Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Thing 68: Done!!!

Apologies apologies, once again, blah blah blah, same old story, etc etc.

But look at the title of this post! I come with interesting news!

Less than two years into my 1001 days I have read 101 books! Fabulous, what?

That makes 23 things done, and so many still left to do. I became resigned to the fact that I wouldn't get them all done some time ago, but am still determined to get a lot more of them completed in the next year, just as I am to eventually pick up the pace with this blog and get it somewhere near a regular thing again.

See you in the New Year?

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Things Completed

In my all, "being lax on blogging because I'm doing engagement and wedding related stuff" I have neglected to mention that I have recently completed two more of my 101 things.

Thing number 12
I filled my Terramundi finally! In case you don't know, a Terramundi is kind of a piggybank. And after just under two years I filled it up with one pound and two pound coins.

Thing number 70
Finally watched 30 films, and so will keep an ongoing list of the films that I'm watching.

Sorry I'm not more chatty with the post, just got so much to do today! More soon, I promise.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Once again, time slips

Sorry to anyone who continues to check this blog! I have been lax of late, since my return from Japan, not because I have not been doing anything towards my 101/1001, but because I have been doing so much else besides as well that it has been difficult to update this blog. I need to build some time into my day/week in order to do this more. In fact, I have some half-written posts about the end of my US Road Trip that I should finish soon, and lots and lots of pictures from that trip to upload to Flickr too.

Why has it been taking me a long time to write? Well...

...I got engaged!!! So my time has been invested instead in thinking about engagement party planning, wedding planning, life planning, work planning - lots of planning! It's all good, and sooner or later I will establish some rhythm to my life - at the moment there is not so much rhythm to my days, hours and weeks as there is freeform happiness.

Life is very good, and I hope to continue sharing that in the near future. 'Til then, take care, and do check back.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Oh, hello!

It's been nearly a month since I wrote on here, and so much has happened, as I'm sure you can guess from my last posts. I went back to Japan! So I have a lot to tell you about regarding that, details of the trip, the wedding that I went to, the culinary delights (and others) that I tried, and so on and so forth. I had a really great time, and am still feeling slightly tired from it all.

I still have to finish writing about my time in America, which I think I need to do soon in order to make sure that I get everything down. I want to have finished writing about both trips before Nanowrimo starts, and October and November are going to be quite busy with work as well. Busy busy busy!

In the last few weeks I've read a couple of books and seen four films as well - and just like that I am within a stone's throw of completing two of my goals - to read 101 books and see 30 films at the cinema. I now have only seven more books to read and one more film to see at the cinema! I want to read those seven other books before the end of the year (which sounds immediately doable, but remember that I won't be reading anything during Nanowrimo, and I have a stack of magazines that I subscribe to I need to read), and it's entirely possible that I will go to see that final film some time in the next week or so.

(not that it will be the last film that I see until I am thirty! You know what I mean)

Anyways, this post is an update and a prelude: in the next few days I am hoping that there will be a deluge of posts that will hit this blog. That's what I am planning for anyway. So, you'll hear all about my trip very soon I hope!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Thing 39, Japan, about to begin

I know that I haven't finished writing up my American Road Trip (or even uploading the pictures to Flickr), but time has rolled around, and tomorrow I leave for Japan! In fact, I leave home tonight as am staying at girlfriend's this evening as she lives closer to the airport.

It may be three weeks until I blog again, unless I get something down while I'm travelling. As with the USA trip I will be writing notes as I go, so there will be a series of posts when I get back.

So, until the next time I'm back, I hope you take care, keep well and do amazing things!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Thing 65: Done!!!

It's only in completing this goal that I realise just how straightforward it was, I mean, 101 pictures is not very much, right? But consider: before this I would only ever take my camera with me on a holiday. I would never think to take it on a night out, and I certainly wouldn't think to take it out with me during the day time, what would the point of that be?

Now my camera is part of my mental checklist, part of the kit that I try to remember to have with me when I am going out. It doesn't mean that it is always in my bag or my pocket, but I am getting better. And I'm really excited about sharing photos with people! I'm not sure that I would ever get so far along as to have a super-fantastic amazing camera, but I think that I will be taking photos more and more as time goes on. Perhaps for my next 101 things my goal will be to take 1001 pictures and share them on Flickr?

Enough about the future, I still have to try and accomplish as many of these 101 things as I can. For now, I hope that you enjoy my photos over on Flickr, my photostream can be seen by clicking here.

That makes 19 things done!

Road Trip: Colorado to Nevada, Part 2

It was a few moments after the fact that we realised we had crossed the border into Arizona; we had started the day by breakfasting on corn dogs and other savouries that we were able to get from a nearby gas station, and so neither of us was feeling in a particularly great mood - perhaps that is why we were suddenly so surprised to be in Arizona. As we realised it we tried to rack our brains, but neither of us remembered passing a sign announcing the different state.

No matter though, we were headed for Flagstaff, our old friend the I40 and Historic Route 66!

Like Utah, Arizona surprised us with its beauty. How did we not know about the beauty and majesty of the deserts and rocks before we left? Were we that clueless, or was it that we were so fixated on the "landmarks" and "destinations" on our trip that we really hadn't thought about the places that we would be driving through? It's a shame to say that due to our lack of knowledge, we spent many drive days just chatting along the way, stopping every few hours to stretch our legs while walking around a shopping centre or outlet mall, when there were probably many lovely natural attractions that we could have seen but for our ignorance.

Once again, our supply of coupon books helped us out when we arrived in Flagstaff and we found a good price at a Howard Johnson. It was a nice room, but we hadn't paid as much attention to our surroundings as we perhaps should have. Why was the restaurant next door (which incidentally served a great dinner and breakfast) decked out with so much train stuff? Again, we were clueless, and the answer made itself known loud and clear half an hour after we checked in, as a cargo train went past on the trainline not thirty metres from the motel. The trains that ran on the line were so long that we stopped counting the cars after a few minutes. At least they stopped running through at about 11pm...

...only to start again shortly after 6 the next morning...

Oh well. After a hearty breakfast we set off along Route 66, trying to soak up the atmosphere of the many travellers who had gone before us. We stopped in Seligman at the Roadkill Cafe for a quick drink and two games of pool (both of which Dave won easily), and then went on to Kingman, our goal for the day. The motel was basic, but comfortable enough, and although we could find nothing noteworthy to go and see in the local area there were plenty of shops! (of course)

We passed the afternoon looking around various malls, and Dave spent a happy half an hour in a 'Boot Barn' trying to decide just how cowboy he really wanted to go. Again we rested up in the evening, because although the next day had comparatively few miles for us to drive we would be spending some time at the Hoover Dam before heading on to the number one place that we had both been looking forward to on the whole trip, Las Vegas.

The day started well with a delicious IHOP breakfast, and though Dave and I might have disagreed about quite a few things on the trip there was one opinion on which both of us are agreed and will not be swayed from: we need International House of Pancakes to establish itself in the United Kingdom. The drive to the Hoover Dam was fine, although of course it was very busy when we arrived there. The size of it, and reading a lot of the information at the visitors centre, one can appreciate just how incredible a feat of engineering it really is. Sixteen tons of cement dropped every ninety seconds for two years!!! Wow. We stood and gawped with the masses for some time, but the siren song of Las Vegas was calling us, and so we set off again.

Traffic was busy, and I know that it took a few hours, but it seemed like no time at all that we were hanging a right on to the Strip, and driving past all of the sights and sounds that we knew so well.

We had arrived.


Road Trip: Colorado to Nevada, Part 1

Fort Collins had been a lovely stop for both of us, but we were both eager to get on the road to Las Vegas, and our proposed stop for the day was Grand Junction - no short distance from Fort Collins. After a hasty breakfast and a quick jaunt on the internet to book something very special for the end of our time in Las Vegas we were on the road south to Denver again.

The changes as we were driving through Colorado were sometimes abrupt; one minute we were headed towards this city sprawl, a sudden right turn to get on to the interstate that we wanted and we were going past mining areas; ten minutes more and we were headed uphill, uphill, uphill... The scenery was quite literally breathtaking at times - mind you, the altitude that we were at might have had something to do with that impression. At the highest point that was marked with a sign, we were at 11,000 feet above sea level, and at that point we noticed that the car was struggling to do over 40mph; for a moment we were very concerned, but then looking around we noticed that many other drivers seemed to be having similar difficulties.

