Author Archives: ward

The Secret Cinema

Last week myself and Mrs wordofward went to the mysterious sounding ‘Secret Cinema’. We were invited by our hip and trendy friends who took us to Shunt. It’s not just a cinema event, it is primarily an art event happening experience thing. Which are always fun.

We were told to wait outside Wapping tube stop dressed as if it were the 40s. In case you don’t know London, Wapping is a bit of a shithole. It’s lucky that it wasn’t the forties as the whole area was pretty much wiped out in world war two and rebuilt in the architectural style known as ‘characterless’. In case the gathered crowds got too rowdy, a few policemen turned up in 1940s police outfits. One even had a moustache which is as authentic as you can get.

We arrived and lurked around the pavement with lots of other people dressed vaguely 40s-ish (although some were distinctly late 1930s, the amateurs). At precisely 6:30 there was suddenly loud chanting approaching us from a side street. A load of people in period clothing arrived chanting ‘Freedom to create!’ and carried banners saying the same. People in the crowd joined in this plea to be free to create. This confused me a bit because I thought we were free to create in this country. Unless I missed a meeting or something. I’m pretty sure there are art galleries everywhere and London is one of the art and culture centres of the world. But hey, what do I know? Let us be free to create you fascists! Yeah!

We followed these chanters to a large warehouse known as Tobacco dock. Here we joined a huge long queue. We were entertained throughout though as a load of actors in character wandered around chatting with us. A nice lady asked us our names to check if we were on the list. We weren’t just on the list, we were on the elite list. Our friends had a display/installation at the event so we were suddenly in a queue of 10 people as opposed to 900. Consequently we were soon in.

Gents in hats with pints

The interior was basically like a large shopping mall with lots of open areas. Instead of shops there were art things and bars. The first room we came across was a bar which sold the classy Stella Artois Black beer. There was also a fellow on the piano and a lady who sang and played the kazoo. We grabbed a couple of pints and headed for culture.

All around us were gents in suits, hats, and moustaches with dames in sexy dresses and those old fashioned stockings with the line up the back of the leg. Which look great. We decided to check out some of the installations and as always with these things, they were a hit and miss affair.

The tradition in the 40s was to hang your ballet shoes from the ceiling. Good times.

One room was full of paper for some reason. Tons of it, shredded and lining the walls. One room had lots of ballet shoes hanging from the ceiling. As you do.

In another room was a strange man who I think was supposed to be an old time actor. He sat there looking at roses in front of a mirror. Which is what actors do apparently. The freaks. On a similar theme, another room had a lady in it who changed poses while wearing a white dress that had what I think was supposed to be blood around the hem. It was bizarre but it looked good in a photo. As you can see.

Strange lady

There were more rooms with videos and the like going on. Our friend’s room was pretty cool. You stand in front of a large screen and thanks to some computer jiggery pokery the screen interacts with you. For example, the lady on the screen beckons someone forward while holding up a dress. A real person then steps forward and they can see themselves on the screen wearing the dress. There was more to it than that obviously but I’m trying to keep my descriptions quick. Here is our friend Francesco watching a clown in the room:

Francesco watching a clown

In addition to all these rooms were open spaces that held performances and sold food. Obviously the food wasn’t that authentic as there was some and it wasn’t rationed. The performances varied from dances to acrobatics to music and were all really well done. One of the highlights was a very limber lady hanging from the ceiling by two lengths of cloth. The music was very tuneful too. There were a lot of actors wandering about and when they weren’t on stage they acted out random scenes among the audience. For example, we saw two guys dressed in ‘old school’ labourers outfits – trousers and vests – being shouted at for being late with the luggage they were carrying. The luggage was ‘old school’ too.

More random performances.

Finally, there were the inevitable screenings of old movies. These vary each event and set the theme for the whole evening. One Secret Cinema event was Lawrence of Arabia and was held in huge tents with kebabs and belly dancers. On our particular night it was the movie ‘Red Shoes’. You know, the one from the 40s.

All in all, it was a superb evening. It changes each time and due to its popularity it rapidly becoming less of a secret. I look forward to future events like this especially if they are Scifi or porn related. That would be a cool but probably a different type of evening. Scifi porn!

I will end with another picture of some random people and then a video of the event that someone kindly created. Thank you Sophie for all the pics.

It turns out the 40s were cool. Apart from the first half. Pip pip stout fellows.

Random people in costume.



http://www.secretcinema.org/

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The future of storytelling

Do you like movies? Do you consider yourself to be open minded? If yes, watch these trailers I implore you. A new storytelling medium has arrived and only a complete dullard thicko luddite could not view these and grudgingly admit that a new way for telling a ripping tale has arrived. If you dismiss these out of hand because you they are ‘just games’ then you don’t deserve to be on the internet. Go read a parchment and bore people with how cultured you apparently are. (You aren’t, you are pretentious and probably read magazines more than books but keep that a secret.) These will not replace books or films but are an additional and different way of presenting a story and are just as valid.

I saw a trailer for the new Deus Ex game in December and almost had a ‘crisis’. I have only just calmed down. For those of you that don’t like computer games but think that movies are a good way to tell a story then you are missing out. Games have become an incredible new medium for telling a good tale. They often use famous actors, characterisation can be achieved just as effectively, and the narrative can twist as much as any convoluted twisty thriller. If there’s a good director, then the visuals can be just as pant wettingly compelling as any film. Particularly as we now live in an era of powerful new consoles and  life affirmingly large high-def TVs. The only difference is that you aren’t a passive sap – you actively have a stake in what is going on which leads to you feeling more involved. Especially when your controller shakes when you get shot in the face.  

