Friday, December 20, 2013

Facing the big 4-0

I'm afraid the inevitable has happened. I've decided to post about turning forty.

The good thing is, I'm not going to be forty for over a year. I've got time to prepare ... time to brace for impact.

I always used to scoff at people moaning and despairing about reaching this landmark age. I used to think they were being a bit sad and pathetic, but that was back when I was young and carefree with years of abundant, youthful life stretching before me.

I'm sure people's reasons for dreading forty are many and varied, but the main one is probably the fact that you are pretty much halfway through your life, and your mortality is staring down upon you like some ominous grey sentinel. Things start to become harder to do, and the frailty of the human frame becomes ever more obvious.

In conversation with a friend recently, I was discussing personalities and we talked about how people in their forties are pretty much set in their ways. Thinking about myself, I felt a little bit sad because I don't want to be 'set' as a person. I don't want it to be "there you are, you're all set ... nothing else will change – that's it now until you die!"

There are plenty of things about myself that I need to work on – I know far too well that I'm not perfect and have many faults. I like to think that some of those failings which I had a few years ago have been worked through and I'm better for it, but unfortunately as you get older you pick up new (bad) habits and tendencies so the process of self-improvement is never ending.

That's how I want to be for all of my life, not just up to when I hit the big 4-0. I always want to be a work in progress, always growing, always changing, not stagnating.

Otherwise, what's the point?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Further adventures in baking

Despite having the urge to do a spot of baking for some time now, I've been put off by the requirement to do all that pesky kneading.

Along came a recipe that I had to try, which was the answer.

It's called Ice Cream Bread.

Yes, read that again. Ice. Cream. Bread.

Actually, it's not really bread. It's more like a cake than bread, but it does have bread-y characteristics.

Here's what you do: 
- Take some ice cream out of the freezer and let it thaw for a bit.
- Mix 1 cup ice cream thoroughly with 1.5 cups self-raising flour (yes, I know it's American measurements which is a pain)
- Bung in a tin
- Cook for half an hour
- Boom! Ice Cream bread is born!

The verdict?

Well, as I said, it's more like cake than bread. It's not that sweet – but I didn't use a particularly luxurious brand and I did mix in some sprinkles which added a bit of a sugary hit. You can add anything you want, really, but it does depend on what kind of ice cream you're using. If it's a premium one I'm sure you don't need to add anything else.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A School Memory (Part 2)

Following on from my a previous tale from Mr Pugh's class which I wrote ages ago, here's the second instalment of a not-very-consistent-series:

Magor VAP (voluntary aided primary – no idea what that meant) School, sometime in the early eighties. I was about eight years old...

Each Friday we had a maths test. It was a series of questions (ten, I think) designed to test our abilities in all things mathematica.  I remember that the early questions were simple ones like 10 x 24 but then got more and more difficult and/or abstract as you got closer to the big one-zero.

Teacher would read out these questions, pub quiz master-style before getting us to mark each other's papers (presumably because Mr Pugh couldn't be bothered to do it himself).

Now, I normally sat next to a kid called Lyndon and each week we dutifully swapped papers and began merrily marking away. The thing is, we had a hustle going on. Me and Lyndon were the Kray Twins of Friday morning Maths – without the gang-based violence or weird mother-worship. We weren't going to be bound by the system that tried to control our minds and erode any sense of hope we had. We were fighting back in our own small way, just so we could stick it to the man.

What we'd do is give each other decent grades regardless of what our answers were.

It was the perfect plan. We were both in on it, so we both benefited – and the great thing was, we didn't even have to try. My maths at that age was pretty appalling, so getting a grade upgrade was good for me. We were so clever, we didn't just give ourselves ten out of ten. No, Mr Pugh would've smelled a rat – instead we varied our results from week to week. It might be an eight one time or a nine the other. What we also did was made sure we didn't give each other an identical mark either. Again, another potential source for suspicion. As long as we kept it above seven each week, our deception would remain under the radar – and we would look pretty smart.

Or so I thought.

There was one week when Lyndon was ill and didn't come in that Friday. Uh-oh. Where was my partner-in-crime when I needed him? The flaw in our plan became evident: if one of us was away, everything fell apart. We should have enlisted a third party, at the very least to stand in as a back up. Damn that Kray twin aspiration!

When I passed my paper with my clueless answers on to some other kid who wasn't in on the scam, I felt sick. I'd tried my best, but most of what pub-quiz-teacher had been droning on about was mostly gibberish to me. Maths – meh!