Winding our way along with the Colorado River, me frequently nervous about cliff faces and Dave frequently moaning about not having the opportunity or time to go rafting, we saw so many amazing rock formations and areas of natural beauty that it made me wonder why I had never ventured into the USA before. Already we had seen so many amazing and wonderful things on the trip, that I knew (sadly) I would never be able to remember them all, and yet there was still so much before us.

Grand Junction was a great place to stop at for the night, not far from the border with Utah, not least because we had had a long drive that day (over 300 miles). Once again we were blessed as the motel had a restaurant (meat loaf, mashed potatoes, beans and gravy, served with their 'famous' - and delicious - flowerpot loaf), and breakfast was included in the cost of staying at the motel too. We were exceptionally lucky the next morning too, as shortly after breakfast the power went off in the area. From our room we could see people wandering around the street outside to different gas stations, trying all of them to see if they had power, and looking increasingly confused when the answer was "No" every time.

After the previous day's wonderful scenery, we were really just looking forward to making our way to Bluff, Utah, our proposed stopover point for the night, We thought that desert driving would be pretty, sure, but nothing compared to the wonderful mountains and rivers of Colorado. How wrong we were...

The deserts of Utah, long hot roads and incredible valleys, were totally different from Colorado, and beautiful, indescribable in comparison to the sights that we had seen the previous day. And Utah had mountains too! And rivers! We were spoiled for choice that day in our drive down to Bluff; the scenery was so spectacular that we cut short our afternoon in Moab so that we could take our time driving from there on.

I don't know which one of us noticed it first, but after a time we noticed some storm clouds ahead. The road veered this way and that, but it soon became clear that we were going to be driving right through the middle of it. Ah well, no matter, it didn't look that bad, not like on the TV with all of the hail. It was, however, to be one of the strangest moments of the trip... Utah is really hot, and the digital readout on the car had been sitting at about 105 degrees since late morning. I happened to glance at it.

"Look Dave, we're down to 95! The cloud cover must be really thick..."
(remember, dear reader, that we had the air-con maxed out here, so we couldn't feel the external temperature)
And a few minutes later, after we had been talking, I happened to glance, did a double take and exclaimed:
"Dude! The gauge is down to 80!"
Dave and I looked at each other, both of us had said only a few days earlier how much we liked The Day After Tomorrow.
And a minute later:
In the space of ten minutes in total, the temperature gauge dropped over 40 points, eventually settling on 59 degrees for five or ten minutes as we cleared the rest of the cloud cover, before steadily climbing back up. The rain itself wasn't even that heavy, but the incident made quite an impression on us, and was something that we were both still talking about when we got to San Francisco.

Bluff is a lovely town, small, but with a lot to offer. The Desert Rose Inn was not cheap compared to many of the motels that we stopped off at on our journey, but its log cabin style and wonderful setting made it one of the nicest places that we stopped at on the road. Dinner was taken care of by the Cottonwood Steakhouse just up the road, and we felt great at the end of the night.

We slept well and rested up: the next day we would head on into Arizona.


Tuesday, 8 September 2009

New Moon & Eclipse

The second and third books of the Twilight saga took me four days to work my way through, which is a strange way of putting it because at no time did it feel like a chore or hard work to be reading them. Not that the books are "easy to read," as Meyer is doing some quite interesting world-building in her books, mixing a real world setting which jumps out at you as real with supernatural characters that walk off the page just as naturally as the Washington State setting.

Romance is the order of the day, and in case there is someone reading this who hasn't read the books and is spoiler-phobic, I'll try to stick to plot points that don't give too much away. As with Twilight, Meyer continues everything from the first person perspective of Bella, and for the most part this works wonderfully; Bella is a real person, full of passion and emotion and contradiction - she changes her mind, she wants one thing one moment and then the next her mind is in turmoil as she realises what that means. In some ways she is not a very likeable character, and it's to Meyer's credit that you continue to feel so engaged by her heroine.

New Moon and Eclipse build to a love triangle between the lead and her two beaus, Edward and Jacob, who are on opposite sides of a feud started long before Bella was born. This has developed some way in New Moon and by the start of Eclipse you can see the storm clouds gathering on the horizon, and know that someone is going to end up hurt, no matter what happens. Running parallel to this, and for my own taste perhaps not shown enough, is a conflict that is brewing all the while; it takes a long time to come to a head, and even then I was left feeling perhaps that not enough was done with the continuing plot thread from Twilight regarding the vampire Victoria. But as I said at the start of the previous paragraph, romance is the order of the day; Meyer doesn't neglect the action and suspense, but you are in no doubt from the start as to where her focus lies.

Books two and three of the Twilight saga in no way diminish from what has gone before in the first book; Eclipse especially is a fantastic read, really drawing you further into the supernatural world that Bella has found herself belonging to. I don't have the fourth part, Breaking Dawn, but I know that I will read it before too long. Given the ending of Eclipse and the plot threads left dangling I have absolutely no idea where the story is going to go, or what is going to happen, but I am sure that it will be an entertaining and interesting read whatever happens.

Haiku, early September 2009

And finally haiku from the last week; this takes the total up to an even 50, halfway through my personal haiku goal. I've decided to put them altogether into some kind of pdf or something at the end, and maybe there'll be between six and twelve that are half decent!

The difficult choice,
To do it on the morrow
Or to stay up late...

The rain keeps falling,
Vanish, like my tears, an

We preen and we pose,
For what? Life comes to its close
And nobody knows...

Evil moth sits and stares,
Pretends not to notice that
I have noticed it

Dumb dickhead chav kids,
Riding bikes and swearing lots
Because it's 'clever'

Funny smell on train,
Oh, but it's not me again;
Hmm, what is that stain?

As the train pulls in,
I think about pulling out
And what that could mean

I catch the train (just)
All out of puff, and shiver,
Then count my blessings

Haiku, August 2009

All but the last of the following were written while I was in San Francisco; a particular group, easily identifiable by their content, were written while I was waiting (momentarily frustrated) in the lobby of the Renoir Hotel.

I sit deflated,
Tired; am I sick? Hope not!
Have lots still to do.

And you lie to me,
And I let you, sweet smile,
Heart still skipping beats.

I circle your mouth,
Gently stroking and touching
With my fingertip

your hand is in mine -
I feel it - over here
in another land

In San Francisco,
I wait for the computer.
My sunburn tingles.

I know he's paying
But does he have to type slow?
And print out so much?

He left it at last,
But shut it down! Sigh - and sigh! -
The log off is fine

the power to change
how others make me feel
mine, and mine alone

Haiku, June and July

It's some time since I have shared haiku that I have been writing, actually since before I went on my road trip; but that doesn't mean that I haven't been writing them, far from it. In the next few posts I've collected together some of the haiku that I've been jotting down in my Moleskine over the summer, and eventually ending up in the first week of September. As ever, let me know if you like them! I'm not always sure that I do by the time I come to share them, maybe one in ten stands out at me as something neat or interesting.

A note: some of these are quite specific, and were obviously influenced by things going on around me at the time, so I think I might add some commentary in the comments at a later date (but one not too far in the future).


She always teases,
Pointing out my shortcomings.
I laugh, but she's right.

It is not a dream;
I never want to forget
This wonderful day


The mirror cracks wide,
I can't see myself inside,
The old me has died?

Fingers go walking;
It's spring down in the valley
I can't help myself.

Your nails rake me,
The sensation makes me gasp!
Your soft lips delight.

So... The Blue Man Group?
Or David Copperfield?!
But... Jerry Seinfeld!

An Angus Burger
Is dirty, but Taco Bell
Is really much worse...

(the latter two were written while I was in Las Vegas)

District 9

It seems like only yesterday since I said that Inglourious Basterds was my second favourite film of the year after Star Trek (oh wait, I think it was yesterday, and if I didn't say it in so many words that was what I was thinking). But that was until yesterday evening when I saw District 9, a film whose premise had captivated me since I first heard of it earlier in the year.

