November 28, 2019

Have you got a biro I can borrow? – Clive James

Have you got a biro I can borrow?

I’d like to write your name

On the palm of my hand, on the walls of the hall

The roof of the house, right across the land

So when the sun comes up tomorrow

It’ll look to this side of the hard-bitten planet

Like a big yellow button with your name written on it


Have you got a biro I can borrow?

I’d like to write some lines

In praise of your knee, and the back of your neck

And the double-decker bus that brings you to me

So when the sun comes up tomorrow

It’ll shine on a world made richer by a sonnet

And a half-dozen epics as long as the Aeneid


Oh give me a pen and some paper

Give me a chisel or a camera

A piano and a box of rubber bands

I need room for choreography

And a darkroom for photography

Tie the brush into my hands


Have you got a biro I can borrow?

I’d like to write your name

From the belt of Orion to the share of the Plough

The snout of the Bear to the belly of the Lion

So when the sun goes down tomorrow

There’ll never be a minute

Not a moment of the night that hasn’t got you in it


Clive James Collected Poems 1958-2015

November 10, 2019

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Eight)

(View previous instalments here)

I’ve had three new alcohol-free beers awaiting review for a while, but I’m glad I waited until today to write this review rather than doing it yesterday, as I’ve snaffled a fourth! In order:

A Ship Full Of IPA

This is the alcohol-free beer carried by my local Loch Fyne restaurant. I’ve had reason to end up in said establishment on a couple of occasions recently, and on both occasions have treated myself to one of these with lunch. It’s absolutely delicious stuff, and easily up there with some of my favourite alcohol-free IPAs.

Estrella Galicia 0.0

This was the alcohol-free option available at Cabana at the O2. I went there to see Two Door Cinema Club, who were fucking ace, by the way. Unfortunately, it was such a good night that I have forgotten what this beer tasted like, and I didn’t take any notes. All I can remember is that it was a lager, and it was good enough that I ordered a second.

Inside the O2, the only alcohol-free beer I could find was Budweiser Prohibition, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is basically watery piss. It was so bad that I found myself tempted to get myself a pint of proper beer, a temptation which I succumbed to, and then later regretted.

Bavaria 0.0

I had this one in a (looks at photo) Indian restaurant… somewhere… we definitely had poppadums, and there were some people sat opposite me.

Don’t worry, this review isn’t going to be as light on facts as the previous one. I did have my notebook with me, and from what notes I made, I can convey to you that this one was very similar to the San Miguel. It had a fair heft of that worty flavour, enough that it would have been off-putting when I first started drinking alcohol-free beer, but by now I’m getting quite used to that, and can tolerate it in small quantities.

Shipyard “Low Tide”

And this was my latest discovery, last night in a Brakspear pub in town. Initial sentiments were fairly positive, though I did detect a tiny bit of cabbaginess in the aroma, reminiscent of the Nirvana Sutra. But as the evening progressed, I also noticed other off-scents. I have conjured up the words to describe these smells, and it gives me conflicted feelings – on the one hand, I have delight that I am able to describe it with such accuracy. On the other hand, the description itself makes me want to hurl. Here it comes.

You know at the end of the day, when you take off your trainers, and sometimes you think “hey, as a test of nerve, I’m going to stick my nose in there and take a real good huff?

This beer isn’t too bad as long as you remember to hold your breath before you lift the glass to your face.

  • Comments: 2
  • In which case it must be the latter, based upon the decor and the appearance of my dining ... - Pete
  • The Bavaria was either in the Haweli in Twyford, or Baranda in Wokingham. We've had a coup... - Karen
October 20, 2019

The MCU project: Spiderman: Far From Home [2019]

Spiderman: Far From Home is far superior at some points and far inferior at some points to the last Spiderman film. Far From Home was rather predictable at some points although there were some comedic scenes, such as when Peter Parker calls a drone strike on his school trip bus by accident because someone took a, let’s say, embarrassing picture of him.

The characters in the first film were much better as they were developed much more because in Far From Home there isn’t much development, we started watching the MCU films because me and Karen watched Endgame and we didn’t get much of it. It was better to watch the other films first, the same goes for Far From Home, the characters are explained in Spiderman: Homecoming.

The character playing Ned was definitely my favourite, same as the first film because he is the traditional person who isn’t as bright and makes dumb assumptions and just messes stuff up.

Sadly, as Stan Lee died a few months before the release, he didn’t have the nice moment when you see him on a train, working in a shop or floating around in space.

October 17, 2019

The MCU Project: Avengers Endgame [2019]

Well, here we are, we’ve reached the endgame. Which is a huge misnomer, as for most of the parties involved, it’s just more game.

