Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Hobbit

Recently it has transpired, maybe not that recently but I have only just found out, that the film adaptation of the Hobbit is to spread over three films, probably in the same time frame as The Lord of the Rings (LOTR for the un-initiated) which means waiting three years to see the story unfold. My first feelings were of disappointment; three films for three books for LOTR and three films for one book for The Hobbit. Either LOTR was sold short, which we know it was as so many aspects and encounters were omitted: Tom Bombadil and The Barrow Wights to name but two. OR, the Hobbit has been twisted and stretched to achieve a three movie franchise. I would like to think, and hope, that the truncation of LOTR was necessary to pacify the Hollywood backers and for Peter Jackson to establish himself as one of the most talented film makers that ever lived. I would also like to think, assume and hope, that now Peter (or should I call him something else to appear less pretentious?) has established himself he is able to convince the tasteless financial backers, or even to finance the project himself, that his way is the best way. There have been a few sections of the trailer that seem to be sections missed from LOTR, perhaps he has weaved these into the new tale.

One of my favourite pastimes whilst lying awake in bed at night with Emma, apart from the obvious, is to speculate on who would be the best actor to play parts in films not yet produced. Mister Benn is a perfect example (I am still writing a screenplay). When I thought about casting the dwarfs for The Hobbit I was at a loss, yet, when I read the cast list I was so impressed; James Nesbitt, Ken Stott and Richard Armitage were fantastic names to see so were returning characters; Gandalf, Legolas, Gollum and Saruman all played by the iconic actors that first took the part in LOTR.

I hope that after the first screening I will be as positive.

Friday, 21 September 2012

What is it with British food?

With only just over a month until the World Food Championships I am beginning some research into the U.S. food culture in general and the BBQ circuit in particular. Unfortunately it is impossible not to compare the Americans approach to food to our own. It seems to me that there is a massive gap in the British restaurant business, an area not catered for at all. OK, we have seen a massive increase in the gastro pub and fine dining is now accessible to practically everybody, indeed my visit to River Cottage was a revelation, great food and a great atmosphere but, there seems to be a massive lack of grass roots, good honest, basic food. If you have ever visited the U.S. you will be well aware of their excellent service industry, particularly in the restaurant business. I remember visiting a seafood restaurant in Key West in the early nineties and spending over an hour talking to out waiter, there was no insincerity and no awkwardness, he seemed genuinely happy and keen to converse and serve us at our table. Of course we tipped well and he was grateful. Need less to say the abalone salad with raspberry dressing was awesome.

So, fine dining aside what do we have? For a country rich in tradition with culinary influences from as far back as the Romans our current offerings for basic grub is arse, at best. Discounting the standard franchises, Maccy D's, KFC, Nandos, Frankie and Bennys etc. what do we have? Our basic burger eatery is a manky wagon on a hard shoulder on the A3(M), OK the food may be OK but looking at the offerings seen on shows such as Man vs Food, You Gotta Eat here (I know is Canada) and even the Hairy Bikers Mississippi adventure its evident that for a country bereft of tradition and light on history, they sure know how to get the basics right for eating. Even when we adopt an American born approach or concept such as fast food what do we do? We remove the single element that made it attractive in the first place. I am sick and tired of asking for a burger, or whatever and having to 'wait five minutes for that is that OK?'

What is the resolution to this disparity? Is there an answer? Of 'kin course there is, massive portions of unhealthy meat based dishes. We have one secret weapon, the honest British banger. When in Hamburg I visited the Curry Queen, not a gay Balti house but a stroke of genius. These small roadside eateries are indeed a franchise but they have a winning solution. The best meat in the best sausages served with a range of awesome curry sauces. It is a franchise I would love to start over here with some of the best sausages we have to offer, and believe me there are very few sausages in the world to rival what we have in the UK.

I am looking forward to discovering what my judging appointment will be but realised that I volunteered for every and any category, including chilli. Curse my chilli memory!!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Judge Dredd 3D. My verdict.

