Monday, 31 December 2012

A Tale Of Cocktails #37

Flying Grasshopper
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Ingredients
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1 oz vodka
1 oz creme de cacao
1 oz creme de menthe
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Taste: 9
Look: 7      
Cost: 8
Name: 9
Prep: 9
Alcohol: 8
Overall: 8.3

Preparation: Stir ingredients with ice.  Strain and serve.
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General Comments: Egads, this is strong.  Tasty, but strong. It's not unlike receiving a tracheotomy with a sharpened After Eight.  At least it provides its own anaesthetic.

It also gains points for looking quite cool, and for a great name, which I've decided not to dock marks from simply because it namechecks one of my greatest enemies.  They weren't to know.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

A True Love's Lament (Part IX)

Dear Father, 

A quick legal question, if you'd be so kind.  I realise you are not technically an authority on the law, but I know you've had no shortage of practical experience, on either side of the dock.

(For what it's worth, I never believed those charges of jury tampering. Not for sentimental reasons, nor because I am so naive as to believe you could ever recognise any authority other than your own, simply because you have ever been a prudent man, and showering money upon strangers in an attempt to rescue my idiot of a brother would be the very antithesis of securing return on investment.)

Given that long and coloured history, then, perhaps you could help me with my query: is it normal for a legal summons to come with percussive accompaniment?

I know you never served, Father, so it may be you are mercifully unaware of the noise nine snare drums can create when played simultaneously. It is an appalling, teeth-shaking sort of a din, as though every seed in one forest has gone to war with every seed in another, and have secured some small access to artillery. In comparison awakening to the honking of apoplectic poultry was positively pleasant.  The best that could be said for the cacophony was that it afforded me enough time to dress before my staff greeted the musicians when their march concluded just before my threshold.

After a few moments of conversation which I could only just register at a floor's distance and through badly ringing ears, the visitors were shown in. The fact none of my staff deemed it necessary to gain my permission first struck me as ominous in the extreme but, lacking any other option, I deigned to receive my visitors, ignoring the shouts and squawks outside as my latest batch of birds were delivered en masse.

There were seventeen in all when I entered the drawing room: nine starched drummer boys with buttons so shiny they could not have seen a stiff breeze, let alone combat, and eight more of the obscene gingham succubi that haunted my lawn yesterday.  Mercifully, they had not seen fit to bring more cattle with them - presumably the perilous dunderhead had promised they would be milking me for my assets instead - but the drummer boys nevertheless seemed rather taken with their entirely superfluous presence.  Ever it is the same with young men, I suppose, or those not so young.  Such unchaste looks cast about my house might have offended me, were nine lusty boys and eight wanton women not the most amusing version possible of "musical chairs" one could force hot-blooded men to play.

Still, that was a slender thread upon which to hang my good humour, and it was severed entirely when one of the drummers passed me an envelope, within which legal papers were contained announcing the perilous dunderhead's intentions to sue for custody of various gifts (or their financial cost) given over the past eighteen months (naturally, the envelope also contained five gold rings; the man belongs in an institution). Their message delivered, the boys rose without further comment, and marched to the door, already hammering their drums, their unpleasant doxies scampering after them.

Perhaps, Father, when you have answered my first question, you might address another: when can you furnish me with the best lawyer you can find?

Your doting daughter,

Alice

Saturday, 29 December 2012

His Hobbitual Eccentricities

"If we fight like animals, we'll die like animals!"
Wait, no.  That was someone else...
Well, this was a bit of an odd fish.

Anyone who's read both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, or even read the former and seen Jackson's adaptations of the latter, will already know the central problem this film series faces: it's real-world predecessor and in-universe sequel was a story about the mightiest warriors of the age fighting a supreme evil that threatened the world itself.  The Hobbit is about thirteen dwarves of questionable competence getting into scrapes.

(Minor spoilers below, but really, read the fucking book.)

A True Love's Lament (Part VIII)

Dear Father,

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, FIVE GOLD RINGS, four "calling" birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

It would appear that I am at war.

For the third day in a row, I awoke this morning to the cacophonous honks of six furious geese, augmented on this occasion by a desperate screaming of my own name.  I was halfway to my bedroom door when I realised the sound was not coming from my hallway, presumably my servants had prevented the perilous dunderhead from enacting a repeat performance upon his favourite stage.  Instead, the sound was working its way through my bay window. Bleary-eyed and with a mind not yet fully functional, I stumbled to the glass and beheld the perilous dunderhead on the lawn below, his now-customary "gift" of violated geese around him.  Each one was not only to the strange device that guaranteed simultaneous laying, but stood upon platforms that after a moment I identified as portraits of myself, commissioned at various times by my former true love during our long (most felicitously long, as it proved) engagement.  A few metres further back, a small row of burly men carried trussed swans towards my koi pond.  Apparently at least someone in this bitter farce was capable of learning from experience.

My first mistake was opening the window.  I should have known that at the time, Father, but I was angry.  The instant I did so, the perilous dunderhead below released a stream of scalding invective so foul I refuse to record it out of respect for my writing paper.  The uncorking of the geese occurred seconds later, and a half dozen portraits which - though I say so myself - were not utterly devoid of beauty were ruined forever by dull yolk and stringy glair.

"Your face is ruined for me forever!" he screamed, which as an attempt at a mortally wounding comment struck me as a somewhat obvious. "Behold the one who is to replace you!"

It was at this point that the mooing began.  In case you do not remember, Father, my bedroom stands at a corner, and locating the source of this new sound required moving from the south window to the east.  There I stumbled to a halt, dumbstruck, as I observed eight cows being milked by eight milkmaids.  Each of the cows was unremarkable enough, but their human companions were another matter, each wearing gingham dresses of such scandalous cut it was impossible to believe they spent their days working for farmers rather than enticing sailors, and were possessed of bosoms so freakishly ample their chosen task seemed close to impossible.

"One of these is to be my bride!" the perilous dunderhead shouted, "And then you'll be sorry!".  I politely informed him that there were any number of emotions I would feel regarding such a union before I reached sorrow.  For a moment this seemed to take him aback - the possibility I would fail to succumb to such hyperbolic emotional blackmail being apparently no more comprehensible to him than the thought I might not swoon with pleasure upon receiving eighteen continental fowl - but then he struck back: "Whomever I choose will need those dresses I bought you."

Like any self-respecting nation, I had chosen to act with calm forbearance as shots were fired across my border.  This, however, could not be tolerated.  I did not spend the last eighteen months suffering the rank idiocy of the perilous dunderhead simply to have those few compensations the situation offered torn from me, particularly when it was obvious that clothes made to fit my graceful physique could never possibly be used to clad these childish sketches of the female form.  My reserves rather depleted, I admit I employed some choice phrases of my own, before informing him that nothing short of the King's own decree could persuade me to part with any element of my wardrobe, and that even in that case, I would need the demand filled out in triplicate.  At that my former true love became so animated that I feared he might attempt to climb the ivy that embraces my house and force his way into my bedroom, but whatever his plan might have been, it was interrupted by the happy intervention of twenty starving blackbirds, who having stripped the surrounding trees of what berries winter would allow (aided no doubt by fourteen turtle doves) had clearly decided to take on larger game.  A distinctly unnerving honking in the distance also suggested the geese might be on their way, and the deliverers of my second consignment of swans chose this moment to jog back into view, presumably having unloaded their dangerous cargo.

Faced with such determined avian assault, and with reinforcements on the march from two directions, the perilous dunderhead beat a hasty retreat, his harlots alongside (the cows, naturally, have been left for me to deal with).  Nevertheless, I rather fear this matter has some way to go before it can be considered resolved.  Clearly my once-true love still believes there is still some hope for rapprochement, otherwise why would I still be receiving daily deliveries of gold jewelry?  The optimist in me hopes he has simply neglected to cancel this accessory installment plan - after all, plugging the unmentionable regions of furious geese must be a time-consuming business - but then optimism is what led to me seeing worth in a man who apparently believes courtship is best approached by buying fancy dress costumes in bulk and auditions employing farm animals.

