Thursday, December 07, 2017

Ending in Fire

I'm a little hesitant to write this post. It has been my contention for some time that anyone who interprets politics through the lens of Harry Potter is equivalent to Dolores Umbridge teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts: lacking a proper understanding of the subject, they're forced to revert back to an inadequate textbook.

And yet, I'm about the note a big parallel between UK politics and "Babylon 5". But, oh well.

So, here it is: in B5, the Centauri Republic most readily match up to the UK - a proud, decadent people, that are somehow both a democracy and ruled by an emperor, long since past their prime, and busily sucking up to the Earth Alliance (that is: America).

In this arrangement, Nigle Farage is Londo Mollari, and especially in his answer to the famous "What do you want?" question: "Do you really want to know what I want? Do you really want to know the truth? I want my people to reclaim their rightful place in the galaxy. I want to see the Centauri stretch forth their hand again and command the stars. I want a rebirth of glory, a renaissance of power! I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment, afraid to look back or look forward. I want us to be what we used to be! I want... I want it all back the way it was. Does that answer your question?"

(There's a really big weakness of the analogy right here - in the show Londo is deeply flawed, but he's actually a sympathetic, albeit tragic, fgure.)

Of course, things don't go well for our hero. But I'll get to that.

As the show progresses, the various species eventually find common ground in the Interstellar Alliance, of which the Centauri are somewhat uncomfortable members. So, that's the EU. Meanwhile, through a combination of mad circumstances, the Centauri find themselves ruled by a spectacularly weak Regent (May), who is being influenced or controlled by shadowy figures called the Drakh (Boris, Gove).

And following a further sequence of events, apparently caused by the Centauri, but really brought about by the secret influence of the Drakh, the Centauri Empire declare that they are leaving the Interstellar Alliance in order to stand alone. So far, so Brexit-y.

Unfortunately, what happens next is "The Fall of Centauri Prime", and a generation of misery for the people of that Republic.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Passing of Irn Bru

Today I finally saw news that I'd been expecting, and dreading, for a year: Barrs have decided to reduce the sugar content in Irn Bru, replacing it with artificial sweeteners. Come January next year, barring a miraculous reversal of this nonsense, I will have to give it up.

And there I was thinking that 2017 hadn't been as bad as 2016.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Captain Ric: To Infinity and Beyond

Terrible news, folks: RiCiCles are being withdrawn from sale. The age old battle between tiger and spaceman has ended in the only way that it could, with the demise of our beloved mascot Captain Ric.

Fortunately, Coco Pops and Frosties remain safe.

For now.

Justice League

LC and I finally made it out to the "Justice League" film last night, one of four (I think) we're still hoping to see before the end of the year (the others being "The Man Who Invented Christmas", possibly "Coco", and of course "The Last Jedi").

But before that, a word about Vue cinemas: I can't say I'm impressed. There are a number of reasons for this. One is the price, which is significantly higher than Cineworld (which was already getting out of hand). A second is that they're still stuck in the dark ages of charging a booking fee for ordering online (it should be the opposite - if we're booking online, not only are we paying in advance, and for tickets we might end up not even using, but we're also saving you staffing costs). The third is the absence of any sort of Unlimited card - given the above, that would be a major boon.

But my biggest issue is the concessions stand. Now, my understanding is that these days cinemas, even grotesquely overpriced cinemas, actually barely break even on the films, and instead make their money on the drinks, popcorn, etc. So I do generally take the view that if you want those things you should get them (and, in particular, not sneak in your own, reasonably-priced, drinks and snacks). However, the flip side of that is that the cinemas really need their staff to be on the ball - it's no good if you get to the cinema, find there's virtually no queue, and then still have to wait to be served, wait while the staff mess around with something else (in this case, "no milk!"), then have to repeat your order several times, and then eventually get it.

On the plus side, that disappointment prepared me nicely for the film.

"Justice League" is fine. It's far, far better than "Batman v Superman", though not as 'good' as "Wonder Woman" (though that film is also vastly overrated - probably due to a combination of being a DC film that doesn't suck, and also being a female-led superhero film that actually made money). There's nothing much wrong with it: there's a coherent story, with a beginning, middle, and end; the actors do their jobs well enough; there's at least some little hint of levity and humour. Basically, it doesn't suck.