I've just realised that my previous post on the Judge Dredd subject was written before I had seen the film. Following the visit to Amsterdam and IBC I selfishly took some time to go and see the movie, which I had not previously realised was a cert 18, sorry Will.

The film was obviously deemed popular as the cinema I booked into, Vue in Portsmouth, was running the screenings ten minutes apart. I arrived early, as I normally like to do and breezed into the screen, only to face the movie in all its glory. I left and sat outside until the room emptied.

I must say, as anyone who read my previous post would understand, that my expectations were high. I knew that Carlos Ezquerra, one of the original artists, had been involved in the production and as such I was hopeful that the general feel and atmosphere of Mega City One would be captured in this new movie. This, at least, exceeded my expectations. Depending on the 2000AD writer and artist the Mega cities of the future differed from cartoon comedy all the way to dark Orwellian prophetic musings. Thankfully the movie opted for the latter displaying a futuristic vision of social depravity hovering at the edge of chaos with the Judges the caretakers of order and, dare I say it, law.

The character of Dredd was portrayed in an absolutely masterful fashion by Karl Urban. Eschewing the egoistical approach of his predecessor in the hugely forgetful first attempt at bringing the 2000AD hero to the big screen, Karl maintained the faceless aspect of the law. I am a massive fan of 2000Ad in general and Dredd in particular and I was not disappointed in the slightest. The story was simple with complex aspects. The understated response of Dredd to a hugely important event is typical of the comic character and was maintained throughout the story.

Judge Anderson could have been a difficult character to weave into the, hopefully, popular franchise. The irreverent nature of the blonde, large breasted psychic genius that is Cassandra Anderson was cleverly adapted and well portrayed by Olivia Thirlman.

I can honestly say that the ghost of the Stallone debacle has finally been exorcised. Karl Urban IS Dredd and Olivia Thirlman IS Judge Anderson.

Long live the Dredd franchise!!

Lib-Dems, an apology

Today, Nick Clegg apologised for failing to deliver on the party manifesto promise to reduce University tuition fees. So what. Not only are they lucky to have any power at all, they are equally fortunate to have policies included in the current parliamentary mandate (I have no idea what that means). For a party who had aspirations but no realistic hope to achieve a position of power, they were free to include any popular buzzwords or issues in their manifesto without any real chance of hoping to deliver. My title, 'Lib-Dems an apology' is really intended to sum up what they are, an apology.

Anyway, stuff politics. I understand how important and influential the subject may be, but, in as much as I can be bothered, it annoys and infuriates me. The apparent idiots that inhabit the Westminister benches are so out of touch with the real world that anyone with the aspiration to politics should be precluded form entering into the same. I actually found myself, once more, shouting at the radio when Cleggy was on. I am turning into my dad!!

It's been over a week since I posted on my blog and was pleasantly surprised to see that my post on Judge Dredd has been well received, although it is a load of bollocks (the post not the film). This made me realise that blogging, and the attention to an individuals blogging activities, are so arbitrary it is impossible to pre-empt which subject will be more popular than another. With this in mind I have decided to continue my eclectic approach to subject matter and hope that my rants and observations strike a chord with, at least, a few people.

I received the contract from the World Food Championship yesterday to officially sign up for my judging position. Once more I find myself in a position that I wished for but never thought that I would achieve. The planning and organisation for the Vegas trip is done and dusted but I have overlooked any  plans for the Bekescsaba sausage, wine and palinka festival in Hungary a week before I leave for the U.S. Emma will be accompanying me for this and the organisers are expecting me so I better get my arse of the deck and sort this out.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

This is not a boring business blog

I have never posted regarding my business dealings and I am not about to start now. However, and it's only a little however, the time seems to be ripe/right to move from the comfy world of sub-contracting, which in itself is only a little removed from owning and running a franchise, to a operating a proper business.

