Good news, everybody! Being Human has been picked up for a second series! Being Human is the only home-grown telly I’ve bothered setting the Sky Plus for (alright  other than TV Burp and, um, Total Wipeout – alright, alright, it’s not something I’m proud of) and by and large I’m still enjoying it very much. There are a couple of nits of differing sizes to pick, mind.

George remains the cast’s Achilles heel. Every other performance in the series is so easy and natural his peculiarly mannered nerdiness is really starting to grate. Playing a geeky character who’s socially awkward while remaining sympathetic and not descending into sneering caricature is obviously difficult, but I’m currently watching the first series of the thoroughly enjoyable Big Bang Theory which pulls the trick off (with admittedly varying degrees of success) four times. So, y’know.

My main gripe is with the series’ treatment of women, however. In episode 4, the only recurring female character who wasn’t almost wholly defined by their relationship with a man – Annie’s obsession with Owen, Lauren’s with Mitchell – was clobbered with the “if you’re a strong, intelligent, independant woman then you must have been damaged by your past” stick.

Grrrr.

Come on, Being Human. You’re well-written, mostly well-acted and more intelligent than 95% of the drama we’re subjected to on British TV. You don’t need to be indulging in such an overdone and frankly offensive cliché. You’re better than this.

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I hadn’t been to the Royal Air Force Museum in the better part of twenty years, and the fact that I’d never taken the boys there before borders on unforgivable. This sorry state of affairs was rectified at the weekend, with a happy afternoon spent wandering around assorted airbourne purveyors of destruction, death and misery.

I particularly enjoyed getting a close-up look at an English Electric Lightning. Like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, the Lightning has features that are a bit odd or even offputting taken in isolation – the over-under engines, the beer-belly fuel-tank, the strange positioning of the missile hardpoints just below the cockpit, the big wide stupid chin and hamster cheeks, the over-wing drop tanks, the air intake around the nosecone, the weird lips – but the overall effect is stunning. The Lightning looks like the designer dropped a paper dart on the table and said “Tell you what. Let’s make one of those fly at Mach 2.”

As you might expect given the gap between visits, there were a number of changes and additions to the last time I was there. Getting to walk right under a Vulcan bomber was a highlight, and one that really brought home the sheer monstrous size of the thing. The fact that it even got off the ground boggles the mind, it’s quite literally bigger than the whole row of three terraced houses that we live on. Flying it must have been like trying to pilot a medium-sized Baptist church. Of doom.

My favourite addition was the brand new Milestones Of Flight hanger, though – a light, airy space filled with aircraft of varying degrees of historical significance. One of the first things you see as you enter the hall is an extremely cool juxtaposition – a Bleriot XI monoplane of the type used to make the first crossing of the English Channel and the RAF’s current state-of-the-art fighter.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Between the year 909 and the year 1009, technology advanced from the sword all the way to the slightly fancier sword. Between 1909 and 2009 we’ve gone from a machine that’s basically a big t-shirt wrapped around a couple of cheap photo-frames with some bicycle wheels lashed on the bottom and an engine that we’d laugh at if it were powering a scooter, to the Eurofighter Typhoon. We’ve gone from the Model T to the Bugatti Veyron. We’ve gone from candlestick phones and manual switchboards to the Internet. We’ve gone from TS Eliot to Dan Brown. We’ve gone from workhouses to child labour in the Far East. We’ve gone from cities choked with smog to impending global environmental cataclysm.

Sorry, sort’ve lost where I was going with that toward the end.

Still – crikey, Charlie. The acceleration of technological progress, the sheer pace at which humanity is churning out life-changing innovations staggers me. In less than a century, we’ve gone from 37 minutes to fly the Channel to less than a minute. What on Earth (or beyond) do you suppose we’re going to manage in the next hundred years?

