The Tower of London

In early November I went to London on a work trip.  I stayed in a hotel very close to the Tower of London, just on the opposite side of Tower Bridge.  At least, I think that’s what this bridge is called.  It’s the famous one that everyone thinks is called London Bridge, much to the shame of the people of Seattle.

Anyway, while I was there, the poppies to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.  I had a spare ten minutes after I checked in to take a few photos before the light went.  Here they are.

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28 Hallowe’en Horror Fests Later

28 Weeks Later (2007)

Six months after the original outbreak of the Rage virus, the UK is a devastated wasteland in quarantine.  Slowly, re-population of the City of London begins – in restricted zones under the guardianship of US led UN forces.

This sequel to 28 Days Later takes the initial premise further, and doesn’t waste time in exploring further the horror of the Infected.  The opening scenes in particular are designed to make the heart race, as we’re thrust back into the nightmare of the scenario for the first film.  In a short while though, the audience finds itself in a precarious new society as the military attempt to reintroduce life to the dead city. 28weekslater

Both Danny Boyle and Alex Garland, who created the original movie – act as Executive Producers on 28 Weeks Later.  Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo manages to take over the reigns and deliver a solid sequel.

28 Weeks Later does not have the shock value of it’s predecessor; although a  quality cast – including Robert Carlyle, Jeremy Renner, the lovely Rose Byrne and Idris Elba – ensure this is a film worth investing your time in.

I still rate the original 28 Days Later as one of the most intense, disturbing cinematic experiences I’ve ever had.  Sequels very rarely match up to the first film.  28 Weeks Later has a pretty bloody good go, though.

8/10

PS – you can read my write up of 28 Days Later here.

Death Skateboards – My Current Set Up

Death deck, Independent trucks, Death wheels 

Recently I set up my new skateboard.  This new set up is, again, primarily Death skateboards.

The new deck is a Lee Dainton pro model – yes, he of Dirty Sanchez fame.  I’ve actually had this deck for a while, I just hadn’t got round to setting it up.  Truth be told, I’ve not done much skating for a while, due to factors like becoming a  Dad; the bastard recession killing my employment; and being busy getting fat.

I’ve kept my previous set of good old reliable Indy trucks, but invested in a new set of Death wheels (52mm).  I picked the wheels up from the very nice people at Note skate shop in Manchester on a recent visit. IMG_3168

Death are a great company, I’ve owned (and skated) many of their decks and wheels.  They’re British, and make really good products that you can depend on.

Back when I used to own a skate shop, I spoke on the phone to Death boss man Nick Zorlac a few times.  He’s a sound guy with an obvious enthusiasm and love for skateboarding. IMG_3170

I also had a brief meeting with Dainton a couple of years ago, when he and Matt Pritchard did a Dirty Sanchez show at the Tivoli in Buckley.  The conversation basically consisted of hollering “Independent for life!” at each other.

Anyway, I’ve now skated this deck and I am extremely happy with it.  No techy nerd ramblings in this blog post, this is a quality skateboard and we’ll leave it at that.  Well done Death on another fine product!

Deck only, before trucks were mounted.

Deck only, before trucks were mounted.

Lunch at Taco Bell

Buenos dias, compañeros amantes de la comida!

I went to Manchester yesterday, for a general look around and to spend some money on tat.  My plan, while I was there, was to have lunch at Taco Bell.  There is now a Taco Bell in the Arndale Centre food court, and it’s one of the few such restaurants in this country.

Back in 2000, I visited the USA and was able to persuade my travelling companions at the time to try Taco Bell one lunch time, rather than the Golden Arches.  As a fan of Mexican food, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  So the opportunity to eat there again was one that I could not pass up.

Lunch time at the Arndale Centre food court was fairly chaotic, with hundreds of people bustling about and queueing for their fast food of choice.  Chairs were scarce and the vibe was more seething ghetto than high class eating.  However, most punters were opting for the obvious Mac or KFC, so the Taco Bell area was slightly less busy.