So get over yourself. The next generation of entertainment and storytelling is here. Watch these three great examples of what can be achieved in a narrative sense and if you don’t they look at least slightly intriguing, then you are dead inside. You might as well watch Eastenders, read the Daily Mail and drink high strength lager while waiting for death. The review for the superb Uncharted 2 is here: http://thewordofward.co.uk/?p=634. The game plays like an interactive Indiana Jones film. With chapters and hot women and magic stones and chases and everything. It’s fucking awesome. Here’s the trailer:

The next trailer for a game set in L.A. in the gritty ‘noir’ period full of sexy dames and violent but well dressed men in hats. Rather aptly, it is called L.A. Noir and shows a completely different type of tale to that found in Uncharted. Although you still get to shoot people.

The final trailer in this trio of awesomeness is Deus Ex: Human Evolution. Deus Ex hasn’t come out yet so it may be crap. In its favour is the fact that it is the third game in the franchise and the first two were genuis and no part 3 of anything has ever been bad. (Don’t question that statement too closely, it may be flawed.) Anyway, check out the trailer. It’s like Bladerunner crossed with the news.

Ok I’m done. I will stop repeating myself. I find myself increasingly enjoying games as my disappointment with most new films increases. Next week: a review of Transformers 2. Just kidding.

Susan Hiller Exhibition

Being the cultural man about town that I am, I went to the Susan Hiller exhibition at Tate Britain yesterday. Actually, it was my wife’s suggestion otherwise I would have just gone to the pub. I’m glad I went though as some bits were awesome.

The exhibition was £11 or £9.50 with concessions. For some reason I was charged £15.50 for the two of us. Work that out.

The first thing we saw was called Recycled Work, which was essentially some bits of cloth made into a book. I’m sure it had a brilliant meaning or something else I missed, but I wasn’t that impressed. Then there were some books where people had written down their dreams. I discovered that not everyone dreams of zombie apocalypse, alien invasion, and lots of naked ladies every night like I do. Which is a shame as it would have been more interesting.

Dedicated to Unknown Artists

Then there was a bit called Dedicated to Unknown Artists. This was pretty interesting. It was a load of postcards from all over Britain featuring rough seas at various points along the coast. Some of the pictures were pretty cool but I was always under the impression that postcards were a kind of advert for the area. These had full on storms in some of them. It was a good idea though and had an accompanying map.

There were a few other things that were ok, but not great. A series of photos of Hiller’s belly when she was pregnant looked quite interesting due to the way it was presented. There was also a collection of items, literally just random stuff, where I must have missed the point. We then watched a video called Magic Lantern which consisted of a series of coloured circles and some audio recordings of people saying random things.

The rest of the art was pretty cool though.

At some point, Hiller found a forgotten monument in London that mentioned lots of people dying in heroic ways. She took photos of these and displayed them on a wall. Most of them were pretty sad. Things like a ten year old boy who died saving his eight year old brother from drowning, or a guy who saved lots of people from a burning building but then never came out again. It was genuinely quite moving and there is an audio tape too.

In one section there was a mock up of a living room with a TV that showed a picture of fire. Accompanying the fire was a whispered voice that told how in the old days before 24 hour TV (ITV not included – who watches nightscreen??) people heard voices and saw apparitions in the fuzzy picture left after broadcast stopped. Things like John Lennon saying that everything will be ok. Even though the sort of person who stays up watching ‘noise’ is probably prone to hallucinations and bouts of madness anyway, it was still pretty creepy.

Psychic Chicks

Next up was a big room with five screens in it showing clips of psychic chicks from movies like Firestarter and Stalker. As the girls start to levitate things and burn things the soundtrack of drums builds to a crescendo. It was really effective and interesting and made me want to watch Firestarter again.

Scary Punch and Judy

Another room was pretty creepy. It was dark but had videos playing in two corners – two screens in each corner. The visuals were a repeated and edited video of Punch and Judy, which sounds pretty innocuous. The videos were reddish in hue and the shots were of Punch or Judy beating each other repeatedly with clubs. This was accompanied by screams and aggressive music. It somehow seemed really violent and impressively shocking. Give someone some LSD and they would go mental in about 10 minutes.

Then there were my favorite two rooms.

The first was called The Last Silent Movie. Cunningly, it was almost the opposite of a silent movie. It had audio and subtitles but no video. It was the subject matter that was fascinating though. It was a series of recordings of languages that were either extinct or close to it. They were varied enough to be interesting. Sometimes it was a song, other times a fable or personal story. It was quite sad hearing the last people speak a language. Especially when a caption then appeared saying it was the last speaker and they died 50 years ago. While doing my English degree I studied how languages arise and become formalised and it was moving to think that these were the last utterances and that an entire language was dying.

Then there was the best room of all. It was called Witness. You enter a large blue-lit room that seems to have a load of string or wire hanging down, with some kind of disc attached to the end. In fact, it looked exactly like this:

Witness by Susan Hiller

When you get closer you start to hear a weird whispering noise. A bit like a theatre audience just before a performance as heard from the stage. The discs at the bottom are actually speakers and each one has a recording of someone recounting a UFO encounter. They are in all languages so you soon find yourself wandering among the strands and speakers listening for English (presuming you are an English speaker obviously). There are quite a lot of English ones and the stories are really interesting and I speak as one who believes in alien life but doesn’t think they fly around and probe us. One of the best things though, is the strange sensation of wandering among the voices. You feel like Professor Xavier when he is doing that search thing among humans and you hear lots of snatches of conversation from hundreds of different people. Or that chubby cop guy in Heroes, who can hear people’s thoughts. I’m trying to think of a non geeky example but I can’t. It’s a really cool and fascinating experience.

So, to some up: there are some hits and some misses. Even the misses aren’t too bad and they could just be misses because I am an uncultured oik who missed the point. The majority of the exhibition is really good and thoroughly interesting. I highly recommend it.

The Susan Hiller exhibition is at Tate Britain (nearest tube is Pimlico) and runs until May 15th. It’s worth the money. Whatever they charge.

