on Crimson Peak for those who have watched it.

If you haven't watched it, what ever I say below, I think it's worth a watch. I liked it.

If you have, well...ell, Crimson Peak is a film built almost entirely out of references. It's Rebecca, Macbeth, Usher, Dracula, woman in black, Amnesia the Dark Descent (or just shares influences, I doubt gdt has played that), and every other gothic thing you can put into spot (makes me wonder what I missed). The main character's surname 'Cushing' tells you all you need to know; if you don't know why that's significant, maybe you're not going to understand this film beyond the surface level.

It does this to a point that begins to feel a bit Alan Moore; the point where one character finishes one sentence with 'the horror', and starts the next with the same phrase, feels like the 'showing your work gone mad'ness of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

There's another plot area that really felt Moorish to me too; the protagnist Edith is an author and near the start spells out the point of the film. 'Its not a Ghost Story', she says 'it's a story with ghosts in it. The ghosts are just metaphors for the past'.

Indeed, like any good GDT film (i.e. not Pacfic Rim), as grusome as the ghosts are, it is the people who are the monsters. Edith's comment is not just a snarky 'ooh i'm so clever' one-liner, but a massive shovel in the face telling you THIS IS FICTION, A METAPHOR, IT HAS A DEEPER MEANING IF YOU LOOK FOR IT.

There isn't much discussion of the nature of her book in the film, apart from one pivotal dialogue, where she tells Tom that she doesn't control her characters - they make their own minds up. This transforms him into a character who has free will, and from this point on he is able to make his own decisions, steering the final act of the film. It is after this final act that we see the cover of the book 'Crimson Peak by Edith Sharpe', which makes you wonder how much authorship our protaganist has had all along. Remember she was writing a story with ghosts in, and was forced to introduce a love plot to pelase the publisher - well how forced does the romance feel in the film?

There's loads of symbolism - the shock of industrialiastion (also a theme of Dracula) in the form of type writers, wax cylinders, and digging machines, meant to liberate us but rendering us lifeless. The butterflies every where - dying or pinned or being eaten alive (the most grusome moment, I thought) or merely on wall-paper. The 'nobility as parasite' idea, again introduced right at the start for obviousness, is woven through the film in a surprisingly literal way.

The first act, in New York State, i think is my favourite. It's pretty much a straight period piece with some interesting characters and bits of conversation - if there's one thing I felt this film could do more of, it's dialogue. Scenes are often too short and economical.

I didn't like the final act where it was all stabby - it didn't move me. And I didn't like the shocks that were entirely for the benefit of the audience - The Woman in Black did this too and it feels too much like a non-interactive roller coaster ride. Compared to the other great meta-horror film Cabin in the Woods, it pales. That film is funny, and cleverly reference heavy, and has a lot to say about horror, to the point of being an essay or even manifesto. Crimson Peak is certainly reference heavy, but without humour, and I'm not sure to what extent. It's given me a lot to think about, but I haven't yet figured out if GDT is trying to say anything with the film. I don't know if he's trying to push horror forward. And it failed the 'scared going to bed' test...

Case in point: Edith hears something from the bath. we see a ghost, but she does not. The ghost, a rotting near-skeleton, comes right up to her whilst her back is turned, then vanishes when she turns around. Just at that point, her dog runs back up to her - and from the empty darkness, its ball is rolled back to it. The second part is the unsettling, not going to sleep tonight bit, but it's undermined by the gorey OTT prelude.

And maybe I've seen too many GDT DVD extras, but when the first ghost turns up I thought 'ooh look it's Doug Jones'. And that's good because I love Doug Jones, but also, when your monsters always seem to have the same figure and posture, maybe you should branch out more. Or is it a reference to GDT's earlier films?

(That reminds me, I don't think I've seen Andy Serkis play a human for ages, and that's a shame because he's great as Hannet and Dury)

Still, I liked it, and I'm intrigued enough to come back to it later to see if there's anything I missed. I suppose like a Half man half Biscuit song, if I watch it in five years time maybe I'll get more out of it.

It's a frankenstein film, almost the cinematic equivalent of Paul's Boutique, that wears it's sewn-together stitch marks so blatently that it 's a confident sign that there is more depth to be found.
It's certainly a rich enough film to provoke these midnight ramblings.


Lovecraft dreams

A couple of nights ago, I dreamt the children were possessed by elder gods who had been imprisoned in pillars, but were still alive, perhaps dreaming, at least psychically accessible. Somehow this was Gillen's fault. 
The possession seemed to manifest itself by mood swings, and playing computer games on the phone.

