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Published in: on 19/04/2011 at 1:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Frivolous/Arduous

Tuesday December 28th : Whilst trying to get my digital copy of Inception onto my PSP I realised something. I had an old PSP (1001). It’s not a ground shaking development nor something that would change my outlook on life, but I just hadn’t realised it. A short bout of research later, and feeling somewhat spurred on by a mixture of post-Xmas blues, no holiday between Xmas and New Year, and the knowledge that I was in for an unseasonably excessive workload, I decided to give myself an expensive treat.

Wednesday December 29th : I popped into Croydon in my lunch break hoping to pick up my new toy. Game was a total bust, the sales and upcoming VAT hike meant that the queue literally went out of the door. I almost had success in HMV, but the only one they had in stock was a returned, broken one. I decide to just order it online. “If order it from Game I can get myself some reward points and with free express delivery have it by the New Year”, I thought. A few moments on their website and the deed was done. All I had to do now was sit back and wait…

Thursday/Friday December 30th/31st : I knew I was being a little optimistic. I figured that they were still recovering from the Xmas rush of online ordering, besides it was between Xmas and New Year, and like where I worked, a lot of people were either on holiday or off sick.

New Year : HURRAY! Everyone drank and was merry. No need for treats or stuff like that, I was having fun and people weren’t working. We all need a break sometimes.

Tuesday January 4th : After a hard day at work I was hopeful that I might have a package waiting for me. I phoned Michelle before I left and did ask, but there was nothing waiting for me. Not even a “we tried to deliver your package when you were out” slip.

When I got in, I went online to check my orders status. “Oh it’s been shipped” I initially cooed. “It was being shipped today” I said a bit more puzzled. A few clicks more and I was on the Parcelforce website checking my delivery’s status. It was dispatched today. It had also, according to their website, been successfully delivered.

And signed for.

BY ME.

OK. Maybe a little bit of a mistake, it can happen. But their website helpfully has a way of looking at the signature of the signee. Maybe I was starting to get a little annoyed by now, but did that signature look like someone had tried to just write my name?

I went door to door with all the nearest neighbours. No-one had taken any deliveries. Everyone wished me “good luck in finding out what had happened to it”. When no-one had taken delivery of it, I went from puzzled to full-on rage. I went on both Parcelforce’s and Game’s websites and made complaints, noting down a few useful phone numbers to give a few angry phone calls to.

(OK, at this point I started writing things down. Names of people – replaced with initials in this post to protect the “innocent” and to prevent any potential for legal gubbins – and dates and times and what was said. I’ll try to keep it brief.)

Wednesday January 5th : Wasted some time navigating around the confusing Parcelforce automated menus and then 15 minutes listening to a loop of Coldplay. Eventually I spoke to a nice woman (didn’t get her name!) who was helpful and apologetic. She gave me the phone number for the depot my parcel had shipped from.

I then spoke to W. W wasn’t rude, just disinterested. He told me that he would phone the driver to find out what had happened. This was 10:10. At 14:40 I phoned back. Was cut off once, but eventually got W again. He told me that the manager was dealing with it and would be speaking to the driver the next morning and that he, W, would give me a call.

“Good, the manager’s involved, this might shake things up.” I thought. I was wrong.

Thursday January 6th : Didn’t hear anything all morning so called W back at 11:50. He tells me he needs to get some paper work from the manager and would call me back in 5 minutes. At 12:30, N (the manager) calls me back but directly from his mobile. He was very nice but had failed to speak to the driver that morning. The driver was apparently ignoring his mobile and any texts so he was unable to find anything more out. N asked me exactly what I had lost and I tell him. He tells me that they will either find out where the item is, or just tell Game it’s lost and I can get a redelivery or a refund. N promises to speak to the driver the following morning.

Friday January 7th : Again no call back, so at 12:30 I call N myself.

“Oh I was just about to call you”, N tells me. 😡

N tells me that the driver “swears blind” he did deliver the package but must have just not updated the console properly. N then tells me that the driver would be in the area of my home again at about 13:00 and was going to try to jog his memory about what had happened. (?) Michelle was in, so I tell the manager this, thinking that it might help.

At 14:25 I get a voicemail from N. He hasn’t heard anything from the driver. I end up managing to get to speak to N again at 16:40. N tells me that he doubts he will be hearing back from the driver that day. I say, “OK, I’ll call Game”. N says, “I’m sure they will send you another one.”