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In “Confessions of a Winning Poker Player” Jack King said, “Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career.”
- Mike McD, “Rounders

Second hand of my regular Tuesday night pub game, starting stacks of 2500 chips, blinds at 25 and 50. First position raises to 100, gets a caller from fourth position and it folds round to me. I peel up the corners of my cards and see two kings staring back. About three quarters of the time in this spot I’d reraise and try to either narrow the field to two players or take it down there and then, but my good position and the meagre pot persuades me to flat call. The small blind folds but the big blind calls, meaning there are four of us playing for 425 chips.

The flop comes down 4, 10, king with two clubs. The proverbial fireworks are going off in my head because I’ve just hit the nuts – top set (and incidentally a backdoor king high flush draw). The big blind – a strong and solid player – bets about half the pot, the original raiser calls and the other player in the pot folds. With straight and flush draws a possiblity, I’m happy to take the thousand or so chips that are out there and so raise another 750. The big blind, who’s got me out-chipped thanks to his pocket 7s turning into quads on the first hand, immediately re-raises me all-in. Obviously I call without hesitation – best-case scenario he’s got two pair or ace-king and I’ll win the hand 99% of the time. Worst-case scenario he’s got queen-jack of clubs (unlikely given how he’s played it, but hey) and I’ll only win two hands in three.

As the cards are turned over it’s closer to the first scenario than the second. A lot closer. He’s got pocket fours, giving him bottom set and meaning I’m about 95% likely to win. The turn’s a second ten that helps him not a jot and so there’s only one card in the deck that’ll knock me out on the river,  the last remaining four. It’s a pure and simple 2% shot.

Yeah, you can see where this is going. Did the title give it away? Or the Rounders quote? Or the fact that I’m unlikely to have bashed out the better part of seven hundred words talking about a hand that played out in routine fashion?

To confirm the crushingly inevitable, then – my opponent hits four of a kind for the second time in two hands and I hit the rail.

Sometimes you just have to laugh. Arguably I should have re-raised before the flop and driven his poxy small pair out, most of the time I probably would have done exactly that. Better to win a small pot than lose a big one is generally my mantra. But the bottom line is that I got my money in the middle of the table as a 20-1 favourite. If I’d actually known the cards my opponent was playing, I’d likely have made the exact moves I did. But the beauty of poker and one of the reasons I find it so compelling is that even playing a hand perfectly isn’t always enough. Sometimes David beats Goliath. Sometimes you given a short, sharp lesson in how probablities work (Hey kids! Remember, massively unlikely <> impossible! Huh-huh-huh HEH!). Sometimes the board decides that you’re going to be knocked out and that’s an end to it. Poker is a constant reminder that mutability is our tragedy but also our hope, that neither success or faliure are entirely within our power to achieve, that you have to meet triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same. I love this game. I love the very special blend of psychology and extreme logic. I love what it teaches you about other people and what it reveals about yourself. It should be on every primary school curriculum in the country. Seriously.

Um.

Sorry about that. I have a tendancy to wax insanely pretentious when the cards strap on their Doc Martens and dance a passionate fandango on my gentleman’s area.

In summary, then: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!

That is all.

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The Living God-King Of Genre Television is back! Huzzah! Three series created to date, all three stone classics (for four seasons, two seasons and until its vastly premature cancellation respectively).

You know what to expect from Joss Whedon (for it is he) – women kicking ass, wisecrackery, appealing characters, rollercoaster writing that subverts tropes to entertaining effect and the slight uncomfortable sense that he’s trying to have his cake and eat it regarding the whole feminism thing. It’s a bit of a surprise then that the first episode of Dollhouse only hits the last of those bullet-points.

The titular Dollhouse is one of these Top Secret Quasi-Governmental Agencies Far, Far More Secret Than The CIA that are so popular these days. Its agents are assorted ne’er-do-wells who’ve had their memories erased with mind-rubbers. When they are called upon to undertake a task, the agent has a new persona downloaded into their brain with a suitable personality and skillset for the job at hand, before being returned to a tablua rasa state to await the next mission. Our protagonist is Echo, a ne’er-do-well who’s had her memory erased with… you get the idea.