As has already been revealed, Thanos’ plan in the previous film was to use the incredibly-credibly powerful Infinity Stones to automagickally cull half of the universe’s population, not because he’s a bad guy but because he knows that the universe is overcrowded and the solution to n billion people living in squalor is to just eliminate half of them so that the available resources can stretch further. He’s done this on a smaller scale in the past, a sort of trial run on individual planets, and apparently with proven success. Which raises the question – would those planets have been exempt from having their populations halved second time round? I suspect not. 

Anyway, I question whether Thanos ever actually went back to check on the results of his previous trials. Because he’s clearly not considered the following:

  1. With half the people available, communities have half the capacity to produce resources.
  2. Key knowledge will be lost, causing civilisation to take a step backwards
  3. Unless there’s any system in place to combat wealth inequality, such a catastrophe would impact the wealthiest top 5% much less than everyone else. It’s just another opportunity for the rich arses to widen their lead.
  4. The 50% population drop will soon snowball to much more, both as a consequence of immediate accidents (bus drivers disappearing out of existence etc) and medium term effects (disruption of health services etc)

But we’ll get to this in a minute.

At the end of the previous film, as Thanos clicks his fingers, we see moments all around the globe as half of the population crumble into dust before our eyes. I’ll not mince words, it’s bloody haunting. They’re clearly not in any pain, just experiencing a sensation of discombobulation. In my opinion it’s such a disturbing sequence that it really pushes the limits of the 12A rating, though I can think of plenty of brilliant ways that it could have been even more gut-wrenching, ways which I think were probably discussed around the writers’ table but rejected for going too far. As the perspective switches to each little cluster of our protagonists, you hold your breath as you wait to discover which ones will make the cut, and which won’t.

At the start of Endgame, the earth is in a bad way. The remaining Avengers are struggling to whip up the enthusiasm to do much avenging. Five years after The Event, humanity is failing to thrive, apparently not because of any of the good reasons I listed above that might explain it, but because Thanos underestimated our capacity for self-pity. We’re still moping about the place, and our remaining bin men apparently are unable to get out of bed in the mornings, as the garbage bags piled up in the street testify. Thanos is long-dead, having been killed in the aftermath of The Event by a vengeful Thor (who has since really let himself go). The Infinity Stones have also been destroyed.

This impasse is broken by the abrupt appearance of Ant-Man. He’s been missing for the last five years, presumed dead, but in fact was in the quantum realm the whole time experiencing weird time dilation nonsense. For him, the event is still fresh, and rather than being weighed down by the oppressive burden of despair, he’s got oodles of moxie and the kernel of an idea that involves using the quantum realm to time travel back, grab the Infinity Stones, and do their own finger-snap. “Can’t we just go back and kill Thanos as a baby” suggests one of the Avengers, quite reasonably, but apparently time travel doesn’t work that way, and the laws of physics prevent you from modifying the present by making a change in the past. Having established this rule, the writers then proceed to cheekily ignore it about eighty-five times during the remainder of the film.

Eventually the feasibility of this plan is established, and thus begins the second act of the film, and the remaining Avengers split into three teams to travel back in time and retrieve the stones. This nicely solves one of the problems that affected Infinity War, where having dozens of superheroes whistling about all over the place made it hard to keep track. Here, it’s all divided into bite-sized portions.

The quests for the stones don’t all go exactly according to plan, of course. One of the main hitches involves Nebula, Thanos’ daughter. Her proximity to past-timeline Nebula allows past-timeline Thanos to become aware of the current-timeline Avengers’ plans, and he does everything in his power to banjax them. Everything kinda spirals from there.

Now, let’s move onto something I really want to rant about. Bringing people back from death in film/TV/stories is a bit of a bugbear of mine. It’s a Pandora’s Box that can’t be closed. Once you’ve brought a character back from the dead once, it’s a plot device that will show its shadow again and again. From then on, whenever a character dies, the question automatically arises: “what about if we just bring them back, the way we did that one time?” To quote Red Dwarf, “death is no longer the handicap it once was” and it loses all of its impact.

The reason I mention this is that one of the main emotional hooks in this film is utterly annihilated by this reasoning. Venturing into spoiler territory now, there are two deaths of principal characters in Endgame, one of which occurs in very similar circumstances to the death of one of the principal characters in Infinity War. These circumstances are explicitly described as being irreversible – a sacrifice that can never be undone, intoned with gravitas by Hugo Weaving, so you know that it’s the real shit. Buuuuut… the character who died in Infinity War gets brought back through time, so is now alive somewhere in the universe. There’s a huge paradox here, of course, in that they are now no longer present on the original timeline to sacrifice themselves in Infinity War, but this sort of stuff is hard to reconcile so the writers don’t even try. This is one example of the 85 ways in which this film’s attempt to handle the big time travel challenge exhibits as much competence as a baby with a full nappy. More to the point, it contradicts the promise that the sacrifice is irreversible, and so while all the characters are bawling their eyes out over the parallel death in Endgame, I’m just thinking “yeah, nothing that a spot of time travel can’t fix”.