Saturday January 8th : Speak to Game. S tells me that one of her colleagues (A) had sent Parcelforce an email that morning in response to my online complaint from the 4th. Unfortunately, as it was a Saturday, I would have to wait until then before any more could be done about it. She tells me that A would call me back on Monday. I confirm my mobile number with S.

Monday January 10th : 16:00 and no call from Game. I call them back. I speak to N who was very helpful. She actually phones up Parcelforce whilst I’m on hold to find out what’s been going on. After 5 minutes she’s back talking to me. Apparently Parcelforce were telling her that the driver said he knocked on the door, but there was no answer, as he was walking away someone came to the door and signed for it. The driver couldn’t remember what the person that signed for it looked like. Parcelforce then added that it was upto Game to decide what this meant. (?)

N then tells me that sounds like it’s lost to her. She says “we’ve been having a lot of trouble with Parcelforce” and we exchange ancedotes about the problems we’ve had. (At last a kindred spirit!) She offers redelivery or refund. I decide for redelivery, thinking it will be the least amount of effort for me, but ask if I can have it delivered to work instead. She says thats ok and asks me to confirm my work address over the phone. She tells me that she will organise a redelivery and call me back the next day with an order number.

Wednesday January 12th : I give them the benefit of the doubt again and let Tuesday slide, figuring that they are probably still a little snowed under. I call them back at 14:30 and speak to A2 who says she will ask N about what’s happening. She then comes back and tells me that their website order team is very short-staffed so it was a bit held up. She then tells me that she will send them an email to make my order a priority. She tells me that I should receive an email with the order number in it that evening. (I have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I should just give and get a refund now.)

When I get home I find I was sent this email at 15:50 and not only that but my order was now preparing for packing.

Thursday January 13th : It finally gets shipped again using a 24 hour business delivery. I then just check the delivery address. DISASTER. It’s being sent to my home address again! I fear the worst.

Friday January 14th : I spend the morning checking the Parcelforce delivery tracking service every 15 minutes or so. I stop doing this at 11:00. I then check again at 13:00 and find that it’s been delivered. The signee this time is what I think is a neighbour, although i didn’t really recognise the name.

That evening I got home. Again no failed delivery attempt note through the door, but I had guessed the neighbour right and hip hip hooray I finally got it. (It’s a very lovely PSP 3003, MUCH lighter, smaller, slick-looking, with a beautiful new display and faster loading times.)

If there was a moral, or a lesson to be learned, I cannot help but feel it’s this.

DON’T TRUST PARCELFORCE. Even when they did manage to get the package to near my house they left me to work out where it was!

Published in: on 15/01/2011 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Graphically superior

When I speak to many enlightened people about graphic novels, there’s typically a common theme. Whilst it’s what they are most frequently associated with, most folk that I know don’t tend to read Superhero stories. I don’t know why, maybe they are seen as being a bit beneath them, or maybe, with so many to choose from, they just don’t know what to try.

Let me see if I can help. I know that world of Superhero-dom can be a confusing one, with a multitude of characters each with long histories and back stories a-plenty, but they aren’t all like that, and many of the better modern writers can draw from that history and make them accessible and likeable. Or they can just give a tasty morsel of a story with familiar characters and no background reading required.

With those requirements in mind, here are some of my favourite Superhero graphic novels (or trade paperbacks) that I hope will be enjoyable and not frustrating…

Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer : This DC based story sees many DC heroes well-known, and not so well known, finding that someone is attacking their loved ones rather than themselves. Even with several less well-known characters taking the fore-ground there’s plenty to enjoy and be engrossed by. With a story that is more of a whodunnit than a series of fisticuffs and plenty of drama and tragedy along the way. (If you like this then try “Tornado’s Path” again by Meltzer with a twisted take on Pinocchio as super-robot Red Tornado get’s his wish of becoming human made a reality.)

The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller : It’s so obvious I feel daft putting it in here. A must-read for anyone with any passing interest in graphic novels of any kind. With an elderly Batman being forced out of retirement in a world where many others have fallen or been twisted by time, this story helped to redefine Batman and remains a classic of its type. (If you like this, then try Frank Miller’s more recent take on Batman with “All star Batman and Robin”, a reworking of Robin’s origin story and a hard-hitting take on what makes the pair tick.)

Marvels by Kurt Busiek : A walk through the beginnings of many Marvel Universe heroes told through the eyes of a reporter. Beautifully drawn – or rather, painted – by Alex Ross and with an emphasis on the impact that the rise of all major Marvel heroes had on the world around them.

