Thursday, January 31

Loving the Beloved of Allah Click for more info

To be totally honest, I had no idea who Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi was before being told about his talk tonight. He was the guest speaker at this year's Imperial College Islamic Society's "big event" (see here for the last one).

The "beloved" in this case refers to the Prophet of Islam, which some of you may recognise as something of Sufi terminology. It only occurred to me once I had taken my seat and heard Qari Muhammad Zarzour and Sidi Rafique do their singing thing how Imperial has progressed since my time there; this wouldn't have happened ten years ago when the only people who showed an interest in Islam were either part of a political group or hard core traditionalist. It's a welcome development provided the Isoc maintains the balance.

It was also interesting to see the diversity of the crowd. I think that students were outnumbered by the non, and judging by the way a large number stood up for the Shaykh's entrance this was looking to be bigger than just any university isoc event.

The Shaykh himself was a powerful, strong and confident speaker; I was impressed by his manner of communication and was held for some time by what he had to say. He had a sense of professionalism and wisdom around him indicating that he had been around for a while and knew what he was talking about, and more importantly how to pass that knowledge on.

A large proportion of the lecture covered love itself - the different types and targets of one's affection. Interestingly he noted that there was no concept of marital love in the Quran; the book uses the word "mawada" instead which is more about mercy and friendliness but is often translated as "permanent love". I think I prefer the Shaykh's translation myself although there's always room for that other stuff too.

Applying these types of love to Islam, we heard how we should separately love God (and that our awareness of God increases with that love), his messenger and then Islam itself as a concept. This romanticising of religion is pretty typical of the bits of Sufism I've read and heard about so it wasn't that surprising now.

Focussing on the Prophet, we were told how we have many reasons to love him. Firstly we should since our God does. Secondly (and kinda similarly) Islamic teachings indicate that to love him is a form of worship. Lastly we should love him "materially" due to his total perfection in looks and manner.

This was then followed by historical references to this love of The Prophet resulting in the advice that although loving The Prophet ("more than your father, son and all of mankind") is not an obligation, it's the only way to achieve a perfect belief.

There was no Q&A session but since the Shaykh had been talking for over an hour, I was grateful for this. I have to admit that I zoned out a few times, although that was probably due to me being distracted rather than the talk itself.

Overall, I can't really say that I took much away from tonight; probably because my balance sways in the favour of pragmatism rather than the spiritualism of Sufism a lot of what was said kinda went over my head. That's not to say it wasn't interesting in its own right; judging by the reaction of the audience I suspect I was in the minority with this opinion anyway.

Working Is For Losers

As some of you are aware or have already guessed, today is my last day at my current workplace. I've been here for almost four years now, my longest ever job (albeit out of two), and so I think I have a right to feel a bit poignant.

Although it wasn't my first job, it was my first that wasn't a technology start-up. This meant professionalism and exposure (but still no suit) and nods of approval when you answer people when they ask what you do for a living - well those who actually knew that a hedge fund had nothing to do with gardening anyway.

You could say that I've had my formative years, work-wise, in this place. It has set the benchmark of what I expect from a workplace in terms of the people and atmosphere. It's also spurred on some other more unrelated things in my life too, from the meeting of new friends socially to the participation in new activities - this is where I first started blogging and developing my overall writing style too. Overall I've had a brilliant time and have been very lucky to have been working here.

So why, then, am I leaving?

Before the 16th of November, my future had been defined. The simple act of handing in my notice changed that - all of a sudden I could be anywhere or anything in six months' time. I could be a bum, a millionaire, a celebrity or just something in between all that. It's a good feeling being able to erase your future like that - perhaps I'll look back at this point and say this is where the rest of my life had begun.

The liberating and exciting feeling I've had since then has already opened my mind to new possibilities and made things happen that wouldn't have otherwise. The freedom of not having a path set has opened up many more and is exactly why I did what I did.

Perhaps I'm being idealistic, but I truly believe that any career I hold should have me excited on a Monday morning. I don't even think I need more dollar to be happy; it's not like I'm a big spender anyway. I think at this point in my life career is more than just a means to an end so it has to be something special.

Quitting without securing job has been seen by a reasonable many as being a pretty crazy move. This behaviour is nothing new though - I turned down the "prestigious" Ilford County High in order to go to the less impressive Leyton Sixth Form College. I left uni without employment, rejecting a solid offer from Deutsche Bank on the way out. And I took an easy three months off after my last place went belly up without worrying about getting a new job as soon as possible.

