Sunday, 27 July 2014

Macabre for the masses

The other day I completed 'Sniper Elite 3' on the Xbox and I have to say I thought it was a fantastic game - possibly about as good as a first-person shooter gets, although I'm sure there's plenty of people who would argue the point. The game predictably relies heavily on stealth and long-range kills rather than the more usual run-and-gun techniques that many use in games of this genre. A particularly entertaining aspect of the game is the x-ray cam which shows in glorious slow-motion detail the internal destruction of the target's body as your bullet rips its path through him. You can enjoy such highlights as the bullet entering the eye socket, punching grey matter and skull fragments from the back of the head, or slicing its way through the sternum and heart, taking the spine apart on the way out, all to the grisly sounds of the victim's death rattle as he gurgles on his own blood.
The really worrying part is not that someone went to the trouble of creating this gore-fest or that enjoyment is obtained from glorifying death (the targets are Nazis after all), but that I simply couldn't get enough of this spectacle - to the point of taking extra time over my shots to ensure I got the most dramatic and bloody kill possible.
However, as I have no problem separating fantasy and reality, there's no real reason for concern. Indeed we all have a macabre side to us to some degree or other. If we didn't there wouldn't be tailbacks in both directions of the motorway when there's a crash, because those travelling in the unimpeded direction wouldn't have the automatic desire to slow down and have a look to see if there's a mangled corpse hanging out of the wreckage. Sounds a bit sick in those terms doesn't it, but when you stop and think about it that's exactly what's going on. We have a built in fascination for the nasty icky stuff. It's the reason people watch action movies where the hero gets tooled up and rampages around racking up some super-human body count. Death and destruction abound but it's entertaining because we know it's not real and the victims are all bad guys anyway so who cares, right?
The big thing that used to be frustrating about 'The A-Team' was that however many thousands of rounds were fired, nobody got shredded. Obviously this was a conscious decision by the programme makers so that it could be shown during prime time to all ages, thereby substantially increasing its audience. But that did mean that a little something was missing. It would have been just that bit more satisfying if the savage dictator terrorising the little backwater village got turned into a human teabag in a hail of M16 fire. Instead, the worst that happened to him was to be decked by B.A. before being chased away with his tail between his legs. It just didn't quite satisfy the blood-lust, did it?
And what about motorsport? It's hard to believe anyone watches Formula 1 to be impressed at the driver's skill or the way the aerodynamic design of the latest cars enables them to obtain such incredible corner speed. No. What we're all waiting for is the crashes. We want to see a few drivers push it too hard and pile into the tyre wall or each other in a spectacular shower of unbelievably expensive alloy and carbon fibre parts. But because we know it's real with real lives at stake we also don't want anyone to get hurt or worse.
When we watch the MotoGP, we're rubbing our hands together in anticipation when it's a wet race because we know that anything can go wrong and there's a strong likelihood that it will. In a wet race you're practically guaranteed to see even the most talented riders low-siding into the kitty litter before attempting to rejoin the race with bits of fairing and half a rear brake lever missing.
But when it does go wrong and the worst happens we feel awful because we at some level experience a true sense of loss. The tragic and untimely demise of people like Ayrton Senna or Marco Simoncelli brings home the reality of what can happen when it all goes very wrong. As long as we experience this sadness we can be assured that our moral compass is still pointing in the right direction, and it's still OK to enjoy the bloody mayhem of a film or video game.

In summary, we all love a bit of death and destruction as long as nobody actually gets hurt.

The A-Team: probably the worst shots in the world....

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Hang on, I'm buffering....

