Thursday, 30 August 2012


Not me, yesterday.
Well, it’s almost September. Where has 2012 gone? It only seems like two minutes ago I was packing up all my worldly possessions (all one suitcase of them) and heaving my ass through the gates of the naval base I called home. Those were dark days, I must admit – why anyone with half a brain cell would want to endure a lifestyle of constant degradation like that...sheesh. And then there was the whole business with the motorbike training, and the moving and then starting my new job – it seems to have all flown by so quickly.

I hope it continues to do so actually, as April 2013 marks the end of my current job (it was only ever for a year) and the start of my planned 3+ month backpacking trip to Australia. Or possibly India. Or maybe Peru/South America. I’ve not really decided where I’m going yet, but it’ll be one of those places...and Australia is winning at the moment simply because it a) looks epic; b) is sunny; and c) the least amount of fuss is required in order to do some exploring, seeing as they already (quite handily) speak a form of English there. I know Australia is a bit of a cliché and the indigenous people (well, the ‘new’ indigenous people) must get sick of all the English who turn up at their airports sporting backpacks...but fuck it. I want to go there so I’m going. Australia is also top of my list (so far) because a few of my old school friends have gone out there to start new lives, and meeting up with some fellow Mancunians on the other side of the planet just sounds ace...even if they are Man City fans. 

So 2013 then. The year of my great excursion Down Under. Goodbye England, with your miserable weather and even more miserable population! I know the old phrase ‘the grass isn’t always greener’ blah, blah fucking blah...but in this case I really don’t give a toss. I’m putting all my shit in storage, putting some clothes and other assorted stuff in a bag and then fucking off for a few months: bliss. I know I’ll have to come back at some point and that will be another grim day...but I think a break from this isle will do me good and maybe help to shift my perspective of life here. I know I moan a lot (even though a lot of it is meant to be tongue in cheek), but I know that the quality of life in the UK is amongst the best in the free world: we’ve got the NHS, clean running water, freedom of speech, electricity, the internet, roads, a free press...loads of stuff a good chunk of the rest of the world doesn’t’s just that the constant greyness of everything, well – it gets me down. And I need an extended break. So I’m taking one. And I’ll more than likely document it here on this very blog so people back home can see what I’m up there’s also that to look forward to, you lucky lot!

In other news, the Paralympics had its opening ceremony last night. I didn’t watch it though – I was too busy listening to the bombcast (Giant Bomb’s vaguely games-related and funny as hell podcast), while playing NOVA 2 on my PlayBook. I seem to have become a massive fucking hypocrite in recent weeks: if you’d suggested to me, in say June, that in August I’d be playing on a tablet PC whist listening to my iPod, I’d probably have spat bile in your face. The June version of me would have said that tablets were a waste of time and that iPods are a piece of shit because they break so easily (I’ve owned several – look through the archived posts of yore for details of their individual demise). So yeah, I’m a hypocrite – but the facts of the matter come down to me also being a tightwad. The PlayBook was £129, and the iPod was £30. Bargains, I think you’ll agree. If I’d been offered either device at their full price, the aforementioned bile would again be raging up my oesophagus with a view to landing on the facial region of the seller. So, with that in mind, I’m not simply a hypocrite – I’m a cheapocrite. Which is something else entirely. So there.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Iron Lion Essex

So the lion that several people saw and heard roaming the Essex countryside has been explained away by the police as a large cat. Not to be confused with a ‘big cat,’ just a ‘large’ common or garden cat. This has been backed up by a woman who claims said cat is hers – and it is indeed a big cat...but big enough to be confused with a lion? I’m not convinced. Regardless, the search appears to have been called off...but what if all the unconnected witnesses who are adamant that they saw a fucking lion rolling around and cleaning itself in a field; and the other unconnected witnesses who say they heard a lion roar...what if they were right all the long and there actually is a lion on the loose in rural Essex? There haven’t been any reports of people being mauled yet and no reports of mutilated cattle or sheep being discovered, so maybe the police are right in calling off the search – after all, keeping two helicopters in the air and having 30 coppers occupied by walking through woodland is probably costing the taxpayer a pretty penny.

I remember a similar story some time last year. Apparently somebody had spotted a leopard/tiger/lion in a field (can’t remember where exactly) and the police went into overdrive sending a freaking  SWAT team and a load of helicopters and shit down there...only to find it was a particularly large stuffed toy. I also recall a story from my youth that has echoes of all this shit – apparently somebody in Wigan had reported seeing a big cat with a cub in some trees whilst out dog walking. You know the drill – police launch hunt, local news gets involved...and lo and behold they find a dead lioness by a reservoir. They didn’t find the cub though.
So the Essex lion (as it’s now known). Fact or fiction? Who’s got a Twitter feed though, so it must have a WiFi connection or a mobile. 

Tying in to all this bollocks, I saw a fantastic documentary on Channel 4 a few weeks back Called America’s Animal Hoarder, which told the story of some bloke in America (surprise) that had amassed this menagerie of lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) on his farm. He (Terry Thompson) was a bit of a local character by all accounts...and the population of Zanesville, Ohio discovered this first hand after Terry let all his animals out of their cages and then shot himself. Cue wild beasts of all description bounding through the countryside, through neighbourhoods and across the highway. When the local police dept started getting calls from people locked in their houses because bears were eating their garden fences, they rolled out and took back the streets in the only way they knew how: by emptying several thousand rounds of ammunition into animal flesh. It’s actually a really powerful documentary and I honestly recommend you watch it. Even though this all took place in October 2011 I can’t remember seeing it on the news, even though there are clips of BBC News reports in the programme. Weird.

