Posts from 7th September 2004

7
Sep 04

On Hellboy

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On Hellboy

  • The opening voiceover describes a day 60 years ago when the world was changed – cut to Andrew hoping that the film will take the opportunity – and his hopes crushed as it finishes “FOREVER!”
  • Epic is still a viable way to go, but unfortunately Selma Blair is from another, indier film. Ron Perlman tries his best, but there’s only so much empathy you can generate for someone with a fire hydrant on his arm.
  • Ron Perlman is on screen quite a bit though, which is never a bad thing. Guillermo Del Toro seems to work to his actors’ strengths: Blade 2 had a lot of Wesley Snipes in motion, Hellboy has a lot of Perlman at rest, striking significant (and cool-looking) poses. Which is nice, as the action scenes are mostly quite dodge CGI.
  • It is nice to see a hero motivated not by indominability, but by bloodymindedness.

The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner route between Santa Ana and Los Angeles-Union Station

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The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner route between Santa Ana and Los Angeles-Union Station

The (semi)regular route that I use for getting somewhere which I enjoy the most, hands down, is the one where I get to wait, on either end, in two of the loveliest train stations on the West Coast and quite possibly anywhere. Union Station has been made legendary enough time and time again thanks to a slew of movie appearances, both exterior and interior (easy to understand why). I’ll always still associate it with the police station sequence in Blade Runner (this shot makes it clearer), and a year or so ago I was walking out of the station and passed by some sort of filming of a thievery sequence for something, possibly a TV show. As for the Depot in Santa Ana, it’s nowhere near as famous but matches the same general psuedo-mission/adobe style that to me really is Southern California’s collective hallucination of history (and quite a damned good one it is as well). Both are great buildings to visit, to poke around in, to kill some time, so getting the chance to go there always provides a gentle thrill.

The journeys themselves, meanwhile, have gotten even better. I’d been using the general Los Angeles-San Diego Surfliner route for a long while during college and the early years of grad school, since that’s how I’d get home to see my folks. The part where the train moves directly along the coast in south Orange County and north San Diego County in particular is one of those gorgeous passages everyone should get a chance to see sometime, when the sun is out and the ocean stretches away. But then they moved to Carmel and I didn’t use the trains for a heck of a long time. By the time I started using the route again for LA trips from Orange County, Amtrak had finally upgraded their old passenger cars (at least on some routes) for the far more enjoyably modern Surfliner cars, double-deck suckers that just feel far more comfortable and open than the old ones, better seats, always air conditioned just right on hot days. There’s also the Metrolink trains that cover the same ground — equally good cars and seats, but since they don’t run on the weekends on that route, it’s Amtrak for me.

Going up from Santa Ana means waiting patiently in the courtyard of the station, small but perfectly laid out, a patio more than anything else, with a wrought iron gate leading out to the track. The train swings around the corner from the right, no more than a one or two minute stop, and we’re off. I always head upstairs and look for an open set of two seats where I can find it — usually I’m lucky even during the busiest of days, as was the case this past holiday weekend. Though I bring books or an iPod with me most times, usually I just sit back and stare out at the landscape — all LA basin suburbia bleeding into industrial zones the closer we get to LA, but there’s still plenty of moments of sudden beauty, the graffiti in the flood channels and the parks that we pass. It takes about an hour and it’s so perfectly comfortable all the way along that I think even if I did have a car I’d probably just want to do this instead.

Returning from LA two days ago, I was surrounded by a crowd heading down south for the holiday weekend, as well as the races down in Del Mar. It was one of the most packed times I’d ever seen the train, and part of me did wish more people would take it in general just because it’s so great as it stands. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t always get a row to myself if that were the case.