That's it. No more nonsense.

Amsterdam is not how I hoped nor how I hoped it would transpire as I aged. The idea I was sold has diminished and probably disappeared in the early noughties. Sam, from the new generation, sees Amsterdam exactly as he expected: prostitutes, coffee shops, hostels etc. etc. Unfortunately the coffee shops will no longer be available to the tourist from 2013 and, this is just an observation, the beautiful, blonde, Dutch hookers, have now been replaced by the influx from countries where sex work is a norm. Surinam, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, etc. (far too many etc's) have reduced the red light district to the seedy alleyways and titty bars that grace any European city.

My Amsterdam, as a young, SINGLE (important Emma), man, was a city of inhibitions, openness and honesty. Now all I see is the tarnished patina of another European stag city central. Of course there are the parts that single the city out and make a difference, the Museumplein and the newly discovered Heinekensplein, what a place, but what about the moral freedom that attracted millions in the first place?

I understand that Amsterdam is making a stand against the thugs and jugs, against the smokers and jokers, AND against the idiots that have made the city a parody of the once proud destination it once was. BUT, there are so many genuine, honest, travellers, day visitors and long range culture vultures that are missing out.

My current hotel is a travesty, but only in as much as my experience with the venue is appalling; the location, however is the best I could have hope for and as such I will write a good review for the area. The hotel, as previously mentioned, is a shit hole. If Harry Potter is reading, sort it out you c***.

Nuff said, bed time and an early start tomorrow.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Another day in Amsterdam

How much difference a few hours can make, especially when those few hours contain a reasonably decent nights sleep. As mentioned in yesterdays post the hotel with which we had to endure had many factors against it, the worst was probably the fact that an actively popular bar nestled uncomfortably close. As the night drew on, the clientele spilled out onto the street to occupy the space outside our ground floor window. The group of bicycles immediately beneath our window (what is the collective noun for bikes, a rust?) gave us some respite but the constant murmur and occasional raucous raised voice prevented any real lull within which either Sam or I could sink into a doze of any description. I demanded a TV remote from reception, evidently they are too tight to leave them in the rooms, and pumped the TV up in volume to a level sufficient to drown out the noise beyond our room. This worked, Sam fell asleep and I soon followed. An hour or so later I reduced the volume by half with a similar result, we both sank back into a reasonably decent snooze. At about 3AM I turned off the volume altogether and we slept soundly until the traffic outside increased and I awoke at just before 6. A result I think, especially as the negative reviews on the hotel mainly referred to the noise.

This morning was a calm affair. I thought it would be good to allow Sam some time to wake slowly whilst I thought through the strategy for the day and rang the office (our euphemism for calling Emma). As I sat facing the canal which separated our hotel from the Leidseplein, I drank in the calm tranquility of the leafy avenue of the canal path and smiled as I watched the rats go about their business.

The plan to hit IBC early was a good one and by lunch time I had sufficient information to continue with my new business plan. I hooked up with an old mate at the IBC pub and discussed mutually beneficial opportunities. Hands shook, Sam and I decided that it was time for some food and that we should do this in the vicinity of the hotel. After changing, Sam not me, we wandered around the area behind the Heineken experience, finally deciding to eat at Donnely’s, a ubiquitous Irish kit bar in the Heinekenplein. The staff are great and the food was passable but expensive. Sam was a little drunk after three and a bit pints and opted to return to the hotel room for a snooze, I grabbed my blog-monster and repaired to the bar next door.

And here I sit, drinking Bacardi Black with ice as the staff entertain.

Friday, 7 September 2012

The Amsterdam curse

I've been thinking about my previous visits to Amsterdam all afternoon and come to the conclusion that I am destined never to have the perfect experience with the city. I do realise that a romantic destination can be elevated to the heights of great expectation, especially following my first alcohol fuelled exploits on a Royal Naval ship filled with three hundred like minded souls, but, even with other locations I have revisited I have not experienced the same levels of disappointment.