But... there's also not really anything in the film that really demands a viewing, and certainly not at £30 for two tickets plus popcorn.

To be honest, I think the only thing in the film that really made any impression was the music, and in particular the reuse of the old Danny Elfman "Batman" theme and the John Williams "Superman" theme. On the one hand, this was a great move, since those are great themes (and since the latest DC versions don't have good themes for those characters). On the other hand, the biggest effect of this was to remind me of other, older versions of the characters that, frankly, I liked more - it's not that Cavill is doing a bad job as Superman, but he's just not Christopher Reeve; and it's not like Affleck's Batman is bad, as such, but both Bale and Keaton did it better.

So, yeah. "Justice League" is okay. But I have no burning desire to see it again, and frankly I'd recommend going to see "Thor: Ragnarok" a second time instead. Or just watching the "Infinity War" trailer, which packs more greatness in two minutes.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

So... Christmas

One of the issues caused by the adverts starting Christmas in July is that it means that as we get towards the end of November I invariably find myself starting to worry because I've barely started yet. Indeed, as a matter of principle I won't be starting my 'real' preparations for Christmas until next Sunday, with the ceremonial decorating of the tree. (Though I have purchased a gift - the office are doing "Secret Santa" this year, and so the deadline for that one is rather earlier than the rest.)

That said, my plans are somewhat advanced for this year, notably in that I have an actual plan.

This year represents the start of me getting properly organised for Christmas, per my guide of last year. That being the case, I've set up my Christmas folder, established the three documents I'll need, and thus got the paperwork ready to record the steps. I've also discussed with LC what we'll be doing in general terms - so I know that in addition to the tree we'll be adding some new decorations for the rest of the house; I know I'll be doing a little, but not much, Christmas cooking; and I know that we'll be heading to the Christmas market in the near future.

Of course, the main thing that I have not done, is come up with much of a list of potential Christmas gifts for other people to get me. The big problem is that there's very little I want or need, and of those things that I do need (mostly, replacements for things that have worn out), my needs are very specific - it's all well and good saying I could do with some band kit, but the reality is that I'll need to pick that out for myself to ensure I get the right size/colour/etc.

But that's not a bad starting point for still being a week short of December.

The Alex Salmond Show

Thanks to the vociferous outrage of the Scottish media, I recently became aware that Alex Salmond has a new show on RT (formerly "Russia Today"). Furthermore, given just how angry the subject made them, I felt I just had to check it out. I'm sure Alex is absolutely gutted at the coverage.

Anyway... it's not great. From the opening credits, which look and feel much like a low-budget equivalent of the Andrew Marr show (lots of Alex walking around, all dramatically shot, but a bit pompous for my taste) through to Alex's presenting style (which I would categorise as "reasonably-good amateur"... which is probably about right), through to their almost determined need to prove they're not Kremlin stooges by calling out Russia/Putin at just about every opportunity.

But...

On the other hand, in the first week the show had an in-depth interview with Carles Puigdemont. Given how poor the media's coverage of the situation in Catalonia, that was most welcome. (And, it should be noted, my opinion on Catalan independence matches that of Alex: I don't have an opinion on whether Catalonia should or should not become independent, but I'm very much of the opinion that that's a matter for the Catalan people to decide.) In the second week, it had a detailed interview with Jackie Stewart that I didn't think would be interesting but which, in the event very much was - his thoughts on both dyslexia and dementia were definitely worth hearing. And despite my distaste for Alastair Campbell, it was worth hearing him stating his case on Brexit (or, rather, the need to call it off).

So, given that, I'm inclined to keep viewing. The presentation of the show isn't great, but hopefully that will improve with time. But the content, which really is the main thing, seems to be well worth seeing.

I guess I should thank the outrage machine of the UK media - if they hadn't spent so much time and effort telling me why I shouldn't watch, I probably wouldn't have known there was something to see.