Best holiday drink

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Best holiday drink

Pete’s piece below about best meals didn’t evoke any holiday meals with me, but it did bring back the greatest drink I have ever had. We (my wife and I) had arrived in Calcutta early in the morning, and our train down the coast wasn’t until late that night, so we did some tourist stuff there. Calcutta has a dreary centre, all lawns and Victorian buildings, and keep the cows and beggars away. All the tourists were there, but some delving into guides had revealed the biggest mosque in India (or something like that, might have been in East India) wasn’t far away, so we went there. My wife stayed in the cab for reasons I can’t recall, but I wanted to go in. I got to the entrance, and there were people hanging around there. I didn’t know the etiquette at all, so asked if it was okay for me to go in and look around – and they spoke enough English. The problem came with my wanting to enter: there was no reason not to, but these people who, my strong impression was, spent A LOT of time hanging out there, were astonished that I was interested. No, I wasn’t Moslem. It was a wonderful building, all marble and peace and quiet and shallow pools of water. I can only assume that most tourists didn’t visit it. After that we visited a set of little Jain temples, arranged around another pool – these were small but absurdly ostentatious, countless tiny mirrors and inlaid mosaic and gold. There we were the attraction: we were looking at these buildings, like nothing else I’ve ever seen, and most of the people there – none seemed to be tourists – were trailing around after us, staring.

After that we went to the Botanical Gardens on the outskirts. The tourist cab we were in had no idea where they were, but with the help of Fodor we found it. This is a huge garden area with sections devoted to flowers and trees from particular regions of the world. The highlight was an enormous banyan tree (if I’ve not misremembered the type of tree). The branches droop down to the ground and become secondary roots, and this now had a few hundred of them, with a circumference of a couple of hundred yards, and the main trunk had rotted and been removed 75 years before. The branch-roots were often dead straight and thin, angling down almost like dowelling, and the whole thing looked fake from a distance, like a German Expressionist forest. Anyway, we’d been walking around for ages in 35 degree heat, and it was pretty dusty most of the time too. There were no stalls or cafes that we could spot, and we were gasping. We turned a bend in one path, and there was a guy with a small plastic tub, full of ice and cartons, and we bought a couple of very cold sweetened mango juices. I guess anything wet would have felt great at that point, but this was perfect. I’ve generally avoided that drink since that holiday (I think I’ve had it once in the intervening six, seven years) because I want to preserve that connection, and if I drink mango juice a lot it will stop recalling that exhausting but fascinating day, and India in general. (Similarly, I’ve not had a kebab since the one I ate in Istanbul, but that wasn’t a special culinary experience.)(The use of a memory-trigger that I deliberately don’t invoke is debatable of course, but I know I will want it occasionally.)

FT Top 100 Films 36: DUEL

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FT Top 100 Films
36: DUEL

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the central reservation…

There is something wonderful about early Spielberg films, and that something is simplicity. Up until 1941 (the film, not the year unless it was time travel and piss poor research that made that film so rubbish) they were films which had pitches almost as short as their names. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind had a pitch shorter than its name. UFO’s!!!

Duel = scary truck movie. Trucks are not naturally scary, (especially when you give them the face of the Green Goblin off of Spider-Man – Stephen King) and lack of motivation, plot or personality ought to make Duel dull as dishwater. Instead its remarkable simplicity and lack of explaination leaves the audience gasping. Its just us, Dennis Weaver and that bloody truck.

With nothing to work with Spielberg thinks about shots, montage and sound to do the work. Made for television, but shot with a cinematic eye. The truck is big, and fills the TV screen, probably not a shot you would do for the cinema. Instead it pushes the source of fear, the truck, in our faces – and in that of the poor businessman. In this day and age when everything has to be explained the random acts of violence in Duel are the source of real fear. And the sound of that truck horn is better than anything John Williams invented for Jaws. HONK HONK!!!!

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

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Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

It took bloody ages to read this. I’ve not finished any other books this long (it’s about a thousand pages plus a hundred of small print notes) that I haven’t absolutely loved – 1001 Nights, Les Miserables and A La Recherche are three of my favourite ‘books’ (they don’t tend to be in single volumes, but they are pretty much single stories). There was enough here to keep me going – lots of intelligence (though he falls flat on his face when he talks about something being as fast as a quantum, and there is some very poor maths in one part) and good sentences, some very funny moments, and some powerfully horrible ones too. But the ending was deeply unsatisfying on several levels. The biggest is that he gives us a terrific tour de force opening chapter, and then flashes back, and the extraordinary state of the main character in that opening chapter remains a complete mystery to the end.

