Thursday, January 29, 2009

Best wrapping paper evah?

Why yes, best wrapping paper EVAH.

Happy Birthday to Willowc and comrade in dudeness Marcosy.

Monday, January 26, 2009

This is why I don't drink

As you may or may not know, I don't drink. I'm not against it, though - and I'm definitely not one of those weirdo teetotalers who frowns at people and tuts from the corner of the bar, I just made a choice not to. That choice came when I bought my first car; up until then I'd knock 'em back with the best of them, but when I got my wheels I decided it was an either/or thing. There'd be no "I'll just have one because I'm driving." In fact, in all seriousness I do think that the drink-driving law should be that you either drink, or you drive, with no fuzzy "you can have so many units" grey area in between.

But back in the days before I had a car I did like a little tipple. Y'know, nothing serious; just a little drink to get a little bit merry. And by 'little' I mean OH GOOD GRIEF I JUST REMEMBERED THAT 21ST BIRTHDAY PARTY! 


OK, so yes there was a 21st birthday party that I went to where I got blindingly drunk on Guinness. I think I'd had about seven pints, when, after busting some wicked shapes on the dance floor I decided that I needed a bit of a sit down. Upon sitting down, Big Bro came over and set pint number eight down in front of me. As he walked off I reached for pint number eight and somehow clipped it so I ended up pouring damn near all of it over my groin. Bad times. Although to be honest, bearing in mind how much the room was spinning I'm incredibly impressed that I managed to get my hand anywhere near it in the first place.

Anyway, there I am sitting in a darkened room with a pint of Guinness seeping into my crotch, and to top it off if memory serves me correctly I think I was wearing some kind of beige jean. And the seating was that horrible kind of public hall vinyl - y'know, the kind that won't absorb *anything,* so although my decision to remain seated may have been a wise one, it was thwarted by the dawning realisation that I was sitting in a puddle that would only diminish through absorption into my trousers or evaporation.

So I sat there for several hours grinning inanely, waiting for the party to finish and wondering if I could get away with just urinating where I was sitting.

So, yeah, it doesn't get much worse than th-


Yeah, I s'pose there was that birthday party of mine at that pub in Richmond where I necked 13 bottles of Smirnoff Ice (I was well into the tart fuel in my early 20s) because people kept buying them for me and I thought it would be rude to turn them away. Although it didn't stop me from pouring the occasional splash into other people's drinks (Mr. Chunt will confirm that Guinness and Smirnoff Ice do not mix), and it certainly didn't stop me from looking like an absolutely hammered tit.

Other than that though, I've been pretty well-beha-

Well, there was that time I went out drinking with a few mates in Kingston. I seem to remember that I got p-r-e-t-t-y wasted that night. And by 'pretty wasted' I mean that I thought it would be a wise idea to get on the bus and then manage the 15 minute walk from the bus stop to home without first hitting-up a toilet. For some reason I decided to call Mr. Chunt while I was walking from the bus stop to home (staggering so much that I probably added about half a mile to the journey) and all I can remember about that particular conversation is that I said "I'm *really* drunk" quite a lot and was uncomfortably candid about how much I needed the toilet. It was a very one-sided conversation, truth be told, mainly because he just laughed at me. And before anyone asks why I didn't just pee against a tree or something, I did consider it, but I was walking down a main road with houses on my left and lots of traffic on my right and while I might've been drunk, I had no desire to flash my wang to all and sundry.

The year after I necked 13 Smirnoff Ices - without, I hasten to add, either a) suffering from a hangover, or b) dying - I arranged another birthday party in Richmond. This proved not to be such a good idea, though, because the day of the party coincided with a rugby match at Twickenham which meant all the pubs were massively packed out and we ended up sitting outside in the freezing cold. Still, we made do, and by this time immune to the effects of tart fuel, I inexplicably decided to drink lager that night. 

I hate lager.

Not my gloves.

Regardless, I drank seven bottles of the stuff, stole El Deanio's hat and Mr. Chunt's gloves to keep me warm, and managed to deflect Scanner's suggestion that we go on to a club afterward provided I went home to change my shoes; he took a strange dislike to my shoes that night. When the pub closed I wobbled over to the bus stop, then staggered home in the freezing cold clutching bags of presents, wishing that I'd not had a drink and taken the car instead.

Sadly, that's not the end of that evening's shenanigans. When I got home, y'see, I was very drunk. Very drunk. And being very drunk meant that I got a bit confused when it came to the whole 'drink milk to line your stomach' thing. Of course I now know that you're supposed to drink milk to line your stomach BEFORE you go out drinking. Not after. But I did it after. I drank a pint of milk on top of the seven bottles of manky lager I'd had.

Then I went to bed feeling a bit smug in the knowledge that I wouldn't have a hangover in the morning.

