Thursday, 24 October 2013

Songs I'm really glad weren't written about me...

Ever wished you’d been immortalised in song? I know I have. Quite what would be sung about me I have no idea – I don’t do much worth talking about, let alone singing – but I’d hope it would be a song about how awesome I am, or how much someone loves me.

But… while it would be wonderful to hear songs extolling your virtues, what about the flip-side? 

Whether it’s relating a tragic tale, a horrible situation, or simply calling someone out for being a prick, here’s my pick of songs I’m really glad weren’t written about me.

*Not including The Hurricane by Bob Dylan, or Strange Relationship by Prince, as YouTube ain't having it. Grrr.

Delia's Gone - Johnny Cash

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Jeremy - Pearl Jam

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Needle and the Damage Done - Neil Young

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Gary Gilmore's Eyes - The Adverts

For iPhone/iPad click here.

He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss) - The Crystals

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Unhappy Birthday - The Smiths

For iPhone/iPad click here.

The Kindness of Strangers - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Mr Ambulance Driver - The Flaming Lips

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Your Racist Friend - They Might Be Giants

For iPhone/iPad click here.

I'm gonna have that stuck in my head all day now...

Your turn.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Legend, by David Gemmell

3 stars

A hard one to rate, this one. On the one hand I really enjoyed it, with its witty dialogue and its battle against all odds plot, while on the other hand the side of me that's been spoilt by George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie and the like was disappointed by its brevity, simple characterisation and lack of emotional depth, and felt ever so slightly cheated by an ending apparently plucked out of thin air.

The Drenai are under attack. The Nadir are the usual faceless and numberless barbarian horde, led by the charismatic Ulrich, and they're congregating on the Drenai stronghold of Dros Delnoch, which is seriously undermanned and about to get the kicking of a lifetime. In dire need of a hero, up steps the legendary Druss - still an asskicker extraordinaire, even if he's not as young as he once was.

Joining him and the few thousand (mostly green) soldiers he's to lead into battle are Rek, enamoured of the daughter of the Earl at Dros Delnoch, the outlaw Bowman and his band of men (and woman), and The Thirty - some sort of warrior priests.

Fighting ensues.

If this had been one of the earlier fantasy books that I'd read, I'd probably have been far more into it than I was but too many niggles kept getting in the way for me to really fall in love. Relationships and emotions sprang up fully formed on first meetings rather than developing over the course of events and the glib dialogue, while adding to the book's readability, sometimes ensured a distance from the emotion punch that I know Gemmell can pack, having previously read his Troy series. And that ending really did suck, with a supernatural intervention and certain other twists that stretched my credulity (even within a mildly magical fantasy setting) and robbed what had gone before of much power.

This all probably makes it sound as if this is a bad book. It's not by any stretch - it's very readable and not very demanding (something I'm always grateful for if work has become hectic) and it's entirely possible that other readers may get far more out of the climax than I did.

Ideally, I'd say it's best suited to anyone who wants to give the genre a go but gets intimidated by the sheer width of its usual fare.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

3 stars

Every now and then I come to the realisation that I've once again fallen down a paranormal/fantasy hole, and so try and widen my reading a little. It's those times that I turn to the lists - in particular 1000 Books To Read Before You Die, and the Times 100 Greatest. It's these lists that led me to this book.

Shining a light on the traditions, customs and culture of a Nigerian village through telling the story of Okonkwo - a proud and respected man of high standing - and the destruction of said culture through the arrival of Christian missionaries, this wasn't always an easy book to read although I really enjoyed the way in which it was told.

Written in a way that made me feel that I was listening to it rather than reading, I found seeing every day village life to be an effective way of learning about a culture I'd normally not have any real exposure to, even as I found myself disliking our protagonist and being upset or angered by some of traditions and customs of the village (such as the treatment of women and the violence against children frequently advocated by the mad bitch in the cave Oracle).