I followed my gut over conventional wisdom and was called crazy in each case. Yet they all turned out okay - better than okay, in fact. In fact my biggest fear currently is how to answer potential rishtas when they ask me what I do for a living; but at least I'll avoid all the gold diggers. A more immediate upshot is that I should have more time to write - I hope to take this opportunity to push more articles this way at least.

So, after eating my last shawarma from the nearby Noura I have sat down to write the last post to this place from the PC I've written the most from. I don't think I'm totally upset or gutted or anything - I'm way too excited about the future for that - but the reality of what I'm doing is beginning to sink in.

Shak has literally left the building.

Last Chances

Since today was to be the my last commute using the particular combination of Central and Victoria lines I had been using for the past four years, I thought it would be a good idea to go back to my traditional timing in order to catch one last glimpse of my stalkees. I mean, hey, this would be my last chance to actually say something after all...

So there I was, changing lines at Oxford Circus as I normally would. To be honest I had written off the idea of seeing Victoria by this point; I've not seen her for ages so I figured that she had either changed her job/commute or was really going out of her way to avoid me.

But, after at what seems to be at least a couple of months, I did see Chewie on that same spot I usually do on the Southbound Victoria line platform this morning. She seemed preoccupied; almost as if she had been waiting for someone. Surprisingly she even made eye-contact with me, something I don't recall ever happening before. It was only a moment and so in all likely accidental; the optimist in me did take her following hand-brushing of hair personally though.

The packed train came and we both got on. This was unusual behaviour for me, someone who usually waited for a later, emptier train - but hey this was a special occasion after all. We weren't particularly placed close on the carriage but I saw the back of her head enough to know she wasn't ever looking my way during those two stops to Victoria.

Exiting the station, the adrenaline suddenly begun to flow. This was it: the last time I'd see Chewie and I just had to do something, anything, right? Plucking up the courage and ignoring that oh so deafening voice telling me to bail while I still could, I called out a firm (yet in hindsight a bit too loud) "hey!".

She turned and put on that puzzled, innocent look some girls must practise in the mirror to get so right. It's all a blur now, but I think what I said went something like this:

Hey! Um okay the thing is that this is my last commute and you know how it is when you see the same people every day well I probably won't now anyway I know this kinda thing probably freaks people out but since you probably won't see me ever again it shouldn't be too weird anyway it was a pleasure starting my day with such a pretty face each morning when I did. Cheers.

At which point I turned and walked away. A bit too quickly perhaps. I'm not quite sure what her reaction was but I didn't have any police chasing after me so it can't have been that traumatic. I feel that I've done my bit and now the rest lies with destiny and stuff...


Nothing past her brushing her hair actually happened, of course. The train did come and she got on, but I didn't. The train had both literally and metaphorically left the platform.

Still, I was never going to actually say anything and I'm thankful that I caught her one final time, looking better than ever. And what I suggested above about destiny might not be as desperate as it sounds - I've met fellow commuters elsewhere before and who knows? It could totally happen this time too.

But till that time, goodbye Victoria and Chewie. It was a blast even though you probably didn't even know it

Wednesday, January 30

XKCD Click for more info

XKCD once again teaches us about life; this time how ironic it can be to be a manipulative tease (not that anyone here can relate, of course):

Aaah, to know someone as mean as I can (sometimes) be...

Tuesday, January 29

The God Solution: The Islamic Concept of God Click for more info

Although I've read a bit of his stuff and seen him on the television, I've never had the pleasure of listening to one of Abdul Hakeem Murad's lectures live. That's why I jumped at the chance of attending one down at Guy's this afternoon. To jump straight to the point I wasn't disappointed; he really is a wonderful speaker.

In this session he was to talk about the Islamic concept of God. He did this by covering various questions that had been asked in the history of Islam along with their respective answers. In this way it was tough to tell what his exact opinion was; a good thing since it left us to form our own. This objectivity is what probably impressed me the most.

So the micro-topics covered included the genericness of God as well as the more contrasting aspects between the Abrahamitic faiths, an explanation of why evil could exist in the world with God (including a neato story about an ant and a carpet maker and how the former couldn't appreciate the creation of the latter) and how Islam is largely a fatalistic religion ("everything is in the hand of God"). He also covered atheism as a contrary to theology and the respective implications on free will and choice.