Dollhouse is a conscious move away from the comedy-drama that Joss Whedon is best known for, and some people will take against it simply because it’s not what they were expecting. Which is a shame and somewhat unfair because there are plenty of more legitimate gripes to choose from. The most fundamental issue is that there’s not a single engaging character in the whole of the first episode. Echo, by dint of the programme’s central conceit, is a cipher – you can sympathise with her situation, but not directly with her. The supporting cast meanwhile is made up entirely of stereotypes. You’ve got Echo’s handler, who’s not sure that the ends of the Dollhouse justifies its means. You’ve got Helo out of Battlestar Galactica, who’s the Rogue Cop convinced that the Dollhouse is real despite everyone telling him it’s just a conspiracy. You’ve got the geek who created and maintains the mind-rubber technology who’s more than a bit emotionally detached and inhuman There’s nobody who appears to be anything other than a cog turning to keep the plot moving forward.

From Buffy through Serenity, you might have been able to say that Joss Whedon’s writing is a bit smug, you’ve been able to say that perhaps all his dialogue sort’ve sounds the same no matter which character’s saying it, you’ve been able to say that he often goes for the cheap funny over actual character development. Before now, you’ve never been able to say that he’s predictable. His usual MO is allowing you to make yourself comfortable in familiar surroundings before suddenly kicking the bed over (see: the evil ventriloquist dummy in Buffy, the end of the deeply funny Angel-turns-PC episode, Mal negotiating with the crimelord’s agent in The Train Job, the end of Dr. Horrible). Nothing of the sort happens here. The story ambles from A to B to C without the slightest deviation from its expected path, with the notable exception that Echo’s first persona isn’t a deadly assassin or elite soldier but rather a bookish hostage-negotiator with asthma.

I don’t mean to sound too down on Dollhouse. It’s early days of course, and the episode was passably entertaining in a sub-La Femme Nikita sort’ve way, certainly enough that I’m interested to see where Whedon’s going with it. It’s still possible that this is a massive headfake, that it’s not going to just plod through Echo discovering that she’s not who she thought she was and escaping the Dollhouse with the help of Helo and her handler at all, and that there’s a far more interesting and less overdone story waiting for us down the line.

I’m not sure if I’ll be more surprised if there is or there isn’t.

While you’re waiting for Dollhouse to become any good, you’d be well advised to have a look at Being Human, a new series on BBC3 that doesn’t so much nod in Joss Whedon’s direction as bellow at him across a crowded room waving its arms in the air. Its central premise is easily summed up – a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost share a house in Bristol, each of them trying to engage with but protect themselves from the general mass of humanity. If the first series of Angel had been about 50% grimier and 500% more British, it would have looked something like this.

For all the justifiable cynicism that this is some sort of focus-group box-ticker, Being Human is actually terrific fun. It’s a bit rough around the edges but it’s funny, it’s tense, it’s well-written and it’s convincingly dark in places. My only serious reservation is George, the werewolf. Obviously the idea was to make him slightly geeky and socially inadequate to throw the bestial nature of his transformation into relief, but it doesn’t quite work. The nerdiness is just writ a touch too large, and the actor goes to the shrill-and-squeaky well a little too often. It’s particularly noticeable because the other two leads both give very strong, assured performances.

Being Human pretty much manages to do what Torchwood’s been failing at for the last two years – tell contemporary fantasy-horror stories for grownups, and the first four episodes are all available for viewing on the iPlayer. If you like Joss Whedon, I’d wholeheartedly recommend you give it a try.

Which is sadly more than I can say for Joss Whedon’s new series.

