it as a kid.

And the thing about remakes and ‘re-imaginings’ is that they can vary so much from the really quite good (Star Trek last year or the first Transformers movie) to the horrifyingly shameful (Starsky and Hutch with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson) to the plain bizarre (Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes).

I guess when you take a much-loved children’s TV show and update it into a big-budget film there is the potential for so much to go wrong. Generally though, The A-Team got the mix right. There was humour, plenty of ridiculously over the top action, sequences where the team improvised some gear from whatever was lying around, and we finally found out why BA is afraid of flying.

There are some gripes. Part of the original Face Man’s charm was that his sexual conquests were only ever hinted at in the scripts. In the movie they are referred to more explicitly (nothing too explicit, thankfully). There are a couple of scenes where the main action retreats off-stage. You don’t see how Hannibal manages to handcuff two snarling Rottweilers together, for example.

Also you have to stay right until the very end to see the cameos from Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz, when those would have worked in the main cut of the movie. And if you’ve seen the trailers you’ll know the van gets mashed. Well, that happens quite early in the film, which is an odd thing to do to a merchandising icon. Also, sometimes the CGI looks a bit ropey.

But overall, this is a remake with a decent budget and a bit of class. Some stand-out moments include a heist in Baghdad, a 3-D movie that comes to life, and the first time Murdoch meets BA and Face. There are occasional drifts into more thoughtful areas. BA struggles with whether he can renounce violence. Face asks Hannibal if he could ever betray his men. But the deep stuff doesn’t go too deep and descend into pathos.

I had a feeling I would enjoy this film before I went, but was apprehensive too. Bad remakes are painful to watch. This, thankfully, was a pain-free trip to the cinema. I’d recommend it.

Jongudmund’s rating: 8/10

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's not that there's not a lot happening

It's rather that there is too much going on. And trying to best Bowser in Super Mario Galaxy 2 has taken up a good proportion of my free time. That and the complete box set of the West Wing that I bought with my redundancy gift (and an extra tenner).

But I have bested Bowser and I'm aware I haven't blogged much recently so here's a little thought-form from a Tragically Hip song I listened to while walking to work recently, that has stuck with me.

"We live to survive our paradoxes."

I have a few paradoxes in my life at the moment. Doubt and survivor guilt and subliminal choices and plans and hopes and other abstractions, distractions and cognitive dissonances. We are complicated creatures. But by and large we live to survive our paradoxes.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My favourite moments of the World Cup

The World Cup 2010 is over and gone, with a final that will be remembered more for its brutality than anything else. Referee Howard Webb described it as two hours of hell after he had to dish out 14 yellow cards. He could have given more, and really its amazing only one person got sent off.

But as the dust settles on Spain's triumph, what will I remember from this world cup? Well, here are a few...

1) Calamitous England
Rob Green's despairing flap after he spilled the ball to let the USA equalise in England's first game, followed by his faceplant into the grass in shame, was only equalled by John Terry's fish impression as he dived and contorted his body against Slovenia. See if you can find a slow-mo replay on YouTube somewhere and prepare to laugh.

He didn't even get the ball.
2) Great finishing from Germany.
Miroslav Klose's side-foot for their fourth goal against Argentina was truly world-class. And they demolished England with a powerful running game. Spain had to sacrifice their creativity to smother the Germans in the semi-final to scrape a win.
3) Ghana's last minute penalty miss
Drama by the bucketload after Suarez's handball, which will no doubt be played repeatedly on World Cup clipshows in future.
4) Giovanni Von Bronckhorst's long-distance goal against Uruguay
I simple couldn't believe that went in. An amazing goal.
5) Paul the psychic octopus
When national news networks interrupt their programming to bring you the predictions of a cephalopod, you know the human race is starting to lose it slowly. Apparently he now has his own trophy...

