Friday, February 26, 2010

Several different 'ball' games as seen played in Glenwood youth

As I'm heading on a youth weekend away this weekend where some, maybe all, of the following ball games will be played, I've decided to post the definitive guides to them here. Then when people ask me 'What's Murderball?' I can tell them to look on my blog and all will become clear.

These then are some of the games we play...

X-treme Teamball
This is very much like Dodgeball. You have two teams, several dodgeballs and two goals. The teams stand in their own half of the room and you throw the balls to try and hit people to get them out. Headshots don’t count as getting you out. If you catch a ball that is thrown at you then the thrower is out. You can bat a dodgeball away with a dodgeball you’re holding.

If a ball is thrown into the opposition goal without bouncing, then players on the team who have scored who are ‘out’ can ‘respawn’ and return to play (until they are hit again). The game continues until all players on one side are out or a set time limit is reached, when the team with the most players left stay on.

Variations include whether balls are allowed to bounce off the floor, walls or other players or whether they can be direct hits, length of time played, and limiting the number of respawns.

The Ball of Destiny: This can come into play late on in the game. If any player scores a goal with the Ball of Destiny, then their team wins and the game is over.

X-treme Teambasketball
This is exactly the same as X-treme Teamball, but with basketball hoops instead of goals. To get a respawn you have to score a hoop. The Ball of Destiny can be introduced as in regular X-treme Teamball.

War Ball
Instead of goals you have two (or more) cones each with a tennis ball balanced on it. Each team tries to knock the balls off the cones to win. The cones are placed in marked areas which defending players cannot stand inside (hula hoops are good for this).

This is basically the opposite of Dodgeball as you can get hit repeatedly trying to protect the balls on your cones. You can’t stand still in front of the cone. Stand still and you can be called out by the referees, so you have to keep moving.

Variations include players being out when hit until you reach a point where one person may be trying to protect two or more cones. You can have respawns if you want to, but a better way is to say you can get hit without being out as it’s still difficult to defend the cones from every angle.

Tag-team Team Ball (New)
Another variant on Dodgeball. Each team contains several pairs (one in bib and one not). Bibbed players are blockers and non-bibbed players are throwers. Blockers are there to block the ball and protect the thrower. Only throwers can throw the ball at opposing players.

If a thrower is hit by an opponent, then both the thrower and their nominated blocker are out. Play continues until the last thrower and blocker pair is left in. Blockers can take any number of hits. Respawns as in X-treme Teamball or X-treme Teambasketball. The Ball of Destiny can also come into play.

King Ball
Start with one non-bibbed player and everyone else wearing bibs. The non-bibbed player is ‘on’ and has a dodgeball. They then seek to hit a bibbed player, who removes their bib and is also on.

As soon as two or more players are on, they cannot run with the ball. They can pass to each other and run if they don't have the ball to get near to bibbed players. Each player they hit removes their bib and joins the ‘on’ team. The last player left with a bib on, i.e. ‘not on’ is declared the winner. They usually become the first player on in the next round of King Ball.

All that’s needed for this game is a ball – preferably a rugby ball or American football. The object is simple. Both teams try and retain possession by holding the ball for as long as possible, while the other team tries to gain possession through rugby-style tackling and so on. Best played on grass or another yielding surface as it can get rough! (Well, it is Murderball, after all!)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Just occasionally I get to say 'told you so'

Terri, our current resident waif and stray, has just started working down the local Odeon and brought home some bad news the other day.

"We're not getting Alice in Wonderland for the IMAX," she announced. "Apparently Disney are being arses and no one's going to show it."

Now, while it was true there was a spat between Disney and the cinemas because Disney want to release the DVD a mere 12 weeks after its cinematic release instead of the industry standard 17 weeks, I thought it was unlikely nowhere would show it at all. True enough a few days later the Cineworld chain broke with its movie-showing brethren and said they would have it.

But apparently Odeon were holding fast. Tez insisted it wasn't going to happen. I went 'Yeah, it will...' And then today the BBC reported that... 'Yeah, it will.'