Last night, I had a really terrifying dream. I read a book and it went like this:
There was a iron structure that went across a valley, like a train bridge that linked to tunnels. It bore a remarkable resemblance to a picture of a fictional submarine dock, and this was evidence of a psychic link. Although I can't remember the exact steps, i was being mentally stalked, and as my awareness and power grew, the thing got closer. It was like, the more aware of it I became, he more power it had over me. I checked with several beings - the first two I can't remember, but the third was the Minotaur, who gave me a dire warning - my 'psychic guard' was gone, this apparently was a figure I was semi-aware of, who was the last layer of defense. The next thing I knew, my consciousness itself was being peeled away. The end.

And then I visualised the whole thing as a graphic novel.

I was terrified. And when I woke up, esme was standing at the end of the bed in the darkness. Shiver.


Clubbing inspiration

Hello again.

Inspiration is a funny thing.
I have an idea see, to do a track called 'Burnt Ogre' as the opening track on a debut album 'burnt ogre' by a band called Burnt Ogre, that - crucially - does not feature the lyric 'burnt ogre'. And I've just moved to Birmingham too, how funny.

The music is written. The cover art is sorted. The trouble is, writing to a brief is hard, even when it's your own brief. So I had these images of a forest cottage, some sort of traditional fairytale ogre. But it didn't go any further than that.

Then I remembered a few ideas, that sort of drifted in; the line 'moor reclaims the graveyard'; an old image, of a sort of darth christ, the broken body of the annoited one encased in heavy sauron-style armour, ruling cold and tyrannically for 1000 years.

And then I remembered the programme I'd watched last night, although I hadn't watched the whole thing because the presenter appeared to be played by Robert Webb; it was about the history of archeology, and started with Constantine. Apparently he sent his mum off to find hard evidence of Jesus. Quite an interesting idea. What was really interesting was that after that anecdote, the programme skipped forward 1000 years - literally a millennium - to the next interesting thing that happened.

What I learnt was that from the secession of Xtianity, you could basically skip to the lead up to the Renaissance and the enlightenment. 

All of that came stirring into the mix, and I had an idea. The iron christ, leading an army into Rome, ruling Europe for the promised millennium, but then being supplanted by nature - that is to say, science. The realisation that the world isn't black and white, the gradual embracing of chaos. The fight between the Hammerites and the Pagans from Thief, and the fight between the cathedralic and humourless forces of order and the viney, forest-dwelling forces of chaos. 'Moor reclaims the graveyard' suddenly became a line that describes this exact conflict, and the fall of the living god himself. The only thing is - who is the burnt ogre? Is it the christ, burnt like anakin skywalker and living on life support? Or some woodland god, the cottage dweller of tradition, coming back to the city to take back civilisation? That is still to figure out (although I think that in writing this I've basically figured it out).
And this concept even chimes in with the cover picture I want to use: Blake's Orc, the spirit of rebellion against the dry conventional Urizen, which is obviously influenced by milton's conception of the lame and moribund Jahweh.

And all of this is a proof-of-concept for Kno; a metaphorical epic poem set to a post-prog track. I'm excited. 


Silent Tattoo

I want to get a tattoo. I want to embellish my skin with something I find meaningful.
The trouble is, I've been thinking, and other than the Tetractys, (which would be pretentious, as I'm not really a Pythagorean) what I really want most of all, is a tattoo of nothing.

I'm willing to take this to a John Cage level of going to a tattoo parlour and 'getting' an entirely empty tattoo 'engraved' on my arm; spending my own 4 minutes, 33 seconds, of thinking about which of the infinite possible variations of tattoo I could have.

4'33'' is one of those growers, I have found. right now, it's probably in my top ten favourite pieces of music of all time, no joke. not because of the simplistic reasons that you originally think are the point when you first here of the idea - that it's 'just as arbitary a piece of music as any other', but the freshness of your listening that your ears are heightened to when they're instructed to listen gives so much meaning to all the little things you can hear. when I close my eyes, all of a sudden my ears realy switch on, and I'm aware of so much more than I thought I was. 4'33'' does that to you, with your eyes open.

mindfullness is a bollocks fad right now, but from times like this, or when I've tried meditating and tried to be aware of every sensation in every part of my body, I know what the original point of it was. It's being concious of everything that passes through your brain - impossible, but progress towards the ideal is achiveable.

Back to the tattoo, another interpretation would be to have a square of random noise engraved on my arm. that would be just as arbitary, and just as meaningless. 

