Saturday, December 31, 2011

My New Year's Resolution

Thanks to Richard Wiseman, I've decided to only have one New Year resolution for 2012. Here's why one is more than enough:

I am thinking of focusing on my health for the next 12 months. Even though I have been cycling to work most days, I still don't seem to be getting any thinner and I really need to get my waistline down a bit.

I suppose what I really need to do is focus on what I eat since I am prone to munching on all sorts of rubbish.

So, here's to 2012 – and a fitter, healthier me....

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What can Christians do about injustice?

My good friend Jon has been on a bit of a 'Righteous Rant' of late in his blog, and I have to say I pretty much agree with most of what he says.

You can read his stuff here:

It has prompted me, as a Christian, to consider what I can do to respond. I too have been angered by the current government's attitude towards the poor, needy and underprivileged, and am compelled by my faith to do something.

The trouble is, I feel somewhat helpless: It seems politics is no use anymore as it has been reduced to two sides slugging it out against each other over every single issue, without any significant difference in ideology. I am not hugely wealthy so can only give so much to a limited number of causes. My week is taken up with trying to earn a living running a business and spending important time with my family so I feel like I have little time for campaigning or protesting outside City Hall like some people.

Where, indeed, do I start?

Well, just because I have family commitments doesn't mean I should wash my hands of everything. A lot of the worst cases of evil in human history only ever happened because a large amount of people didn't speak up and do something about it. Jesus was a powerful voice for the oppressed and risked his own life and reputation for the less fortunate and marginalised of his time, so his example needs to be followed.

In spite of the prevailing apathy within western society, I believe it is possible to do something and make a difference (even without protesting in the freezing cold with placards and risking pepper spray in the face). So, I've had a think about what I can do about social injustice in my own little way.

Here's my top ten tips for being an armchair activist:

1. Write to your MP
If something is making you angry, write to the person who was elected to represent you. In spite of what I said above I do believe that if people make enough of a noise, politicians will take notice. Too many people don't get that this democracy lark is about more than just voting for the least slimy/obnoxious/irritating candidate every four years. The only way for it to work properly is if people hold their representatives to account on a regular basis. If politicians don't know there's a problem, how can we expect them to do anything about it? It's now easier than ever to lobby lobby MPs, local councillors, AMs, SMPs, MEPs or any other official representative. Websites and organisations like Avaaz, Greenpeace and are great at making it easy to campaign.

2. Talk about it
Social networking has become an integral part of how (most of us) communicate these days. We can reach a wider circle of contacts quicker and easier than ever before. Use Facebook, Twitter, Blogger or YouTube for good by sharing links or posting information and make your views known. Chances are, likeminded people will pass your message down the line. Also why not use old-fashioned face-to-face contact to get things off your chest? It beats wingeing about the latest X-Factor scandal.

3. Give money
This is an easy one, assuming you have some spare money available. Charities are feeling the recession squeeze (source: Guardian) and yet they are the organisations keeping the worst-off in our society clothed, fed and supported. Usually giving is the first thing to go when people start tightening their belts. Of course, one has to feed their family and keep the roof over their heads, but it shouldn't mean giving up on giving altogether. In our family, we believe the Bible is quite clear that God commands us to give, but we don't believe it should be restricted to the often-quoted tithe of 10%. We believe God expects us to give 10% as a minimum. We therefore give 10% of our income to church (our tithe) and in addition give to other charities or individuals we wish to support. This is usually a fixed monthly gift but it doesn't mean we stop there – we try and give ad hoc gifts when and where we can. This is a principle we follow which helps us to ensure we don't neglect our giving duties, but gives us flexibility to respond to need if we can.

4. Research your subject
Don't just trust one website. Check the facts. On more than one occasion, I've researched a claim that's been doing the rounds on the internet and discovered it's either a hoax or complete misinformation. That's the problem with the Internet – it's easy for anyone to write about a subject as if they're some kind of expert. Also, if you get into any kind of heated debate, it's worth knowing your subject in case someone tries to argue you into a corner. Unfortunately, with most issues you can argue and counter-argue until the cows come home but at least with a bit of backing you can give your opponent a run for his money.

5. Support charities in other ways
Okay, maybe a bit too similar to number 3, but there are ways of helping charities other than by donating money. Just buy an extra tin or beans or carton of juice when you're out shopping and donate it to Foodbank which will then distribute the food to people who can't afford to eat. They're also on the lookout for volunteers on an ad hoc basis to help with food collections or sorting in the warehouse, just for a few hours. Helping charities out doesn't necessarily mean an onerous commitment. Also, you could lend your skills – being a videographer I've done some filming for my church, which admittedly isn't directly related to saving the world but I can see how beneficial it would be to a good cause by offering the use of my time and equipment if the opportunity arose.