I didn't see much of the viral campaign for the film, although when I was in the USA I saw plenty of signs (especially in Los Angeles) on bus shelters advertising the fact that they were for humans only, and by this point I knew a bit more about the film's story. Nearly thirty years ago a spaceship stopped over Johannesburg, seemingly broken down and unable to move. The aliens onboard were relocated to the ground, and now all of those years later are being forcibly relocated to another settlement camp, while they and their technology are being exploited by a shady multinational...

District 9 does many things that one might expect from a sci-fi film if you have narrow expectations of the genre: there are aliens and ray guns, explosions and technology - but there is so much more. It's a story of a man, genuinely changed (physically and spiritually) by what he sees, when he is forced to look at the world that he now lives in. It's a story of oppression, and how both sides view that. For a film with a fraction of the budget of something like Star Trek or Transformers 2 it has special effects which go beyond being special - the alien creatures never fail to convince, never fail to not seem real - and the bonus that it has over many of the summer blockbusters that I've seen this year is that it has a genuinely fascinating, original and brilliant story.

Star Trek is still warping ahead of the other contenders in the field, but District 9 is a great film, highly recommended from me to you, and well worth your time and money to see.


There are several of the goals on my list that I'm actively working towards, or at least have stuff getting ready in the wings. A big one of these is my Japan trip, but I'll write about that separately soon - now I'm just going to concentrate on a few others.

Thing 9: Address Book
I bought an address book a while ago, and have slowly been populating it with names and contact details; I dropped the ball before I went away by accidentally deleting someone's address when they sent it to me and not writing it in the book, so I don't think I have the right to claim number 9 as completed yet. But soon.

Thing 12: Fill Terramundi
The piggybank, which I've been filling with one and two pound coins is really heavy now, and getting quite full. I'm not sure how much there will be in there when it is done, but it feels good to have been casually saving this money by putting the odd pound in every few days.

Thing 44: Sci-fi Convention
I don't think I mentioned before I went away, but I booked tickets to go to the SFX Weekender in February next year! Very excited about this!

Thing 45: Ico
After the memory card failed I did start to replay this, but then got sidetracked with working on the Career Skills Workshop in June, and of course I then went to the USA. I'll have to get back on to this soon. But now that I think about it, soon might not be until after I get back from Japan.

Thing 65: Flickr
I've been uploading pictures from my USA Road Trip to Flickr, and consequently that brings the total number of pictures that I've uploaded to Flickr to a total of 94. It won't be too long before I upload more pictures that have been taken since I started my 101 things, and so I don't think it will be too long before this goal is achieved.

Thing 95: BookCrossing
I signed up with BookCrossing a while ago, but never got around to leaving books anywhere! I have lots and lots of books in my own personal collection, so there's no reason why this can't be done some time soon. Perhaps I can combine this with thing 101, spending a lazy afternoon in a bookshop with friends...

Thing 99: Done!!!

Quite a simple one this, but the occasion never really presents itself, you know? And I forgot to report it a week ago! But anyway, on Saturday 29th August 2009, while enjoying a day out at Lyme Park I completed Thing 99 on my list of 101 things, namely to have a picnic.

And it was lovely, even if it was a bit windy.

So that makes a total of 18 so far, with a few more nearing completion! Time to pick up the pace, but I can and I will. Just over halfway through the 1001 days, but I've never felt so energised and ready to do stuff as I have lately. So just watch this space!

Road Trip: Fort Collins

We were almost at the mid-point of our trip, and it was time for a day of rest and relaxation. For myself, that meant walking around the small-town charms of Fort Collins, talking to local people and writing postcards in the sunshine; for Dave that meant over four hours trekking around a golf course, burning his head in altitude sunshine, but having fun.

He left early, and so I had a lazy start, writing in my journal and texting my girlfriend, before setting off in a taxi to Fort Collins; I had thought about walking, but realised after getting the scale right on the map that we were quite some way out of the city. The taxi driver was really friendly, and dropped me off near to the local tourism centre. They were also great, and gave me some pointers to where I should go - more than anything I needed stamps and postcards, as I had decided that that day was going to be one for writing to people, so my first stop was to find the local post office.

As I walked around and saw all the local businesses something started to occur to me, there was something about the area that was trying to grab my attention and I couldn't figure out what it was. And then there it was, really obvious: in the centre of Fort Collins there were no chain coffee shops or fast food places. There wasn't a Borders or even a Subway (which really are everywhere in the US), the city was bereft of chains.

I loved it. As much as I love a good Starbucks tea, it was brilliant to find one place on the trip that seemed to be untouched by the creeping horror of the 20th century. I stopped in several shops which sold art and jewellery made by local artisans and picked up quite a few pieces for family. After lunch and a call back to the UK I stopped off at an independent bookshop, Old Firehouse Books, where I bought some science fiction anthologies that would have cost me a lot more in the UK; I then went to the fabulous independent comic shop Hailley's Comics and had a good long chat with the owners (a middle-aged couple who had been high school sweethearts) an bought some comics as I was missing my weekly fix of comics.

The end of the day, after a lovely walk, was slightly weird, but also very good. The local tourist centre were really helpful in giving me details to call a taxi to take me back to the motel, but then the taxi never showed up. I waited for a long time, and had a really good long chat with Dave, a hot dog vendor, about travel and the world. As I walked away to try and rendezvous with Dave my travel companion I realised that I had not taken a single picture in Fort Collins, I had simply sat back and let the relaxation of the city-that's-a-small-town wash over me; walking down the small streets and residential roads to meet Dave I realised that I had found somewhere very special.

Both of us were very tired, and one of us was quite burned from playing golf in strong sunshine, so after a quick wander around a local mall and Walmart to pick up supplies we went back to the motel to relax. Both of us had had a great day off, each according to his own preference, but we would need our sleep.

The next day we would be starting another long five day drive, to the one place that we were both eager to reach: Las Vegas.


Monday, 7 September 2009

Road Trip: Tennessee to Colorado, Part 2

Heading into Kansas was nice, and while people talk about endless fields they neglect to mention just how beautiful the country is. It might get a bit tiring after hundreds of miles of the same, but it is beautiful all the same.

On our first day in Kansas we stopped in Wichita for lunch, then spent a long time trying to get out of Wichita. Lots of detours and not much to see, we were a bit perplexed by Wichita, like perhaps we had missed something. We drove on to Salina, where we stopped in a lovely motel, a Quality Inn; I was able to get my laundry done, and we had a great sit-down meal thanks to the motel having a restaurant as well. A massive burger patty served between two pieces of rye toast, with cross-hatch fries and salad: I ate it all and felt by the end that perhaps I had eaten far too much. We chilled out watching Poker on ESPN, and all-in-all had a fantastically relaxing evening.

Our second day of driving in Kansas was a long straight road to Goodland, past seemingly endless fields of wind turbines and crops. It was a lovely day though, and there were two reasons for that. The first was "Prairie Dog Town", which we started to see adverts for more than fifty miles before we reached it. "The World's Largest Prairie Dog!!!" As the miles ticked over we started to wonder what we might see. How big could this prairie dog be? The size of a dog? A pig? Of course, all was not what it seemed, and the prairie dog was an enormous statue! However, Prairie Dog Town was quite charming: lots of animals, although the rattlesnakes (boxed though they were) did give me the jitters, and kind of quaint. Given the kind of jobs and businesses that my family have had several generations back, it felt kind of right (more on that some other time maybe).

The second reason that the day was good was the fab motel that we stayed in, fifty dollars plus tax, exercise equipment and a Chinese restaurant. As soon as we checked in we thought, "Score!" Dave went for a swim, I worked out and we had dinner, while a storm that bordered on the apocalyptic raged outside. Televisions kept cutting out as the emergency weather broadcast came on to report tornadoes that had been sighted less than twenty miles away, along with "baseball to grapefruit-sized hailstones". At least we had a delicious meal to eat, and after working out I felt fantastic.

I had a workout again the following morning, which really set me up for the day; we were heading in to Colorado, and weren't far from the border. The plan was to stop in Denver for a few hours before heading to Fort Collins, and we had a mostly uneventful drive, apart from getting into Denver itself. We had a surplus of maps, but these hindered as much as they helped, as we were constantly shifting between different versions to find the streets that we were after. Denver was lovely, and reminded me of Manchester in some ways in terms of its layout, and while we had a pleasant afternoon there we left late and it was nearly 7pm by the time we reached Fort Collins.