That’s a common literary structure, starting with something extraordinary and then leading up to an explanation. It occurred to me that although in any kind of conventional plot terms the book just stops without sorting any of its several major plot strands out, in thematic terms its structure does work, so I started thinking about how you might structure a non-traditional arealist novel that is discussing addiction, mostly to drugs. Perhaps you’d structure it as an overarching metaphor, teasing the reader with excitement, promising lots, but then not delivering. You might get obsessive about all kinds of detail, to no real end. You might try to leave them unsatisfied, wanting to know more, frustrated. All that sounds like a pretty good image of drug addiction, and it’s very much how this book is composed. As a Postmodernist, you might enjoy basing a structure that way instead of delivering a conventional story, so I guess that’s what this is.

That doesn’t make it very much fun. I don’t know that I could really recommend this to anyone, but it’s a mightily impressive book, and I regard it more highly than Underworld, with which it shares many similarities (overlapping themes, fairly similar structure, tour de force opening section, even misunderstanding quanta!). But it’s a hell of an effort, and if you aren’t keenly interested in addiction, on which I think it’s excellent, there may not be enough here to make it worthwhile.

THE SQUARE TABLE 15 / Natasha Bedingfield – “These Words”

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POP FACTOR: 624 CONTROVERSY RATING: 263

Sometime in the endless pre-release life of “These Words” I decided I loved the disarming ending. A little while later I decided I loved the beginning too – so confident, so cute. And the middle? Well, there is rather a lot of middle. The sound of “These Words” is a sweet, overbearing, slightly malco-ordinated lunge at R&B, as disingenuous in its way as the lyrics. But what odd lyrics! (I like them, as it happens. A few years ago lyrics were by far the weakest part of British pop songs, and nowadays people are at least trying, even if the results are a bit clumsy.)

Anyway, in summary: better than “Single”, better than “The Mask Of Anarchy” (though not better than Scritti’s “Lions After Slumber”), not as good as “James Dean”, not as good as “Ozymandias” (the big tunes are the best), Keats may have the edge on her but she shouldn’t worry too much about Byron. Next! 7 (Tom)

Love song paradoxes no 1. Even for the polygamist, love should be singular: he loves each wife equally, since each has her own charms, her own special ways, her own beauty. But how can the same word, the same concept do equally for each, each time he uses it? If I tell my beloved that I love her, the most intimate is passed through the most general (for haven’t we always and already heard too much about love?): but if I don’t tell her, if I don’t chance my ownmost to the worn-out coin of cliche, she’ll never know. And how much worse in a love song: a declaration of affection which goes not to one, but to all: yet which by some miracle becomes more rather than less in the process, as if the words, the sentiments could be re-charged, and the song becomes anyone’s, a new way to say the impossible: I love you.

This is the contradiction which gives ‘These Words’ their electricity. Of course these aren’t really her words: but how could they be? Love itself is a concoction, a confection, a construction, so the creaking joints (‘from my heart flown’? For fuck’s sake!) of this track are intimately nuzzled up to their topic. Who cares if Shelley and Byron could only write love poems to themselves, with or without the hip-hop beats, and that Keats is too busy hanging around at the cemetary gates to lend us some decent lyrics (‘Romantic poets are not romantic poets’: Discuss)? Hyperbole becomes hyper-bowl and Lynne Truss chokes on her semi-colons.

Skipping across the stage of Top of the Pops, Natasha Bedingfield is a beguiling mess, gabbling the verses, over-trilling the chorus, nervous energy and enthusiasm slopping over the choreographed spontaneity of her movements. Giddy with what will surely be her only great moment — but only great because she’s giddy — the honest emotion overflowing the simulated ones, if only for a moment. These words may not be my own, but they’re the only words I’ve got. I love you. 10 + Joker (Alext)

There is an infectious joy about this song, it’s rare in pop these days. Terrible lyrics with an exuberant delivery. I would never hold bad lyrics against anyone, and certainly not Natasha (Daniel yes – mainly coz he’s annoying). I remember hearing this song whilst taking a car journey on a sunny evening, and it was perfect. A modern classic, single of the year. 10 (Jel)