I might even be scared were my foe not so pitiably stupid.

Your doting daughter,

Alice

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Hate To Have To Do It

Like Attaturk says, it's a bad day when you have to defend Pierce Morgan.

Obviously, I have a dog in this fight, because I desperately don't want Morgan's suet-carved face making an appearance back on our side of the Atlantic.  That said, there's something so fantastically deranged about a bunch of Americans screaming they love the Second Amendment so much they want to see legal consequences to the voicing of opinions (to prevent people feeling their speech is free, as it were) that it perfectly encapsulates the whole sorry mess the American Right has collapsed into.

And yes, I realise Morgan isn't covered by the Constitution, bein' all furrin and stuff. That still leaves these people begging us to believe that the Second Amendment is a central tenet of civilisation that both protects and glorifies America, and the First Amendment is a pesky technically best sidestepped whenever possible.

Gods, there are days when I have to bite back the vomit over these stew-brained loudmouths and their total lack of self-awareness or common decency.  Then they go over to America and get a taste of how it's done by the real pros, and I remember how lucky I am to live where I do.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A True Love's Lament (Part VII)

Dear Father,

On the seventh day of Christmas, my "true love" gave to me: seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, FIVE GOLD RINGS, four "calling" birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

I have spent this last night and day thinking, as I promised you I would, on what the last week of festive disappointment - and ultimately, horror - portended for my future happiness with the perilous dunderhead I was once only too glad to marry upon your recommendation.

So much can change in a week, dear Father.  I daresay on the second Sunday of July 1815, Napoleon was busy congratulating himself on how well everything was going, and looking forward to visiting the Waterloo tea-shops once all that tedious fighting was out of the way. Indeed, my own position feels not entirely dissimilar; for such a small house an invasion by six dozen birds bears no little resemblance to an incoming Seventh Coalition column, especially were the formation to be comprised of Dutchmen.

The birds that already plagued the estate have now become utterly unbearable.  What was once first a thriving seed garden and then a distinctly threadbare one is now nothing more than a potter's field for my horticultural treasures and the dreams I planted alongside them.  Several of my more nervous staff have quit my employ, citing repeated attacks by angered blackbirds, or vicious stabbings at the hands (wings) of the French hens.  The garden shed - briefly the roost of near a dozen particularly corpulent doves - has now collapsed beneath the accumulated weight of these birds and their... emanations, breaking the leg of my gardener who was unfortunate enough to be searching for the secateurs at the time. Two of the men who came at my request to offer aid reported wounds of their own following an ambush initiated by a half-dozen bloodthirsty geese.

From the smell crawling under the cellar door, where I have ordered my true love keep his ever-growing collection of pear trees, I am quite convinced that at least one of the partridges is dead. I thank God the fresh-faced policeman who arrived in the wake of my gardener's crippling failed to detect the lingering stench, lest he conclude the shed incident was simply the last in a long line of murder attempts upon domestic staff, with the cellar the final resting place of those already claimed by Death's embrace.

In short, Father, the barometer of my emotions was very much falling into the range marked "Absolutely not".    Even if it brings down a family as historic as our own, there are some things a woman cannot be expected to suffer, especially by way of mitigating the disastrous idiocy of her careless brother.

But if previous events had left me tottering on the precipice of an uncertain future, it was this morning's calumnies that caused me to fling myself into empty air with a glad heart.

Father, the perilous dunderhead did it again.  Six more outraged geese, bound and stoppered through mechanisms horrible and methods blissfully unknown, each forced to ovulate simultaneously for my "enjoyment".  The only concession my once true love made to the unbearable fracas from yesterday morning was his employment of a half dozen cushions - each one removed from the furnishings they had remained on since they were first gifted to me by my dearly departed grandmother - to catch the goose eggs (and sundry filth) as they passed clear.  That the geese seemed less willing to wage war on their surroundings now that their eggs survived this torturous ordeal was of scant consolation, I assure you.

That is when the screaming started.

For a moment I almost assumed it was the sound of my own voice, that in the face of a full week of ever-escalating madness I had simply gone insane myself.  But then sense reasserted itself, and it became obvious I was mistaken.  The screams were coming from behind the house, and were quite obviously those of a man.

The memory of my poor gardener fresh in my mind, I ran as quickly as dress and decorum allowed outside, followed quickly by the perilous dunderhead, who clearly saw no problem in leaving a small gaggle of aggrieved geese unsupervised in my hallway.  It was hardly difficult to follow the sounds of agonised distress, and soon enough I found by my koi pond a young man - a boy, really - clutching his left arm with his right; the latter gradually becoming soaked in blood from the former, which hung from the shoulder at an angle entirely anatomically impossible under healthy circumstances.

I had no need to ask the boy what had happened, for my koi pond was now filled with hissing swans, jostling for position across a water-feature too small for them, and each one as angry about this fact as those crowding it from either side.  Clearly the admonishments of Mother (which I am ashamed to say I never thought plausible until now) were all too true, and one of the ill-tempered water-birds had shattered the boy's arm.

As the perilous dunderhead and I did our best to help the boy out of danger, the whole sorry story swam to the surface: the boy had been delivering seven swans to the pond, on the instructions of my former true love. "A navy," as the perilous dunderhead said "To go along with the army I've already secured you".  The disgust with which I received this facetious reply was characteristically completely lost on him, as was the outrage with which I pointed out that my festive haul now consisted of sixty-nine birds, seven trees, four smashed Ming vases and two broken limbs, along with a shed and tapestry both in dire need of repair, and a likely life-long aversion to omelettes.

(I'm also not entirely sure how my koi carp will be fairing.)

In all frankness, the fact that my no-longer true love attempted recompense for these disgraces with more gold rings than any four women of breeding would be comfortable wearing seemed less gifts so wonderful as to excuse inconveniences elsewhere, and more the trinkets one might press into the clammy hands of a backstreet strumpet in order to gain their silence regarding one's disgracefully ungentlemanly behaviour.

Needless to say, I had no interest in playing the part offered.  I quietly and coolly informed the perilous dunderhead that his services as fiance were no longer required, and left him to help the boy he hired reach the hospital.  Upon entering the house, I informed the staff not to allow the man I once thought of as my true love entrance under any circumstances, and retired to my room to compose myself, and then to write this letter.

I am under no illusions, Father; this letter will enrage you.  Whilst your attempt to pin our family's hopes upon the fortunes of so great a fool as the perilous dunderhead remains your mistake, I am keenly aware that it is I who has thrown a wrench into the plan.  For this, I fear, you will simply have to forgive me; there is certainly nothing else you can do in the matter.  If you wish to call upon me to discuss further, please try to choose a time when the trilling, honking, hissing, cooing, clucking and death-rattles of my aviary are not too loud for me to hear you ring the bell.

I remain your doting daughter,

Alice

Monday, 24 December 2012

Selah


One of the nice things about Mike Carey as a writer is the effort he puts into identifying the purpose of so many of his stories, saving me time and effort.  Take "Brothers in Arms", for example, the thirteenth arc of Lucifer.  When at the conclusion to the first issue Lucifer catches sight of this week's terrifying threat to all creation and says "I'd have expected the comic interlude to come further down the bill", the reader knows exactly what's going on.  After the six-part "Naglfar", crowded as it was with untold destruction and cosmic angst, it's time to kick our feet up and have a bit of a chuckle.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

A True Love's Lament (Part VI)

Dear Father,

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: six geese a-laying, FIVE GOLD RINGS, four "calling" birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Forty-six birds now, Father.  Forty-six.  Six are chained to trees, eight are threatening the glassware with their atonal choral recitals, and ten have plastered the grounds with such a horrifying amount of unmentionable material that I fear to go outside, lest I meet my end in the most ignoble manner imaginable, sucked into a roiling pit of unspeakable white paste.