(One other thing: one of the things I appreciate about the show is that I don't agree with everything that is said. As I said, Alastair Campbell in particular is not my favourite person in the political sphere. The thing is, being exposed to arguments you don't agree with is a good thing - it forces you to justify why you don't agree with them, which helps to refine your thinking.)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Experimental Cookery 2017: Sausage and Chestnut Pasta Bake

This one comes from the "Bake-off Winter Kitchen" cookbook which, it's fair to say, is not one of my most-used tomes. Indeed, it mostly gets used for the tomato sauce for pizzas, which isn't exactly challenging! So this week's experimental cookery was welcome, if for no other reason than that it gave some slight justification for keeping that book - there may need to be another clear-out soon, and a few of the lesser lights will no doubt go at that time.

Being a pasta bake, this meal wasn't exactly hard - there were a few minutes of prep, a few minutes of pre-cooking some of the ingredients, then it all got mixed together and put in a dish, and it went into the oven. Easy.

The resulting meal was also quite enjoyable - it's something I'll probably do again, though it doesn't exactly threaten any of my "nominated nine". My only slight criticism was that the recipe as given resulted in way too much food - even cutting the quantities in half (from 4 servings to 2) left a huge amount over. Still, this wasn't too terrible, as it saved LC from making lunch for the next day.

All in all, I think that was a winner.

#52: "Beren and Luthien", by J.R.R. Tolkien
#53: "Witch Wraith", by Terry Brooks

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Pining for the Golden Age

Just after the Brexit referendum there was a brief spell between David Cameron tendering his resignation to the Queen and Theresa being asked to form a new government. During that time, we technically didn't have a government, and the highest-ranking figure in Downing Street was Larry the Cat.

Any chance we could go back to those halcyon days? Because, frankly, no government is better than a bad government.

#50: "Pathfinder: Into the Shattered Continent", by Robert Brookes
#51: "Bloodfire Quest", by Terry Brooks

Monday, October 30, 2017

Germinal

As I noted in my previous post, at the weekend I finished the 49th book of this year, "Germinal" by Zola, which is a book from the list. After some consideration, I have decided that it is not the book of the year, but it is very good.

Like "The Grapes of Wrath", I found that it depressed and angered me in equal measure. Angered because of the manifest injustice depicted in the novel (although, it should be noted, it was decidedly, and deliberately, one-sided). Depressed because the novel, despite being more than a hundred years old, could very easily have been written about Thatcher's Britain... and removed from the context of a miners' strike specifically it could have been written about in-work poverty today.

(It also didn't help that it was clear, pretty much from the outset, that those who thought of themselves as the saviours of the strikers were manifestly not suited to the job, whether due to self-interest or simple naivety. Indeed, the person with the clearest vision of how genuine change might come about turned out to be an utter, utter bastard... which, yes, is about right.)

Even the supposedly upbeat ending is pretty depressing - the protagonist walks away hopeful that change is coming, and change did indeed come. Unfortunately, the name for that change was "the Russian Revolution", which didn't go so well.

So, can I recommend it? Well, um... maybe. If you're in the mood for a French novel about a doomed miners' strike, and all the poverty and despair that goes with it, I guess so. But if you like happy books, not so much.

Experimental Cookery 2017: Lemon Chicken

Somewhere in all the excitement of last week, I forgot to write up the latest Experimental Cookery. This was another entry from the Hairy Dieters' third book "Good Eating" (the green cover). By my count, this is the weakest of the books to date, possibly excluding their "Go Veggie" book (which I haven't tried), but it's still not bad - it's just that the one with the Yellow cover takes some beating.

Anyway, this meal was quick and easy to produce - just chop some ingredients, mix them in the right order, stir-fry a bit, and serve. All in all, it took about 30 minutes end to end.

And it tasted fine - this was another one that I'm sure we'll do again, though perhaps not right away. It's a good one to have in the repertoire, but not an everyday staple.

So, that's another win. I'm not sure when the next Experimental Cookery will be - I'm running a little low on inspiration right now. But hopefully not too long...

#49: "Germinal", by Émile Zola (a book from The List)