The verses are really really bad, writing a song about (having difficulties) writing a song, cor blimey, off to the stereophonics naughty corner for you, ms b’DINGfield. The invocation of Adrian Gurvitz is always welcome though, certainly more than shelley, byron and keats in the second verse… The chorus is where it really comes alive though, i mean iloveyouiloveyouiloveyouilooooveyouuuuuuuuu is an undeniably great lyric and the BAM BAM BAM hook is ridiculously infectious as well. i’m sure it’s saying something deep and meaningful about the songwriting process (and probably by extrapolation, THE STATE OF CULTURE), or something, but i just like whistling it. 9 (Carsmile Steve)

Dear Natasha,

It was very nice that you deliberated over how to write this love song but you didn’t need to add the Shelley and Keats line for credibility.

Love & Kisses. 7 (MW_Jimmy)

Sounds like a cross between Miss Dy-na-mi-tee-hee and that Lauryn Hill thing. I’m a sucker for meta-meta, even if it’s NB asking the Muses to help her with a silly love song, and even with D-E-F yucking up its double meaning – whatta G-A-G! As for the “I love you ad infinitum” bits in the chorus – some things are better left unsaid, and the more I hear it, the more I wish it were. As it stands, though, I love thee for eschewing a shout-out to E-B-B (that’s Elizabeth Barrett Browning, kids) in lieu of some true romantics, though I really hope Ms. Bedingfield is aware that “The Second Coming” isn’t about a mighty mighty good man double dipping. (That’s Yeats, dude – Ed.) 7 (David Raposa)

This might be the best single to ever come from this family, unless their Mum & Dad duet on a cover of ‘Save Your Love’ this Christmas (OK I do prefer ‘Gotta Get Thru This’ ultimately). But look out there, sun is shining weather is sweet yeah…and this seems achingly appropriate and TWEE for that. Quite charming ode to not being frustrated with love, only frustrated in trying to express said love. Bit audacious to then think ‘oh wait I can make the song about THAT instead’ but she gets away with it pleasantly enough, and in fact the approach feels relatively novel. 6 (Steve M)

Ms. Bedingfield synthesizes the stylistic associations of Nelly Furtado with some lyrical idiosyncracies that wouldn’t have felt entirely out of place on Nellie McKay’s last album. Those lyrics imbue this song with its character. Unfortunately, in spite of one absolutely amazing three-note hook and a near-perfect chorus, vocal acrobatics threaten to undermine the lyric’s sincerity. This isn’t nearly as convincing as it should have been, and it’s roughly a minute too long. Still, there are some great moments here, and that three-note hook is great enough to earn any song at least a 6. (Atnevon)

This is a lost, glammed up Lauryn Hill track, right? No? Coulda fooled me. It’s effortlessly catchy, perfectly constructed (it enters and exits so smoothly and unobtrusively that you might not even notice it until it’s half over) plus it’s bouncy as fuck… but also lyrically puerile (you are NOT allowed to rhyme “Keats” and “hiphopbeat”, hear me world?), not memorable in the way that Rachel Stevens is and I have a sinking fear that this is going to age about as poorly as Daniel’s stuff does. That delayed reaction is what brings the score down to a 6 (Forksclovetofu)

Songs about writing songs. Usually shameful affairs, like the columnist’s column about thinking of a subject to write his column about, you tuck it on an album and hope no-one takes the piss too much. One of the worst songs of all time, “Your Song”, is a song about writing a song and at least Nat can beat Elton in this case: these words, unlike those pieces of shit, really are her own. Does Daniel have owt to do with the music? Who cares. It is a silly piece of fluff, with remarkably clunky chord progrssions, giggly bits, has already been number one and with that Shelly and Keats line has already assured Ms Bedroomeyes of legendary songwriter status. Bravo. 6 (Pete)

I’ve never been terribly keen on Daniel, so I didn’t feel any great need for another Bedingfield, but this is pretty good, in a vaguely sub-Dynamite way. It’s more than a little clunky in places, those heavy chords every few lines obliterating the singing, but Natasha is fine, and the arrangement sounds reasonably fresh and imaginative. Pleasant, and I’d happily sway along to it, but it doesn’t do a great deal for me. 6 (Martin Skidmore)