I have accepted that I am no longer able to carouse and enjoy the decadent pleasures of a location to the  extent that I could even ten years ago, but my deflation extends far beyond that. In as much the same way that I struggled to engender a respect for the cultural diversity of Prague in my comrades a few years ago, I believe that the reason and company I hold close on any trip to Amsterdam has prevented me from seeing the real side of a city that I know has so much to offer.

My first visit, on HMS Brave in 1989 will not be described nor further referred to in this post.

When in 2000 I was offered the opportunity to attend IBC, the International Broadcast Conferenece, in Amsterdam, fully paid for by employer at the time, Merlin Communications, I leapt at the chance. It seemed that they considered me sufficiently important to represent them, albeit for a short period of time at their stand in the satellite technology hall. Unfortunately Merlin, as they did in most area of operation, completely miscalculated the requirements and booked my hotel for one day less than I needed. I ended up sleeping at Schipol airport and had y coat, which I was using as a pillow, half-inched from beneath my head.

I returned a few years later, in 2004 I think, when I was working, at least on paper, for a broadcast related company. Although the organisation of the trip was sound, I soon discovered that the company was only dabbling in the satellite industry and I was let go two days after my Grandmothers funeral. Happy days!

In 2006 I was working for a body shop, they consider themselves a consultancy company but placing any old idiot (including me) into any contract possible is hardly that, and argued a trip to IBC under the pretext of 'Business Development'. I honestly believed that this was within my capabilities and set off with a happy heart. Unfortunately this was the first time I had attended on my own and the result was a depressing lonely four days which returned absolutely no leads at all. I subsequently left this outfit.

In 2009 I went to Amsterdam twice. The first time was at the end of a charity banger rally to Prague (as mentioned earlier) in a fantastic Jaguar XJ6. On the whole the trip was great but when we rocked in to Amsterdam, in April at 2230 hundred hours PM, the place was bloody shut. This was a shock to me as I had only experienced either the fiscally fuelled availability of IBC or the testosterone fuelled visits to the red light district. Another failure. The subsequent business trip to IBC with my rallying colleagues was spoiled by the fact that the hotel was thirty-five miles outside of Amsterdam and as such required a taxi journey costing a minimum of fifty euros. On top of this we achieved 'kin nothing.

Last year, 2011, I took Sam to Amsters' to allow him to meet up with a couple of mates from his EQ2 adventures. Although this was successful, once more the selection of accommodation was unwise and spoiled my visit.

Now, IBC 2012, the hotel has let me down again but, and this is a fantastic but, I have discovered an area of the city where I was happy and felt relaxed. Marie Heinekplein is the most laid back, fantastic area I've ever visited in Amsterdam. Located directly behind the Heineken Brewery it houses a number of inexpensive restaurants, bars and shops that I will revisit.

I think I have found a way to exorcise my demons. I the past I have argued against taking Emma to Amsterdam solely, and lamely due to a recurring dream I experienced over two decades ago. We were in a bright street near a small shop when I was grabbed, robbed and unceremoniously dragged into a secluded, fenced off building site and shot in the back of the head. I think it is time to ignore this, take my wife to Amsterdam and enjoy the culture of a fantastic city.

Amsterdam (IBC) day 1 - Hotels, hashish and muffins

As I write this I am in one of the cities famous coffee shops actually having a coffee, Sam thinks I'm mental.

On every visit to Amsterdam, whether attending IBC or for some other reason, I have always felt a little disappointed and let down for  anumber of reasons. This time has proved to be no different. Ok, I I booked the hotel a little later than I should July I think, and as such had to take what was available. Through an extreme error of judgement on my part the hotel I booked can only be described as an absolute shit hole, not even that good. I normally vet places I book through 'Trip Advisor' but as this place seemed akin to Stella Artois, i.e. reassuringly expensive, I assumed that all would be well, how fucking wrong I was (I apologise for the abnormal use of profanity). As Geoff Chaucer said in Knights Tale, I shall eviscerate you in verse...Trip Advisor review coming soon for Vivaldi Budget Hotel.