Seeing the changes wrought by the missionaries whilst experiencing Okonkwo's feelings towards them made me better able to appreciate how deeply such a culture clash would run as well as how helpless the potential flock would feel in the face of such changes (I'm personally of the opinion that believing in one particular god or another doesn't make anyone any more or less of a shit. Every religion has its assholes, as well as practices that can either upset or wind me up, depending on my mood).

I really didn't like Okonkwo though...

Hospital Babylon, by Imogen Edwards-Jones

3 stars

Having worked in a hospital for the best part of a decade now, even though I’m not frontline (I’m one of the assholes in offices instead, running the organisation’s websites and such), I’ve heard many stories over the years that would make your toes curl, your hair stand on end and your stomach contents rapidly leave your body. I can’t share any of those stories with you, what with confidentiality laws and the high probability of losing my job if I did, but I can recommend that you read this book if you’ve ever been at all curious as to what really goes on in a hospital.

Taking anonymous anecdotes from healthcare professionals around the country and squeezing them into a narrative of the ‘typical’ (double) shift in an A&E, the format is a little clumsy at times as people stand around having awkward conversations in order to shoe-horn in another anecdote, but not enough to detract from just how interesting, shocking, sad or funny those anecdotes are.

Running through, amongst many other things, the self-medication of doctors and the addicts dying in toilet cubicles, the RTA’s and the twats calling ambulances for hangovers (although I’ve heard of much, much more appalling abuse of ambulances than this), looking at the strain placed on NHS resources by our growing obesity and alcohol-related problems (wanna feel faint? Look up how much a bariatric ambulance costs, and what weights they need to be able to carry) while big pharma jacks up the prices of commonly used drugs, as well as how you should never, ever leave food you want to see again in a staff fridge, some of the things shared will make you cackle, while others will make you despair a little for the human race.

A read that entertains as much as it informs, it’s also quick enough to be finished before your wait in A&E is over.

Monday, 14 October 2013

He's the greatest dancer

Whenever I’m drunk, I soon come to the conclusion that I am the world’s greatest dancer. It doesn’t matter that this isn’t backed up by anything like actual video evidence (au contraire, mon frère!), in my head I look awesome.

But there’s something that would make it even more awesome – a partner. One that not only isn’t embarrassed when you hit the dancefloor, but who makes you look nailed to the floor.

Here are my picks of fantasy dance partners (that Youtube will allow me to find clips of).

The one at my level

And who even does the same dancing face as me...

For iPhone/iPad click here.

The one that makes it look easy

No, not the Todd. The other one...

For iPhone/iPad click here.

The one who taught me everything I know

And did it so well, there's even a dance named after him.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

The one who's responsible for me paying to see the Step Up films

Even though he's not even in them anymore, so really that's no excuse...

For iPhone/iPad click here.

And the King of Awesome...

No words necessary. Just sit back and enjoy...

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Taken by the T-Rex, by Christie Sims

No stars. Seriously...yeesh.

A few days ago, whilst piddling around on the t'interwebs, I came across this. My reaction to finding out that there was indeed actually such a thing as dinosaur porn was not dissimilar to this:

Naturally, I immediately shared the news with my friends and, once they'd finished coming up with all of the filthy dinosaur names they could think of (pterodicktyl and triceracocks being my favourites), it as suggested that I read it for them. And so I did. You owe me...

Drin is the chief huntress of her village - one that's been smashed up by a T-Rex. Sadly for Drin, it didn't stop there but smashed up most of the villagers too, leaving smashed bodies lying smashed among the smashed homes of the smashed villages. The authors clearly liked this word, using it so much I soon wanted to smash them in the head with a thesaurus. Bent on revenge, Drin proposes to the survivors that they hunt the T-Rex and kill it, but they all realise that would be fucking stupid and decide to just settle elsewhere. But - ruh roh! - the T-Rex shows up again and so Drin acts as bait to lure it away from the villagers.

