Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Hallowhine

It's that spooky time of year, where the leaves are changing and everything is a little bit colder and eerier. Not least because the clocks went back this weekend and we are treated to dusk setting in at nearly 4pm. The atmosphere must suggest that it’s time again for the merchandising clusterfuck that is Halloween.

Now I'm probably going to be universally derided as a killjoy for not liking Halloween, which is on the surface a quite innocuous event (unless you are flour bombed), but I just don’t like it. Surprisingly I might not be the silent fist shaking minority I originally thought I was, as I’ve actually been quite pleased by the amount of commentators on the radio and TV who seem to agree with me; implying that maybe I’m not mad but that society is.

I don't know what it is about it that riles me so much? Whether it's the fact I hate dressing up because of this costume-party-friendly time, or if it's that I just don’t like the idea of being forced to buy sweets so that little costumed pests - who will inevitably be lauded as ‘adorable’ by people who’s souls aren’t so shriveled up and bitter - can extort me on my doorstep. There seems something wrong about congratulating these precocious bell ends in pathetic costumes, whether they are making threats or not. Personally I’m all for getting into the spirit of the holiday and just scaring them off by pretending to be insane. It’s amazing what a bit of talking to yourself and swinging a cricket bat around whilst screaming will do.

The costume parties are a particular gripe for me, especially after thinking I’d escaped all of that after leaving the costume party fest that is university. Costume parties are awkward exercises at the best of times, where if lacking a particularly flamboyant character you can feel very alone and confuddled by the confident and strutting masses around you that are showing off how their outrageous costumes/personalities are. Then there is the time that goes into making these costumes, normally for little payoff except for a slight feeling of inadequacy and the discomfort of wearing makeup; that’s not even mentioning the stress an elaborate costume can cause if it prevents you from sitting down for fear of ripping the damn thing.

Maybe it's just that this holiday (well I say that but we don’t get any time off work) is an American export that we have adopted so that card shops can prop up their takings by flogging us plastic masks and devil horns galore. This is a simple case of supply and demand and it is unsurprising that Halloween it’s now more profitable for shops than Valentine’s Day. Yes indeed, rampant commercialism has created a monster out of Halloween that is for sure.

Overall I think that Halloween is a pretty shallow holiday. It’s a chance for the flagging high street shops to try and get us to reach into our wallets and pay for more disposable pap than we normally would at this time of year. Oh, and so that people can excuse some heavy drinking.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Can We Please Shut the Rooney-Gate

Now I know I won’t be the only online commentator making a reference to this matter this week; but will people please shut up about Wayne Rooney’s desire to leave Manchester United FC.

Just stop it, forget it exists and move on! Seriously close your eyes, and think very hard about not thinking about Wayne Rooney. There are so many better things in the world to focus on for example. Flowers come to mind, or kittens etc. Just don’t think about stroppy professional footballers.

Rooney is a spud faced, over moneyed, blustering, chest beating little man-child, who is whining because his boss gave him a telling off one too many times. Besides, he hasn’t been playing very well recently, so why does a man of his status and salary deserve any coddling?

Rooney’s star has been falling fairly steadily since the disappointing world cup showings. Sure, there have been some flashes of brilliance but ultimately he has been underwhelming. This matter is not helped by his frustrated approach to matters and by throwing his toys out of the pram when things don’t go his way. There is no way he can pretend to be the victim in this matter, whether he attempts to seize the moral high ground or not.

Ok, to be blunt this story is only running because the newsmakers know a good story when they see it, but now the story is being flayed of all its meat and the carcass is being kicked about. Besides, since Alex Ferguson made it known that Mr Wayne was unhappy at the team, there has been little to no development in the issue. Still you can rely on there being a few column inches dedicated to the matter in tomorrow’s papers.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Not Quite a Case of Sour Grapes

 Recently I was invited by some mutual friends to attend a wine tasting at the Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair. Now this was my first attempt at trying to understand wine as well as my first real introduction into a very exclusive crowd. So here goes with my attempt to explain the day.

Wine tastings have a very mysterious air about them. The layman would see them as pretentious, odd events where people spout the most nonsensical drivel about a drink that seems to have a similar taste across its range, whilst openly spitting in polite company. It is very hard to penetrate the wine community as it is an exclusive and obtuse industry, full of technical knowhow and well trained pallets.

If you don’t know about wine and go to a place where you are greatly outnumbered by wine connoisseurs you will find yourself lost in a sea of grape varieties, subtle tastes and regional nuances. So much so you will feel like you’ve just been told to sit a test about what you’ve learned, whilst being showered with 10 tons of grapes of different varieties. To be fair I felt like I was being pelted with grapes half the time.