6. Share the satire
When UC Davis Police officer Lieutenant John Pike decided to pepper spray a group of peaceful protesters in full view a large crowd, his badly-judged delivery of riot-cop justice was quickly picked up by social networking sites and broadcast across the world. Amid the public outcry, he was subsequently disciplined and suspended (although he probably should have been sacked). What soon followed was an internet meme poking fun at the psycho-cop. I think satire can help a message spread as well as take away some of the negative power of the situation, so it's good to share it round. Amidst all the crap, it helps to keep laughing at the world.

7. Buy locally / Fairtrade
I'm not very good at this, I admit, but I think it's obvious that we should do all we can to source purchases locally. This means buying food from local grocers, farmer's markets and small independent shops. The likes of Tesco and Asda have a stranglehold on local suppliers, but by avoiding these mega-retailers hopefully we can loosen their grip slightly. I'm not against big business per se, just as long as their operations don't smother smaller ones (which, unfortunately, they generally do).

8. Change your bank account
A few years ago, we moved all our accounts to the Co-operative Bank. The main difference between the Co-op and most other banks is that the customers are the shareholders. The bank is also committed to being an ethically-run, environmentally-friendly company. Oh yes, and their interest rates are higher than the big banks. It's ironic that Barclays, the bank that screwed us over the most, coasted through the recession without blinking and has the most customers. This is because most people are like sheep. They choose the biggest and most well-known because it's 'safe'. Well, the Co-op is just as safe and transferring accounts is a doddle. Yes, it's a bit of a hassle and something minor may go wrong along the way, but that isn't a good enough reason to not invest in an ethically-motivated business.

9. Write to companies
The one thing that impresses me about most companies is their commitment to customer service. They have vast teams dedicated to resolving complaints and sorting out problems. Of course, we all have stories of incompetent customer service but I think, on the whole, company management teams are not stupid and want a satisfied rather than a disgruntled customer. So, it's worth writing to a company to ask them about their environmental policy or campaign for them to put people before profits.

10. Have a clear out
Easy peasy, this one. Just give your old junk to to charity. They make a bit of money and you have a de-cluttered house - everyone wins!

So, that was my ten top tips. Okay, it's more than just 'how to be an activist'. I guess it's the kind of things we as Christians should be automatically doing – even though many aren't.

I know I'm far from perfect and can't honestly say I'm doing all of these things completely, but it's good to at least have something to work with.

What do you think? What else should we be doing to save the world from total meltdown??

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I'm in need of some inspiration...!

I'm afraid I'm not feeling very inspired at the moment when it comes to blogposts.

That's not to say I don't have anything to write about - it's just that I'm finding it difficult to find the time to write anything with any depth.

Even so, I refuse to give up on this blog so will hopefully be writing some stuff over the Christmas period and get back into more regular posts in the new year.

In the meantime, why not watch a little video I put together for our church recently?


Monday, September 19, 2011

Films I've Seen of Late -

Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Seeing this after watching the recent BBC drama based on the same Baker Street-sleuth meant I inevitably drew comparisons. The style, pace and approach to the character of Sherlock is virtually identical - save for being set in different time periods - meaning this blockbuster interpretation didn't feel particularly fresh or new. Of course, Guy Ritchie got there first, so I shouldn't be criticizing him for his efforts. Both versions should can at least be applauded for returning to the guts and heart of the character rather than rely on victorian stereotypes. (8/10)

UP! (2009)
Yet another Pixar film to add to the list of films I've seen of late (thanks, JKY!). This is an oddity - very unlike Pixar films in my opinion. It's quite grown up in some ways, but also very silly in others. JKY didn't really like it the way he enjoyed Cars, and I myself came away not quite sure what to think of it. Having said that, I think it's a very imaginative and poignant film with some clever ideas and funny dialogue. I just don't think it's the masterpiece that everyone thinks it is (perhaps I need to give a few years to mature).

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Oh. Dear. Indy - what have you done? I know exactly what you've done - you've let George Lucas and Steven Spielberg gang rape a much-loved franchise that should have been left alone. Okay, maybe that's a little bit strong, but it's really obvious that Lucas & Co. were more interested in making money than making a good movie. Now I know that all three Indy films have numerous flaws (and Temple of Doom is choc-a-block full of 'em), but they were of a time when blockbusters couldn't reply on CGI to blind the audience, and things were just a little bit more innocent. If Crystal Skull had been released in 1991 or something it probably would have fitted nicely with the other films - but waiting 17 years was just too damn late. Please, Harrison, don't do any more.

