Wednesday, November 29, 2006

December Calling

Now that December is nearly upon us, there is a job that hangs around demanding your attention and steadfastly refusing to go away. It is nearly time to write the dreaded Round Robin, or summary of your existence on the Blue Planet for another 365 days.

Of course , being a blogger makes this easier every year, since your hopes, dreams and fears are laid out for all to see across the whole spectrum of seasons. For those who are untroubled by the internet though you have to go the trouble of typing in Word, printing out a myriad of copies and generally stuffing them into envelopes along with their Christmas Card.

Why bother though - it's easier to summarise it here and write the link down. After all who doesn't have access somewhere. Expect an explosion of similarly themed posts coming to a blogosphere near everyone real soon.

Media Centred

It was all the rage when I bought it, but now all I do is rage at it. It is broken again: the Toshiba Qosmio F10 Media Centre laptop that I picked up nearly two years ago. What's more it appears to be the same fault. This was supposed to be the future: the PC comes of age and we all cluster round it rather than the Cathode Ray Tube in the corner of the room.

The TV, as it is better known is still going strong, but the poor graphics card in the laptop doesn't really deserve the name, as it rarely displays anything now. So it will be another journey back to the repair centre, for the box not me, and the inevitable big bill. For it seems that Toshiba have a sneaking suspicion that their kit has built in obsolescence, the one feature that they don't make a song and dance about, when they set the warranty period for repairs at a measly three months.

The Moodier Centre as it will henceforth be called will be recalled to its maker where it may the latest and greatest graphics card added, as it was the last time. Only on this occasion, I hope that the manufacturer remembers what the humble customer bought it for in the first place, using it as a handy bedroom TV/DVD/CD player with wireless internet access. All of this takes time and you might expect that the display would take a hammering. It all makes me wonder how long this particular product spent in soak test. What do you mean, we're soak testing it for Toshiba?

As for the concept of the Media Centre itself, I think it's an idea whose time has passed. You do need somewere to store all of your media, but the method of accessing it needs to be more armchair friendly, something you would be happy to share your lounge with. Let's hope Steve Jobs has the answer this time, with his iTV, although he may want to think about the name if he doesn't want a call from Michael Grade. Don't Apple try the simple precaution of typing their product names into Google these days?

Anyway I feel a battle coming on: that of Clueless Consumer versus Titanic Corporation. Some day the little guy will win.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Better Bond

This was surely not like the Bond films of my youth. Where were the quips? Where were the put-downs? Where were the double entendres? No, this new Bond film with its new Bond, was a really fresh approach to the genre. It was gritty; it was mean; it was hard. Was all of this a backlash against the criticism of Daniel Craig?

Don't get me wrong, Casino Royale had a Full House of features from earlier in the franchise. After all there were the women, the locations, the stunts and the chases. In fact it looked fabulous, no doubt due to the cinematography of Phil Meheux, who performed that role on the similarly tough 'Long Good Friday', another Rod K favourite. The story cranked along at a fair pace, too, in a mad dash to visit as many exotic places as the budget would allow.

But it was Craig, as the latest incarnation of JB, who played the character as darkly as it is possible to get whilst remaining entertaining, and staying within the bounds of a 12A production. The grainy, black and white sequences at the beginning flashing back to his pre-00-licence days showed a ruthless and un-pretty side to his character. This was no gentleman pursuing the noble cause of fighting for Queen and Country, but a out and out thug, a hired hand who was working his way up the ranks.

I haven't read the original novel, but I understand that it was actually quite a short story. It seemed as if quite a lot of extra screenplay had been built up around the basic premise of the book: that of the fledgling agent on his first mission who is trying to beat his quarry at cards, in order to bankrupt the terrorists' banker. But it was all the better for it, showing the skill of the writers in transforming the written word to the projected image.

Not even the enforced evacuation of the cinema for a fire alarm, which meant a half-hour wait outside whilst the building was checked, could spoil our enjoyment.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Breaking and Entering

Sometimes the best things happen by accident, and due to a complete lack of planning, trying to fit too much into the day and a re-creation of Hugh-Fearnley Whitingstall's fish pie from 'The River Cottage Treatment', we were running far too late to catch the film we had intended. We arrived at the cinema without booking an alternative, only to find the next performances sold out.

This was beginning to look like the 'Comedy of Errors' as we finally had to book a late film which meant that we had a couple of hours to kill, but time spent in the company of a loved one passes all too quickly and we were soon snaffling popcorn in front of our hastily chosen substitute.

We had finally settled on Antony Mingella's latest film, Breaking and Entering, which the 'PreVue' magazine had described as 'understated'. Now this might put others off, but we actually like films where not much happens, not that this really applies to the work in question. In reality, the plot unfurls steadily, allowing for plenty of healthy introspection and discovery of the characters' motivations.