What I did manage to pick up was that the Gavi grape is very sour and dry, extra dry Prosecco is sweeter than a brut and that there is a wine called Pecorino (yes, like the cheese). As you can see I barely scraped the surface of what there is to know about different types of wines. I did however, have a crack at trying to spot some of the subtle flavours within the different wines and was actually able to spot them in some cases. For instance I could taste some faint hints of citrus fruit in some bottles although I wasn’t able to spot any of the extreme types of flavours you hear the likes of Oz Clarke prattling on about, so no subtle hints of cut grass or baked cat or such nonsense.

An interesting quality about the wine crowd is that it attracts a lot of older, upper class, tweed wearing sorts. This is especially the case for the journalists who attended, which made me stand out as not only the youngest member of the press but also as probably the least snobbish. These old chaps were pushy and rude ogre-like so-and-sos into the bargain which sometimes brought down the atmosphere of the event. I found it especially unsettling to be around these people as I’d probably be tarred and feathered by these old fools if I so much as gave them the hint that I was a know-nothing outsider, as they lurched about glugging down another glass of red, whilst claiming to be able to taste Celine Dion in a grape variety. All in all it was like being marooned on Michael Winner Island.

Still it was all for free; lunch was thrown in and if given the chance I’d probably go again. It wasn’t all bad and quite honestly I did feel like I picked up some useful information about good wine and wine ranges.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Apprentice Reopens For Business.

After months of waiting, and with a suitable amount of hype, the Apprentice has appeared back on British screens at last, as Lord Scowler Sugar (I wonder if he insists that his wife refer to him as Lord Sugar too?) begins the search for a new bootlicker.

Firstly let me diffuse a myth, The Apprentice is not a representation of real business in action. I’m pretty sure that anyone who claims that the Apprentice is a representation of real business practice probably still believes in the tooth fairy or Tiger Wood’s fidelity, as most people surely must have realised that real business it ain’t.

The candidates this year seem to be an even bigger collection of cocks, back stabbers and self important windbags, which is quite frankly fantastic. The most amusing thing is that quite a few are out of work, as the recession continues to ravage our economy (I know as well as anyone), which means they have less of a credible position to pontificate about how bloody great they are.

The task this week was to make sausages and sell them, which caused a lot of stumbling and bumbling as one might expect. The boys team managed to ruin their sausage mixture and reacted calmly by running around screaming at one another in the process. The girls were just as volatile as they squabbled over the name of the group – in the end settling with Apollo, because the NASA mission had the ethos that “failure is not an option” – and hissed at one another passive aggressively. Still, at the end of the day they sold the most and rightfully won the task, whilst the boys were left to meet with the craggy face of Lord Sugar in the boardroom.

Watching the boys prepare for their face to face meeting with the angry Lord Troll, seemed like something prior to the night of the long knives. In the end the shouty and dictatorial Dan of the boys team got the chop.

Here is a brief rundown of this year’s candidates:

Stuart Baggs: Ah, Stuart Baggs. Stuart Baggs “The Brand.” So far the only image his brand conjures up is that of naively bold statements spurting from the love child of James Cordon and Frodo Baggins.

Raleigh (pronounced rawley?) Addington:
A well to do unemployed graduate, who looks as if he’s in his forties? He’s a bit of a wet fish really, as he accused the project managers actions in the first task of being “shameful” and looked as if he was about to start blubbing from the confrontation.

Stella English: Mrs Blend In.

Alex Epstein:
What’s Alfred Molina doing on the Apprentice?

Joanna Riley: Nice but dim.

Dan Harris: Ball busting, blundering bastard. When he isn't shouting he's looking for someone to shout at. Thankfully was the first to be fired, despite the potential for being very entertaining.

Melissa Cohen: Horrible! Horrible! Horrible! The worst kind of sanctimonious, self interested, excuse for a businessperson as I have ever seen on the show. She’s about as agreeable as a punch in the face.

Jaime Lester: Very wishy-washy and very quick to point the finger when something goes wrong.

Paloma Vivicano: Seems a little airy fairy, but otherwise we have yet to see what she can do.

Sandeesh Samra: Who?

Dr Shibbi Robati: Now hang on? Why oh why would you give up a career as a surgeon to be Alan Sugar’s apprentice. I don’t know if anyone’s noticed but does Amstrad actually make anything anymore apart from Sky boxes (and shoddy ones at that)?