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The Bangkok Podcast

Well I’m back in Blighty. Bangkok was, as always, very exciting and warm and fun and full of hot sexy, er, food. I’m feeling mildly homesick for the place which is a bit odd as I only lived there for two years. Maybe I just miss South East Asia – my home for over two decades. We landed in the evening on Tuesday and as I write this I have yet to see some sunshine.

Still, mustn’t get too maudlin. My wife and I have a plan and by the time I hit 40, things should be sweet.

We arrived and partied. The first stop was the Bangkok Trader magazine party. Nim used to work for them and I wrote freelance articles for them. I looked through one of their new issues and to my surprise I had an article in it. It was a rerun of an old piece which can be found here:  http://www.suite101.com/content/gift-giving-in-thailand-a276529 Technically, I should have asked for some money but I couldn’t be bothered. Plus I was a bit drunk.

We did a lot of other things too, like go to art gallery openings with the Danish ambassador (he was there, we didn’t hitch a lift with him or anything) and other cultural things.

We also appeared on the Bangkok Podcast. This is a great podcast run by a guy called Tony and a guy called Greg. I’d like to think that we were asked after these Bangkok experts scoured the expat community and picked the two most erudite and charming couple they could find. It is more likely though that they wanted to talk about Thai weddings and Greg is a mate of mine who actually went to our wedding. Whatever the case, you should check out the podcast. Especially if you are in any way interested in Thailand. The website is found here: http://www.bangkokpodcast.com/

I apologise if I’m not my usual witty and amusing self. I’m back to work tonight and the greyness of London is crap. Soon I will be beaten down by the humdrum of life and will have come to terms being back. Think of the plan, think of the plan…

Here’s what I was looking at just a few days ago. I apologise.

From a bar in Koh Chang

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Huge insincere apologies

I know I said I would write more this trip but I haven’t so deal with it. It has all been a bit of a madhouse. A giddy whirlwind of drinks and hangovers and local food in remote places and upset stomachs and family functions and on and on. All very pleasant though. Fortunately I will be back at work in a week or so so will write more then.

I am just guessing but I may be a bit miserable. Obviously I love 12 hour night shifts and grey, miserable, cold, damp people but I am a bit fed up with England these days. I am English, Irish and Australian. I am bored with the blandness of the weather in countries of the former two and the weather in the latter is just fucking mental. Floods, fires, hurricanes, poisonous bugs, sharks, crocodiles, beaches you can’t swim at because of deadly things, checking the toilet for spiders and snakes – Oz is out! I have lived in England and Australia and don’t fancy them any more. I was born in Hong Kong and South East Asia is where I want to be.

I will stop this whining introspection and have a beer. I am still on holiday after all. Hope you are all well and happy and adjusted.

Back in Bangkok

Well we are back from Koh Chang. Quite frankly it was awesome. I miss being able to jump on a bus and be on a stunning tropical beach a few hours later. My life has taken a wrong turn somewhere and I surprisingly find myself as a thirty eight year old non billionaire. I was supposed to be rich, with time on my hands and easy access to a beach. What the balls went wrong? Fingers crossed for forty.

I will write about Koh Chang soon. With photos in case I am dull (unlikely I know, you avid reader you). The reason I am not writing about it now is because I am on my iPad and I haven’t gotten round to transferring photos to it yet. I love this device but having to use itunes to do any-bloody-thing is a definite minus. I would have brought out my laptop but unlike my beloved iPad, it seems to have a problem with connecting to any wireless outside of England. It’s either due to racist software (nanny state pricks), or simply vista. I suspect the latter although nanny state firewalls might be a factor.

I can look at porn in London for fuck’s sake (I did a check for journalistic purposes), but I can’t log onto wireless in Bangkok to check my emails. There is something wrong there. I can get a ‘local’ connection but I don’t even know what the fuck that is.

In a couple of days I will move from the suburbs to a hotel which will hopefully have wireless my suspicious operating system will trust. Then it will be a glorious technicolour wordofward once more! A wordofward where you can marvel/find pretentious the writings within or look at the pretty pictures. A wordofward with choice. With freedom for all. Unfettered by Microsoft paranoia or Apple self importance. Or, as I said, pretentious shite.

Holiday in Bangkok

Well hello. How are you? Sorry I haven’t been in touch much but I am currently on holiday in Thailand. I also happen to be staying in a fairly remote suburb of Bangkok and it doesn’t have Internet which is sadly quite distressing.

Yes thewordofward is on holiday with Mrs wordofward and it has so far been bloody marvellous. There have obviously been a lot of family dinners and some fairly heavy alcoholic evenings catching up with friends, bars and local beers. Fuck I miss this place. In case you didn’t know, I lived here for 2 years but have also been a regular visitor since 1984 when we used to come on occasional family holidays. It actually reminds me of Hong Kong back in the day before it decided to slip forward into the year 2015.

Bangkok has a lot of these futuristic aspects too but has retained a lot of the charms at street level that Hong Kong has lost. There are astoundingly huge and sci-fi-esque shopping malls filled with the coolest gadgets and oriental woman in shiny miniskirts, but outside you can drink beer and eat freshly cooked noodles on a plastic stool until dawn. Which is always nice and can provide some of the best people watching in the world.

It has all been a fairly relaxed whirlwind of activity since we arrived. Today for example we slept in then had lunch with Nim’s Aunt and Uncle. We then got a cab to my friend Greg’s place and were interviewed for the www.bangkokpodcast.com site. We will be on air in February but it is a really site interesting even without us. Next week they are interviewing the American ambassador which some may argue is a step up in calibre but it’s debatable. Tonight I am due to meet my brother-in-law, sister-in-law and one or more of the crew that have been filming the Hangover 2 here. I’ve already been out a couple of times with some of the crew and they predictably know how to party. Their stories usually start with things like: “So I was on a boat in South Africa with Steve Buscemi and we were going to go in a cage to see some great whites…” Very cool but slightly annoying as it’s impossible to come up with a comparable tale. Even I found it hard and I’m fascinating.