Perhaps another way to look at it is how sometimes a little noise can define silence. Sometimes I long to hear music that sounds like something barely more than silence, as another way to appreciate the lack of things. Analogously, perhaps an empty frame on my skin would work; or just an angle of a square, not even completely connected up. Perhaps a frame, but pointing outwards, so that my entire body outside the definition is the tattoo.

Or perhaps, just another way to represent a blank space, such as the symbol for the empty set, or my old "%20" tshirt. A defined lack of something. 
So is what I'm effectively saying, then, that my mindset has reverted to that of a 24 year old?


Notes on fragments of a portrait

i think this is my favourite program ever.

Hyper-portraits of time worms

Hints of skulls, arbitrary flesh

Someone who can assault life through his hatred, and still love people.

Aim for something - miss - create something unique. Fail spectacularly.

Furious nihilism, fatalism; but only furious at others' persistent beliefs. The crucifixion as a barbaric carnal act, rather than a spiritual one. Rational atheism combined with a social fury, like the disparity between Dawkins' logical rhetoric and his outspoken diatribes.


Footnote to Bohemia

Watching 'how to be a bohemian' has been quite a revealing look at the origin of some often contradictory views I hold quite dear.

The stories regaled about Eric Gill, however, don't strike me as all that bohemian. A man who takes several lovers, all of whom appear to be exclusive to him, fathers dozens of children, and even has 'affairs' with sisters and daughters - this isn't counter cultural. This is just an extreme form of patriarchy. Men behaving irresponsibly with their penis, regardless of consequence and impact to others, is just the status quo.


Cars is the worst

There's been a listicle ranking the Pixar films from worst to best doing the rounds recently, and I was amazed to see that 'cars' was not at the absolute bottom. I hate Cars, I find it a repugnant, small-minded film, because

1: Jeremy Clarkson.
Jeremy Clarkson is in this kids' movie. A racist contrarian, wilfully ignorant to the point of inanity. This film gives him money. 
He has a small part as the main character (a serious wassname)'s bad conscience, the part of the main character that it is easy to blame for his selfishness, and easy to jettison at the end. He's not playing a nasty person though, as much as a motivated and successful agent - exactly what the racing world needs to keep it going.

It's the way that in Cars, he plays a character that's meant to be the embodiment of everything that's wrong in the world, but relative to the cars world, he's not - he's just a normal consequence of their values. So it's not really believable that he's a relatively bad character. However, from my point of view, he does represent everything that's wrong with the world, because being normal in the cars world is awful, as detailed below.

2: focused nostalgia
The worst thing about this film is it's adherence to a very particular sort of nostalgia. This is a racing film that decries the motorway, because of the way it demolished communities that existed on older roads, and what's all this obsession with speed anyway?

Clearly the second point is facetious, the film is entirely based on an obsession with speed and winning and MEN. There's a reason why I love the film Saturday night fever, and it's because it's really an anti-disco film; all of that stuff people love about it, John travolta's dancing, clothes, and dancing, is gone by the end of the story, as the lead character had undergone an arc that has taken him away from his obsession. It has shown disco to be a shallow and lonely place. Not so in Cars, which wants to show us how shallow racing stardom is, but without giving up the excitement of being a racing star! (Ironixclamation)

The bigger point is the nostalgia, specifically for a particular decade when our grandparents were young and drinking malt shakes at the store. It's hard for me to express this because I think it is so painfully ignorant, but I'll try: that was new once, too. There was a time before those roadside towns were built. They were not the apex of human society.

Before cars, we all road horses, but this film doesn't care about that. Before cars, localities were much more important and people walked and bumped into other people and made connections and started conversations, but this film doesn't care about that. It only cares about the specific time period after the construction of Route 66 but before the construction of the road that superseded it. It doesn't mind the fact that Route 66 probably destroyed loads of communities too, or that social change is constant and inevitable, or that of people weren't so hung up on the past they could actually be liberated by transport, rather than being caught up in a role that you think the world owes you. It's such a wierdly fetishised affection for a specific time that its target market will only have seen in Hairspray Days and American Grease.

I say all this, as a particularly anti-car person. I'm no fan of big roads, but I do quite like logically consistent emotions and arguments. That's what's wierd about the film, it's the paradox of the Amish; it's fine with progress up to a point, like jonathon swift declaring that science had gone far enough. It's conservative, not for a raw state, but for a certain level of progress. My point is, you either like progress or you don't. You can't decide after the fact which bits you want to cherry pick and which bits you want to complain about. 

