Monday, July 30, 2007


Just back from a conference in Birmingham over the weekend. So some quick points:

I hate missing trains by a few seconds and if you were on platform 3 at Bristol Temple Meads on Friday afternoon you would have enjoyed witnessing me having a screaming row with my fella, who refuses to run for trains. In my defence, it was a long time since I had had anything to eat. And watching 2 gay men scream recriminations at each other was an entertaining diversion for the 100 or so people who were watching. (We got another train 15 minutes later.)

I used to think Birmingham was nice, but it seems to have gone a bit rough since I was last there. Maybe I just got it on a bad day. Some lads (I'm guessing who were half my age) shouted "Battyman" at me and another conference member (who is outwardly effeminate) from a balcony, when we were walking through the Bullring. It's the first time I've ever experienced that sort of homophobic abuse. Fortunately, I was the only one who heard them. The day before I heard a group of drunk lads shouting "she-male!" at some random person. Why are so many young men such wankers?

The new Hairspray film has some good musical numbers in (it's a bit exhausting to watch), and the cameos from Ricki Lake, John Walters and Ben Stiller are nice. But I still prefer the subversive humour of the original film (I can't believe almost 20 years have passed since I first saw it - where did they go???)

I am reading a book about Forensic Psychology. It's pretty grim stuff. My fella took one look and said "oh that's your sort of thing!" I am quite normal really, but a few of my friends comment that I like weird films that have unhappy endings. I'm not sure why. Unhappy endings tend to make me think more and have more of an impact. And that makes me happy.

Octopussy is maybe the worst (ie best) Bond film ever made. Even if it does have a happy ending.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why I love Seinfeld

One of the ways I relax is by watching Seinfeld DVDs. The picture of the cast above is completely unrepresentative of the show, making the characters look fun and zany, just like any American sitcom such as Friends. However, the characters in Seinfeld are often bitter, apathetic, envious or inconsiderate. They are not fun.

It took me a long time to appreciate how well-written and funny Seinfeld is (I couldn't get past the weird twangy music for years, I found the sets to be a bit muted and generic, and I didn't like how it was supposedly about "nothing"), but it's one of those shows where the longer you watch it, the more you get from it - with, little themes and jokes recurring. Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David's writing are wonderful, taking "observational humour" and making a sitcom out of it, while throwing in loads of neurotic pondering, where characters spend ages obessing about a real or imagined slight, the imprecise rules of socia behaviour and the exact meanings of vague utterances. I guess it helps to appreciate the show if you do those things yourself.
The world that Seinfeld lives in is random, full of co-incidences and often Kafkaesque. In one well-known episode Seinfeld and his friends are unable to remember where they parked their car in a shopping mall car park and spend the entire half hour wandering around trying to get people to help them find it, and are met with varying degrees of apathy from members of the public. This is a recurring theme - of people simply being unwilling to help or get involved. In another episode, the cast are waiting to get a table at a Chinese restaurant, while other groups get served before them. It's a reassuring form of comedy to know that other people care about things like that, but that also it's best to laugh at it (I'm one of those people who always seems to pick the slow queue at the supermarket.)

The only thing about Seinfeld that I don't get is how come there are so many beautiful women in the show - I'm sure in real life none of these women would give the male characters a second look (even if they are funny). FOrtunately, sometimes Elaine (the only female recurring character) bags herself a hunk, so there's something for me to look at as well.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"My mind is not yet soothed"

My Canadian friend was visiting at the weekend and wanted to try the new Thermae Spa in Bath (the one that took ages to finish and was very expensive), so we went there on Monday. I was a bit worried that it would be full (as it seems to be very popular) so I rushed us there and was buying tickets while my poor friend was eating a half-finished pie.

It was very expensive - and you had to pay extra to hire towels and robes. The changing rooms were mixed-sex and there was a locker system involving electronically encoded bracelets which I found very confusing (I felt like a pensioner to be honest, going "where are the keys Where's the men's changing room? What do I do? Help!")

The spa itself was very "modern" in design, with circles incorporated into everything. The main steam room area had four large circular glass steam rooms, each scented differently, while in the middle was a huge circular shower, big enough to accomodate about 8 people at once. It was what I imagine Dr Who's bathroom would be like, as the walls were lined with rows of circular windows, making it feel like the Tardis (circa the Tom Baker era).