Chris Bates: Wins the accolade for being the least deluded thus far. Seems to be able to cut round the bullshit and pleased me no end when he called foul on the practice of running round aimlessly trying to sell things to local businesses. I’ve never understood why people keep trying to do this on the show, as if I ran a small business I wouldn’t even consider buying anything from a flurry of pushy salesmen that walked in off the street. Then again would you?

Joy Stefaniki: Bouncy. Too bouncy! It’s as if someone has plied her with Red Bull and Pro Plus before the task.

Christopher Farrell: Yet to show his colours.

Liz Locke: I think Britain’s Next Top Model is missing a pouty and vapid clothes horse.

Laura Moore: A potential emotional minefield. I’d say her composure is about as stable as Pete Docherty’s rehab program.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

You Just Can't Get the Help These Days

TV and movie Sidekicks are an odd breed. Effectively their only purpose in a film is to prop up, or provide the comic relief to a films hero. They are the wingman, the guy who might have to throw away his life or, more likely, provide a diversion so that the hero succeeds. 

Despite their noble job description some of the most irritating and teeth grinding characters ever, have played the part of sidekicks in major movies. Today we’re going to look at a few of the worst. Warning: This list contains characters that will make you lose the will to live.

Jar Jar Binks (Star Wars):
Any annoying sidekick catalogue cannot be complete without Jar Jar making the list. Perhaps one of the most hated cinema creations of all time, this childish, bumbling, infuriating, racist stereotype, kind of marked the beginning of the end for George Lucus’s credibility. Why he didn’t take the initiative and just kill this stupid waste of space off is anyone’s guess. Let's not forget it is in fact Jar Jar's fault that the Emperor succeeds in taking over the Galaxy in the first place. Doesn't that make Jar Jar guilty of war crimes on some level? 

Lucas is well known for trying to bleed the Star Wars franchise dry, so I expect he will canonise the book I am planning to write, dealing at length with Jar Jar’s demise. I even have a first line: “Jar Jar was dead, to begin with...”   

Fergie (Judge Dredd):
Everyone loves the constantly wise cracking sidekick right? Wrong. This prattling moron is one of those sidekicks who is pretty much no help at all because he’s a complete coward - except by maybe the odd fluke - but then acts as if he’s the indispensible brains behind the outfit through either delusion or compulsively lying. 

He is supposed to be a hacker but there is no clear evidence to this end but he clearly is a fully qualified prick however. 

Mutt (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull):
Shia La Boef has become a relatively big player in Hollywood by some kind of clerical error. His part in Transformers was ultimately forgivable; he isn’t that annoying, and there are plenty of irritating characters in those films to distract from him. However in what was already a car crash of a return for Indiana Jones, the writers decided to include this joker as Jones’s young accomplice/long lost son. 

The latter identity provides the biggest kick in the groin for most fans, who had to endure perhaps the most cheesy moment in cinema when young Mutt picks up Indy’s hat in the dying minutes of the film, as if to represent that the torch had been passed to a new generation. Even before this final insult, Mutt was generally a whiney waste of space; that could have so easily have been quietly killed off in an unfortunate Zeppelin accident – it could happen.

Trinity (The Matrix):
Sometimes the sidekick can also be the love interest and sometimes the love interest can be as interesting as talking about wallpaper with Ben Stein. Whether it is the horrible sex scene in Zion or the horrible dullness of the character, Trinity will always be remembered as a pouting, scowling charisma vacuum. I suppose in that way her and Keanu Reeves were meant for each other. 

Bumblebee (Transformers) :
There is nothing cute or endearing about a robot who can only communicate in stupid sound effects butchered from pop culture. Bumblebee is annoying, loud and mostly useless bucket of bolts, makes it more desirable to root for the Decipticons. So what if they want to destroy humanity?  

Scrappy Doo (Scooby and Scrappy Doo): 
Why didn’t anyone just let him fight the monsters as he wanted and allow him to risk death. It would shut him up for one thing. Scrappy is a horrible addition to the Doo family, and just makes the idea of kicking puppies seem less horrible than it should be.  

 Also despite being younger than Scooby Doo he has a better grasp of the English language (considering it’s no mean feat that Scooby talks as much English as he does), how is this exactly?

Robin (Batman and Robin):
Chris O’Donnells portrayal of Robin not only ruins a relatively good comic book super hero, but manages to fail badly as a sidekick. When he isn’t getting teenage kicks over Poison Ivy and trying to sell out Batman for a kiss, he’s moping around like a spoilt stroppy pubescent boy.  
"Holy nipple suit Batman!"