For the first time on the trip we had problems in finding a motel room for the night, and it was only at the fifth motel that we tried that we were able to get a room for the two nights that we would be staying in the area. Most of the motels that we tried were quite apologetic that they had no rooms free, although at one place - which wasn't in the best condition - we were faced with a particularly snooty woman who looked down her nose at us when we asked if there was a reduction for staying multiple nights (the price was quite steep). As she turned away I was amused to see a prominent love-bite on her neck, and for the life of me I still can't understand why it amused me so much.

After settling into another Days Inn, we relaxed over a McDonalds dinner (Angus third-pounder with mushrooms and swiss cheese, they do them better in the USA) and talked about what we would each be doing the following day. Dave was bouncing off the walls at the prospect of playing golf, and meanwhile I was looking forward to a lovely day strolling around Fort Collins.


Road Trip: Tennessee to Colorado, Part 1

After a good night's sleep in our rundown motel, we set off early into Arkansas (after a brief diversion to a post office; I sent over 50 postcards from my trip in total) and headed for Little Rock. We had originally thought about stopping there for the night, but it was only 145 miles from Memphis to Little Rock, and we had some days coming up which had some serious mileage attached, so in the end we decided to spend the afternoon in Little Rock before moving on.

Little Rock was a lovely city, and we only saw a tiny part of it. The attraction for the day was the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, which was an amazing archive describing all of the great things that he did while in office. Dave and I mused on this afterwards, that President Obama is touted as being a great man and someone who will get things done, but somewhere in that I think people are forgetting just how much Bill Clinton did while in office. We had lunch in a lovely food court nearby, and I picked up a souvenir Air Force One tshirt from the library gift shop, and then we set off again, eventually settling in Russellville for the night at a Budget Inn. Very basic, pretty cheap but it did the job.

Like many places that we visited along the way, Russellville was like one big street near the interstate with lots of shops and fast food places. There was a Walmart, and we went once again to have a look around the cookie-cutter shopping experience; dinner was our first taste of Taco Bell, which can't be good for you, but was just too tasty not to repeat later on in the trip (cheesy potato and bacon burrito with tacos, yum!).

The next day we set off again, detouring from our original itinerary to head north via Oklahoma City instead of Tulsa; there wasn't anything in particular we had been looking to see in Tulsa, and once again by detouring we were getting ahead of ourselves so that the mileage in days to come would not be so severe. We stopped at an honest-to-goodness independent business for lunch that day, Robertsons Ham Sandwiches, which was delicious, two pieces of bread with a big wedge of thin-sliced ham inbetween. Dave's sandwich was even bigger, even more meat! A lovely place, run by two older ladies, and sadly, as we drove off, I couldn't help but think that in a few years it would be gone, replaced by a Subway when the ladies could no longer manage running it.

We stopped for the night in a regular motel, nothing special, nothing terrible, but the laundry room was busy, and I had to really search my case to find clean clothes for the following day. Things were getting desperate... But not me and Dave, we had settled into the routine of travelling quite well after a week on the road, and were keen all the time to keep pressing on. We were looking forward to reaching Colorado and enjoying the road inbetween, but at the same time we were also quite conscious that Las Vegas was the destination that we were both looking forward to most, both eager to reach. Dave had booked a round of golf at Fort Collins, and I was really happy to spend a day exploring there - but first we had to cross Kansas...


Inglourious Basterds

Since Jackie Brown I've seen all of Quentin Tarantino's films at the cinema; it's always great to have them on DVD to watch afterwards, but given that the man is so in love with cinema it's always great to watch on the big screen. In a way, you know what you're going to get when you go to see a Quentin Tarantino film: you know not to take things at face value, you know that you're going to get some astonishing dialogue and you know that you're going to be entertained.

Inglourious Basterds did not disappoint. I've been meaning to go and see it for a few weeks now, carefully storing up the pleasure that I knew I would get from it. It's difficult to know where to begin... It is a brilliant film, a fantastic piece filled with great performances, the greatest being Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, the 'Jew Hunter', a really wonderful, charming and evil creation - a performance that had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up every time that he came on screen. Brad Pitt is hilarious, his accent and delivery as the leader of the Basterds is pitch-perfect. The plot is faintly ridiculous, and as time goes on we realise more and more that this is not quite the real world - more than being a fiction, it is not a fiction set in the real Second World War - but the dialogue draws you in more and more, the tension in many scenes being so high as to be near unbearable (a scene where two of the Basterds and an undercover British agent try to evade the suspicions of an SS Officer is a high point).

The best film of the year for me is still Star Trek, but Inglourious Basterds now runs a close second for me - I'd been looking forward to it since Tarantino first started talking about it years and years ago, before Kill Bill came out I think - it wasn't what I was expecting, but a new Tarantino film never is. The first viewing of a Tarantino film is a rare and wonderful pleasure; while his films always reward repeat viewings, there is nothing that beats that exhilaration of seeing them for the first time, and if you haven't seen Inglourious Basterds yet then I would urge you to see it soon.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Road Trip: Tennessee, Part 2

The drive to Memphis was fairly uneventful, although finding our way around to a motel was a bit of a difficult prospect. Before we even got to our destination we found ourselves humming "in the ghetto" more than once, especially as we searched for a motel. The coupon booklet lead us to a chain that we had visited before; previously we had had a good experience, staying in a fantastic motel that was well set out and had many good points.

This iteration of the chain was, well, shall we say, slightly lacking by comparison... But no matter, it was a room with two beds and AC, shower etc, and who cares that the included breakfast was the worst on the whole trip? We were in Memphis, and we were here for one thing and one thing only: Graceland.

Graceland was really easy to find, and we had already decided in advance that we were going to purchase VIP tickets so that we could see everything that it had to offer. We had no other plans for Memphis, and from what we had heard it definitely wouldn't hurt to put all of our eggs in one basket. It was a rainy day when we set out to the former home of Elvis, but the VIP tickets meant that we went straight to the head of the queue for buses that were going across the road from the Graceland visitors centre to the house itself (our guide, on hearing that we were from Liverpool, informed us that one of her best friends in the world was the 'fifth Beatle'; we were just happy to be recognised as being from the UK, something that not many people had understood the first time that we had spoken to them, or the second for that matter), and so we were out of the rain fairly quickly.

If a timeline of photos taken against time was laid out for my trip, then by far and away the greatest concentration of images would come from that one morning spent walking around Graceland: considering that one of the prevailing images in my mind of Elvis is his Vegas residency, I expected Graceland to be a bit gaudy. Instead I found a perfectly preserved, tastefully decorated mansion from the 1970s. I knew Elvis previously from his music, but this was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the man, and the sort of style that he had, and what came through - from the audio tour and from the way that the house was furnished - was that he was a man who loved his family and his friends, and would go out of his way to make them feel as comfortable and at home as possible. Considering that today we see so many "celebrities" on television with their hangers-on and false friends, it was really beautiful to see in so many exhibits and pictures just how close Elvis was to his friends, and that they really were his friends as well and not just out to make a quick buck off of his celebrity.

By this point we were a week and a half into our trip, and while the constant travelling around hadn't become a feeling of normality yet, the surreality of what we were doing had faded somewhat. Graceland and its many exceptional exhibits and snapshots of one of the greatest icons of the last century in some ways helped me realise again that what Dave and I were doing was something quite special, that not everyone goes and travels as we were doing.

Something that was less special to us was downtown Memphis itself; we followed some of the directions from the various guidebooks and tourist leaflets we had picked up, and this lead us to a mall that was only half-open, many of the shops empty. A walk through the surrounding neighbourhoods had us heading back to the car after only half an hour, which then took us back to our motel. Memphis itself might have been slightly disappointing, but the day had been a high point of the trip so far, and in our minds would come to be a high point of the trip as a whole.

We headed back to our disappointing motel, and got some sleep; tomorrow the open road was before us, as it was for several days after. We were headed for Colorado, and had many, many miles ahead.


Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Road Trip: Tennessee, Part 1

Crossing the border from Virginia into Tennessee, it was like we hit a wall made of heat: the humidity began at the state line, I'm sure of it. Shortly after that we spotted a sign for a state visitor centre, so thought it might be a good idea to stop there and see if there were any cool things we could go and see or do.

Stopping at the visitor centre was good for two reasons:
1). We found here - and found subsequently - that many state tourist centres give out free booklets of vouchers for motels; we think we saved a small fortune in using those booklets for the road trip.
2). Had we not stopped, we would never ever have thought to go to Pigeon Forge for the night, where we saw Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede.

The Dixie Stampede was cheesy, but brilliant, watching a horse show and being fed large amounts of food (a whole roast chicken!). Dave and I rolled our eyes at a lot of the over-the-top patriotism that was on display at times, but watching the stunt riders and the theatrics was really entertaining.

From there, after a very good night's sleep we moved on to Nashville for two nights. The motel we stayed at was fantastic, a really great, well-situated Quality Inn which was the first place to offer a cooked breakfast and which also had a great Italian-influenced restaurant just around the corner. Dave took off for a few hours to replace Betsy the Second (whose tracking was wrong) with the sportier Betsy the Third, a car who served us well for the rest of the trip.

Nashville was a beautiful city, and we immersed ourselves in the history of music in the city. The Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Theatre (original home of the Grand Ol' Opry), the new Opry Mills Mall and new Opry - none of it disappointed, and this was after starting the day by taking a tour around the State Capital building and then the Frist Art Gallery. The history that we learned about at the State Capital was very interesting, tales of divison and re-union, of shots fired and people honoured. The Country Music Hall of Fame was brilliant, incredibly interesting and a home of research for country music today. The Ryman Theatre was a lovely place, and one can see right away why it means so much to so many bands and music lovers around the world.

Opry Mills Mall was nice as malls go, but still just a mall: we had a look around a small museum about the history of the new Opry, but it didn't have the charm of the original Opry. After going to see Bruno (amazing to see a woman leading two small children out after five minutes; I don't understand the thinking behind the US movie certificate system at all) we headed back to the Quality Inn to sleep after what had been a fun and full day. We would need our sleep, for the next day we were driving on to somewhere that would prove to be a highlight of the trip for both of us: Graceland.


Friday, 28 August 2009

Road Trip: Washington DC

We arrived in Washington by train, the Amtrak living up to the good things that I had heard about it before the journey (I had heard some bad things as well, about long queues, late trains and so on, but all of that proved unfounded; in nearly every way Amtrak was better than the best national rail journey I've had in the UK). Union Station was beautiful, and the taxi ride to our hotel in Arlington was short and sweet, taking us past the Pentagon and giving us glimpses of distant monuments that we knew from news stories and political thrillers.

I was still feeling ill at this point, so I took myself off for a few hours to an urgent care centre to get checked over, while Dave went off to explore the local streets and see how well connected we were to the capital. As it turned out, the Doubletree Hotel was just a few minutes from a metro station that took us straight into our first tourist stop the next day, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Dave and I were like kids at Christmas walking around there, just gawping in wonder at things that quite literally are incredible. I haven't been able to convey this to my family, who smile bemusedly at my proclamations: " we walk in and there, right there in front of us is the Apollo 11 capsule that brought Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins back from the Moon!!! Can you believe it??? And upstairs was the 1903 Wright Flyer!!! How cool is that???"

They didn't get it. But no matter, we were happy, and the whole morning passed by in a state of bliss looking at fabulous and wonderful things.

After lunch in the Smithsonian Food Court (brought to you by McDonald's!), we set off for our long walk around the Mall. Maybe it was a placebo effect, but I was already starting to feel better, and so the long trek wasn't too bad. We started outside the Capitol Building, looking down the Mall past the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial and the pool, all the way to the distant building of the Lincoln Memorial. It was a pleasant walk, really nice and really beautiful actually. The World War II Memorial gave us pause for thought on our way down, but the real breath-taker for the day was the Lincoln Memorial.

There is something incredibly powerful about the Lincoln Memorial; even before we went to the USA I knew that it was something that I was really looking forward to seeing, and I couldn't quite put my finger on why. Of course, the impact of Abraham Lincoln on history couldn't not have effected me in some way - but I'm just a 28 year old guy from the UK, born nearly 120 years after he was assassinated, so why should it matter all that much? Because the Lincoln Memorial is not just 'another place to tick off' on the list of tourist attractions... There is a power to it, the eyes of the statue follow you, stare at you and through you, and the wording above the monument is so beautiful:

"In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever."

I still can't find the words to explain just what it is about the Lincoln Memorial that has put a pull on my heart and mind, but nor can I dismiss it. Maybe the simplest thing that I can do is to encourage you to go and see it for yourself if you have never seen it; I hope that it has the same impact on you that it had on me.

From there we moved on to the Vietnam Memorial, and then from there we made our way out to Arlington National Cemetery. This was also quite a powerful place to visit, especially the grave of John F. Kennedy; from there we went on to the Iwo Jima Memorial, which was awe-inspiring to look up at. The shadows were lengthening, and we were both feeling the length of the day on us, so it was time to head back to the Doubletree Hotel (which, by the way, I highly recommend to anyone with plans to visit Washington DC; just over in Arlington, superbly located for taxis from Union Station and easy to get to on the Metro as well, and which is just stunning inside - and was really, really good value) and a good night's sleep.

We would need it: the next day we would begin four weeks of driving.


Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Some Films!

I saw quite a few films while I was in America, and one since I've been back, and it dawns on me as I sit here that I have been extremely remiss in not saying something about them. So then, join me in this condensed review post!

A bit more scattershot than Borat I thought, but oddly with a more cohesive story that doesn't break the fourth wall (where was Borat's cameraman all the time that he was poor and penniless? How exactly did that work?). If anything many of Bruno's exploits are even more sensational than Borat's, and it's a wonder that people didn't realise what was happening before their eyes more often. Bruno's sexual escapades are crude, but quite clever in getting a laugh, and his attitudes and lack of intelligence do make for some fun moments. It doesn't quite reach the heights of Borat, and Bruno is not as likeable as Borat, but it is still quite funny in an oh-my-gosh-I-can't-look-what-is-he-doing-with-that-midget sort of way.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
A good effort, and possibly the best adaptation to date in the Harry Potter films, but once again falls short by removing important plot points that feel key to the overall book (if not the series). Visually the film has never been better, and finally Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe have caught up with Rupert Grint in the acting stakes, turning in performances that finally capture the young people that Hermione and Harry are growing into. The major death and betrayal lack the punch that they had in the book, but hopefully the two parts of Deathly Hallows that are to come will be a good (if probably not great) conclusion to the movie adaptations.

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra
The occasional decent action sequence cannot make up for the plothole-ridden terror of the story. Special effects seem as if they haven't moved forward for years. Otherwise good actors give career-low performances and the only thing that saves it from being a one-star movie in my back are the sometimes incredible martial arts/sword-fighting scenes between Snake Eyes and the other ninja (see, I can't even be bothered to remember his name).

The Time Traveler's Wife
A good adaptation, brilliant performances, and beautiful music. The film lacks some of the power of the book, and as with Harry Potter there are changes or omissions which don't make sense to me (but of course, I've never adapted an acclaimed book into a feature film, so what do I know?), but I would say that this works even better than the adaptation of Harry Potter does. Every now and then there is a flash of brilliance in something that it manages to convey and in those moments you sit in wonder at what has been achieved: a genuine romantic fantasy.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Road Trip: New York, New York

We spent two full days wandering around New York at the start of July; it's a city that fascinates, from the outside looking in, arguably the city that people think of first when they are confronted with the idea of the USA.

We started on our first day of sightseeing by heading for Times Square, where we both were faced with mammoth breakfasts and people trying to rip us off (at least I only ended up with two rap CDs by young stars, one of who gave me the 'rap name' N-Banga; Dave paid over the odds for a battery charger and complained bitterly about it for days); from there we wandered down Broadway more or less, heading downtown. Grand Central, Macy's, the Empire State Building and more, we looked for the New York that jumped out of the collective unconscious, the New York that we were told was waiting for us.