Cars 2 (2011)
Initially, I thought this was quite good fun, but on reflection came to realise that Pixar finally dropped the ball. I guess they had to, eventually. Having said that, they only did it a little bit (Cars 2 has easily made its money back and is doing quite nicely on the merchandising front). Michael Caine steals the show as the British secret agent Finn MacMissile, but the film has too much violence (albeit in a car-based form) and espionage-speak to be a proper, quality kids animation. The story is muddled and contrived, failing to equal its predecessor which, admittedly, was a tough act to follow. Let's hope the team at Pixar learn their lessons before they finish Monsters Inc. 2.

Source Code (2011)
Jake Gyllenhaal tries to prevent a terrorist attack on Chicago by doing some quantum-mechanics timey-wimey stuff that doesn't make much sense. With a window of only eight minutes in a Groundhog Day-style time replay scenario, he has to suss out the nasty terrorist while trying to get it on with a girl who thinks he's someone else. Did you get all that?? It's complicated, but actually very watchable. Surprisingly short - only 89 mins long - it's a tight and lean piece that leaves you wondering at the end how it all fitted together. Some great performances from Gyllenhaal and the luvverly Vera Farmiga.

Kill Bill Vol 2 (2004)
Another oldie this one, but one I'd been meaning to see for ages having seen Vol 1 a couple of years ago. I think it's fair to say that the two films are very different animals. Vol 1 is very much an Anime appreciation flick, while Vol 2 nods towards Kung Fu with elements reminiscent of Pulp Ficiton. Even though it's slower, I prefer Vol 2 because it seems to focus more on the characters rather than rely heavily on gore and violence. Tarantino is firing on all cylinders in these films - I just find the swearing and violence a bit too much sometimes.

Monday, September 12, 2011

One Woman's War - something I've been involved with at work

My company, Candy Jar Books, launched a new book, called 'One Woman's War' back in July. Written by a World War Two veteran callend Eileen Younghusband, it is a collection of her memories from the war and how she took part in the top secret Filter Room, part of Fighter Command's Radar Defence system.

Eileen is an incredible woman - having just turned 90, she still has all her faculties and is passionate about telling people about the Filter Room. Her role was pivotal in assisting Radar Command during key moments during the war, and she feels it has been largely ignored by historians and the general public alike.

Amazingly, we managed to get her onto BBC Breakfast last week. She did really well and we're really proud of her. See her in action here...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The end is nigh...

Blimey - I haven't blogged for almost 2 months! Better get on with it...

My colleague was chatting to a guy at a birthday party recently and it turned out that he worked in high finance. They were discussing the current economic situation and the finance guy was just explaining how, from his point of view, things were pretty bad - but also getting worse. He then said something quite chilling:

"My advise to you is to stock up on food, and get a gun. People will be rioting for food and you will want to defend yourself."


Ummm, okay...

Now, maybe this guy had drunk a bit too much and just wanted to sound cool by scaring people. Maybe he actually worked in a tiny accountancy firm and had no real understanding of global markets and fiscal stimulus packages.

But what if there was an element of truth in what he was predicting? What if he understood things better than most people? Could we really see food riots on the streets of Britain in 12 months time? Ironic that we witnessed rioting in London a few weeks ago. Okay, they weren't motivated by food shortages, but you can't help but blame the economic climate as one of the (many) causes.

Personally, I don't think we'll ever see food riots here in the UK. I think the government - however stupid and inept we think they are - would never allow such a situation to happen. We have the resources and know-how to cope alone. Maybe not forever, but for the short term at least. I think the fact that we're an island also helps.

Of course, recent events in Japan demonstrated the fragility of highly efficient supply chains. Everything fell apart once disaster struck, and in no time people were queuing for food in the very supermarkets that were, only a few days before, brimming with produce.

The only difference is, I'm not thinking about a natural disaster here. If that were to happen in the UK, I don't think we'd cope much better than Japan - in the case of a severe economic crisis, however, I believe things would happen gradually so the powers that be would see it coming and be able to react accordingly.

What has struck me, however, is that you wouldn't know we were facing hard economic times if you wandered around city centres. In Cardiff, people are still out shopping. Cafes are doing a roaring trade in lattes and cappachinos. Egad, the council is still paying for buggies to drive disabled people around the shops! Sure, there's the odd empty shop unit - but there always has been. You may not see Woolworths on the high street any more, but Home Bargains tooks its place easy enough.

Maybe we're all kidding ourselves and living it up while we can. Maybe the economic 'tsunami' is around the corner and we're drowning out the roar with the sound of celebrity TV shows on our flat-screen TVs. Maybe the zombiepocalyspe is just an incompetent lab technician away from becoming reality.