The main character, Will, played by a suitably moody Jude Law, is an architect who is transforming the area of King's Cross. We learn that his personal relationships have a close parallel with the architecture in the film - looks cannot hide the grim reality lurking underneath. His wife, Liv, is a beautiful Swede but suffers from Seasonal Affecting Disorder, and spends hours in front of a light box. They also have a daughter who is hyper-active and will never sleep at night. So despite the success of his work life, his home life is starting to crack.

Through the machinations of the plot, Will visits some iconic sixties concrete flats - you may have seen them - the ones that face each other across a walkway and step out gradually from the top so that each flat has a small outside terrace. These too look great on the outside, but during an inevitable chase sequence we get to see the dark spaces, beneath the flats, accessed via the service road, that were all too often were created in this era. These dank hell holes where no light reaches are an underworld of crime and seedy activity where the designer clothed architect seems totally out of place.

I worried that in forty years time, Will's transformation of King's Cross, with its canals, glass and steel might suffer the same fate. Like a lot of stunning architecture, has it really designed to be used? Has the creator thought about how the people who inhabit his world will interact with the spaces he is creating. For long after the critics have departed and the photographers have gone, it is the humble occupant who must judge the building, and they may not rate it so highly.

Still life does have a habit of being influenced by people's surroundings and if that is what the architect intended then it has been an outstanding success. Modern spaces have evolved a new art form: parcours - the art of using the built environment as, literally, a jumping off point. The free running sequences in the film continue the beauty within the cracked landscape theme further and act as a thread to join sections of the narrative flow together.

The crime of the title, is just a device to delve deeper into the relationships between people and their environs. To not go and see this - now that would be a crime.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Like Christmas but Donated

I couldn't sleep the other night. I felt that something wasn't right. Then it came to me: Christmas was just round the corner. I thought, do I really need more stuff? The answer was plain enough: no!

So there and then I took the decision that I needed to get people to donate money to the charity of my choice, instead of buying things for me. This blog was the perfect vehicle for doing so. As of yesterday, it now contains a link to my page on

I thought about the charities I could benefit and it didn't take long to decide to back Oxfam. After all they started locally in Oxford, which isn't far from West Berks. Their mission is simple:
  • Saving lives by responding swiftly to provide aid, support and protection during emergencies
  • Developing programmes and solutions that empower people to work their way out of poverty
  • Campaigning to achieve lasting change
They actively campaign to produce a fairer, more just world, where people can reach their potential on their own rather than exist on handouts. So, go on, please help by donating where you see the Justgiving logo, or follow the links in this post.

Friday, November 10, 2006

What's in the box?

In our quest to find the best organic food box scheme, we are now on our third, count 'em, supplier. Long gone are the days when you could simply head to your nearest supermarket and buy all of the produce you needed for the week. I mean there are so many rules to be adhered to these days.

It has to be organic doesn't it. We don't want to poison ourselves with all of those nasty chemicals that non-organic farmers spray onto their crops. It also has to be local. We don't want to ruin the planet by trucking the green-groceries half-way round the world, or even half way across the country if we can help it.

It has to be in season. Now this is a new one for city folk like myself. Apparently fruits and vegetables don't grow and ripen all year round. It has something to do with the sun, and the days getting shorter or longer. The supermarkets have been conning us naive food-buying folk for years by putting food from far off climes on their shelves for three quarters of the year, probably at huge expense to them and therefore to us. As a result they have convinced us, or is it just me, that Mango is in season from January to December. I have just been told that Mango doesn't grow in this country and is probably a pretty bad example, but you get my drift.

Well I thought I had it all sorted out until I watched the news the other night. Apparently there is another factor to add to the equation. Let's call this factor 'y' for the sake of argument. If you differentiate 'y' by time 't' then you might think that you had ended up back at school, and you would be right. So, we won't do that - what we now need to know is the total amount of CO2, 'y', that is generated by growing and transporting fruit 'x', and this is not at all obvious.

The Kiwis, the nation not the fruit, have been hitting back at the terrible slurs that the Kiwis, the fruit not the nation, are not green. Now I can see what you are thinking there, and you would be right: that what I really meant was that they are not Green. The Kiwis (nation) maintain that the Kiwis (fruit) are actually more green than a tomato. Now I can see what you are thinking there: that they don't seem to be saying very much, until you realise that the tomato is not just any tomato, but one grown in a heated greenhouse, on, say, the Isle of Wight.

The total amount of CO2, 'y', generated by producing and shipping us the decidedly green Kiwi, 'x', (fruit again), is apparently less than the CO2 used in producing and shipping the decidedly red tomato, 'z'. This apparent conundrum, sorry equation, can be solved when you add fact 'a': that the Kiwi is shipped using a ship, and the tomato is shipped using a truck, but has been grown out of season using lots of artificial heat. This has got everything to do with the fact that ships don't give out anywhere near the amount of CO2 that a plane does, and the fact that the days are much shorter in the Isle of Wight.

Is that clear?