There’s one other scene that I’d briefly like to rant about, and that is one mind-blowingly cheesy scene in the final battle where all of the female superheroes coincidentally find themselves in the same place at the same time, and perform a synchronised charge in slow-motion. Now, if you know me, you know that I’m of a fairly feminist leaning, but this was one of the most cringeworthy things I’ve ever seen. I’m sure it was a well-meaning attempt to celebrate the strength of these female characters, but it’s awfully executed and serves no plot purpose. If anything it just reminds you how male-centric the rest of the series has been, that something like this brief scene has to be forced instead of happening organically.

Karen mentioned, at the start of her review of Infinity War, how she and Bernard saw Endgame in the cinema and felt like they weren’t getting the most out of it, because everyone else in the auditorium had all this background knowledge and they had very little. She confirmed to me, while watching Endgame this second time, how yes things make a lot more sense this time round. To be honest I’m amazed that they managed to make any sense of it whatsoever before, because the amount of assumed knowledge is astronomical. If I try to imagine watching this “blind”, so to speak, I feel like almost every single line of dialogue would have you scratching your head in puzzlement and looking for a nearby expert to help you out.

As I said at the start of the review, this is in no way an endgame. Nothing has happened in this film that can’t be undone with one lazy writer and one sloppy time travel plotline. The huge dramatic moment at the end of the previous film has been annulled. The MCU wheel continues to turn. More films are in the works for 2020 and beyond. But before we wrap this film review project up, there is one more film in the saga, and that is Spider Man: Far From Home.

  • Comments: 3
  • Yep, I agree with everything you've written here, swisslet. And nice nod to "Yesterday" - ... - Pete
  • Do not mention The Event. - Karen
  • Some of the timeline McGuffin made me very cross as the scriptwriters are trying to have t... - swisslet
October 1, 2019

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Seven)

(View previous instalments here)

A very special instalment here – for my birthday, Karen and Bernard bought me a 24 pack of alcohol free beers from the Nirvana brewery. Nirvana, like Big Drop, are a UK craft brewery dedicated completely to alcohol-free beer.

Karma (hoppy pale ale)

This was the first one I opened. It erupted out of the bottle like a geyser, causing a small puddle on the table. Once I wrangled it into the glass, it was magnificent to drink. This one’s up there with the Infinite Session pale – it’s very smooth with a nice well-balanced range of flavours throughout. I think that what will end up letting this down is simply the cost of it – it’s £2 per bottle plus postage on top of that, whereas picking up something like Infinite Session in the supermarket works out at more like £1.30 for a similarly sized can. Still, there’s no reason why I couldn’t buy a box of these, keep them in the garage, and dip into it occasionally when I fancy a bit of a change.

Sutra (classic IPA)

Compared to the Karma, this doesn’t quite please me as much. The flavour is a little sharper, and not in a good way. My main objection to this was a mild smell of cabbage. Only very mild though – it’s nowhere near as offputting as the stale cigarette smoke smell of Big Drop stout, or the damp dog of Thornbridge Big Easy. But it’s there, and it’s enough to slice a sliver off of the overall score.

Tantra (pale ale)

This beer is aiming for a more “Old Speckled Hen” type traditional pale ale. As is so often the case with alcohol-free beers, if you try to go malty then you end up with that sweet worty flavour instead. Fortunately, this one doesn’t do too bad a job. While it would be startling and a bit unpleasant to someone not used to alcohol-free beers, it’s not too overpowering once you get used to it.

Kosmic (stout)

This is definitely the best alcohol-free stout that I’ve had so far. It’s not perfect – I prefer my stouts to have a creamy mouthfeel, whereas this one is a bit on the fizzy side – but it’s eminently drinkable. It’s a little bit sweet and malty, but not to the point of being sickly like some of the other main offenders. It’s possible that, now that I’m getting used to the alcohol free beers, my tolerance for that worty flavour is rising slightly.

Paulaner Hefe-Weißbier

Time for a little intermission! Yes, we interrupt our sampling of the Nirvana box, before I’ve had a chance to try all five, because I found myself out at the Castle Tap in Reading. In fact, this night was a bit of a bender – I had two Nanny States at Valpy St Bistro before we moved on to the Castle Tap, where I had a Big Drop Pale Ale (which I’ve reviewed before, and is still just as lovely) and one of these, a Paulaner wheat beer.

This reminded me very much of the Patronus from Lidl, with that very dense fruity flavour. However, I must admit that I struggled to finish my pint. I can’t be sure whether this was because it was even denser and sicklier than the Patronus, or if it’s actually exactly the same beer but with a different label, and I was just feeling a bit full up from it being my fourth drink of the night.