Which in a way is a shame because Disney do perhaps need someone to stand up to them. And stuff comes out on DVD so fast now anyway it's slowly killing off the joyous wait for the film you really crave to see again. Pretty soon we'll all have films beamed instantaneously into our heads whether we want them or not.

But in another way it's cool, because I'll get to see a Tim-Burtonified Wonderland at the IMAX just down the road. Oh, yes, and because I got to say the most satisfying three words in the English language to Tez.

Told you so.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Princess & the Frog: Disney get it slightly wrong (again)

It’s ironic that after my rant yesterday about patronising poor people, I spent a good proportion of this film thinking about how patronising this film is of poor, black people.

If you want to set a film in 1920s New Orleans and not mention racism, yet make it aspirational for black people, then this film would give you some tips. Like, ignore history completely.

In fact, go the other way – stereotype your main white character as a spoiled rich kid wishing upon a star while the world is handed to her on a platter, and your black heroine as a hard-workin’, two-jobs-a-day, real-world-inhabiting believer that you are the only person who will make it happen. And you’ll do it through hard work, not crying to your rich plantation-ownin’ daddy.

Disney has copped a lot of flak for it’s ‘Princess’ idea that all you have to do in life is be beautiful and wait for your Prince Charming to turn up. So, fair play, they have tried to reverse that style of thinking. But there is still an undercurrent here that nags – for a black girl to be a princess, she has to be a hard-workin’ girl with ambition and drive and a feisty attitude to win her prince. Whereas all white girls have to do is leave a glass slipper behind, or fall asleep under a spell, or something.

I’m sure plenty more intelligent folks will have plenty to say about the lazy stereotyping of the Bayou, with voodoo, jazz, gumbo, and a population that has nothing else to do than mess around with voodoo, play jazz and eat gumbo. New Orleans is some kind of hedonistic paradise where you can laze away the days with music and fine (fried) food. It's the easiest version of the Big Easy ever. The only thing I’d say is that it’s nice to see Disney stereotyping Americans so badly.

This is, of course, what Disney does: project a fantasy ideal of what life should be like. This is 1920s New Orleans without the bootlegging, or the racism, or the lynch mobs. Everyone smiles. Everyone has enough gumbo to eat. Voodoo works – if you’re a good person, at least. There’s a happy ending. There are no hurricanes.

This commentary makes it sound like I hated the film. I didn’t. It has serious flaws. But the frogs were fun. I liked Louis the jazz-playing alligator and Ray the lightning bug. I liked the dog, although she was hardly in it. There was some character development and growth. The bad guy was genuinely creepy. And most of the songs were by Randy Newman, so were of a good standard.

The problem was I was just left looking for the magic. Maybe the 20th Century isn’t long enough ago to count at ‘once upon a time…’

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Patronising the poor, as Christians do sometimes

This is a rant about something that cropped up in our life group (that’s a midweek church meeting in someone’s house for all you non-churchey folk) last week.

We were talking about stories in the news and one of the stories led into a discussion about poverty, social exclusion, and how many areas of Wales may benefit from money being pumped in to improve things, but the people who live there don’t really see the benefit.

One person then came out with a classic comment about how ‘in poorer areas you do see that they have a better sense of community’. I don’t know why but that just tweaked me.

There is something so unbelievably patronising about that viewpoint. ‘Oh, those people living down in the slums, they don’t have all the nice things that we have, but they do have a better sense of community, so that makes it okay that I’m richer and they’re poorer.’

Somehow the fact that the poorer ends of town have a ‘better sense of community’ justifies inequality. But here’s some news. I live in one of the poorer parts of my city and I’m not so sure this mythical ‘better’ community exists. True, I’m on nodding, and even first-name, terms with some of my neighbours, but that’s because I don’t have a long drive and high hedges to act as a buffer zone. But I wouldn’t say we were mates.

You only really understand a community when you live in it. So, saying ‘oh there’s a much better community down in Grangetown, or up in Llanedeyrn, or [insert whatever crummy end of town you like]’ is only really possible if that’s where you live. Proximity and a dense population are not the same as community, whatever people may think. But it helps us to sleep easier in our comfortable middle-class beds to think that them poor people might not have the same comfort, education opportunities, aspirations, hopes and dreams down there in poorville. But at least they’ve got one thing that’s better than we have. Community.