Being a huntress, she finds the thrill of the chase incredibly exciting. So exciting, in fact, that she's soon so horny she's tempted to stop and masturbate, but settles for forgetting where she's going. Which is the cue for the T-Rex to grab her in his wee little arms, rip her clothes off and pop its lipstick out.

If, like me, you were wondering how sex with a T-Rex would even be possible, what with the size and all, I'm happy to report that it's not. Unhappily, it turns out that it is possible to wank one off. Drin won't get her Happy-Ever-After with this dude though, as he's a love 'em and leave 'em kinda guy and buggers off as soon as he's done, leaving Drin covered in his goo and leaving me feeling like Ace Ventura...

I can very definitely say that I will never read any dino-porn again.

Boogeymen, by Brian Prisco

4.5 stars

If, like me, you've ever spent any time in dark, smoky sitting-rooms arguing debating about who would win in a movie death-match, you'll find this "splatterpunk novelette" a real treat - a battle royale that sees iconic horror legends (and many more) face-off amidst buckets of gore and nuclear levels of sarcasm.

Cue the happy dancing...

Packing a ton of fun into its pages, this made me cackle with glee every couple of seconds (despite the fact that laughing kept twinging my bad back) and left me grinning like a loon.

I'm now hoping that Brian is scribbling as fast as he can, because I want to read much, much more from him...

The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson

Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America - 4 stars

View from the Liberal Arts building (from Brooklyn Museum's Flickr set)

Taking two of my favourite genres, history and true crime, Larson has created a riveting read looking at the light and dark sides of Chicago and what man is capable of by looking at the work of two men: Daniel Burnham, an architect and the man responsible for overseeing the creation of the 1893 World's Fair, and H.H. Holmes, a fraudster and serial killer who turned the hustle and bustle of the fair to his own advantage and used it to lure vulnerable young women, out of home for the first time, to a building of his own design where they'd soon meet their ends.

Larson does a fantastic job of building a picture of what Chicago was like at the end of the 19th century - a world where people died young and often in a city of dark, filthy streets that stunk of sewage, the slaughteryards and the corpses of animals that lay where they fell. A city where a killer could design and build his own murder-house, and numerous people who worked or lived in his building could simply disappear, virtually unnoticed and unlooked for, their stripped skeletons sold on to medical schools who would ask no questions.

At the same time, in Jackson Park, an astonishing city is being built - one composed of colossal buildings and hundreds of concessions and exhibits from all over the world, including entire villages from far-flung places and offering wonders the likes of which the world has not yet seen. Illuminated by the first electric lights, used here on a grand scale, with buildings whitewashed by the world's first spray paint, and offering purified water and now famous household brands for refreshments, as well as the world's first Ferris Wheel - 264 feet high and boasting 36 cars, each capable of holding 60 passengers and equipped with its own bar - it's small wonder than in the six months the fair operated it received over 27 million visitors and raked in money that, at today's standards, would make even Bill Gates feel faint.

The Ferris Wheel (from Brooklyn Museum's Flickr set)

This was by far and away my favourite element of the book and I found reading of the terrifying task of building such a spectacle, in virtually no time at all and with the accidents and deaths which dogged it and the wrangles of the many committees and personalities who wished to control it, endlessly fascinating. I've since gone and found some photographs of the fair on Brooklyn Museum's Flickr stream (which you can view here) that I find astonishing even today and which really brought home what a spectacular sight it must have been to 19th century eyes.

The sections on Holmes, while fascinating, couldn't possibly compete - a surprise to a true crime junkie, and possibly due to the comparative lack of documentation which led to a few instances where I wanted to call shenanigans; moments included to build the atmosphere or the story, but which Larson couldn't have possibly known and that are therefore responsible for the dropping of a star in rating.