Today, though, I choose not to focus on such problems, infuriating as they may be. No, I cannot rest until I have described what it is I witnessed this morning.  I take no pleasure in blighting you with the same images that have forced their way unbidden into my horrified mind, but I cannot remain silent on the matter, and I fear no-one but you is like to believe me.

I have mentioned now on several occasions that I am suffering a surfeit of hen's eggs at present, owing to the constant stream of Faverolles my true love has forced me to adopt in exchange for my newest accoutrements.  This, as you know, has led to me feeling obligated to consume as many omelettes as I can stand, presumably in deference to your urgent lessons to us as children that nothing ever be wasted (a shame my brother took rather less heed of this advice, otherwise the family would still have our international interests, and I wouldn't be stuck marrying a perilous dunderhead for his money, whilst beginning each breakfast requesting an omelette stuffed with another, slightly smaller omelette).

I recall another lesson I learned at your knee, Father; the peril of revealing any kind of weakness.  I confess that I have not made you proud on that front, and made the mistake of admitting to my true love that I was heartily sick of hen's eggs, and would very much appreciate a change in diet before my heart turns yellow and my flesh fades to white.

In my own defence, dear Father, how could I have known that there exists anyone in the English speaking world - let alone one who can read, write and play an above-average game of polo, when he can tear himself away from admiring his white-clad legs in any reflective surface available - would hear this complaint and conclude what was needed were eggs born of a slightly different bird.

And yet this is the situation I found myself in this morning, when I was awoken by the most horrible noises from downstairs; a kind of aggravated chorus of horn-blowing one might experience at a wrestling match for ill-tempered motor cars.  Deeply concerned as to what could be happening, I descended from my rooms in some haste to find my true love waiting for me with six white geese, each making a racket so unbearable it was clear they could only either be dying, or be begging for death in some crude, honking dialect.

Naturally, I demanded to know what my true love thought he was doing, waking the whole house with this nightmarish cacophony.  In response, he merely bellowed "BEHOLD!", brandishing aloft a foot-long piece of straight wood, around which was wrapped a half-dozen lengths of thin rope, each of which radiated outwards to one of the unfortunate birds screaming their displeasure.  Before I could comprehend the purpose of this act of poultry puppetry, my true love yanked hard at his stick.  There was a brief surge of the sounds made by the enraged geese, then a sharp "POP", followed by the noise of six eggs hitting the floor of my hallway roughly simultaneously.

Not one of the eggs survived their fall.  The geese, now released from the horrifying torture device my true love had used to keep them stoppered - stoppered, Father, like a leaky teapot -  flew into a rage, attacking everything they could reach with their beaks, including several expensive vases (all smashed), a tapestry gifted to me by my second cousin (now badly dented), and my true love (which, all things considered, I found difficult to object to).  The air was full of honking and feathers, and a putrid stink that I would not describe to you even if I could.  I beat a hasty retreat, my stomach heaving but my mind clear on the foolishness of being enveloped by a cloud of enraged grey geese.  Birds are ever at their worst when they are angry.

I have not left my chambers since, Father.  My true love has returned to my door repeatedly, trying to cajole or threaten, apologising and cursing in equal measure, but I will not be moved.  The five additional gold rings I spoke of have been slid in an envelope under my door, and I am unswayed, not least because whilst five rings is an extravagance; ten is a degree of uncultured ostentation most suited to gypsy girls and well-compensated ladies of the night.  I am quite resolved to remain safe in my chambers, secure from savage geese and idiot fiances, until I have slept away the night and had chance to decide how to respond to the day's insanity.

I cannot promise that my conclusions will please you.

I remain your loving daughter,

Alice.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Mathematics Of Belonging

I always like to highlight cool stuff my friends have made when I can, and when they've made it for me (well, the Other Half, but now that we live together we can safely be considered a gestalt entity; which I guess makes me both balding and ginger) that impulse becomes all the stronger.

Here, then, is a housewarming present made for us by the talented craft-wizard (craft-witch? that sounds wrong) and blog-follower Michelle:


Not only is it absolutely beautiful, but I've done some number-crunching and have ascertained that the probability that your heart is in the location you have defined as "home" is indeed at least 87.36% percent, making this piece mathematically acceptable.  Sure, in my case, I might be inclined to suggest home is where the booze is, but I probably shouldn't be encouraged in such disgraceful thoughts. I'm supposed to be an adult now.

Anyway; cheers, Michelle! Who, by the way, talks about how she put together this and other wonders over at her blog, which is worth checking out.

Friday, 21 December 2012

A True Love's Lament (Part V)

Dear Father,

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: FIVE GOLD RINGS!!!

(Four "calling" birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.)

Father, we are making progress.  Jewellery has at last made its way across the horizon and into my possession; rings of pure gold, each engraved with my own name, and, whilst not perfectly sized, will fit on my fingers a fine sight better than Lady Sunderland will fit into her ballgown, which is generally taken to be the mark of success at such functions as her lord husband chooses to put on.  It would be uncharitable to make too much of the fact that this criteria has become easier with every passing year, but then it was not by my recommendation that Lady Sunderland decided adequate dress alterations were an extravagance incompatible with her epicurean excesses.  All it would take to cure my bird infestation completely would be a turkey baster, five pounds of buttered parsnips, and an invitation to Lady Sunderland to join me for afternoon tea.

I digress, perhaps because I am quite giddy at the thought of the figure I shall cut in two days time.  I am so delighted that my true love at last came to his senses and sought out a genuinely practical present for me that I find it easy to forgive his previous foolishness, especially as I have now learned that the increasing flood of poultry foisted upon me was and is part of a deal made with the jeweller. I cannot pretend to fully understand the intricacies of this arrangement (do not roll your eyes and mutter of girls and business, Father,I merely feel no more compulsion to learn how my rings came to arrive than I do how my skirts are laundered; it merely matters that I be able to wear them), but the long and short of it is that my true love relieved the jeweller's son-in-law of a number of birds he had acquired - via means unknown - and in return was guaranteed favourable prices.

Naturally, like many cultured people, I find the idea of cheaper goods something of a double-edged blade when it comes to present giving.  Those who insist "it is the thought that counts" simply do not wish to confess to their inability to rise high enough in society to acquire the amount of money any fool could see is necessary (though after the last five days I can hardly claim that thinking is entirely incidental to the process). Even so, it comes as some relief to know my true love had a plan in place all along. The blackbirds are no less loud (indeed they are now capable of irritating me equally well at either end of the house) the partridges no less oppressively ugly, and the herb garden no less ruined.  My unseasoned and increasingly large omelettes have not miraculously transformed themselves into kippers, meaning the increase by a further half of my egg supply must be considered less than ideal.

These though are but temporary sacrifices. Soon or late, each of my thirty birds will die, perhaps mercifully soon, given their reactions to being left outside during winter. My rings will last forever, and my true love is to be congratulated for seeing his favourable fiscal arrangement as impetus, not to save money, but to purchase more gold with which to delight me.

Though five rings seems a little ambitious; I'm not sure how easily they will all go on, stay on, or allow me to raise my arms above my waist once they have been deployed. I suppose, though, that the odd spare will not go amiss.

Your doting daughter,

Alice.

Radio Friday: Bleeping Belgians

It's been ages since I last extolled the considerable virtues of Styrofoam on the blog, so let's redress that today.



I can't believe it's been two years and I still haven't bought this album.  From the snippets I've heard the worst that can be said about it is that it sounds a bit too much like their last one, but given that's one of my all-time favourite records, there's a limit to how upsetting a retread can be.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

A True Love's Lament (Part IV)

Dear Father,

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: four "calling" birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

I must confess, Father, to be rather confused and put out by your latest letter to me.  I assure you that long before you enrolled me in that ridiculous collection of ill-mannered old maids in training they call "The Young Ornithologists",  I was perfectly capable of counting to three (and now four).  All but one of the birds in question were shackled to adjacent trees, and even the partridge we temporarily freed (I had it's prison sentence reinstated yesterday, having grown tired of it getting underfoot whilst the gardener and I attempt to salvage what we can of my herb garden) was not a difficult animal to locate and add to the tally.  When I list three (now four) partridges, that is exactly what is meant.