I've come to the conclusion that my head needs a new hard drive installing.
I have all the symptoms that a PC exhibits when the hard drive is failing - taking time getting started, having to think about it for a while when asked to do something, and sometimes coming to a complete halt when a piece of information becomes difficult to access even though you know it's in there somewhere.
I'll be in the middle of saying something and the next word will suddenly vanish from my mind leaving me struggling to make my point or just petering out altogether. It's happening so frequently recently that I sometimes wonder if it's a sign of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
The times I find myself wrestling with actually getting a simple word or statement out are on the increase and it's not as if it's complicated words I'm scratching around for but common everyday words that really should present no problems at all. So I suddenly find myself reduced to having to describe the word with increasing desperation until the person I'm talking to either guesses it or walks away exasperated. It's a bit like that mad word game where you have to describe something without saying its name... you know the one I mean... a bit like charades only different... ummm... oh forget it.
So far I've managed to make light of this when it happens - I just say I'm buffering (like when you're streaming video content and your connection's a bit slow) - but in the back of my mind I'm wondering if it's getting worse.
But I'm only 43 so surely it's too early to be losing my marbles. God knows I sometimes wonder how many marbles I have left and how long it will be before the last one is tentatively circling the drain before finally dropping out and rolling across the floor leaving me convinced it's 1977 and someone's nicked my commemorative Queen's silver jubilee toy double decker bus.
Fortunately, when typing this blog I have time to think about what I'm saying and can happily wander off to make a cup of tea or something while I get the wording right, then come back and have another go. If I was to try doing that in the midst of a face-to-face conversation, people would think I really had gone over the edge, and would be phoning for the men in white coats to come and take me away.
So if I'm talking to you and stop dead in the middle of a sentence looking vague and confused, don't worry. I haven't been shot up with horse tranquiliser and time hasn't come to a halt - I'm just buffering.....

Mighty Mushroom and the road of terror

With the recent weather jumping about from torrential rain to hot and humid days where all you want to do is sit in the fridge with the beer and back again, it has been hard to find a time to take a decent cycle ride without getting drenched in either precipitation or perspiration.
As luck would have it, this morning saw acceptable conditions for putting in a good few miles before breakfast, and judging by the number of other cyclists on the road I wasn't the only one feeling the same way.
So I set off shortly after 7am with my route planned, tyres freshly inflated to the required 100psi, a bottle of chilled water and the determination to enjoy the open countryside before the rest of the world had crow-barred itself out of bed and taken to the roads to spoil the peace and tranquility.
Turning on to West Fen Road between Ely and Coveney, my mellow mood was quickly turned into a state of grumbling agitation thanks to the local council having decided in their infinite wisdom to lay what they refer to as 'surface dressing' - know to everyone else as 'piles of loose gravel specifically designed to ruin grip, break windscreens and chip paintwork'.
Now I know that this particular back road was in seriously shoddy condition, but this crappy cheap-skate excuse for road repair simply doesn't work. If you're going to repair a road then do the job properly for God's sake. Scarify the surface, fill the cracks and potholes, and put down a good layer of smooth new tarmac. Whoever came up with the idea of pouring a thin layer of bitumen on a knackered road before spreading ten times more gravel on top than can possibly stand a chance of sticking to the black gooey layer wants bloody well shooting. It's like putting a sticking plaster on a bullet wound and hoping for the best - no sodding use whatsoever.
So there I am with gravel flicking onto my legs from the front wheel and almost coming off a number of times when I caught a particularly deep patch of gravel which did its best to make the wheels go anywhere but straight ahead. Not a happy bunny. And then something caught my eye which make me stop and turn back.
There on the verge was a patch of giant puffball mushrooms. Now I'm no fungi expert and I would never normally do this, but this variety simply can't be confused with anything dangerous except when they're very small, and these examples were certainly not small so I picked one to take home.
The only downside was that having picked up this mushroom that was bigger than a football was that I then had to transport it home. So I had to ride the remaining 8 miles home one-handed with this freak fungus cradled carefully in my left arm with the constant fear that something should cause me to drop it and it all be wasted. I've been looking for one of these things for the last two or three years since I found out about them and the last thing I wanted was for it to be ruined before I got to eat it.
Clearly my luck was in and I arrived home with no worries beyond an aching back caused by the awkward riding position. My unusual travelling companion was then set about with a large knife, resulting in a serious pile of light fluffy marshmallow-like flesh that with careful freezing should keep me in mushroom heaven for quite some time to come. And that was only half of it, but I know a wild fungi enthusiast who will probably be quite happy to take the other half off my hands.
Naturally I kept some pieces aside for immediate consumption and I have to say the soft texture and subtle earthy taste went very well with the sausages, eggs and potato waffles with which it briefly shared the breakfast plate.
I love investigating nature's larder and I'm always keen to try anything provided I know exactly what it is. Indeed, if I'd been riding with my air rifle slung across my back then some of the mushroom would probably be occupying the slow cooker right now with a freshly shot rabbit because there were plenty of those running around this morning too....