It’s also interesting to note that the police conducting  the search in Essex for what was potentially a lion on the loose were armed with...well nothing, while the American rozzers happened to have assault weapons in the boots of their patrol cars. I don’t know why it’s interesting...but y’know. Comparisons and all that shit. In other news, I bought a second hand 30GB iPod classic yesterday for £30. It’s really cool. I'm actually listening to a 'podcast' right now. But that’s enough about iPods. Cough.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Phone Home

Ah, Bank Holiday weekends. Gotta love the free day off work...gotta hate going back to work when you’re completely out of the work ‘zone.’ And as per usual, it fucking lashed it down all day pretty much. Cheers, weather. Here – have a free day off work, but don’t even think about doing anything with it, as it’ll be pissing down and blowing a gale. Has it ever been nice on a Bank Holiday in the entire recorded history of Bank Holidays? I wonder. I wonder if some secret govt dept chooses which days to make Bank Holidays solely on the inside information the Met Office supplies: if it’s pretty much guaranteed to be the shittiest day of the month – Bank Holiday time. Yeah, we’ll give the proletariat scum a day off from pushing the futile millstone of life...but they’ll be fucked if they can actually enjoy it. 

Suppose I shouldn’t complain too much – there’s a fucker of a hurricane whipping up across the pond. It won’t be long before we’re getting them here though if the current trend of miserable weather continues. Can you imagine how we’d cope?! Jesus. This country can barely cope with a bit of snow...if we had to contend with hurricanes and the other bitch slaps that Mother Nature hands out to the rest of the world, we’d be shafted. Christ...just think about that. If an earthquake hit one of our major cities what would happen? Sure – the Great Britain of, say, the 1940s would probably stand firm and unite to rectify the damage...but today? Nah. Looting, rioting, uncontrollable malaise and general chaos. It’d be hell on Earth. 

Interestingly, I was reading something online the other day about this thing called the Brookings Report. The Brookings Report (also known by its proper title: Proposed Studies on the Implications of Peaceful Space Activities for Human Affairs) was a paper commissioned by NASA in the 1960s which, as the name suggests, looked at the implications of peaceful space activities for human affairs. One tiny chapter of the report is what makes it interesting though – the bit where the various egghead authors speculate on the effect of the discovery of intelligent extra-terrestrial life on the general population of the planet. Seriously – this thing exists. Google it and look at the entry on Wikipedia. The fact that a body as important as NASA thought to even contemplate such a study is very interesting and throws up all kinds of questions...the main one being: how the fuck would the hoi polloi react if intelligent life was discovered? Or if it discovered us? 

In my experience, most people scoff at the idea of aliens existing. They live in this confident little bubble of ignorance, reinforced by years of movies and mass-media demonisation of the notion of the existence of extra-terrestrial life. Anyone who believes in aliens is a bit ‘loopy,’ and all aliens are ‘little green men’ who fly around in saucers. But look at the facts: NASA actually took this shit seriously way back in the 60s, and numerous experts in the science world bemoan the way in which humanity is so desperate to broadcast our whereabouts to the stars, either through our radio signals or by putting gold discs on our satellites that actually point the way to our mineral-rich little world. 

The brain-dead morons who permeate our everyday lives and who blindly go through every day believing that humanity is alone in the universe are the ones who this report predicts will not be able to handle the discovery of a superior intelligence if (and when) it comes. Forget the hypothetical earthquake hitting Birmingham or London...can you imagine if a twatting mothership landed on Wimbledon common and a super-intelligent army of 4-dimensional fire-breathing puddles came sloshing out of the hatch? Full blown hysteria – that’s what. Sadly Apone, Hudson, Hicks and rest of the absolutely badass crew of the USS Sulaco haven’t been born yet so we’d probably have no choice but to be enslaved by these new inviscid masters; but at least NASA could take the moral ‘we told you so’ high ground. Which is nice for them. Bastards.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The Stayt of Play

Hello. I feel like a fucking zombie. Woke up at 3.30am this morning and couldn't get back to sleep, so I just fired up my PlayBook and spent the next few hours watching retro games reviews on YouTube and playing the really rather excellent port of Duke Nukem 3D. I knew this would happen though – as soon as I got to my desk at work I knew I’d feel like shit and want to close my eyes, if only for a second, and drift off. I've just had a cup of coffee and I feel no different. What is it with coffee? Don’t get me wrong – I fucking love the stuff – but why are we constantly told that it’s a stimulant? Every time I drink it because I need to stay awake...I just end up falling asleep. Same goes for energy drinks – I rarely drink them, but when I do, I don’t feel any different. They’re a scam. Actually, just while I’m thinking about this subject, I do recall watching a documentary on TV a few weeks ago (Panorama, BBC 1) that investigated the murky world of ‘sports’ and ‘energy’ drinks, and it found no conclusive evidence that they have any beneficial properties whatsoever. What the journalist conducting the study did find, however, was that the vast majority of them are full of sugar (shock!)...and the ones that claim to be ‘low calorie’ (like Powerade Zero et al) are actually paradoxical by design: they offer an energy boost but contain either low or zero calories. Interesting, and well worth a watch if you can find it on iPlayer.

