27 September 2007

Gotan Project, and Other Recent Musical Finds

New rule: for every negative post I put up from now on, I must write one positive one. OK, it is likely to last about as long as the intention to keep myself clean shaven once I've cleared the month's growth off for the umpteenth time, but it's not a bad idea. This counteracts tonight's earlier effort.

Gotan Project: I picked up their album La Revancha del Tango this week on a whim, knowing sod all about them except for hints of style (downtempo, loungesque, world not a million miles away from some of Thievery Corporation's work). I'm damn glad I did; its a fine collection of music, and I'll certainly be looking to pick up later releases (La Revancha... was 2001). In fact in lieu of writing more here back when I started it (a week ago) I went shopping for Lunático. If anything the latter is better - all in my opinion of course; it is more polished, more accomplished: hallmarks of the group having played together longer, perhaps. I'm left not entirely sure how to describe it - the name comes from a syllable basesd spoonerism of Tango, but the music is, to my ears, more than that. Loungesque, jazzy, cool and fucking excellent.

Fucking excellent actually fits for a description of all the music I've ended up acquiring in the past week. An unfortunate accident meant I damaged some CDs Garry had passed me when I was in Dundee in June/July; on discovering this I did what I should have done much earlier and rushed out to not only replace them, but acquire more of the artists concerned; so I now have three Mogwai albums and two Beta Band CDs to enjoy. Happy music to make you grin, uplifting or chilled dependent on the frame of mind when putting them on. Great stuff.

I was also enchanted by my only listen so far of PJ Harvey's White Chalk; I cannot expand on that description for now - hey, I had 10 new discs to get through! - but it was a work that left a firm first impression and I look forward to giving it the time it deserves.

I also picked up Thievery Corporation's Versions - in the end not so much because I like their stuff (I do; The Mirror Conspiracy ranks amongst my favourite albums), but because one of the mixes is of an old Ben Folds (well, Fear of Pop, but that was a 'Five era Folds side project) tune. Yes, I do rate Folds that highly, why? I found Versions disappointing in the end - too same-y and left little impression beyond being background music. TC's work normally encompasses a little more, and maybe I was expecting too much from what is a disc of remixes, but though it will get play it will not likely get many listens.

That said, for Versions to be the worst of the buys was lucky enough - the slight gamble on Daddy G's DJ Kicks album and an old Kristin Hersh title paid off well enough, but the biggest unknown of the bunch, And she Closed her eyes by Stina Nordenstam, has ended up enchanting me the most. Timid, almost muffled, vocals, and soft arrangements drawing ear, mind and mood alike to a thoroughly calm place. Quirky for certain and by no means everyone's cup of tea it has definite jazz and even *gasp* easy listening vibes at times if the elements are taken alone, but as a whole it transcends its limitations to reward on a fundamental level. Great late-night music (or last-thing, anyway; it's only 11 but I'm off to bed and to read Making Money) to boot, and a fitting accompaniment to an attempt to be a little brighter.

No matter how many times I told myself...

This week I have repeated a mantra: "this will not be a bad week."

Unfortunately said repetition and attempt at positive thought had all the effect of an auto-cue on George W. Bush's oratory powers and a litany of bad stuff has happened and negative thoughts have filled my mind. There have been positives, too, but they mainly involve retail therapy, the Conchords, drinking Guinness, and music (to be discussed later).

Whine? Yes. Meekly poking fun at self? Check. All doom and gloom? Hope not.

What I had felt determined (as much as I ever do, anyway) was going to be at least "above average" as weeks go has turned out to be a mixed bag, with more bad than good thus far (and since it's Thursday night, barring a miraculous Friday its as good as condemned). Bad points of note include failing, by virtue of losing the plot, to grasp opportunities fashioned; the loss of the freedom that came with having the house to myself; managing to injure each of my hands in unrelated incidents - minor scrapes (one splinter, one blister) but annoying all the same; and the overriding one is the sheer mind numbing tediousness and resultant tiredness stemming from work.