Or maybe people who work in finance should shut up and talk about the weather instead.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Making Money out of Economic Misery

Aloe Blacc has done well out of his latest single. It got to Number 2 in the UK charts and has gone Platinum in, er, Switzerland.

It's a catchy number that taps into the current economic-woes zeitgeist, singing from the perspective of some poor guy that's been laid off and winds up drinking away his problems.

Is it a political statement, standing up for the everyday man suffering because of poor financial decisions made by bankers and governments?

No, not really.

Aloe might like to think it is, but I very much doubt he's investing his royalties in feeding programmes for the unemployed, drug rehabilitation units or job creation schemes. He and his writers have just done what all songsmith and lyricists do - take inspiration from current events and themes in order to create their music.

In some ways, you can't blame them - I just think it's ironic that a song about poverty has probably given Aloe Blacc, his writers and his records company a nice, healthy bank balance.

No, Aloe. You don't "need a Dollar". You're doing just fine.

The rest of us, however ... we're screwed...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Packing for the Apocalypse

I don't know about you, but every time I go away somewhere - whether it's on holiday, to visit friends or for work purposes - I always have at the back of my mind a peculiar thought:

What if World War III starts and I never make it back?

Now I could have easily substituted a nuclear holocaust with Zombie Plagues or Alien Invasion, but essentially I always end end up packing a spare pair of pants or socks just in case something awful does happen to our calm and peaceful society.

I know what you're thinking: It'll take more than a spare pair of socks to be able to fight back the undead horde. True, but I suppose I'm also balancing my thoughts with the reasoning that it's very unlikely such terrible things will happen. I mean, don't get me started on zombies.

Seriously - don't.

Also, I guess I'm kind of assuming that, being the resourceful guy that I am, I'll manage to cope somehow when civilization starts to crumble. I'll just commandeer a 4x4 vehicle, raid the local Asda and get as far away from the madness as possible (I've seen plenty of movies to know what one should and shouldn't do in these situations).

Having an extra clean set of undies will just make the end of the world a little bit easier to bear.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Loss of Mac Exclusivity

Everywhere you go these days, there's an Apple piece of kit somewhere to be seen. Whether it's an iPod, iPhone, iPad, Macbook Air or even just a plain old iMac - you can't move for one of Jonathan Ive and Steve Jobs' beautifully geek-chic offspring staring at you smugly with its little Apple logo. They're in cafes, restaurants, and cool clothing shops. You see them on trains, buses and planes. Schools use them. Universities use them. Even boring blue-chip companies use them. Not only that, but a disproportionate number of characters in the movies use them as well.

In case you didn't realise, Apple CEO Steve Jobs has pretty much done the miraculous and cleaned up. Apple is king. It may not be the largest company in the world, but it ain't far off. It's cool, sexy and making a shedload of money despite the recession. Apple has a firm grip on the music industry, and has helped to revolutionise the way human beings consume, share and create media content.

If you'd told this to a Mac geek ten years ago, he/she'd pretty much laugh at you.

A lot.

And then walk away nervously.

You see, the spirit of the Mac has always been that of the underdog. Not mainstream. People who weren't in the know saw Apple computers as strange and alien - incompatible, so therefore mostly useless. Macs used a different Operating System to everyone else, so worked differently. There was a lot less software for Macs, and what was available didn't work with the PC alternatives anyway.

Macheads didn't mind those problems, though. They were happy to put up with the inconveniences because they believed their way was better. Macs hardly crashed (not quite true), didn't get viruses (largely correct) and had a longer lifespan than other computers (I think that's pretty true, also). Sure, they were more expensive - but at least you had a reliable machine that would serve you well for a good 5 years before you had to contemplate an upgrade.

Owning a Mac was like belonging to a secret club - one that was friendly and inviting, but one that required a commitment to the Way of Apple: accepting the computer's shortcomings and learning to live with derogatory comments from PC users and non-techie people alike. Owning a Mac was worth the pain because it took you to a higher plain of computing.

Well, sort of.

Mac owners used to spend a great deal of time bemoaning the mass market products that were the alternative to Apple ones. Namely, Windows PCs in all their beige plastic glory. Windows (or Windoze, as Mac addicts jokingly called them) machines were laughed at as being unreliable, clunky and lacking any aesthetic properties. Macs, on the other hand, were quietly uber-stylish - self-importantly smug as they hummed away on people's desks.

By the early 2000s, though, Apple computers were creeping into the mainstream. Steve Jobs had come back to save the company from ruin and had turned things around dramatically. Apple had a broad range of cool computers, and was making its mark as the creative professional's tool of choice. It wasn't, however, impacting the computer market as it would have liked. Windows PCs were still the dominant platform with the Mac having less than 10% of the worldwide share. Apple needed to up its game and be seen as a serious choice. It needed a saviour.