And in a way, all of this is what's wrong with Jeremy Clarkson too; the inconsistency. The reactionary character that only goes as far as it suits this one man. The solipsistic 'what I grew up with is the way things should be' attitude. And as such, Jeremy Clarkson doesn't just have a 2 minute cameo in Cars, but embodies it's entire shitty small-minded unphilosophy. 

3: sausage fest/cars are boring
Yeah. We get that boys like cars, when they're socialised to. We get that women are only ever peripheral characters in Pixar films (until it got complicated with brave). So this all fies together quite well. But like space jam, which as a non-sports fan I found moribund, this just seems to assume you think cars are in themselves fascinating. Point over.

4: If the sheriff hadn't have turned out to be a famous racer too, would McQueen be in the right to dismiss him and be rude?

According to cars, growing as a person is only useful as long as it helps you win the next race. Again, compare this to Saturday night fever; the character goes through his shallow obsession and out the other side. 

In any decent monomyth, when taken out if their comfort zone (1st act),a period of struggle allows a character to grow (2nd act), and thereby defeat whatever challenges them (3rd act). However, Cars demonstrates the weakest possible implementation of the monomyth, as McQueen doesn't overcome the empty heart of his career, he just goes further into it. 

It's meant to be a zen thing, right?  'Sometimes you have to steer away from something to learn control' or something. So a period in a small town, learning folksy ways and having simple fun with idiots, is meant to ground our hero, make him develop empathy, and round him off. It just so happens that none if this actually changes his life. The zen trick is only good for achieving the goals he had before, like yoga and mindfulness being used to make you a better insurance salesman.

5: it led us to cars 2
Cars 2 isn't a bad story, over all, with a decent enough conspiracy, Eddie Izard, and Michael Caine being a James Bond type. However, the opening has the most offhand sexist treatment of a female character I've seen in a cartoon. The intro runs thus:

McQueen comes back of the old folksy own which is now doing a roaring trade, because he has somehow manipulated the economic system to make that make sense. He spends the day with Mater, doing things like cow tipping (honestly), then goes for a date with his long distance girlfriend. Mater can't take this however, and despite having to be told explicitly not to interupt the date, he comes along as a waiter. McQueen gets to spend 5 minutes with his lady before mater ruins the whole night by calling a talk show in support of McQueen; who is then challenged there and then to a race. He accepts, and has to leave for the foreseeable future, immediately. The girlfriend's reaction? 'Oh well, I've go things to do.' Treated like a doormat, clearly given the signal that his male friends and his hobby are more important than her, and her reaction is 'I'll be waiting right here'. 

She is then replaced in the plot by another lady-car that looks completely the same.

Utter, utter garbage. I had heard this was a bad day for Pixar, but I hadn't realised it was this kind of bad.
[insert pinkie pie "oh, they're THAT kind of off" gif here]


The Mitchells

I don't normally talk about slebs, but this isn't about the people as much... 

So David Mitchell and Victoria Coren seemed a great match for each other when they got married - the kind of arrangement where you don't know who to be more happy for. 

I was a bit surprised to see Coren becoming Coren Mitchell, it seemed unnecessarily traditional. I was then doubly disappointed to see Mitchell didn't also become Coren Mitchell - triply so, since it was a perfect opportunity to resolve the 'David Mitchell' conundrum, that is, the pause when someone says 'David Mitchell' and you try to work out which one. I think there are two david Mitchells, but there might be more - I don't know how you would know.

As well as simply being a measure of equality, that two people take each others' name, this was a rare case of having a logical incentive to change one person's name, only to change the other 's.

Names are important, both politically and usefully, and they have knock on effects; their daughter is now, because of this set up, an out and out Mitchell. All very traditional, conventional. An opportunity missed to do something more radical.

My personal favourite solution to the name problem is, upon unity, to create a new family name. I think this sums up the  independence from a person's parents that having children/getting married (which ever comes first) brings. Any 'sign of commitment' that a woman shows by taking the man's name is amplified by him doing the same, except that it's a name they have both agreed on that reflects their new life together. It's more creative, more equal, and it creates a new tradition to follow. 

I know people will argue that this makes family trees harder to follow, but that's always been the case for women - it's only traditional hereditary principles, that *not even the royal family* use any more, that have emphasised the male line. This system is more modular.

It might get messy, but not unduly; it would reflect the messiness of real life, instead of simplifying the male descent by erasing the female descent. 



Man is about the 60th most common word in English; woman is about 250th.

