Sunday, September 23, 2012

Let the mayhem recommence

After a gap of eight years, Friday night saw my friend Bryan and me doing battle again in Blood Bowl. For those who don’t know, this is a Games Workshop Warhammer-American Football mash-up that was reasonably popular in the late 80s. Two teams – in this case one of humans plus assorted other races, and on of orks – scrap it out in a table-top game. It’s pure nerdy fun.

Neither of us could believe it had been eight years since our last Blood Bowl encounter, but the dates on the old team-sheets in the box don’t lie. (Yes, there are team-sheets. I told you it was nerdy.) I’d freshened up the teams a bit – renaming them the Bromfield Street Berserkers and the Grangetown Greenskins. As per usual, I took control of the mainly-human team (the Berserkers), while Bryan ‘managed’ the ork team (the Greenskins).

Despite Bryan claiming the dice gods weren’t on his side, the first touchdown took ages to happen, mainly because we were trying to get used to the rules – not easy after such a hiatus. The first score went to the Beserkers – new team member Lex Kevlar scoring it to cap a man-of-the-match performance that included winning all five of his first five tackles or blocks and killing an opponent in the process. (Yes, it’s that kind of game.)

The Berserkers went close again with only two heroic tackles preventing further scores with the ball literally a yard from the scoreline. The throws were going well – Blitzer Gudmund Halo putting together a ‘long bomb’ at one point to the Elf Catcher, Diamos Swift, who had run clear. Swift was one of the victims of a heroic tackle, taken out just as he was about to score. As a consolation, the tackler was stretchered off, stunned.

But then the Greenskins fought back with a good rushing play down the right wing. A successful Blocker-to-Blocker pass got them into the endzone and back on level terms. (Blockers subtract one to dice rolls for both throwing and catching to the pass was an excellent roll.)

The favour of the dice gods had obviously turned. Two Beserkers, including one of the fearsome Dwarf Blockers got injured trying to make extra yards to take possession of the spilled football. Then the other Dwarf Blocker was injured in a tackle after inflicting several injuries on opponents. Both Blitzers went down in the same round of Blocks and with the Beserker defence horribly incapacitated or out of position the board was free for a Greenskin counter-attack.

The vulnerable Beserkers were only saved from defeat by time being called at that point. Both sides finished honours even, insofar as there is any honour in Blood Bowl of course.

1-1 was probably a fair result, but both sides will feel they could have won the game. But that at least raises the stakes for the next time these rivals meet.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dredd - when all you have is justice

DREDD movie poster 3 imageJudge Dredd has always been one of those comic strips I have unaccountably loved reading. Always interesting, often quirky, sometimes horrible. As a fan of dystopian future-fiction (1984, The Handmaid's Tale, Blade Runner, and to a lesser extent, Equilibrium), Dredd has always been the comic strip that fed my pessimism about the way the world is heading.

The film is excellent. Well-made, if a bit gory and gruesome in parts. But you'd expect that. And although it is gory, there's a realism to it. This is a world where bullets rip people apart, a bit like, er, our world, and not like the cartoonesque attitude to gunshot wounds you usually see in Hollywood movies. So, it worked.

Sets were good. Believable. Story was simple and effective. Actors were well-chosen. Not much to complain about. Although given its 18 certificate and the amount of blood spraying around at times, not for the faint-hearted.

And, although I couldn't really recommend it to everyone, I do think it has an important message. Dredd is a judge. He is the law (that's his catchphrase). He knows every sentence for every crime and he passes them without equivocation. If it's a capital crime then he executes people on the spot.

Dredd, the film, like Dredd the character, takes no prisoners. It is a grim - in the proper sense of the word -story. It's bleak because it's a story about justice, but there is no mercy, no grace, and no hope.

Whatever the faults and failings of our legal system, and there are many, there is a sense that there is hope. Prisons are meant to be correctional facilities, not just punishment camps. There is some small element of mercy - no crimes in this country carry the death sentence; no matter how hideous the crime.

From a religious perspective, justice without grace is harsh and ugly and totally without hope. I know that people, particularly those of a Calvinist persuasion, want to emphasise the wrath of God as fueled by 'justice', but what kind of world would a wrathful God create, ultimately. Maybe a dystopian one, possibly even a bit, or a lot, like this one. But it would be a place without hope.