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More fun from BEtEO, this time via Twitter and The Internet’s Famous Richard Gaywood – the collision of great literature and base commerce. It’ll come as no suprise to some that this is an idea I’ve not been able to leave alone since it crossed my path. My best efforts to date:

“And on the pedestal these words appear:
 “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
 Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
 Nothing beside remains: round the decay
 Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
 The lone and level sands stretch far away.
 Next time, use Ronseal Double-Action Wood Preserver.”

“To imagine the future, imagine a boot smashing into a human face forever. Ooh, nice boots! http://www.clarks.com.”

“This is not just a liquor never brewed,
 From tankards scooped in pearl;
 This is M&S liquor.”

“The barge, like a burnished throne burned on the water; the poop was beaten gold, purple the sales and so perfumed that the wind was lovesick with them. Then it hits you – this is way more than a cruise! Royal Caribbean International.”

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all
 Ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.
 Maybe she’s born with it – maybe it’s Maybelline.”

“It seemed to be a sort of monster, or symbol representing a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful. Talk to Frank.”

“I grow old! I grow old!
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled!
Unless I take advantage the great menswear bargains available in the BHS winter sale.”

“So twice five miles of fertile ground
 With walls and towers were girdled round:
 And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
 Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
 And here were forests ancient as the hills,
 Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
 Visit Centre Parcs – for a British holiday the weather can’t spoil.”

“Because I could not stop for Death
 He kindly stopped for me
 The carriage held but just ourselves
 And Immortality.
 We’d have been able to fit four kids and the family dog in as well if Death had been driving the new Vauxhall Zafira.”

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In this thread on amiable nerdhaven Be Excellent To Each Other, the splendid Dr. Lave from the doubly splendid Skeptobot questions the established wisdom that it’s a rarity for the average player to see a game through to the end. After a little consideration, I realised that on the FunSquareSuperPlus alone I’ve finished about a dozen games to Lave’s eminently sensible “If You’ve Seen The Credits It’s Finished” criteria in the last twelve months. Which I feel is pretty decent going.

I’m probably fractionally more persistent than most in this area – an unfinished game will niggle at me for an extended period (it took over a month of regular attempts to polish off Flirtin’ With Disaster and finish Rock Band’s solo guitar tour on Hard, f’rinstance) but particularly capricious or tedious game design can easily see me off, and with so many other shiny distractions available it seems ridiculous to endure frustration for any length of time. I feel no guilt at all for dipping into the marvellous resource available at GameFAQs to get me past particularly obtuse puzzles or aggravating difficulty-spikes. If that fails, well, there’s a wonderful feeling of liberation that comes with the realisation “hey, I’m just not enjoying this” and switching the offending game off for good. Mirror’s Edge and I are currently undergoing a trial separation based primarily on its fondness for unfair and irritating combat, f’rinstance. And I never got past the end of the first chapter of Neverwinter Nights after it was clear to me that a double-cross was about to take place but I was given absolutely no way of warning the party primarily involved. When said party then wanted to send me on a long-winded errand arising directly from said double-cross, I uninstalled the game in a fit of pique.

So. Here’s the full list of every EggBox game I’ve conquered over the past year then, with micro-reviews appended for your delectation, delight or at least fleeting distraction. Ranks are assigned on a Capcom tip, with a scale that runs from F for games which are functionally broken through to A for a slice of fried gold. The elusive S-rank is reserved for works of transcendent excellence, genuinely essential experiences that I’d recommend to anyone without qualification or hesitation.

In rough chronological order, then:

Crackdown
(Completed the story)
Still only got 99 of the 100 bloody agility orbs, though, and this generally excellent sandbox-em-up was marred slightly by the not-fun vehicle bits, unreliable camera, one-trick missions and touchy cops. Still, bounding from skyscraper to skyscraper like a heavily armed cyborg facist super-kangaroo was hours of fun, and “popping up” from behind terrain like an Apache gunship never got old. When dealing with large groups of n’er-do-wells, I’d hide behind cover then jump thirty feet straight up, lock on to an enemy, fire off a sniper bullet / missile at the top of the leap then drop back to safety giggling like a loon before their mates could shoot back. Triffic. Rank: A

