Posts from 9th October 2003

9
Oct 03

For all the trumpeting

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For all the trumpeting, there’s precious little to tempt a gamer on Friday. Various consoles see releases such as ariel racer Freaky Flyers and stateside tinted sports sim NHL 2004 , minnows one and all, and the Club Soccer myriad which failed to materialize last week should put in an appearance this time round. That aside, of the thirty or so big push console titles due before Christmas, none have spotted this weekend for the clear run it would have been.

Only PC owners have any joy, with Friday giving them their version of Halo – Combat Evolved, a game touted as the best shooter of all time by too many people to ignore. For long the centerpiece of Microsoft’s console line-up, its emergence elsewhere was supposed to have been mitigated by the concurrent release of its sequel, and now that’s been postponed until spring or later, exclusivity relies on much smaller fry such as Project Gotham Racing – not likely to be a sufficient temptation. Microsoft might take a small consolation from the fact that the port will be running on their own operating system – the game was originally destined for the Mac.

So instead, why not a brand new console? Or rather, Nintendo’s seventeen month old console, slashed as hoped to barely half its already puny launch price. And be sure that the Gamecube has gems aplenty, some of which may soon be yours for twenty pounds. Platfomer Mario Sunshine, the innovative Pikmin, and glory of all, Metroid Prime are all due for a repositioning before Christmas – only Zelda’s cell drawn adventure is missing from the list of mini-priced must haves. Take care though – the Gamecube is certianly something special, but for better or worse its not the VHS of gaming, and may disappoint as big titles pass it by. And don’t spend more than seventy pounds, whatever HMV says.

Sony, meanwhile, have torn up the marketing rule book and increased the price of a PS2 by a tenner. For this it is painted a strangely unnamable plastic silver colour and another contoller is thown in, the better to please alloy wheeled gadget freaks out to impress their mates. Sony know selling alright.

Its time, then, to catch your breath. Next week is going to be an absolute bunfight.

Crisis Averted

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Crisis Averted: we’ve found a guest editor for NYLPM. Two guest editors actually, who’ll get a week each. Who are these modern-day Herculi? One of them is American and has a weblog already, and one of them is British and doesn’t (unless he’s been keeping it very secret). And – in a doubtless futile attempt to drum up interest – THAT’S ALL IM SAYING!! Until the end of October.

The new Sugababes’ record’s ginger steps towards a more ‘rock sound’ (read: acoustics or copies thereof all over the place and a guitar solo mixed hilariously low on one track) led me to download a prime example of how such things should be done, viz. “Toy Soldiers” by MARTIKA! This is an ace single (“Won’t you come out and play with me” puts a shiver down my spine, what a way to introduce your big chorus) though I’m probably fooling my own ears to hear it in the Sugatracks. It’s also pretty much all I’ve listened to today aside from a few more faltering steps on the Long March that is Popular. (What am I saying, I’ve become genuinely fond of all that fifties stuff and will be sorry to see it go, it’s had a terrible effect on my ability to ‘get’ current music though. There’s just too much of a context shift for me to be able to go from the Dreamweavers to grime in one sitting, I think I might just ignore the next six months or sit them out as a pop exile.)

DICKIE VALENTINE – “Christmas Alphabet”

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#40, 16th December 1955

Normal service is swiftly resumed with this seasonal trifle, an acrostic on C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S sung with perfect insincerity by Dickie Valentine and one whose lyrics tread precisely in the snowy footsteps of previous Xmas songwriters – with one fell exception, “S is for old Santa who makes every child his pet“. Like a malfunctioning electric reindeer in a shop centre display, this desperate rhyme for ‘alphabet’ betrays the shoddiness of the whole.

I was a lucky child and enjoyed Christmas every year – the family didn’t fight, the build-up was genuinely thrilling, and on the day a secular jollity invariably prevailed. So I find it hard to be too harsh to Christmas songs, even Christmas songs as lazy and trite as this. One consequence of loving Christmas, though, is that I was exposed to tape after tape of Christmas tunes – carols, rockin’ hits and oldies alike. Tellingly, “Christmas Alphabet” was not among them.