And lo - the saviour was born...

The iPod.

It changed everything.

People looked at it with a sense of confusion and awe. What was this thing? You could play music on it? But where did you put, like, y'know....the CD?

MP3 players had been around for years, but Apple knew how to do them better. As is common at Apple, they took an idea and Apple-ised it. They made it sexy, but most importantly they made the damn thing work. Alongside the iTunes application, where people could get hold of their favourite music at the click of a mouse, Apple turned the tables on the big media companies - just as they were slowly beginning to realise that the internet was going to permanently change the music industry.

This little white hunk of plastic and metal opened the floodgates - slowly but surely, people began migrating to Mac computers via the iPod. It was known as the 'halo effect': get people to buy one Apple product and they begin to fall under the Apple spell and want to buy more. They get seduced by the sexy styling, nifty interface and tech-kudos that only Macs have.

So now, after the iPhone and iPad hitting the mainstream and doing better than the iPod it seems everyone owns at least one Apple product. For goodness sake, even my mother has an iPhone! (in fact, she got one before I did!!). Apple has managed to remain cool despite huge success and occasional PR disasters (cracked iPhone glass, anyone? weird antenna issues?).

In conclusion, I'm a little saddened at Apple's success. I can no longer enjoy being a little bit smug about owning an Apple. People no longer go 'What's that? An Apple com-pew-tur?', they go 'Oh yeah, I got an iPad 2 for my birthday'.

What I'd like to point out is that people like me took the plunge way before the masses began following like robotic sheep. I had to endure the pain and anguish that came with buying a Mac. I was a loyal and faithful Mac Geek.

The question is - after all I've said, am I going to abandon the Mac?

Well, no - not really.

Windows is still, in my opinion, a bit rubbish. Linux is beyond most normal people with social skills. Google Chrome is a young upstart with a long way to go. There is nothing else to choose from.

I'm going to stick with the Mac until something better comes along (which probably won't). I shall continue to pour my hard earned greens into Apple's coffers, and encourage friends and family to give up their Windows woes and convert to the Church of Jobs. Even though it pains me to do so.

Who knows, maybe Microsoft will one day be the underdog.

If that happens, I just might renounce my religion...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A little story I wrote a while back.

Desperate to quickly update my blog with something I turned to some short stories I wrote a while back. Here's one about iPods (yes, I'm that sad) which I wrote five years ago. Interestingly, I had to amend it slightly to reflect some changes over the last half-decade. Left in its original form, it would have sounded very dated.


The train doors slid open and Jerry lumbered out, fighting against the flow of passengers trying to get on. The commuter cattle didn’t bother him too much – he was too engrossed listening to 84’s latest spell-beat remix of Thirteenth Hour. He’d downloaded it earlier that day and was beginning to enjoy the tune so much that he'd adopted a slight wiggle in his walk.

Jerry was on his way to meet Pardip by the newsagents owned by that crazy Taiwanese guy, Mr Li. Jerry regularly stopped by the small shop and so had come to know Li quite well over the years. Li always had an opinion on something, and Jerry ended up taking the full brunt of it. Not that he minded – Li’s outbursts were usually quite funny, and he always had a serious point.

‘You read this?’ shouted Li as he held aloft the Daily Express. ‘Bloody Politicians! This new law stupid!’

Jerry took out his earphones and sat on a stack of The Sun as he grabbed the offending paper off Li. The headline shouted at him ‘Pod crime man convicted!’ with a picture of the familiar little music player being held aloft by some bimbo celebrity. In the corner was a grainy black and white passport photo of the poor sod referred to in the title.

‘Bloody disgrace! Can’t believe it! I not use those thing!’

Jerry read the article intently. Of course, he’d known about this all morning. His first act of every day – after taking a leak – was to switch on his iPad and surf the news sites while munching on a bowl of Frosted Malt Pods. He was a man of habit, grateful for the technology that kept him informed and up to date, 24-7.

‘Well, that’s the new century for you,’ offered Jerry.

‘New century? New century? You bloody mad! You bloody lost it, mate! You plugged into those thing – they burn your brain!’

Li disliked the small devices immensely. He always sneered at customers who possessed one, which was pretty much all of them. Even the old folks – listening to their favourite audiobooks – were keen Podders. Such colloquial terms grated with the Sony execs (as well as Pardip, who worked at their European office on Belvedere Road). The world was divided into two types of consumer – those that had an Apple iPod, and those that had a Sony Walkman (Walkie). Two mega-corporations were constantly at war: battling it out on the world stage for consumer domination.