Whilst massive evidence for the need for feminism, many would argue that this is on part due to the use of 'man' both as a male term and a gender free term. This, of course, is yet more evidence of male being considered the default.

What i propose, therefore, is not a new word for the general term 'man'. Human should not be the general term; Man, without a suffix, is the perfect term to be gender-free. A gendered term should be a mutated instance of the purer idea of 'man', essentially being another word for 'human'. So if 'man' would mean 'a human (of no, or of unknown, gender), I propose 'moman' as a new word for a male man - or as I think we should call it, a momale. Because otherwise, a female sounds like an exception to the male norm, and a woman sounds like an exception to the man norm. 'Man' and 'male' should not be easier to say than 'woman' and 'female'.


Marvel and Dc and secret indentures

Here's a hypothesis; the core difference between DC and marvel superheroes is one of identity.

I'm not massively into comics, even less so the American mainstream, but this occurred to me during a conversation with students: you can draw a line between the two camps, broadly along the lines of their identity. DC heroes are heroes first and normal people second.

Take Batman; he doesn't have super powers, but mentally he is batman, with Bruce Wayne being a persona he has to put on to hide who he really is. Superman; he's really Kal-El from the planet krypton. Clark Kent is just a cover story. Wonder Woman, again, magical bdsm demigod princess first, nurse second. Diana Prince is a cover story; she really is Wonder Woman.

You could probably argue that supes is a bit more complex, because he was adopted and might border on a split personality; I would still argue that he is Kal-El first, Clark Kent second. He has to filter out his powers in daily life.

So what about marvel? For comparison, they seem to be normal people who have their superhuman abilities thrust upon them, and while this still makes them a power fantasy, it's a more accessible one for teenagers. Spider-Man is a good example of this; he is Peter Parker, trying to make the best use of the gift/curse he has been given, and fit into the role of a superhero. Captain America, the hulk, they were born as norms and gained powers in the lab as adults. All the X men and the fantastic four feel like people with powers, rather than superheroes. Unlike the comparable batman, Iron Man is a bloke in a suit, not an identity (despite what the unconvincing ending of IM3), and the costume is an extension of iron man's billionaire maverick playboy persona.

Thor is obviously an exception to this, but  it's the exception that proves the rule* . On the dc side, green lantern might be an exception, but I don't know anything about him. Grant morrisson's run on animal man is definitely an exception to the style of dc comics, but then I don't think you can count anything that GM does as normal - it was so wierd to have that character arc precisely because dc heroes don't have the crisis of self-confidence that animal man goes through. I think it would have been much less unusual to do that to a marvel character.

I think this is a reason I've always felt drawn to marvel, their heroes always felt cooler, more youthful to me, but now i realise both appeal to different parts of the teen psyche; DC heroes are lofty aliens, who must try to fit in, like social-angsty teenagers from space; marvel heroes gain new abilities and must learn to control them and use them for good, a clear metaphor for teenage metamorphosis.

So,  am I on to something? Or am I hopelessly extrapolating from inadequate experience?

*this is not true. This phrase 'the exception proves the rule' is complete balls, and anyone who uses it unironically should be given a mandatory course in logic and grammar.


a brief history of me streaming music

I really wanted a 400gb mp3 player; I'm glad I never had one.

As a student, of the order of 12 years ago, I received a 256mb flash mp3 player from my brother. You could fit a few ripped albums on there, but it wasn't worth ripping all my cds to use for that; rather what drove me to mp3ise my album collection was the desire to randomise my tracks and make compilations easier to make. 

So it ended up being a pack-horse to listen to freely-downloaded tracks from myspace and record label websites. It seems to have been the way back then that a couple of songs would be downloadable here and there, so I remember having a few Elliot Smith songs, a couple of songs by The Dwarves, an Anaal Nathrakh ditty, some American guitar indie that I've forgotten the names of... individual songs that were listened to probably more than they deserved (at some point I upgraded this to a portable cd player, that I got from argos. It didn't have jog correction so I had to walk with an odd gait and take care over curbs).

What I want to talk about is streaming services; moving through the growth and decay of and soundcloud, to a situation where I've ended up uploading everything to google music and now just listen to that. Which is like having the original, massive mp3 player, but I have to worry about bandwidth charges.

Pandora came first for me, in terms of being able to tune a radio station to your own tastes, and thereby coming up with unexpected recommendations. I made a station called 'small fingers', that played tracks along the lines of Radiohead's 'treefingers' and John Martin's 'small hours', and fell in love with a Brian Eno track called 'Thursday afternoon'. But they cancelled it in the UK.