JLA : Earth 2 by Grant Morrison – A very easy to pick up and read JLA story. The Justice League come under attack from another dimensions’ version of Justice League called the Crime Syndicate. Is it a battle that either side can ever really win? (An even easier to pick up, but with no established superheroes in it, book by the excellent Grant Morrison is We3. To quote a fellow comic book lover, “the best cat/dog/rabbit superhero story I’ve read”.)

Empire by Mark Waid : Again, a nice story to just pick up and an interesting take on the whole superhero story. In this one, they’ve lost. A Doctor Doom like supervillian called Golgoth has conquered almost the entire world, fighting a one-sided battle against a few who try to fight on. It’s dark and got some pretty unpleasant scenes in it, but i think it’s a real treat to read and there’s nothing else like it.

Top 10 by Alan Moore : Everyone knows Moore from “Watchmen”, “V for Vendetta”, or “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, but for me, “Top 10” is one of his finest moments. In an incredible world where everyone is has a superpower filled to the brim with cheeky little jokes and imaginative ideas, the police force of Top 10 have to try and deal with a variety of superpowered crimes. Ranging from a Jack The Ripper-esque prostitute murderer to an invisible sex pest, with a dash of superpowered drugs and deicide thrown in, this sits comfortable with the rest of Moore’s excellent work and so far no-one’s upset him by making a film about it either!

Geoff John’s revival of Green Lantern : I’m going to put this in here mainly because i think it’s awesome. If you start at the beginning with “Secret Origin” and “Rebirth” you shouldn’t struggle too much with moving onto the Sinestro Corps Wars, which is chock full of epic battles and rich characters. A bit more work is required to span the gap between Sinestro Corps Wars and Blackest Night – which again is incredible – as Geoff introduces Lantern’s for each colour of the spectrum. It’s well worth the effort though and has plenty of shock twists and brilliant story-telling.

Published in: on 20/12/2010 at 2:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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A nice quick one for you

Evening Blumenthals

In whipping up a quick and easy pasta dish with good old tomato sauce (proper sauce, not ketchup!) I hankered from some bread to accompany. Alas the sour dour loaf purchased from the excellent bread stall on Northcote road showed the signs of handmade bread and presented a somewhat dry status. Quick as a flash I poured a glug of olive oil into a pan and chucked in a couple of slices. Some fried bread didn’t quite appeal on its own so I went for a decent grating of parmesan on both sides. The result: an easy but toothsome concoction that I can heartily recommend to you all. Ta ta.

Adam

Published in: on 06/12/2010 at 9:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Trip

Er. Ok, so this is TV, not film.

I’m going to hang back from a full review, but if you’ve not been watching it, can I whole-heartedly recommend The Trip. That’s the one with Messrs Coogan and Brydon. Superb stuff. Funny and a socking great slice of pathos thrown in. And extremely well directed. I found it comes across as a bit like an Alan Bennett duologue (did he do duologues? well, think of his monologues but with, er, another person). Anyway, there is one more left in the series I think but I’m sure you can catch up on iPlayer. Monday nights and repeated on Sunday.

Michael Stroydontbottom

Published in: on 01/12/2010 at 12:43 am  Comments (2)  

Meedya

Christmas is fast approaching and with it comes the inevitable, and very practical, present that is the aunt’s favourite: the gift card. Now, these come in many different flavours and, as well as being excellent for removing ice from windscreens, can often be used to purchase books. I have a lot of these bad boys lying around – mainly because I pretty much entirely fail to use them when I go shopping. I therefore strategically place them around the flat to remind myself to use the flippin’ things when out on a giddying spending spree. This morning, the chest-of-drawers-based card caught by eye as I was slipping on the old shirt and gentleman’s half hose. This is a borders card, which probably shows how old it as as I think they went bankrupt, and on it is a moving inscription to big-up the world of books. It reads: “You can know a man by the books he reads.” Hmmm, I thought, what a load of pappy bollocks from some long-dead chump.

But indeed this is a sentiment shared by many (the books-are-great sentiment, not the pappy-bollards ones). I guess I can understand why. Books used to be pretty much the only medium by which you could learn new stuff off your own bat. Otherwise, you were obliged to learn skills from a master, or listen to tales from a giant cartoon rabbit with a speech impediment. Or whatever. Books allowed human people-folk to take their own intellectual destiny in their own hands and find a form of entertainment that catered to their own disgusting proclivities. Indeed, with this sole source of informatics, perhaps one could in all seriousness tell somethings of the person by whatever was contained in his slim, pocket-sized, vellum-bound, illuminated manuscript.