That said, this really is a fantastic read, especially for those not usually keen on true crime, and one I recommend highly.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Gone With The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

1.5 star
(read in 2012)

About halfway through this book, I started to believe that I had done something to annoy the gods so they'd chosen to punish me a la Prometheus, and I would be stuck reading it for the rest of my life. Epic barely touches it - dealing with the South pre, during and post Civil War this sometimes felt as if it was taking place in real time and, much like I feel when wolfing a massive meal after starving for a while, I started off devouring it but soon passed into feeling completely over-full, uncomfortable and a little bit sick.

With a fabulous grasp on her characters (even if virtually all of them are hateful), undeniable writing talent and an appalling ideology, I don't believe I've ever had such a wildly contradictory and infuriating reading experience.

Scarlett O'Hara is the pampered daughter of a plantation owning family and the belle of the county. Spoilt, selfish, spiteful, shallow, callous, ruthless and possessing a low cunning if not actually very bright, she's also about as subtle as a sledgehammer, regardless of how she rates her own arts. About the only good thing anyone could say about her is that she's a looker, and it's quite a brave move on the part of Mitchell to have her heroine be so truly appalling (quite why anyone would want to identify with her is beyond me) and yet still manage to make you read on. To Scarlett, all the talk of imminent war is nothing but a dull obstacle to flirting and balls, though even she can't avoid her life being touched by events in the aftermath of the South's defeat. Initially this worked really well for me - by the time Scarlett starts being affected things have all gone to hell and the horrors faced by those living through such times were almost more resonant as they were so shocking to Scarlett's previously unseeing eyes. Unscrupulous to begin with, as the book progressed Scarlett didn't so much grow but rather descend ever downwards in her conduct and character - a development which was rather interesting to me.

However...whilst I tried so very hard to simply see the sentiments and views in the book as a depiction of things as they were at that time I really struggled with the incredibly pro-South outlook of the novel, where Mitchell presents the relationship between slaves and their masters as so loving and tender that slaves were virtually dandled on their masters' knees. 

As the book went on, and particularly during Part 4, I felt like I was reading Klan propaganda as Mitchell amplified the views via the narrative voice as well as those of her characters, with no opposing voices, and showed more and more clearly where her own sympathies lay. I cannot find any sympathy for the South's "Glorious Cause", fighting for the right to keep their slaves and mind their own affairs, then nursing their wounded pride when they got their asses kicked in the war they started, and could not join in the author's lamentation at the loss of the old way of life and all of the wealth, luxury, ease and gentility that went with as I see no beauty but rather ugliness, built as it was on the backs of such an abhorrent practice. Bend over, Mitchell, and I'll show you where you can shove that 'gentility'.

It soon got to be that the only bright spots in the book came through the interactions of Scarlett and Rhett Butler (who is a fabulous character, and if forced to choose between he and the wet and weak Ashley, Rhett wouldn't even need to show up to win easily) whose verbal sparring crackled with chemistry, and the fact that the last part of the book brought them to the fore as they tore one another apart almost started to make up for my struggles...but not quite.

If I was rating the book solely on the basis of the story of Scarlett (with the brilliant characterisation and writing talent, although a more ruthless editor would have been welcome) I would have rated it a lot higher but I really couldn't make it past the ideology and attitudes that underpinned it, so I'm giving it 1.5 stars (with that extra half star won through Rhett) and leaving my final thought on Mitchell's "Glorious Cause":

Friday, 4 October 2013

That's a mighty fine hat...

My name is TheShitWizard, and I have a hat problem – problem being that whenever I wear one I look an absolute tool. How I’d love to float about in the summer in a floppy sunhat, have a deerstalker warm my cheeks in the winter, or hide under a beanie whenever I’m having a bad hair day, but I can’t. Or, I can – but not without looking like a pin-headed, big-cheeked, no-haired victim of something terminal.

It wouldn’t be so bad if hats weren’t so ruddy fantastic. Don’t believe me? Then take a look at my favourite screen hats and see if I’m wrong.