I opted for a meal deal consisting of two soft tacos, served with fries and a drink.  As I was as hungry as a mountain bandido recovering from a heavy night on the tequila, I also decided to add an extra “Craver” to my tray.  There followed an anxious adventure to find a seat. 1939521_10152342074678714_1669132817_n

The Craver was first, as I treated it as a starter.  Cravers are smaller, appetite beating choices, like the 99p menu at other restaurants.  The option I chose was a soft tortilla wrap, containing chilli beef and cheese.  Not overly spicy, it was still a good start to my culinary trip south of the border.

I’d chosen Pepsi as my drink, and after the Craver started on the Mexican fries.  Though they were more chip than fry, I have to say that they were the best fries I have ever had from a fast food joint.  Basic chips coated in spicy seasoning, they were simply fantastic.  Highly recommended.

Along with the fries, my meal deal consisted of two tacos.  I chose chicken, in a soft tortilla (rather than crispy); with cheese, sour cream and diced tomatoes.  Very messy, but very tasty.  Other options are available, including beef – plus you could go for burritos, quesadilla, or numerous other options.

If you are a fan of Mexican food, or have been to a good Mexican restaurant, then don’t expect Taco Bell to live up to those standards.  But as an alternative to the standard burger and fries fast food choice, this was an enjoyable – and fun – replacement.  I just hope that the British public can forget it’s reluctance to try “spicy” food (it’s not spicy!) and try this out.  I’d love to see Taco Bell everywhere in the UK.

Good points:

  • A new, different option for lunchtime
  • Traditionally boring British palates mean that most punters are too unadventurous to try this – so the queues are smaller
  • It’s Mexican food – good or bad, that beats everything else in my book!

Could do better points:

  • It’s messy – clean up towels (like KFC) would be a good idea
  • The food could be spicier, and who knows how traditionally Mexican this is?!
  • Better seating arrangements would be better at this particular venue – I was there on a Thursday, so why was it so busy?

¿Dónde está la taqueria?

Check out the Taco Bell UK website here.

Go straight to the menu here.

Son of Hallowe’en Horror Fest

28 Days Later (2002)

When Mrs Platinum Al and I went on our very first date, this was the film she wanted to see.  I’d heard it was good, and being a fan of the Director Danny Boyle’s earlier works (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting) agreed it would be a good choice.  What followed was one of the most extreme cinematic experiences I’ve ever had.  You’ve heard stories about people walking out of the cinema?  I saw that during this screening.  Audience members were getting up and leaving.  I’m sure that it wasn’t because the film was bad – it was because 28 Days Later is utterly terrifying. MV5BNzM2NDYwNjM3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDYxNzk5._V1._SX337_SY500_ (1)

Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in hospital after being in an accident.  Slowly he finds that the world he knew has crumbled, as an infectious virus called “Rage” has decimated the population by turning the victims into violent, mindless killers.  Jim meets other survivors, and together they begin a journey to find a cure for Rage, and safe refuge from the Infected.

28 Days Later was never billed as a zombie flick originally, at least not as I remember it.  Although obviously inspired by zombie movies and other post apocalyptic films, it was promoted as a film exploring what could happen following the outbreak of a pandemic.  Scenes of an abandoned London created emotions of despair that were related, in the press, to the aftermath of 9/11.  Psychologically, the audience is submitted to a world of sheer desperation that pervades every minute.

As a result, 28 Days Later gives us much more than a zombie re-hash.  It has shocks and creates tension in the viewer unlike any other film I have ever seen.  But it also asks questions: how far away are any of us, in a world of road rage and social unrest, from mindless uncontrolled violence?

Quite simply a superb film on every level, 28 Days Later horrifies beyond belief.

10/10

The Curse of Hallowe’en Horror Fest

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

I first saw this film when I was about ten years old.  Or rather, I saw the first ten minutes.  When the initial attack occurs on the moors, my Mum switched it off.  And I’m not surprised.  Just those first few minutes were enough to make me shit my shoes off.  It would be many years later before I would actually watch the movie all the way through.

