Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A Wander round The Tower

A few weeks ago I went for a wander through Central London and on my journeys I went via the Tower of London. One of London's most visited sights, I just took a few photos before heading off on my merry way. The Tower was not my destination, merely a place I was passing through, but it is still and impressive sight!



At the moment The Tower is under scaffolding. It is an old building, so repairs are always necessary. It is one of London's oldest buildings, and for those in the know, work began on the White Tower in 1080. So at over 900 years old, it does need a bit of TLC. However, it is not the oldest structure in the area. Very close by is a piece of the old London Wall.

London began life as Londinium. The Old London wall was built originally by the Romans and so today it is probably the oldest fragment of London's past. The wall has been rebuilt several times since those periods and has shaped the early days of the city.



This fragment of London's defensive ring is probably the most visible Roman Era remnant that lies within London There are a lot of Roman treasures that are in The City. Recently the old Amphitheater was uncovered beneath the Guildhall. Tantalisingly, there are signs of Roman London to the east of the City with remnants of the old quayside being uncovered in recent years. Fascinating.

But back the the Wall. There are bits of the Old London Wall dotted around the City of London, and one day (one day, not today) it would be fun to follow the course of the old Roman Boundary and to see the bits of the wall that still remain. At nearly 2000 years old, it is impressive that in a city the size of London that bits of thi relatively Ancient past still exist.

Along with the old comes the new. At a shade under twenty five years old, the Docklands Light Railway is one of London's newest additions to its massive railway system. Continually being expanded, it ow has gone far beyond the old London Docks and has gone south of the river becoming a far more useful part of the public transport network. But an interesting point to note is that Tower Gateway was the original terminus of the system in 1987. Although the station has been rebuilt, the exterior is still the same kind of funky blue that has been around for the past 24 years.



At the time the DLR was designed as a compromise to squeeze in between buildings, but to also harken to the future. Driverless trains, a new London Docklands. I suppose today, most users of the station barely notice it, but rememeber in the 1980's this was cutting edge technology. An automatic train taking you to some of London's most derelict areas. How life has changed in the intervening years...

So there you go, a little wander round the Tower of London, and I suppose it nicely ties in with my visit to Tower Bridge. If you got the free time, take some time out to read that one in my list of River Crossings of the Thames...

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

C-R-A-Z-Y

I am watching daytime TV.

Oh help me!

Really, there is so much junk on the telly.

I need to do more things than watch such pap.

Maybe I should do something productive like edit.

However, I feel 'weak'. And tender.

So a bit more daytime TV for me - hooray!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

London Diary 49

It's simple. All I got to do is sell. Sell like crazy. It is a job, just like any other. Except I am my own boss, I got a ready source of clients and I got to watch my back for the fuzz.

---

No matter what she told herself, the reality was different. She was always looking from side to side. Shifting her eyes, always afraid. The confidence with which she tried to instill within her was nothing more than sticking tape. A brief respite for the deep wounds she had already cast upon herself.

---

Enter club. Head to the bar. Drink. Need drink. I hate the stuff, normally, but I need something to hold. And something sweet. And I need a booster. But not too sweet. In the end, I will be sick too soon. My body cannot stand this stuff.

---

She laid her cash on the bar. To get money, she had to spend money. That Ten Pound note was hard for her to part with, but she knew she had to blend into the crowd. And a drink always does that. She did not want to drag attention to herself. It took all her might to stop her bolting from the front door when the bouncer asked her how she was. For some reason he let her past the velvet rope into the bar. Why, she thought.

---

I can't do it with a guy. I never liked them. God knows how I had my little boy? I just wanted a child. But I can't approach them easily. But I see her, she's cute. Alone, probably waiting for her friends. And she has nice shoes, that means something. I see my own footwear. Tatty. Thankfully it's dark, but it's the one thing I should have remembered. Well, I did, but the clothes cost me enough. I couldn't afford the shoes as well. I know I don't look the part, but we all got to start somewhere, right?

---

She approaches the bar. Hi she says. The girl smiles back at her. They get chatting. The usual. Weather, life, friends. I like your bag. Thanks, she replies, I picked it up in a market, vintage. That bag contains her life, the reason for her being in this bar. A cocktail of posoin to some, a vast wealth of joy for others. But she has to decide how she will exchange that powder for cold, hard, currency.

---

I'm a shit. I know that. But I need cash. Being nice doesn't pay the bills. You get a kick in the teeth for minimum wage, but the world doesn't work like that. I need more. Time is running out for us. And the one thing money doesn't buy is time. ut it makes the time passing more sweet. And I need that cash, now. I need to help my ove, before she goes. Before she leaves us to face this wilderness alone. Life is a strange puzzle, but I can't figure it out. My head hurts, but I still smile. I need to sell this stuff fast and get out of hear. The music gets to my ears, the beats are loud, the lyrics faint. The details pale out, I just need to keep my cool.


---

They head to the bathroom. She takes the money with glee. In all it was less than twenty minutes, but she already has a ton in her pocket. One hundred pounds, just like that. Her client starts snorting on the sink. She wishes she would hurry up, but she knows that part of the deal is for her to keep a look out. Snorting finished, she gently rubs the back of her new benefactor. But this friendship is only temporary. She knows she has to get out of this club quick. The bouncers will see that she is alone, and they are not stupid, they want their cut. But she didn't come here to share her gains. Five minutes later she is out of the door, he cold air of the night, slapping her cheeks, sobering her up. She turns into n alley, shaking as she count the cash again. One hundred pounds, in just a few minutes, she thinks to herself, that's normally three days work.