I awoke at 3 o'clock in the morning with the unnatural sensation of something churning in my stomach. My first thought was, as it always is in such circumstances, that I'd been impregnated by an Alien, but when my gut didn't explode outward after a few minutes I began to suspect that something else was at play. At the time I lived at home with Sparky Ma and Pa, and my bedroom was located as far away as it possibly could be from the bathroom, without the bathroom being in the back garden or across the street. After rising unsteadily to my feet, I began to wobble down the stairs. As I began walking through the living room the churning sensation began to increase, and by the time I hit the kitchen I was running. Somehow I managed to swing round the corner into the bathroom before unleashing a veritable tsunami of vomit across the floor.

Without going into too much detail of Sparky Ma and Pa's bathroom, let me just tell you that Sparky Ma had recently purchased one of those little rugs that goes around the base of the toilet. It was a fetching pale blue colour. After taking a couple of minutes to catch my breath and compose myself, I reached up and pulled the light on. 

The little blue rug was nowhere to be seen. I began to scan the other side of the bathroom in case I'd swept it into a distant corner. What I could see, however, was a pea-green swarthe of vomit that Linda Blair would've been proud of, expanding across the floor around the base of the toilet (if I'd tilted my head a little to the left I'm pretty sure I would've gotten most of it in the bowl). And when I looked closer I noticed what looked like the outline of the small rug. 

It was entirely covered in vom.

I gingerly picked it up, leaving a perfect rug-shaped cutout in the vom, and began to wash it in the bathroom sink before cleaning up the floor and retiring to bed once more, uncertain if I'd live to see the morning - if the hangover didn't kill me, I was pretty certain Sparky Ma would.

As it turns out, she found the whole thing hilarious.

The last time I got majorly drunk was about five years ago. I'd been out with Mr. Chunt (in hindsight he factors into these stories rather a lot - he's clearly a bad influence) between Christmas and New Year, and we decided to stop into Sainsbury's in Richmond, where, knowing that I was going to be spending New Year's Eve at home with the folks, I decided to buy a bottle of Champagne. Long story short, I got a bloody awesome bottle for half the price because the girl on the till rung it up wrong. Bonus.

Anyway, fast-forward to New Year's Eve and we're all sitting around at home. Shortly before midnight I decide to crack open the champers, narrowly avoiding popping the cork in my face, and wave it in the general direction of my beloved family. Sparky Ma's not feeling well, so she declines; Sparky Pa only wants a small glass because he's not terribly fussed by it, while Big Bro sneers at me and wanders off to find another can of Guinness. 

"No worries," I say. "I'll just pop the bottle stopper in it so we can have some tomorrow."

Sparky Pa frowns at me. "There's no point - it'll only go flat," he says. 

I look at the bargain bottle of quality Champagne in my hand, think "sod that," and decide that I'll have the whole thing myself rather than let it go to waste.

I spent the entire next day in bed with cold sweats, pretty certain that I was going to die.

So, aside from a small glass of Champagne at Christmas (despite the fact that I can't stand the stuff now) I'm a full-on teetotaler these days. And to be honest that's quite a good thing because I often found that I was a bit of a sour drunk; I distinctly remember one party where I grumpily sat alone in the corner planning my escape route should ninjas attack the hall. Grumpy drunk aside, I also think I'm better all hopped up and off my tits on either coffee (my real vice) or a sugary soft drink; seriously, you should see me after a couple of pints of fat-coke (none of that crappy diet coke nonsense for me please, I'm hardcore).

On the other hand, if I did decide to go back to having the odd drink I'd be a damn cheap date, that's for sure. My tolerance is probably so low now that one whiff of a Babycham and I'd be anyone's.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Careers in arrears

Let’s be honest: in this time of global financial catastrophe I’m glad I’ve got a job. And even happier that it’s one I enjoy for the most part (yes, I do grumble every now and then, but then who doesn't?). That said, there’s always been a part of me that can’t help thinking that it’s a shitty world we live in where people can’t fully embrace their passions as a full time career. As anyone who knows me or has read this blog will tell you, it's my ultimate goal to be a full-time writer. I'm fortunate that my job has given me - and continues to give me - the opportunity to write and edit text on a subject I love, but at the end of the day I ultimately want to create my own sandbox to play in. That said, writing wasn't always my first choice as a career.

When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be a bus driver.

(You at the back - stop laughing) 

OK, to really understand my mindset you need to know that I was utterly obsessed by buses as a kid; I had hundreds of toy buses, from little tiny ones to a big plastic routemaster I could pretty much ride (although in hindsight it probably looked like I was dry-humping the thing). Every bus journey was an adventure, every ticket stashed away in a bus-shaped tin as a historical record. It was a natural evolution of my obsession to want to be a bus driver when I was old enough. 

I even said to Sparky Ma once that when I grew up I wanted to buy an old bus so that I could live in it; she frowned and told me that was what gypsies and mentalists did, wisely and subtly putting me off the idea.