My paper was handed back to me and the result sat there on the page, sad and pathetic. When it was my turn, I sheepishly called out my score.

"Two?!" came Mr Pugh's dumbfounded reply. "Two!?" he repeated a little louder as I sunk a little further into my seat. He was, no doubt, disappointed and slightly confused. How could someone like me, a pupil who consistently got over 70% in my weekly tests, come back with less than half that?

Thankfully, Mr Pugh made an indignant face and moved on. Maybe because it was a Friday he didn't feel up to getting medieval on my ass. Perhaps I looked a bit peaky and he thought I was sick and my super brain was impaired.

Whatever the reason for his indifference, I escaped with a mild moment of shame and things moved on. Relieved, I was surprised that I hadn't had more of a grilling about my performance. If Mr Pugh had actually done so, my entire cover would have been blown and I would have found myself at the Head's office feeling even more sick (Lyndon, annoyingly, eluding the punishment). I remember teacher explaining one of the questions on the board and having no idea what we was talking about.

When Lydon returned so did my above-average maths score, and my ruse remained undetected.

Perhaps that's why I'm not so great at maths. Mr Pugh assumed, from my weekly scores, that I was doing OK. Therefore, he didn't bother spending extra time on improving my numeracy. I'm not actually that bad (because I actually am quite clever, and modest to boot), but I never had that grounding that could have made me a world famous mathematician – easily solving such number mysteries as the Twin Prime Conjecture or the Gaussian Moat Problem (look them up, I dare you).

So, Mr Pugh, I totally blame you for denying me my place on the mathematics world stage. Had you picked me up on my crime I would have learned the errors of my ways. I would be better at maths and have loads of money.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Hey scriptwriters! Sort it out!

One look at YouTube channels like Cinema Sins and Honest Movie Trailers and you'd be forgiven for thinking that professional movie makers had completely lost the plot.

It's a recent phenomenon where cinemagoers are questioning what they see up on the silver screen. No longer are we all taken in by expensive looking CGI and big name stars. We have begun to challenge everything that is displayed before us, and I'm not just talking about continuity errors. Plot holes, illogical decisions made by character and unrealistic scenarios are still being wheeled out in order to make a story hang together over 90-120 minutes. Even IMDB has a goofs section for each movie listing continuity errors, crew appearing in shot, factual errors and other mistakes.

Here's an honest trailer for Avengers, which nicely points out what's wrong with the movie:

And here are the sins of Prometheus, a complete mess of a film in my opinion:

So what has changed? Is it that audiences are more discerning? Or is it the fact that filmmakers have become sloppy? Perhaps movies have always been flawed, it's just we didn't notice or make such a big deal about it. Or maybe it's just that a bunch of guys got together and thought they could run a successful YouTube channel simply by picking apart blockbuster films?

The downside of such admittedly hilarious videos is that it takes away from the magic of films. It looks at something that on the surface looks perfect, and reveals it for what it is – a creation born of flawed and imperfect human beings. No matter how hard you try, you'll never achieve perfection.

I wonder if, looking at other pieces of art, you could list all of the flaws they have too. Perhaps Shakespeare was half asleep when writing King Lear and could have tried a little harder? Maybe Da Vinci's Mona Lisa is a bit off-colour? Or Michaelangelo's David slightly out of proportion? A valid point ... but then, Avengers is not Shakespeare (sorry, Joss – you know it's true).

It would be good if filmmakers took notice of the likes of honest movie trailers and made the point of hiring 'Plot Police', 'Logic Lawyers' and 'Script Supervisors'. Actually, I think they do employ such people ... it just seems they're not very good at their jobs. 

To conclude, I just hope they leave classic movies alone. If they pulled apart the likes of Citizen Kane, 2001, Psycho or It's a Wonderful Life I think I'd get really depressed.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Movie Review - Oblivion

For quite a while now, it seems that most sci-fi/action blockbusters have either been comic/book adaptions or sequels rather than something new or different. Oblivion, however, was a breath of fresh air after last year's glut of testosterone-y big budget offerings.

It's one of those films you don't see very often – a pure slice of sci-fi that gives makes you think combined with gorgeous and epic visuals.

Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is a drone repair man, left behind on a post-apocalyptic Earth ravaged by an attack from alien invaders. The rest of humanity have fled to Titan, while he and his partner complete their tour of duty protecting 'Hydrorigs' (huge facilities that convert seawater into fuel necessary for humanity's rehabitation offworld) from the remaining aliens – or scavs – on the surface. So far, so very science fiction-y.

Tom Cruise really needs to pee now...
It's when Jack rescues a female astronaut from a crash-landed ship that questions begin to come up. Not only has this survivor been in cryo-sleep for sixty years, but she is the very same woman that Jack has been dreaming about constantly while he's been on Earth.

If you've been unfortunate enough to catch the second trailer, you will probably have been able to work out the rest of the story and key twists that show up along the way, which is a shame. Luckily I didn't see the trailer before the movie so was able to appreciate the plot turns that make this such an engaging story. I've written before about how trailers spoil everything for the audience, but when a story such as this – which relies heavily on keeping the audience guessing in order for it to work – gets the thoughtless trailer treatment it negates the whole point of actually going to see the film.

Whilst this isn't a perfect sci-fi film, it is in my opinion very close to one in spite of the similarities to other movies such as Independence Day, Planet of the Apes or 2001: A Space Odyssey.

True, it's a big-budget outing with two big name stars attached. Having Cruise involved was no doubt essential to getting the budget needed to make the film and sure, that meant compromises to keep the studio execs happy: one or two slighlty shmaltzy moments that were completely unnecessary, references to the present-day so as not to alienate Cruise fans who don't like sci-fi, a booming soundtrack that could have done with being a bit more subtle. But, hey, I can live with that.

You can't watch this movie without being impressed by its design and look, which was stunning. From the minimalist outpost sitting high up in the clouds to the graceful 'bubble-ship' to the grand vistas featuring fossilised cities, the work involved in bringing this story to the screen is phenomenal. It made me yearn for the future again (something a film hasn't done to me for a while) – one which is clean, shiny and new.

Thankfully, this film isn't part of a trilogy. Neither will it have a spin off TV series. It's just a standalone film that tells a story and does it well. And for me, that's a very good thing!

Verdict: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, April 19, 2013

It's the Friday video post! A shameless Companions plug!

Our latest book at work is due out in June, which we're all rather excited about. It's called Companions: Fifty Years of Doctor Who Assistants and you can watch a related video here:

Monday, April 1, 2013

Why Dredd failed at the box office – Part II

Pick a Dredd, any Dredd (just don't pick the one on the right).
You're probably pretty bored of me going on and on about last year's reboot of Judge Dredd (actually, it's not really a re-boot, more of a 'let's get it right this time'-boot). I thought Dredd 3D was a pretty awesome film and, naturally, I placed a pre-order for the DVD via Amazon as soon as I was able.

Now, like most of the fans I was pretty gutted that Dredd hardly made a dent on the cinema takings in the the US – a crucial proving ground for any possible sequels. I loved Dredd so much I wanted to see more of Urban playing the future lawman but chances are it will never happen. Most of America didn't bother going to see it because, well, they couldn't be bothered.

It got me wondering, though.

One of the main reason people give for Dredd's under performance is the lack of decent marketing in the States.

Dredd's distributor in the US was Lionsgate films, which also happened to be promoting The Expendables 2 at about the same time.

The Expendables was Sylvester Stallone's project ... Sylvester Stallone was in the 1995 version of Judge Dredd ... Dredd bombed at the box office.


Just imagine if Dredd 3D has been a huge success. Surely it would have dented Stallone's Hollywood-sized ego at least a bit – especially as the vast majority of people slate his camp portrayal of Mega City One's number one lawman.

I just wonder if the Italian Stallion pulled a few strings behind the scenes and scared the marketing guys at Lionsgate into holding back on any real publicity for Dredd 3D stateside. Apparently, some showings of Dredd were playing to empty theatres which is bonkers (given that, in the UK it was no. 1 for about two weeks).
Ah am dur luuaaawww!
Admittedly, there is the lack of awareness of Dredd in America (which I point out here)... but with the right kind of campaign and a few clever stunts, I'm sure more of an impact could have been made. I mean, Dredd starred the guy who played 'Bones' in Star Trek so surely there would have been some interest?

As recently reported, it looks like a Dredd sequel will definitely not happen (at least for the next ten or fifteen years) but the latest incarnation featuring Karl Urban has inspired a new generation of Dredd followers to make their own fan-films, which can only be a good thing.