Virtua Tennis 3
(Ranked 1 in World Tour)
The best thing about VT3 is that when you manage to set your feet and pull off a full-power groundstroke, the resulting shot genuinely feels like it should have a verb like “rips”, “unleashes”, “thumps” or “crashes” attached to it. It’s a game that repeatedly, pathetically drove me to make Tiger Tim fist-pumps at my TV as, f’rinstance, my heavy serve would see my opponent forced to float a diffident return allowing me to punch a volleyed winner into the open court. It’s a satisfying, nicely tactical game of tennis, it’s stuffed with fun, borderline-bonkers minigames and it had cutscenes featuring famous players who all looked absolutely terrifying. The cold, dead eyes of Zombie Lindsay Davenport haunt my sleep to this day. Rank: B

Ace Combat 6
(Completed all operations of all missions on Easy and Medium difficulty)
And I’m about halfway through Hard. It’s Outrun: The Dogfighting Game. All the thrills of barrelling about the sky at Ludicrous Speed blowing stuff up, none of the tedious realism to get in the way. Tearing through canyons at several zillion miles an hour chucking rockets at stuff with Cheap Trick or Gustav Holst in the background put a coathanger-wide smile on my face. Stupid, portentous, unintentionally hilarious cutscenes aside it might be my favourite game on the Eggbox outside of the towering monolith that is Rock Band. Rank: A

Guitar Hero III
(Five-starred all songs in main tour on medium difficulty)
If I never hear Raining Blood again it’ll be too soon. Could have done without so much forum-kiddie-pleasing heavy metal rubbish, could have done without the maHOOsive difficulty spike about 8 songs from the end, could have done without the casual misogyny, could have really, really, really done without the boss battles. Great guitar peripheral, though. Rank: B

Project Sylpheed
(Completed story missions, medium difficulty)
Or “Project Slaphead” as it rapidly became known. It’s a space-based action flight-sim – Ace Combat with lasers. To say that PS is a visually busy game is like saying that the England batting lineup is a bit below par. It looks like an explosion during a Jean-Michel Jarre gig at a disco ball manufacturer’s convention. That’s being held in a fireworks factory. Run by Martin Fry, still wearing his gold lame suit. On November the fifth. During a thunderstorm. Whilst seven volcanoes are simultaneously erupting in the background. In a… you get the idea. It’s also very anime. Very very anime indeed. This may be a selling-point for some people, but I’m not one of them. Within 15 minutes I sincerely wished lingering, painful death on every moronic, wittering, whining, mopy, stupidly-haircutted fourteen-year-old character in the game. Still, when you’re barrelling around space launching umpty-thrumpty thousand missiles in one eye-shattering salvo Project Slaphead is great, if a bit up-and-down in terms of difficulty. Rank: B

Call Of Duty 4
(Completed single-player, medium difficulty)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Game. For all that sandbox gaming is en vogue, there’s still a lot to be said for a really well-done rollercoaster ride. And that’s exactly what CoD4’s single-player mode is, so many ups and downs and loops and spins and adrenaline-pumping thrills only a pedantic moron would complain that it’s completely on rails. It’s got a strong story told in a novel, arresting way with several tremendous set-pieces – the entire sniper level and the eerie, weirdly affecting turn as the gunner on an AC-130 gunship being particular standouts. Rank: A

Dead Rising
(Completed main game, overtime mode, achieved “true” ending)
The first game I played on the 360 that would have been genuinely impossible on the previous generation of consoles. When it’s good it’s very very good. When it’s bad it’s horrid. The brilliant setting – a shopping mall teeming with zombies – and by-turns hilarious and terrifying mood is thoroughly undermined by a mental save system, rubbish controls and several baffling design decisions. The sequel’s just been announced, and with a bit of a nip and a tuck and an annoyingbitsectomy it could be a stone-cold classic rather than just a very good game. So long as it still lets me dress up my burly macho chump of a character in a teddy bear mask, floral print dress and slingbacks I’ll be happy. It certainly made all the puzzled looks NPCs kept throwing at me in cutscenes 300% funnier. Rank: B