The night is still young. There is more work for her to do...

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Europe's Low Cost Budget Airlines - A (simple) Review



I have done a fair bit of travelling this year, my blog posts have been sporadic in 2011 for a reason. Yes, I have been film busy and also shuttling back and forth to the continent. This is my first year since 1997 that I have not ventured outside Europe and the first year I have not used Heathrow Airport.

And next year I have a hell of a lot of flights planned on Europe's low cost airlines, a variety of them. And as this mode of transport is so widespread, but so fraught with rumour and hearsay, I thought it was time to give a little guide to Europe's Low Cost travel trade. On particular, I will be concentrating on the three low cost airlines that connect London to the continent - Ryanair, Easyjet and Wizz. These three airlines are also handily distributed around the Capital. Stansted Airport is dominated by Ryanair, Easyjet's biggest base is Gatwick and Wizz is exclusively found at Luton.

There are loads of other airlines plying the European low cost trade like Norwegian, Air Lingus Blue, and BMI Baby to name a few, but they do not really use London as a base, rather as a single destination. So I have not been able to use them, and they will not be reviewed.

Let us start...

Booking the Flight:

Open your web browser and get going. You know, it is still a game with low cost airlines, but I think it runs like this. If you book something like six months plus in advance, you will get charged a fortune. If you book three months or two months in advance, you can pick up a bargain. Possibly, depends if the flight is full. Anything less than a month in advance, and the price pumps up. They all have card surcharges, and always, using a credit card will cost you more as opposed to a debit card.

These rules are not hard and fast.

Flights can get cancelled at a whim, so booking hotels in advance is a risky choice, unless you are travelling at a peak time, such as Xmas or Easter or in the height of summer. In essence, if your travel is straight forward, no strings attached, it is a great way to fly, and you can get to see some funky places. Trust me, I have been to a couple this year. If you are dependent on travelling across Europe, Budget Airlines are a great way to travel, but, there is always a but, do not rely on them too much...

Flying Style:

Pack light, print out your boarding pass and make sure you head for the scrum that is the plane.

To be honest, compared to long haul travel where you have to wait on the plane while Business Class Passengers disembark first, Low Cost Airline are refreshingly free.

Plus, you do not heckled as much for food and drink. Come on, I am on a two hour shuttle. Sometimes I can spend longer stuck in traffic in London. I do not have to be continuously drip fed with nutrition. On low cost airlines, if you are dumb enough to want to nibble on the plane, then pay those sky-high charges.

Your fellow passengers:

This is surprising. Every flight is different. Young, old, this country, that country. Working, retired, holidaying, seeing family, random choices, going to work, catching up with friends. The reasons for getting on a plane, or for booking that flight are multiple. But there is no one class or or type of character of person on board. This is not coach travel. Like the London Underground or Hong Kong's Star Ferry, Europe's Low Cost Airlines are a great social leveller. They are used because common sense states so. Cheap, fast and convenient. There's a reason why I have used them half a dozen times this year, and have already booked three flights into next year...

Price:

Once you add in surcharges, cheeky winks and nods to the naughty, the price difference between the budget airlines are minor. The tickets always cost me around £70 return. Sometimes I can get a bargain (my lowest priced flight has been under £40) and sometimes I can pay a bit more (£80 for one flight next year) but on the whole, the price differences, despite the hoopla, are nominal.

The Low Cost airlines are significantly cheaper than the flag carriers, but (here is always a but), they leave from airports that are at the arse-end of civilisation, so factor in (sometimes costly) airport transfer fares. Plus they charge for hold luggage. Full fare airlines don't. Once you add up these costs, low cost airlines are not that low cost. Families normally get scuppered with these charges while singletons are at an advantage here.

Destinations:

One word - loads. It is the budget airlines that have done more for European Integration than the Euro, Schengen or anything else that the EU could have come up with.

If it is in Europe, then it probably has a budget airline serving it. You are probably no more than six hours travelling time from an airport with a link to London. That's including the badlands of Scandinavia or Romania/Bulgaria - those empty lands. Reduce that to three hours travelling time in a country with a descent population.

Lucky for us Londoners who fancy exotic holidays to places you cannot pronounce. Unlucky for the inhabitants of these places who suddenly get hordes of Jay-Walking Brits descending on their city.

So let us take a look at those airlines...



Europe's Largest Airline, and it probably has the worst reputation, with the press gleefully jumping on the comments made by its charismatic CEO.

But there is probably a reason why it is so big...

Ryanair does exactly what is says on the tin. It takes you from A to B. It has its peculiar revenue raising rules, but on the whole, it is not a bad airline. I was surprised by the amount of leg room (maybe my standards have dropped) the friendliness of their staff (okay, I have no standards left) and the fact that it does run on time (so you can spend longer to queue up at the UK Border).

To be honest, I have had no problem with Ryanair. They are not as bad as Lufthansa (bad experience, never again) and they fly to a lot of places in Europe. From a Londoner's point of view, Stansted Airport is Fort Ryanair, and its blue coloured planes dominate this part of the world (although they also have flights from Luton and Gatwick). But then, I am a single traveller, with no hold luggage. Ryanir is easy for me. I do not want on-board food or drink, so they are cheap. And yes, they really are on time. And their route network is extensive. Pretty much anywhere in Northern and Western Europe has a Ryanair flight connecting it to London.