Losing your grip on the real world

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Losing your grip on the real world: I’ve done this myself, when you forget that what you (and maybe your social circle) know and understand does not necessarily mean that everyone knows this, but not with such persistence as an old friend of Andrew, a former boss of mine. When they were both mathematics students at Cambridge it became clear in conversation that this man assumed that everyone knew at least the fundamentals of tensor calculus. Andrew told him that hardly anyone had even heard of it, but he wouldn’t believe this. Andrew took him to the local supermarket and asked the checkout girl, who apparently looked at him as if he was a lunatic. The friend still wouldn’t believe it, and maintained for years that Andrew had clearly planned all this and bribed the checkout girl to pretend that tensor calculus was unknown to her.

The cover of the popular science book The Glass Bathyscaphe

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The cover of the popular science book The Glass Bathyscaphe (Alan Macfarlane & Gerry Martin) shows a picture of Alexander The Great in what looks like a big bottle under the sea tied to a teeny, tiny boat. It is a striking image which promises much – as does the subtitle : How Glass Changed The World. The book does tell in a pretty succinct manner why the authors think the invention of glass, in particular window glass, was so important. However the promise of the cover is never reached. For one, the image is never discussed, nor is any kind of bathyscaphe or submersible glass vehicle. Just think, a bloke, in a bottle , under the sea!!!!

(It strikes me that a classic version of the old fruit in a bottle trick could be done with a human. If a baby is placed in a bottle at a young age and then fed through the top, you could do a real version of the old contorsionist classic when it grew up. Possibly a bit cruel.)

Anyway the argument developed in this pretty big print two hundred page “history” is that without glass there would be no science. Some of the argument is obvious, without glass we would have no lenses and hence no telescopes. But the book goes a little nuts when it runs down the list of the twenty most important experiments ever, proudly explaining how glass was implicated in seventeen of them. Well, I remember the conical flasks and those whirly distillation tubes in Frankenstein were made of glass and that must of been a pretty important experiment.

The problem with the book is that it spends too much time self loathing because of its obvious ideas. The suggestion is that workable, see-through glass was absolutely necessary for the renaissance to happen, and it makes pretty good case. But then it feels guilty for calling all those other great cultures around the world that didn’t have the renaissance thick. But then it says that, well they were a bit thick – all they ever used glass for was vases. Nowhere illustrates this better than the chapter on spectacle use in China and Japan.

This chapter is a mish-mash of half arsed speculation and prejudice. The authors first note the large incidence of myopia in the China and Japan. It then attempts to implicate the use of paper for windows for people squinting more. But there is more. Because they did not have the camera obscura, they never developed representational art. Instead they developed symbolic art which was refined in the importance on calligraphy. Which required more close study. And they didn’t have corrective lenses. And it might be genetic, but that hasn’t anything strictly to do with glass. Except maybe they were genetically too thick to develop glass…

In the end the authors are stuck between saying the obvious and developing ludicrous hypotheticals (which are not even as entertaining as Alexander The Great in a bottle). What it boils down to is “Glass is see through and inert. How useful”. Glass may have changed the world, this book won’t.

I saw bits of Shackleton, all Kenneth Branagh posturing,

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I saw bits of Shackleton, all Kenneth Branagh posturing, and know what every schoolboy knew about the man. Namely that he was the Brit who didn’t make it to the South Pole, as opposed to the one who did and died. Damn those pesky, dog-eating, intelligent Norwegians. Anyway, he was vaguely lodged as a noble failure in my mind, that is until I saw South.

South is a remarkable film: a documentary made by the crews filmmaker. That in 1914 Ernest Shackleton and his crew felt that a it was worthwhile having a camera aboard shows their own desire to make history. The film plays up the patriotic spirit, it was post-World War I propaganda after all, but what is most striking about the film is the abject failure of the project. You see they got in their big boat, loaded it up with dogs and set sail for Antartica. And got frozen in some ice. And stayed stuck in the ice for six months. At which point the ice ate up their ship and they traveled across the ice to seek safe haven on an island. About a year later they were rescued.