He explained how the much requested (by the West) reform of Islam had already taken place with the rejection of most of the historical advances made in the religion and gave the examples of the peaceful and tolerant coexistence times in the past.

After laying the above groundwork, Abdul Hakeem then moved on to more philosophical topics. He talked a lot about Kalam, or the forming of religious opinion via logic and argument - an example of this was how some theologians started with the "base case" of atheism and worked up to theology from that using principles of logic (as opposed to proving an existing assumption of God). He finally noted that even though some had thought they had proved the existence of God, they also noted that there was no obligation of faith without scripture, or the commandment to believe. Heavy stuff.

The question and answer session was okay. I managed to submit my simple question to Abdul Hakeem Murad:

Isn't the lack of a definite proof of God a pre-requisite of sound belief?

I'm proud to say that this was one of the few questions that made our host pause for thought - I even got a show of appreciation with him declaring it a "good question" after his reply - there's nothing quite like validation you know? Anyway, he agreed that there has to be room for disbelief in order to give belief value, but noted that although there weren't/couldn't be any overwhelming proofs of God that there were so many "almost-proofs" that after aggregation the likelihood was that this stance was correct. A bit of a fudge but elegantly so I thought.

Other good points raised included discussion of how a good disbeliever could be in a better internal state than a bad believer due to the differing obligations on each. We were also told how a perfect level of tauheed should demonstrate itself by a lack of panic over worldly events and calamities, a lack of fear and a lack of regret.

The rest of the Q&A was substandard boring studenty stuff, once again more about the person asking the question than the answer they received. Someone even asked if God could create a stone he couldn't lift - which turned out to be a worthwhile question if only to see how expertly Abdul Hakeem dismissed it. Overall I think it was a wasted opportunity and pretty painful for the speaker.

But this was a brilliant talk that I feel lucky to have attended. Abdul Hakeem Murad is smooth, seamless, clear, concise and witty and an absolute joy to listen to. Just in case you couldn't tell by now I have definitely become a fan of his and I recommend you all check him out if you ever get the chance to.

Sunday, January 27

Contracting Marriages

As part of their matchmaking initiative, my local held their first "marriage seminar" today. It was split into two parts; the first was about the rights and obligations a person has due and over their spouse, while the second covered the Islamic concept of the Marriage Contract. As usual, I arrived fashionably late and only participated in the latter topic, and so that is all I will write about today.

The structure of the (half) session was pretty accessible: after a (bit too brief) introduction on marriage contracts we were asked to form mixed groups in which to discuss and list hypothetical stipulations we'd like to see in one. After a few minutes doing this each group had to then present to the others, ending with an aggregated list for us all to talk about. It was all fun and amicable and not as awkward as it could have been, although unfortunately, judging by the performance of my group and the feedback of others, I'm not quite sure that the concept of an Islamic marriage contract had been fully grasped by us.

In my mind a generic contract in Islam is an arbitrary (so over and above those provided by the religion) set of terms decided upon by both parties (with the use of negotiation, compromise and prioritisation) which become law in the context over which the contract presides. In this case, that context would be a marriage, the idea being that if a contract could not be agreed upon then the union would not go ahead.

So stipulating things like "they have to look after me" or "they have to treat me well" are a bit of a redundancy when placed in a marriage contract. A contract is not a shopping list either; you're writing this contract for someone you already know and are tailoring it for them so there's no point in saying they have to be funny or smart or dreamy.

What it can include are things like "you cannot remarry" (for a bloke) or specify the distribution of wealth (both during marriage or post divorce). Other good examples were asking a partner to quit smoking, whether pets would be allowed or not, modifying the conditions of a possible divorce and specifying how much space and freedom each partner could have. You can also state the number of holidays you would require, or how you would expect the other to dress.

There really aren't any limitations here (provided of course that you don't require anyone to do anything un-Islamic) and one is free to go nuts and ask for as much as they think they can get away with (at the ultimate cost of getting nothing at all).

In theory I think it's a great idea - not because of the actual final list of must-haves that results (which is handy in itself in a evidential sense) but because the actual negotiation process required both parties to think about what marriage is about and what their respective expectations are.

The list of "demands" of a person asks for is a good indicator of what they're like too, and in terms of safety both sides would have ample opportunity to walk away if they're not satisfied. For example, if a guy asked for a weekly massage to be included in their marriage contract (off, uh, the top of my head), then the woman would be in a good position to walk away laughing while thanking her lucky stars she had gotten out when she did.