I have most definitely reached the point where I cannot bear to continue where I am work-wise any more, but the reason for this is in part why I am finding it so hard to look for anything else - virtual brain death during evenings and weekends (the other factor being not knowing what to do). There are other frustrating reasons for this aside from the menial and soul-destroying nature of the work itself. Notable here is that the one person whom I really liked has left (and I really need to open a line of communication there again...); those still there are pleasant enough, but I don't feel an awful lot of affinity with any of those I know. Then there are those I don't which is a different sort of frustration - one that I will get anywhere, certainly, though perhaps amplified in situ by the demographic of the office. I was all set to attempt to talk to new people, broaden horizons and so forth, but timings, situations and my own reticence to open myself up to the possibility of making a fool of myself (aka stepping out of my comfort zone, or other such psychobabble) all got in the way as ever, and at times the place seems so cliquey as to not be worth it anyway. Again, probably no different anywhere else but it is the here and now open to analysis, not some etheric other.

Reading between the lines: I'm a lonely single bloke with little or no self-confidence in an office full of attractive women (that's the socio-phobic geek in publishing for you; there's a tragi-comic novel in it somewhere). The eye candy is nice and all, but it throws my frustration needle off the scale as my mind goes into overdrive as I berate myself for my social failings.

Anyhow, outside of work I thought it might be a decent week, but between the return from holiday of my mother ending my having full run of the house, the acquisition of splinters helping my brother move furniture into the van he hired (for moving house, which he did on Tuesday; another source of self-beration - my younger sibling has a career path and has just bought his second rung house on the ladder that is property ownership, in London no less), and a serious lack of sleep, life has managed to keep throwing minor little annoyances at me. These wouldn't rank of note at all except for going against the planned grain; little things whittling me down, and doing so whilst I have been ineffective in encouraging good thoughts. My mind has been constantly trying to drag me down further, but the positive thinking mantra may have helped curtail some of these thought patterns though - its hard to think about anything much if you're mentally screaming at yourself over and over!

But despite nothing going to plan and the bad outweighing the good in many ways, I grin as I type because it's impossible not to with such good, happy, music playing, and I know I'll get to dip into a new Pratchett before I drift off to sleep tonight.

This life, it is enigma.

20 September 2007

Life is teasing me...

Title says it all; draw your own conclusions.

Add "or so it seems" for accuracy.

19 September 2007

The World Twenty20

So England are, again, prematurely out of a tournament showcasing a (format of a) game they came up with. Joy. And the new ODI and T20 captain, Paul Collingwood, has already got himself in hot water by visiting a *shocked horror* strip club during the tournament.

Bah. He did nothing wrong as far as I read the coverage, but he has presided over a disastrous challenge. The win over Zimbabwe was nothing less than expected (despite the opponent's heroics against the Aussies in their previous match). Since then there have been three loses, two of which were marred by abundant basic fielding errors and lame collapses; limp performances where England never so much as threatened to compete. I have no such complaints about the loss to New Zealand, which did go to the last over: whilst England did throw it away some through a terrible penultimate over they were at least at the races for the duration. As I type, India look to be racking up a huge score in what will be England's last game of the tournament; it smacks of another limp effort, and simply not good enough.

Sour grapes? Mutterings from a glory-hunter or new supporter drawn in by Ashes success 2 years ago? No. I started really following England's fortunes in cricket way back in the early-mid 90s when they couldn't win a game to save their life. I'm used to seeing my side lose - especially in the shorter format - and that doesn't bother me a jot. What does is seeing meek efforts that disgrace the shirt, countless errors that would embarrass schoolboys or village cricketers from players we know to have true class.

Oh how I wish the fight was there. They talk a good game, but lately haven't played much of one (even when they have won).