An American Werewolf in London begins with two backpacking young Americans finding their way to a mysterious village somewhere in Yorkshire.  They are attacked on the moors by a werewolf – one is killed and one survives, thus carrying on the werewolf’s curse.  Recovering in a London hospital, the survivor, David (David Naughton) is cared for by nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter).  His nightmares soon erupt into vicious attacks as he transforms, under the full moon, into a werewolf. american_werewolf_in_london_poster_04

This film is an absolute classic of the genre.  There are genuine jump-out-of-your-seat shocks, moments of bloody gore and a tragic love story that combine into a thrilling experience.  The special effects make-up (by Rick Baker) is still out standing today, particularly the transformation scene.

Often described as a “horror comedy”, there is a humorous tone in moments throughout the film which helps create the light and dark shades.  Director John Landis, however, has stated that An American Werewolf… is not a comedy, it just uses the lighter shades to create impact for the more horrible scenes.  Landis blends the moods superbly.  There are also numerous nods to the werewolf movies of the past; both verbally (The Wolfman and Curse of the Werewolf both get a nod) and in the structure of the film.

I’ve seen this film many, many times since Mum first switched channels after ten minutes. I’ve even seen it on the big screen, for a special late night showing a couple of years ago. The film’s ability to shock is now lost on me somewhat – I know when every scare is due to happen.  But I still enjoy watching this film and absorb every incredibly clever touch that Landis utilises.  It’s made a massive impression on me – I still remember the first time I was way down deep on the London underground, and gained an appreciation of the loneliness and isolation in one particular scene.

An American Werewolf In London: if you’ve not seen it, see it now.  But not in a dodgy theatre in Piccadilly Circus, obviously.

10/10

Why the United Kingdom doesn’t win Eurovision

A short opinion piece concerning the UK’s lack of success in the international song contest

The Eurovision song contest – that cacophony of the beautiful, the unusual, and the downright bizarre.  Where reactions go from “This is pleasant,” to “What just happened?  Did I really hear that?” in the space of a few minutes.  Sometimes in the same song.  It’s all in the name of entertainment, and often the strange moments are the best.

The United Kingdom has had it’s share of winners over the years, and in contrast to most people’s opinion has been very successful.  These days, however, we constantly hear the public decrying the contest and complaining about the mutual voting of  sympathetic countries.  “That’s why we don’t win anymore,” the voices say, “all those countries voting for each other.”

Other reasons commonly championed as to why the UK hasn’t been successful include “No-one in Europe likes us”; and theories about the change in rules regarding singing in the national language.

So how is it possible that the nation that gave the world The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Bowie, the Clash (and on and on) – don’t win this contest hands down every year?

It’s because we don’t take it seriously.

I don’t mean we don’t take it seriously in a tongue-in-cheek, this is crap but what the hell post modern kind of way.  That’s fine.  Be ironic, have a laugh at the strange sounds and mangling of English phrases – that’s part of the fun.

No, by not taking it seriously I refer to the artists above.  We don’t win Eurovision because every year the rest of Europe wants to see the UK field a superstar.  A living legend like Bowie or Sir Paul, to lend their talents to the Greatest Music Competition in the World.  They want to see some of the musical geniuses that have sprung from these shores show the rest of Europe what pop music is all about.

We know that’s never going to happen.  Great fun as Eurovision is, it doesn’t have the cultural importance to tempt the like of Elton or Mick Jagger.  Not going to happen.

But just imagine if we did?  Imagine, if you will, a gleaming supergroup with Brian May on guitar, Roger Taylor on drums, Sir Paul on bass.  Elt on the old joanna, and vocals from some one like Jessie J, or Adele, or Tom Jones.  That’s what Europe want to see, and that’s what we need to win.

There was a rumour a few years ago (and I think it was just a rumour), of Morrissey being the United Kingdom’s entry for Eurovision.  Now I’m no Morrissey fan, but maybe that would do the job?  In the meantime, we have Bonnie Tyler to represent the country this year.  A woman with considerable fame and success across Europe, not to mention her undoubted talent.  Let’s see if she can do it.

Whoever wins, ignore the nay sayers and the whingers who complain because the UK doesn’t win.  Enjoy the fun and the spectacle, whoever the winner is.