In truth, I can only assume that your attempt to defend my true love stems from a desire to avoid taking any responsibility in recommending him as a match for me in the first place.  If so, it must come as quite a blow to your attempts to learn that today at breakfast (more omelettes) I was presented by ten new birds, and another fruit tree. Nor can it be helpful to your cause that my true love insists on referring to my new "calling" birds.  No amount of patient explanation (or as patient as I am willing to be under such awful circumstances) that he has fallen for an obvious corruption of "collie birds" can seem to enter the depths of his head, that now seem to me quite as dark and dirty as those of the mines with which the birds share their names.  "Yet note, Alice", he told me, with an exaggerated tone of oppression that quite made me want to hit him with a pear tree, with or without partridge attached, "How loudly these birds are calling to each other".

Alas, his logic may be faulty, but his ears did not deceive.  I have been complaining in ever more strident language regarding the events of the last three days, I realise, Father, but at least before today the house was quiet, at least in those areas beyond the range of the cooing of doves, the clucking of hens, or the occasional cry of impotent rage uttered by my gardener (who has now offered to shoot the offending creatures himself, though I hold out little hope his clouded eyes can find his shotgun).  Now the world seems full of the jaunty trilling of hungry blackbirds, who treat the concept of sensible waking hours with as much contempt as my true love does the idea of thoughtful purchases.  It would be quieter to sleep above a hostelry, Father, and at least there I could count on a more varied menu.

You will also note, of course, that I'm one day closer to Lord Sunderland's ball, and thanks to the dunderhead you have championed, my best chance for new accessories is to snap off twenty bird's beaks to be polished and strung into a necklace.  Doubtless you will be happy to foot the bill, as well as that for cleaning up the resultant mess.  That, I fear, is simply what backing a sponge-minded clod like my true love will get you.

Yours,

Alice.

A Tale Of Cocktails #36

Orange Blossom
.
Ingredients
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2 oz gin
6 oz orange juice
Orange slice and peel
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Taste: 4
Look: 4      
Cost: 8
Name:7
Prep: 8
Alcohol: 3
Overall: 5.4

Preparation: Shake ingredients with ice.  Strain and add orange slice and peel as garnish.
.
General Comments: It's been suggested to me before that there is no vodka cocktail in existence which cannot be improved by swapping the vodka out for gin.  I'm not totally convinced of that (a gin Woo Woo for example doesn't sound like it'd work, though I'm obviously entirely willing to give it a go), but I have no trouble believing that it's true for any cocktail in which the vodka is something you're supposed to taste, rather than just lurking in the background, fucking everyone up.

So, no, this isn't a good cocktail.  At all.  I've never understood why anyone would drink gin with orange when there's perfectly good tonic water available, and making me float small sections of an eviscerated fruit in the glass isn't going to change my mind.   One to avoid, in other words.  Unless of course your only other option is a screwdriver, a drink you could stir with its namesake and still end up improving the taste.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A True Love's Lament (Part III)

Dear Father,

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

There will come a time, perhaps, when the women of the world will declare with one voice "Enough!". When the endless burbling insanity which passes for the male thought process (naturally I do not include you in this, Father, though I cannot promise that Mother would do the same) finally becomes too unbearable to be allowed to continue along its trackless depths.

On that day, I am sure, it will fall to one amongst the fairer sex to study the male in such exhaustive detail, and with the help of so large and dedicated a staff behind her, that we shall finally succeed in mapping each and every recess of what men like my true love are pleased to call their minds.  That individual will the grateful patronage of every woman in the English-speaking world before the month is out. 

She will also be burned as a witch.

Perhaps I should make some small beginnings in such an investigation.  Why, for example, when his previous two attempts at pleasing me have resulted in nothing but tears, curses, and minor property damage, did my true love decide that an adequate explanation for presenting me with four birds for Christmas was less urgent a task than securing six more of the wretched creatures? Along with another pear tree, which if he had some reason to believe I might have appreciated two days ago, can be under no such illusion now.  Why, upon seeing the damage inflicted by one partridge and two turtle doves upon my herb garden, did it strike him worth sending in reinforcements (only the doves, I am happy to say; I'll not make the mistake of freeing a partridge a second time, though yesterday's captive is becoming ill-tempered, either because it objects to its captivity or because my true love has forgotten to feed it, in one of those lapses of memory that apparently also claimed every single thing he has ever learned or heard about me in the course of our courtship).

The French hens (if indeed they are French; perhaps you can confirm this diagnosis when you next visit, assuming the poultry in question has survived the winter weather, my true love's inconstant attentions, and my own rapidly deteriorating temper), I can at least understand to some extent.  My true love, it transpires, recalls me once mentioning to him my appreciation of a nice, hot omelette.  This, as I told him rather frostily this morning, is not entirely true, though I like them a good sight more when liberally seasoned with dill, an option difficult enough at this time of year without the entire bed having been obliterated by scavenging avian looters.

With all that said, this suggestion can claim the small distinction of being the most sensible one offered since this whole wretched business began (has it really been only three days since I was sure I would have something new and beautiful to display at the New Year's ball?), and so there I sat at nine this morning, eating my omelette as its providers and their miserable friends ate their way through my seed stocks.  It is very hard to cry over one's breakfast when life is so trying, Father, particularly when saltwater is the only seasoning available.

But I am determined not to buckle under pressure. In four days I shall have something to turn heads in Lord Sunderland's hall, or my head will be turning towards men who can take a hint and protect a herb garden.  I know you approved of my current engagement, Father, but I have too much faith in you to believe you did so whilst knowing full well my true love would prove to be so very, very stupid.

Your doting daughter,

Alice.

Photos From The War


With details of the third series of Game of Thrones now leaking out all over the place, and Martin himself now well into the second year of writing what he's the only person in the world believes will be the penultimate novel of the series, it might be worth looking at the third version of his continents-spanning fantasy epic, with Daniel Abraham's comic book adaption.

There's something of a line to be walked when considering this from the perspective of a long-time fan.  On the one hand, one of the easiest ways to understand the comic is to consider how it compares with the original source material and the 2011 TV season.  On the other hand, the immediate question generated by such an approach is: do we really need a third take on a story that hasn't even finished first time around yet?

By and large, I want to dodge that question (which is not to say I'm unsympathetic to the underlying point), and just figure out what separates Abraham's approach from Martin's and from that of Benioff and Weiss.  The first and most important difference, as is probably easy to surmise, is in pacing: the six issues that form the first volume of the comic cover something like two and half episodes of the TV series, which in turn dealt with some twenty or so chapters of the book.  The HBO adaptation wisely jettisoned more than a little of what those chapters contained, but they also added a few scenes here and there to aid with character development, not because Martin had necessarily failed in that task himself, but because the show necessitates dispassionate readings of characters that the personalised chapters of the book simply can't provide.

The comic book seems far more determined to follow Martin's original work far more closely.  This isn't particularly surprising, both because Martian and Abraham are old colleagues and have worked together on several occasions, and because the jump from prose to annotated illustration is far smaller than from prose to screen, at least in terms of how a narrative is shaped.

Whether this increase in devotion to the source material is welcome or not is, of course, a matter of personal taste. For my part, whilst I'm not prepared to call it a mistake, it does have me slightly concerned.  The slimming/replacement job Benioff and Weiss pulled off with their first series helped give the show it's own identity, indeed frequently the best scenes in the piece were ones absent from the books.  Here, the feeling is simply of the book having paragraphs simply cast aside, not so much an adaptation as a summation (though in fairness, it took longer than the equivalent of these first six issues for the show to really find its feet).