Edit: And limp is rightly the word; Stuart Broad just bowled the most expensive over in Twenty20 history: Yuvraj Singh taking 6 sixes from it. The depths are being plumbed, and I cannot see England saving face by getting close to their target of 219. So barring a miracle that will be two world cups in a row (50-over and T20) where England have failed to win so much as a match against decent opposition.

17 September 2007

The Difference Between Loneliness and Being Alone

My Better Judgment (that part of me not on the beers) caught up with me and demanded some self-censoring edits. Oh well. Up it goes again.

First the blindingly obvious - I am both, but they are far from the same thing. That out of the way, what is the point of this? Well, the biggest problem I have is loneliness, so it may go some way to answering "what is the problem."

As much as I will grumble to myself about how I hate "being me" this hyperbolic mental ranting disguises a fundamental flaw in that thinking: I enjoy my own company. I like being on my tod. There is, of course, a kicker here, and in this case it is that the above is only true when it is a meaningful choice to be alone. When I start hating myself - and inevitably I do - is when I end up spending a lot of time on my own as a default position, without feeling that I have a choice. In other words: when I get lonely.

I have been lonely now since the summer of 2003, the last time I was sharing a house with someone I was genuinely happy to be living with, which not coincidentally was the last time I had easy and regular contact with (a) friend(s) living in the same town. What I am coming to see as a self-defining trait is that I don't generally like to spend all my time with other people, but I damn well feel the need to have it as an option. Yes, this will sound selfish; it has a whiff of "other people are there for my enjoyment" about it. Nonetheless, once I am shorn of the (perceived?) option of spending time with people I like, I quickly become a withdrawn, moody, self-hating ball of despair. I miss massively the days when I was at uni in Bristol - not because they were always better (I had a torrid time in my final year, living alone for 6 months of it and that really didn't agree with me), but because there were always people about that I could just phone up and go out to meet. It is that accessibility of friends, and the ease of arrangements that I miss, possibly more-so than the actual people if I'm honest (though I do miss folks, too). Yes, as we age and days fill up with other things such pick-me-up arrangements do get harder to maintain, but mine vanished altogether after that first year in Bath, and have never returned.

Currently what I most hate is walking back to an empty house every night, knowing that - the one night a week I game aside - there is no hope in hell of me seeing (or most likely even speaking to/receiving email from) anyone but my co-habitant. And lets face it: as much as we may love our mothers dearly, they are not first choice for company. Thus my being alone is not perceived as a meaningful choice, and hence my loneliness.

One could argue to that I could do more to keep in contact with the friends I have. There is truth to that, however there is also truth to the fact that, even counting the gaming group, I have no friends living within 10 miles of me and thus not available off the cuff. It is also true that most are a lot further - many not even visitable for a weekend without taking time off work to travel (or at least couldn't before I got the car) - and whilst I admit culpability in being crap at keeping regular contact, I feel the need to stress that many of those I'm talking about are, by their own admission, worse at it than me!

So, I need new friends - local friends. However there is a snag: I don't make friends easily at all. Sure, I can get on well with people, generally speaking, but somehow it never seems to click from that getting along to actual friendship and the associated doing of things, contacts and so forth that one associates with the term. I do not meet a lot of people, which compounds the issue, and I have always been terrible at initiating any kind of contact with people I don't know, limiting this further - I only meet those who introduce themselves, or are introduced to me. There are not very many of them - the latter constrained by my lack of local friends, and the former... well that is out of my hands.

So a large part of the problem is that I cannot fathom how, unless I can build some serious self-belief, I could ever approach other people and introduce myself - it just scares the crap out of me for some reason, and that's before encompassing not knowing what to say. Confidence and self-belief are two attributes that have been sorely lacking for a long while. I could also use some hope. But most of all I need an idea of how to make change stick. How to face my fear of failure and win, rather than resigning myself to not trying, on the basis that by doing so I'll never have to face a loss I didn't chose to take.