In a couple of days we are going to hit a beach on an island called Koh Chang. I last went there over 10 years ago with an ex-girlfriend who had never been to Asia before. It was awesome but I suspect it has changed a lot.

Apparently the place now has wifi so I might be able to write something. It didn’t before but that was probably more down to the fact that wifi hadn’t been invented. I don’t know how we survived back then. Our friends and acquaintances not knowing every tedious, gloating detail of trips abroad. The horror.

Anyway, just thought I’d write in case people thought the site or myself had died. I don’t want to be held responsible for the mass wailing and gnashing of teeth that would inevitably provoke.

I truly feel at home here and look forward to living here permanently. I’ve spent over half my life in the Orient and quite frankly, I like!

I will sign off with my usual postcard message I stole from my dad.

‘Food fine, bowels regular, natives friendly. Jason’

Cheers

Advertising beamed into your head

When I was a lad there were fears that we were going to be bombarded with subliminal advertising and would end up like a horde of zombies roaming the land demanding consumer products. It never really happened. Well… (Take that materialism!)

There were other scares of course: we were also going to be wiped out by atomic bombs or devoured by Triffids and the few survivors would have to band together and have adventures in a post-apocalyptic world. Sadly none of these things happened either.

I’m a big fan of things that cleverly try trick the logical part of the brain. Things like optical illusions, 3D TV, political speeches, or hypnotists making people look stupid. Subliminal stuff was supposed to be like this and I am mildly saddened by the fact that it got banned. Especially now that I have a website. Send me money. Subliminal advertising could be quite simple – a flash frame of a branded burger for example or the now permitted product placement bollocks.

Wayne's World parody

Advertisers are getting increasingly desperate trying to find ways to beam their stupid logos into our suggestible brains. I’m surprised we don’t have sponsored tattoos. I’d wear one if it meant I didn’t have to work so much. I could say it was an ironic comment on rampant consumerism.  Send me money. We definitely aren’t far from the Minority Report idea where our eyes are scanned and instantly tailored adverts are shot into our eyes.

The latest thing I have found after literally minutes of scouring the internet, is a new advert by BMW which was recently tested on some willing and gullible volunteers. The idea is to burn the name of a company onto your retinas. That way, you can close your eyes and still see it. Send me money. Who comes up with this stuff? Well, the Germans apparently as they are very innovative.

Have a look at this video that explains it. Don’t worry, there is nothing subliminal or retinal burning in it. I would send me money never stoop to that.

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Happy Christmas! For Christ’s sake, stay at home.

Worship Santa!

Hooray! Christmas is here again! All hail Santa and Amazon and last minute shopping on Oxford street (or your local hellish equivalent). I was in Soho last night and it was good to see that people were really taking the ‘it’s the season to be merry’ idea to heart. I haven’t seen so many unbelievably wasted people in quite a while. They must have been merry since at least mid-day god bless ’em – every stumbling, vomiting one.

We’ve even got snow this Christmas. Granted, in London at least, it fell about a week ago but its seasonal affects are still here to be felt by all. Our airports are all shut and in chaos, and our trains are buggered and in a state of emergency, the roads are all icy, pavements unsalted. And so on. It’s not a proper winter any more without a few inches of snow catching everyone off guard, followed by inquests into how this can happen, then promises that next year everyone will be completely ready. It has rapidly become a tradition. It’s understandable to be fair, as we had never had snow in Britain before and are usually tropical and rain/sleet/snow free.

The exception this year has been the underground, which has come as a relief to all. Usually less than half an inch of snow is enough to practically cripple the capital. Not this year though and I was travelling across London when the near-civilisation-collapsing two inches fell. Last year London Underground said they would be more prepared this year and there was no need to threaten them with fines or anything. They were as good as their word. It was unfortunate then, that half the network did shut down but if the announcements were to believed, it was just due to a staggering amount of unfortunate coincidences. More signal failures, random fires, passenger incidents, and so on than I have ever experienced before. But they can’t be fined or fired because it was not snow related, it was just a coincidental string of other problems.

I’ve picked a lot on the underground in London this year and I promise I will try and cut down next year. After Christmas I should be so full of seasonal cheer that all will be forgiven. Except they are striking on Boxing day so that won’t happen. Pricks. I will stop though as the majority of my readers aren’t from London and can’t fully appreciate the misery of travel here.

Apart from the sarcastic whinge-fest above, I am feeling quite Christmassy. We have the tree up and it is covered in baubles and lights and we have a traditional stuffed teddy bear tied to the top. My wife and I chose our presents but what they lack in surprise they massively make up for in quality. Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood plus a few DVDs, Blu-Rays and books will certainly put a smile on this good boy’s face.

I’ll be working all Christmas, but that means free cabs, free food, and lots of cash. I’ll mostly be working on the SyFy channel (Sci Fi but written cool, yeah?), so there are lots of specials. They are also having a ‘Kung Fu’ Christmas season which is fantastic. Can’t see the link Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee movies have to either Scifi or Xmas, but I know nothing and will enjoy watching tons of people getting a kicking.

I hope you all have a wonderfully fattening and indulgent Christmas. It is a fun time of year – just don’t try and go anywhere. Stay in and eat.

Joy to the world from the Word of Ward!

P.S. Check out this out. Best. Snowman. Ever.

Jabba the Snowman

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Riots in London

Two days ago I narrowly missed a load of riots in good old London. In the morning I had to get a visa for my upcoming trip to Thailand. I then got the tube to Leicester Square and wandered into Soho for a bit of lunch at Wahaca (which was awesome if you are interested). I then meandered around Soho before going to my eye laser people on Tottenham Court road to have a check up on my eyes (which are also awesome). I then walked down Charing Cross road to look at books then down Bond street where I had a coffee and met my wife for a bit of shoe shopping (not quite so awesome). From there we walked around the area before having a quick pint at Green Park where I got on the tube to go to work. I even saw Bob Geldoff out for a bit of Christmas shopping. A very pleasant day. Except for the work bit at the end. 