Yet times have changed. The single medium of type has become a many-headed hydra of media. And the media have allowed for several art-forms (for want of a better word) to stem from each basic building block. So we have feature films, short films, silent films, theatre, dance, youtube, youporn (yay!), facebook, twitter, email, graphic novels, written word, short stories, factual books, happy slapping, weekend supplements, free papers and a whole bunch more I cannot be bothered to research. No longer is it just the book (which, ok, does allow for many art-forms to be expressed) which gives us access to the frothing pleasure and weeping joy of art, but several other blinking and moving and still images with which to titillate. Each very much has its strengths and weaknesses. Harry Potter is incredible as a book, a little shonky as a movie. Something like Full Metal Jacket is a visual and visceral feast for eye and ear which would work less well as a novel. At times graphic novels can capture something that neither the written word or cinema can quite match – treading the tightrope between the two.

And with so many media out there. And so many forms expressed by each medium. Can we really continue to hold the book up as the window into the soul? The benchmark against which we can snootily look down on someone, or (much more rare) be dazzlingly impressed. No. Of course not. Not least because books are themselves flawed and limited. Reading 40 zillion books a day and not owning a TV is not something necessarily to be proud of. In fact, surely the person who absorbs all media and picks the best and worst from each has the richer soul.

I could ramble on all over the place on this and I’ve not thought it all through. Mainly because I watch too much telly and my brain has rotted. But I’d be interested to know what people think. If nothing else, what are your own examples of perfection captured from each medium? There are lots of movie, video game, book, graphic novel and theatre fiends amongst us. Perhaps a good suggestion will inspire us to try something new. In fact, perhaps we could set up a web-page to capture such heart-felt recommendations. Interesting thought. Or maybe I’ll write a book about it.

Stroydont Schama

Published in: on 29/11/2010 at 10:51 pm  Comments (1)  

Brief savings tip

I apologise that this post doesn’t fit into any of the normal categories but i felt the need to rant. No-one wanted to have lunch with me today so I was reading The Sun and, in particular, a story about the guy who won £56 million on the lottery. The story was about how his ex-wife, who left HIM 10 years ago for another man, sued him for £8 million. This was after he had generouslly offered her £1 million. The story really pissed me off but that’s not whay I am posting.

What has got my goat is that the article started by describing the man as “Lottery Dad…” Now, I have nothing against Dads and it may well be the most important role in their lives, but it doesn’t exactly define someone as far as a news story goes. I bet a lot of people who have won the lottery are Dads, this doesn’t narrow it down for us. You might as well start every news story about Rooney as “Footballing Dad Wayne Rooney…” And what do you do if someone isn’t a parent? “Acting Daughter Lindsay Lohan…”? “Driving human Jenson Button…”. “Twat-faced Carbon-based lifeform Simon Cowell…”? Do readers of The Sun feel like they need this sort of info at the start of every news story?

Right, rant over! I feel better now.

Posted by: Moustache Wearer Si.

Published in: on 22/11/2010 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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(Nothing to do with) Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve

Afternoon all.

For those of you looking to put away some cash a little bit each month I’ve noticed that first direct are currently offering an 8% AER rate if you open a Regular Saver account and pay in between £25 and £300 per month. No idea how that compares with other regular saver accounts out there (I’m sure moneysupermarket and the like will tell you), but it seems to be a decent rate at the moment. I think you need to have another account with first direct as well, but check out the website for details. (No, I am not on commission!)

Good luck

Chancellor Stroydont

Published in: on 21/11/2010 at 1:29 pm  Comments (5)  
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They live in a house, a very big house in the suburbs

I’ve never been that interested in financial matters. When the Chancellor announces the budget, for example, I may take a quick look at one of those handy “How might this affect you” summary reports but even then I’m scanning through for any big headlines (has beer gone up?!?) rather than reading with any interest. I guess this is probably because I don’t need to pinch every penny and, unless I lose my job tomorrow, I am fairly comfortable at the moment (for which I feel very lucky). However, talking to the 3 couples I know who are in the process of buying and/or selling a property got me thinking about something this morning on the way to work. In particular it was a conversation with Tim and his wife Loz where she was incredulously asking how anyone could afford to buy a £400k house. My immediate reaction to this was that I’m pretty sure my parents and almost all of my friends’ parents have houses worth £400k and generally speaking they bought them when they were significantly younger than I am and a good 10+ years younger than Tim and Loz are. Not only that but in quite a few instances, certainly in the case of my parents, at the time that they bought the house only one person in the couple was working full time while the other brought up the children.