Let's hope we'll see a lot more of Dredd on screen (even if it is only the small one) in years to come.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Adventures in baking .... the saga continues

My baking endeavours have perked up lately thanks to sprog no. 2 finally learning to sleep properly. I made two loaves last week (one was sun dried tomato and the other was cheese) but sadly forgot to take any picture to prove that I actually did it, but I did – honest!

The ugliest loaf in Cardiff
This, er, beauty was baked because we'd run out of shop bread and I didn't have my house key with me so couldn't go out and get more. Resourcefulness kicked in and I decided to do what I'd been meaning to for ages – bake a big loaf, rather than two small ones (which is what I usually do).

I'd made the fatal error of meddling with the dough after it had risen. What you are supposed to do is put the dough into the tins or onto a baking tray once you've finished kneading. For some reason I thought I had to leave the dough in a mixing bowl and then shape and/or transfer to a tin. No, dummy, that's what you do if you're making pizza dough.


Anyhoo, as I wrestled with the gooey white stuff I realised what I'd done and tried to smooth out the ball of dough but to no avail. As you can see in the picture, the bread came out with an interesting outer crust.

I was pleased to see that the insides were OK. Here's a close up of the spongy innards:

Bread ... mmmm ... dough!
I can't really tell if it's worked properly. I mean, it tastes alright so I suppose that indicates success....??? It's a bit heavier than commercially made stuff, but that's probably because I'm not using any nasty preservatives or anything.

So, the next step is to do it properly and try some more exotic combinations.

If you have any suggestions, drop me a line in the comments. Ta!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Problem With Trailers

I dislike movie trailers.

I really do.

I've loved going to the cinema ever since I was a kid. The build up to the 'Feature Presentation' was always part of the spectacle and fun of going. The trailers, in particular, were exciting not just because you got to find out what new films were coming out (obviously), but because you got to see what they were going to be like up there on the big screen.

Now I've come to see trailers for what they really are: a cynical unrepresentative advert designed to manipulate and tease while almost always giving away too much and spoiling it for everyone.

I now have a policy with regard to trailers. If it's a film I want to see, I will avoid as much publicity as possible.

Teaser trailers are fine – generally they don't give too much away. They give enough of an overall picture of the film for me to gauge whether it's something I'd be interested in.

What I dislike is the full trailer which seems to be the entire film reduced to its core elements in a nice 3 minute package. Honestly, I've seen some trailers which have negated the need for me to see the film because I've seen all the important bits and all the funny and/or meaningful dialogue.

It seems Hollywood is hell-bent on doing multiple trailer versions (with different footage for different countries which everyone sees anyway thanks to the internet), TV spots and exclusive internet trailers. Good grief, they've even done trailers for trailers (Cowboys and Aliens). What next? A trailer for a trailer for a trailer???

Also, most trailers seem to be edited by the same person. They all follow pretty much the same pattern that sort of goes like this:

- Quiet intro, usually showing a bit from the beginning of the film
- Gravelly voice over begins to fill you in on what this film is ABOUT (optional)
- Titles come up to set the story (optional)
- Then, the music starts and we see the protagonist, and probably the antagonist too
- Action builds ... tension is rising
- Wait ... here comes the FUNNY PART!
- More action
- Faster and faster edits!
- STOP! .... it's another FUNNY!
- Then the music reaches it's climax with more and more fast cuts with someone probably screaming 'nooooooooo!' in slow motion.
- TITLES! (accompanied by whoosh! or ching! sound effect)
- Gravelly voice over (optional)
- End

Dear Trailer editing guy. Please try and do something original. At the very least, avoid giving away everything about the film. Thanks.

Movie Review - The Hobbit

The one thing that I noticed while I was watching Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was the blatant nods and winks to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Whether it was the music, a line of dialogue or a sweeping shot of Middle Earth it felt like someone was whispering in my ear: "Look! It's like the Lord of the Rings, only a bit different! Aren't we clever? Oh look – It's Lord Elron! You know, from LORD OF THE RINGS!!".

Maybe it was that annoying bloke sitting next to me in the cinema ...

I know, of course you're going to get nods and winks. This is a prequel or sorts after all, but I wonder if this film suffers from some kind of inferiority complex when compared to LOTR (which I shall refer to it as from now on because it's quicker to write). Maybe that's why Jackson pushed for a trilogy so that it could stand up to LOTR in terms of scope, depth and, er, number of films.