Guitar Hero II
(Five-starred all songs in main tour on medium difficulty)
Its existence is justified by the presence of Sweet Child O’ Mine and the glorious final level with Freebird followed by just the perfect game-ending cutscene but the tracklist isn’t quite as good as the original game taken as a whole. This year I’m going to take my newly Rock Band-honed fifth-button skills and finish this bad boy on Hard. Rank: A

Conan
(Completed, medium difficulty)
It’s God Of War, but nowhere near as good. Bought for about seven quid to tide me over for the three days of my week off before Rock Band arrived. Featuring the delightful combination of slightly stodgy, imprecise controls and ledges that’ll happily let you plummet to your death without pause or warning. Further featuring comfortably the cheapest, most hateful, most hair-tearingly frustrating final boss I’ve encountered in 25 years of gaming. Rank: C

Rock Band
(Completed solo drum tour on easy, vocal tour on medium, guitar tour on medium and hard, band inducted to Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame)
“We’ve been The Red Winkiez, you’ve been terrific. Thank you very much and goodnight!” Rank: S

GTA IV
(Completed story missions)
A game I admired more than I liked. The story generally didn’t mesh well with the mechanics, the cars were uniformly horrible to drive, it wasn’t as funny as previous games in the series, the mission checkpointing was a bit of a mess and my GOD, did the clingy whiny friends thing needed to go. However, the gunplay was generally good, there were a couple of storytelling moments that genuinely stirred the blood and it’s impossible not to be impressed by the depth, scale and spectacle of the gameworld. On balance, it’s a good game just nowhere near as good as it might have been and nowhere near as good as its two immediate predecessors. Rank: B

FIFA 09
(Finished Be A Pro mode, won International Cup with England to become a National legend)
I’ve spent the majority of my time with FIFA on the play-as-one-bloke Be A Pro mode, and the longer I’ve played it the more niggles and irritations have revealed themselves. Chief among them is a crippling bug that seems to make players disappear from your club side over the course of a season. This got so bad that at the end of my year in Milan I was playing two reserve strikers and seven defenders, because Kaka, Ronaldinho, Pirlo, Ambrosini, Emerson, Gatusso,and Antonini had all inexplicably gone walkabout. And contrary to all expectation, Manchester City weren’t involved. Despite promises there’s no sign whatsoever of a patch to sort this out, which is hardly a surprise given that the Madden series had lingering issues that would last for 3-4 years at a time despite every forum dedicated to the game anywhere ever being chock-full of justifiably hacked-off gamers grumbling/screeching about it. Rank: B

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Am I the only person on Earth who hates the Brazilian national football team, then? Am I the only person who finds their sublime skill and carefree attitude unbearably irritating? Am I the only person who sees something like this:

…and aches to see a Fearless Booterer type like Neil Cox or Paul Robinson (not that one) come skidding in two-footed and launch the show-offy little twerp into the third row of the stands?

I mean, look at it. That’s not football. Football’s mud and blood and commitment and effort and big burly ugly men kicking a scuffed white sphere as far as they possibly can. It’s got beauty, but it’s in small, sweet moments among masses of drudgery, like an unexpected doughnut on a Wednesday morning. It’s the beauty of a whipped cross or a forward laying out to connect with a thumping diving header. It’s the beauty of a perfectly-timed sliding tackle or a full-stretch reaction save.

Look at that clip. That’s not football. That’s a theme-park ride.

It’s possible that my formative years watching lower-division football in general and Watford in particular mean that exposure to genuine skill leaves me fearful and suspicious.

It’s equally possible is that I’ve no joy in my soul.