Like her brother, Natasha Bedingfield aims for the A D D pop format. Forever going for more (genres) is more (quality), they tend to forget the words matter just as much. Alas, both siblings only treat them as an after-thought. So instead of the statement of the debut – being “Single” rawks, oops, I forgot we’re in the 21st century – this is all about the song writing process. How. Very. Meta. And boring, if you pay attention. Ah well, the radio likes it. It’s a declaration – these words are my own. Natasha, I don’t think anyone really wants to claim them. It’s a perfect kandy kolored radio tune: From the stabbing strings, Ms Dynamite Urban (empty) Soul to the Pink melisma. All the references really give away is that Natasha hasn’t found a style of her own. Very cute, yet also very headache inducing. 6(66) (Stevie Nixed)

Part of me hates the rookie rawness of this pop debut, and I want to say the whole thing should have been canned at the 4 track stage, as it’s quality wise so short of these lyrics promising she’s “trying to find the magic, trying to write a classic” – “Keats and Shelley on a hip hop beat”. Yet it’s an endearing puppy dog song that one can either love or hate, depending on whether you warm to lyrics about the difficulty of trying to write lyrics. An earworm that is frivolous but not offensively so. But me, I hope this single was so tough for her to write that she’ll never write another one. 4 (Derek Walmsley)

I’m sorry Avril, but you have been outdone in the land of anti-corporate corporate pop. Ms. Bedingfield may claim disdain for manufactured singers, oversexed photo shoots, and meaningless songs, but after hearing “These Words”, I doubt a team of industry songwriters could make her songs any more commercial and sellable than they already are. Because “These Words” is a bombastic clump of awkwardly sanitized R&B that not only sends shudders down my spine, it also completely contaminates me with its melodies no matter how much I try to resist. The doctor says I should seek help from Susumu Yokota.

Natasha?s lyrics deal with how hard it is to express yourself, and how easy it is to give in to simplicity, which could have been a very palatable subject if she didn’t over sing each and every phrase as if her authenticity depended on it. Ironically, her notion of simplicity could almost justify the banal lyrics of the disposable pop songs she rallies against. Is it so hard to imagine a clumsier version of Westlife or The Backstreet Boys singing “There’s no other way to better say I love you [than] I love you?”

I may be close to throwing up, but there are bits of fascination in this. 4 (Michael F Gill)

A pop song about writers’ block. Clever, but this generic piffle just does not deliver. Ack. Next time, just buy a Hallmark card. Or better yet, give us the dead poets and drum machines. Funny how NB spends the whole song singing about how “these words” are her own, without really SAYING what those words are. Like in “Krush Groove”, when Run rapped about how good a singer he was. Sorta, but not really. 2 (Henry Scollard)

This is why pop stars should never be allowed to write their own songs, people. According to some hastily cobbled together internet lyric sites, there’s a rhyming couplet midway through this song that goes: “Written by Ricelli and Keys/ Recited in over a heartbeat”, which is either a charming mishearing of young Natasha’s most embarrasing line or a transparent attempt to disguise its sheer awfulness.

Anyway, I’m sure there are others sitting round this table who will rightly have a pop at that bit about dead poets and drum machines, and it seems such a shame to let that act as the lightning conductor for all the critical ire when there are so many other worthy reasons to dislike ‘These Words’. Like the way our Tash can’t decide whether she’s just throwing some chords together or agonising endlessly over her composition. Or the truly appalling minor-key slide into introspection in the bridge. Or the “do you see???” way she sings “kil-ler hook” over what passes for a killer hook here (the chords D-E-F in case you like your pop as demystified as possible).

‘These Words’ is one of the most hamfisted records I’ve heard in years. Where it should slink, it lumbers. Where it should hint at ambiguity with a cheeky look in its eye, it bashes you over the head with its message. It’s quite fittingly clumsy – truly great pop sounds effortless, but Miss Bedingfield wants us to know just how much she’s laboured over this terrible song – easily the equal of such modern classics as ‘Zombie’ by the Cranberries or Stereophonics’ ‘Mr Writer’.