Given the job the comic has been given to do; basically to cover a page of text (or a minute of screen time) with each page of panels, it's probably sensible to have taken Abraham's approach.  Sensible, of course, does not necessarily mean good.  The overall feel here is not so much of a coherent narrative so much as a picture montage to accompany the original text.  Now, that in itself isn't automatically worthless, and indeed the art here is very good.  It's also, and again this can't be considered in any way surprising, far more evocative of the book's imagery than the TV show can hope to be.  Catelyn Stark in particular gains a great deal from Tommy Patterson's rendering that she lost from Michelle Fairley's hilarious miscasting (which has nothing to do with Fairley as an actress; she's just in completely the wrong role) as does Theon Greyjoy for just not being Alfie Allen, but I much prefer this interpretation of the Others, and of the architecture and heraldry of Westeros.

There's also something to be said for the nudity/sex scenes in the comic, which lack either HBO's wearying overkill or Martin's occasional tendency (which is rather less occasional these days) to lapse into toe-curling discomfort, in which the fact that you're reading a middle-aged man describing, say, a thirteen year old girl's first sexual experience following seduction-by-fingering.  And if Patterson's quite lovely representation of a naked Catelyn bears no relation to what an early Middle Age woman could possibly look like after five children, then at least she's not the pneumatic sex object one might have feared, and at least no-one's asking anyone else to play with anyone's arse.

Basically, if you want to look at some very pretty pictures whilst reminding yourself of the plot of Game of Thrones, this works exceptionally well; a kind of beautifully illustrated Cliff Notes, if you will.  That might not be a bad way to revise the story in preparation for the arrival of The Winds of Winter, (the comic will need to be on issue two hundred and something by then, but that's really not something I'd feel inclined to bet against).  That said, it'd be a damned expensive way to do it.  I guess it all comes down to a simple formula:

Value of comic = Desire to see Others - Desire to see jiggling tits all the damn time.

You can all make your own minds up on that one.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

A True Love's Lament (Part II)

Dear Father,

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

To think just yesterday I talked as though I had plumbed the heaviest depths of bewilderment! I was nothing but the child at the beach, who believes the sea must be deep where he stands, for it reaches from his toes all the way to his torso.  My true love, if nothing else, has provided me with a diving lesson.

Indeed, while I can claim no interest in trawling the bed of the sea for incurious fish and tarnished coppers, such a gift could hardly be considered less sensible than that of four birds and two trees.  The best that can be said of this latest gift is that turtle doves are somewhat less aesthetically offensive than the wretched partridge.  How fortunate my true love thought to provide another specimen to confirm this comparison (as part, he tells me, of some kind of bulk discount, an act of fiscal prudence which surely constitutes the only instance of thought involved in this whole endeavour).

Another specimen, I should add, that once more finds itself tied to its arboreal display piece.  At first, under questioning, my true love suggested this state was a source of unholy pleasure for the bird, alluding to depraved ideas I tried most strenuously to neither understand nor commit to memory.  Ultimately, however, I extracted the truth: the second partridge remained in chains to prevent a repeat of the devastation unleashed by its predecessor, which once freed from its perch on my insistence has busied itself with befouling my herb garden and loosening my trellises, activities the turtle doves seem only too happy to provide assistance for now they have arrived.

Quite frankly. I would instruct my gardener to shoot all three of them - and, yes, their captive cousin also - had his eyes reached such a state of dilapidation I begin to wonder whether he can remain trusted armed with a trowel, much yet a firearm.

To sum up, then: two currently useless trees, four perennially useless birds, and a disgraceful mess made of both parsley and dill, which are now as frayed and filthy as are my patience and my goodwill.  I fear today has once more been a day in which I have had no choice but to retire to my chambers and ignore my frantic true love, who had he put as much energy into choosing his gifts as he does rapping upon my door, might have prevented this whole ugly business from bearing any more fruit than do those wretched pear trees.

Yours, as ever,

Alice.

Hulke's Devilish Cunning



I was going to put up the second part of "A True Love's Lament" here, but after the last post I don't think it's humour time just yet, so let's go for something totally out of left field and discuss The Sea Devils.

I figured I'd mention this simply because I finished watching it last night for the first time in, ooh, eighteen years or so, and it suggested something very clearly to me in light of Phil Sandifer's post on The Silurians eighteen months ago. Since Sandifer himself didn't make the link (perhaps because it's too obvious, too obviously wrong, or contained in About Time or Running Through Corridors; I don't know), I thought I'd say something in passing.

Let me start off by saying I'm not entirely sure I agree with Sandifer's reading of The Silurians itself, mainly because it's not clear to me that the Brigadier does indeed destroy the Silurian base at the end.  It's clear that both the Doctor and Liz believe that's what he's done, as they watch the explosions from the hillside, and Walker demonstrates in The Sea Devils that the government thinks the same thing.

But consider what the Brigadier actually says.  Not that he wants the base destroyed, that he wants it sealed off.  Although he's never told on screen, one can easily imagine the Doctor informing him (via elementary calculations) that the Silurians won't be showing up again for another fifty years.  It's entirely possible that the Brigadier's intention here isn't to murder unknown thousands of sentient reptiles, but to cut off the base and, crucially, make the Doctor think he's murdered unknown thousands of sentient reptiles, to stop him going ahead with his plan of waking the Silurians up one at a time to attempt to reason with them (a race, of course, that tried to render mankind extinct twice in the space of five episodes, with the second attempt guaranteed to exterminate every warm-blooded species of animal on the planet into the bargain, but let's not get into that now).

The only genuine textual evidence against this argument is the fact that the Silurian leader himself is caught in the blast, though with no knowledge of how the base is set up it's difficult to know whether that indicates wide-spread destruction or simply the blow back from sealing the caves near what was presumed to be the base entrance.  Indeed, the totally unknown size and structure of the base makes it far more likely that sealing the surrounding tunnels was a- far more plausible objective than trying to destroy the base in itself.  Then there's the aforementioned comment by the Brigadier, and also the size of the explosion the Doctor and Liz see, which is far too small to have taken out caverns holding many thousands of man-sized lizards.

Obviously, anyone arguing the size of a Doctor Who special effect should be considered a valid indicator of authorial (or as Sandifer notes, editorial) intent is clearly a lunatic, but my point remains that neither option is ruled out beyond dispute.

That's a lot of words to quibble about what "actually" happened when you consider Sandifer is focusing on what the Doctor thinks happened, but it's important because it at least plausibly allows a reading in which Hulke was able to mitigate the damage done by Lett's decision.  This is vital, because I think Sandifer's point that The Silurians could otherwise be read as a criticism of the show's then-format is basically sound, and following from that, The Sea Devils is Hulke re-writing his own criticism to absurd levels, an almost NEXTWAVE level of self-parody based around giving the public what they want, and shooting it through with moral bankruptcy.

Staggering

I haven't said anything about the Newtown tragedy in Connecticut this week.  It's just too big to wrap my head around.  I was 16 when Thomas Hamilton walked into Dunblane Primary School and started firing; I still remember the state of the UK afterwards.  Tragedies of this magnitude do not get any easier to process as we get older.

As to the events of Friday themselves, then, nothing to say other than to express sympathy to everyone affected.  I don't have any intention of discussing what changes to US law are required in the light of this mass-shooting, or the seven or so others that have occurred this year.  I have thoughts on the matter, unsurprisingly, but those can wait.

An unwillingness to state my own case doesn't stop me from tearing up other people's crap, though, obviously.  Megan McArdle is almost always dangerously idiotic whenever she adds a new set of fingerprints to her keyboard, and particularly when discussing her ill-formed libertarianism leanings, but this?