A quick check on Zoopla proved me right about the price. In fact the average price for a house on Oaklands Avenue is more than £500k and number 57, the nearest one to my Dad’s that is listed, is valued at £450k. Now, I’m not an idiot and I realise that they didn’t cost even a quarter of that when my parents bought it 30 years ago, but then my Dad’s pay has increased significantly over the last 3 decades too. Would he be able to afford to buy it now? Who knows, I haven’t got a clue what he earns or whether he has any savings. Anyway, my point is that there is no way on Earth that I could afford to buy a similar house and I can’t even envisage a point in my life when I would be able to. My current flat is worth less than a third of that which, taking a very simplistic view, means my salary needs to increase threefold whilst house prices stay the same. Even if I were to one day get married to someone with a similar salary and we decided not to have any kids and both keep working it still seems somehow out of reach.

So where does this leave us? It seems to me that we’re going to end up with as a situation where older generations are living in large houses with big gardens whilst each successive younger generation will be living in smaller and smaller places. I thought it was tough for me to get my flat but if I had to save up a 20% deposit I’d have been living with my Dad for a further 2 years before I could have bought. However at some point, and I apologise for being slightly morbid here, the older generations will no longer be with us and their assets will presumably be passed down the generations. The thing is, with the advances in medicine and a little bit of luck our parents will be around for another 25-30 years or more so by the time we come to inherit from them we’ll be approaching retirement ourselves and will (hopefully) not need another house. Therefore it seems logical to me that these valuable properties would skip a generation and go straight to the Elliots and Edwards of this world. We’ll then be in a situation where all the younger people will be living in big houses while their parent (i.e. us) are in more modest homes. But then I realised that could have been what it was like for our Grandparents’ generation. Certainly my Dad’s Dad always lived in a much smaller house than my Dad does. So are we just in a continuous cycle where each successive generation switches around? Will this continue ad infinitum and, if so, will this cycle get gradually longer and longer as life expectancy and working lives increase? I have this image in my head of a graph with age along the x-axis and house value on the y-axis and an oscillating sine wave showing the relationship.

Of course, this may just be something that applies to middle class people like ourselves. Maybe both the parents and children in rich families will always live in massive houses while the poorer families will always be confined to council houses? I don’t know the answer, but it certainly gave me something to think about on the long, wet, passenger-free journey into work today.

Posted by Si

Published in: on 18/11/2010 at 11:42 am  Comments (6)  
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Bronson – A review

I’ve been using Lovefilm for a while now and have had a fairly diverse range of movies to watch, some not to my taste, but there have been movies that have been pleasant surprises.

Bronson, starring Tom Hardy as the infamous “Britain’s most violent prisoner” Charles Bronson, was a film that I thought would rival the likes of Aussie crime flick Chopper. A gritty depiction of a real life criminal, livened up with bit of liberal interpretation of events. Sadly this was not the case and this was a film that was a let down.

Whilst Hardy gives a charismatic and energetic performance, it is chaotic and you get a feeling that there is a lot of stylish flourishes in the film making up for a fairly rudimentary plot. However these flourishes lean towards a feeling of fantasy and this mix of fantasy and biography make the film seem predominantly one of wish fulfillment.

Bronson is violent and probably the film’s main (and arguably only, aside from Hardy’s performance) strength is conveying how unpredictable, fearsome and explosive he was. But there have been similar performances of menace (Pesci in Goodfellas, Kingsley in Sexy Beast) in much more entertaining and engrossing movies. This menace just isn’t enough to make for the lightweight nature and dull plot of the film.

The plot suffers primarily because Bronson was an incredibly mediocre (and unsuccessful) criminal and decided that to be somebody he would be the most violent prisoner there was. This played to his main attributes, in that he was tough, very violent, and liked fights. He picks fights with everyone. Oh and he frequently does this nude. If you want to know what Tom Hardy looks like naked then this is a good film to watch.

There is a slightly interesting element of the film when he is sent to a mental institution which counters Bronson’s efforts of finding fame because he is no longer classed as a criminal and his violence is numbed by drugs.

But the rest of film feels like week padding that links together a series of violent clashes between Bronson and prison guards, other prisoners or anyone else that is a convenient target.

It is hard to warm to Bronson both as a person and a film. There isn’t much attempt to explain why he is the way he is and to try and make you understand him, root for him or really even care about what happens to him.

Whether the subject matter could have been handled any better by a different scriptwriter or director is hard to guage, but there are plenty of other crime biography films that are significantly better than this.

I was left wondering if this film would have been more enjoyable if it had been a biopic of Mr Bronson from Grange Hill.

Posted by: Matt

Published in: on 18/11/2010 at 12:41 am  Comments (1)