Of course, its not about that really, its about how even the grandest statement can’t match a simple ‘I love you’. Awww. That Daniel’s a lucky, lucky boy. 0 (Matt D’Cruz)

Budget Boozing – The Lord Nelson, Urmston

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Budget Boozing – The Lord Nelson, Urmston

Like many of the London-based Publog correspondents, I’m a fan of the Sam Smith’s pub. Leaving aside the tastiness of their beers and the pleasing trad interiors, the winning factor for a skinflint like me is the sheer cheapness of a pint.

On a recent visit to Manchester, it was a pleasant surprise to find myself in a pub selling Joseph Holt’s beers (less surprising for anyone living in Greater Manchester as there are around 125 Holt’s pubs). Their Ayingerbrau-equivalent Crystal lager sells for ‘1.30 a pint while the stronger Diamond will empty your pocket to the tune of ‘1.40. The Diamond proved to be a crisp, easy drinking pint and was just the ticket after a jalfrezi in Rusholme. For those who like to keep it real with their ale, they do a bitter and a dark mild for ‘1.10 and ‘1.04 respectively. Sadly, on this occasion, none of us felt up to drinking the mild but the bitter was adjudged to be The Business.

The pub itself was large and comfortable with enough strategically placed partitions to keep things cosy. Unfortunately, a preponderance of HMS Victory-related decoration only served to remind me that I had to travel back to Portsmouth and its disgraceful lack of sub-‘2 beers the next day.

Olympic Quiz

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Olympic Quiz

This was a quiz I put together for a work charity night, with a roughly Olympic theme. Because it was a charity/fun quiz there are a higher than normal proportion of questions which require (unless you’re a complete obsessive or share my brain) a bit of luck to get right. This is because I was very keen not to let any team get too wide a lead early on. (This was due to a format tweak – like several quizzes, we allowed jokers that doubled points on a round. However in this case the jokers had to be bought, money to the charity. I reckoned that if a team was obviously way ahead this would discourage joker purchase – since the leading team could also buy one.)

Anyway, here we go – round one, Olympic Trivia.

1. Vanderlei de Lima won two medals in this year’s Men’s Marathon. For three points, which two medals were they and why did he get two?

2. What percentage of swimming gold medals are won from lane 4 in the pool? A point if you’re 1% out either way.

3. Whose synchronised swimming team was forced to change their routine at the Atalanta Olympics because it was an allegory of the Holocaust?

4. “”Walking in the sand is difficult – we have to train hard to do what we do” What sport is being talked about, and what national team does the speaker belong to? Two points.

5. Irina Korzhanenko was stripped of her womens shot putt gold medal after a drugs test. Her mighty throw, of 21m 6cm, was only 10cm behind the winning men’s throw. To the nearest 10cm, how far ahead of her closest rival was it?

6. When was the last time Olympic gold medals were made of solid gold?

A: 1912
B: 1920
C: 1936
D: 1952?

7. At the 2000 Olympics, which team used up their allocated condom supplies first?

8. At the 1896 games, winners received three rewards. One was a diploma for their achievement ? what were the other two?

9. One of these creatures was NOT an official Winter Olympics mascot – but which!

A: Vucko the Little Wolf
B: Copper the Coyote
C: Magique the Snow Imp
D: Benny the Pine Tree
E: Sukki the Snow Owl

10. True or False question. Which of the following sports have ever been official medal sports at an Olympic Games. Say TRUE if you think they have, FALSE if they haven’t.

Cricket
Synchronised Weightlifting
Swimming Obstacle Race
Live Pigeon Shooting
Chess
Callisthenics

Sounds Of Sweden

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Sounds Of Sweden: unsurprisingly, I approve.

I never realised until last night

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I never realised until last night how totally physically exhausting doing a pub quiz is. Standing up shouting at a room of pissed people for two hours: nein danke. It seemed to go pretty well, though by the end I was so knackered that my response to the congratulations was an ungraciously muttered “yeah, thanks mate”. Maybe use a microphone next time. I only messed up one question, and it was in the picture round (confused the 1500m and the 800m), and the people who did get it right weren’t confident enough to make too much fuss. So that was alright.