Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Thunderstruck

I don't make a habit of short posts, but in this case I'll make an exception.
Check out this video of two guys performing AC/DC's 'Thunderstruck' on cellos.
I've never known cellos to be played like this and I'm sure many will cringe, but it's just so friggin' awesome I had to share it.


Sunday, 28 September 2014

Fear of change

In years gone by I was always very enthusiastic about new things. I was one of those 'early adopters' of new technology - wanting the latest gadget when it had yet to make a big impact on the market and was therefore still commanding a high price. Even though I knew that within twelve months there would be a better updated version for half the price, I still fell into the trap. I remember spending 600 pounds on a Panasonic DV camcorder when they first came out. By the time the initial excitement dwindled and I decided it was too much aggravation to carry it around, and suddenly realised that I never bothered to actually watch what I'd recorded, the price had dropped considerably and the secondhand value was peanuts. I still have it in a drawer somewhere - a reminder of past mistakes I don't want to repeat.
I used to change my car pretty much yearly. Granted, this was largely due to the early ones being old heaps that were unlikely to pass their next MOT, but also simply down to being bored of them and wanting something different. The amount of money I've lost by doing this over the years is something I'd rather not calculate, especially as I spent considerable time and funds keeping them on the road while I owned them.
Odd then how time has progressively eroded my impulsive nature to the point where the notion of changing anything fills me with dread. Whereas I used to dive headlong into everything, I now go through a painfully long process of weighing up the pros and cons of the most trivial decisions. The really important choices are a mentally crippling nightmare. Nothing is straightforward anymore. Choosing a bottle of wine to go with dinner is a potential minefield with only previous experience helping to narrow down the options from the hundreds lining the shelves to the small handful that have been tried and successfully tested. There's still plenty I've yet to try, but once I've eliminated any Shiraz because it's too acidic, anything from Germany because they only send us awful syrupy piss and keep the good stuff for themselves, and of course any sort of Rose because it's far too girly to take seriously, I'm still left with a staggering choice. Even when I restrict myself to Rioja, Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon if it's going with red meat, or a nice Chablis for fish or chicken, there's still a mind-numbing array of options. Thank goodness for special offers to help swing the deal.
The other day I went to change my mobile phone because the boy couldn't use Spotify on his one due to a broken headphone socket so he'd taken to commandeering the wife's tablet which wasn't going down too well. I figured rather than me replacing his phone when he keeps blowing his allowance on video games, I'd have a new one myself and let him have my old one which was still considerably better than what he had. The plan was good until I was perusing the range of devices in the EE store and my brain went into meltdown, wishing I'd never suggested doing all this and just kept my existing one. After much discussion about the various options up to and including saying 'bollocks to your bloody Spotify addiction, just play CDs' I eventually relented and plumped for some Sony thing which proved to be a pain in the arse to set up and has an operating system a few steps newer than the previous one and is taking me an age to find my way around it. I'd happily go back to an old basic dumbphone if it wasn't for the ease of texting with a QWERTY keypad.
The issue is amplified exponentially as the decision becomes less and less trivial, so when it comes to really important life-changing choices all I want to do is run away and hide; curled up in the corner in the foetal position hoping it will all go away. Invariably this doesn't work and I'm forced to deal with the situation, leaving me feeling depressed and inadequate.
I don't know if this is part of the natural ageing process or if it's just me spiralling relentlessly towards a padded cell and clothing with lots of interesting straps and buckles.
Perhaps that wouldn't be too bad. Eat what you're given, do as you're told, think what you're told to think. It would put all the decision making into someone else's hands, leaving plenty of time for more important things like licking the windows.


"So, Mr Martin, today we have a choice of  risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine, paliperidone, ziprasidone, or lurasidone. Or you could just stay the same gibbering wreck you've been for years...."

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Silicone heaven

Sitting here having put away half a bottle of Southern Comfort I'm feeling pretty good.
I've got a week off work now - my annual 'calm before the storm' holiday before the academic year starts and work gets all full of students again. There is the complication in the back of my mind of our biggest wind tunnel being out of commission due to a speed controller failure right before we need it to be fully operational for undergraduate teaching, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the electrical fairies will work their magic before the shit hits the fan (which probably won't be spinning) and we have to reorganise the whole teaching timetable at the eleventh hour.
However, I have a week away from being the boss and having to sort this stuff out and even though I may have a mountain of effluent to wade through on my return, for the time being all is well with the world.
My contentment is enhanced by actually having a cake success in the form of a rather good courgette cake (very similar to carrot cake if you haven't tried it) which has worked out very nicely. It was also a chance to test out my new silicone loaf tin which although not holding as accurate a shape as a metal one, does appear to have allowed the cake to cook far more evenly without getting the slightly overdone edges I usually suffer from.
After a day doing as little as possible beyond washing the car, giving up with 'Destiny' on the Xbox due to its ridiculous respawning points during the most difficult and intense firefights and cooking dinner, I can kick back further still with hardly anything to concern myself with beyond the question of whether to have cheese-on-toast or soup for supper and if I should put on Led Zeppelin's 'Houses Of The Holy' or Paradise Lost's 'Host' once the current Coldplay album has finished.
It's such a hard life.