Still on the subject of energy drinks, what is with those massive ‘Monster’ cans that people from a certain social strata always seem to be carrying around these days? Surely, life on the dole (c’mon, it’s usually chavs you spot drinking the foul-smelling shit) can’t be that physically demanding that you need to walk around Primark with a half-litre can of Monster Energy, just in case you collapse from over exertion? Saying that though, most of the females usually have huge hoop earrings weighing their heads down, massively over-laden prams and a gaggle of hyper-active, fatherless screaming brats to control, so maybe their reliance on Monster Energy is justified.

The same Panorama episode also investigated whether or not specialised running shoes actually had any bearing on the quality of a runner’s exercise...again, the answer was inconclusive...which I can kind of appreciate, as over the years I have spent an inordinate amount of money on various brands of running shoes. From extensive experience, I can confirm that in the main, they’re all pretty much the same and I’ve sustained injuries regardless of the particular brand I was wearing at the time. I currently own four pairs – a pair of Brooks, a pair of Adidas and two pairs of Saucony...and to be honest I can pick any pair at random and go for a run and not feel any benefit or disadvantage. Obviously, if I was a track runner then I suppose I’d get some benefit from wearing spikes, but just road running? I don’t think it really matters what you’ve got on your feet and this investigation by Panorama kind of laid bare the way in which sports companies dupe us out of our cash. Bastards.

When I eventually put the PlayBook down this morning and put the TV on, I was confronted by the usual glut of non-news on BBC Breakfast, but one item caught my attention: basically, so the story goes, Tesco has finally conceded to the other supermarkets and agreed to start putting those colour-coded ‘health meter’ things on its own-brand food packaging. To be honest, I didn’t even notice that they didn’t, but hey. BBC Breakfast thought that this was a big enough development in current affairs to devote a good 20 minute slot to it, and pulled out the full works for us news-hungry viewers: a load of vox pops of people giving their opinions on the food ‘traffic light’ system (filmed on Oxford Road in Manchester, I happened to notice (probably because they’re based at Salford now...sorry, just thinking out loud)), a special pre-recorded explanation of the colour-coding system, and finally a studio interview with some pencil neck from an irrelevant food-based government department and (I shit you not) a random woman who was simply described in her name caption as ‘a mother.'

It wasn’t all this over the top bollocks that bemused me though, oh no. It was Charlie Stayt (you know, the presenter who farted live on air a while back sending the guest into hysterics while he tried to pretend it hadn’t happened) struggling to get his ridiculously coiffed head around the notion of a ‘traffic light’ system on food packaging. Does he live in a parallel dimension or something? You can’t go into a shop without seeing these labels on food nowadays (unless it’s Tesco, obv), so how has Charlie Stayt not seen them? For fuck sake – there was a massive picture of the kind of labels I’m on about stuck on the monitor behind him! All he had to do was turn around and he’d have seen what everyone was talking about! For those of you who live on Charlie Stayt’s country estate (poetry!), here’s what I’m blathering about:

Yes? You see them on everything? Jesus Charlie – you should get out more. Stop sending the butler to Waitrose for your weekly shop, mate*. I’m clearly writing bollocks now, so I’m going to go for another coffee and a lie down. Zzzzzzzz.

*This is a polite little notice to those people (I know of at least one) who will go and Wikipedia Charlie Stayt and then come back here to comment about his less than glamorous lifestyle and numerous previous jobs. They'll inevitably state (!) that he's done well for himself and that I should leave him alone. I agree. He's done well for himself and is a damned good interviewer. All the stuff written up there is written off the cuff as I see it unfolding. So kindly take your Wikipedia-searching app and shove it up your arse.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Be Free. Be Facefree.

Today I’m going to talk about Facebook again. Now, I’ve been off the Facebook radar for over a year now and I honestly don’t miss it. Fuck – I don’t even think about it unless somebody mentions it at work or I’m walking down the street and over hear a fat, bleach blonde slag shouting at her spotty, tracksuit-clad wastrel of a boyfriend about a status update he made. This is actually more common than you’d imagine. So yeah, in my absence, Facebook continues to control the lives of every semi-sentient being on the planet. After my yearlong self inflicted exile from the hideous construct, I feel that I’m a living and breathing beacon of hope for those people (i.e. everyone I know) who feel that their lives wouldn’t be worth living without being able to tag themselves, upload a ‘zany’ photo or comment on some boring drivel somebody else with half a brain managed to compose. You may (or may not) be aware of a damning summary I wrote condemning everyone’s favourite social networking site a few years ago, so I apologise if this post is covering old ground, but I just wanted to show you that removing Facebook from your life is possible...and even makes the arduous task of simply existing that little bit more enjoyable/less abhorrant.

The main reason retards give me for wanting to remain on Facebook is that it helps them stay in contact with people. I personally think this is a load of bullshit. Bullshit that has subsequently been put into a food processor and blended with used tampons and then poured into pie case made out of pastry where the water has been substituted for piss. And then baked in an oven in Fred West’s kitchen. In hell. What I’m saying is that this excuse is feeble. Look at the facts – I’ve been off the cunting thing for about 15 months and everyone I want to speak to, I speak to. I text. I email. Fuck – there’s people in Australia I speak to every other day! Am I on Facebook? No.

The other prize reason people give for maintaining a presence on the infernal thing is that you can keep track of invites to events. This is also crap – I go to plenty of social events and if people require my attendance, they’ll ring me or text me...or God fobid – tell me to my face!