I find this very depressing

I somehow missed all the riots just a few minutes down the road. I knew there were protests that day but the police usually surround them. If things kick off or the rioters smash stuff then the cops either club them and get accused of being heavy handed, or let them smash a few things and get accused of not being prepared. All fairly normal. 

I knew things might not be going to plan when vans of police kept belting around every corner. If I looked south, I could see helicopters. In shops I could hear the radio warning that rioters were heading our way. On twitter and the internet there were reports that they had burnt the Christmas tree in Trafalgar square (a few minutes walk from Leicester square). They then smashed shops on Oxford street where I had just been then shouted their way up Regent street and attacked Prince Charles’s car – a road I had just crossed. 

I wasn’t particularly worried about the rioters as I haven’t cut my hair in a while and was unshaven and scruffy, so would probably be mistaken for one of their own. I was mildly concerned about being ‘kettled’ by the police and trapped for hours but not that bothered really. London has a lot of alleys and twisty back streets and I know a lot of them as they tend to have late night bars on them so I was confident I could escape. I was mostly concerned that the tube station I needed to get to would be shut and I would be late for work because of some dickhead rioters or overzealous plod. I am freelance and charge by the hour after all. 

At first I was all for the protests. How does making a student take out a massive loan, that will eventually be paid back decades later, help our economy right now? Will this mean even bigger rises for foreign students? They pay almost triple the fees of local students – apparently so that fees for locals can be kept low. Cameron said last month: “foreign students will still pay a significant amount of money – but we should be able to keep that growth under control”. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11724431) Well that’s ok then. We are already one of the most expensive places to study outside of the US but as Cameron should be able to keep things under control then they probably won’t all go somewhere else and lose universities pots of cash from people who pay a lot in advance. 

Of course there millions of arguments, some very good, for both sides. I can’t be bothered to go on any more about it. The point was that I was all for the supposedly peaceful protest. My image of students remained a mixture of: 

Students protest!

and: 

and just a bit of: 

i know it's gratuitous but it's my site

Unfortunately, the protest got hijacked by a load of twats. As usual. This has caused a lot of people to think less ‘Yeah! Stick it to the establishment’ and more ‘you pointless bunch of pricks, why smash windows on Oxford street during the shopping season and burn down the Christmas tree’. It was as if they were attacking Christmas, the joyless scum. 

Is this man a student protester, or a dick?

Most of the rioters (as opposed to the protesters) looked suspiciously like the sort of non-student who just like a fight and hates capitalism and the royal family and blah blah blah. In fact they look a lot like the sort of people who hang out around the bridge in Camden down the hill from my flat. 

Quite frankly it’s all very sad. The next time the students protest, they should casually ask others in the crowd if they are up for smashing a few shops. If they answer is yes, they should beat them up with truncheons in a powerful ironic statement of some kind. Then they can still have a protest, people will like them, and I can shop in peace. 

It won’t change anything anyway. I can say that because I’m a cynical grown up well versed in the frustrations and pointlessness of real life. The only way they could really get stuff done is through spreading embarrassing secrets about the government on the internet then hacking into websites and stuff. They’ll have to wait their turn though.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book review

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book

I literally just finished reading this after a five hour stint on the couch. This doesn’t happen much to me these days but if you have read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo you will probably understand why. If you have and don’t then there is something wrong with either your excitement gland or you have the attention span of a hyperactive child on caffeine.

At first glance, the plot is nothing great or particularly novel. A journalist gets hired to investigate the disappearance of a girl four decades previous. The hirer is a likeable old multimillionaire industrialist who is her uncle. The journalist is called Mikael Blomqvist and he is in a certain amount of strife in the city so he agrees to investigate in the country town where the girl and the industrialist lived/live. He also hires a quirky emo genius girl called Lisbeth Salander who has a dragon tattoo. As they investigate the disappearance, they surprisingly make headway into what they thought was a pointless exercise. Then bad things start to happen. That’s all I can say without giving anything away.

I’m probably not alone in having seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo everywhere I go and as I rather pathetically consider myself to be both an individual and a literary type, I wasn’t all that bothered. I have been stung by the dullness of zeitgeist novels like Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and thought I would stick to what I know. I also don’t read much crime fiction. My parents then handed me a copy of this and said it was brilliant. So I gave it a go and like lots of other reviewers ‘was hooked’ and ‘couldn’t put it down’ and found it was ‘a real page turner’. Horrendous though these cliches are, they were true with this book. It was really fucking ‘gripping’.

At first, the book is a bit slow. All the stuff that happens at first though, is necessary for the plot. When the tale begins to gather pace it is a slow but incessant rise in tension. The story, as it is revealed, is a shocking yet believable one. What truly sets this book apart however, is the characters. In particular Blomqvist and Salander. Larsson slowly builds their characterisation and reveals more about them as the story develops. Like most good books, the plot is driven by these strong characters and how they react to what is happening. It is because of these superb characters that I am so looking forward to reading the sequel.

Which I will be doing in a few minutes.

That in itself should show you how much I liked the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Like every other sheep on the tube, I will be glued to this series until I finish the trilogy. As I said, I’m not much of a crime/thriller fan but this really is as good as everyone says. Jump on the bandwagon and join us.

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Perfect Catch

I know that the internet and the world in general has been gripped with concern over lack of new posts of late. Apologies for that! I have been working lots and had to write a load of stuff for an Open University course. I have also been writing for someone else’s website.

It hasn’t all been toil for other people though. I also visited Barcelona for eight days which was fantastic. An entry on that will be appearing soon.

In other news, my book is about ready to send to publishers and agents, so hopefully I will soon be a millionaire and won’t have to work in TV anymore. This will be a blessing except when I am watching some utter drivel on TV and am not being paid an hourly rate for doing it – I’ll just be wasting my life.

