Friday, April 30, 2010

Fed up with the glitz and gloss of modern football?

Do you long for the days when players had personality and really said what they think?

Well When Saturday Comes' weekly email newsletter included a link to just such a player's profile, Sam Farthing of Tadcaster Albion. He seems to have a lot of dislikes...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A massive list of films I’ve seen recently (and some spoiler ‘best bits’)

I seem to have seen quite a few films in the past few weeks both in the cinema and on DVD and not blogged about them, so here goes…

Alice in Wonderland (IMAX 3-D)
Tim Burton’s much-hyped remake that plays a bit fast and loose with the Alice story. I enjoyed it and it was very good but I felt it lacked a certain something, probably because I was very excited by the prospect what with being a bit Tim Burton fan. There’s always that thing that if you go expecting something amazing you’ll end up disappointed. In the end it was a bit more miss than hit really. The visuals like the way the card soldiers were conceived were very good though.

Best bit: An armoured Alice starts listing the six impossible things she believes before breakfast. “Number six! I can kill the Jabberwocky!”
Jongudmund’s rating: 7/10

How to Train Your Dragon (IMAX 3-D)
Dreamworks do a Viking saga with dragons, explosions and lots more. The storyline veered from average e.g. formulaic outcast inventor kid (see A Bug’s Life, Jimmy Neutron, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) becomes the hero and earns the love of a pretty girl, though to something a but unique, e.g. the reason the dragons have to keep stealing sheep. The film succeeds because by the end I wanted to own a dragon, so obviously it had an impact. My only (minor) gripe was giving the Vikings Scottish accents.

Best bit: The IMAX came into its own with the scene in the ash cloud as wispy ash seemed to float all around me. Otherwise any of the dragon swooping and soaring sequences.
Jongudmund’s rating: 8/10

Date Night (Cinema 2-D)
I have not laughed so much at anything labelled a comedy. That’s because usually Hollywood comedies are usually dire retreads of vaguely funny ideas. This was busting with funny moments, from Steve Carell’s exasperation that Mark Wahlberg won’t put a shirt on, through to lowlife criminals having a domestic, and constant horror that the main characters took someone else’s restaurant reservation. It had a bit of a too neat ending, but I can’t begin to count the laugh out loud moments, and there were one or two excruciating bite-your-knuckles-with-embarrassment moments too.

Best bits: Steve Carell licks a stripper pole (gross!); Tina Fey seeks to play down Carell’s insult to a mob boss – “It’s okay, when he says vagina, he means your face!”
Jongudmund’s rating: 9/10

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (DVD)
Average animation really. A few laughs. As in How to Train Your Dragon (above), the nerdy protagonist inventor becomes a hero, although his creation (a machine that turns water vapour into food) eventually threatens all life on earth. I think kids would enjoy it, but it’s not going to be one I watch frequently.

Best bit: Honestly hard to think of one. Nice to hear Mr T doing one of the voices.
Jongudmund’s rating: 5/10

Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (DVD)
I loved the first Ice Age movie. The second one was okay, and this is similarly mediocre. For some bizarre reason Sid the Sloth decides to hatch some eggs he finds in a hidden underground valley. Turns out they are dinosaur eggs. What I liked about the first Ice Age movie was the vaguely realistic depiction of strange Ice Age animals, like giant sloths. But I’ve seen enough dinosaurs. Some of the other side characters like the possums are starting to get annoying. This franchise just ain’t cool any more. Although Scrat’s dalliance with a femme fatale who is trying to steal his nuts just about rescues it.