Sam is Ok with things, which is a small consolation and is offering me some encouragement. He has purchased a muffin of decidely questionable pedigree in the similarly dodgy coffee shop/internet cafe we currently frequent and is planning the point of ingestion. I on the other hand opted for a very dull coffee, I did receive some odd looks when I asked about the caffeine only options.

The poor selection of hotel leaves us with no real base to sit and plan our IBC strategy as the room has no space spare, the two single beds completely use up all of the available floor space, in fact I think the en-suite bathroom is the same size as the room. I have realised that as I get older the selection of a hotel room is more important. Twenty, or even ten years ago if I was visiting a city such as Amsterdam I would have precious little time to spend in the room. Now it's a place to sit, relax and perhaps build a little fort (cheers Homer).

Time nearly up, more later.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The speed of travel

At the risk of repeating myself, I would like to post a few words on the speed of travel.

My first ever banger rally saw a clapped out (supposedly) Vauxhall Cavalier drive from Calais to Casablanca. The route was punishing over five days and we had absolutely no time to take in any of the wonderful places we drove through; Millau, Andorra, Barcelona, Murcia, Algeciras, Ceuta, Casablanca, Tangiers, basically everywhere where we stopped to rest for five minutes. The set pace was ridiculous and, as this was my first banger rally, it was accepted and agreed. Andorra in particular, off season, was amazing. This intermediate means to get from one place to another was only slightly better than flying. In fact, it was on the flight back, after abandoning our trusty vehicle at a scrapyard in Malaga, that I realised that a great opportunity had been missed.

Visiting interesting locations around the world is a commendable pursuit, broadening the mind through travel is probably the best way to grow up, to expand knowledge and experience. But, I honestly believe, that the journey is as important, if not more so, than the intended destination. Parachuting into a  locale, experiencing the sights, sounds and experiences, then parachuting back home is such a massive lost opportunity. I understand that time is tight and that we all have very busy lifestyles, but, without the  context of the journey the destination can seem so bland, disappointing and anti-climatical.

The drive to Timbuktu was better. Although we had to really push to catch up with the main convoy, driving for eighteen hours a day for four days until we finally arrived at the Mauritanian border to rendezvous with the other teams, the times we were held up and were forced to slow down were excellent. Moullay de Bousellem (spelling) a fantastic lagoon and beach where Tony and I camped for a night was excellent. By the time we had reached Timbuktu, in fact, by the time we had returned to Bamako, I realised that, once again I had been rushing to achieve goals and ignoring some marvellous locations.

The answer? Well the answer is obvious, but time equals, not only money but also experience. To take the time to experience all of the best on a journey means an extended free period of time without outside influences, work stresses or family worries. This is necessary in order to focus on the journey and the events that unfold. Also, when travelling at a reduced pace, the opportunity to meet and interact with other travellers and locals increases exponentially. This factor alone makes a trip worthwhile. Although I have flown to most destinations for 'The Sausage Trail' I have attempted to slow things down when I arrive. In Serbia, for example, using public transport really put me in touch with a whole raft of new personalities. In Hamburg, I was within the influence of a knowledgeable ex-pat and moved at the pace appropriate for the visit.

The Sausage Trail has only a couple of trips left and both are focussed on fantastic events, with this in mind a slow journey to arrive at the final destination is highly unlikely. I do still aspire to take a slow vehicle, a moped or a bicycle or even walk, to travel across an extended distance to reach a fantastical destination.