The film does not quite present it like this. No, the inter-titles are constantly reminding us of the glory of the British Empire and the pluck and courage of the men involved. Certainly pluck and courage is involved, but most of the shots are of blokes larking about, stuck in the ice with nothing better to do. There are some tremendous shots of their doomed, ice-laden ship, lit up like some fairytale galleon, an effect devised almost definitely to distract the bored men. When danger really kicks in we get a lot less reportage, unsurprising considering the men were now fighting for their lives. Even the playfulness of their dogs is put into sharp relief when you think that after dragging them across this ice, they were more than likely eaten (like them Norwegians – damn them).

The film celebrates the bravery without ever going near the abject stupidity on display. When the audience starts thinking about that the get some elephant seals or penguins to cavort. The saddest aspect is that quite possibly some of this crew, after their ordeal and rescue, were shipped back to die in the trenches of WWI. A folly almost as great as Shackleton’s.

Condiments I Have Known # 1: Pickapeppa Sauce.

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Condiments I Have Known # 1: Pickapeppa Sauce. A fairly recent discovery this, as there’s only one place in Brighton where you can buy the stuff. It’s imported from Shooter’s Hill in Jamaica and is made from tomatoes, onions, sugar, cane vinegar, fruit, peppers and spices, then aged in oak barrels for a year. And now I’ve found it, there’s no going back. It’s amazing with cheese (better than Worcester sauce), but also does great things to chips, eggs, rice dishes, tomato sauces, most vegetables… It’s a bit like brown sauce I suppose, but hotter and fresher. Last night the resident Cook (who fell in love with Pickapeppa in Jamaica and is ecstatic at having tracked it down here) made a puff pastry mushroom tart thing and added Pickapeppa to the mix – a happy marriage of tanginess and melt in the mouth umami. I am told it can be a marinade as well but time is short and cheese on toast is quicker…

People who have known me for some time

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People who have known me for some time will remember there was a period about three years ago when I was actively pursuing the purchase of a greyhound. I love dog racing, and unlike the gee-gees I am actually quite good at judging the nick of a greyhound and its potential. I’ll return about the arcane business of doping, and handicapping, it is a much more predictable sport. Nevertheless the scheme fell through, mainly on the business of what to do if the dog got injured or retired early. A lot of greyhounds get sent to the dog version of the glue factory (the Pritt Stick factory) for pulling a muscle as their owners are not able to house them. Our consortium of eight were all living in rented accommodation, and those who weren’t did not really fancy a dog round the house. I myself had a bad experience in Seaford with a Jack Russell aged seven, and as such am purely an admirer of a dog for its sporting prowess.

All this came back to me, Tuesday night in the pub. Greyhound Racing on TV is a lackluster way of getting your thrills, but there is a race almost every ten minutes for the bar stool punter. Anyway, the 8:50 at Wimbledon, in trap number four was a dog called Baran Zulu. I doubt I would have called a dog of mine that, even if allowed. There are very strict pedigree rules about naming greyhounds, the first name usually comes from the sire. Which suggests that this Baran is a dog. Ho hum. Anyway, I watched engrossed as the raced panned out, but Baran Zulu – went the way of most second favourites. Stuck at the back, no way round it only managed third because the dogs which had a bit of whizz on their snout were fading fast.

But I want a camel coat, and the air of dodgy (doggy) insouciance that dog racing promised me.

One Minute Record Reviews

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One Minute Record Reviews: featuring my mom.

Freeway feat. Peedi Crakk – “Flipside”: “This sounds like the music from Halloween.”

R. Kelly – “Snake (Remix)”: Mom: “What’s R. Kelly’s first name?”
Jess: “I dunno…Richard?”
Mom: “Roy.”
Jess: “Romulus.”
Mom: “PEE ON ME, ROMULUS!!”

Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz – “Get Low”: (Upon hearing the “sweat drips down my balls” line, our reviewer spit her gum against the windshield.)