There's a reason they are Europe's biggest airline. They do their job. Pretty efficiently. And I cannot complain about that.



If Ryanair is cold and steely, the Easyjet is warm and cuddly. Maybe it is becuase their founder was Sir Stelios. Maybe it is because its jets are painted in warm orange. Maybe it is because their attendants are ever-so-good-humoured. Whatever it is, Easyjet enjoys a very good reputation, but it is quite similar to other low-cost airlines with petty boarding pass rules etc.

But there is one major difference between Easyjet and the rest. Your hand luggage can weigh a ton, and they do not care. That's right, they are the only airline that does not have a weight limit for the stuff you can take on a plane (but like every airline, they do have a size limit). Fantastic, and very handy if you have a bunch of souvenirs to take back home.

Being based at Gatwick, they are the most convenient Budget Airline for a South Londoner such as myself to use. They also fly from Luton, Stansted and from next year, Southend Airport (so at a stroke introducing a sixth airport to London's busy skies).

Easyjet also fly to a lot of major destinations. While Ryanair is known for its two hour transfer journey to Krakow (from an airport in a different city - Katowice), Easyjet fly direct from Krakow airport. For around the same price. So overall, the cost of flying orange could well be cheaper then flying blue. Easyjet also dominate Southern Europe. The sunnier the destination, the more likely an Easyjet flight connects it to London.

However, Easyjet bug me in a couple of ways. Firstly, they really do have the hard sell. That tannoy is always buzzing, with them trying to sell toasted cheese sandwiches and the like. Secondly, they do run late. I have taken three return flights on Easyjet this year, and two of them have been delayed, annoyingly so. However, they fly from Gatwick, so in my opinion, that still gives them a lot of Kudos.

One thing of note to mention about Easyjet is that they allow Open Jaw flights. Something I took advantage of this year on my first trip to Poland, when I landed in Berlin and took off from Krakow. The other budget airlines make this hard, or force you into buying two singes instead of making it one seamless booking. Kudos again!



Wizz? What's that? Most Brits have not heard of this airline, as to be honest, they just do not advertise themselves in the UK. But if you are from Central or Eastern Europe, then your first sight of London was probably via the confines of Luton Airport. Poor you...

Technically, Wizz is not based in the UK, but Luton is the airline's busiest airport. You see, virtually all the destinations on their route map has a connection with London, almost always a daily one too. So by default (and by its huge size) London has a third budget airline serving it. As a result, its flights feel the wrong way round.

Let me explain.

On Easyjet and Ryanair, I normally depart London in the morning and arrive back here in the afternoon (or depart in the afternoon and arrive in the evening). As Wizz's planes are based on the continent, I will arrive at a ludicrously early time but leave at a more sane time. This makes it very handy for someone who works nights (me!), as this means I can go straight from work to the airport and on my arrival back to the UK, I can go straight to work, thereby getting an extra night in Europe.

Complicated? Mmm...well, flying purple (or pink, I really cannot make out the corporate colours) is simmilar to flying on Ryanair. Basic, on time and enforces those rules. Rather more harshly that Ryanair. You better make sure your bag is within weight (mine was 8kg) and it fits the dimensions.

More than any other airline, Wizz takes great glee in putting the punter's bag in the hold (and charging them a fortune for it, I am sure their man on the ground in Poznan Airport gets paid on commission). They also have the most annoying of the boarding pass rules. You have to print out two copies for them. They also have the worst leg room of all the airlines. I am six foot and normal BMI but I do struggle to fit into their seats.

But, they are really useful for Central and Eastern European destinations. Really useful. This is where they come into their own. I heard of Wizz from a Romanian friend and I have used them since. They are unparalleled for the former Eastern Bloc, even venturing into the Ukraine. Plus they are the airline that has provided me with my cheapest (and conversely my most expensive) tickets so far booked. Also, as they are all based in Central and Eastern Europe, their attendants are all tasty Slavic chicks! I might get in trouble for saying this, but if you like bright pink lipstick, a no-nonsense attitude and a foxy accent reminiscent of old James Bond Films from your women, this is the airline for you!

---

So there it is, El Director's exhaustive write up of Europe's Low Cost Airlines, well, at least the ones that really use London as a place to shuttle to and from. I do not want to see the word count from this blog post...

---

El Director (also known as the frisky one) is a somewhat dead beat film maker who writes very little about films (and has currently got writer's block) who has spent far too much time this year flying around Europe in order to destroy the Earth's atmosphere. In his spare time he also manages an online emporium of fine Potpourri. All right, that last statement is not serious....

Friday, 25 November 2011

Poland does not impress me...



This is my first J-Walking fine. Despite walking through the heavy handed police states of Singapore and the USA with impunity, it was some Little Stalin in Poznan that gave me my first mandate (her words, not mine) for crossing the road while the man was red.

Hell, I have even been to China and got in trouble with the Pakistan Secret Service. But I have never got a fine or a citation from the authorities until last week. Even the ones in the UK.

Yes, that is a whole 50Zl (around £10 in real money), and that tenner did not come easy to me.

Fed up, utterly peeved off, but that is my final flight for the year folks. Six trips, all of them short haul to Europe.

So what?