You may think that this renewed attack on Facebook has just come out of the ether, but I’m writing it because of something that’s happened at work. Basically, I was asked whether I’d be interested in maintaining or setting up a Facebook page for a project that I’m a part of (seeing as I’m the ‘computery bloke’), and I refused point blank with a ferocity verging on the insane. This shocked most of my colleagues to the point that a full blown discussion erupted and people where generally aghast that I’m not ‘on’ Facebook and am such a staunch anti-Facebookist (another new phrase introduced to the English Language, right there people). I’ve even gone as far as deleting the inbuilt Facebook apps on my PlayBook and mobile phone, and decided not to buy a HTC ChaCha mobile because it has a Facebook hardkey on it. Yes, my casual hatred runs that deep.

Fair enough – I ‘do’ Twitter, but only because it’s still a little bit niche amongst the general population; quite a large proportion of people still don’t see the point, and of course, you can’t go snooping through people’s photograph collections making sarcastic comments.

I don’t think I’ll ever be completely rid of Facebook – indeed, a friend texted me yesterday to say he’d used one of my infamous sms-based diatribes as a status update – but I’ll do my damnedest to remain free from its evil grip and will continue to campaign that my nearest and dearest rid themselves of it too.

For me, there’s no more getting annoyed about something shitty somebody wrote on my wall; no more cringing at photographs I’d rather not have broadcast to the entire planet; no more feeling the urge to write a pathetic, attention seeking status update when I’m feeling a bit pissed off (I just do it on here instead). People, generally, are cunts to each other and Facebook gives most of them a shield to hide behind and a sword to attack with. The ignorance that not being a user offers is tantamount to sheer mental bliss. And it can be achieved with just one little click of your mouse. Do it now. Release yourself.

Be Facefree, like me.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

A Tribute to Mean Machines

I may have touched on this before in a post of yore, but I’m a massive advocate of video games. And by ‘advocate,’ I mean that I love them. Ever since me and my brother got an Amstrad 464 Plus for our birthday (it must’ve been our 10th if I remember rightly), I’ve been hooked. Obviously, gaming has moved on exponentially since then – we had to put cassette tapes into the fucking thing to load the games and then go away for half an hour while a crappy bitmap ‘loading’ screen constructed itself line by line on the screen. And people complain about loading times on consoles today...

Anyway, that Amstrad with its wank graphics (even for the time, they were shite) planted in me the seeds of a computer games geek, and from then on I don’t think there’s ever been a period in my life where I’ve not owned one console or another. Indeed, by the time I left University I had about 12 different consoles in my room – it looked like a suicide bomber had detonated themselves in a branch of Gamestation (well, the queues do get quite bad on a Saturday afternoon). It wasn’t just playing the games that interested me though – it was everything about the subject, which eventually and inevitably led to me become addicted to buying games magazines. You see, back in the early nineties there was no internet, so the only place you could get new info on games and read reviews and get cheats etc was in the magazines, so naturally I had to embrace them as my only source of vital information ‘leaking’ out of such exotic sounding gaming locations as ‘America’ and ‘Japan.’ I say there was no internet – there was, just about, but getting online meant going to the school IT classroom at lunchtime, opening up Netscape Navigator on one of the dogshit slow workstations and waiting 3 days for Alta Vista (remember that?!) to pop up on the screen. No thanks. Not when there was football to be played in the car park.

So magazines were heavily relied on for gaming news, and the one I bought most often? Mean Machines Sega. It was an amazing journal full of lewd jokes and witty articles, and probably the magazine that made me want to ditch the hum drum life of a school kid and become a rich and famous games journo. There were several other mags I used buy at around the same time (CVG, Sega Power and GamesMaster – the former two now defunct, while GamesMaster is on life support) and they all promoted this notion that writing about games for a living was the equivalent of being an international playboy – jetting off to L.A. for a games convention, being wined and dined by publishers trying to sway your opinion on a new game, getting loads of cool free just seemed amazing, and I wanted a piece of the action. Sadly, as I grew up I realised that the view I had was slightly askew and then real life got in the way and the dream died (as did the print magazine industry – damned pesky Netscape Navigator!), but I’ll always remember those mags as a key component of my childhood; indeed, the prose within is most likely what led to my sense of humour being what it is today.

Now, I’d been planning to write about this subject for a while and kept putting it off, but last night while randomly web surfing (surfing...navigating...there’s a theme here somewhere) I came across a website that almost made me cry with delight: The Mean Machines Archive! Yes, that’s right – somebody has gone to the trouble of distilling what made Mean Machines such a fantastic magazine and condensed it all into one amazing website! I couldn’t believe it when I found this site: all the memories came flooding back. It gets even weirder though – check this shit out. After looking at that archive for a while, I logged in to Twitter and one of the ‘suggested’ tweeters who popped up in the sidebar was Julian Rignall, a former staff member at Mean Machines! I sent him a message asking if he was the same person from the mag, and he replied that it was...and this sparked a slightly surreal Twitter conversation about the good ol’ days – y’know, how games mags aren’t the same anymore and how the humour has gone from the writing. 

