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  

(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)  

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)  

What went….right?!

For her recent birthday our resident rock chicklet, Mrs Bull, was given a book about the Zomb-ocalypse: World War Z. Now putting aside the review of this tome (penned by the offspring of Mr Mel Brooks) until the birthday girl has read the thing, I thought I’d reflect on the canon of distopia which has peppered English literature throughout the last 100-odd years. In the guise of genuine classics like Brave New World, 1984, The Machine Stops, V for Vendetta, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep we have been given terrifying glimpses into the not-too-distant. I’m certainly not complaining, but none of these visions has even come close to coming to pass. Not one hint of human fertility declining, absolutely zero suspicion of a secret fascisitic state growing in power, and (despite Daily Mail headlines) the Government is singularly failing to watch our every move and control our every thought.

For all the failings of this slightly disappointing world in which we live I suspect the sheer weight of numbers just won’t allow things to get that bad. Of course, slightly underhand things have gone on. Kings and dictators have risen and created havoc, but the people have always stuck back. So far, nothing has really threatened to end it all through our terrible decisions as human beings. I guess this is somewhat an anthropic argument, but for one it makes me rather pleased about the nature of human spirit. At heart we really don’t fancy ending it all as a species. But of course that doesn’t make for particularly interesting books.

Posted by: Adam

Published in: on 15/11/2010 at 10:39 pm  Comments (7)  

What Are The Odds?

Last night I was playing poker with my friends from work and a popular and oft quoted poker conundrum was brought up once again.  Now, I know many of you have absolutely no interest in poker at all, but as Adam has recently started a thread on stock trading and likened that to gambling, I figured I would try and transpose that problem to the world of trading to get some opinions from people.

Imagine, if you will, that you had decided to dabble in the stock market and had invested $10,000.  However, you have an imposed time limit of 1 week on your trading. For almost 7 days you play the markets, spending up to 15 hours a day concentrating furiously on your goal, and after some impressive gambling you have increased the value of your shares to $5.5 million.  That’s a good week’s work!  It’s getting close to midnight on that last day when suddenly you get an intriguing proposition. An opportunity arises to invest your money in some shares that have been fluctuating wildly throughout the week, but by carefully watching the markets you know that you have a better than average chance that if you invest all you money in this company then your shares will be up to $9 million when you are forced to sell.  However, there’s also a reasonable chance that you will lose $1.5 million and be left with “only” $4 million.  Alternatively, you can just walk away with your $5.5 million right now. 

So, what do you do?  It’s a one time only deal, you won’t get the chance ever again, and you know that the stats say that most of the time you’ll walk away with extra $3.5 million.  Even if you do gamble and lose $1.5 million, you’ve still got $4 million for your troubles, that’s a good return on $10,000 and a week’s work.  But is it worth taking the risk? Answers on a keyboard to the usual address.

Posted by Si

Published in: on 14/11/2010 at 10:08 pm  Comments (4)  

Where Is The Love?

On the radio this morning they were interviewing people who were camped out waiting for the premiere of the new Harry Potter film.  Some of these people had been sleeping rough in Leicester Square for 2 nights, in the pouring rain, in potentially sub-zero temperatures.  When asked why they simply said “We really love Harry Potter”.  My initial reaction to this was “The poor fools!”, but then I started thinking and began to wonder if I was actually the sad one here.

You see, I cannot think of any thing in the world that I love enough that I would effectively become a homeless person for a couple of days in the middle of winter. What makes it even more amazing is when you consider these people are not doing this in order to be the first people to see the film or even get the new book, they are sleeping on the cold, hard, wet pavement in the vain hope that they might catch a glimpse of the stars of the film or, if they’re really lucky, get an autograph or picture with one of their idols.  I racked my brains to try and think of a film, actor, actress, director, singer, band or anything at all where I would go through the same thing and I came up blank.  And this made me a little bit sad. I feel like I am missing out somehow because I don’t have that sort of love in my life. Is my life devoid of passion?  Or is it just that I am sane and they are all crazy?

Posted by Si.

Published in: on 11/11/2010 at 9:40 am  Comments (2)  
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Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve

In the interests of doing something a little different on my birthday, and being a big fan of the great outdoors, I decided to visit Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve near Farleigh with my parents, Rob, Elliot and the dog. I often go to Lloyd Park, which I consider an undiscovered treasure of Croydon, as it is generally very sparsely populated when I visit. However, much as I love it, there are still parts which are undeniably Croydon, with blown litter and a burnt-out scooter on my last visit detracting from the park’s natural beauty. Besides, I wanted to find something to do which was different but which would cost nothing. So, I recalled Selsdon Wood from my National Trust guidebook, and off we went. I’d thoroughly recommend a visit. The autumn colours were exquisite, the area is vast, there is little discernible traffic noise, and hardly any other people. Greatest of all, it’s very close to most of us, but feels pretty rural. Anyone for a picnic?

Posted by: Liv

Published in: on 09/11/2010 at 9:27 pm  Comments (1)  
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Film Review – The Spirit

I watched this on Sky last night despite knowing it has received poor reviews when released.  If film magazines could talk back to you then I would have been subjected to a chorus of “I told you so!”s this morning.  The best way I can think of to describe it is to imagine that they had remade “Sin City” in the style of the original Batman TV series:  the visuals are almost identical to the former whilst the acting and script has been taken wholesale from the latter.  Still, if you can get over the camp performances and terrible dialogue then it’s watchable, particularly if you like seeing attractive women in very skimpy outfits (or Scarlett Johansson dressed as a Nazi SS Trooper). There’s less in it for the women, although The Spirit does get his top off a few times.

In summary, Frank Millar should stick to writing his own comics in the future rather than directing adaptations of other people’s.  2 out of 5.

Posted by: Si

Published in: on 09/11/2010 at 1:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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