 Okay, so I have a weakness....

The team carrying out servicing while the electrical guys
take up practicing black magic as a last resort



Butchery and Brazilians

Quite some time ago I had a go at reading Game Of Thrones by George RR Martin as I'd heard much talk about how great it was. I didn't get very far as it didn't draw me in - partly because I found it dull and partly because of all the weird names that kept me wondering how they were supposed to be pronounced. This is the sort of thing that ruins a book for me as it interrupts the flow. So I gave it up as a bad job and moved on to something else.
Since then the TV adaptation has arrived on the scene and inspired a whole new following beyond fans of the books which probably consisted largely of geeky 'Dungeons & Dragons' types.

Over the years we've binge-watched plenty of series including House MD, Weeds, Black Books, Orange Is The New Black, Heroes and many more. Eventually I figured it might be worth a look as we were after something different to get addicted to.
Luckily our nephew was kind enough to lend us the first three seasons of Game Of Thrones, along with a couple of advisories - 1. There's a lot of bloody violence, and 2. Whenever there's a woman you'd like to see rather more of, she will usually oblige.
This was all the incentive I needed so we gave it a go, and he was right.
Each episode consists of swordplay, fountains of blood, lots of nudity and shagging, all in varying proportions and intensities. There may have been some dialogue too, but in general it didn't seem to help the story which is more confusing than the instruction manual for a piece of Chinese-made flat pack furniture. This left me plenty of time to ponder alternative questions such as: given that these events are taking place in a world at a time equivalent to medieval Britain where the only shaving implement available is a well-honed hunting knife, how come all the women have Brazilians? Now I'm not a huge fan of the natural look and I love a Brazilian as much as the next guy but if they were going for any sort of authenticity there would instead be a collection of bushes you could lose a badger in. However, given the opportunity to see women like Natalia Tena ('Tonks' in the Harry Potter films), the beautiful Sibel Kekilli (reformed porn star) and Emilia Clarke taking it all off for our entertainment, I'm more than happy to overlook this matter.
A simple summary would be that Game Of Thrones is part battle, part porn, and all very confusing. Aside from the blood and boobs however, I have to admit that the acting is for the most part first rate. Peter Dinklage is awesome as Tyrion Lannister and for me is the crowning glory of the whole lot. I should probably also give mention to Jack Gleeson as King Joffrey, who manages a fantastic job of making you hate his guts, which presumably is the whole idea.
The trouble now is that season 4 is currently a bit on the pricey side so I'll have to wait a while to see what happens next, although having said that, given that a large number of major characters got killed in various nasty ways at the end of the third season, and that I'm no further forward working out which family is fighting which or why, it's likely that I'll now move on to something else.
It's going to be a tough decision, but we need something to fill the void until season three of Orange Is The New Black comes out.