My little silver Raleigh Chucka bike served alternately as the 116 bus to Hounslow, complete with stops to let imaginary passengers off, and a Klingon Bird-of-Prey (these were the days after I’d seen Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, after all). Eventually, though, the bus-lust faded and I started to think about other career paths that wouldn't necessarily require me to deal with the general public.

Growing up I'd always enjoyed drawing and everyone told me I was good at it, so I decided I wanted to be an artist of some kind. With the passing of my bus obsession I soon became obsessed with Garfield (what!? Don't look at me like that!) and announced that I would become a professional cartoonist like Jim Davis. I practiced drawing Garfield for several years, and if I do say so myself got pretty bloody good at it; I can still draw him now, albeit 1989-era Garfield rather than the slightly more exaggerated cartoony style of today's version. Having mastered someone else's creation I turned my attention towards creating my own cartoon strip masterpiece. The result was Mits, a fluffly seal cub who wore a fancy bobble hat and shared an iceberg with a carnivorous penguin who was always trying to eat him, and a lady seal cub who appeared identical to Mits save for rosy red lips and a pink bikini top. I built up quite a collection of Mits strips based on the fact that I figured if I started early enough I'd have several years worth of strips ready to roll when the newspapers came a-calling. It was HI-larious, really. But you'll have to take my word for that as all 20-odd Mits strips I amassed were tragically lost when I binned them after throwing a creative, pre-pubescent strop. In hindsight I should've brought it to a natural, if dark conclusion with the arrival of a violent seal-clubbing expedition; I'm thinking the last panel could've shown Mits' iceberg tinged with blood, but with no sign of our hero or his pals, thus leaving their fate open to interpretation…

In early 1992 I saw Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country at the cinema and decided that for my next career move I wanted to be William Shatner. Shortly after that I realised that the position was taken. And anyway, it would appear now that Chris Pine has dibs on it next.

By the time I was nudging toward my GCSEs and really having to make some serious career choices I had veered back towards the arty side of things. I've always been more of an arty person anyway, and I loved sketching things. The trouble was, though, that while I *am* arty and can draw, I'm awfully restless and simply don't have the patience to meticulously draw panel after panel of artwork; I put this down to being the product of the NOW NOW NOW instant gratification generation - which is why I leave the drawing side of things to talented and chilled-out people like Grum.

Nevertheless, while I shared the honour of being the joint-first person to gain an A-grade at Graphical Communication at my senior school, I was still dabbling in writing. I particularly remember a slightly disturbing comedy rewrite of Snow White and The Seven Dwarves that I produced around the age of 14 which I seem to recall recast Snow White as something of a slut. Still, my English teacher liked it so much that she kept talking about trying to get it published (I really don't think she got the double entendres and overt smuttiness of it), and at her insistence I even wrote a sequel that expanded slutty Snow White's universe out to encompass other fairy tales that I similarly bastardised. In hindsight, I think the producers of Shrek might've ripped me off a bit.

Anyway, after leaving school I had what I can only think to refer to as my lost weekend, which was in actuality just three months of me sitting around watching This Morning with Richard and Judy, talking about writing a proposal for an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, and pissing off Sparky Ma who was clearly having horrifying visions of me living in a bus with a dog wearing a jaunty neckerchief and spending my days drinking Special Brew from a chipped teacup. Truth be told, though, I actually did - write a proposal for Star Trek: Voyager, that is. I even handed it around to a load of non-Trekkie mates to get their opinion, as I was adamant it had to work as a good story first, and as a Star Trek story second.

Never sent the thing off, though, despite applying for the writer's submission guidelines that the Star Trek franchise sent out to all and sundry at the time.

Shortly after that I scored my first real job. I'd been aiming for a junior editorial position, but ended up getting a design job based on the sheer awesomeness of my A-grade winning A-level graphics project (which was based on Star Trek). I suspect I initially came across as something of an annoying little tit when I started work shortly after my 19th birthday, as I was unfamiliar with the protocol of working in an office and was constantly trying to get some banter going. That said, seeing as I actually didn’t change my ways by the time my two and a half years there were up it’s entirely possible I was viewed as an annoying little tit for the entire time I was employed there and they were glad to get shot of me. Who knows? I do recall, however, that I was so unfamiliar with the ways of working a proper office job that at the end of my first week I came *this* close to asking my boss if he could write a short letter to my mum to let her how I was getting on.

And as regular reader will know, from there I headed over to my present job, blah, blah, blah, where I've been shacked up in my little Star Trek bunker for - EEK! - 10 years now.

Anyway, as much as I like my job there’s part of me that really wants to forge my own path at some point and start my own little business. To be the queen bee rather than a drone. OK, bad analogy. To be the shepherd, not the sheep. That’s better. And by little I do mean little. I don't want to run a massive multinational or anything. I'd love something run from a small office with a handful of mates working for me (I know some people say you shouldn't work with your mates, but seeing as I met a lot of the really good ones through working with them I think we'd be OK).