For most of it's length, this is pretty much standard poor arguing.  Note with no surprise how hard McArdle tries to not understand the difference between technically illegal and illegal according to laws which are rigorously enforced.  Watch with wonder as she swaps between the specific horror of Newtown and the more general state of violent crime in America, so she can argue actions which would have been useful on Friday might not work in general, and actiona which would work in general might not have worked on Friday.  Rub your eyes in disbelief as she argues that because the shooter had three other guns on his person, there's no point focussing on the gun he chose as the most effortless method possible of murdering children.  Cry tears of blood as she falls back on the final refuge of the scoundrel: suggesting that no single response would do enough on its own, and no combination of responses could completely cure the problem, therefore nothing can be done (like how the Unabomber proved laws against making bombs are just an infringement on liberty that do no good for public safety, for example).

Or, if you're short of time, just skip to the end:
I'd also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once. Would it work? Would people do it? I have no idea; all I can say is that both these things would be more effective than banning rifles with pistol grips.
I was sure I'd come across an idea like this before, and it took me a few seconds to remember:




If Megan McArdle had been around in 1916, she'd spend her time in-between hosting Jessie Pope at dinner parties arguing that warfare can never be eradicated, so maybe the thing to do was to try choking machine gun nests with smaller troops.

There are days when it's just impossible to not hate our species.

Monday, 17 December 2012

A True Love's Lament

Dear Father,

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a partridge in a pear tree.

This, as you may surmise, came as something of a shock.  I have never expressed the slightest interest in horticulture, and whilst I may on occasion have complimented Lord Sunderland on the quality of his peacocks, I would have thought the intelligent observer would have recognised this as rote flattery, rather than a desire to possess any birds myself; particularly one as dowdy and overweight as a partridge.  You will forgive me, I know, for saying that if I wished an overweight frump to take up residence, I would respond to Aunt Jessica's constant unsubtle hints about joining us here for an extended visit.

No, this was not the gift I had in mind, dear father.  Indeed, I had dropped so many hints (which seemed to me at the time obvious to the point of being gauche) regarding my desire for a new necklace that the drawing-room clock would have known to head to the nearest jewellers, had it suddenly acquired legs and a generous nature.  I confess, you did warn me I was engaged to a perilous dunderhead, and for the first time I begin to see your point (perhaps the second, following this summer's incident with the cricket bat and the mayor's cucumber sandwiches).

In short, it is impossible for me to understand why I received either a partridge or a pear tree.  The fact that both were presented together would be beyond the comprehension of Aristotle himself.  I confess that my true love's pride upon revealing the combination was such that my curiosity stirred a little beneath the layered sediment of my crushing disappointment.  At the very least, had my true love chosen to train the partridge to remain amidst the branches of the pear tree (which, it being winter, is of course entirely without pears), it would demonstrate a certain industry on his part.

Alas, it became clear almost immediately that the only reason the partridge remained ensconced within its home of barren branches was that it had been chained there.  Clearly foolishness was not enough; my true love was determined to add cruelty to his list of failings this Yuletide.  When I demanded an explanation for the abominable treatment of this bird, which I had no intention of blaming for my true love's stupidity, he insisted the bird was a female, named Emily, and had chained itself to the tree as part of an ill-advised Suffragette protest in a nearby nursery.

As you know, father, I have no shame in admitting sympathy for the Suffragettes (I leave that particular response to my politics to yourself), and naturally assumed I was being mocked.  At this point, I confess I flew into a rage, said many things to my true love I have no intention of writing down in my own diary, let alone a letter to you, and took ill for the rest of the day.

What a wretched Christmas!  My true love has been knocking on my door every hour since, promising that he has secured presents which will be more to my liking, and which will be arriving tomorrow for my inspection.  My hopes, I must admit, are not particularly high.

I shall, of course, write more to you on the morrow, if only to let you know what the perilous dunderhead has acquired by way of apology.

Your doting daughter,

Alice.

D CDs #492: The Icy Touch

(Note: I'm re-posting this piece, which I originally put up in May, so that it's in the right place in the now-official-and-named "D CDs" series).

I'm having to wade through an awful lot of mind-numbing data-handling tasks at work right now, so to keep me sane, I'm branching out into some new music.  I figured I'd take a look a the Rolling Stones Top 500 Albums (their earlier list, not the new one which I might have to actually pay for).

First up, we have this offering from 1983:


I was a bit on the young side during the Eurythmics heyday, about all I caught first time around was "17 Again", which I actually really loved (I still have a CD single of it somewhere).  Since then, the only Lennox/Stewart song anyone ever seems to talk about is "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)", which isn't unreasonable, since it's a great song.  It does seem to overshadow everything else they did though.

Which isn't necessarily fair, actually.  The opening track (and third single) on Touch, "Here Comes The Rain Again", is I think the better song.  Indeed, I'd argue that its first three minutes represent the best music Eurythmics ever released as a single.

It's a shame it lasts over five minutes, then.  If there's a problem with Touch overall, it's this: more than a few of the tracks don't overcome their basically repetitive natures.  It might be a bit unfair to single this album out for criticism - New Wave as a genre wasn't exactly known for thrilling compositional deviation.  It's also true that there's sufficient variation between tracks - from funk-tinged "Cool Blue" to calypso-filled "Right By Your Side", to cold ballad "Who's That Girl" - that this issue haunts the album rather than torpedoing it.  All that said, though, I think there's something amiss when there's not a single song on a disc that ends before you want it to.

That gripe out of the way, there's an awful lot to like here.  I've mentioned "Here Comes..." already, but "Right By Your Side" is almost as good, combining guitars, synthesised steel drums, tenor sax, whistles and occasional demented vocal yelping from Lennox to create one of music history's most ridiculously upbeat songs on the need for company during an outbreak of depression.  "Who's That Girl" is perhaps a little too underbaked (musically and lyrically) and occasionally reminiscent of "Sweet Dreams..." but it's still worthwhile for the smooth power of Lennox's vocals.  Even the comparatively unremarkable "The First Cut" - the closest this album comes to a throwaway track - contains a chugging riff that sounds like nothing so much as rhythmic gargling.  There's always something going on here, even if sometimes it's going on too long.

Each song has plenty to recommend it, then.  As a complete work, Touch is a little problematic; it's really too tightly controlled and frosty to be truly enjoyable (the most common feeling the music seems to espouse is "Fuck it, whatever; like I care anyway"), though a lack of direct emotional connection shouldn't automatically be considered a bad thing, and as the album passes into its final third you long for it to go all bug-eyed calypso-mental again, just to give your heart some exercise.  Its final track just about does the job; the seven and a half "Paint a Rumour" combines pseudo-Egyptian synthesised pipes and Krafwerk-style computer beeps to sufficiently powerful effect to be almost worth its runtime.

That said, the album still feels pretty front loaded, though I'm not sure if that's actually the case, or whether I just lack the necessary sang-froid to make it to the end without my soul itching to put something on it can dance to, or at least weep uncontrollably through.

Seven tentacles, I think.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A Tale Of Cocktails #35

Screwdriver
.
Ingredients
.
2 oz vodka
6 oz orange juice
Orange slice
.
Taste: 3
Look: 3      
Cost: 9
Name:7
Prep: 8
Alcohol: 3
Overall: 4.2

Preparation: Shake ingredients with ice.  Strain and add orange slice as garnish.
.
General Comments: Gods, this is pointless.  A cocktail amost as unpleasant as it is unimaginative.  Plenty of people like vodka and orange, I realise, but I can't find a single redeeming feature to it.  It's just as foul as neat vodka; just a little bit more acidic.  And then you have almost a full orange to deal with afterwards, a fruit which is also horrible.

Still, at least it's cheap, but then again so is drinking kitchen cleaner, which I don't think would be any less unpleasant so long as it's lemon scented.

Friday, 14 December 2012

D CDs #493: Oscar Mike Golf


Ever since this album came out in 2001, talk around these 'ere intertubes has had it that the disc is one of those near-perfect albums that work seamlessly as a whole, and are entirely irreducible, in the sense that one cannot lop off any given track without the experience suffering.