It was all very strange – to have been sat on the couch thinking about Mean Machines Sega, finding a website dedicated to it, and then ending up chatting to one of the core journalists from the I said: strange. He was a very nice bloke and to him and all of the other journalists from that era (Gus Swan, Marcus Hawkins, Ed Lomas, Martin Kitts, Tim Weaver, Jes Bickham, Richard Leadbetter, Jonathan Davies and many, many more (is it sad that I remember all these names?!)), I say thank you. You probably have no idea how inspirational your games-related ramblings really were.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A Right Royal Clusterfuck

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. They, whoever 'they' are could have a point. What these words are though, I have no idea. After uploading yesterday's flurry of Manchester-themed photos, I was looking through the Pictures folder on my laptop and I came across this:

It's a bit of a random one, but these are the words that it speaks: I took this while I was getting ready to march out of some barracks in London on the day of the Royal wedding last year. I was part of the naval contingent who lined the street immediately outside Westminster Abbey, and we had to march through London to the Abbey and do all the rifle drill etc. on the march. If you look closely, you can see Prince William on the TV screen - we were all watching the proceedings on BBC News before we went outside to form into our companies and march down to Westminster. We did 2 weeks of drill training prior to the event, which involved 'learning' how to stand still for up to 3 hours at a time - which sounds easy enough, but try it holding an SA80 rifle...they're light enough initially, but after a while it feels like you're holding a particularly large cartoon anvil under your arm.

The march out to Westminster went well enough, and to be honest I actually felt quite patriotic seeing all the crowds and all the Union flags fluttering in the morning breeze. The whole world was watching and it felt quite amazing to be part of the event. Obviously, I missed the actual ceremony because I was stood motionless outside Westminster Abbey as it was going on, but I did see a Horse Guard get flung from his horse right in front of me as it reared up - that shit was worth the admission alone. After the Royals came out we did the salute as they went past in their carriages, then we all 'fell in' and attempted to march back to the barracks with the Royal Marines band playing music ahead of us. Unfortunately, we hadn't rehearsed this at all and we were all out of step: it was a total clusterfuck and I wanted to die of embarrassment - but you've got to take the rough with the smooth I suppose. Except when it comes to peanut butter: in that case, it's never smooth. Always crunchy. But I digress.

I'm not a royalist or anything, but to be involved in the day was quite special and there aren't a lot of people who can claim to have been involved in a Royal wedding.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Assorted Images of Manchester

I waxed lyrical about Manchester in my last post, so I thought I'd upload some of the photos I took over the weekend, along with some from previous visits (the ones with a hint of sunshine in them!). Enjoy!

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Well, what a weekend that was. One of the best I’ve had in a while – but also, conversely one of the worst too. I’ll elaborate.

I went back home to the fair city of Manchester to attend a work seminar thing on Friday and due to the fact that I have family and friends there, I decided to make a weekend of it, couch surfing and seeing old pals. The seminar went well (apart from all the stuff that went a good few miles over my head), and afterwards I met up with a couple of mates for a few drinks in town. It wasn’t a late one, and I was back indoors by midnight, but the whole experience was turned slightly sour the next morning when I realised I’d lost my driving license. All of my other cards where there in my pocket...but the license was gone! How the fuck this happened, I still have no idea. I had no reason to get it out – indeed, I’m pretty sure I got none of my cards out throughout the entire how it managed to vanish into thin air is a complete fucking mystery. What makes it even worse is that I now have to dish out another twenty quid for a replacement photo card...that’ll take weeks to arrive. The main aggravation factor with this is that even though I’m almost 31, I still look (according to every shop owner/bar tender in the land) ‘under age,’ so buying alcohol is pretty much off the agenda until my new license arrives as it’s my only bit of accepted identification. I suppose I could carry my passport around with me...but that’s just weird. At least I’ll have an excuse to give my liver a rest I suppose.

People keep telling me to tell the police that I’ve lost it...but what’s the point? The police are fucking useless at the best of times and all they’ll do is write my details down on a post-it note that’ll waft off the desk and into a bin as soon as somebody opens a window to let the stench of stale coffee out of the office.

Saturday afternoon, I went back into Manchester for a more leisurely wander around the city. It’s been a while since I graced my home town and I always marvel at how quickly new buildings and developments spring up. I found myself walking around a whole new sector of the city centre that looks like something out of an Arthur C Clarke novella – it’s all glass towers and open boulevards...actually quite a nice place, if you like living in Gattaca. It was also, coincidentally, my mother’s birthday so I bought her a gift and then went to have a look around the National Football Museum. It‘s recently been installed in the Urbis centre (ripped from its former home at Preston North End’s stadium), and I must say that for a free attraction, it’s pretty damn impressive. The shape of the Urbis building (it’s like a giant wedge of cake) means that you’re constantly heaving your ass up stairways to get to the next part of the museum, but the sheer number of interesting football-related artefacts (old footballs, old kits, old tickets, old...stuff in general) is staggering. I suppose this is to be expected in the National Football Museum, but meh. What is also quite interesting is that it is housed in Manchester and not London...but that’s another story. After the museum, I moved on to the Arndale Centre, but not before spotting former Olympic athlete Linford Christie in the street. He was setting up some kind of sporting event for under-privileged kids and they’d sealed off the road to set up a running track, supposedly for running races. I didn’t stick around to see what went on, but Kudos to Linford for doing something like that. He’s a bit of a monster in reality, too – I honestly had no idea how tall the guy was. If he hadn’t been a sprinter, I’m pretty confident he could’ve played Cole Train in Gears of War 3 instead. Or something.