Sony tried ever so hard to weave their Walkman into the zeitgeist, but Apple had beaten them to it with their sleek, sexy and clever devices. Only after several years of ruthless marketing and price-cutting did Sony manage to claw its way to an equal number one spot. Even so, they never managed to influence culture quite the way Apple did. Sony followed, it never led, and trying hard to change the status quo made it even less likely that the electronics giant would ever succeed.

Whether it was an iPod or a Walkman, they were usually referred to just as pods. No longer confined to playing music, the most up to date pods now doubled up as phones, personal organisers, game machines, voice recorders, cameras and even miniature masseurs.

Jerry was itching to listen to the 84s again, but Li went off on another tantrum about pods ruling the world and causing brain cancer. Jerry nodded absently as he re-read the article - describing the actions of a Winston Smith who’d failed to wear his personal pod to work. The new laws were getting more and more strict. Now it was an offence not to have a personal device on show. Jerry looked up at Li who shouted at some random passer-by giving them a serious fright.

‘The last thing I do is wear a pod! You unnerstan’ me, boy? I a free man!”

As the rant continued, Jerry’s fingers danced over his iPhone, sending off a text message. Looking up, he saw Pardip in the distance and went to greet him.

‘See you later, Li.’

Mister Li to you, boy!’ screeched the old man. He gave Jerry a fierce stare before melting into a toothless grin. He began to cackle, laughing at his ludicrous over-reactive self. ‘It hard work bein’ mad,’ said Li before muttering quietly ‘Say hi to your frien’ for me.’

‘Will, do,’ smiled Jerry.

Pardip waved to Jerry, laughing as he noticed Li wander back into his kiosk. Pardip figured he'd just missed a ‘Mr Li Rant’.

‘Hey, man. Li giving you a hard time again?’

‘Nah. Just the usual,’ replied Jerry. Pardip chuckled.

‘Ok, you ready? The presentation’s startin’ soon. I wanna get a good seat.’

‘Just a sec,’ Jerry nodded in the direction of where he’d just been. ‘I need to see this.’

Out of the horde of commuters, six dark shapes appeared. Kitted out in full riot gear, the Podcops made their way to Mr Li’s shop. There were raised voices and then a commotion, with Li shouting furiously and lashing out with his spindly arms. No-one around seemed to notice – either they didn’t care or were afraid to show any kind of concern.

One of the Podcops produced a baton and brought it down heavily onto his victim, bringing a sudden silence from the Taiwanese man. As his limp body was hauled away, the crowds snaked past mindlessly. It was over in an instant.

Jerry and Pardip turned and headed for the exit.

‘You do that?’

‘Yeah – couldn’t stand his anti-pod attitude,’

‘I hear ya. Why can’t people just get along with technology?’

They clambered up the steps into the gleaming sunshine just as Big Ben clanged the bells for midday. Jerry breathed in the atmosphere as he popped the small white earbuds into his ears.

‘It is, after all, the twenty-first century.’

‘Amen to that. People should just accept it.’

Jerry pulled out his pod, deftly selected the 84s and pressed play. He had to hear that song – just one more time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Films I've Seen of late - April

I haven't done a movie review for a while and thought it was about time I shared my recent movie consumptions. Here goes:

SALT (2010)
Angelia Jolie gets on my nerves most of the time, mainly because she's always adopting kids while looking ridiculously beautiful at the same time. Even so, her performance in Salt was pretty good. Actually, the story was the thing that made this film work for me. It was a clever re-work of the overdone contemporary-lets-not-be-james-bond-spy-thriller with lots of interesting twisty turny bits. Surprisingly good! (8/10)

TRON (1982)
Actually, this isn't a new film to me. I saw it when I was a kid ages ago and seem to remember it being really really awesome. Sadly ... times have moved on and Tron just looks really really dated. It's also feels really really short.

Luckily, rather than having my happy childhood memories erased with depressing adult ones I can still appreciate it for what it is. Although a flop at the time, Tron did a lot for the sci-fi genre and can forever be filed under 'classic' films (for my generation anyway). The upshot is, I'm glad I have it in my DVD collection, but my hopes for Tron Legacy (which I haven't seen yet) are not very high. (6/10) *ouch!*

I have a love/hate relationship with zombie films. I'm not a fan of gore and think the whole concept of zombies is just plain silly. Plus it's been done to death (excuse the pun). However, the ever-popular apocalyptic sub-genre is always fascinating to me and I just can't help myself. I am, therefore, grateful to the makers of this excellent zom-com for proving that there is still life in the zombie film yet. Woody Harrellson and Jerry Zuckerberg are the perfect dysfunctional duo journeying across the USA to find sanctuary from the America that has become Zombieland. Witty one-liners, great set-pieces and the perfect balance between comedy and horror make this an example of doing zombie films right. (9/10)