So just hang in there. Soon the workload will ease and I can write my usual smug nonsense on random topics at an increased rate. Until then here is an incredible video of a guy in a restaurant in India somewhere. The video is rather erroneously called the Perfect Catch. I am more impressed with the throw.

Eye Lasik Surgery

Perfect eyes

I got my eyes lasered recently and it has been awesome! I can now see for thousands of miles. I could see pretty astoundingly with my contact lenses, but now I can see at an almost superhuman level. I spend my evenings staring into the night sky discovering new planets. I joked to a friend that I practically had X-ray vision, but then realised that would probably be a curse. How many people do you see on the street that you would actually want to see naked? Less than 10% at least. Ugly bastards.

In case you are thinking of having it done – go for it. It is truly life changing. Don’t quote me if your eyeballs fall out though.

The procedure was laughably simple. On the actual day, you are asked to sign a form that scares the crap out of you. ‘I won’t blame anyone if I go blind or my eyes explode in flames.’ That sort of thing. You are then taken to a room where a charming nurse will put anesthetic drops in your eyes. After about ten minutes of explaining after-care, you are given incredibly sexy coverings for your hair and shoes. You lie back in a bed and your head is strapped down and eyelids clamped back. Like in Clockwork Orange but without the stirring music. Some device is then pushed against your eye. This is the most uncomfortable part. Imagine someone pressing on your eyeball with their thumb for about 5 seconds. This is when they cut a circle around your iris.

You then stare at a laser which flashes a few times and is pleasantly accompanied by a loud series of crackles and the smell of your own flesh burning. Or the smell of burning hair to be precise (don’t ask me why). Nice. There then follows some drops in your eye and what seems to be a doctor painting the flap of eye skin back into place.

Then repeat.

The whole procedure took about ten minutes.

For the next few hours my eyes stung like buggery and my vision was a bit hazy. The following morning was a lot better although my eyes still felt a bit sore. A bit like someone had cut them and fried them with lasers to precise. It wasn’t too bad though. If you wear lenses then imagine wearing them for a 12 hour flight. You can feel the edges around your pupils.

Every day your eyes feel better. The vision was superb (for me at least) from the second or third day. After about a week or so, your eyes feel superb. In as much as you can judge these things.

My main worry now is that I will get drunk and forget I no longer wear lenses. Trying to pull out non-existent pieces of plastic would be painful.

In summary then: it’s one of the best things I have ever done. It’s actually in third place behind losing my virginity and getting married (not necessarily in that order). Which is pretty high ranking.

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Planned Engineering Work

If you live in London and have to be travel by tube at the weekend ‘Planned Engineering Work’ is a phrase you will have heard about a billion times. Probably more. I’m only writing about it now because I heard it all evening on my way in to work and the words have become an angry mantra in my brain that I can’t seem to dislodge.

The Underground, when it’s not on strike, seems to think it is ok to shut half the transport system every weekend if they just tack these words on the end. You will hear announcements like: ‘London Underground is currently operating a good service across the entire network. The following lines are shut due to planned engineering work…’ There then follows a list that takes about 5 minutes to read out. Apparently this is because they are ‘transforming your tube’. This is being done in ways that are sadly invisible to users, so we just have to take their word for it.

Am I being cynical in remembering that the increase in weekend closures happened around the same time as the tube staff protests over no longer being paid overtime for working weekends? Boohoo. It is currently 4am on Saturday night and I’m at work being paid the same as if it was a Monday day. All I have to look forward to is a lengthy series of bus journeys in the morning because the District, Overland, and Piccadilly lines are all shut. So is the circle line, but that is closed so often it has almost attained mythical status. Are the closures occurring to do a tiny amount of work while cutting back on costs?

Sorry if this sounds like a huge whinge but I work in West London and every weekend it is like a Krypton Factor test just working out how I can cross the city. I assumed that it was all a rush to be ready for the Olympics. It makes sense that they are panicking as the system can barely cope now, let alone with lots of extra tourists. If you look at their website though, it says this is going to continue for the next ten years.

All right I’ll stop bitching. It just feels very cathartic. By the way, apologies for not having written for a while. My brain was down for planned engineering work.

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Mind Lamp

Pic presumably taken with mildly annoyed scientist nearby.

I wrote recently about robots controlled by the brains of rats. Rats have all the fun. This week, I bring you a lamp that is controlled by human thoughts. Not as cool as a robot and much more likely to be horse shit, but it is one of those things I really hope is true.

Back in the 70s, when I was just a precocious nipper, mood rings were all the rage. These were rings with a stone that could apparently sense your mood and changed colour to match. Even at the tender age of 7 I possessed a genius and sceptical mind and I conducted a series of tests on one of these. I soon discovered that it just responded to temperature. Which still made for a cool ring, but lacked any of the psychic qualities I really hoped it possessed. I really want these things to be true but can’t help feeling the need for some actual proof. It stops me believing in things like: the moon landing is a hoax, god, aliens inserting rectal probes and then not quite fully wiping your memory, psychics, and so on.

It sucks to be a sceptic. I really want to believe in psychics and mediums too, but no one has ever been able to be even slightly accurate under controlled conditions. The most convincing practitioner of these skills is Derren Brown where he explains it is all down to a set of techniques. Watch his brilliant Messiah where he proves to be the best medium and psychic the ‘experts’ have ever seen. The world must be more exciting if you believed everything.

Anyway. Mind lamp. Like the mood ring, this lamp apparently senses your mood and adjusts its colour accordingly. They’ve even used some science-like words to make it more convincing. The website www.mind-lamp.com says: ‘At the heart of the Mind Lamp is a precision device known as a random event generator (REG), which was designed by engineers at the PEAR lab for use in scientific experiments.’ Apparently no one can work out just how it does its magic. Spooky. A Random Event Generator sounds suspiciously like it just er, randomly changes colour. If it was me I would program it to start it off with a purplish colour to symbolize curiosity, then green when you are astounded that it works, then orange when you start to think that perhaps it is crap, then red when you think it is either preprogrammed or random.