For years I’ve been trying to come up with some idea for a business that would be a) enjoyable, b) present minimal risk of failure, and c) be profitable (not necessarily to the point where I’d be rubbing myself in cash like Scrooge McDuck, but enough so that I could live comfortably and without any great financial concerns). A few years ago Mr. Chunt and I spent several evenings in a pub talking about setting up a t-shirt company. Fired up by, I believe, several pints of Guinness on his part, and far too many orange juice and lemonades on mine, he researched sourcing plain t-shirts we could print some funky designs on, and I set about designing a startlingly shitty logo.

That's not to say that a company is the only thing I've thought about doing. A couple of years ago I met the actor Tom Hardy and after complementing him on his performance in a production of Festen I’d seen him appear in the previous year, I was a little taken aback when he asked me if I was an actor. He’d obviously mistaken me for Chad Michael Murray or something. After rolling my eyes and laughing like a mentalist for a second or two I said no, then told him I was the editor of some Star Trek magazines, which, give him his due he sounded quite interested in and we chatted for a couple of minutes. As I walked off, though, his words rang in my ears once more: was I an actor? And for a while there I seriously thought about giving it a whirl. To be honest, I still am; inspired by how It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia came to fruition, I keep thinking that I might try my hand at writing and shooting a short film at some point.

The current crazy idea of the moment, though, comes in the form of an urge I've developed to set up a small independent press - one that focuses on helping new and emerging talents get their work out there, whether it be graphic novels, prose, or poetry - whatever, really. I think I’ve been looking at the Fantagraphics Books and Drawn and Quarterly blogs a bit too much. I love their books, and because I love books in general I figure it’s something I could quite easily get swept up in. The thing is, would it work? 

I'm fascinated by the whole print on demand thing that Createspace, among others, offers, which kind of cuts the financial risk of printing and distributing books because they only print what's needed and the thing is listed on bloody Amazon (and if they can't distribute a book I don't know who can). And then there's nothing to stop me trying to get copies into independent book shops and local branches of Borders and Waterstones. It's just an idea, and I'll no doubt get a better idea of the possibilities it does or doesn't offer when I get round to uploading my long-promised novella to Createspace (yeah, I *still* plan on sorting that out - tut, stop hassling me! WHATEVER!) - till then, though, I'll just be thinking and scheming…

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bite me

I didn't sleep well Saturday night. I'll put this down to two reasons; the first being that I was clearly in the midst of an epic sugar rush courtesy of drinking a big mug of Milo into which I had melted two candy canes left over from Christmas while watching an eight episode Gilmore Girls marathon, and the second being that someone was texting me through to about three in the morning so every time I did start dropping off some loud-ass vibro-phone action shocked me awake. I was totally doing that dozy "uh! Oh, phone…!" thing that people do in movies.

This got me thinking, though, about how much I generally take a good night's sleep for granted these days. My bed is awesomely comfortable to the point that if I sit on it to read (for some reason I rarely read downstairs on the sofa) I inevitably start dropping off after about 15 minutes or so. I think the worst night's sleep I've had at Sparky Towers was a couple of years back when I read the book Zodiac and, massively freaked out, I woke up at about two in the morning literally frozen in place because the book had scared the tits off me and I thought Zodiac was in my house. Seriously, I could not move for several minutes, which was a bit disconcerting because my face was snuggled in the pillow so much that I feared I might suffocate. 

I digress. 

Back when I lived with Sparky Ma and Pa, however, things were a different matter entirely (Zodiac aside). My bed there (a single - *however* did I sleep on something so narrow!?) was horrifically uncomfortable due mainly to a massive spring sticking up out of the mattress in the general lower back/crotch area depending on how far up the bed I shuffled and on which side I was lying. Either way it was very uncomfortable come the morning.

When I was much younger, though, in the days before the spring, I often had great difficulty in getting to sleep, and who the hell needs psychiatrists, I'll tell you why:


Yes, I was scared that Dracula was going to pop out of my parent's room and suck my blood (remember this was in the days before vampires were all cool and sexy like in Angel and, um, Twilight…).

And why was I so petrified of Count Dracula? Because some doofus at Ladybird Books had approved a kiddy version of Bram Stoker's tale and I'd bought it (well, I suspect Sparky Ma bought it at my insistence - I was awfully good at getting things bought for me, I'm ashamed to admit), and holy-shit-I-just-found-a-picture-of-it-on-eBay-and-it's-every-bit-as-scary-as-I- remember-it-being! 