All I want is for the loneliness to end, so I can go back to enjoying my time alone (and time spent with others, too, naturally). Something big needs to change - within me, and without (location, probably) - for that to happen. The without I cannot see happening until I get insight on a longer-term job or career move: financial constraints and the "where am I going" niggle impede me.

Perhaps the biggest thing I need to do is sort that out, to make a decision on where, what and how I am going to work. Maybe if I can somehow force that issue, everything else will look up again. Lord knows I cannot stay where I am, feeling my brain atrophy with each passing moment and wearing out my (already tired) eyes by staring at XML all day!

There must be something that can spark interest in me, beyond playing games where one pretends to be someone else entirely; or maybe I do hate myself that much after all! (that was a joke).

To end on more positive notes - now that I own the car, once I've sorted out all the attendant guff (insurance, MOT and Tax all up for renewal in October), it should give me the freedom to try and address some of the dropped contacts. Of course, the effort of arranging things will fall on my head (as ever it did; as I said before I'm better at contact than those concerned!), and I'll have to get over the hump that periodically strikes me with this situation, but day trips would be possible, as might weekends in places where, if reliant on the trains, options were previously curtailed. I think I'm probably due a change of primary email address now too, which is as good an excuse as any to get back in communication with those who I wish to retain as contacts.

Also to point out that I've written this whilst feeling motivated to write, not whilst feeling particularly trapped in my own mind. Hopefully I'll feel more of the former if the latter stays away. Whilst there is a lot to be said for Rosa's advice for me to "STOP THINKING!!!", short of an on/off switch for my brain it is not something I am oft able to do. I know how frustrating this can be for those around me, so thank you for putting up with it, and I do wonder whether my overthinking would be an interesting and positive side to me, or source of potential mirth, if my mind were to lighten up some...

11 September 2007

Splitting Heirs: Afterthoughts

With a few sessions still to go Paul, who was playing Scharf/Rudi dropped me an email:

Hey Graham, hope you're psyched for next session.

I'd just been thinking about how much I'd been enjoying this campaign, probably because it has all the elements I appreciate as a player but rarely get. Then I thought, what did you plan to get out of it? I know you really wanted to run Warhammer, in this set-up - it was always your main idea in the suggestions you sent out. What were you looking forward to? Has it turned out as you wanted? What plans and scenes were you hoping to get out?

Just wondering, is all.
To which I responded at the time, but I think it’s a good basis for summing up my feelings about how the game played out.

My primary objective in any game I run is to push for the type of game and play I find myself unable to get (whether through the style of GMing, me not actively pursuing it, or most commonly a combination of the two) when I am a player. That generally means I am shooting for intense, character-centred drama, pushing the protagonists into hard choices and situations which encourage growth and change in the characters, whilst maintaining a backdrop of interesting events. I also like resolution - whether it be total, final, or just a central issue. This game resolved the "how" of succession, assuming the barony survives, if not the war which would determines that survival, whilst we had individual resolutions for the characters, too: Rudi's secrets coming out, and his overcoming his fear of women to end up a husband-to-be having upheld the vows he made to himself and the Barony; Helena's mourning period ended and she has found love, as well as forged a place for herself of right, assuming, that is, the war can be won; Pou meanwhile was forced to live up to his position and take responsibility not just for himself but for all – he was forced into a position where he felt he had to act because it was the “right” thing to do, however much he did not want to take that step. He also married and started to assume more responsibility in his personal life in a mirror to his professional elevation.

By and large, then, the game has delivered what I set out to achieve, with a prime example being the wedding session (one of the reasons I wanted to end it there - nothing else could come close for me). Whilst the game did not progress exactly how I had envisaged when we began, it was not to its detriment. If I had been firmer with pacing, scene framing and such then I may have realised my initial (episodic) vision better, but we wouldn't have had a lot of the time and space, and the smaller events, that helped make the game work.