Saturday evening I went out for a meal with my old dear (as I said, it was her birthday), and also managed to meet up with my sisters and their respective partners, so all in all it was quite a good day.

Sunday morning was always reserved for the East Manchester 10K race that I entered a few weeks back. Unfortunately at the time I entered, I hadn’t factored in that I had no way of getting to the event, other than under my own steam as a) few people I know who drive would be up at 8am on a Sunday to give me a lift, and b) there is no direct public transport between where I was staying and the race start point. So I got my running gear on and ran the three miles to the park where it was being held. It didn’t help that I arrived way too early and then had to sit around for 45 minutes after collecting my race number, but when the race started, I was well up for it. It was only a 10k (my usual race distance is half marathon (13 miles)), but by God was it tough. I was in about 6th for most of the race as the ‘elite’ athletes all raced off ahead...but slowly I made my way up through the rankings (and almost got lost at one point due to the lack of signage in a wooded area), and ended up finishing the race in second place. Second fucking place! Out of about 120 other runners! I got a medal and a voucher for £20 from a local running shop (which I used to buy socks...) so I was happy with that...but the 3 mile run home was less welcome.

Sunday afternoon was spent again walking around the city centre, but this time I went exploring the older side of the city where the cobbled streets and old warehouses still loom menacingly. It’s really atmospheric in certain parts of Ancoats and the outer limits of the Northern Quarter – it’s all old fire escapes and grand old office buildings with impossibly decorative frontages hidden by decades of grime and soot. The little warrens of alleys hold so much industrial heritage and history it almost makes you sad that it’s all so hidden away and forgotten. Manchester is widely regarded as the birthplace of the industrial revolution, and was nicknamed ‘Cottonopolis’ back in the 19th century on account of the sheer number of cotton mills and chimneys blocking out the sun and filling the air with smog. To travel these narrow, cobbled back streets in 2012 and see how the buildings that represented the pinnacle of the industrial age have fallen into disrepair and decay is very sombre. Everything is so silent and eerie, but just a few streets away, there is bustling traffic, street music and thronging crowds of shoppers rush around. I think that’s the main thing – the quietness and the lack of people. Once upon a time, these alleys were full of people, imports and exports from the canals and the hubbub of business, trade and industry. Now...just silence and crisp bags blowing in the gutter. The towering glass buildings of the modern age in the middle distance only highlight the juxtaposition. What a strange sight they make – two complete contrasts of the ages. Hmm.

Manchester in the 19th Century, apparently. At least it's sunny.

Anyway, late Sunday I ducked out of the rain (didn’t I mention the rain?!) and into a little city centre pub to catch a bit of the Manchester City v Southampton game, before getting the train back south. I’m always a little bit sad when I have to leave Manchester, not just because it’s my home town, but because there’s nowhere quite like it in the UK. I’ve lived in so many different parts of England and visited so many more...and none of them has the same feeling, the same vibrancy, and the same welcoming atmosphere. Bristol comes close...but it can’t match Manchester for nightlife, entertainment, heritage, warmth and diversity. London does, obviously, but it’s also too big and impersonal. I think it may be that when I leave, I’m usually going back to somewhere I don’t really know anyone of have much of a social life – much like where I’m living now. It never seems to make sense that I’m leaving a place I love and feel at home, to return somewhere I’m relatively unhappy and a total outsider.

So you see – a weekend that was both awesome, and pretty shit at the same time. Awesome as I got to see family and friends, win a silver medal and bask in the might of the great Northern metropolis of Manchester; but pretty shit because ultimately I had to leave. I think I’ve made my mind up on the experiences of this past weekend alone though – after my current job placement ends in April, and after I’ve been travelling for a few months, when I return to the UK it’ll be to settle in Manchester.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Skinny Cupertino

Apparently, there’s an actual term for that fucking annoying thing that mobile phones do when you’re typing a text. You know – when you’re typing happily away, hit ‘send’ and then re-read your text to find that it’s auto-corrected about nine different words and now it reads like something a drunk tramp might shout at you from across the road. It’s known as the ‘Cupertino effect.’ This slightly bizarre name comes from the way that in some early word processors, the auto-correct facility built in to the software would change the word ‘co-operate’ to ‘Cupertino.’ Incidentally, Cupertino is a place in America where Apple Inc. is based. Who’d have thunk (auto-correct that, Blogger) that a name existed for such a random thing. Got me thinking (thunking?) though. I reckon I’ve discovered something that doesn’t have a name. Yet.

When I was out running a few weeks back, I noticed something a bit...odd. Well, two things actually. The first thing was that it was sunny. Let me repeat: it was sunny. For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘sunny’ means that the sky was a rich blue, there were no clouds, the sun was out and it was pleasantly warm. I know – hard to believe, right?! But there you go. A side effect of these alien conditions was that most of the trees I was running under or beside were casting shadows all along the paths and roads, and it is here that I noticed the thing that I cannot find a name for.