If anyone has one of these lamps please let me know. I will do a follow-up story. The email address is on the home page. Don’t bother with comments. I get too many morons spamming me, so I have to disable them. If I had a mind lamp, it would turn red every time I checked the comments section. If it didn’t, then at least I could cheer myself up by smashing it.

Below is a video that practically proves it works. Apparently ‘many scientists’ now think we can control stuff with our minds. Presumably, these are some of the scientists that used the REG in their ‘scientific experiments’. It uses ‘quantum’ things to change the lamp’s colour, which sounds very convincing until you look on the website where they admit: ‘The mechanism by which this occurs is unknown, and is the subject of ongoing research.’ So scientists doing scientific experiments discovered a lamp that uses quantum mechanics and a Random Event Generator so that it can change colour according to your mood. Or your mind. (That remains unclear). The only problem is that they have no idea how.

I want this to work! I just can’t help feeling slightly doubtful. My mind is currently a greenish/bluish/orangish/ reddish/purplish colour representing hope/cynicism/doubt/belief/etc.

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Cyborg controlled by rat brain

Robot revolution

Continuing with my ‘robots will take over the world’ theme, here is something even cooler and scarier than the Aggressive Quadrotor I wrote about recently. It is a robot controlled by a rat brain. Which is pretty awesome unless you’re a rat. Presumably the robot currently heads for the nearest bin and hangs out there. Like in the Simpsons when Mr Burns puts Homer’s brain in a giant robot and all it does is eat doughnuts and nap.

I now have a dilemma about what to do when I die a couple of hundred years from now. I was going to get frozen and then reawakened when they have the technology to make me live forever and all the women wear nothing but spandex. Now I’m toying with being Robocop. Unlike Robocop though, I’d like my private parts to still work or there isn’t much point in survivng.

So without further ado, here is a very cool video of ‘Ratbot’. They should have had a clear perspex dome so you can see the brain but I’m just being picky. Maybe in Ratbot 2.0

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Aggressive Quadrotor

This is where it begins. Rise of the machines. I don’t understand how scientists – generally huge Sci Fi fans – can watch films like Terminator or Matrix and then go to work and create stuff like this. Don’t they care? Or are they like me and think that a world ruled by robots while a surviving group of generally attractive humans fight back is actually a fucking brilliant future.

Check out this new helicopter thing. It’s pretty impressive. Give them lasers and make them swarm and surely mankind’s struggle against evil emotionless robot overlords is just months away. Or a huge one with a massive machine gun and rocket launchers. Call it the Killotron 3000 or something

Bring it on!

The iPad for writing. One month on.

iPad landscape mode for writing

I have now had my lovely iPad for almost a month. A friend suggested I write about it, so here we are. How does the iPad work as a writer? How is it generally?

When I originally bought my iPad, I was actually on my way to buy a netbook. At least, I was going to look at netbooks with a view to getting something I could travel and write with. My main laptop is still superb and state of the art and I love it lots. It’s just that it is big and heavy. I wanted something portable that I could carry everywhere and had a decent battery life. In short, I’m very demanding.

Buying the iPad

At the new Apple store in Covent Garden you can have a play on the iPads. There is a whole section dedicated to it, largely peopled by tourists grinning in wonder at the iPad like small children staring at fireworks.

Having elbowed a few children and tourists aside, I had a go on one. I tried writing on it and was impressed. Very impressed. It seems to suit someone such as myself who types with the “two fingers and a thumb of each hand” typing technique. In landscape mode, I really can’t tell any difference in my typing speed. In portrait, it is slightly more fiddly but some people seem to find no problem with it at all.

Keyboard Docking Station

As well as the iPad, I bought a keyboard which also doubles as a docking station. This is what I am writing on now as it happens. For sustained periods of writing, this is a seriously good option. A few critics have complained that this means carrying around an extra bit of kit. They are right but I have found a cunning way around it – carry a bag. The keyboard doesn’t weigh much after all. The keyboard is great if you intend on writing for hours at a go. Plus, with the docking keyboard you can see more of the screen than with even a conventional widescreen laptop.

iPad Keyboard dock

iPad Keyboard dock

Another problem I was worried about was with writing for the internet. This isn’t the only site I write for and nearly every site requires you to write in a window in a piece of third party software. This site uses WordPress for example, and other sites like Suite 101 require that you write in these little windows. This is because a lot of writers aren’t savvy when it comes to things like HTML. We’re creative and all that crap.

For some reason Safari doesn’t seem to like these interfaces. There was no need to worry though. As it says on the adverts – there’s an App for that. One option is called ‘Split Pea’ which allows you to open a document in one half of the page and a non-Safari browser in the other. Another option for this site, is the WordPress App. Does what it says on the tin, although it is a tin with a few bugs in it. A third option is called iTeleport which allows you to control your PC/Mac through the medium of magic as far as I can tell. It’s a bit weird seeing your PC on your iPad, but it is cool being able to manipulate files and so on. It means your laptop has to stay on and there can be trouble with firewalls, but it is possible.

Conclusion – 1 month on
I bloody love this thing. My writing levels have increased dramatically. For some reason, it doesn’t feel like as big a deal to write on a bus or in the corner of a pub. Even with a net book you probably wouldn’t bother as it involves opening the thing and going through startup and so on. Maybe it is just me. If I want a more extended period of writing then the keyboard dock is superb. Otherwise the landscape screen does very nicely.

So writing is great.

Surfing the internet is superb too. Lots of sites seem almost designed for the iPad. An evening’s telly while surfing the web has never been so user friendly.