Hustle and bustle doesn't begin to describe the movements on the streets, but away from the main crowds there is a lot of space and quiet in New York City. The promenade leading to the Staten Island Ferry (which is perhaps the greatest free tourist attraction/public transport I've ever heard of) was lovely and chilled out, the occasional runner or roller-blader, and the ferry itself gives spectacular views. Central Park too, is utterly glorious, an oasis of calm in the centre of a fractured metropolis, itself a patchwork piece of quiet (reservoir, lakes, gardens, paths, so much quiet, so much space, so much beauty).

The memorial centre for the World Trade Centre was a very difficult place to visit; it almost felt as if I was trespassing on the grief of others, as if I had no right to be there because I hadn't been present when that awful day eight years ago happened. The Guggenheim was a joy, a celebration of what it means to create - from the amazing collection of famous art to the incredible explosion of talent on the top floor with works by school children, this was perhaps the highlight of the city for me.

Looking back seven weeks or so, New York remains a difficult place for me to reconcile in my mind. In many ways beautiful, in many ways quite challenging with its constantly shifting boundaries and areas, it was a shock to the system from stepping off the plane to when we caught the train to Washington DC, at once familiar with language and culture and at the same time very alien.


Friday, 21 August 2009

Thing 41: Done!!!

I have been meaning to write for so, so long, that I just have to write something and then that will get the ball rolling again on writing here!

So yes, I have completed possibly one of the biggest things on my list, to visit five US states. In the end I visited eleven states, and passed through several more eastern states when I took an Amtrak train from New York to Washington (but that doesn't really count as "visiting" in my book, all of these I actually spent time at). I kept a journal as I was travelling, but I'm not going to write that up here, instead, over the coming days and weeks (hopefully not months!) I'm going to be writing some of my musings on each state that I went to. Some will be longer than others, as I spent longer in some states and cities than others; some states we passed through in a day, but all of the ones on the list, and the cities, are places that we stayed in on our five weeks of travels.

I've got some films to write short reviews on, and some books, and they should come soon too. I'm also going to be pulling some pieces of flash fiction from my experiences I think. As a run up to this year's NaNoWriMo, I think that I am going to make September and October a warm-up exercise, to write a piece of flash fiction at least every other day. Because I will be away in Japan for three weeks during that time I might not be able to post them on here during that period, but I will definitely be writing. And I'll be experiencing more and more that I can plow right back into my writing.

Although I had promised myself that this year I would be writing non-fantasy/sci-fi for NaNoWriMo I can feel myself at the event horizon. Different ideas are pulling on me, and they're all connected, all of them part of the story that is seething away behind my eyes. I might start writing before NaNoWriMo, and write something different then, because these ideas are pulling on me so strong.

But anyway, I digress: America was fantastic, I'm happy to be back and I'm also happy to be off travelling again soon. I will be writing again very soon, and this blog will become a hive of activity again, I promise.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Thing 76 Done!!!

This morning I finished reading Bone by Jeff Smith, which I've been working my way through for the last month since getting the complete collection in one volume. With planning and preparing for my road trip I don't have the time to say too much about it now, other than to say that I thought it was utterly brilliant from start to finish. I really believe that the work as a whole is on a par with The Lord of the Rings.

The road trip begins on Monday; I'll be making notes and taking lots of pictures as I'm going across the USA, but not sure if I'll be on email or internet very much. In case I don't get back on here until the middle of August when I'm back, I hope that your summer is great and happy and full of good weather.

16 out of 101 things done... Time to pick up the pace!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Thing 92 Done!!!

For my US Road Trip - which is now only two weeks away!!! - I bought myself a wind-up torch yesterday... And then it suddenly dawned on me that that was one of my 101 things, Thing 92.

I guess that there's not much you can say about it apart from that. It's a nice little torch. And it's powered by me! So yeah.

I fly to New York two weeks tomorrow. Where did the last ten months go?

Monday, 15 June 2009

Terminator Salvation

The absolute best thing about Terminator Salvation is the flawless digital cameo towards the end of an actor who was associated with the first three films but not with this new franchise.

I say new franchise, because there is absolutely no way that I will ever think of it as being part of the original franchise (I have a hard enough job considering Rise Of The Machines to be canon sometimes). Previously the films - especially T2, my personal favourite - were about fantastic sequences and special effects welded with interesting, dynamic ideas and plot. Salvation had the effects, and at times it even had the ideas but the plot and script let the whole affair down with huge gaping chasms of logic and some terrible, terrible dialogue.

I wasn't even going to write about the film (the old adage, if you can't say anything nice...) but watching the magnificence of T2 yesterday really threw Salvation's shortcomings into stark relief.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009


It's been some time since I posted haiku, but it doesn't mean that I've not been writing them. Here are the recent ones from the last month or so, which takes us up to 27 in total now.

A trick of the light,
The smile I thought I saw
Was not meant for me

We gambled our love
For the sake of a bad debt
And came up snake eyes

The end of the world
Is different for each man.
A personal fate

Your reassurance
And then my ego is maxed!
I can play outside

Faster and faster
And faster, resulting in
Your own disaster

Star Trek

Three weeks after I saw it, I finally get around to writing my thoughts on Star Trek. I've not been to the cinema as much as I would have liked so far this year, which means that when I say Star Trek is the best film I have seen so far this year it doesn't really have the impact that it should.

From start to finish, I really enjoyed it; I've seen it twice now, and on both occasions it was just a total joy to watch. The casting is very strong, and I think that the characters in the main roles all hit the bullseye when it came to performances, none of them straying into caricatures or impersonations, but still delivering what the audience expects and remembers in terms of the qualities that make up the characters. Zachary Quinto, in particular, excels as Spock - as does Leonard Nimoy, who binds together the franchise with an appearance that is more than merely fan-pleasing.

Criticisms can be made about the plot, particularly about the effects of red matter - whose properties could be helpfully summed up as "doing whatever the plot requires" - but in some ways that misses the point of the enterprise (pun intended). This is Star Trek, not hard sci-fi space opera - a criticism levelled at plot holes in the film also hits the many, many occasions over the years where Star Trek has put the story and the people ahead of the plot holes, and which have been successes because of it.

If it doesn't quite hit the emotional highs of Wrath of Khan or The Undiscovered Country it is certainly not for want of trying. This is a bold, primary colours, optimistic view of the future, a rebirth of a fantastic franchise and could very well go on to be my favourite film of the year.

The big question for me now is whether or not I can squeeze in a third trip to the cinema to see it again...

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Three Weeks!!!

I don't really know why it has been three weeks since I've posted; have entered a bit of a holding pattern I guess. Planning for the USA trip is going well, and the trip is only 40 days away!!! Crazy stuff.

I've not been able to make the progress I wanted on some of the other things I was thinking about doing in May. I thought that June was going to be really quiet as well, but have now got a pretty big project to work on as a Course Manager for a Career Skills Workshop which is at the end of June. Lots of prep over the next four weeks. Am beginning to realise that this is a huge job, and there's plenty to do right now. Problem is that it is heavily contingent on me being given information, and the information is not forthcoming at the mo...

Stress! But oh well. Things are moving on... As they always are. Am thinking of starting a new blog just to post little bits and pieces of writing on. I like that I write about my 101 things here, but want to write about other things too.

Anyways. Am going to post more in the next few days. My belated thoughts on Star Trek and some haiku I think. Maybe other things too!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Eastern Standard Tribe

As any regular reader will no doubt have noticed from my reading list, I am a bit of a Cory Doctorow fan. I like the kinds of things that he champions on Boing Boing, and while I think I first heard of him through the short story When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth it was reading Little Brother for the first time last year that really made me like his work a lot. Little Brother is a really great near future thriller that young adults can really get their teeth into and get something out of since it deals with such interesting ideas as civil liberties and digital freedoms.

If Little Brother is a mini-masterpiece then Eastern Standard Tribe is an early sketch, a rough drawing that shows a lot of promise but which ultimately falls short for the reader. The ideas - derived from circadian rhythms and being culturally connected to people not physically close to you in the digital age, as well as a slew of well-handled ideas on things like new media and a more bureaucratic society - are cool and interesting, and no-one can doubt that Doctorow has a great ability for taking interesting ideas and dropping them into stories. However, in this earlier work it shows in the plotting that he is still developing as a writer. The build up of the story is interesting, but the end appears so quickly and happens so fast that you have to blink in case you miss it (much like in Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom).