Best bits: One of the dino hatchlings has to cough up other ‘kids’ that he tried to eat in the play-park and keeps coughing up the wrong ones much to Sid's embarrassment; the Scrat versus Scratte love triangle with an acorn
Jongudmund’s rating: 6/10

Sweeney Todd (DVD)
Tim Burton’s bloody filmic version of Sondheim’s blood-letting musical. Bit of a complicated plot (although I followed it), and the usual grimy gothic sets you’d expect with Burton, plus lots and lots of blood. Spurting and splashing and oozing and bubbling blood. Johnny Depp is just scary as Sweeney. Helena Bonham Carter brings a lot of pathos to pie-maker Mrs Lovett. Sacha Baron Cohen is very amusing as a rival barber. And Timothy Spall and Alan Rickman are suitably loathsome as corrupt beedle and judge respectively. Pretty much everyone dies in bloody throat-slitting fashion and for good measure their skulls crack when they drop down the chute under Sweeney’s chair. Oh, yeah, and there’s blood.

Best bit: Feeling betrayed by his accomplice, Sweeney waltzes Mrs Lovett into her pie oven and slams the door on her as she burns.
Jongudmund’s rating: 7/10

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Yes I would travel 4757 miles just to eat at my favourite restaurant

Occasionally I tell people I would go back to Salt Lake City just to eat at the Red Rock Brewing Co. It's only 4757 miles away from Cardiff.

Clearing out my files at work I found some pics that reminded me of eating there.

(Yes, those are the biggest onion rings ever.)

(We used a small one for Cathy's 'onion ring halo'.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Look wot I winned in Shcool, mum! I got given Prize's!

This letter was pinned up in my local Tesco Metro. Here's a question Mr Headteacher, when are you going to teach the kids about the correct use of apostrophes?

I'm sure the kids loved their prize's.

I was also confused by the school motto on the letterhead, and I quote...

"Our Mission is to be the best I can be and proud I am me."

I'm all for motivating and building self-esteem into young people, but I also want them to be able to construct sentences that makes sense. How can 'our' mission be something 'I' do?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why I'm not signing the Westminster Declaration

The Westminster Declaration is up and running, campaigning on those ever so vital issues that Christians get het up about: stem cell research, not letting gay people marry, and being able to wear a crucifix to work in defiance of the dress code. 'Cos that's what Christianity is about.

At the risk of seriously offending people who read this blog and have probably signed up to the Westminster Declaration, I’m going to go on record and say: I’m not signing it.

I have good reasons.

I could shred the moralising inanity of reducing Christian campaigning to a few marginal issues that most people really don’t care about. But why exert myself, when there are statements in the Declaration like this:

“We believe that being made in the image of God, all human life has intrinsic and equal dignity and worth and that it is the duty of the state to protect the vulnerable. … We pledge to work to protect the life of every human being from conception to its natural end and we refuse to comply with any directive that compels us to participate in or facilitate abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or any other act that involves intentionally taking innocent human life.”

Oh, okay then. So what this boils down to is that we don’t like abortion or stem cell research and we will prolong the suffering of people who are only being kept alive by costly medical techniques regardless of their wishes.

But did you spot what they missed out?

The clue is “embryo-destructive research”. Sounds nasty, doesn’t it. But, then what about embryo-destructive medicine like, er, IVF treatments to help couples have children?

You mean you didn’t know unused embryos were a by-product of the IVF process?

This is taken from a Catholic website, which admittedly will have an agenda in trashing IVF, but it makes the point.

“People need to understand that a major byproduct of IVF is the destruction of millions of lives. In London alone, over one million souls were created and then wasted. … This is a genocide of unbelievable proportions, just for one country. 1.7 million lives created and trashed, over 1 million of those were never even given the chance for life.” (Original post)

Note how if you believe that an embryo is a full and authentic human being, then killing an embryo is the equivalent of murder. This is the position taken by the Westminster Declaration. And this is where things get complicated. Because life is complicated.

Personally I’m not opposed to IVF treatment (please understand that). But my point is that if you are opposed to stem cell research because it is “embryo-destructive research” then you ought to also be opposed to IVF because otherwise you are condoning a process that results in the destruction of many more embryos than stem cell experiments ever have or ever will.