I sometimes think the way people talk about God they envision God as a Judge Dredd type figure, dispensing a harsh and almost cruel form of justice. Dredd the film is a reminder of what the Kingdom of Heaven could be like if there is no mercy and no grace in your theology. It's not a vision any sane person would want to share.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Two books about 'myths'

One of the things I love about my book group is that I get to read stuff I would never have otherwise bothered to pick up. First, I should explain, my book group isn't like many other book groups. We don't have a set text that we all have to read and then discuss. Instead you read what you want to read, bring it along and tell the group about it.

It works well because you aren't stuck with some awful book (like 'Walk Among the Birds' in the movie Date Night), and you can borrow each other's books, expanding your library through the libraries of however many other people are in the group.

I borrowed two books off Elaine that are part of the Canongate 'Great Myths' series: Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt and The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman.

I loved Ragnarok, but then I have always loved the Norse myths. Byatt is a clever storyteller, interweaving some vivid childhood fears and the sense of dread and doom that I know I often felt as a child into a story that also captures the essence of the Norse myths and makes them accessible.

It is an excellent piece of writing, and she drew an interesting exegetical point from it - that the gods knew Ragnarok was coming, but they didn't have the imagination to avoid it. The parallel between our current culture's collision course with catastrophic climate change is thought-provoking.

Pullman meanwhile has tried to demythologise and then remythologise the story of Jesus. I've dissected this a bit on freelance theology already, but my main criticisms were over his unbalanced handling of supernaturalism. Plus, as I say on freelance theology, stealing a joke from Monty Python is naughty for an author like him.

I have no real issues with Philip Pullman saying what he wants to about God, Jesus, the historical basis for Christianity or the Church. I might disagree with him, but some of his points are interesting. But this book just isn't as good as the author seems to think it is when he writes about it in his essay afterwards. I can forgive him for being rude about religion. But I don't really like how smug he seems about his own work.

Still, perhaps worth a read. But read Ragnarok first.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I left my phone at home this morning.


I realised as I was on my way to work. I almost turned back, but thought I could make it through the day without it.

I was foolish.

I felt bereft all day. While I waited for my computer to power up I reached absent-mindedly for my phone to check Twitter, only to realise it wasn't there. Every time I got up to go to the kitchen or the loo or downstairs to move some boxes I looked for my phone. It wasn't there. I always take it with me. Today I couldn't. It felt weird.

Cathy says this is evidence of something that she has known for a long time - I spend too much time looking at my phone. I think she may be right.

Monday, September 10, 2012

1000 ways to die

Recently I've started telling people that my day job is - at its most fundamental level - finding out new things that could kill me with little or no warning. Not good for a mild hypochondriac.

The past six weeks or so I've been learning too much about a particular silent assassin that could bump me off called sepsis. This is because we're building up to World Sepsis Day and I've been involved in producing the comms for it.

That's included this leaflet, which I'm particularly pleased with. I don't brag on what I do much on this blog, but this ended up being a nice, concise piece of print with a clear message. It took some work to get it there - it's a long way from my original idea of a postcard. But the collaborative effort has paid off. It's going to be given out in almost every hospital in Wales on World Sepsis Day (Thursday). You can read the full leaflet here.

I also had round trips to Llanelli and to the North Wales coast as part of producing the promo video for World Sepsis Day. This one was unusual as I am firmly behind the camera in the videos I've produced previously. However, this time round we needed a narrator. I'm not overly impressed with the sound of my voice introducing it, but this is the video, if you're interested.

Bigger version on YouTube

(The trips round Wales were more bearable because I was travelling with this camera-toting freelance video professional. Thoroughly recommended.)

Sunday, September 09, 2012

A time of change (farewell to 'the tank')

My beloved Golf finally reached the point where money spent fixing it would be money wasted. For the past fortnight and a bit I've been driving my 'new' car, a Vauxhall Vectra. Having learned to drive in a classic boxy Cavalier back in the early 90s, it does feel a bit like coming home.

The Golf, known to us as P-TAB was a great car, though. I drove to Mull twice in him, although Mallaig was the furthest North we went in him. I tried to work out the extremities of our journeying - furthest south would be Hastings to the East and Plymouth to the South. We took him to Northumberland and the Eastern borders of Scotland. We even went to Llanidloes. You don't get much more wild west than that.

When I sold him on to those people who say they will buy any car (any, any, any!), he had over 175,000 miles on the clock. I put 75,000 of those miles on him.

I took these photos just before saying farewell to the car I affectionately called the tank.

In all his battered glory

The clock - 75,000 of those miles were mine

Setting off on the last journey

Saturday, September 08, 2012