I've just realised looking back over my first two paragraphs that I've not really told you much about the plot, but I think that's OK, that's something that you can discover for yourself. As a springboard for an interesting future that has some well thought out ideas playing in the foreground, Eastern Standard Tribe does not disappoint. The plot is fast-moving, and though I felt a bit cheated at the sudden end it is a great ideas novel and well worth reading as an example of an author with a brilliant mind for speculating about the future.

Eastern Standard Tribe is available to download for free under a Creative Commons license.

Monday, 4 May 2009


Yesterday evening I went to see a preview of Coraline in 3D, and while I was fairly certain that I would enjoy the film being a fan of the book I really did not expect to come out of it buzzing about it as I did. The animation is simply wonderful, inventive and fabulous with an impressive eye to the smallest of details; the script has been sensibly adapted from Neil Gaiman's book, nothing lost or added that doesn't make sense and with a superb voice cast.

I've been to see a film before which had 3D elements, but none that were so carefully integrated as in Coraline. No red and green filters on the glasses, no tacky effects - Coraline was shot for 3D and it shows. Foreground elements stand out boldly and show the depth of the world that Henry Selick has created; the tunnel connecting the two houses stretches away and makes you feel as if you could be about to go through it for real; a needle sews in a button eye and comes out of the screen towards you... I'm sure that Coraline wouldn't have been a disappointment if it had not been in 3D, but the fact that it was transformed it from being a great film to being an outstanding film, and an amazing cinema experience.

So I heartily recommend that you go and see Coraline, and see it in 3D at the cinema if you can. Children will love it, and won't find it half as scary as adults do - we overthink things too much - and if you have a fear of buttons... Well, you should still see it! Definitely. Do it. It will help.

Yes, I'm talking to you.


I dress for summer -
A vain hope, I must admit,
Days with you are cold.

Be yourself! they say,
But how can I? I can't be,
Not so easily.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Script & Flickr

The end of Script Frenzy was slightly anti-climactic for me, because I finished over a week early. Going along to all of the write-ins after that point were good, and even though I was working on various bits of writing I felt like a little bit of an impostor, that maybe I was disturbing people who were trying to get things done.

It did give me the chance to get some photos taken as well, and a couple of those along with some I took at the start of the TGIO Party can be seen over on Flickr here!

Script Frenzy has been good for me, but not, perhaps, in the way that you might think. It's given me a lot of motivation, a real creative kick up the arse, a real hunger to get things done. I enjoyed writing scripts, but not as much as I enjoyed being sat down with my Moleskine and just getting stuff out. Sometimes frantically so. Sometimes just needing to write and feeling free to do so and to just see what happens as I write.

I've made new friends, become closer to people I've known for a while and am feeling... I guess I'm feeling pretty happy all in all. April was a good month. I wonder what May will bring?

Thursday, 30 April 2009


This is just a short note to say that Thing 39, to revisit Japan, will be coming around much sooner than I had originally been thinking. My plan was to go back to Japan next year, after I had had a chance to recover from the mindblowing awesomeness that's going to be my summer in the USA; then last week my friend Dave (also known as noisms, go and read his great role-playing game blog here) sent me an email to let me know that he and his wife are having a traditional ceremony in September.

I ummed and ahhed for a few days; and then after completing my tax bill on Monday (in the UK there is a TV advert which claims "Tax doesn't have to be taxing" - following my tweets on Monday a friend quipped "Tax doesn't have to suck the life out of you and make you want to kill yourself, but it probably will") I looked at what was left from the money I had put aside and thought, "You know what? You only live once."

So yeah! Japan in September! I loved my visit there in the summer of 2006 (some pictures of which you can see on Flickr) in and around Tokyo and Yokohama, but this promises to be something a little bit different than last time. New sights and sounds, and at the same time I want to go back to Kamakura, to the Kinokuniya bookstore, to Harajuku and Akihibara and scorching days wandering around Chigasaki without a single care in the world. Hopefully I'll be able to make time in the trip to do some of those things. And the Studio Ghibli museum, please, fingers crossed...

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains."

I've perused a few parody novels before and found them to be pretty lacklustre thing: someone injecting 'funny names' and abbreviating the sequence of events that was present in the original work, while the reader supposedly chuckles at the antics. Nothing wrong with that per se, everyone's got to earn a living, but not my cup of tea.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is different, because it quite literally takes Jane Austen's classic as the starting point, complete with love stories, deceptions and characters, and then weaves in the story of an England under threat for half a century from zombies. Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters have been trained in the mysteries of Shaolin, all the better to beat back Satan's armies. They are great warriors, but their heads can still be turned by more than the moan of a 'manky dreadful' and soon we have the familiar story of Messrs Collins, Wickham and Darcy, all familiar and yet all cleverly re-interpreted in this parallel England.

When I heard about the book I laughed out loud, such a simple idea, the title alone could probably have sold many copies even if the story had been badly written. The great delight of it all is just how well it works, the balance that Seth Grahame-Smith achieves in juggling the original storyline and prose and the descriptions of herds of zombies and the fate of poor Miss Lucas.

Finally, a nice 'Easter Egg' at the end are questions for book groups, which start off funny and slightly off-beat (as with the rest of the book) and culminate in this fantastic final question for readers:

"Some scholars believe that the zombies were a last minute addition to the novel, requested by the publisher in a shameless attempt to boost sales. Others argue that the hordes of living dead are integral to Jane Austen's plot and social commentary. What do you think? Can you imagine what this novel might be like without the violent zombie mayhem?"

Wednesday, 29 April 2009


You laughed, so tickled;
High summer, beach, sandcastles,
And me in my scarf.

It's a cold sunshine,
These days without you; you know
That the nights are worse

Departure clock ticks.
My watch was set fast, and I,
I wish you away

Holding my breath in,
I was desperate to know
What your answer was.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Maths Papers

A few days ago it dawned on me that I had completely overlooked one of my 101 things that I had made some progress on, namely thing number 61, to get three papers/preprints from work in my thesis. As it stands my supervisor and I have two papers based on material from my thesis, both of which are available to view online at the arXiv, and you can find links to them here.

One of them is currently being reviewed for a special edition of Topology (which will cover some conference proceedings) and we are still deciding on where to submit the more recent paper, which was loaded on to the arXiv in February I believe. The earlier paper was put up last August! I can't believe that I totally forgot about it.

I might try collecting some thoughts for a preprint on a polynomial time method for calculating polynomials invariants of knots presented as plaits. If that makes any sense to you, please get in touch!

Friday, 24 April 2009

Earth Abides

Earth Abides is one of the books that I read when I think I really started to get into reading, when I purposefully set out to read science fiction and expand my mind. It's tough to explain what I mean by that. I guess up until about the age of 16 or 17 I just read whatever I came across, whatever seemed to take my fancy in the bookshop. It was only after I started reading the science fiction magazine SFX that I began to think, "Maybe there are books out there that I should be looking for."

Around that time a publish (Gollancz I think) started the SF Masterworks imprint, and over the course of about two years I built up a collection from the line which almost fills a bookcase. Earth Abides was one of the first that I got (after I Am Legend and The Stars My Destination, more on them some other time); I'm trying to recall whether I had heard about it in SFX or whether the story just jumped out at me when I read the synopsis on the back, but in any case it was a book that just resonated with me when I read it, and has done every time since that I have re-read it. It is a book that I want to tell everyone about, but which by reading it becomes a book that I wish had been written only for me.

A plague wipes out nearly the entire human race. Isherwood Williams, a graduate student in the middle of nowhere on research survives and begins a trek across America to see the country now that humans are gone. He meets a few survivors and they settle and start a community over the bay from San Francisco, and time moves on. The story is divided into three stages: his life immediately after the plague, two decades after when the community is now over twenty strong, with children and even young grandchildren living there; and then some time much later, when Ish (as he is now known) is an old man, the Last American. All points of the story are written with such care, with such attention to detail, and with such a focus on what might be and how humans would react that it always surprises me when I see on the back cover that it was George R. Stewart's only work of science fiction.