Since Peel died, has provided me with more reasons to part with cash than any other single institution (possibly excluding acts associated with Ephel Duath and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci). Here's how:
I put 'digital hardcore' in as a tag, and drumcorps came up, who became the new best thing ever, and who I eventually went to an all-nighter in order to see live.
I investigated drumcorps, bought the album 'grist', and heard his remix of Genghis Tron's 'relief'.
I (eventually) bought all three Genghis Tron albums and saw them live on their last tour.
Grist was released through Ad Noiseam, and by listening through a couple of label samplers, I came across Igorr.
I (eventually) bought all four Igorr albums, as well as records by side projects Whourkr and Oxxo Xoox.
I noticed Drumcorps remixes on two remix albums, and bought both AND the works they were remixes of (52 Commercial Road, and Obsidian Kingdom), as well as picking up an ambient album by drumcorps AKA Aaron Spectre. All this from that one link; what would have happened without it?

Another time, I started a 'post-prog' tag radio, and found a track by Kayo Dot that floored me - a 15 minute post-neo-classical epic that ended with the most brutal blastbeat I can recall (or so I inaccurately remember the experience). I've since picked up 4 of their records.

Fall of Efrafa, The Lovely Eggs, Venetian Snares, and probably loads more I've forgotten about have come up just on recommended radio and been accrued. But doesn't feel right anymore; now it seems to use dodgy youtube videos of varying quality uploaded by anyone, instead of the accurate library it once had.

I got into soundcloud for completely different reasons; it seemed great for keeping up with new tracks, and dumping my own rough mixes, demos, and other unfinished works that would never see a proper release. It started to fulfil the function of that original little MP3 player, of a steady stream of taster tracks from artists I like. 

But then something happened to it; it seemed to become an extension of a social networking site, and users (um, friends) began to re-post other stuff from bands I don't necessarily like. So by including friends' shares in the same stream as artists, with no option to keep them separate, it has completely broken what was once a potentially beatiful website. 

So I've found myself listening to all my music streamed from google music, which seems like a waste of bandwidth, and doesn't help me find new things.

And more recently, I've just been playing things straight from bandcamp, because it's so lovely, helps me keep up with new releases, and good for queueing up wants. Also it's got enough of a recommendation engine under the surface to keep new unexpected things popping up, by linking you to fans with similar tastes, and artist-curated recommendations.

No conclusion, just a current endpoint.


What we learned from Eurovision

Conchita Wurst's victory last year seemed to have changed the Eurovision landscape this year: everything* was either a breakup song (a la 'rise like a Phoenix') or a 'get behind this cause' song (a la don't discriminate against people like Conchita). 

All of those songs lost (although it was close). What won? Sweden, with a naff song and a gimmick. In fact, it was the only song with a gimmick. 

People need to realise that yes, Phoenix was a powerful song performed by a strong, empathetic character. Yes, people were discriminating against Conchita as a transvestite and that gave her a just cause. But the main reason that she won in 2014 could have been that being a bearded lady was just a bloody great gimmick. 

This has been a drip of a year because everybody misjudged the public's mood as to what they wanted from Eurovision. Russia's song had everything from Wurst - great song, strong performance, message - except the gimmick. It came 2nd. Sweden had a weak song, no message ('we are the heroes of our times/fighting the demons of our minds' might be the most meaningless lyric of the night), average performance, but it had a bloody great gimmick. It came first. 

The message should be clear: make it fun again, Europe. 

*except oddballs likeArmenia and Latvia. Genius, genius Armenia.


New standards of revue

I was playing Rymdkapsel one day. Simple, stipped down, short, puzzle/strategy game. About half an hour in, close to the end, it becomes unplayable as the enemies attack too fast for you to do anything in between waves.

And I thought, what score could you give this as a reviewer? Eurogamer gave it a no-surprises 8/10; the same score as Shadow of Mordor.

Now 8/10 from eurogamer is so default that it has become a joke. And giving the same 'pretty good by all accounts' score to two games so massively different in scope seems to be silly.

This is a problem with mobile and casual games in general; Steve Jackson's Sorcery!, an android game adapted from his advanced fighting fantasy* series, maintains its text and illustrations from the 25-year-old paperback and can't really be called on to compete with something like Skyrim, can it? You want to rate the experience, but you need your rating to have some context.