In some ways I had hoped that the players would pursue more individual agendas; resolvable conflicts between protagonists (read PCs) is something I have realised that I value highly in my gaming, and the set-up of the game was in part designed to encourage this. (That, and I much prefer characters with a degree of gravitas or authority; doing the ordering about is a lot more interesting and open to choice than being told what to do). Bits and pieces of this were seen, but perhaps not as much or as weighty as I would have liked. Perhaps the lack of system was detrimental here (I know I’d like to do similar sorts of conflicts with a solid systemic backing in the form of Mortal Coil or other similar system), but I guess in part a degree of backing down was to be expected: inter-PC conflict as an express element of games is at odds with the usual "party" mode of play and not necessarily to everyone’s tastes.

Beyond that... well, nothing was overly planned. I had initially hoped to have Mörder and his associated underlings appear more - indeed I had envisioned playing out the war - but I could not figure out how to fit them in without rushing into the war situation, and it became clear to me early on in execution that this game would suffer (in my handling, at least) if the war was expressly played out. The conflict with Mörder worked better as a constant threat and pressurizing factor in the end.

I might also have liked to centre more on the council meetings themselves but for two factors - Lady F's physical distance from things when in Drachenmalstein, and more pertinently the difficulties of playing several NPCs in the same scene. Aside from differentiating them convincingly there are issues with giving each screen-time, motivations and so forth, not to mention the ease of forgetting who was doing what with which agenda! The latter is much easier to keep in check if NPCs remain more discrete from each other.

I've thoroughly enjoyed it all told; the first few sessions were about bedding in to GMing again, and there were one or two where it dragged a bit here and there, but for the most part the energy was maintained and I have felt wholly rewarded by the actual play you the players created from the situations I threw at them.

It did feel a little cheap doing the final wrap up as I did, that is to say as a cutscene watched by the PCs, not something they had an active role in, however it was about the only way I could wrap on time – yes, I really, really need to work on my pacing! – and I felt (and I think they did too) that a passive plot resolution was better than none. I skimmed or omitted details in the summary above for ease of reporting, lack of memory and clarity etc., but I think it was generally well received – as indeed the game as a whole was.

I am, however, glad it has ended. As much as I enjoyed it, and as much as the players, characters and events kept me entertained I believe strongly that every game has a shelf-life, and for me this campaign reached it after the high of the wedding session. It had climaxed for me in terms of payoff, and once heights have been reached that will not be re-attained my motivation begins to fade. It became very much about shaping up for a convenient (yet appropriate) ending, and I think it worked out despite that. Although my accounts are more underwhelming since the wedding – a side effect, no doubt, of my desire to close down – the actual play kept its verve and edge until the last.

Enough was left open to allow a return in future but I don’t think the desire will be there. The campaign as it ended up was self-contained and resolved to a point where it doesn’t demand a return; pastures new give rise to different options, whilst a sequel always carries the risk of not living up to its progenitor.

Splitting Heirs: Session Eighteen – The Finale.

An additional reason for a short, points-based summary this time; as well as being behind, the meat of this final session was all to do with a single scene at the emergency council meeting called by Lady F, and short of transcribing it in its entirety (which I didn't do, nor could have done, at the time) there is nothing - prose or points - that will recount it accurately. Indeed, prose may lose the points of salience.

The first thing to say is that in the lead up to this session I was informed individually by Pou's player and Lady F's player about their plans for the meeting, one in broad strokes, the other in more detail. Whilst they had very similar end positions, their means to fulfil their agenda were very different. In these exchanges Lady F, after hearing about Pou having visited the Baron, wished to change her plans slightly to find Pou before the meeting began. I ruled against this on the grounds that it was tight fitting everything into the short (game) time between where we left off the previous week and where we picked up for this.

Lady FitzCarstein’s agenda was to call for unity – proffering apologies and/or terms where required in order to gain it – and set up a new power structure in the Barony, one that had more chance of lasting the forthcoming war and beyond, and tentative plans to help ensure the beyond mattered. She had Rudi/Scharf onside and planned, too, to propose formally to him after her plans had been laid out and (hopefully) accepted.