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For your subscription fee this weekend, at halftime during the impossibly dreary Manchester City-Middlesborough game, deadlocked at that point at 0-0:

Richard Keys: “What do City need to do to come away from this game with a win?”
David Platt: “Score.”

Top, top work. Almost Billy-The-Fishian (“At the end of the day, it’s the team with most goals that’ll win the match”) in its jaw-dropping blandness. Even at a time when the BBC are giving Alan Shearer regular work and Andy Townsend is still inexplicably cashing ITV’s paycheques, Sky really are pushing the envelope in terms of “experts” who refuse to say anything about anything. Even taking Platt aside, there’s Jamie “Literally” Redknapp, Ray “Shouldn’t You Be Paying More Attention To Your Day Job?” Wilkins, Glenn “Triffic” Hoddle, Graham Souness, Peter Reid, George Graham, Alan Smith – crikey, that’s just a murderer’s row. Or it would be if boredom could kill.

In some cases, the lack of anything meaningful to say seems to be a matter of simple incompetence (Mark Lawrenson, David Pleat take a bow). However, more often and more insidiously there seems to be a reluctance to criticise either the expert’s mates in the game (Jamie Redknapp’s the best choice to commentate on a game featuring a team he used to play for that his dad manages? Really?) or anyone who might conceivably offer them a job in the future (hello, Sam Allardyce!). It’s only when you’re listening to someone who seems to view offering genuine insight and honest criticism as his responsibility that it’s possible to fully appreciate the sorry state of football punditry. It’s difficult to imagine any Sky mouthpiece emphatically declaring that anyone who paid to see the game they’re watching deserves a refund, as the ever-excellent Brian Moore did during the England rugby team’s turgid win over Italy.

That City-Boro game also contained several examples of the two most irritating verbal tics indulged in by football commentators. Question – what happens more often, someone scoring a goal or a talking-head squealing “He should have scored!” It’s the latter and it’s not even close, right? Similarly, compare the number of goals to the number of “Great save!” exclamations. Again, there are apparently more fantastic saves than converted chances.

Here’s the point: if a player “should” score a chance, doesn’t that heavily imply that he should be converting more of those opportunities than he misses? If a save is “great” or similar, doesn’t that imply that it’s not one you’d expect the keeper to make, and so you’d expect to have more goals than terrific saves? But we don’t, in either case because the “fantastic chance!” and “wonderful save!” descriptions are thrown about like handfuls of confetti and are now completely devalued. The former gets attached to any relatively free header in the box or any reasonably clean strike of the ball in the penalty area. The latter is used to greet any save where the goalie has to leave his feet, or any stop of a shot inside the six-yard box even if the ball’s blasted straight at the keeper and he’d have to actively jump out of the way to avoid it (come to think of it, Paul Robinson’s given that technique a go during recent England games). It’s mindless, thoughtless hype and in any sensible world there’d currently be a course of aversion therapy going on featuring every commentator ever, replays of Liverpool’s European campaigns of a few years ago and a car battery attached to assorted dangly bits.

Actually, listening to Jonathan Pearce’s demented squealing any time the ball goes anywhere near either penalty area, it’s possible that course has already started.

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Don’t care if I’ve missed the boat. Convention is a load of foetid nadgers anyway. Why is February 14th the only day that society demands you appreciate who you love? Why is Christmas the only time of year you’re supposed to be decent to your fellow human beings?

I digress.

Best these are posted in public because I’m the most lazy, useless person on the planet and I have the willpower of a thing with no willpower whatsoever. Any prodding / goading that my friends, acquaintances and Internet chums would be so kind as to direct toward me regarding any of the below will be gratefully received.

1 – Write more.
Specifically, at least one update a week for the rest of the year. I’ve not been happy with anything I’ve posted on this blog since it went up (the post regarding active vs. passive objectification is the closest to a decent piece to date), but I’m a firm believer that the first step to writing something good is to write stuff that’s rubbish. My blog posting has always come in fits and starts as my enthusiasm’s waxed and waned and that’s not good enough. My writing muscles have atrophied and the only way to get them back to something approaching shape is regular exercise. So.