A few years ago I was in a Baptist church in Grangetown. A large proportion of the membership didn’t live in Grangetown. They had been born there, bettered themselves and moved out – to Dinas Powys, Penarth, Llandough, and so on.

But they had this mindset that revolved around the church building. Every suggestion for outreach or evangelism was centred on that church building – knocking on doors in the neighbouring streets, having a ‘church fun day’, running a stall at the Grangetown festival. And those things are all well and good, but they weren’t based on relationships or communicating with people we knew. Why? Because the people we knew were generally people living in Dinas Powys, Penarth, Llandough and so on.

That church had a very set form of mission. ‘We want to reach Grangetown.’ I was told as much when I asked people why they had this fixation on knocking on strangers’ doors instead of talking to parents at the school gate where their kids went to school. ‘Oh, people wouldn’t come to church here.’

Why not? People come to IKEA here. (In fairness, IKEA wasn’t built back then, but there were other things people came to in Grangetown.) People travel. It’s not unheard of for people to cross a city to go to a church they like. (I do, now!)

But then I got it. You see it was about reaching those poor people in Grangetown with the gospel. You know, Grangetown, the place we all left as soon as we could afford to. So, even though we didn’t know anyone who lived there anymore, we would ship in, do some evangelism, and then ship out again. They needed the gospel and we would give it to them. Then we could retreat a safe distance, secure that we had done our duty of evangelism.

How patronising is that? To knock on someone’s door and tell them the good news that God wanted to share their lives, and then bugger off to another part of the city because we didn’t.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

This poem doesn't really scan, but I offer it up for your discerning amusement

I don't do poetry often, because a) I don't do it well, and b) I used to write the worst angsty teenage verse you could ever have the misfortune to read, full of woe and melancholy ruminations on the fleetingness of life and all that sort of thing.

But occasionally a scrap of verse seems to tangle well with itself and I think, 'hmmm'. So, anyway, here goes:


I used to be a high-flying angel
But they clipt my wings
After I slipped and sinned and fell

And tho’ now a broken earth-tied angel
Yet my crypt still sings
Heav’n’s secret songs, too sad too sweet to tell

(You can tell it's almost a 'proper poem' because words are spelt wrong and stuff. Ooh.)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Lost in Splott (a short story)

I entered this into a 2,000-word story competition last year, but as I never heard anything I guess it didn't win. I'm putting it on here in the hope that people will enjoy it and maybe leave comments of a consructively critical nature. Go on, you know you want to...


“How hard is it raining?”

It was a rhetorical question. And the rain lashed against the car windscreen hard enough to drown out my words anyway. I was starting to suspect we were lost. In Splott. An area of town as attractive as it sounded. Grey pebble-dashed houses crowded on to the unevenly paved streets, beneath a monotonous low cloud sky. The rainwater on the windscreen turned the streets into a blurry off-kilter world.

My companion muttered a curse. “We’ve come the wrong way,” she said.

I said nothing. She had been the one with the directions.

“I can’t believe we’re lost in Splott,” she said.

The opening titles of a childhood science-fiction TV drifted into my thoughts. I couldn’t resist. “Lost in Splott,” I said, in a ponderous, solemn tone, drawing out the o in ‘lost’ and then again in ‘Splott’.

She gave me a blank look. “Sorry,” I said. I squinted through the rain-smeared windscreen again, searching for a street sign, or some other indication of where we were. Parked cars lurked by the kerbside. A general store, the window dimly lit from a striplight interior, beckoned with a distinctly unwelcoming open door. Shredded unreadable newspaper headlines fluttered in the wire-framed holders either side of the door. Yesterday’s news was gone, torn away by the rending rain-soaked wind.

Hunched over the steering wheel, I suddenly felt cold, as if the greyness itself was somehow seeping into my soul. I turned on the heater, racking the plastic dial around as far as it could go. The fan blew hot, stale air into my face. I turned the dial back down to a more delicate level.

Then we heard it, both at the same time, a collection of rhythmic whining notes; badly replicated music, allegedly designed to entice.