Well, I think a review of these flights is in order.

But you have been warned. Do not J-Walk in Poznan, especially if visiting there for Euro 2012.

I don't think you understand ow disturbed I am by Little Stalin and her fine. Bastards, all coppers are just little bastards. No matter where in the world they are.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Filming - The 2011 Update (3)

So to continue from yesterday, this sums up 2011 so far.

Artistic Filming - Fail.

Money - Good.


Simple as that. So to be blunt, I am moaning not about the amount of money I have or my finances but just about my life.

Which is a pretty good position to be in, I know that.

But that is exactly it, I want more.

Now two days ago, I asked myself, am I enjoying what I am doing. And the answer is no.

So if not, why am I doing this in the first place.

Maybe I should qualify that answer.

First of all, I should state that while I have enjoyed making films over the past year, I have not done it with any love.

Over the past year I have collaborated on short films, competition films, written scripts and now I am editing a documentary. While I have had a lot of fun, the ultimate is that I have not enjoyed it.

Why?

Well, you see, I have been playing that old cat and mouse game. Where I am trying to second guess the festivals and think what they want.

And so, while I have been making great and wonderful films, I have not enjoyed making them as much as I should have.

And I think this has been a mistake.

A big one, obviously, as 2011 has artistically failed.

So what next?

Well obviously I am not going to continue down the same path - it is utter futility after all.

So that means, after Amigos is edited and finished this year, I will have a completely clean slate. No more films are being made by me, there is nothing in the pipeline...

Good. I want to be in that position.

I want 2011 to be the final year that I have to do certain things.

After all, I came into film making because I want to do it, not because I have to.

And I think my skills both technically and artistically are at a mature stage. Not perfect, nowhere near, but have markedly improved since my first steps all those years ago on the film making path.

And my mistake for 2011 (or maybe a mistake by necessity) is that I made films, not for myself, but for an arbitrary group of people I have never met.

There is also another thing. I have lost my connection to those films themselves. Time, bitterness and a complete lack of interest has meant that 2011 has been a year that I have barely been to the cinema. In fact, I would have been on a plane more times this year than I have actually entered a cinema.

That, is not a good situation for a film maker to be in. If I am not watching or enjoying films, then what am I bothering with all of this hassle for.

I have lost focus.

And passion.

And that is a very bad position to be in.

Part of that is due to the fact that I am fed up of rejection.

But I only got myself to blame.

I did not want an ordinary life - which would have been so much more simple.

I wanted this, a more interesting life.

I wanted life.

So what next is up my sleeve.

First, definitely finish Amigos Amigos. Whether or not it gets a good festival run, on a personal level I just hate leaving things unfinished.

And once that is done, I will no longer do any project unless I really want to do it.

And the only things I want to do is to make feature films.

It is as simple as that.

While I have had a lot of fun with short films, documentaries, competitions, internet webisodes, the bottom line is that these are not outlets that are going to get me anywhere.

Also, for a film maker, this is basically w**k fodder. Yeah, providing immediate gratification, but nothing of substance that I can look back on.

And second, I need to go to the cinema. Regularly.

So my mission for 2012. Simple.

Make a feature film. I have already started to talking to people about it and next week, when I head to Poland, I will be talking to more people to see if the possibilities to make and more importantly distribute the film exist.

Distribution is key.

But second, I am going to reverse the appalling lack of cinema visits this year.

Once a month, without fail, I am off to the cinema.

But I need something to motivate this.

Oh yes dear blog. This is where you come in.

A year ago I finished one series - Crossings of the River Thames, where once a month I went out into London and took in a crossing over the city's river. It got me got of the house, got my head up from the computer and made me sane.

I need to do that again

So from December I will be doing the Repertory Cinemas of London. There's a partial list of them here and here. But to be honest, this is going to be a mission, a big list. I will set out the rules when I get back from Poland.

Expect some new blog spots in the not-too-distant future, more of them cinematically related and finally this web page may live up to the title of The Blog of El Director. Oh yes, there will be a lot more blogging on films, seeing them and making them from me. It is time to get my mojo back...

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Filming - The 2011 Update (2)

It has not been all doom and gloom this year. Artistic success has eluded me, but financially , it has been a good year. Both in terms of McJobs and paid film work, life in 2011 has been surprisingly lucrative. Going from a hand to mouth existence in 2010, the whole of 2011 has been surprisingly lucrative for me. Unfortunately this has not been from artistic jobs, but at least I am moaning about what I want to do. For many people in the UK, job security, pay, cash, they are real problems. For me, I do not see them as a problem or even a concern. My wages, although stagnant, has been stable. And because I am getting work from corporate films, I have managed to actually save some cash, which is a nice bonus.

But my main thrust is art, and in that respect, for all intent and purposes, I have been working in a vacuum. Again. And that for me is disappointing. Despite all my efforts, artistically, it has been another flop. No, there is a better word, failure.

We do not take to failure in the UK. Or in general. The world is full of taking things safe and easy. Failure is viewed exactly like that. But, if I am to be honest with myself, all my artistic endeavors since I have started filming has failed.

Life is hard, no mater what I will do, it will be hard work. To get a house, to live in a comfortable retirement, to raise a family. All of these things are hard. Emotionally and financially. A struggle. And ultimately a failure. Look around, the world is a con. The rich getting richer, the poor still in the same savage hell hole, fighting amongst the scraps. No matter how much you try, unless you are in the top corrupt 2%, life is a struggle. Sure, you may have Satellite TV or an estate car, but generally, no matter what you do to live normally, you will work hard, struggle, put up with s**t and get very little to show for it.