Which is obviously nonsense, because the first track isn't very good at all.  "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" is an overlong chore, a formless mess through which Jeff Tweedy attempts some kind of free-association ramble that proves even more surely than Roddy Woomble's work that Michael Stipe's approach to songwriting isn't nearly so easy at it looks (which is probably why Stipe himself stopped being really able to do it by Reveal at the latest).

That's the bad news.  The good news is that "... Break Your Heart" stands out so badly entirely because the rest of this album is so wonderful; a gentle, sorrowful swirl that fades and swells. "War and War" would be the most glorious slice of understated indie pop I've heard all year except "Kamera" is on here as well. "Radio Cure" a crumbling request for assistance from another that threatens to blow away into dust even as you're listening, even if the central line - "Distance has no way of making love understandable" - has it entirely backwards: distance is the only means by which we find the space to hold our love to the light and figure out what it contains.  And if Belle and Sebastian aren't anymore going to write the kind of stunning hushed ballads that were once their stock and trade, "Jesus, Etc" demonstrates they weren't uniquely gifted in that regard.

In short, there's a four-song cycle on the first half of the disc that's utterly impeccable.  It's also just a warm-up for the album's spine-chilling centre-point, "Ashes Of American Flags", a song so baffling in it's perfection that it seems a disservice to even attempt to describe it with anything more than a wide-eyed expression of wonder.

With it's exceptional payload delivered, the album seems content to put its feet up and just enjoy itself.  All of the remaining four tracks before the final song seem possessed of a sense of optimism harder to find on the disc's earlier songs.  I'd be tempted to suggest they aren't quite as interesting as a result, but then I'm a miserable bastard, and that's not Wilco's fault.  In any case, "not quite as interesting" is still light-years away from anything approaching "bad", and frankly I'd imagine plenty of people would be keen for a breather after all that maudlin wallowing; "Pot Kettle Black" being a particularly enjoyable tonic in that regard.

Indeed, the only points where the album so much as slightly stumble are the tracks written by Tweedy alone.  "...Break Your Heart" I've already panned, but "Heavy Metal Drummer" feels pretty throwaway, and album closer "Reservations" ends up somewhat testing the patience.  Based on this set, it's a real shame Tweedy concluded his co-writer Jay Bennett was surplus to requirements, because the evidence seems clear here that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot could never have been what it was through the effort of one man alone.

Eight and a half tentacles.

Friday Paint Desk

It's been a little while since any painted models showed up on the blog, so here's a look at what's on the painting table right now.

First up, another one of those giant ships I've been gradually chipping away at since last Christmas.


Next, a desperate attempt to finish my second Space Hulk Terminator given to me on my 30th birthday, which I'd like to be done before I turn 33 next month.


And finally, the merchant from Talisman.  Not the most interesting miniature imaginable (I've painted him with black skin though, just to make the realm a little less monochrome), but he is at least remarkable for his... very fine hat.


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

A Tale Of Cocktails #34

White Lady
.
Ingredients
.
2 oz gin
1 oz Triple Sec
1 oz lemon juice
.
Taste: 8
Look: 4        
Cost: 7  
Name: 8
Prep: 8
Alcohol: 7
Overall: 6.9

Preparation: Shake ingredients with ice.  Strain and serve.
 .
General Comments: Damn, but this is tart. Which, obviously, is awesome.  It kicks like a mule, as well, which hardly hurts.  It's not exactly cheap, and it doesn't look like much, but if you're not afraid of cocktail in which the sweetest ingredient is a faintly bitter orange liqueur, there's plenty here to enjoy.  It's no small feat to put together a cocktail that's fifty percent gin without it taking everything over ("Always drink gin with a mark, kid; they can never tell if it's cut"), but the lemon juice more than holds its own, and the Triple Sec is always lurking in the background.

Very much like that name, too.  Indicative of elegant parties of the kind Poirot always shows up at just before someone is shot and everyone thinks a car has backfired.

Unless that image is racist.  Is it?  Is it racist?  I mean, whenever I've run up against a woman who's slowly pickled herself in gin, they're always white.  But maybe I'm just hanging around the wrong dipsomaniacs.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Wolverine, But With Half The Calories!


Because she's brilliant, Abigail Brady had the genius idea of pinning down Paul Cornell and Kieron Gillen on the question of what happens if Wolverine is bisected, skull to groin.

I think it's pretty clear that Cornell is wrong, here, but let's play around with the idea for a bit.  If we do bisect Wolverine, there are four basic possible outcomes (for Wolverine; the researcher themselves is almost certainly going to wind up dead at the conclusion of the experiment):
  1. Wolverine dies;
  2. One half of Wolverine rebuilds itself into Wolverine, the other half rots;
  3. Both halves of Wolverine rebuild themselves in Wolverine;
  4. Both halves of Wolverine attempt to rebuild themselves, but only one is actually Wolverine, the other being some messed-up nightmare creature, or something.
Cornell plumps for 2 (Gillen for 3), but the problems with this are obvious.  If only one half of Logan can return, which one is it?  One obvious answer is that it must be the one containing the majority of the heart, but then does that mean that were one to utterly disintegrate Wolverine's right side, he'd drop dead?  That's clearly not the case, at least not these days; there doesn't seem to be anything necessary to total recovery so long as the skeleton remains, which makes any argument on the grounds of asymmetric organ-packing profoundly unconvincing.

So if we assume it can't be as simple as picking the "regrowable" side, earthworm-style, what does that leave us?  If, for example, we were to clone Wolverine (and then cover that clone's skeleton with adamantium), and immolate opposing halves of each of our two Logans, we'd surely end up with two Logans again fairly quickly (and, as a result, half the already meagre life-expectancy of our fearless lab techs).  What's the difference between that experiment and a lateral bisection?

I think the only real explanation is some kind of hand-wavey nod to the soul, or perhaps in more secular terms, Logan's will to survive.  He can survive losing either half of his body, but if he's chopped in two, one side will somehow want it more, and become the true Wolverine, whilst the other becomes something different.  You still get two people, or two life-forms, depending on how you look at it (option 4 above would be the most obvious choice of how to run with a bisection actually occurring in the comics, which is certainly not to say trying it would be even a remotely good idea).  You could even surrender to cliche and give each half different traits from the original.  Indeed, Wolverine & The X-Men: Alpha and Omega already gave us one suggestion, albeit under very different circumstances, featuring as it did a rational but amnesiac Logan and a drooling violent animalistic Wolverine.

In that respect, "only one Wolverine" makes sense as a summary, albeit whilst making no sense at all as an actual logical position (and yes, I'm aware that applying logic to superhero comics is inherently ridiculous; but if you don't find it fun nonetheless, then frankly I rather pity you).  Me, I'd go for option 3, and damn the torpedoes.  Hell, do it right, and for the first time in twenty years Wolverine's appearances across the Marvel line might actually make some sense.

(X-posted at Year X)

Justice Long-Delayed

Like bleedin' clockwork, I'm in a good mood about the way the world is changing and the Tories come along to harsh my buzz.

Actually, there's a lot to celebrate here; gay marriages by 2014, and two Christian/semi-Christian denominations planning to do the right thing and start marrying homosexual couples as quickly as possible.  Given the last Tory government gave us the truly disgusting Section 28, this progress is worthy of praise, even if "We're not going to be openly hateful shits anymore" isn't really the most inspiring political turnaround imaginable.

But it's the idea of refusing to acknowledge a gay marriage performed by a member of the Church of England clergy that pisses me off.  This has been pointed out more than once by other people, but it's worth saying again in this context: anyone who argues they fear for freedom of religion and supports this provision is a fraud.  Legally constraining C of E clergy who support gay marriage is the exact fucking opposite of freedom of religion, and yet it's being supported by a raft of Tories because it's an abridgement of religious freedom that ties in with their private, petty bigotries.