Anyway, so yes I had a 'child's' version of Dracula. Actually I remember the day I got it. Sparky Ma had taken Big Bro and I to Hounslow, which was a horrific thing to do in the first place because Hounslow is an absolute dive, and a trip to Hounslow usually meant we were being taken to the dentists. And let's not forget the time we went there and the stupid bus driver shut the doors on my pretty pretty face as I was disembarking. Sorry, I digressed again; where was I? Oh yes. Dracula. So yes, we were in Boots the Chemist in Hounslow, and for some reason in addition to toilet rolls, toothpaste, bubble bath, and lady necessities they were selling Ladybird book and tape sets - y'know, the ones where you got a book and a tape that told the story so particularly lazy children didn't have to bother reading along and could just look at the pictures and drool on the pages while a tape droned on in the background. I can't remember which one Big Bro chose, but I imagine it was far more sensible and less psychologically damaging than a read-along-to-Dracula story book. And for the life of me I can't imagine why I chose Dracula. It was 1984 for Christ's sake and I was seven.

That afternoon, and I distinctly remember that it was a lovely sunny day because even I thought it was semi-retarded of me to be sitting inside listening/reading Dracula when I could've been out playing in the garden, I sat down and managed to get through the entire traumatising story in one go. The result of this was that for years after I would not sleep with my back to my bedroom door in case Dracula tried to come in (I'm guessing for some reason actually seeing him come in the door to viciously suck my blood was preferable to not seeing him come in the door to viciously suck my blood), and I would always sleep with my duvet pulled up tight around my neck. Even in the middle of summer.

An aside:

*Knock knock*

Whoever could that be knocking on my door? Oh look, it's Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychiatry. Dr. Freud, do you have anything to add?

*Freud twiddles moustache* (I'm assuming Freud had a moustache. He seems like the sort of person who would have a moustache. And definitely a moustache that was twiddleable)

"Yes. You are f**kin' nuts young man."

Anyway, I was sufficiently freaked out to the point that I never read the book again; the tape befell an altogether different fate, I seem to recall; I have a feeling that after one handy application of sellotape the story of Dracula was ready to be erased forever in favour of something from the Top 40 on a Sunday afternoon, specifically a song by Billy Joel, I believe. 

The upshot of this is that I'm a) pretty sure after 24 years I'm actually over the irrational fears instilled in me by a scary-ass children's book, and b) really, WTF was Ladybird doing publishing horror stories like that for kids? They certainly don't do anything like that now (although Chicken Licken sounds somewhat dirty), nor, I expect, would they be allowed to. That said, in their defense a little Googling does reveal that apparently Dracula was aimed at 9-12 year olds, so really I've only got myself to blame.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I blame the credit crunch

As you all know by now, I'm currently spending an obscene amount of time perving over Mini Clubmans. And it was as I was doing this that I found another victim of the credit crunch.

Yes folks, not even The A-Team are immune to the financial and economic woes rocking the world at the moment. Not only have they had to downsize from their gas-guzzling Chevy van, they're having to sell their new means of transport too. 

At this rate I expect Mr. T will be whoring his jewelry on eBay soon. I pity the foo'…

Anyway, if you've ever dreamed of getting all like this…

…just click here and you can live the dream.

Awwww shit, I'm all nostalgic now. Maybe I should buy it?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

That difficult first week

A few months back there was an advertising campaign for a jobs website that basically suggested that their intention was to find people jobs that would allow them to look forward to Mondays. Now, I like my job, but seriously, only weirdos look forward to Mondays. And yes, I mean you at the back - the one with the wonky eye and and the home-cut hairdo. Weirdo. And the worst Monday of all? The first one of a New Year - the one that comes after almost three weeks of Christmas holiday. The one that disrupts your pattern of sleeping until midday and watching Gilmore Girls in early afternoon. In your pants.

Yeah, THAT Monday. I hate that bastard.

Unfortunately, this week began with THAT Monday.

I'm not kidding when I say I got up ridiculously early on Monday morning; think 5:40am ridiculously early. The reasons for this were two-fold: first, I hate sitting in traffic at the best of times, least of all on the bastard-first-monday of the year, and secondly because I'd been told before Christmas that we were going to be rejigging the office layout and I wanted to make a start on boxing up my stuff and scoping out my new area, which is upstairs. With the important people.

To cut a long story reasonably short, it all went quite well, and during those few moments when it wasn't I just got inside one of the built-in cupboards beside my new desk, shut the doors and took a few moments to gather myself. It was like a rebirthing ceremony when I emerged. And it made people laugh, reinforcing the suggestion that I am 'fun to work with.' Which I am. Just ask Willowc or Watch*Paint*Dry

So yes, the move went very well. And as it turns out, me and my colleague in all things Star Trek actually have quite a bit more room than we did before. We're contemplating filling some of the space with a Fatboy, although I'm also quite liking the idea of a Slanket.

What I didn't mention about Monday was that it snowed, and while it didn't snow on Tuesday it was, I believe the official term is, f**king freezing. Anyway, in addition to my BE LESS COMPLACENT New Year's Resolution, I've also recognised that I need to crank up my running after getting into a bit of a 'two-will-do' per week rut, and despite it being very cold I nevertheless pulled on my running shoes, layered-up, and decided to go out for a run.

And yes it was f**king freezing. 