Women outnumbered men at the Spa by about 9:1. Me and my friend were the only pair of males in the place - all of the other men were with their girlfriends/wives. I felt a bit out-of-place and worried that the other patrons would think we were there to ogle the women (obviously not the case). I guess going to a Spa is a bit of a girly thing to do. Some of the steam rooms were scented with lavender which made me feel choked, and there was that "relaxing" music playing (which actually makes me feel tense and annoyed).

So what with getting annoyed at the expense, confused by the locker system and single-sex changing room, intimidated by being in a gender minority and pissed off by the music and over-powering smells, I must be the only person to visit a Spa and come out feeling more stressed and uptight than when they went in.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Bravo and Bernard

I know I mocked Bravo Two Zero but I just finished reading it and IT WAS GREAT!!!! I don't think a book has ever taken me on such a journey before. I don't mean the literal journey across Iraq that Andy McNabb describes, but a metaphoric journal where I started out viewing the book as trashy but then got caught up in the adventure of it and started marvelling at how McNabb coped with the harsh envirnment and then the torture when he was captured. By the end of it I was sort of in love with him. The book is very big on acronyms and SAS slang, which at first I found annoying, but by the end words like "slotted" and "gave the good news" and TACBE did not interrupt my speed-reading style.

I even (shame) went out and bought the DVD of the BBC version of Bravo Two Zero starring the very Yorkshire Sean Bean. I have only been able to watch half of it so. I am unsure if I'll be able to cope with the second half (it has all the torture stuff in it). Fortunately Andy and his boys didn't suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Apparently living in a culture of "taking the piss of everything and everyone" inures you to such things. I had always disliked the army because of the rudeness, but I guess it does psychologically prepare you for being captured by the enemy, where they'll do a lot worse to you.

I could never go in the army. I bristle with silent rage if someone tells me I'm looking a bit tired.

Did anyone see the Bernard Manning thing on Channel 4? I was prepared to give him a chance, never having really seen his act or anything. (For non-Brits, Bernard Manning is a stand-up comedian, famed for his racist humour.) At a hotel in Blackpool he started off quite well, making a self deprecatory joke about his appearance, but it then descended into a racist rant, directed at the sole black member of the audience, while everyone else gacked with laughter. Horrible. Worse still, when Manning was confronted about his racism after the show, he responded with abuse and arrogance "I've worked in Vegas and drive a Rolls! You're nobody! Everyone who hates me is just jealous!" He's dead now. It's probably for the best. I hope the jokes died with him.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Have I found out the reason for my afternoon dip?

I tend to get really tired and sleepy in the afternoon. I'd assumed it was "normal" and that I was just being Spanish and craving a siesta. However, today I didn't have a yoghurt for lunch with my soup and I didn't have an afternoon dip at all. Maybe I'm not really Spanish at all - but I've just been experiencing a daily sugar low all these years. (Must investigate further.)

I went out yesterday to buy blu-ray discs. The store assistant was impressed and asked me if I had a Playstation 3 and was it good? I love being an early adopter (kind of). When I got home I showed my fella the discs I'd bought (Mission Impossible 3, Monster House and Deja vu). "I'm guessing they don't have a very big selection of films yet" he commented. As a punishment I made him watch Mission Impossible 3 with me. When it finished he said "Well that was 2 hours of my life I'll never get back." To be honest, I wasn't paying much attention to the "story" at all, but was instead marvelling at how the 40 inch screen and high definition tv showed up Tom Cruise's crow's feet and pores in his face. I keep reading about how actors now have to be "high definition ready" and now I know what I mean. I am definitely not high definition ready. I look best when slighty out of focus so it is just as well most of my friends have poor eyesight from reading too many books.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Money burning a hole in my pocket

We are moving back to Lancaster in a couple of months, having sold our flat in Bristol. Living up north is much cheaper than the south(west), so we will be notably better off and will only have 1 mortgage instead of 3 (don't ask). I am getting fancy new bathrooms in the new place (a 3 bedroom duplex), new sofas, new carpets, new everything. For a whole week my only topic of conversation has been "what sort of taps should I have?" which I acknowledge isn't even that interesting to ME, let alone anyone else. I am in danger of becoming one of those people who bore their friends by going on incessantly about bathroom suites and getting out the catalogues when people come round.