The context could be simply be the price; we could give Rymkapsel 2/10, for example, and leave it to the reader to work out about value for money, and realise that that 2/10 is a damn sight better use of 3 quid than the 2/10 game that costs an order of magnitude more. But I feel that will lead to confusion, and invalid comparions. 

An alternative would be to put a price on a game; what would the reviewer pay for it? How does that compare to the asking price? That will tell you both how good the game is and something about the scope of its ambition.

This is important for me, and it came out of something my daughter said. When I asked her I give the Natural History Museum a score out of 10, she said '10'. I then asked her to rate Buxton museum**; she gave it 5/5. A light went on in my head.

Why do we insist on the same standards for every game? Why not rate both its ambition and it's quality in one fraction. This can capture the essential difference between Portal and Portal 2; 2 games of similar quality, but I'd give Portal 9/3 and Portal 2 9/10. 

I'd happily give Rymkapsel 2/2, and shadow of moroder 8/10. We can now fairly compare the two, as both are positive experiences, but the first is lesser in terms of scope. Compare a 2/2 Rymdkapsel with a 2/10 game; it's obvious which you should play. The 2/2 game will give you a lot of fun, but perhaps not for very long and perhaps not at a very deep level. The 2/10 game will have been a fiasco, with not much enjoyment to be had at all.

It's the same problem as when you see star ratings on a billboard, but you don't know how many stars the individual ratings system use. You might get 5 stars from time out, but not tell your advertisees that try use an 8 star system.

These systems obviously can apply to any media; you can't rate a 90 minute film with the same denominator as a late night sketch show, but you can apply the same principles, so the numbers should be relatable.

*nb. Not to be confused with Advanced Fighting Fantasy, the more weighty RPG rule set for the fighting fantasy universe. The Sorcery! 4-book series was merely more advanced than normal FF books, with a more comprehensive magic system and the ability to maintain a character across 4 books.

** it may not have been these exact musea.
There's another dimension I've been experimenting with in regards to assessing whether media is worth your time, and it's my "fuckin' 'ell!" test: if a piece of art doesn't make you go fuckin' 'ell at least once, it's not worth bothering with.

I started doing this last autumn, and quite soon it became a defined thing. That moment where you feel your draw drop, or your cogs turn and click into place, or your brain explodes and upgrades itself... That's what's worth living for. Those feelings that make you go fucking hell, are the ones where you feel the the author(s) are taking you somewhere and showing you new things and surprising you because you're the audience and you're not always meant to know where things are going.

It's pretty reliable, and although I can still very much enjoy things that fail the test, it's quite a threshold. We Are The Best was lovely, but it didn't make me go 'fuckin ell'. Under The Skin got 5, with a long gap in the middle; one particularly memorable moment was the dog drowning in the turning tide, looking for all the world like Goya's black painting on the same subject. 

It needn't be a schocking moment, it could be a particularly funny one or a happy surprise. But it's been interesting limiting reviews to this one reaction, and then broadening back out to see what I'm missing.


I voted for Ed

Ed milliband is my fault, if there's anything to find fault with.

I couldn't vote labour at the election in 2010. I felt like they'd lost their way, and they shouldn't stay in power just because they weren't the Tories. They should have to be better than that. I voted lib dem, for nothing more than a vote for proportional representation. So that worked out well; especially as I was in a labour safe seat and my vote counted for NOTHING. 

So having voted against them, I joined the Labour Party to try to help rebuild it. When the leadership election came around, you had two millibands and bunch of chancers with joke manifestos. Dave was the shoe-in. He was also desperately blairite, slick, and probably would have won. 

The millibands are an interesting dynasty, and I quite liked fact that that they were part of a born-and-bred jewish intellectually-socialist family. And even in that fold, there were clear differences between Ed and Dave's politics; dave the blairite and Ed the union man. He was unpolished, definitely to the left of dave, and probably with the union support, he just poked through to win.

Soon after, I left the Labour Party again; I was paying every month for no clear gain. Ed soon seemed to do two things that disappointed me; take bad advice to try to come across well and mask his oddities, and not push any debate with the Tories at all. They seemed to merely seek to moderate the Tories rhetoric, rather than oppose it. They missed plenty of open goals, that they didn't seem to notice, and it seemed that every week there was another pronouncement from the condems with no visible response from ed & co. 

Over the next 4 years, ed & co continued to be a practically invisible unpresence in politics. Despite this, ed was at his worse when trying to play the politics game; rather than just be the weird ideas man he really is. We're meant to believe that such people don't make good leaders, probably by 'leader' types who think the world owes them a living. Ed reminds me of that guy from the apprentice a few years ago, with his curved emery board; he just got on with everybody in quite a nice way, and won without having to resort to aggressive bickering. I just feel that if ed had stuck to *being ed* he'd have had more support.