One benefit of extreme cold, however, is that it makes you run faster because you just want to get the damn thing over and done with as quickly as possible. Don't believe me? I knocked two minutes off the equivalent time and 15 seconds off my per kilometre pace compared to my previous run over the same distance. I was running so fast I'm surprised my Nike+ kit could actually record the data. I thought it might explode. 

That being the case, while I would actually like it to get a tad warmer over the next few days, I'd be quite happy for it to dip back to about minus four when I do one of my longer runs on a Tuesday evening. 

It seems that everyone wants a piece of me this year, with one poor young lady in particular having an unerring ability to ask me if I want to go catch a movie either this week (oops, can't!) or next week (sorry, just made plans!). I hate saying "I'll schedule you in for the week after next" to people, but that's kind of what I ended up saying because I feel awful if I make plans with people then cancel at the last minute to do something else instead. Anyway, Wednesday's plans entailed meeting up with Willowc to go watch The Spirit.

Yes, I said The Spirit. Well *that* got some sterling reviews, didn't it?

The thing is, I like quite a few movies that other people hate; hell, I've spent many a half hour or so defending Star Trek Nemesis. I like Star Trek Nemesis! And I thought it might be a similar sort of thing with The Spirit; I like Frank Miller's graphic novels (*blissfully ignores The Dark Knight Strikes Again*) and I like The Spirit as a character (OK, horrific admission here: I've never read any of Will Eisner's classic Spirit stories; my introduction to the character came through Darwyn Cooke's version a few years back - but that was one of the best comic books I'd read in a long time, so hey-ho). Add the fact that the previous adaptations of Frank Miller's work (Sin City and 300) have both been pretty good, albeit with a few too many slow-motion shots of semi-nekkid chaps swinging their weapons around for my taste in the latter, and I thought The Spirit would be, at worst, a slightly dumb, but rather fun way to kill a couple of hours.


OK, so the evening went a little astray to begin with because I was late in meeting Willowc due to having to wait for my washing machine to finish a spin cycle (anyone ever used that excuse before?). On the plus side, I needn't have worried because in a screen that can seat about 500 people only about seven seats were taken. Anyway, the movie started with a nonsensical monologue by The Spirit that glossed over how he came to be who he is and then just rambled on about how much he loved his city (which was quite frankly a bit weird because you half expected him to start banging a fire hydrant or something), then moved on to a fight sequence between him and Samuel L. Jackson (who really needs to actually start reading the scripts that are passed to him and stop agreeing to do every film that he's offered) that lasted ages and was really boring. As it went on, it became apparent that The Spirit also had a highly suspicious relationship with a number of stray cats (I'm assuming someone misunderstand the use of the word 'pussy' in the script), and Willowc fell asleep. 

I was rather glad when it finished. 

The problem, I think, is that Frank Miller, well, Frank Millerised the concept of The Spirit so it ended up looking less like Will Eisner's original and more like the bastard offspring of Sin City and 300. Those films had a stylised look that was consistent with the source material - this didn't. And quite frankly, without a competent director to reign everything in, this movie just came across as muddied and horribly confusing to watch.

Not even Scarlett Johansson could save it, and she has marvelous boobs.

There was just one moment that I can recall where I saw a glimmer of The Spirit I loved from the comics; in one short, unremarkable scene between The Spirit and Ellen Dolan where it looks like they're going to get it on in a hospital room before being interrupted by her father, The Spirit quickly turns to camera with a comical look of wide-eyed embarrassment on his face. Yep, something as simple as that was my highlight of the entire film.

Shaved my beard into a distinguished looking goatee. It's almost long enough for me to twirl manically now. Resisted the temptation to go back to the Wolverine-esque sideburns look I had for a few months back in 2000.

Played with some sand.

I'm a keen listener of the George Lamb show on BBC 6Music; it's fun, witty, irreverent often ridiculous, and has some great catchphrases (think "shabba!" "ya got ears, ain't ya?" and "wha'say rudegirl!"). This week they've been talking about doing a sort of competition-thing to design a bumper sticker for the show (including the phrase 'RADIO IS BACK!'), and I thought it would be kind of rude not to. 

That being the case, I spent Friday evening doing this.

I don't know why I went for an all-encompassing blue tint, it just kind of happened, but I think it looks OK. Notice how I subverted the 'RADIO IS BACK' thing by having a radio saying "I'M BACK?" That's lateral thinking, people; lateral thinking. 

Anyway, I'll email it into the show next week so we'll see if they like it and whack it up on their website…

So, as I've mentioned probably quite a lot before, I like Minis, and I really like Mini Clubmans. Back in December I went and drove a Mini Clubman Cooper D, which is a really long name for a rather small car, but it was very nice. Soon after driving it, however, a little thing called Christmas hit and I kind of got a bit sidetracked. This week, though, I decided I'd check in on the Mini website and see what was out there. And that's when I saw this. It might look familiar to you - and that's because I first talked about it waaaaaay back in October. And while the spec wasn't quite what I wanted, it had the sexiest wheels I've seen on any car in a long time and I was very tempted to go take a look. Turns out, though, that I couldn't actually be arsed to haul myself over to wherever outside of the M25 it was being kept.