Pou gazumped her, however, bringing to the meeting armed Kupfers in place of the usual array of serving staff, and calling upon them to pressurise those attending. He felt pressured into his precipitous action by the amount of politicking, backbiting and in-fighting now regular amongst the councillors, and had been stoked up by Herbert’s backing. Unfortunately Pou was hurried into his move, and was not the most willing or forward thinking of leaders, making for the slightly ridiculous position of a man who had just seized power by force making arguments about how they should prove they could trust each other in order to guarantee their freedoms, their roles and the future of the Barony. Pou had seen the Baron earlier and either had tacit support for his plan, or the Baron had mistakenly thought it was longer in the planning and viewed the Kupfers whom had been placed legitimately around the castle for genuine defensive purposes as agents in a coup that already had him at a disadvantage, but his clear lack of planning and secretive execution of his move soon grated on the assembled. As Pou floundered, Herbert and Georg used the situation to push for some home truths under Pou’s stated aim of openness and honesty and they managed to force out into the open many of Helena and Rudi’s past discretions – banditry and murder (even if in self defence) amongst them. The fractious atmosphere – Pou had declared them prisoners until their allegiances and intentions could be proven or avowed – was made worse by Rudi refusing to take Pou seriously, which just flustered de Burns more. Eventually however, with the meeting progressing not at all, Helena was asked direct questions she saw fit to answer, and in doing so took back the floor, having clear plans where Pou had nothing in place.

Her re-structuring would, ironically, put Pou in the position he had found himself forced to take: as Palatine or Paladin, essentially running things in name of the Baron, with Herbert’s daughter Cornelia as his assistant or Seneschal. Herbert would retain his mayor-ship and would also be a trusted advisor to Pou, whose role would be non-hereditary and could be relinquished once a proper heir to the Baron was found. For her part, Helena said she would forego Drachenmalstein and return it to (in his eyes) its rightful owner: Georg. Instead she would, fate willing, take the Duchy which Mörder now held as her own; if not, she would be dead – for she fully intended to firstly defend against the inevitable assault from the south, her last act as Lady of Drachenmalstein, then beat it back, with the aid of her father and the Knights of the Raven – skilled warriors in the service of Morr who counted her father and brother Jurgen alike as members. Despite his irrelevance to proceedings – he was dead drunk and beyond caring – Helena even offered concessions to Brunnenhing, promising him aid in the setting up and maintenance of profitable trade roads through his lands. There was a murmur around the table, and even those who begrudged the source of the ideas and plans had to concede that it beat all other options open to them hands down. There just remained the need to swear oaths to that effect. Each in turn swore on something they held dear, until Pou was satisfied that the best possible outcome had been achieved. The meeting concluded shortly thereafter, with Rudi tendering his resignation now his future (with Helena) and his past (his not being Captain Reinhardt Scharf) were clear.

(At this point the real substance of the campaign concluded; all that remained was to tidy up some loose “plot” threads to bring the curtain down on the bigger picture)

As they broke up the meeting, Pou having long since motioned the Kupfers to stand down, news filtered through that the Templars had found Josephine, and were bringing her back to Himmelfeuer for the Trial the Baron had desired. As everyone gathered to meet them, a location was picked for the dispensing of Sigmar’s justice – a patch of open ground overlooked by the Baron’s private chambers where he was said to be very unwell. With the council in attendance Ritter, Jaeger and Brunner set about their process, questioning the girl in turn with heavily weighted questions. However as the trial progressed the three Witch Hunters turned their attention away from the girl; her mother, Magda, was compelled to speak in her place, at first in defence of her daughter. However as Magda was questioned, the tone and questions the Templars used became almost ritualistic, until Josephine was pronounced clean of taint, and in her place Magda – clearly struggling without success – was compelled to sit in the trial chair. The Templars were invoking some divine incantation, their words binding Magda to her seat; then suddenly her face fell, revealing some otherworldly bestial fury. Magda, the silent, sweet and shy concubine of the Baron, turned out to be a supernatural evil being, a vampire, and the Templars pronounced their terrible judgment on the creature they had bound to the chair: each shot her twice with their sanctified weapons, then cast chair and still thrashing beast into the waiting pyre.