“It can’t be,” said my companion. I looked in the rear view mirror. There were parked cars on either side of the road behind us, but the middle was clear. There was nothing ahead of us either, except washed clean tarmac glistening strangely in the unreal light.

“It sounds like an ice cream van.” I laughed. The sheer hopeless optimism of the entrepreneur to venture out on a day like this was amusing.

“If we take a left and go down the next street, we can get back on track,” said my passenger, ignoring my grin. She was now scrutinising an A to Z, following yellow streets across the grimy page with her finger. “I think,” she added uncertainly.

I engaged the clutch and put the car into gear, moving slowly off. We indicated at the end of the street, for the benefit of no one but ourselves, and turned. The houses here were set back from the road slightly, with tiny paved areas in front big enough for two wheelie bins each. A drenched sofa sat bedraggled in front of one house, its cushions bulging, pregnant with rainwater.

I indicated again, meaninglessly, and turned into the next street, which seemed a carbon copy of the one we had been sitting in a minute ago. The pebbledash was greyer and the rain-edged roofs seemed lower and amorphous. I drove cautiously down the street, mindful of the rain’s distorting effect on my vision and that at any moment a near-drowned dog or cat might dash across my wheels.

We reached the end of the road without incident and looked left, then right. The road was clear.

“Which way now?” I asked.

My companion turned the A to Z around and began reading it upside down. “Hang on,” she said.

I waited. A snatch of metallic music, a peculiarly tuneless melody, seemed to whisper past us. “There’s that ice cream van again,” I said.

“Where?” She looked up from the map.

“I can’t see it,” I said. “But you can hear it. Listen.”

We listened. All we could hear was the low throb of the engine and the hard spatter of the rain on the car roof. I noticed steam rising from the hot bonnet of the car.

“I can’t hear anything,” she said.

“It’s stopped,” I muttered.

“Go left.” She pointed up the road. I turned left.

“When I first moved to Cardiff I didn’t really believe there was a place called Splott,” I said. It was a lame attempt at conversation with my passenger. She didn’t respond. Maybe she thought I talked too much?

It was true, though, that I didn’t believe in a place called Splott. “Splott?” I’d asked, in a voice too embarrassingly high-pitched to be manly. Then I saw it for myself, on road signs, and in the A to Z. My interest piqued, I’d asked where a name like that came from.

Most people shrugged.

It was just Splott. Always had been. Although some ridiculous people who were trying to gentrify it tried to call it Splow, although maybe that was a joke. ‘Hello, I’m from Splow’ had a rhyming resonance to it, if you could say it without laughing.

Left turned out to be a dead end – not signposted, of course.

“Oh, for… what’s wrong with your map?”

“There’s nothing wrong with the map.” Even I was unconvinced by my protest. The A to Z was old. But Splott was far older still. Not much should have changed, surely?

“Turn around,” she said, irritated, staring back up the street we’d just driven down. The street stretched behind us, greyly. It offered no clues as to where it led. Probably just another crossover of streets or a T-junction.

I didn’t have much of an option but to turn round. I did a multi-point turn between two parked Transit vans, trying desperately not to nudge either of them. I have a, not unfounded, fear of aggressive white-van-men and didn’t want anyone to shout at me. But I need not have worried. There was no one watching. Throughout our whole time traversing the dirty narrow streets we had seen about three people, all of them hurried and faceless, bent low against the rain, disappearing into doorways before we could accost them for directions.

We turned right, left, right again, then left again and found ourselves in the same road we started in, but further down, outside a chip shop that said ‘Open for Pukka Pies’ on the door, but was firmly shut and dark. We stopped and looked at the map together, wordlessly puzzling over how this network of interconnected streets could conspire to get us so thoroughly lost.

As we sat there, we heard the music again. This time louder and more distinct, a clanging bark set in a near-rendition of a Sixties pop song.

“Where the hell is that ice cream van?” asked my passenger, craning her neck to look backwards up the road. I noticed that her large hoop ear-rings were too yellow to be gold, and that her make up stopped abruptly in a line along her neck.

Her natural skin, beyond the frontier of the foundation was pale. It struck me that I knew little about her; just her name – Cerys – and that she had said she knew where our work colleague’s party was being held. We had worked together less than a fortnight and I had offered her a lift to this general invitation shindig because I had a rough address, but I couldn’t find the street in the index of the A – Z, so Cerys would be my guide. But she was as lost as I was.