If I have seventy years to live on this planet (if I am lucky) and I have to put up with crap for most of it, do I want to do it struggling in a mediocre job or doing something I love?

I love filming.

More importantly I love writing.

This is why I struggle and fail along that path. As it is a lot more hopeful than struggling in a dead end job for seventy years, taking s**t for very little take home pay. If I am going to put up with crap, struggle at least let it be for something good. And more importantly, something that has the potential to be lucrative.

But how much failure can I tolerate?

And have I been enjoying my films recently?

Interesting questions, and what are the answers?

There are two paths for me to follow. One is work hard in a dead end job. Settle, mortgage, get a promotion or two, get swindled by a pension plan and by the time I retire, get chucked into an old people's home by my ungrateful sprats (not yet born) to regret about following a mild mannered life that was safe.

Or try for something a little bit more. Despite the constant failure that has accosted me so far...

(more tomorrow)

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Filming - The 2011 Update (1)

First of all some good news on a personal front. Remember, this is the blog of El Director, but for some reason, the talk or blogging about films has been pretty low this year. There are many reasons for that, as I will explain over the next few days.

Right, I have caught up with all my editing. I know it may sound minor but for me this is a major achievement. I have only one project on my slate, Amigos Amigos, the music documentary that feels like a millstone around my neck. Everything else, corporate videos, short films, DVD's for actors etc. have been completed and so I am now on a home run. I want to finish the documentary by the end of the year, and I am on course to do that. Hopefully by January it will be ready for film festival distribution, then I really do have a clean slate as there are no projects from the past left to clutter up my life.

Ah yes, the past, present and future.

Why do I make films, why have I done so for so long and why do I continue down this oh-so- vain path...

Let us start with 2011. his has been a poor year. Worse than 2010 (can it get any worse?) CWP's poor festival run is now finished. Despite approaching some television channels with regards to expanding the concept to a TV series, Caution Wet Paint has hit the dust. Just like another, earlier franchise of mine, An East End Tale, it is time to put it into stasis. This is a bitter body blow for me, but the reality is that no one is interested in the idea and for now, even though I love the movie, its potential and everything surrounding it, I also have to be cut throat. It is not yet time for it to be exposed.

Second, Irfan has flopped. If CWP's festival run was bad, then Irfan has been non-existent. At a total of 83 festival submissions, it has achieved none, other than a special screening this year at Quest Europe. The amount of rejection has reached an intolerable stage, and although a sick part of me wants to see if I can actually score 100 rejections, the common sense part of me says enough is enough. No more fees or postal submission costs, just put a halt to the project.

This is incredibly painful on two levels. First, due to the money spent. £700 is nothing for a film, but f you are self financing it, that is a lot of money, plus submission and festival costs, a lot of money was in fact, wasted.

Secondly, it was the first time I approached the set from a professional point of view. With a real unit, lights, good sound. Technically, it is the best I have created. But it has ot received one look in. Why?

Ah, and there we go into the quagmire of film festivals. The random choices that leave the majority of the 2,500 submissions received this year, left high and dry without a screening, while same, few, select films are shown at festivals all over. And that is the problem. Numbers. There are too many short films out there, and only film festivals are interested in screening them. The real world does not give a hoot about short films. And of course, every wannabe director like myself has the same mentality. Use the short film as a calling card to bigger projects. Well, maybe 15 years ago when film festivals were truly a breeding ground for self financed independent movies, this would have been the case. But time has moved on, festivals have got more picky as the art house scene has actually become another arm of well run studios.

If you are a festival elector, are you going to accept a submission from an unknown, or a well placed film, with (even minor) stars and some proper backing. There is no contest, you got an audience to think about.

And that may be my problem. You see, over the past few years, I have been concentrating on getting into film festivals or doing webisodes when in reality, these are lpousy avenues to work in and get films distributed. And do not talk to me about film distribution - these are the guys I have to appeal to - yeah. They are not the kind of people I am randomly going to bump into.

So what next?

I have just described the (recent) past and a little of what I am dong now. But a future, for me, making films? Why would I even bother. Tune in tomorrow, part 2 of blog rant will be coming up...

Friday, 11 November 2011

Panic?

At the moment Europe is in catastrophe.

Armageddon.

Well, to be honest, it does not feel like it. After all,, despite the fact that we have possibly the worst economic outlook since forever facing the UK, whatis our esteemed Prime Minister busy with?

Poppies.

Mmm...

Do not get me wrong, the Poppy argument is a valid one. But why should a Prime Minister be involving himself with a football match?

Sigh.

This is what I pay my taxes for. Football commentary. Great.

Mediolana does a far more analytical take than I do. Click to read...

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Motorcycle Diaries - Autumn/Winter 2011

A couple of nights ago, I was rushing to work.

Typical. Why me?!

McJob, the usual, but anyway. As always, I was so last minute in my rush to earn moooooooooneeeeeeeeey. And I had left just enough time to hop on the motorbike and ride off ino the moonlight that is a night shift.

Kick started my wee little beastie. And always before I leave, I check my tail light. Brake light was working, but there was no rear light itself.

Ah, bulb needed to be replaced.