But despite the obvious advantages listed above, I don't quite think I'd be taking advantage of a marriage contract if I ever happen to be in the position to create one. The romantic side of me just won't allow it - it's a bit like needing an instruction manual or process written down in order to function as a husband. However I will try to go through the communication processes behind forming one since the discussion itself would be just as effective as any signed paper could be - so a verbal marriage contract if you will.

Provided a couple each know what the other expects and assess their own ability to provide for those, then they should be able to work out whether a marriage between the two of them will work or not. And as long everyone is honest and transparent about these things before and during marriage not much can really go wrong. Of course, that's all easier said than done sometimes and in those cases a list of reminders signed, witnessed and dated just can't be a bad idea.

Saturday, January 26

Film: In the Valley of Elah Click for more info

Despite the gripping plot and impressive production, Elah ends up being nothing more than a film about the effects of war on soldiers - an impressive task given that the film itself is wholly set in the USA.

The cast do a fantastic job propping the rest of the film along - wartime is presented as a series of videos slowly being recovered off a damaged phone, while the behaviour of soldiers is subtle rather than explicit. This all makes for a very smart yet straightforwardly enjoyable film to watch.

Still I can't help but feel a bit conned; the pacey thriller character of the film is kinda left at the side as it turns to deal with the human and emotional issues. But that's not to detract too much from a good film as a whole - it was certainly better than I was expecting it to be! Recommended.

Friday, January 25

Game: Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (DS) Click for more info

Advance Wars really is awesomeness in a can. I still think that the first, released on the GBA way back when, as one of my most favourite games ever with two just bringing more of the same. Dual Strike was less special, with the developers unfortunately falling into the trap of using as much of the DS hardware as possible, irrespective of how it may total an otherwise perfect game.

But they seem to have heard us now, and seem to have removed the guff from Dual Strike. I'm not very far and am still in the tutorial sections of the game, but it seems pretty back to basics to me. I think that Dual Strike forced you to use the stylus at some points, where this doesn't. Twin fronts have also gone and co-op powers (and co-op maps) have been removed and the action seems to remain on the bottom screen now. All these things peed me off before in Dual Strike.

It's all just back to basics, but redone properly for the DS. Menus stay where they're supposed to, on the top screen, and all buttons are used for something useful. The story is a bit crap (and there's no Nell any more. Sigh) but that's a minor thing in the general glory of this game.

Filtering Garbage

I previously told you how I had retroactively labelled all my posts for your, my dear readers, benefit. But how useful is this really? Those of you who subscribe via a feed can't filter on or off things, and those of you who read via the web probably won't be bothered to click through to a label each time you visit.

Anyway, it seems that you can subscribe to a single label if you so wish. The general format to use is the following:

So for example, if you subscribe to the following:

You'll get separate notifications for my posts on Islam, relationships, opinions and who I currently have the hots for. Great, huh?

So although you'll now be able to avoid the guff that you don't want to read (like, yeh right) I think that this also means that you'll get two notifications for a post labelled twice. Still, you can't have everything eh?

Thursday, January 24

Game: Earth Defence Force 2017 (360) Click for more info

This game is rubbish. The presentation is lousy, the graphics appalling and the sound terrible. And yet EDF 2017 is so much fun to play you somehow end up forgiving all of that.

You play a foot soldier bloke, viewed from over his shoulder. Before each level starts, you're asked to pick two weapons, most of which have unlimited ammo. Each level asks you to clear the field/city of any bad guy alien invaders, and you get to collect new weapons, selectable at the start of the next level.

And that's all there is really. Reading back, it doesn't sound too convincing and I'm struggling to think what else I can say to express what makes this game so fun. Perhaps it's that there are so many bad guys to kill? Perhaps its the wide range of different weapons, some homing, some slow but powerful and some not so good? Perhaps it's just how simple the whole thing is, in a world where you have to normally sit with an instruction manual in order to play the game it belongs to? Perhaps it's just that you get to kill giant invader ants?

Whatever the reason, EDF just goes to show that looks really aren't everything.

Game: Forza Motorsport 2 (360) Click for more info

You know, I was planning on selling this pack-in game that came with my 360. I was never interested in it before and I didn't see myself playing it much, me not being that big on racing games. To be honest, nothing much has changed really am I'm still not, least of all because of this.