The Hobbit is an enjoyable enough romp through Tolkein's fantasy world with plenty of battles and close shaves with a bit of dwarvish angst thrown in. Needless to say, our heroes make it to the end of the film (no, that's not a spoiler because part 2 is coming out next year) having developed slightly as individuals and moved a bit closer to their ultimate destination (the lair of evil dragon Smaug).

Martin Freeman does a double-take ... for a change

Overall I found it a bit, well, just more of the same. A group go on a quest, they fight some orcs, have a rest, fight some trolls, have a rest, eat then sleep, fight some goblins and then – um, that's about it really.

It's not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but personally I don't think it's the masterpiece everyone seems to be saying it is. LOTR broke the mould by doing decent fantasy that wasn't too ridiculous. Sure, it was long, but it was an epic and you kind of expected that. The Hobbit feels like it's trying to punch above its weight and only coming off as mediocre (Hobbits are short, after all).

The problem is, The Hobbit is always going to suffer because it's from a book that's just a couple of hundred pages long. A lot of people have said that Jackson deliberately extended the films so that he could make more money. I don't want to be one of those moaners who accuse Jackson of being greedy. I think that's unfair and unwarranted. I genuinely believe he loves everything Middle Earthy with a passion and has been determined to stay as faithful to Tolkein's vision, but I think maybe he loves all things Hobbity and Elfy and Dwarfy a bit too much. Perhaps he saw this as his last ever chance to ever do Tolkien on screen so wanted to milk it for all it was worth creatively.

The one character that stands out in this film is Radagast the Brown, excellently portrayed by ex-Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy. The wizard is wonderfully eccentric (moreso that Gandalf), with an interesting mode of transport that is both hilarious and awesome at the same time. It would have been good to see more of him, but given that Radagast doesn't actually appear in the original novel (he has a part in LOTR, albeit briefly), it seems unlikely – although on the Internet Movie Database he is listed as a character in the sequels so who knows.

Martin Freeman does a good job being the reluctant hobbit hero, but still behaves like his character from The Office, which is kind of annoying. While he looks remarkably similar to a younger version of Ian Holm (who plays the older Bilbo), his mannerisms are pure Martin Freeman which kind of spoils things for continuity (well, for picky sods like me, anyway). The rest of the cast are well-chosen, particularly Ken Stott, Richard Armitage and James Nesbitt giving both humour and gravitas to the ragtag band of dwarves.

Anyway, in conclusion I came away slightly disappointed. I had to watch it in 3D for various reasons and, for me 169 mins in three dimensions was hard work (I tend to find that 3D doesn't really work for me - my eyes really have to strain and the effect is a bit lost on me unfortunately), so perhaps I wasn't in a totally objective mood. This could have been a nice little film without too much pretensions but just feels over-bloated and stodgy (a bit like Hobbit stew, probably).

Verdict: 5 out of 10.

Friday, January 25, 2013

It's the Friday video post! R'ha – sci-fi short

Amazingly, this sci-fi short movie was pretty made by just one guy (probably spending a lot of time in his flat in just his underwear). I have to say, the visuals are almost perfect – plus the story works too.

No doubt this guy is going to get some kind of job in Hollywood. It is such a brilliant piece of work that it really does make me feel very very inadequate!!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Do you like alternate history stories?

I'm quite a fan of alternate history stories. It all started for me when I read Fatherland by Robert Harris back in '92, but I've come to discover that this sub-genre of storytelling has been a part of popular culture for a great long time, stretching as far back as medieval times. Alternate history and alternate reality sometimes go hand in hand, so I guess I'm treating them as the same thing.

My first encounter with the whole 'alternate' idea was from reading the excellent 'Zenith' comic book series, which featured in British comic 2000AD. The story centres around a self-absorbed and lazy English superhero who is reluctantly enlisted to help overcome inter-dimensional beings intent on destroying earth. Making a point of being set in an alternate reality, Zenith begins by featuring a flashback to the end of World War Two when Berlin is destroyed by a nuclear bomb. When I first read it, I didn't 'get' the whole alternative history thing and thought the writers has made some sort of mistake, knowing that the first atomic bomb targeted Hiroshima in Japan. In fact, some anally-retentive reader wrote in to Tharg the editor, explaining in great detail the facts surrounding Hiroshima and smugly pointing out how the writers were incredibly stupid for getting it wrong the only for Tharg to patiently explain that it was an alternate history story.