TOY STORY 3 (2010)
Yes, I cried. Let's just get that out of the way, shall we? TS3 has been known for making grown men cry, and I was one of them (not that I'm ashamed, of course). We bought the Toy Story trilogy box set for JKY (he's watched them about 70 times already), but also so I could get to see the third part of the series which I hadn't managed to see in the cinema. Thankfully I never got to see it in atrocious 3D, which would probably have ruined it. Pixar can never do wrong it seems and they demonstrated yet again that they are first and foremost masters of storytelling - computer animation is just a tool they use to do it. (9/10)

I so much wanted this film to work, but overall it was a bit disappointing. Perhaps the distracting veneer of 3D (see above) put me off. In spite of a good, strong cast (although Prince Caspian inexplicably loses his spanish accent from the last film) it just didn't seem to have any meaningful purpose or drive. The story lumbered from one scenario to another in a kind of uninspired painting-by-numbers sort of way. I'd be surprised if Walden Media ever get to make any more Narnia films, but if they did I think they should just cut to the chase and get on with making The Last Battle. Surely, no wrong could be done with that story... (5.5/10)

Getting along with the Cantelon

I've been really getting into worship music of late. This is mainly because I felt God prompting me to spend more time worshipping Him (which is fair enough, I suppose). For a while, I've been listening to Ben Cantelon on Spotify and finally got round to buying his album 'Running After You'.

Ben has managed to come up with a worship album that is beyond your typical 'crowd-pleasing' 10-track CD. It's got a couple of popular songs that seem to be doing the rounds in the churches at the moment, but also has a number of tracks that are less mainstream and just good music. Ben has managed to get the balance right between good music and soulful adoration of the Lord - something I don't think happens all the time. Sometimes musicians fall into the trap of going all soppy in their worship, which grates with me sometimes (not that I have a problem with most Christian artists per se).

This album is full of genuine love of God, and is not ashamed of it either. The lyrics are soulful and earnest, yet edgy. I fully recommend it to anyone looking for worship music that isn't just 'more of the same'.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Birthday Card Fun 2

And here's another cool Birthday card - but this time from my brother.

He's an artist.

I think that's all I need to say....

Friday, February 25, 2011


I've been looking at the stats for my blog, and was surprised to see that the most viewed blog post ever was the one about getting Oreos for Christmas 2009 (a whopping 908 page views).


I don't claim to be the world's greatest wordsmith, but I thought I'd written more poignant and heartwarming stuff in other posts.

Maybe it was the combination of Christmas and Oreo that flagged it up in people's Google searches. Maybe the suits at Nabisco/Kraft have people tracking every Oreo mention that comes up on the web. Maybe it was pure fluke.

Either way, I've discovered what keeps my readership happy. If they want blogs about Oreos, then so be it. Who am I to question the masses?

So, as I get my thinking cap on and think about what Oreo articles I could write, here's a cheesy 1980s US TV ad for an Oreo variant that proved too unhealthy - even for Americans. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Saturday, February 19, 2011


This car was parked outside the fertility clinic we are currently attending.

I'm not joking.

You'd think, though, that there would be better options for a personalized plate such as: SP3RM, 5PERM, F3RT1LE or ZYG0TE. Maybe they were already taken by the other BMW-driving fertility consultants and S4ERM was the last one left...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Separate hot and cold taps is a stupid idea

This was once pointed out to me by a bunch of foreign students who were on an 'orientation' training weekend that I was teaching at. They couldn't understand why we had separate cold and hot water taps. Surely, they argued, you don't want either your water scalding hot or freezing – you want it somewhere in the middle.

They had mixer taps everywhere on the continent, apparently, which seemed to make perfect sense. Perhaps it's a hangover from our colonial past, or some weird puritan approach to water taken by whoever was in charge of the water board back in the 1950s. Or perhaps we never actually thought about mixing hot and cold together.

Of course, I've have actually seen mixer taps in Britain. They aren't exactly new – but it's surprising how much we still rely on the old way of doing things.

Above is a picture of the sink in our local library.

It was refurbished about three years ago, which just shows how modern and forward thinking our councils really are...

Monday, January 31, 2011

American Vacation?

I was chatting with my brother at Christmas and discussed how much holidays people usually had in the States and I was shocked. Typically, the average hard-working American is entitled to two weeks vacation. This is compared to an average of four in the UK.

Not only do we Brits get substantial holidays (plus sick leave and usually even special leave for family emergencies), but we also get bank holidays off. In the US, only a select few employees get those days off (banks and government agencies, for example). For everyone else, it's business as usual.