Basically, as I was running along I noticed that my own shadow, whenever it passed through the shadow of the tree branches, caused the outlines of them both to ‘shimmer’ momentarily. It’s really hard to describe in words and I doubt even a really good camera would be able to capture the effect properly, but trust me – the edges of the two shadows ‘break up’ as they pass through each other, and when you’re in constant motion (as I was, running), it’s really noticeable because your eyes adjust to following the pattern of your own shadow busting through all of these over-lying ones. This probably sounds like the ramblings of a fucking nut job, but trust me, it’s true. So, next time you’re stupid enough to go running and it also happens to be sunny (talk about infinitesimally minute odds), run under some trees and check out the fucked up kaleidoscope shadow stuff that’s going on. As I can’t find an actual term for this phenomenon online (or any reference to it whatsoever), I’m jumping in and calling it the CHarnock Refractive Interfering Shadow Theory. Or CHRIST for those among us who enjoy an acronym – I know I do. On second thoughts, that acronym might already be in use...but, y’know, sod it.

Use my new-fangled theory wisely and always credit me in your thesis...or I’ll bust through your bedroom window at night and destroy you with a cold fusion gun. Peace.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Take The Weather With You?

Seriously, this incessant shitty weather needs to fuck off. I honestly can't recall a period in my 30 years of life where it has been so constantly grey, windy, cold and rainy as it has for the past few months. Jesus - it's fucking August for fucks sake...and look at it. Look at it! It's blowing a gale, the sky is the colour of Rab C. Nesbitt's vest and the rain is coming down in sheets. I know there's been some talk of this 'jet stream' thing fucking up our summer, but to be fair I'm not interested. All I'm interested in is that its August and we've had one day of sunshine. Fuck - June and July were bad enough, but now we look set for yet another month of horrific weather.

It's an old cliché that us Brits are a little bit obsessed with the state of our generally miserable weather, but I feel I have special dispensation to be a little bit bored of it this year. I spend a fair amount of my time outside, what with my running, cycling and being a motorcyclist so I feel that it affects me more than your average moaning twat and it just seems that for every hour of sunshine we've been treated to recently, we've have to pay the penalty of 20 days of incessant torrential rain in lieu. It doesn't look like it's going to get any better any time soon either, so wet jeans, soggy money, water-damaged phones and sopping shoes are (sadly) going to be with us for a good while yet. Fucking weather. Fucking Olympic athletes jetting off home to sunny countries. Damn them. "Cheers for the medals, London - we're all off home to top up our tans by the pool..." is what I'd imagine most of them are thinking. Jealous? Fuck yes I'm jealous.

Speaking of London/the Olympics - that closing ceremony was pretty good. There were points where I was convinced that the acts were miming (One Direction most definitely were), but after a while I was happy that what I was seeing was just a delay between the performer singing and the sound catching up with the TV picture. I hope. And if they were miming and it wasn't just an audio/visual delay...then damn. That was some pretty shocking miming. So yeah, it was pretty entertaining and I think it was a very well put together concert/performance/thing. Don't really know what's happened to Liam Gallagher's voice like, but very good all in all. Apart from the bit with Russell Brand. And the Spice Girls. Ultimately though: Rio de Janeiro - the gauntlet for both the opening and closing ceremonies has truly been thrown down (in a puddle).

I had a slightly weird experience earlier on today. I'm currently staying with my significant other in the lovely (if wet, grey and windy (see above)) county of Dorset. This morning I went for a run that took me past the little graveyard in which TE Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) is buried. I went in, looked at his headstone, and then turned around to continue my run. As I turned the corner, I found myself on a very long, very straight country road that was completely enclosed by trees, and in the distance there was what appeared to be a white figure. I continued running onwards down this lane and the figure slowly but surely grew in size...just like the bit in the opening scene of the film Lawrence of Arabia starring Peter O'Toole! I must admit that I was a little bit freaked out by what was unfolding, especially seeing as this particular road was deadly quiet and there were no other runners or cars around due to the early hour. Was this an apparition of TE Lawrence coming toward me? Was it Peter O'Toole on horseback out for a morning ride? Was I hallucinating having just been to his grave? Alas no - it was a silver Toyota 4x4. But this experience just illustrates the kinds of problems I have when I put my contact lenses in the wrong eyes.

Speaking of running, I'm taking part in the East Manchester 10k race next Sunday. My third event of the year after the 20k and the half marathon and should be quite easy after those aforementioned races. So 10k...that's 10,000 metres right?! Mo Farah did that in 27:30 at the Olympics the other day. I did it this morning in 41:09. Watch out Mo...I'm only, er, a few minutes behind you...

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

News you say?

I tried, I really did. I was determined that I wasn’t going to be one of those people who moan about the Olympics. Indeed, I was one of the people who quite clearly made my feelings towards the dissenters known: stop fucking moaning about increased traffic and an influx of tourists – the Olympics is great for our country and a perfect stage for us to show off to the rest of the world.

But I’m afraid I have to take a little bit of a step back from that opinion right now. Why? Have you tried to watch BBC News or ITN or even your local news over the past few days? All it consists of is repeated wall to wall coverage of people winning medals! Which is great...but c’mon – when does it become overkill? Sure, it’s fantastic that Team GB are kicking ass in so many different events...but why, oh why, do BBC News et al feel the need to show us endless repeats of Team GB winning medals and then have the same people sat on a couch being asked ridiculous questions about their achievement? For half an hour at a time. I kid you not – I put the news on last night: Dressage/Chris Hoy/those brothers who destroyed the Triathlon. And to them all I say well done. But to put the news on again this morning and be subjected to the same images, the same interviews, the same non-news? It’s a little bit tedious, wouldn’t you say? I want to hear the news. News. BBC News showed an 8 second snippet about the Bank of England issuing some new, more ominous warning about the double-dip recession...and then it was back to lycra-clad people crying and holding big golden coins. What juxtaposition.