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

It's been a great World Cup so far

I've said this a few times to people, but I feel I have really conected with the World Cup this time around. I can't remember much of the 2006 World Cup. I can recall England scraping a win against Trinidad & Tobago, and Ronaldo getting Rooney sent off, and Zidane's inexplicable headbutting of Marco Materazzi in the final and that's about it.

But this time round there seem to have been some really memorable things.

First off, England were an utter crapfest. I know I'm only saying this now, but my wife and my Dad are both witnesses that I predicted England wouldn't get out of their (ridiculously easy) group. Okay, I was wrong on that, but they barely scraped it, and then they met Germany.

That's another thing, I haven't seen a German international team play the way this team play - with pace and verve. Normally German sides play percentages, build from the back, dominate the midfield and score from set pieces.

This side has the usual Germanic swagger, but when they play on the break and pass the ball into the feet of the runners it's joyful, irresistible football. Oezil's dinked chip-pass to Klose for the fourth goal against Argentina was magical, as was Klose letting the ball drop to within a whisker of the grass before side-footing the volley home. Watch it and watch it again to see an absolute masterclass in finishing.

I never thought I'd get excited by Germany, but I'm excited.

There have been spectacular exits too. France self-destructed in the group stages. Italy were put out by relative minnows in their group too. England, well, stuttered into a mismatched game with Germany that ended in hefty defeat - a game that will live on in infamy for a goal that should have been but wasn't given. Holland unexpectedly put out Brazil.

And then there was Ghana's misfortune. To miss a penalty in injury time, for the most blatant handball blocked shot on the line I have ever seen, is one thing. But then to lose the penalty shoot-out five minutes later was a travesty of justice. I watched the game and could barely watch Gyan take the penalty. Somehow I just knew he would miss. And when it went to penalties I knew Uruguay would win. Why? Because football is a bastard mistress who torments her lovers with harsh injustices.

Which of course is why we love it so.

And tonight's game had drama too. Holland got a goal, loosened up, let Diego Forlan score, and got edgy, then got a fortuitous goal and scored a third through one of the best headed goals ever and were enjoying themselves again. Until injury time, when Uruguay worked a training ground set play and bizarrely scored, to set up a tense final three minutes when it looked like the most unlikely comeback ever might just happen.

Fortunately for the Dutch (and my Holland-supporting spouse) Uruguay's persistence didn't pay off. Holland are through to their first World Cup final since 1978 and have as much chance as anyone of lifting the trophy.

And tomorrow they will find out who they play in the final: Germany or Spain. I think it will be the Germans, but Spain may do better against European opposition than they did against Paraguay in the last round where they edged out a very close game 1-0.

I actually feel excited.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Another sportsman with a weird name

I was watching the baseball at breakfast yesterday. NY Mets v Detroit Tigers. Stepping up to the plate was the new Mets star-in-the-making Angel Pagan.

Yes, that's right Angel, as in heavenly messengers sent from above, Pagan, as in pre-Christian tribal goddess-worshippers. Although to be fair he is Hispanic, so it's pronounced Ang-hel Pah-gahn.
But even so, a quality juxtaposed name.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

New depths of hyperbole

According to the TV spots, Twilight Eclipse is the movie "the whole world is waiting for".

There really isn't enough satire in the world to properly flame that claim. But there will be enough giddy teenage girls and covetuous cougars swooning over young ripped boys pretending to be were-wolves to make the box office figures bankable.

I fear for our culture, I really do.

Monday, June 14, 2010

World Cup fever and Waldo Ponce

Funniest name at the World Cup? Got to be Chile's central defender Waldo Ponce.

Just in case you want to go Ponce spotting here's a picture of him.

I tried to find a picture of him with his back to the camera so you could see his shirt with 'Ponce' written on it. But no such luck. Nice headband though.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Film review: Lebanon (at Chapter Arts Centre)

This was a powerful, emotional, tense film that left me feeling a bit drained by the end. One of those films where you're glad you've seen it, but you can't really say you've enjoyed it.