With a story arc that covers three series (or 'Phases'), the alternative reality idea is explored further and further revealing several different realities of Earth (including one where dinosaurs and humans co-exist). I really enjoyed this series and regard it as a clever re-imagining of a tired superhero genre with a British twist to make it interesting. Needless to say, there were plenty more alternate reality stories to discover.

I remember watching the American TV series 'Sliders', which I only managed to catch the occasional episode of. The premise was simple: a small team use a device to 'slide' between alternate Earths via a wormhole vortex. Upon their arrival, they learn about how things are different to their home reality (Earth Prime) and overcome various plot challenges before jumping through the vortex into the next world. Because the slider device is faulty, they don't know where they'll end up next and are ultimately trying to find their way back home to Earth Prime. From what I can tell, the show was a bit of a shambles production-wise and over time veered away from the original premise (which focused on the different alternate histories of worlds visited). I remember enjoying what I saw, but always got the impression that the vision and the budget never quite squared up to each other.

When I read Robert Harris' book, I was intrigued by the concept that imagined a world where Hitler had won WW2 and the 'Final Solution' remained a terrible, dark secret. I thought this way of writing was new, but later discovered that countless alternative history novels had been written, including HG Wells 'Men Like Gods' and Philip K Dick's 'The Man in the High Castle' (of which, at the time of writing, I've not yet read).

It seems the idea of Hitler winning the war is nothing new. Len Deighton's 'SS-GB', published in 1978, is about a Detective in Nazi-ruled Britain investigating a murder in London that sparks interest from the highest echelons of the Nazi SS. Evidence of a conspiracy begins to unfold involving the British resistance and a plot to free King George VI from his prison in the Tower of London.

Back in 1964, just nineteen years after the war ended, 'It Happened Here' imagined what it would be like to see Nazi Stormtroopers roaming the British countryside. I've only seen clips, but what makes this film so terrifying is that it's so close to the time of the conflict that it's almost like watching a contemporary documentary. You can see a clip here:

I've only read a couple of alternate history books in the last few years. One is The Two Georges by Harry Turtledove and Richard Dreyfuss, which imagines a world where America never gained independence from the British Empire. Set in the 60s, it's a very steampunk-ish world of biplanes and airships featuring a seasoned cop on the trail of Nationalist terrorists. I very much enjoyed this story, which had pace and ingenuity. It was fun to read about Americans drinking warm beer and using shillings for currency. I did feel, however, that is was missing a decent map (which I think is an essential for alternate history books, to help orientate oneself as a reader), although the book's Wikipedia page has a basic one to look at.

The other book I've read recently is The Mirage, which came out last year. Imagining a world where the Arab nations are the superpowers, it depicts the US and Europe as breeding grounds for Christian fundamentalist terrorists intent on attacking the arab states. Bagdhad is the equivalent of New York – a muslim cultural metropolis home to the world trade towers which are destroyed by the aforementioned terrorists in 2001. Washington DC is much like present day Baghdad with a 'Green Zone' occupied by Arabian and Persian troops after the attacks. What makes this story interesting (a secret service agent investigating a Christian suicide threat) is the notion that, essentially we are all the same (obvious, I know) and given the right circumstances, anyone could find themselves part of a global terrorist network.

I hope to read more alternate history titles in the future when I get the chance, although looking at the Uchronia website (a website dedicated to alternate history / reality fiction), there seems to be an overwhelming number of stories to choose from, so I'm not sure where to start!

The good thing about this particular genre is that the possibilities are truly limitless. If two parallel universes can be distinguished by the different locations of a simple atom (so the theory goes, I believe), then I can't imagine authors will be running out of ideas anytime soon.

Friday, January 11, 2013

It's the Friday video post! Homeboy Sandman (Getting to grips with the art of rap)

A friend from uni who I'm still in touch with via Facebook is a big fan of rap and hip-hop – not the big money commercial crap that's on mass-media moronic music stations, but the (apparently) decent stuff that not many people have heard of.

He's highlighting the good stuff via his 70 elevators blog, and I was intrigued by the music video from Homeboy Sandman, hence today's post.

Here I am, a middle-class near-40 year old blogging about rap music. Hah! Well, now I can say I'm down with the kids. Sort of.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My Review of 2012

Thankfully the Mayans were wrong ... or rather, the people that thought the Mayans had predicted the end of the world (which they didn't) were wrong, and we managed to get through 2012 mostly intact.