So, why isn’t IVF mentioned in the Westminster Declaration? This is where some people seem to be being a little bit ever so disingenuous.

It may be pure politics. It’s one thing to argue against stem cell research and talk about the wilful destruction of embryos, but it’s another thing to stand up in a pulpit and condemn IVF.

The main difference seem to be that it’s bloody unlikely that there is anyone sitting in that church who is planning to go home, go out to the shed and engage in a bit of stem cell research.

But there will be people sitting in that church, whose kids are out at the children’s group right now, who only have those precious children because of IVF treatment.

And these organisations that campaign against “destructive embryo research” don’t mention IVF. Why? Well, maybe it’s because they know that the majority of their supporters, activists and donors will at the very least have a family member or close friend, in all likelihood in their church, who have personally benefited from IVF.

Or, maybe they haven’t put 2 and 2 together yet. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they’re exhibiting a spectacular lack of logic rather than being deliberately duplicitous. Perhaps omitting IVF from the list was an oversight.

But it still looks like hypocrisy.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Probably one of the best articles I've read about the dangers of hosting a web forum

I found this article very interesting, as poor old Richard Dawkins seems to have discovered that atheists are at least as bad as religious people when it comes to misbehaving on websites.

The general commentary on the problems with website forums also rings true. I've been involved with trying to set up two and they have both fallen over rapidly.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

When your readers miss the twist in the tale you fail

So far the response I've had to the short story I posted yesterday (Family Ties) has been mixed and many people have said they didn't get the twist at the end. (My wife, who normally sees twists coming, included.)

So I've made a couple of small edits to try and make it more obvious.

Would you do me a favour? Could you read it and tell me what you think is going on.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Family Ties (a short story)

I wrote this two weeks ago and read it to the Glenwood Writer's Bloc last night. Feel free to praise it / trash it in the comments!

Family ties

Every night I get in from work and make dinner for my dad. Same meal every night: faggots and peas. It’s what he likes. He used to eat it as a kid at his nana’s house, as he always told me when I was growing up.

I never liked faggots and peas.

He’ll be sitting in the chair in front of the TV with the volume turned up really loud. I don’t know if he understands it. All I know is that when I try to turn it down he gets agitated. He sits in front of it all day. Sometimes he fidgets if he’s a bit uncomfortable, but he never gets up. He doesn’t need too. I change the catheter bags once a day. They’re never very full.

When I was a kid he used to shout at me for watching too much telly. “It’ll give you square eyes,” he used to shout. “It’ll rot your brain.”

I always think about that as I mash up the pigs' brains and peas.

When I put the food in front of him he always gives me a startled stare. It’s not a look of comprehension. It’s a stare as if he has just seen something extraordinary. Then he will look down at the bowl and stare at it. Then, usually, he will sniff it. On a good day he doesn’t sniff it. He somehow remembers that it’s food and just starts to eat it. But on a bad day, he sniffs it, and then dips a finger in it, then another finger.

He eats with his hands now. Cutlery is too complicated.

Afterwards, I clean him with several wet wipes. He doesn’t like that. He doesn’t like to be touched. He doesn’t like the sanitary lemon smell. He tries to bat me away with his dirty faggot and pea stained fingers.

But I’m stronger than him and I can wet wipe him despite his mute protests.

He doesn’t talk now, my Dad. He used to. He was a great orator. A preacher man of the old hellfire and brimstone school. Popular. People would travel miles to hear his sermons. I used to hear him practise in the living room while I did French homework in my bedroom above. I can remember him practicing his timing. Making his point by punctuating his words with silences.

I wonder what his god thinks of him now.

It’s hard to see somebody you love deteriorate. I remember my mum phoning me the night before she died. “He’s changed,” she said. “He’s not himself. I’m worried about what will happen to him if anything happens to me.”