As the flames took her, and smoke began to fill the sky, two shouts from the castle made all cast their eyes elsewhere. The first was a cry of alarm and for a doctor, as the Baron had suffered a heart attack as Magda’s nature was revealed. The second, every bit as urgent, called all to gaze southward; the smoke from the pyre was as nothing compared with the billowing blackness that rose on the southern horizon: the forests were on fire which meant only one thing – Mörder’s invasion had begun.

(Final thoughts, interpretations and explanations to follow at some point).

10 September 2007

I just remembered...

Why I both love and detest Tangency (RPGnet login required): There's always someone more fucked up, more attention seking, and even more pathetic than me or you. Even when, in some cases or moments, that might take some doing.

Inevitably they are also more popular; it's the way of the geek world!

Recent Reading

I don't read nearly as much or as often as I'd like to these days for one reason or another - mainly ocular and mental tiredness. Some weeks I'm lucky if I manage to get through New Scientist before the next copy drops through my door; other, better, weeks see me making use of my 40 minute bus commute to read.

Last week was one such, when I read a book that entertained me greatly and then touched me profoundly when the tone changed suddenly at the end. The book in question? the late Harry Thompson's Penguins Stopped Play, chronicling his lifelong love of amateur cricket. Not having read or heard of The Captain Scott Invitational XI before despite a previous book by another of its founders, I found the whole thing charming. I found the humour spot on, the eccentricities engaging and the personalities interesting. Being the cricket nut that I am (though a little beach/park cricket aside I have never played; perhaps another point of resonance, as neither had the author before the team was set up) the subject matter was otherwise familiar and compelling and I actively looked forward to my commute and the occasion it afforded me to lose myself in the Scotties' exploits. I found myself cheering the split from the Layabouts despite the potential loss of humour, and really enjoying the reporting of the matches once everyone was wont to try. But perhaps more enjoyable were Thompson's descriptions of the locations: he really sold me on Buenos Aires as somewhere to visit (though doubtless I will forget or find somewhere more appealing by the time I ever have the time and finance to think of a proper holiday), and his verve for doing more than just the cricket whilst the Scotties were touring was admirable and inspiring.

The core of the team came over as so likable that by the end when he talks first of the death of one of his teammates, and then of his own diagnosis with cancer, I was genuinely moved. If I were less lazy, more rich and had more time where I felt free (as opposed to time when I am technically free but don't feel it - of which I have a lot), and if it were not the end of summer and thus the worst time to inquire, I would be sorely tempted to follow the instinct that caught me in that moment (and indeed which made me google for the website) and look up the team - to some end or other but alas...

The other book I read recently that struck me deeply was Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I found this work to be one of the single best pieces of descriptive writing I have ever come across, and it is the only book I have ever read which immediately made me think: fuck, I want to film this! Not that I will mind, though hopefully someone with cinematic talent will.

Yes the characters are bland and the plot is thin, but the evocative descriptions and the associated prose more than make up for it and it had quite an impact. So much so I palmed it off on others, which I very rarely do.

Dog Soldiers

Can't believe I'd not seen this before... but my god what a good film that was.

Sean Pertwee is one of those actors that I both hate, and yet adore - his voice grates like fingernails on a blackboard but his presence is second to none and he was cast perfectly in his role. The camera work and direction is where the film really blew me away though - sharp, urgent and scary; the atmosphere maximised for effect.

Can't say I thought the twist was the best ever, although it did surprise me. I just felt it a little weak in context, though I guess it works if the "camp" Ryan refers to early is the farmhouse and he was a wolf all along. However that just makes Cooper's training exercise look pointless - the clear inference was that Special Ops were hunting dogs, not dogs themselves. And even if Ryan did have a "first trip" that led him to meet Megan and get turned, why send for a squad when there have been disappearances all along, and a missing army squad would be official "lets investigate" news?