Plus - and here's the worst bit - if you work part time you are not automatically entitled to any annual leave. Not pro rata, not one bit.

According to a 2007 report by CEPR, "...the United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation or holidays. As a result, 1 in 4 U.S. workers do not receive any paid vacation or paid holidays. The lack of paid vacation and paid holidays in the U.S. is particularly acute for lower-wage and part-time workers, and for employees of small businesses."

Does this seem fair? How can one of the major world powers get away with treating its citizens like this?
One could argue that working its people so hard is what has kept America on top, but given its current economic woes I'm not convinced. The reality, I suspect, is that politicians in the US have their hands tied in terms of introducing any kind of legislation that would make paid annual leave compulsory. They are obliged to keep those companies investing billions of dollars in the American economy happy, and forcing them to give paid leave to employees would not go down very well with big business.

The idea that giving people more time off would lead to lower productivity and effectiveness (which is, presumably the fear of US companies) is daft. In fact, I suspect productivity would increase as people become more energised with their time off. At the very worst, things would stay the same - but at least people would be just that little bit happier with their lives.

Time off is one of those things I think we should hold sacred in a civilised society. It gives us a chance to switch off, unwind, smell the roses and just 'be'. While work helps to define us and gives structure and meaning to our lives it's only a part of who we are. We are also defined by our relationships - our family and friends. If we work all the hours God sends and don't get to spend any time with those we love and care about - well, what's the point?

Not only that, but time to ourselves is also vitally important. A chance to walk in the woods or stroll along an empty beach alone gives us a chance to reflect and ponder the bigger issues, to clear the cobwebs from the mind and dream a little.

Isn't that what being human is about? Isn't that one of the things that separates us from the animals?

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Greatest Disappointment In Cinematic History

Did you realise that all three Star Wars prequel films are complete rubbish and merely a cynical attempt at milking as much money as possible out of a much-loved and respected franchise?

I didn't ... until I saw Red Letter Media's scathing, but very accurate, analysis of the films (see below). NB: Contains swearing and weird, unnecessary references to kidnapping ... you kinda have to skip over those bits.

Painful though it is to admit ... we were all duped.

I remember as a young adult coming out of the cinema after seeing The Phantom Menace and feeling confused. I think that, deep down, I knew I'd just seen a pile of crap - but because it was, y'know, Star Wars - well, it couldn't be true. I wanted to like Phantom so much that I wouldn't accept that it was a pile of turd.

What is embarrassing is that, being a film and media student, I should have spotted the glaring errors, plot holes, character inconsistencies and failure to follow normal film grammar.

I have every intention of sitting down with JKY one day and watching Episodes 4, 5 and 6 with him. I look forward to that, cos I think he'll really enjoy them. I don't know if I could ever bring myself to letting him watch the first three, though.

I suppose I could just point out every flaw and plot-hole along the way.

I'm sure he'd enjoy that....

Saturday, January 15, 2011


I thought I might as well exploit my blog to sell our car. There's no point spending loads of money advertising it if I can make people aware for free - makes sense, doesn't it?

So, in case you or anyone you know is interested, here are the specs:

2003 (53) Skoda Fabia 5-door Hatchback 1.2 HTP 12v (64bhp) Petrol Classic

PAS, Air Con, Airbags, ABS, Immobiliser, Single CD Player / Radio, Adjustable steering wheel, Trip Computer, Electric Front Windows, Remote Central Locking, Height-adjustable driver's seat, Silver

6 months MOT

Only 79,000 miles

Full Service History

This car has had one owner since new. It has the usual signs of wear and tear for a car this age. Notable bumps are on the boot door and with a scuff on the nearside rear bumber.

The rear wipe screenwasher does not work but this is easily fixed.

A great, fun car to drive that's solid, reliable and cheap to run.

This really is a great car, which has served us well for over seven years. We're sad to see it go but need the cash and can't really justify running two cars considering where we live. Oh yeah, and it's bad for the environment.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What's your takeaway pseudonym?

When I last went to Domino's Pizza, as usual I offered my name after giving my order so they could call me up when the cholesterol-infused discs of dough were ready for collection.

I have decided I need a cool name to give with my order, rather than my own which, frankly, isn't particularly cool. The idea is that when the spotty teenager behind the counter announces my food is ready, fellow grease-munchers will be struck with fear and admiration at my name. I will then stride out of the fast-food establishment in slow-mo like in some kind of John Woo film.

Here are a few examples of what it could be:
- Nighthawk
- Master Blaster
- Locutus
- Dreadlock
- Captain Sinister
- The Rock
- Asbo
- Raptor Man

Of course, I'd probably need an outfit to go with my super new cool name - but perhaps that's going a bit too far...