That night something happened to her. Dad happened. There was some sort of misunderstanding and he reacted. The first I heard of it was when the policemen knocked on my door to tell me there had been a 999 call from my parent’s house. When they arrived my father was standing over my mother’s bloody corpse, silently straddling the body, staring into the middle distance. He wouldn't 'come quietly'. He bit at least one of the police officers as they arrested him.

I remember having to call my sister Jane and say: “Dad killed Mum two hours ago.”

Jane doesn’t approve of me caring for Dad. “He should be locked up,” she said to me when I asked her if I could bring him with me at Christmas. “He’s a monster. He killed our mother!”

“But he didn’t know what he was doing,” I protested. “He doesn’t understand.”

It didn’t matter. Jane didn’t want him in the same house as her kids. I understand why she felt that way. We ate Christmas dinner together alone, me and Dad, sitting in front of the blaring TV as the Queen wished us a happy and prosperous New Year. I almost imagined that he nodded along with it, accepting her blessing, while his dirty fingers rummaged in the bowl of faggots and peas in front of him, ferreting out the pieces of flesh, leaving the peas behind.

I know people think that it’s strange that I take care of him like this. I don’t know how long he will last. He seems so frail, and guttering, like a candle.

People say I should get carers in. But he would hate that. Or put him in a care home. They have great places now where you can take people who are sick and old.

But you don’t just turn your back on the people you love; on family, do you? He may not be the man he was. But he’s still my Dad. And I love him. Even if he has now turned into a Zombie.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

This will be the last fugly rabbit I post on here for a while, I promise

But as I seem to get more comments on my fugly rabbit posts than anything else, I may renege on my promise at some indeterminate point in the future.

(Pink and with a glitter-covered bottom. Oooh.)
(Spotted in a gallery in Penarth)

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The most awesome blog post about birthdays ever (or: The Night I Met Face Man)

The good thing about having your birthday on Good Friday is a long weekend to recover. Plus, being holy, I also got to go to church on my birthday with the added bonus of it being shorter than the average service. (Not that I mind going to church normally, but it was my birthday.)

The party started on 1 April when I had a job interview with some folks I've done quite a bit of freelance writing for, and then got a phone call to ask if I wanted it. Of course, I did. The guy offering the job was really glad. "I got the man I wanted," was what he said.

Now I know I shouldn't take the fact that my entire team has been downsized and outsourced in any way personally. But it has felt a bit like all our hard work has been reduced to 'Yeah we can get a couple of people to do what you do for nothing.' I'd be lying if I said my confidence hadn't taken a hit. I'd also defy you to go through the same process and not feel any rejection. Do feel free to try.

But knowing that now I'm going someplace where I'm wanted has lifted me.

In the evening we went to see a boyhood idol of mine, Dirk Benedict, appear as Lieutenant Columbo at Cardiff's New Theatre. I was very excited, much to the amusement of my wife and our friends who came with us. Thing is Dirk Benedict was Face Man in that most awesome of TV shows The A Team. I liked him as Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica too, but for me he will always be Face.

We did something afterwards that I've never done before - queued at the stage door like excited groupies. We were first in line when he came out and I was tongue-tied. I wanted to tell him how huge a fan I was when I was a kid; how when we played A Team in the playground there were always arguments over who would be Face, and so on.

But I didn't. I laughed at his jokes, stammered a request for a photo, and got him to sign a flyer. Then walked away knowing that I had put my arm around Face Man and got it on film.

Truly a memorable 'birthday eve': new job, meeting Face Man... how could my actual birthday measure up. Surely all I was destined for was an anti-climax.
Well, no, actually. My birthday was great too, but this blog post has gone on a bit long, so I'll tell you about that some other time.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

PacMan versus Space Invaders

Or possibly both, if this image of Saturn's moon Mimas is to be believed. Possibly the most interesting space story of 2010 so far.

Full story here, complete with a reference to Mimas looking like the Death Star. Science journalism is getting geekier by the second. (And no, this ain't an April Fool, this news story broke a coupla days ago.)