Set in the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, what this film really captures is the chaos of modern warfare, and how the main protagonists don't have a clue what is going on. In this case, everything is seen through the experiences of a tank crew, who don't leave their tank during the whole film. Their only contact with the outside world coming when the hatch on top opens, or viewed through targetting scopes. And much of what they see is hauntingly horrific.

Ordered around by a professional paratrooper major, the tank becomes a carrier for the dead, and a prisoner transport. But who are really the dead and the prisoners? The real thrust of the film is that even those who survive in war die somehow in the process, and whether you're driving the tank or chained up to the steam-pipes, you are still a prisoner.

It's all in subtitles. It's dark inside the tank. There's no way of knowing what's going on. As a film it's got it's limitations. But as a raw statement about being caught up in events you don't understand and cannot wrest control over, it is outstanding.

Jongudmund's rating: 9/10 Only see this if you're prepared to think about it afterwards.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gig review: Florence and the Machine at Cooper's Field, Cardiff

This was an eagerly anticipated 'massive' gig by an artist I have a genuine respect and deep-down love for, and yet I was left quite disappointed by it.

For one thing if you're going to pay £30 for a ticket (once you add on the 'booking fee' aka 'being screwed by the ticket office fee) you expect to be able to hear the freakin vocals. Unfortunately the punch drunk baboon on the sound desk had only been given rudimentary training in knob-fiddling and so the resultant sound was something akin to listening to a car radio underwater. When she spoke between songs she may as well not have had a mike at all.

Or to put it another way it reduced the gig rating in my estimation from a potential 9.5/10 to a barely scraping it 6/10.

The energy was there. The crowd were there and loving Florence in all her dippy, dreamy wedding-dress-wearing kookiness. But it's a good thing that the crowd drowned out Miss Welch during the big hits because that obscured the terrible PA job.

And it was some crowd, crushed into a sweaty, claustrophobic rubbery canvas tent that seemed to keep the heat in, but let the sound out. (I think that was part of the problem. Canvas walls don't reflect audio waves the way walls do.)

So all in all I felt a bit let down.

(It also means I want to see her again somewhere where they get the vocal mix right.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

I bet there's a sign that says 'Don't touch'

He might be called Phil. He might be a fruit. He might just like puns. Who's to say?

(Spotted on our recent book group trip to Hay on Wye.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The art of caffeinated seduction

What would you do if, late at night, someone invited you in 'for a coffee' and then produced THIS?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Who failed who?

Although he is overly self-effacing to the point where I almost think that he really does believe he's amazing, but thinks it's better to say he doesn't, Dan Piraro is one guy who often manages to come up with something that makes me think.

In this recent blog post he makes some incredibly insightful points about the whole Catholic priest child abuse scandal. It's probably the best, most even-handed commentary I've read, and from someone who has wandered out of that particular flock. And he may have a point - did people join the priesthood hoping it would protect them from their own sinful natures?

He's left me wondering whether when a scandal breaks like that, does that mean the person has failed the church. Or has the church in some way failed the person too?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Offending offensive people

There isn’t really any way that I can brag about this on freelance theology, so I’m talking about it here. In one of my recent interviews with UCB as Jon the Freelance Theologian, we talked about the gender of God, and specifically how sometimes thinking about God as male is unhelpful, and it’s okay to think of God as female.

Apparently they had a lot of feedback, including the head of a Christian group I’m not very keen on at all who said that he hadn’t heard the programme but he knew it wasn’t the sort of thing that should be discussed on UCB.

There’s a little part of me that is really cheered by the thought that I am annoying people who annoy me on a regular basis by promoting a version of my faith that is intolerant, unloving and bigoted. Job well done. Also I love the fact that this is true to form - 'I didn't hear it myself but if I had I'm sure I would have been offended...'

Plus when I told Cath it made her happy too. So a happy household all round.

(If you're interested, here's the original article about the gender of God on freelance theology - feel free to read and comment on the site)