It took ed & co far too long to get going, and I think the late rush, that we all thought was going to happen, never really could because of the lack of groundwork and lack of any presence. 

So I'll miss ed, and I feel like he never made the opportunities he needed, took the opportunities he had, or stood up for his own qualities. Maybe I'm assuming too much about someone I hardly knew, but when it seemed like we could have an heir to Disraeli in power, I felt things might be ok.


i've started this, so i'm going to finish it

By this point I just can't stand the father-son plot line trope so much, I just can't watch anything that plays it. So walking dead, I stopped at episode three. Daredevil, I just tried watching, and gave up in the second scene. Does anyone in the Star Wars trilogy ever mention Luke's mum? Don't we think that's a problem?

[How to train your dragon does a good job of subverting it - rather than the hiccup growing up, hiccup's father and the rest of his society changes to fit in with him. In the sequal, his ideas of a peaceful resolution are crushed by an insane enemy with whom dialogue is impossible - a convienent enemy for war mongers, which I'd be more critical if there weren't real groups like nazis and Islamic state.]

New Star Trek 2 plays this too, partially, with the older man who took kirk under his wing still hanging around, but it exemplifies another macho trope that's my new one to be sick of, 'I've started so I'll finish'

This involves the male lead starting at a point of immaturity, doing something badly that has unintentional dire consequences, and then having to be the hero and fix things. From mike the knight up to a huge number of slacker comedies and action films, my main problem with this plot line is this: rather than being a hero, the man is just catching up with everybody else. They shouldn't be congratulated for that. Instead, why don't they just focus on some of the actual grown ups in the story, who might still have an interesting character arc.

I mention Cbeebies' Mike the Knight, because it distills this plot for children to such a formulaic pattern that it's impossible to ignore it.

The conceit runs thus: mike is a prince who wants to grow up to be a knight. His mum is the queen, his dad the king is perpetually away on some crusade, and his sister is training to be a witch. Mike therefore feels he has to grow into the gap left by his father. Every episode, mike finds a knightly quest that he feels he must complete. He receives a specific piece of equipment, whose usefulness he calls into question. He then spends the majority of the episode getting things wrong and making everything worse, while everybody around him tries to stop him. Literally anybody else in the kingdom would be a better person to sort out whatever the trouble is, not least of whom, his very capable and mature sister. Eventually, it gets into mike's head that he needs to use the support he has and he does the right thing. 

The big problem is, next episode mike goes trough exactly the same steps, with the determination to be a dick about things of a battery-powered toy repeatedly bashing itself into a wall because its wheels are broken. Every time you think Mike has grown up a notch, next time you realised he hasn't generalised at all - he might have learned how to do that one thing, but he's just as much of an idiot he ever was because he never learns any quicker. This is the same problem with this trope in the media - we see men learning, but never see them using the knowledge for anything. 

It feels like an extension of the 'disaster porn' obsession: plot lines driven by idiotic decisions of supposed heroes. The difference is the 'hero' has to clean up their own mess.

Even the new avengers film has a major plot line of 'uh oh, we fucked up because we're idiots and now we've got to save the world from something we've created' - which is also the same plot as almost all other superhero films. And why does star wars focus on luke skywalker, the teenage wannabe-pilot undergoing a hero's maturation quest, rather than the kick-arse already-hero Leiah, who seems to be completely competent both as a secret agent and a guerrilla? 

Repeatedly, we are told that a male's quest to be a grown-up is more interesting than the actual job of being a grown up - a role usually played by a female. Where this leaves us, I'm not sure, as it implies that once you achieve adulthood, the adventure is over.


On receiving a brilliant mixtape.

Getting a mix in the post, out of the blue, is an absolute joy.

Even better when you sit down to listen to it, and it's full of fantastic sounds that are completely different to anything you're listening to around this time - but still obviously fantastic.

And this crystallises something about culture that's been on my mind - how it's great to have separate cultures with limited interaction, because when they do interact, the results can be stunning. 

When there's no borders, there's no countries, and we find everything blurs into the same rubbish. There's nothing to learn from. There's nothing to mash up. 

When there are strict borders, divisions are too regimented and suspicions about 'them lot' emerge. 

But somewhere there's a sweet spot where cultures can ferment something worth exchanging, to the point that it can be both excellent on its own terms and even better in comparison to something else.

All life is fermentation.