It is certainly among my top twenty favourite books, and possibly makes it into my top ten (there's a thought, when I finish these 101 things I should compile a list of my top twenty books); it is a book that I would recommend without reservation to anyone. It is a book that makes you think about the future, and at the same time makes you realise that what we hold dear today might not be so important in years to come.

'Men go and come, but earth abides.'

USA Trip

Just thought that I would give a quick update on my American road trip plans with my friend David! Organisation for this has been quite difficult at times, as I'm in the UK and David works in the UAE; he came home for a week over the Easter holiday break, and so we sat down for a day to iron out some more details. A bit closer to the time I'll post our proposed itinerary, but what I can say is that we've booked a couple of hotels!

We've got our accommodation for New York sorted, which is a Howard Johnson in New Jersey, but just over the bridge (for the benefit of any UK readers, it looks like Howard Johnson is the equivalent of a Travelodge). This gives us a bit of a saving in terms of price, but also means we are pretty close for getting into the city. We're not picking up our rental car until we get to Washington DC; so far we were planning to take the train - which I'm informed is a really nice way to travel between the two cities but can be pricey. If anyone has any thoughts on train travel please let us know.

We also booked our hotel for Las Vegas, and so we will be staying at Circus Circus for four nights towards the end of July! That is unless I do really well on roulette on the first evening, in which case we may be moving over to the Bellagio or the Wynn Las Vegas! Just kidding, although I am planning to play a little roulette according the system used by James Bond in the novel of Casino Royale...

Checked out Graceland online for when we're in Memphis, and also done a bit of Googling to check motel rates; the most expensive part of the trip really is going to be the car rental and paying for fuel. The pound has taken such an almighty tumble against the dollar since we started planning last August... If only, if only... Oh well. We will cope.

So, plans are moving along, which is all well and good because we are less than two and a half months away from the start of it all!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

One Year On

It's crazy to think it, it really is, but a year ago today is when I started this mad journey of doing 101 things in 1001 days. A year??? Where does the time go? I met a friend on Monday who had been off travelling the world for nine months, and it was amazing to me that it had been that length of time.

So what have I done? Well, as one of my updates yesterday mentioned I've done 14 out of my 101 things. Not bad. Some of the others are being worked on constantly (haiku, flash fiction - although I need to pick up the pace on churning the latter out) and others are being worked on and planned (Flickr, travel plans), but I think that I need to get some more things done before I go away to the USA in a few months time.

In fact, I'm thinking now that I will make it my aim to have completed a total of 20 things on my list by the end of May. What things could I do, what jumps out from the list?

45. Replay and complete Ico.
62. Confirm the number of stacked 4-tangles.
67. Sell five things on eBay.
84. Get my back waxed.
95. Release five books into the wild with BookCrossing.
101. Spend a lazy afternoon in a bookshop/café, drinking tea, reading books and hanging out with friends.

I've made a start on 45 and 62, and got a certain way with both of them. I've also realised that I have totally not kept up to date with letter writing! By the end of May I will try to get back on track with that, so that on average I will have sent one a month. Which is not great if I am honest, I should have kept up with that, but c'est la vie, we learn, we grow, we adapt.

And that's what this 1001 day project is all about. Looking at the list now, I wonder if - in some places - it is a little too ambitious. There are things that I am beginning to think might be impossible to get done within the time left.

(a short animated film? Really???)

By the end of it all though I will have become a different person. I'll be changed. Hopefully I'll have got some good habits!

I'm certain that I'll be ready to start another list of 101 things, or some other great creative project.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


The problem is mine,
I don't trust myself with you.
We dance; I tremble.

Script = Frenzied!

On Sunday the 19th of April 2009, at approximately 1:30pm, I finished the main challenge of Script Frenzy! 100 pages, typed, let loose from several cubic inches of tissue behind my eyes. The idea to switch to several shorter scripts when my original film wasn't working out did wonders for my creativity, really freed me up.

My method of writing out notes for several days in a Moleskine and then sitting down to blitz out an act of script was a good one too I think - for me at least - in order to get a draft out fast and after thinking through what it would look like filmed. What's crazy as well is that my pilot - for a genre show, which, due to the plot and circumstances might be HBO rather than FOX - has a beginning, middle and end, and it feels like I have actually put down some teasers as well, laid out the ends of threads which could be developed if the series was picked up...

...what am I saying??? I wrote a pilot for a TV show in the space of about a week, and I'm already planning the first season's arc! A piece of fun, something to stretch me and provoke me in April, and my mind can't quite stop thinking about where it could go next, the people that the characters could meet, the situations that they could get in.

Being part of a good, supportive group of writers has definitely helped. In particular, our magnificent and marvellous Municipal Liaison Anna, who has been our coordinator and cheerleader and a great one too. And the month's not over yet! Today is the 21st, and there is still over a week to go. I'm taking a few days off from working on scripts in order to think about some other things; however, although I've finished my Script Frenzy challenge, I am not done with Script Frenzy itself! I think I still have a few short scripts in me, and now is as good a time as any to get them out and written. For now though, I am very, very happy to write

19. Complete a Script Frenzy. - done! 19/4/2009


A film I should have seen years and years ago. A film that has a fantastic cast and a fantastic script. A film that still seems fresh today, undiminished by years of misquoted lines and riffs on the themes or scenes.

Bogart is just wonderful: a no-nonsense guy, but from the instant he sees his lost love you begin to see the armour crack, fall away. Even when he learns the circumstances of why she left him in Paris... It's the perfect example of loving someone so much but knowing that you have to do the right thing, that you have no choice but to let them go.

This will be a very short piece, because I just can't find the words to express how great I thought the film was. I'm 28, and I've only just seen Casablanca... What other truly great films have I missed?

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe

In my previous review I said that I could confidently say (having read Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe) that volume four was my favourite of the series. This isn't because volume five is inherently bad or flawed in some way. Once again Scott and Ramona and their friends are flung into a crazy little adventure as more of Ramona's evil exes show up to challenge Scott. The difference this time is that, while Scott is holding his own against the robot minions of the twins, his relationship and social life seem to be drifting away from him.

Knives Chau tells Ramona that Scott cheated on them both (which he technically did way back in volume one). This leads to Scott and Ramona fighting, which seems totally wrong. But then Ramona doesn't seem to be herself really. What's with the glowing head? It's book five and we don't know why that happens?

The band are falling apart since they're not practicing, they're recording; Kim decides to leave; Scott gets drunk! Has the whole world gone mad? The artwork is as great as ever, although for the most part the fights (between Scott and a series of cool looking robots) take place mostly in the background. O'Malley seems to be incapable of putting a foot wrong with the artwork. I don't think the plot of book five is a severe mis-step either, it just seems a bit heavy after the all out brilliance and lightness of book four. But then, I think, in the background of the last few volumes there has been an undertone that Scott has to grow up, that despite the fact that he lives in a world where experience points and boss battles are real things, he also has to face up to the real world, being responsible and taking responsibility in his relationships with others.

Who knows where volume six will take us. The final pages are certainly ominous enough! Although Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe doesn't pack the same emotional high for me that the other books have, it is still a great read. I can't recommend the series highly enough, it's just a joy to read (start at the beginning!) and I'm now slightly sad that there's probably a wait of at least a year for the next book.

Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together

I'm writing my thoughts on Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together with the hindsight of having read the next book in the series as well. With that knowledge I can confidently say that it is by far and away my favourite book in the series. Seeing Scott receive experience points for getting a job (and later for getting his job back) was great. His likening getting a job in the kitchens of a restaurant as "something like a job system in a game" was hilarious. Pulling a sword from his chest after he has levelled up and gained "the power of love" was just magical.

The book is longer than the others so far too, and the extra length really helps the book to flow well. There's plenty of room and time for support characters, and no one is lost along the way. Having Scott actually start to pull his life together - getting a job, saying 'I love you', moving in with Ramona - is a really cool storyline. Expanding on some of the other elements of the world that he lives in (where people can travel through subspace and possess baseball bats which have +1 bonuses against blondes) increases the charm of the whole series. As crazy as it can be at times, no explanation is required, because it all kind of makes sense really.

After reading this I had a big silly smile on my face - even bigger than after I read the first book for the first time - and I was desperate to have a life where text appears in midair to tell me that I've levelled up or received experience points. This book has a +10 bonus against all other forms of literature.