The tail light is essential for a motorbike. For the simple reason that there is only one of it. A headlight, if it goes, well, yes, it is bad, but you can always switch onto beam lights to get you home. Also, the indicator lights, while nice, you can survive without it.

But no tail light, then you are as good as dead. Plus, the MET Police have been swooping round this part of London like a bad smell, pulling over drivers and riders with impunity. So I drove the car to work that night, and even worse, had to sit in traffic the following morning on the way back home.

And this morning, bleary eyed, I remembered that I had to replace the light bulb.



So why do I not carry spare bulbs? Actually, I do. My little top-box has a bundle of gaffer tape. And stored in that bundle of tape is a carefully bubble wrapped tail light bulb.

I also have a screwdriver in the box.

Always being carried with me, wherever I ride. Handy to keep as you never know what may strike.



If anyone wants to steal my bundle of tape, sorry, no drugs there. Just a single light bulb about a quid in price.

Yeah, do not underestimate the thieves in London.

But it is handy, to have a spare, if I am somewhere out and about and I have no tail light, to have this spare.

Of course, it is no use having a spare light to carry around if you do not leave for your destination in good time.

I suppose this teaches me a little lesson.

To actually leave a little extra time before heading out to the wild places in London town. Then maybe, if there is a little emergency like this, I can quickly replace bits and bobs without worry.

But will I do that? Hell no, there is far too much procrastination to get up to. Like blogging...

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Just a little note. I do have a slight oil leak. A funny thing, but whenever the bike is upright and leaning backwards, oil drips ever so slightly out of the sump. Why me?!

But when on the centre stand and slightly leaning forwards, everything is fine. Something for me to investigate when Spring comes round. At the moment, repairs are too cold to do! And I just feel oh so lazy to be that productive. Maybe I can continue blogging a bit more in increase my productivity :)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Busy, yes...

Very.

Kung Fu busy.

Running around.

Working like crazy.

Up and down.

Left and right.

Thankfully, I am popping out of the country (again) next week.

Which is probably why I am so busy :)

Monday, 7 November 2011

Warioland II on the Gameboy - A Review



For the past couple of weeks, I have fired up my Gameboy and got back into some retro gaming fun. In particular, as I browsed online looking for gifts for someone else, I decided to treat myself to Warioland II, Nintendo's final official release for the Gameboy. After this game, the future of handheld gaming would be in colour (in fact Warioland II was re-released for the Game Boy Colour some six months later) and never again would new games come out for this, one of the most revolutionary gaming systems ever made.

And so my review. It is a retro game, being some 13 years old, but in 1998 I kind of lost interest in playing video games as I tried to get this new found phenomenon called sex. Some may actually call this a retrograde step, and so since the last time I bought a video game in 1995, this was my first 'play purchase' in over fifteen years.

Wow, it took me that long to get fed up of sex ;)

Warioland 2, like most Nntendo published games, is pretty easy to get into. The gameplay design is just great, allowing you to slowly ease yourself into the game. As you progress, the levels become harder, the puzzles more fraught and like any good platformer it slowly begins to hook you until you cannot wait to get into the game and defeat the next level. As my first new game in a decade and a half, I was not disappointed with the purchase. I have had so much fun in the past couple of weeks playing the game in my spare time.

(Hey, while the Gameboy may be portable, I am still too ashamed to take it out in public. It remains my dirty little secret to be played at home only...)

One of the great things about Warioland II, is that it brings back Mario's (at the time) new nemesis Wario. The original Warioland released on the Gameboy a few years earlier introduced the villain from Super Marioland 2 to his own game.

And playing Wario is very different from playing Mario. He is a tougher character, can take far more knocks, and attacks enemies in different ways. With Wario, there is also no damsel in distress. It is all about collecting money - he is the first Nintendo hero to have completely selfish motives. So he is my kind of hero...

One way that Warioland II differences from previous platform games is that you cannot die. Yep, that is right, Wario is invincible, and so there is no 'game over' mode. But do not be fooled, this does not make the game any easier - far from it! Being invincible means that you basically have to complete the level. There is no option to save and come back later, it is all or nothing. It does require a new level of skill to get through, but it makes the angle on gameplay very interesting.

There is also one major plot point in Warioland II, and that is the multiple ending scenario. On the first run, you defeat the game, just like I did yesterday.



Then a map is suddenly revealed and you realise that there are hidden levels and alternative endings to the game. Far from bein a straight through platform game, suddenly you realise that Wario's adventures are only just beginning. For the Gameboy, this is an absolutely massive game, more than just a few days play, but filled with secrets to reveal and more stuff to find. Fantastic, and considering the era when Warioland 2 was made, absolutely brilliant.

There are some niggling points to be had with the game. First of all, the sound is terrible. I know I should not expect much considering this is a Gameboy, but Link's Awakening, released on the same system, showed how good the music can be on the Gameboy. To be honest, some of the time, Warioland 2's music can get really irritating. Secondly, for a monochrome screen, there is a little bit too much detail. I can imagine this would really be great on a colour screen, but for the olive green graphics of the Gameboy, there is just too much to take in.

But these are niggles and really relate to Warioland being made with the Gameboy Colour in mind. Overall, this is a fantastic game, and as my first purchase in over fifteen years, I am happy to say that I am now hooked to video games again. But who would have thought that it would have been my trusty Gameboy that got me back into game playing...