2 – Read more.
I used to be a voracious consumer of books, unable to go anywhere or do anything without a paperback for idle moments. At some point I’ve let TV and podcasts sidle in to become the killers of my spare minutes, and in no way is that helping my writing. Also, I’m going to try and avoid reading anything I’ve read before. There’s tons of stuff I’ve barely touched from my birthday and Christmas and that’s absolutely criminal.

3 – Photograph more.
Actually, I’m off to a semi-decent start on this, having got some semi-acceptable shots from Monday’s crazy snowfall. But the only way is up, because my flickr only seems to have two pictures posted last year which is beyond pathetic. I’ve got an expensive camera that’s far more capable than my meagre abilities justify, and it’s about time I started using it to something approaching its potential. At the very least, I’m going to finally commit to memory how aperture numbers work, because shamefully I can’t keep it straight in my head whether higher numbers = wider aperture and whether opening the aperture increases or reduced the depth of field. God, I’m so rubbish I make myself want to hurl.

4, 5 – Eat less and exercise more.
Obv.

That’ll do to be going along with. Sorry this is so navel-gazey and thoroughly unedifying but hey – blog, you know?

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2008 was plainly the Year Of The Awesome B-Movie. I’ve already gushed about The Mist, and now along comes Doomsday. It stars Lara Croft (no, not that one), supported by a bloke who wasn’t even the best voice actor in Fallout 3, the second most annoying Hustle cast member, the third most annoying Deep Space Nine cast member and a man who was comprehensively out-acted by a cartoon rabbit. Oh, and Sean Pertwee, whose picture is still in the dictionary illustrating the word “world-weary”. Good old Sean Pertwee.

The plot is moulded from purest Toshonium. 30 years ago, a killer virus broke out in Scotland that necessatated walling off the whole country. Now, the virus has suddenly appeared in London and it’s up to a small team of commandos to re-enter Scotland and find the only man who might have a cure. Almost immediately, they discover that the survivors beyond the wall have gone totally feral and the quest for the McGuffin goes Very Badly Wrong. From there on out, the story grows steadily more and more bonkers.

Let’s try and put this in context. The strikingly awful Matrix Revolutions was like a Shadowrun game being run by a first-time GM, with characters being railroaded from pointless set-piece to pointless set-piece to collect a string of artificial Plot Coupons. Doomsday is like a Shadowrun game being run by a veteral GM who just happens not to have had time to create an adventure. If you stop and think about it, what’s going on doesn’t make a lot of sense but the setting’s so cool and you’re having so much fun picking holes in the plot is the last thing on your mind.

With the D-list cast, ludicrous story, cheesy dialogue and hilarious costumes Doomsday seems like nothing as much as a straight-to-DVD petrol-station-rack filler accidentally given a summer blockbuster budget by some inattentive studio accountant. Director Neil Marshall (of Dog Soliders and superbly nasty, claustrophobic spelunk-em-up The Descent fame) has created an homage to trashy eighties action movies turned up to 11, then turned up a bit more to Completely Off Its Chump. It’s massively good fun, totally comfortable in its own skin, totally aware and totally unashamed of what it’s trying to be. It’s absolutely rammed to the gills with nods and references to its genre forebears – Mad Max and Escape From New York are the obvious touchstones, but in less than two hours’ running-time we picked up nods in the direction of The Warriors, Gladiator, Lord Of The Rings, Evil Dead 3, Aliens, Lethal Weapon, Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves, Robocop, Excalibur and 28 Days Later. All this, and special effects that hit you like theomeny and will repeatedly get you making the same delighted wincing noise that Mike and Tim always made watching the skateboarding video in Spaced.

Doomsday. It’s running, jumping, shooting, shouting, splodes and really meaty violence just like mother used to make.

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