Fast forward three months, though, and it's been moved to a different, far more convenient location, and a whoppingly large figure has been knocked off the price. Um, good times, eh?

That being the case, I dropped the dealership an email and arranged a test drive. Surprising myself, I arrived at the dealer this afternoon bang on time, and ogled the Clubbie for a few seconds before going in to meet the salesman. I know a car's appearance is just one aspect that you should consider when thinking about purchasing a new motor, but it was even nicer in the metal than in the picture. Seriously, it's awesome; aggressive, purposeful … and shiny. Very shiny. And good lord those wheels are bloody nice.

And it got better inside, with shiny piano black trim and a padded red leather strip running across the dash. At one point during the test drive I actually had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from telling the sales guy that I'd intended to move away from red for my third Mini, because I thought that would give the impression that I was seriously interested in this car, and desperately wanted it. Which I, um, did. Oh, and it drove really nicely too (that's kind of important, huh?). So, anyway, we get back to the dealership after a nice 30 minute drive, and I was this close (this close!) to thinking that I might actually start talking seriously with this guy about buying this car. And then one of his colleagues rudely interrupted us. 

While we'd been out in the Clubman, y'see, one of the other salesman had spent some time, with my permission, going over my car to determine how much they'd offer me in part exchange. And when we got back he kicked off, in a rather aggressive (and hilariously camp fashion I might add) about how he'd determined a rather startlingly low figure that is at odds with what I've been offered for it previously. I took an instant dislike to this guy and sat there staring at him while he reeled off a list of things he'd need to do in order to sell mine - all of which were, quite frankly, bullshit. I say this with certainty, because one of the things he cited was that it would need new brake discs which is untrue because it sailed through its MOT just two months ago, and I'm pretty sure if it had needed new brake discs my regular dealer would've made every effort to sell some to me (because Mini dealers, being an offshoot off BMW dealers, like to do everything possible to make you part ways with cash). Another thing he said was that three of the alloy wheels needed refurbishing, which is rubbish because he'd clearly made no effort to look under the horrific amount of dirt they are currently covered in to check their condition; and let's not forget the fact that I'm incredibly anal about the condition of my alloy wheels, and on the two occasions they have suffered minor scrapes I've called upon a wonderful BMW-authorised chap called Trevor to come and tart them up.

So all in all, this guy was both rude and talking out of his arse. So I told him I disagreed with him, stood up, shook the hand of the by this time frankly-embarrassed looking salesman I'd driven the car with, thanked him for his time, and walked out.

I've bought two Minis from my local dealership in the last eight years, and both times - and on the many occasions I've popped in to do test drives since then - I've been treated with nothing less than the utmost respect. Here, though, I genuinely felt like I was being patronised and talked to like I was an utter simpleton (which despite the occasional bout of ridiculousness here and there, I am not). And in the current economic climate, where car sales have dropped by unprecedented levels, you'd think dealers would be clamouring to sell you a car. I hadn't even discussed the possibility of any discounting at the point when this guy launched at me; hell, he told me that they were selling the Clubman at close to a loss like it was my fault! 

Let's put it in perspective: I stopped at some motorway services on the way home because I spotted a Starbucks and I fancied a coffee. I was treated in a more polite and welcoming manner by the barista who served me than I was by the aggressive Mini dealer, and given the difference between a hot drink costing two pounds and a car costing many thousands, I'm thinking that someone needs to give some serious thought to the way they treat potential customers. On the plus side, it's usual for BMW/Mini to call you after a visit to a dealership to find out how you were treated, and I think I've got something to complain about this time…

At the end of the day, though, I look back on this whole incident as a great shame, because I was really very interested in this Mini Clubman. That being the case, when the dealer does inevitably call me back to find out whether I want it or not, I'll be more tempted to push for a bit more money off than I would have been if the guy had just been perfectly polite to me - and let's not forget that it's far easier to haggle with someone you don't like than someone you do. Interesting times ahead…

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard

I think that ranks as the most ill-advised title I've ever applied to a blog post.

Right, towards the end of last year I went milkshake crazy and started blending left, right, and centre to find the perfect combination of milk, ice cream, biscuit, and, um, shake. And as many of you clamoured to know exactly how I whipped up such a fantastic beverage, I'm going to throw my secrets wide open and share them with you here - because damn right they're better than yours, and unlike Kelis I'm not going to charge!

Here we go!

Step 01: Prepare your equipment (you in the cheap seats - stop sniggering!)

Here's my blender, ready for action.

Step 02: Prepare your biscuits

I'm going with chocolate Hob Nobs because they're chocolaty yet also full of fibre so they'll help keep me regular. Like many, I'm starting the New Year with a healthier option.

They also have a somewhat dirty name - tee-hee!