“I don’t know,” I said. I felt light-headed, as if the drawn-out surrealism of this episode would never end. The music modulated in volume. It rose, then died, then rose again. It seemed to enter the car from the right, then from the left, enhancing the dreamtime quality of the moment.

I felt a slight shudder of panic. Not knowing where I was going I started driving. Cerys seemed startled. “Turn left,” she said. I missed the turn, as I was travelling too fast to squeal round the corner at the last second. The car threw up a curtain of water as we hit a concealed pothole. I slowed down. The music had gone.

“Sorry,” I said, and took the next left turn.

We travelled down the street and stopped at the next junction where the streets crossed. “Straight on,” said Cerys, pointing.

I hadn’t noticed before, but she had a stunning profile. The curved line of her forehead reversed its curve delicately into a petite nose that turned upwards ever so slightly at the tip. ‘Ski jump nose’ we used to call it, when I was in the bookings department, lining up models for the various photo-shoots. But beautiful. Her lips were small and smothered in too much lipstick that shone with an ethereal undeadness of applied gloss. A painted mouth of thin lips and false voluptuousness. As fake as my dyed hair and tinted contact lenses.

“We are so lost,” I said as I drove through the beating rain. The windscreen wipers squeaked and the side windows were fogged up. How much more rain could possibly fall today I thought, as Cerys began to cry, her mascara smudging faintly in the corners of her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“No, it’s okay. It’s not your fault,” I replied. I was unnerved. By the rain, by the crazy-happy phantom music, by the endless streets, by the emotional girl next to me.

“I thought I knew where it was,” she said, and sniffed a beautifully disgusting delicate snort of nose liquid that captivatingly repelled me in its intimacy.

I turned into another right-hand turn without really looking. “Seriously, I-” Cerys screamed as I slammed on my brakes. We were both thrown forward as the car shuddered to a halt, skidding over the water and the greasy road. I recovered and stared up into the blazing headlights of an ice cream van. A shadowy – and to my mind sinister – figure sat high up behind the steering wheel, immediately below the illuminated signboard proclaiming ‘Ices’.

I put the car in reverse and moved back slowly. The ice cream van rolled forward, engine snarling as it revved, edging into the space my car vacated like a predatory creature facing down its target. Then, as my car rolled back far enough, the van eased past, released into an accelerating roar down the street, accompanied by a slowly fading jangle designed to entice customers.

I looked at Cerys. “You know,” I said, trying to sound kind, hoping that would make the smudgy tears stop. “I’m fed up with this. Let’s give it up as a bad job.”

She nodded mutely, wiping the ski jump tip of her nose with a much-used paper tissue that she had extricated from her floppy brown handbag. “If you think so,” she said.

We turned the opposite way to the ice cream van and within a minute reached a T-junction with a larger main road. “Left,” she said weakly. I turned and soon we were on a road I knew.

“Where do you live?” I asked. “I’ll drop you home.”

“Thank you,” she said. “Fairwater.”

The other side of the city. Bit of a drive “So, what did you do before the agency…?” I asked.

Turned out we had more in common than I would have thought. By the time we reached her home, the whole drama was just funny. We both did the ‘Lost in Splott’ voice, making the other laugh. Later, it became our thing, our story when people asked how we got together.

We had some good times, Cerys and me, in the two years we were together. But then life moved on, as it tends to, and I moved on to work in Bristol, and she cheated on me while I was working late with a long commute, and then told me it was over when I came home one hard rain night.

And I never went back to Splott, even with directions.

[1,993 words]

Monday, February 01, 2010

After all the reviews of the decade just gone, a preview of what's to come

Kev Kennedy, visionary, prophet, and writer of the future, predicts what may take place in the run up to 2020...

"According to the films we grew up with we are five years away from hoverboards and flying cars (Back to the Future Part II) and only nine years away from artificial humans running amok on the streets of Los Angeles (Blade Runner). But what’s really going to happen, based on what’s happened in the previous 10 years? Here are five things that could happen..."

Read the rest here!