Best not to think about that, and enjoy what is presented, I think. I found the whole thing thoroughly British and thoroughly enjoyable, even if it was too dark to make out what was going on at times.

Absolutely brilliant, and a perfect gaming muse to boot.

08 September 2007

The 2007 Cricketing Summer

The English summer of (international) cricket came to a close today as England somehow managed to cruise to a 7 wicket win in the seventh, and decisive, one-day game against the touring India side. I've not posted anything about the sport this summer as a result of a number of factors - highest amongst them the fact that this has been the first year that I have been stuck at work so unable to listen to web-streamed radio commentaries and there has been no terrestrial TV coverage.

There is also the fact that the weather was as bad as it was (7 degrees at Headingly in June during the Test series against the West Indies for example), and the quality on show was not always high or competitive.

A brief summation of results doesn't look too bad, but equally not too good. West Indies were seen off 3-0 in Tests, but recovered to win the ODIs 2-1 and share the Twenty20 Internationals too, whilst India won their Test series 1-0 and lost the ODIs 4-3. As always with Cricket, the results alone don't tell the whole story. The Test they won, India dominated utterly, but England had had just as much dominance in the first game only to have it snatched from them by a not-given LBW shout and the closing in of the rain that blighted the first half of the season; the final game petered out as India played safe for the series win, though I think with some better luck with umpiring - the poorest aspect of the summer by some way - they would have been better placed to push for a match win, too.

From a personal point of view, I think the layout of the summer was all wrong. Seven ODIs is far too long a series (as most people in this country seem to agree), and the Windies' Test side, Shiv Chanderpaul apart, are poor and unworthy of the four Test series they were given for the time being, whilst the India series was always going to be keenly contested, and felt too short with only the three matches. Certainly the summer would have looked more appetising if the better touring side had had the greater share of Tests.

It has, however, been interesting almost despite the games - foul luck with injuries gave chances to players who were nowhere near selection a year ago, and to a one those who came in excelled themselves. Well, OK, Owais Shah did not cover himself in glory in his Test appearance at Lords when Vaughan was out injured, but he came back strong with his ODI performances.

There is no rest, however, as the team fly out to South Africa for the Twenty20 World Cup, the team packed full of surprises; Chris Schofield is the biggest of them. The selectors went back on all 8 yeas of Duncan Fletcher's thinking and have packed the squad with so-called "specialists" based on the domestic Twenty20 performances, and Schofield - who couldn't get a county to play him not so long ago - covered himself in glory enough to catch the eye. Strange, and bold, moves such as this will go one of two ways: either it will work, and England's extra experience in the format will pay dividends with a good showing, or it will backfire spectacularly as we find that journeymen county pros simply cannot live with top class internationals. I know which my money would be on.

I miss not being able to watch the cricket in the summers; highlights packages do not do it for me, and never could. Thankfully Test Match Special is on-going, and Cricinfo's online text coverage means scores are generally easily followed, but between working now and the loss of Tests on free-to-air TV this summer has been the least interesting for a while for me. There wasn't even an Oval-gate equivalent to liven things up. That said, with finds like Stuart Broad and Ravi Bopara proving themselves and a larger nucleus of good, and ready, players proving themselves the future looks promising, even if I will not be able to hear and see most of it.

Not sure what the point of this post was really, but I felt I had to write something. So I did.

07 September 2007

I really need to rant

So just picture a torrent of crap whinges, exclaimations, angry jibes and lamentations about life, the universe and everything here.

I'm not actually going to rant about everything I need to rant about because I have done so too many times in the past and it really gets old - not just to read or hear, but to write or say, too.

My emotional coffin has warped; I am a walking mental scar. Or to sum up: not a happy bunny (but when was I ever?).