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The New £50 Note - and it's mine (for now)

The new fifty pound note was released this week! And of course, as everyone in the UK knows, to actually get your hands on one of them means that you are up to no good whatsoever!



Pound Sterling is an unusual currency. The legal tender laws in the UK are some of the most complex in the world. But for the bulk of the country, there are only four bank notes issued by the Bank of England. £5 (a fiver), £10 (a tenner), £20 (a score) and £50 (allegedly a bullseye - but as it is so rare to handle, no one uses that terminology).



I must admit, it is nice to hold a £50 note. They are so bloody rare that it will not be long before it is spent. But, it does feel good. Of course, with Quantitative Easing, the value of both those notes will be pretty much nothing in a few years time...

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Best Recurring Star Trek Characters




So who are they? In my opinion, the best of the sidekicks, you know, the guys who periodically reappear in their respective series, who enhance the regular cast, and without whom, the show would not be the same?

Well, to be honest, the list is dominated by recurring characters from The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, as, if you are looking for the best, then these two series were probably the best incarnations of Star Trek. And of course, I do have one hell of a bias towards DS9.

So witout further ado (and as it has been ages since I have done a Star Trek related blog post) here are my top five recurring characters from the world of Star Trek:

5) Rom



Rom started out as an idiot and never really lost that tag. But he grew. From Quark's kid brother who was basically the punch bag, it was realised that he had a brain and also a personality that went beyond huh. Plus he also managed to marry Leeta - what more could could any side kick want?


4) Guinan




I loved Guinan. Her character really brought something special to the Enterprise-D, and whenever she was on the show, it became a memorable episode. From her words of foreboding when dealing with the Borg to her sense of altered reality, Guinan was a gift of a character.

She was also played by Whoopi Goldberg, who really is one of the finest actresses from Hollywood, and in my opinion, one of the most underrated talents from the film industry. Part of Guinan's magic, came from Goldberg, who lit up the screen with her presence. Guinan may have only been a side kick, but her recurring moments made her one of the most memorable characters from Trek cannon.


3) Nog



If you had watched Emissary, then, you really did not have much hope for Nog. The dead beat son of Rom, whose first bit of onscreen presence was stealing some junk accompanied by an idiot.

But my oh my, what a difference seven seasons can make. By the end, he has grown into a minor Starfleet Officer (with the rank of Lieutenant) and was well on the way to making his way up the grease pole. More importantly, Nog's character was central to one of the franchise's finest offerings, It's Only a Paper Moon. This episode along with its companion piece The Siege of AR-558, gave so much depth to Nog. A credit to DS9's writers is that all the characters, even the minor ones and the villains, grew so much under their care.

The growth of Nog into a wonderful person is probably one of Star Trek's most understated achievements and as part of the fantastic DS9 series is a metaphor for the DS9 series itself. An unsteady start, that slowly becomes more comfortable with itself before being able to strike out and stand above the rest.


2) Q



It was hard not to put Q at the top of the list. Maybe it is due to my DS9 bias, which I admit to. But also, to be honest, Q appeared in a lot of stinkers. For every Q Who there was unfortunately, Qpid. Well, at least Qpid gave us one of TNG's most memorable quotes - you just have to love Worf!.

But the reason why Q is also rated so highly, is that some of the most memorable episodes involve Q. Plus, let us be honest, Q was a gift of a character - he is omnipitent - how cool is that!

Oh yes, whenever Q and Picard where on screen, the chemistry could be electric. I have already mentioned Q Who, but who can forget the series finale or the brilliant Tapestry, which has to be one of the finest installments in Star Trek? Q, for all his faults, and lousy episodes (for which there were plenty) was also a brilliant recurring character.


1) Martok



And so, my favourite, recurring character is Martok. And for one simple reason. Everytime he appeared on screen, you know there was a moment of cool about to happen.

And it did not begin promisingly for this character. Taken by the Dominion, the first time we see Martok, it is a Changeling! But he came back, first dishonoured, but in time he became the Chancellor of the Klingon Empire. Trust me, any episode with Martok in it will make you smile. His on screen presence, the story lines that involved him, everything to do with General Martok was amazing. Everything he said was electric.

And if you want to see how cool Martok is, just take a peek here. Possibly one of the most memorable scenes from Star Trek, and he only says one word during the song. That is why he is cool and that is why, in my opinion, Martok is the best of Star Trek's recurring characters.



---

But what do you guys think?

Friday, 4 November 2011

My ears are...waxy!

So I got them syringed today. Not pleasant, not unpleasant, just had to be done.

Now I can hear, with perfect clarity, the women in my life, and the exact way they nag me.

Thank goodness for the NHS. Phoned them two weeks ago. Told them I had seen the doctor in the summer about it, and they said all right, how about Wed. I said, no can do, how about Fri. Good for all, done. And free!

All I had to do was get a £3 bottle of olive oil from the chemist and stick them in my ear last week.

Now I can hear with perfect clarity. Joy!

Enjoy your Friday...

Thursday, 3 November 2011

A New Airport for London? No chance...

So this is it. I have visited far too many of London's airports, and we do have a ridiculous amount of them. At the moment in London, we have five airports - Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City. Southend is reopening next year, but the fact is that London, with the world's busiest airspace, is running out of airport room.