Now, I want to state once again that I’m not an Olympic naysayer. I have maximum respect for the achievements of Team GB (except the SHIT men’s football team). I do not condemn the whole spectacle as nothing more than a waste of money, as some do. I haven’t even mentioned the ridiculous sponsoring of the event by fast food chains (oops). But please...let’s get some perspective here. Since when, I ask you, is some bloke winning a cycling race more newsworthy than a load of civilians being blown up by government soldiers? If you need 24hour coverage of the Games, there are various media outlets available that will cater for your (somewhat neurotic) needs. But I simply can’t condone the main news channels constantly pushing the Olympics into our faces. News should be news. Sport comes at the end. That’s how it should be on a news programme. Rant over.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Filling The Void

I remember when the iPad was announced. I baulked at it – even referring to it on this very blog as just a big iPhone. And I still stand by that, to be honest. What is the point of owning both an iPad and and iPhone? They are the same thing, just on different scales, right? And only the biggest idiot would own the whole range of iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch...right?! The iPod Touch is just an iPhone without the phone, and the iPhone is just a small iPad. Or am I missing the point? Furthermore, have you ever seen someone taking pictures with an iPad? How fucking ridiculous do they look? Just buy a frigging camera! Oh, wait – you can’t because you’ve spent £500 on an iPad. Idiot.

Right. Now that’s settled, I’ll get to the point: I bought a tablet PC this week. Which is a bit hypocritical of me considering a) the previous paragraph; and b) because I’ve always deemed tablets as a bit pointless. But I saw this particular tablet on sale for a ridiculously low price: £129.99. And it’s not one of those super-cheap, trashy Android tablets either, which is what you’d expect to get for £129.99. Oh no, it’s one of these:

A BlackBerry PlayBook. And do you know what? It’s fucking awesome. I primarily bought it because I do a lot of travelling around on my motorbike most weekends, and I generally take my laptop with me wherever I go just so I can get online and check email, the news, watch videos etc...but the thing just takes up so much room in my backpack and won’t fit in the luggage box. Now I own a 7” PlayBook, such problems are no longer...erm...problems. For a start, the thing is tiny – much smaller than an iPad. It’s also really thin too. My previous opinion of BlackBerry was that they were a bit shit...just business phones with a crap OS and no apps, advertised as a chav’s messaging device of choice...but the quality of the PlayBook has shed new light on the whole mysterious world of BlackBerry.

So yeah – it’s a tablet PC with a really sharp screen, two HD cameras (not that I’ll be using it to take photos – I’ve got a camera for that, idiots) and a brilliant web browser that even supports Flash. Amazing. It’s only a 16GB model so I probably won’t be filling it up with music or films, but from what I’ve seen of it thus far, I’m impressed. The app store thingy has come in for a bit of criticism from various reviewers, but I can’t really see a problem with it. It’s got more stuff on offer than the old Palm Pre app store did, and there are a lot more ‘proper’ apps, as opposed to stuff just written by enthusiasts. Not that there’s anything wrong with home brew’s just nice to see official stuff on there too. The battery life is great, the sound quality is top notch and the on-screen keyboard is really good (plus it makes a satisfying ‘blip’ noise when you touch a letter...nice touch). So far, I really can’t fault it – it does exactly what you’d expect a tablet to do and for the price I paid...well the term ‘bargain’ springs to mind. I think the price was only temporarily lowered so by this time next week they’ll probably be £299 again (or whatever they were before), so I recommend getting down to PC World to pick one up before they increase the price.

Obviously, the PlayBook isn’t a patch on the (cough) iPad (cough), but it destroys the various Android tablets knocking around for about the same price in terms of quality. It’s probably not going to compete with the high-end Android tablets from Samsung, Motorola et al simply because of the bespoke OS it’s running...but for £129.99 I’m not complaining. Incidentally, the PlayBook does actually support Android apps (apparently), so that's good news, but it's never going to defeat the all-conquering Apple app store/iPad.

And just for those (three) people who may be reading this shit and are thinking about launching into a tirade about how the iPad is great and I'm a dick who hates Apple - that isn't the case. I fully appreciate that the iPad is a great bit of kit and that Apple stuff is generally brilliant. I just like to point out that if you own an iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, you are a fucking cretin. And Steve Jobs' soul owns your soul. And ass.

In other news, this week I went to see the new Batman film – The Dark Knight Rises. I was blown away by it. I saw the other two films in the trilogy on DVD because I just wasn’t that interested, and I thought the second one (with The Joker in it) was alright...if a little over-egged and confusing. But this latest one was fantastic. I went on Rotten Tomatoes and read an equal number of ‘fresh’ and ‘rotten’ opinions before I went to see it, so kind of had a neutral attitude...but I found the whole experience to be a whirlwind of excitement, great effects, brilliant story and fantastic plot twists. Looking at some of the reviews now I’ve actually seen the movie, I think some of the reviewers need to get a life and stop over-complicating things: it’s a film about a guy who dresses up like a bat and kicks ass...stop getting so het up about minor inconsistencies you knobs! Also, while it is true that Bain is sometimes hard to understand, it doesn’t really detract from the overall experience. So to the whining reviewers who rated The Dark Knight Rises as ‘rotten,’ I say this: get a grip and just enjoy it for what it is – a fantasy film.

I’ve written enough – I’m off for a sandwich.