Step 03: Sacrifice your biscuits to the all-powerful blending deity!

Crush 'em up real good too!

An aside:

Don't forget one for the chef, too.


Step 05: Prepare your ice cream!

We're going with Sainsbury's soft scoop vanilla here, which is fine, but in all honesty I'd recommend going with chocolate in future.

Step 06: Sacrifice your ice cream to the all-powerful blending deity!

I recommend about two-and-a-bit to three reasonably big spoonfuls.

An aside:

Don't forget some ice cream for the chef!


Step 07: Measure your milk

Work out exactly how much milk you need by filling the glass you'll be drinking your milkshake from.

Step 08: Chuck the milk on top of your biscuit and ice cream abomination

Mmmm - how vile does that look?

Step 09: Regard the monster you're about to create

Let's pause there for a musical interlude.

Step 10: BLEND!

Blend it real good!

Step 11: Post-blending

After a couple of minutes blending, take a few to chillax.

Step 12: Fill your receptacle of choice!

Remember to shake out all the froth and lumps!

Step 13 (unlucky for some): Down it in one!

Mmmm… isn't that good?

Step 14 (voluntary): Vomit

Sunday, January 04, 2009

100 resolutions per minute

It's funny, but it seems like few people are making New Year's Resolutions this year. Maybe it's something to do with the current climate? I heard an interesting fact a few months back: as the credit crunch began to hit sales of expensive fruit smoothies fell while sales of chocolate rose. Everyone started comfort eating! Which probably explains why when I've asked people what their New Year's Resolutions are they've shrugged their shoulders and gone back to rubbing a king-size Dairy Milk on their face.

Last year I said that I'd be following the example of the mighty William Shatner by making my resolution a simple one: be better. And d'ya know what? I'd like to think I accomplished that goal. I can't think of any really specific incidents where I was being better, but just in general I thought I was a smidgeon better in total; I've certainly been a bit more tolerant when the need arose, and on the other hand, a bit more forceful when I needed to be. I certainly think I've been a nicer, more considerate person - even when others haven't been. I have followed Shatner's word to the letter, and it made me feel better as a whole. Good times.

As far as I'm aware, the mighty Lord Shatner hasn't sent down any word of what I should be doing this year, so I've had to make my own resolution. And here it is:


Oooooo! And why have I chosen this as my New Year's Resolution? Well, it mainly stems from my book. As longtime readers will know, I finished writing my novella back in the second half of last year, but have since faffed about and made many ridiculous excuses about why I haven't gotten around to publishing it through CreateSpace. Well, no more! I'm going to get it all sorted out and done ASAP! And then, I'm going to be less complacent in other areas too! I think I've been sitting around too much in the last couple of years waiting for things to happen to me, and it's about time that I got off my backside and MADE them happen. You need to go after your hopes and dreams, not let them drift about on the horizon while you watch a repeat of Scrubs.

So this is it: I'm going to be less complacent in 2009. I'm going to be driven and focused. I'm going to win!

*and the crowd goes wild!*

That's me then; stop rubbing a Dairy Milk on your face and tell me what your resolutions are.

An aside:

Has anyone ever seen REM frontman Michael Stipe and Edna from Emmerdale in the same room? Thought not…

Spooky eh?

So what else have I been doing besides devising a life-changing resolution? Um, not much to be honest. I've been playing Lego Batman on my Xbox, which is good fun, watching a looooad of DVDs such as The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Half Nelson, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, and the latest season of Family Guy, and reading a new book, Superpowers by David J. Schwartz, which I'm thoroughly enjoying (but you'll have to wait until this time next year to find out how I rate it). What else…? Oh yes, I invented my own beverage, which I think Starbucks will be eager to take on…

May I present: the Bubblecino! Zero calories, and a refreshing, somewhat soapy aftertaste - yum!

… And found a shop that's perfect for the one-legged lady in your life:

In other matters, I also saw Twilight. And no, before you ask, I am not a teenage emo; Best Mate Jo wanted to go, so I tagged along. And we went in the afternoon so it was cheap. The film itself was … OK, I s'pose. I can't say I'd rush to see it again, nor any of the inevitable sequels. And I definitely wouldn't read the books (sorry T-Bird). But what I did learn is this:

• The vampires of the Twilight universe have nothing in common with the vampires of any other universe.
• They vampires of the Twilight universe can be easily distinguished by their bouffant and somewhat fruity hairstyles.
• The vampires of the Twilight universe don't explode in sunlight; instead they "shimmer like diamonds." Although I thought they just looked excessively sweaty.
• Everyone is very po-faced in the Twilight universe.
Cam Gigandet still can't act.

I shall be seeing my first film of 2009 on Wednesday, when Willowc and I head off to catch a screening of The Spirit, the year's most reviled and badly reviewed movie (I would normally add 'so far' to the end of that sentence, but it looks unlikely that there'll be a worse movie). As you can see, I'm setting the bar p-r-e-t-t-y low.