Is anything wrong with it?
Personally, I have come across two main issues. Only one of which is of concern to me and possibly none which will be of concern to you.
One is that it doesn’t have a camera pointing directly at your face so you can’t video Skype or anything. There is a microphone socket, so it will have to be audio only. I am pleased about this as I don’t even really like the phone, I certainly don’t want the added stress of a cam. Calling in sick for work will soon be a nightmare.
The other is that I can’t play poker on it. This might not bother some, but it pisses me off that Apple won’t let this happen. I can gamble on football or horses but not poker.

Otherwise, I am delighted with my purchase. Unlike my laptop, I no longer have to worry about whether it is worth bringing it along given the weight. I carry it everywhere. As a device for other things – apart from the poker thing – there is an App for that.

Lame though that sounds.

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The Pope is in the UK and is worried about our holidays

The pope is finally here! God bless us every one! As you may have guessed from reading this site, I’m not particularly religious. I have nothing against those who are (although I think you’re wrong), I just don’t like it when I have to pay for other’s beliefs (As I have written elsewhere.). Officially the pope’s visit is a state visit but this is hardly like a visit from the a foreign president. The Vatican is a city state and to be a citizen you have to work for the church. 74% of the citizenship is clergy, the rest are Swiss guards and so on. It’s not a normal country we can hopefully increase trade with or anything beneficial like that.

But he’s here, I’ve paid and it’s done. Traffic disruptions aside, why should I care anymore? Once he’s gone past on his popemobile, and things return to normal, the impact on me will be none.

All that will be left will be my memory of finding some of the comments and opinions both humerous and worrying. This is a man who speaks to third world countries and tells them using condoms is a sin. Mind you, one of his minions thought Britain was a third world country, so he must be pleased that we have the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Europe. It’s a shame most aren’t married, but it’s a start. This and all the kid-fiddling that has been covered up are the worrying bits.

The funnier aspects of his pronunciations are his alarm over things like the marginalisation of religion. People still believe in all sorts of ridiculous things – healing crystals, ghosts, moon landing conspiracies, mediums, homeopathy, UFOs, alien abduction, psychics, the loch ness monster, and tons more. There are also lots more religions that are relatively new to the West. What he means is the reduction in his particular branch of those who worship the one true god. The same god that’s worshipped by Jews, Protestants, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the rest but in slightly different ways.

He has specifically mentioned those who have voiced opinions about not celebrating Christian holidays. ‘I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity,’ he has said. (http://www.metro.co.uk/news/841305-pope-fears-religion-is-being-marginalised). He skirts around the fact that this has largely been because people don’t want to offend other religions, as opposed to an increase in atheism. I have to agree with him on this though. People should be able to celebrate what they want. I love Santa and the Easter Bunny. It just feels a bit weird to have the Church speak against suppressing other religions.

I think it is too late. When most people think of Christmas, they think of this:

Traditional Christmas

Or in my case this:

Sexy Santa

Now let me just state that I have nothing against religion. I have lived in a lot of places and have numerous friends from various faiths. We all respect each other’s views. To some extent anyway. I just don’t like it when religions behave in dumb ways or say stupid things and I consequently read about it. I like living in multi-cultural societies just as long as no one clings to ideas that are massively outdated and are actually harmful.

Basically my point is this Mr Pope your worshipfulness. Say what you like about God and angels and harps and demons and pitchforks and singed pubic hair and so on – that’s fine with me. Tell a country that is in the middle of an AIDS epidemic not to wear condoms, then I am forced to disagree. Converting people and then persuading them to breed is not the answer any more. Just be sensible. I know that the majority of Catholics agree with me, they’ve said so in the papers and on forums. Use the internet and advertising and viral videos to reach new converts – they are much more effective and millions needn’t catch STDs.

As for Christmas and Easter holidays. I’m afraid the pagans have taken them back.

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War Horse Play review

War Horse

War Horse

I saw this the other night and was blown away. I knew it had puppet horses in it but little else.

War Horse is about a horse called Joey and a farm lad from Devon called Albert. Albert’s drunken dad buys Joey when he is wasted and feeling competitive at an auction. He makes Albert look after the horse and a touching bond soon forms between them. When Joey is then sold by his drunken dad to the army and sent to Belgium as a cavalry horse, Albert gets a little pissed off. He runs away from home and decides to enlist to fight in World War One. In order to find his horse.

The story is ok and provides a backdrop to the main events and effects of the play. As I mentioned, all I knew about War Horse was that it had puppet horses. Life size puppet horses with people riding around on them galloping over fields or charging at the Hun. They are pretty astounding and the puppeteers do a genius job of bringing them to life. They even have realistically moving ears. There are three people for each horse. Two inside (think pantomime horse) and one moving the head. It’s brilliantly done and you really start to feel affection for the horses, which is doubly well done as I don’t like horses all that much in real life.

Cavalry horse puppets!

There are a couple of other animals too, most notably a humorous goose.

At the back of the theatre is a screen that has animated pencil sketches of backgrounds and animated horses and barbed wire. It is quite simple but it is effective in setting the scene. There are also loud explosions and tweeting birds that help with this too.

The actors were all pretty good but it is the West End of London and tickets were £50, so you kind of expect that. I went with a non-native English speaker and she found it hard to follow some of the accents. It doesn’t really matter all that much though, it’s pretty obvious what is going on.

The story is simple but to be fair it is from a kid’s book, so is hardly going to be like ‘Inception’. It can be a little slow at times but I thought it added to the emotional connection between audience and story, so I’ll let it off.

I loved War Horse. It was so well done. Apparently Spielberg is going to turn it into a movie but as the most impressive parts of the play were the set and puppets and stuff, I’m not sure how good it will be. He seems fairly competent, maybe it will be like ‘Saving Private Ryan – the equine version.’

If you like spectacular theatre and want to see some amazing puppets, you should definitely give this a go. Here’s a bit about it from channel 4 news to wet your appetite:

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