Vladivostok by Cub90 is my favourite at the moment but time will tell.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Cabinet reshuffle

This subject has dominated the news today, great, well better than the nonsense promoted by the Daily Mail. When pounded by a particular story/news item on a constant loop both on TV and the radio, I find that my attitude changes. For example, the recent tragedy in Dorset when a member of the public was crushed to death when a cliff collapsed first struck me as a terrible waste of life. Then as time progressed and coverage increased I started seeing other things, that's a nice beach, is that igneous, metamorphic or sedimentary rock, look a fossil, that kind of thing. It's the same with this cabinet reshuffle bollocks. Ok there are those who will find this appealing, political commentators, journalists, geeks, that type of individual, but beyond a passing interest I really couldn't give a shit. However, as the reports intensified I found myself thinking, get some proper replacements:

Prime minister: David Cameron, he can stay he's quite funny
Deputy prime minister: Nick Clegg, replaced by JedWard
Chancellor: George Osborne, replaced by Dev from Eastenders
Home secretary: Theresa May, Cheryl Cole, obviously
Foreign secretary: William Hague, The Duke of Edinburgh
Defence secretary: Liam Fox, Captain Price from Modern Warfare
Justice secretary: Kenneth Clarke, Jeffrey Archer
Health secretary: Andrew Lansley, Ronald MacDonald or the Ham Burgler
Education secretary: Michael Gove, Amy from TOWIE
Business secretary: Vincent Cable, Phil Mitchell
Chief secretary to the Treasury: David Laws, Mahmoud from Gosport Best Kebab
Work and pensions secretary: Iain Duncan Smith, That bearded shouty bloke who lives in the bus station, drinks Benylin and has that manky dog with mange and fleas
Energy and climate change secretary: Chris Huhne, The Duracell bunny
Local government secretary: Eric Pickles, Dave the Dominos pizza delivery bloke
Transport secretary: Philip Hammond, The Hairy bikers
Environment secretary: Caroline Spelman, A puffin
International development secretary: Andrew Mitchell, Mister Bean
Northern Ireland secretary: Owen Paterson, Alan Carr
Scotland secretary: Danny Alexander, Billy Connolly
Welsh secretary: Cheryl Gillan, Jeremy Kyle
Culture, Olympics, media and sport secretary: Jeremy Hunt, Dom Joly
Leader of the Lords: Lord Strathclyde, Ken Livingston
Minister without portfolio: Lady Warsi, Disco Stu from the Simpsons

The country would be a better place.

German cheese-boarding and couch surfing (not German but regular)

My vacuous hour in the mornings as I drive to work on a mind-numbingly familiar and dull roads is usually exactly as described, roughly sixty minutes of boredom. I normally sink into a state of semi-torpor, I've even given up listening to audiobooks in a vain attempt to stimulate my brain, and this morning started no differently. By the time I was halfway to work, passing Petersfield on the A3, I was wallowing in sad thoughts regarding Mister Benn the movie and who would be the best option to play the shopkeeper, when, for some inexplicable reason, I glanced at the car overtaking me. It was a black Renault Espace with German plates, probably came off the seven thirty ferry at Portsmouth. Nothing strange with that, however, as the driver looked across at me his passenger, presumably his wife was proudly holding a loft a cheese-board. Yes, a proper cheese-board, a large square slab of wood covered with small wedges of cheese from which the teutonic traveller took his selection. As he bit into the rancid dairy produce he glanced back over at me with a smug smile of self-satisfaction and sped past. Odd.

On a separate note the Vegas trip looms closer, OK I do need to get the plan for Hungary sorted too but that's closer to home, I still need to arrange someone to help me into the Vegas mentality and perhaps show me some of the sights off the tourist trail but the wonderful phenomena that is has given me access to some potential buddies in Vegas baby!! The World Food Championships starts in November so there is a little time to get things sorted, although the organisers have yet to confirm my inclusion in the activities, I have volunteered my expertise as a judge, what a great way to get stuck in to the whole American BBQ scene, and also been offered a media pass. Tickets are on sale, including the VIP passes which give full access to the post judging champagne parties and access to the winning teams and celebrities, great for the book. Viva Las Vegas!