Today I bought a Playstation 3 and Sony 40 inch high definition LDC tv. To be honest, the picture on it isn't all that good close up, but when you put a blu-ray disc in, it's so beautiful that even the most rubbish film becomes amazing. (The only blu-ray disc I have is Resident Evil 2, which is not the greatest film in the world, so I am speaking from experience.) I wasn't sure whether to go with blu-ray or HD DVD (it's a rerun of VHS vs. Betamax of the early 80s), but after doing a bit of reading around online, and looking at what was available in the shops, it looks like blu-ray is the likely winner. More of the big media companies are supporting it, and it is inbuilt into the PS3 anyway. Now it looks like I will end up having to replace my massive DVD collection with blu-rays (after having just finished replacing all my videos with DVDs).

I had a bit of a bad experience 3 years ago when I last bought a television (it gave me headaches and the store wouldn't let me return it), so now I'm a bit wary of forking out a lot of money. This time I bought everything off Comet's website (they tend to discount the prices quite a bit online, and also, you have 7 days to return things if you don't like them if you buy online - which isn't the case if you buy instore). I took out a 3 year warranty plan as LCD tvs have problems with dead pixels (something I've encountered before), although I made the store manager promise in writing that they'd replace the tv if there was even 1 dead pixel (as a lot of stores don't consider 1 dead pixel to be a fault). Even after all that, I still ended up spending more than I had intended as I had ot buy buy a tv stand and a "monster" cable which allows you to watch blu-ray films. And I got a PS3 game called MotorStorm, which is a rather fun driving game.

Stuff doesn't make you happy apparently. But at the moment I am very happy.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Valkyeries on Holiday

Just back from a week's holiday in Mawgan Porth in Cornwall. I wish I could say it was lovely sunny weather, but it rained a lot and on the days when it didn't, it was windy and grey. My fella likes cliff-top walks for some reason that I can't fathom. However, he has a history of falling off cliffs when walking alone so I now have to accompany him. I try and act like I am enjoying it, but on the last walk it was such an ordeal that I felt all we were missing was a magic ring and a crack of doom. He got up at 5 in this morning to outwit me and went on a walk on his own. Fortunately, he didn't fall into any cracks of doom.

The highlight of the holiday was a trip to the Jamie Oliver restaurant for a 6 course meal. Cornwall has gone a bit upmarket since the last time we were there two years ago. The jolly little 1960s style cafe that used to serve egg and chips (that I had really been looking forward to visiting) in our bay, had been converted into a trendy restaurant (oil and ciabatta and posh girls serving). Oh well. There was some excitement during the week, when a lifeguard decided to take a female companion on a "tour of some caves" around the bay and then they both went missing for 11 hours. It made the national papers but luckily they ended up OK. I hope those "caves" were worth it.

We were staying with my fella's extended family, including two of his sisters, his parents, his grown-up neice and his baby niece. Collectively I have named the female members of his family "The Valkyeries" as they are all powerful Liverpudlian women who Shouldn't Be Messed With (the grand matriarch is called Val). The baby niece is not yet 1 year old but is already shaping up to be a Valkyerie - when she wants something she points her index finger at you and looks right at you defying you to disobey. The Valkyeries are all very merry and hardy and they like to talk to you at the same time, so it can be a bit of an exhausting experience. A lot of their conversations involve relaying tales of how they encountered and dealt with conflict, usually with a work colleague or shopkeeper. These stories usually involve the Valkyerie in question triumphing and getting her own way. What is quite scary though, is that when they tell the stories, they get so involved, that it is like they are reliving the experience with YOU as the person they are arguing with. Still, after 15 years of studying them, I have some tricks for dealing with them, and I usually keep them all in line by inventing little games and amusements so their competitive personalities can be safely channelled. We spent most of last night with me running a very long quiz for them all. Unfortunately, they kept making me drink bottles of beer (I am normally teetotal due to my kidneys not being very good at processing alcohol) and I ended up a bit drunk. I haven't been drunk in 10 years. It was quite a nice feeling - a sensation of losing control. But I wouldn't like it to be a regular thing.