But history marches on.  Twenty years from now, any ultra-right Tory MP who speaks out against gay marriage will be shot down by their colleagues.  Fifty years from now, they'll claim they were in favour of gay marriage the whole time, and it's those pesky left-wingers who are the real homophobes.

One hundred years from now, they'll be using same-sex marriage of an example of a noble British institution in danger of being eroded by the lack of values demonstrated by the 22nd century's young people.  And so it will go on, always and forever; the poisoning of the present, the denial of the future, and the appropriation of the past.  Each step of the way, demanding that if they have to stop being small-minded shits, it'd be really dangerous to not do it very, very slowly.

Stop And Look Back At How Far We've Come

Some lovely pictures to cheer you up (unless you're a bigot, obviously, in which case you've really come to the wrong place) on this hideous morning [1]: the first day of gay marriages in Washington State .

I can't help noting that the gentlemen on the left in the second photo looks a little like your humble blogger.  Obviously, it isn't actually me; the fact he's marrying a man is almost as big a clue as the fact he's not marrying a redhead.

(Via Balloon Juice)
[1] Actually, I'm loving it.  The heating is broken in my office, which means for the first time this year a small room containing two people and two computers isn't too hot to stand.  If only it could be demonstrated to my office-mate that you can't fix a radiator through constant bitching, life would be perfect.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

"Are They Called That Because They 'Pre-Date' Humanity?"


Courtesy of Channel 4 I finally caught Predators last night (thus bringing me up to speed with the increasingly out-of-control Aliens/Predators franchise), and I must confess, I'm baffled the film didn't receive a warmer welcome than it did.

There's no doubt in my mind - absolutely none - that it's a significantly better film than Predator (which in turn places it above Predator 2 and both Alien vs Predator movies, of course).  It's faster and better-paced, for a start.  There's obviously no way it'll ever win any awards for characterisation, of course, but that's hardly a mortal wound to a film like this.  Indeed, it does almost as well with fleshing out the 'grunts', and far, far better with the central character.  And yes, whilst the best I can really say about Adrien Brody here is that he's not quite as miscast as I'd originally assumed (it would be very interesting to see some alternate-universe copy of the film which switches Brody and Laurence Fishburne around), he's still twenty times more convincing as a hard-bitten military killer than Schwarzenegger managed, if only because hard-bitten military killers can generally speak without sounding like they're reading from cue cards.

As far as I can see, there's only really two major criticisms to be hurled at the film.  One is that an average 80s action movie with one good idea is actually superior to a slightly-above average 21st century action movie with plenty of good ideas based on that 80s idea, because at least Predator is of its time.  There's a lot of things to say both in defence of an in objection to that idea, but for now I'll just say that half of that argument could apply to anything one might be tempted to slap the term "retro" in front of, which seems to me a mistake, and the second half of that argument would force one to conclude that Alien is superior to Aliens.  Which, in fairness, a lot of people claim.  All of them are wrong.

Indeed, the Predators is to Predator as Aliens is to Alien comparison can take us further, and not because of the similarity of pluralisation and the (fulfilled) promise of multiple critters (and even critter types) it implies. This gets us to the second plausible avenue of criticism, which is that both Predators and Aliens start off with fantastic central mysteries that the audience already know much of the motivation behind.  This isn't so serious a problem for Cameron's sequel, because the scenes preceding the reactor battle are focussed on Ripley's mounting Cassandra-like dread and the implicit horrors that have gone on at Hadley's Hope.  With Predators, though, you have a bunch of people who have never met wake up in free-fall having been kidnapped from various places across the world, and who find themselves on an alien planet surrounded by empty and very large cages.

That's a cracking set-up, right there, that only gets better as the protagonists piece together what's going on whilst dodging death-traps and alien beasts.  Once the unseen threat starts using the voices of their own dead to both lure and taunt them, you've got a genuinely solid slice of sci-fi with a nice dash of horror.  It's a real shame that the whole way through you know that a bunch of Predators are going to show up and start taking skulls.

In short, then, you have what's not far from being the paragon of any film based around the Predator.  The only problem the film genuinely suffers from is that this is just too low a ceiling, and in trying its best to break out of those limitations, it really only succeeds in making you wonder what it could have managed by playing it's own world, rather than borrowing someone else's.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Completely Unacceptable National Telephone Service

BT must have been delighted when Deepwater Horizon exploded and pumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  Not because they hate seagulls (though who doesn't?), but because for a couple of months, the UK's foremost telephone provider got to only be the second worst company in the world with the word "Britain" in their names.

In the two months and dozen-odd phonecalls since I first let BT know I was moving house, they have:
  1. Forced me to wait a week so that they could "correct the code" on my new house, which was listed in the wrong county.
  2. Failed to disconnect my previous phone-line despite being told - twice - when I was leaving.
  3. Charged me for the seventeen day period between my leaving and getting their shit together.
  4. Billed me £130 for a new landline despite assuring me I would get free installation in exchange for extending my contract.
  5. Cancelled the installation of that new landline last week without telling me.
  6. Left me on hold for half an hour whilst they tried to find out why they'd cancelled, for which they still haven't been able to find a reason.
  7. Told me the next available installation date wouldn't be until the 16th of January.
  8. Told me they could arrange an earlier visit than that, only to tell me they in fact can't, and never could, because early visits are only for emergencies, not clearing up their own mistakes.
  9. Promise to have a complaints handler phone me to help with my problem, who didn't phone on the day promised.
  10. Told me I might be able to get the money BT owes me as a discount on later bills, rather than actually reimbursing me - if indeed I get it back at all.
  11. Hung up on me twice whilst I've been trying to sort this all out.
  12. Refuse to give me free access to the BT wi-fi service I'm in the catchment area for.
It's that last one that's really enraging.  They know they've screwed up, they know there's a way to give me at least some of what they promised to deliver whilst they sort out their mistakes, and they just won't do it.

UPDATE: Fifteen minutes after I posted this, BT rang back to tell me they've given in on points 10 and 12.  So that's definite progress, at least.

"'Gainst The Dragons Of Anger, The Ogres Of Greed..."

Once again SpaceSquid serves up a delicious dish from yesteryear, the oddly blood-soaked hack-n-slash Moonstone: A Hard Day's Night.

I adored this game as a kid, which since I didn't own it meant I taxed my friends's patience to the limit by constantly demanding we play it whenever I was over at their place (sometimes we seemed to be the only middle-class family in the county to lack an Amiga).  Playing it some eighteen years on, I'm amazed I ever thought it particularly difficult (there are basically nine types of opponent to face, and you just have to remember which tactic works best against each one), but it's still an awful lot of fun to carve your way through Baloks, Troggs (who look like ratmen) and Ratmen (who look like Critters).  Plus you get to slay the occasional dragon.  What's not to love?

A Tale Of Cocktails #33

Metropolitan
.
Ingredients
.
1 1/2 oz vokda
1 1/2 oz Chambord
1 1/2 oz cranberry juice
1 1/2 oz orange juice
2 cranberries
lemon wedge
caster sugar
.
Taste: 4
Look: 8        
Cost: 8  
Name: 9
Prep: 7
Alcohol: 4
Overall: 6.4

Preparation: Run the lemon wedge around the edge of the glass and then frost with caster sugar.  Shake ingredients with ice.  Strain, garnish with cranberries, and serve.
 .
General Comments: Man, that's a lot of trouble to go to to get a drink that tastes like muddy orange juice.  It doesn't help that I don't like vodka, but the real issue here is that both the Chambord (ounce for ounce the most expensive ingredient I've used yet) and the cranberry are buried far too low in the mix.  This is basically an expensive screwdriver with some weird, unidentifiable twist.

Looks great, though (if you ignore the crap in the edges of that photo; the Other Half and I don't have much in the way of free space right now), and even given my allergy to DC I have to admit the name rocks.  I shall have to try this again with less vodka.  Or possibly with gin.  You can't go wrong with gin.