So what is to be done. For all their environmental impact, aeroplanes provide a cheap, easy and convenient way to travel. From my perspective, they link me to the people important in my life, provide me with exotic food, allow me to explore the world, and come at a price which is cheaper and quicker than train or coach. Imagine trying to travel overland to Sri Lanka. Nope. Or take the train to Poland. Please, the cost of one train ride would pay for three air tickets! Also, they are far more flexible than the train or road. Living on an island really does restrict my travel horizons and it is the real reason why London has the world's most congested air system - it is a megacity on isolated from its immediate hinterland on the Continent.

So with that in mind, how do the plans for the new airport in the Thames stack up. Bear in mind that these are only plans, and yet two put forward seem to have an air of the possible within them. There is definitely a shift from Maplin Sands but it is in essence the same idea. Stick an airport somewhere to the east of London in the Thames Estuary and link it to the greater metropolis by any means necessary. With the completion of HS1, the possibility of linking this airport to the rest of Europe (certainly northern France) is also a possibility.


Isle of Grain Porposals.

And again for Grain.
Bors Island Proposals.
Boris Island again.


The pros are that it can be built to a huge size, operate 24 hours a day and free residents from the blight of aircraft noise by shutting Heathrow and free up valuable land in West London for a massive expansion of housing.

The cons are wildlife concerns, the logistics of changing air traffic patterns that close to Dutch and Belgium airspace, a blow to the West London economy and of course, rising sea levels.

There are arguments that it has been done before. Replacing the old airport with a new one, and yes in Hong Kong (magnificent), or Kansai airport in Osaka. But each of these cities only had one airport.

London currently has six, and here is the major mis-step that everyone seems to have missed. All the airlines and passengers will jump from Heathrow to the new island hub in a flash.

No, they won't.

The reason why Heathrow is such a popular airport is simple. It has the best ground connections of any airport I have visited in the world. Heathrow may be an absolute nightmare to navigate, but there is no simpler airport to get to on the planet. Try it. And there is no cheaper airport to get to either.

The UK has a perverse transport policy. Let private companies run pseudo monopolies and charge an exorbitant price for the privallege. As a result we have an expensive, run down and shambolicly run railway. We have a long distance coach system that has to absorb the inefficiencies of the rail system and clogged motorways because it is perversely cheaper (and often faster) to drive from one end of the country to another. And it is one of the stupid reasons why in a country as small as the UK, that domestic air travel is so popular.

The UK's perverse transport policy stops at the borders of Greater London. Here, the warm embrace of TfL takes over. Heathrow is located within Greater London, and as a result, it is connected cheaply to the rest of the city by an efficiently run tube system and to its local neighbourhoods by a plethora of buses running 24 hours a day.

Which is why it is so easy to get to Heathrow. Instead of fleecing passengers, the transport authority looks to getting people to and from the airport as quickly and cheaply as possible with a minimum of fuss and shareholding.

Do not get me wrong, I have no problem with private transport companies. But our transport policy (outside London) is neither fully privatised or fully public but a mixture of the worse of both worlds.

And this is why people choose Heathrow. Yes, the airport itself sucks, but getting to the airport is easy.

Yes, there is a fast, expensive (and fully private) option on the Heathrow Express, but it is still cheaper than getting the shoddy Stansted Express and despite its credentials, the Gatwick Express is only 55p cheaper, but infinitely slower. And there is a choice of how to get to Heathrow, as it is not isolated from the rest of the world. Gatwick, Stansted and the rest are basically islands of development in the middle of nowhere. You are forced onto a range of limited ground transport options.

So a new airport in the middle of the Thames Estuary. How easy and more importantly, how cost effective will it be to travel there? Knowing the UK's transport policy, it will be fast, and expensive. Looking at the current fares on the UK's only domestic high speed rail line, it is £27 to get from St Pancras to Ashford. And I have to get to St Pancras station itself, a mission from my location in South London.

If train tickets to Boris Island are priced similarly, a one way journey for a family of four will cost £100. Compare that to Oyster Card fares to Heathrow, and you can begin to see the major flaw with putting an airport in the middle of the Thames. Air Passengers will choose to travel to an airport that is cheaper.

Now, as the six London airports are currently owned by five different companies, do you really think that they will all roll over and let Boris Island take their business? Of course not. They will try and take Heathrow's mantle, as the most convenient airport to Central London and the cheapest airport to get to. If Heathrow closes, the owners of Gatwick would immediately expand their airport to attract the high spending business traveller and yes, intercontinental airlines would move there, not to Boris Island.

Building an airport in the Thames would probably require the closing of most if not all of London's other airports in order to force airlines and punters to use it. Something, that in a country filled with free trade and property rights, would be unthinkable.

So what are the alternatives? Continue the way things are? Of course not! Expand the airports? Of course not! Reduce air travel? Of course not! How does the circle get squared. Well, this is the way a circle gets squared. It will be interesting to see how air travel in London adapts to the future. What is probably going to happen is more of the same. Sticking tape and plaster to mend the broken system. Reopen an old airport like is happening at Southend, tweak the existing rules, and make bigger aircraft. But in the end, matters will come to a head...

Of course, the above arguments will all pale into insignificance if oil runs out :)

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Retro Gaming

~Over the past couple of weeks, I have really been getting back into my portable gaming habit. I bought a 'new' game for my Gameboy:




Once I complete it, I will be doing a mini-review of the game, because, well, why not? But for now, let me get back to the monochrome magic...