Anyway, huge night out, total legend, smashed off my face, wheeeeeey! Lads!

Ananda (buchabeer)

Here’s something very different, very different indeed. This is created by blending their Tantra pale ale with green tea kombucha. I’d never had kombucha before, so I had no idea what to expect. The overall result here is very sour – not toe-curlingly so, but the basic effect is that of something not dissimilar to pineapple juice. It’s interesting if you fancy something sweet, sour and fruity, but given that it doesn’t taste like beer and doesn’t have any alcohol in it, to all intents and purposes, it’s not beer. Obviously it contains some of their Tantra pale ale, so yes technically it is beer, but given that it neither walks like a duck nor quacks like a duck…

September 29, 2019

The MCU Project: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

You may recall that we began this project after Bernard and I had been to see Endgame, and realised that not only were we missing a bit of background, but that other people in the cinema genuinely cared about the fates of these characters. It was fine as a bit of standalone school holiday entertainment, but apparently we could get more out of it if we tried harder; and here we are. Nobody can say we haven’t been trying.

So, do we care? We are nearing the end, and the Event that has been hinted at in post-credit sequences and accidental podcast spoilers is approaching. For those who are following this with as little attention as I have, here is what I have gleaned about what is going on in this movie:

The Infinity Stones are powerful devices giving the owner control over time, reality, life, death etc etc. Thanos is a supersized bad guy who plans to collect them all in order to cull half the population of the universe, in order to make better use of resources.He explains this with such deep sincerity that we understand that, like a Tory Prime Minister, he genuinely and inexplicably believes that he is doing good.

The Avengers are a motley collection of heroes whose superpowers come from such varied sources as deity, mysticism, and exposure to radiation or similar. Their role is to protect the planet/universe, but because they are all such mavericks and largely without military training, they often cause as much chaos as they resolve, and hence are largely outlawed and unwanted by the authorities. Male Avengers vie with each other to be the Alpha1 and female Avengers kick ass in super-tight outfits, with never a complaint about chafing.

This movie is a series of action sequences in which various members of the crew meet other members with whom they have not interacted before, most notably any scene with Peter Quill and Peter Parker, or Thor (“Pirate Angel”) and Rocket (“Rabbit”). These are the moments where the best of previous movies is paid forward, making it worth the bother of sitting through all the earnest exposition and endless fighty bits.2 At one point, Dr Strange advises Tony Stark that, “it’s not overselling it to say that the fate of the universe is at stake.” But the thing is, it is overselling it. These movies are at their best when we can enjoy the journey, knowing that the destination is the prevention of an outcome so immensely catastrophic as to be meaningless. In most cases, the outcome is inevitably prevented in the end; but not in all cases. And the journey is most enjoyable when it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Various lives are traded for various infinity stones, as the Avengers repeatedly fail to grasp the trolley problem. This theme is repeated so frequently as to become tedious, unless you’re emotionally invested in all these relationships, which I’m just not, as you may have figured by now. I could go on, but not without spoiling the ending, in which, gasp, something totally unexpected happens.

Special mentions should be made of Steve Rogers’ very nicely trimmed beard; and Tyrion the Giant. I wouldn’t say you should watch it just for those things, but they helped.

  1. with the adorable exception of your friendly neighbourhood Spiderman []
  2. I particularly enjoyed the fight scene in Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, when they destroyed a Costa Coffee where I once had a very nice hot chocolate while waiting for the sleeper train. []
  • Comments: 1
  • I was a little distracted by how much Steve Rogers looked like Commander Waterford in The ... - Pete
September 28, 2019

The MCU Project: Thor Ragnarok [2017]

One of my favourite parts of Thor, is the part which was turned into a meme, Thor has been captured on Xandar by the Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldbum, is where Loki meets Thor, Jeff Goldbum asks Loki who Thor is and Loki says, “I have never met this man in my life”To sum up the plot, Thor has been gone for ages, Loki is now king, weird sister Hella (who is the goddess of death) appears and says she is the heir to the throne, she turns out to be about as bad a leader as Boris Johnson and threatens the entire population, her with an axe, but Boris Johnson, with food and medical shortages.

We also see the Hulk / Bruce Banner / Mark Buffalo and Doctor Strange / Steven Strange / Benebatch Cumberdict and, as a hologram video message thing, we see Black Widow / Natasha Romanoff / Scarlett Johanson (I cant think of a funny name)

You can barely tell around 80% of the movie was improv because it was so good. You can also see, when Hella and Skurge are in the basement underneath the castle in Asgard, you can see the Tesseract and the Infinity Gauntlet, both items used in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. When Thor becomes a gladiator, he has his signature long hair cut short. In ancient Roman history, slaves who were sent to gladiator school and trained as gladiators had their hair cut short.