Sibel Kekilli & Peter Dinklage

Friday, 12 September 2014

Jean Genie

Last weekend we went to the annual steam rally in Haddenham, which is just up the road.
Coming at the end of the rally season, it's one of the bigger events on the calendar and it has been one of those days out that I've enjoyed since I was a kid. Now in its 42nd year, Haddenham steam rally is full of traction engines, classic cars, commercials, motorcycles and far too many ancient tractors. There are assorted demonstrations and displays, lots of food joints, a funfair, the inevitable trade stands, and thankfully a very well stocked beer tent. Throw in some surprisingly good weather and ample opportunity for people watching and you have the recipe for a decent day's entertainment.
One such piece of entertainment came along as I was sitting on a crappy plastic chair outside the beer tent enjoying a wonderful pint of Pickled Pig cider (a local brew), in the form of an elderly gentleman. He must have been pushing ninety, but clearly still quite sprightly as he trotted along with his cane in his hand. What did it for me though was his attire, which consisted of a green tweed jacket, shirt, tie, and a pair of shorts in the same material as the jacket and of similar length to those worn by footballers in the 1980s. Finish that off with a pair of brown Jesus creepers combined with socks and a pair of legs that with all due respect we really didn't want to see and you've pretty much got the picture. If this ensemble was ever in style it must have been back in 1904 and the old chap had obviously decided that things really were better back in the 'good old days' and that was where he was determined to stay.
Your average old bloke tends to shuffle around in a particular sort of style that is instantly recognisable as a standard uniform for the retired man. Lots of nondescript beige items teamed with shiny brown shoes. I still don't know where old men buy their trousers because I've never seen anything like them in the shops - I can only assume they're mail order via Saga or something.
The question is, at what point does such clothing become expected? Is there some sort of cut-off age when society expects you to dress differently or is it just a natural evolution of the sort to be found in Darwin's 'Origin of Species'?
More importantly perhaps is this question: when does it become unacceptable to wear jeans?
I never normally see cotton-tops wearing jeans, and on the rare occasion that I do I'm struck by just how odd it looks. It's like a Morris Minor with racing stripes - it just doesn't belong.
This puts me in a bit of a quandary. Although I think I can still get away with jeans I know that before long I'll end up looking strange, like ageing rockers who still wear a pony tail even though the front bit has gone bald. So what to do then? I really don't see myself in beige pensioner slacks, and most of the trousers I like tend to be of a more gothic or military persuasion - very black with shiny bits or combats with many useful pockets. Neither of these are any more appropriate for an old goat than jeans.
Solution? Buggered if I know, but if I start wearing beige, a pork-pie hat, or anything made of tweed then I know it's time to end it all.

Gary Oldman - probably the only guy to remain looking cool despite wearing beige.
(from the excellent movie 'Leon')

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Who the f**k is Kim Kardashian?

There has been much in the news lately about so-called celebrities having their cloud storage hacked and naked pictures being posted online. The one making the most noise about this seems to have been Jennifer Lawrence who, along with many others has said how awful it all is, and what a terrible invasion of privacy this hacking business is.
Well I'm sorry, but anyone who thinks there's such a thing as online privacy is living in a dreamworld. If there's something you don't want the whole world to know about you then the last place you want it to be is on a computer somewhere, especially if you're someone who is in some way in the public eye.
Personally I'm overcome with indifference to Jennifer Lawrence. I don't find her particularly attractive and her acting bears a startling resemblance to an old oak sideboard. There are plenty of actresses I'd like to see in the buff, many of whom have been most obliging in that department in their movies, but JL isn't one of them. On the positive side, I'm sure the images won't hurt her career. It's all publicity after all.
Take quality actors like Kevin Spacey, Tom Hanks and Morgan Freeman. Do we see photos of them cavorting on a sunny beach in an overstuffed pair of Speedos all over the front page of the papers? No. They do their job, occasionally do the old red carpet thing, and that's all you see of them. They don't seem to have the need to be in the public eye all the time with the "Look at me!" mentality that is adopted by so many celebrities desperate to use diversionary tactics to disguise their mediocrity and feed their appetite for being the centre of attention.
Obviously it doesn't take much to qualify as a celebrity these days. All you need to do is get your bits out on Big Brother and you'll be in every glossy magazine in the dentist's waiting room for years to come.
There are people out there who seem to be famous for being famous. What do they actually do? I mean, who the f**k is Kim Kardashian? It's a name that seems to crop up every time you open a paper or magazine, or flick through the TV guide in yet another hopeless attempt at finding something that's actually worth watching. She's everywhere, and yet I genuinely have no idea who she is or what she does, and with all the hype surrounding her I can't even be bothered to Google her to find out.
Of course, she's not alone. Many names have come and gone, dominating the glossies for no apparent reason beyond being good at parties and flashing their freshly waxed crotch to the paparazzi as they exit the limo at some hyper-expensive trendy restaurant.
Every so often I wonder if I'm missing out on something by not doing Facebook or Twitter, but then someone reads out a few posts that they've had arrive which invariably centre around some banality that nobody cares about and I'm reminded of why I don't bother.
Yes, I may be a cynical old git and perhaps I should take a little more interest in the world, but whenever I take the time to look at what's out there I find myself perfectly happy ignoring all the inhumane violence and the nobodys who are full of their own self-importance.
I'm much happier in my own little bit of the world, and it reassures me whenever I stumble upon other people who are as unaffected by the world and all its bullshit as I try to be. I suspect I'm part of the silent majority in many of my thoughts and opinions, but it's always those who shout loudest that get noticed.