(Note: Jack Sparrow will not be featuring, despite pirate hats being fucking awesome, due to the Pirates... sequels being crap and my ongoing irrational hatred of Johnny Depp's belief that you can never wear too many scarves. That'll learn 'im)

10. Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) – My Fair Lady

I’ve never really fancied the idea of a day at the races, as I’m not really that keen on getting poshed up and wearing a giant hat could only exaggerate my already colossal hat-wearing flaws, but if I really had to, I’d love to go full My Fair Lady.

Starring not just one, not two, but many hats, this one is at least half as big as Audrey herself – and the scene absolute proof that you can take the girl out of Belliver but…

9. Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor) – Superman III

Have I ever mentioned that I loathe the Superman films? As far as I’m concerned there’s only a couple of reasons why anyone should bother watching them – and Richard Pryor’s hat is one of them (the other reasons are Richard himself, and Superman II’s General Zod).

If you’re going to wear a hat you may as well make sure it’s one people will definitely notice. Pairing it with an awesome blue checked suit is just the icing on the cake.

8. Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) – Bonnie & Clyde

Usually I would tell you that the only acceptable beret is a Raspberry one, but Faye Dunaway proves to be the exception to this rule.

This entire film is clothes porn if you ask me. ..I will never, ever look this good in anything *sigh*

7. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) – All the Indiana Jones films

Unlike many hats, if you threw this one into a crowded room, absolutely everybody would be able to tell you who it belongs to. And if they couldn’t, I wouldn’t want to know them anyway.

While, to the naked eye, there’s nothing really that special about it, it’s travelled the world seeking treasures and dodging booby traps, fighting off Nazis, rip-your-heart-out cults, aliens, and snakes all the while. And it does it all while looking damn fine.

6. Jake & Elwood Blues (Dan Ackroyd & John Belushi) – The Blues Brothers

There’s a reason why many blokes, given a choice of fancy dress costumes, will always plump for The Blues Brothers – not only can anyone can wear a black suit and shades, but throw on a black fedora and your outfit has just rocketed up to awesome. After all, if it works for Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi (neither of them known outside of this film for looking particularly cool) then there’s hope for the rest of us.

This hat has the additional bonus of staying on when dancing.

5. Slash (Guns N Roses)

Whilst this hat hasn’t starred in any movies (to my knowledge), it’s been a star of the stage and small-screen for decades. It is entirely possible that this hat is magic – not only possessing life-prolonging properties (how many times is Slash supposed to have died?) but also allowing its wearer to walk on water (see below).

Whatever the case, magic or not, I think we can all agree that this hat is awesome.

4. Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) – Annie Hall

This outfit is one of my most-wanted of all time, and I've lost count of the times I have searched a department store from top to bottom hunting for an Annie Hall hat. Sadly, dressing like this doesn’t make me look like Diane Keaton, but like a young boy on his way home from school.

3. Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin) – Firefly

At first look you’re probably thinking ‘Really? A woolly hat?”, but that’s likely because you need to go and watch Firefly. Now.

Now you get it, don’t you? That’s right, this hat is badass. As Wash eloquently explains for those of you who didn’t run off to watch it immediately:

“Man walks down the street in that hat, people know he’s not afraid of anything.”

2. Simon Adebisi (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje) – Oz

Again, at first glance you may think I was slightly strange for rating this hat so highly, or that I was at least letting the hotness of the wearer sway me. But if you’ve ever sat through an episode of Oz, you’ll understand just what makes this hat so fantastic. If you haven’t, let me explain.

Never simply pulled over the head, this hat always sits at the same jaunty and gravity-defying angle. Even through a riot. Or when shanking people. It even stays there when Adebisi sleeps, and is never smushed on waking. How does it never fall off? Is it velcroed? Is it a part of him? It’s one of life’s eternal mysteries.

1. Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis) – Gangs of New York

Bill the Butcher’s not just a dab hand with a knife, he knows his way around a wardrobe too. Oozing style, even down to his choice of false eye, Gangs of New York is one long parade of Bill’s fantastic outfits, topped with even more fantastic hats. The most fantastic? This one.

That's it, I'm off to try on all of NikNak's hats again.