And so, because I'm still here, I've written my annual round up of 2012 – that year that, um, was.

2012 has been a hard year for me, with many changes and pressures from all sorts of angles. If I could sum up the last twelve months in three words I'd probably go with these: tiredness, illness and busy-ness! That's not to say it's all doom and gloom. I've actually had some great times, it's just that I've had to experience them through something of a zombified fug. Oh, and I'm not saying 'woe is me' or anything. I know plenty of people who've had a harder twelve months that yours truly, so please don't think I'm complaining because I'm not. I'm just, you know, telling it like it is.

The most obvious thing to mention is the birth of No. 2 son, Edward. Unpredictably, he is very different from his older brother and so for us going from one to two has been big adjustment in a lot of ways. For the first few weeks he ate, cried and slept (as the little sprogs do). It was OK for a while, but as the weeks dragged on it got more and more exhausting. Ed has, so far, not been a great sleeper like his bigger brother was. Wifey has only had one night of 6 hours sleep. Other than that, the longest stretch has been 4 hours – and that's since April. I've been fortunate to have a bit more sleep, but not enough to feel fully normal so I can't say I'm my usual self at present. Admittedly things are slowly improving and Ed is beginning to get to grips with this wonderful thing called sleep. It has, however, been, eight months of pseudo-torture. Saying that, I must make the obligatory gushing comments about how cute Ed is and how proud I am of being a dad etc. etc. which is all true but being so knackered all the time don't half take the shine of things.

Anyway, to continue the moaning thread, I have another subject to tackle - illness!

Yes, not only have I suffered sleep deprivation on a hallucinatory scale, but plague and pestilence have darkened our doors and it has not been fun. For the first part of the year I was fine, but when the sleep deprivation thing kicked in I think my usually reliable immune system decided to give up. I have had numerous colds, flus, coughs and some weird thing that felt like a kidney infection but turned out to be a virus that rendered me virtually immobile for several days that even now I am still experiencing the after effects (albeit extremely mildly). Even though the actual time spent being ill is far less than being 'okay', the unusual frequency has clouded my view of the past year.

Right – that's enough moaning! What else have I got to say about the year?

Well, work has been the usual rollercoaster ride of uncertainty, chaos and fun but I am quietly confident about the next twelve months. We started employing three youngsters (well, they're under 25 which is young to me) thanks to some government funding which has helped massively. This time last year, being the eternal pessimist, I had my doubts about the future but I feel the complete opposite now about things. January through to April are likely to be extremely painful financially but I do think that the company has a good chance of pulling through and doing reasonably well by the autumn.

Faithwise, I have found 2012 to be a year of frustrated stagnation. Spending quality time with God has proven highly elusive and I don't feel like I've moved forward in my faith at all. This is annoying because I know that there is so much more I can learn about myself and God if only I put in the time. Not only that, a stagnant faith can veer toward no faith at all – which is slightly worrying.

On a positive note, I feel that God has been challenging me about how I handle situations, encouraging me to learn to 'chill out' a bit more. I've found that for almost every challenging situation I've found myself in, a solution has come along soon enough and that everything was fine. Panicking doesn't solve things any quicker or easier, and usually a sense of humour wards off any sense of despair and hopelessness.

Also, we had a great time in Bluestone, West Wales for our holiday back in July. The weather wasn't brilliant, but there was plenty to keep us amused and have a decent break. The weather did, however, make us think long and hard about going abroad in 2013 – which we will be doing (hurrah!).

So, what am I looking forward to in 2013?

Well, assuming my hunch is correct, I'm looking forward to things going well at work (no doubt there will be plenty of challenges which is handy given what I said above). I also expect we'll be buying a new car at some point. Our current vehicle has served us well but is beginning to cost us lots in upkeep and I fear it will get worse the more we use it. How we're going to pay for it ... well, that's an interesting thought. Our kitchen will need a new ceiling (ulp!), thanks to a leak I discovered just before Christmas. It will be a good week of disruption but worth it in the long run. Lastly, we have booked a holiday in Western France in the summer so can't wait for that (hopefully we'll actually get to see some sunshine...).

I don't have any resolutions as such but hope that God will help me to mature as a person in 2013, becoming a better dad, husband, friend, relative and work colleague (no mean feat, that!).

I just need to remember not to take things toooo seriously.

Happy New Year everyone!