But I will keep the game. Why? Because its a good example of what Xbox Live is all about. Almost everyone I know has it (a requirement for online multiplayer), and setting up races is easy enough so it's fun for that reason alone. There are problems, the most major being that you cannot let a guest play alongside you on Live via split screen - this is disappointing in an age where the PGRs and Halos take this for granted.

The game itself is okay too - it steers (hah) toward simulation rather than arcade style racing but not enough to make it hell boring (I'm looking at you Gran Turismo!). You don't have to spend days tuning up your car in order to get an edge for instance.

But I won't be playing Forza other than online. After all, it is just another racing game. But when I do play it (online) it is pretty darned ace. Vrooom.

Monday, January 21

Book: Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism, Omid Safi Click for more info

Another composition of essays, this time by exclusively by self proclaimed progressive Muslims. However what is clear when reading this volume is that like "Muslim" there is no single agreement on what "progressive" actually means, so don't think you know what you'll read in this book.

You get the usual pros and cons as you do with other collections of this type - a variety of sometimes conflicting ideas written in a range of qualities. There are some brilliant essays by the likes of Farish Noor, Ebrahim Moosa and Kecia Ali contrasted by less readable ones; in fact I'd say that most of them aren't that great both in terms of style and content.

I'd also suggest that although open minds are always useful, one should read this with care: there are also some extreme yet interesting topics covered, and anyone reading should do so with the critical mind some of the authors within are asking Muslims to develop. A portion of these articles are just downright silly and not really constructive; a few authors write with baggage or a over-critical and holier-than-thou mindset which for me immediately revoked any progressive qualification they may have gained previously.

Overall it's difficult to recommend this book. Instead I'd say to look up some of the authors that I have noted above and read what they have to say elsewhere - you may not get the exact essays that are contained in this book, but good authors aren't made by single pieces anyway.

Stalkee Update

Just in case you thought that I was no longer a creepy despo, here's the latest on the girlie going-ons during my daily commute in to work.

But first, a bit of supplementary explanation. The main reason I've been a bit quiet recently is due to a change in route - since discovering how close Marble Arch actually is to my workplace (yes, after almost four years of working here), I've been using that exclusively to go home and part of the time to come in (like when I'm running late).

Not all commutes are equal, and its now obvious to me that the Victoria is prettier than the Central Line - so much so that I've returned back to the former even though it's slower and more hassle. I've also been delaying my commute into work by around 15 minutes, and so have a totally different crowd to travel in with too.

So anyway, all this means that I haven't seen Victoria or Chewie for an absolute age. Still, its not all bad news. Instead of them I've been blessed with three new characters to give me that much missed boost to my journey. In no particular order, they are:

  • Fundie - Although I've only seen her twice, Fundie is hijabi who joins me all the way from home to work. To be honest I wouldn't have paid too much attention if she hadn't had stepped on my foot (very painful for such a small person) to then give me a look as if it was my fault.
  • Stuckup - Does exactly what is said on her tin: Beware, no entry, danger! 10,000 volts, etc. But she is hot (and obviously knows it), and so probably has a right to glare at loser guys like me.
  • Jailbait - Not literally (of course) but in the age gap/Charlie Wilson/Wikipedia sense. Perhaps she just has good genes or something though - its not like I look (or act) my age either anyway. And just in case you're wondering its the hair and dress rather than the youthful looks, okay?
So yes: change has clearly been very good for me in this case. But I do miss Victoria and Chewie too, especially since I expect my commute to totally change altogether in the next couple of weeks and won't see any of them when that happens. But more on that in a later post.

Friday, January 18

Film: AVPR: Aliens vs Predator - Requiem Click for more info

Does it really have to be called that? Anyway, the sixth Alien and fourth Predator film continues where the last part (don't ask which, since I've lost count by now) ended.

AVPR does exactly what it says on the tin. The two extraterrestrial races fight it out yet again in our backyard, with this time made more interesting with the introduction of an Alien borne of an impregnated Predator.

Of course, technically, this film can't be anything but bad; I won't bother going into too much detail regarding the acting or special effects. But bad can be fun too and there's plenty of blood here and guts to satisfy anyone on a Friday night. Without spoiling the film too much, the conclusion is pretty interesting and - dare I say it - different, and since the whole thing only lasted a paltry 90 minutes or so there was no regret felt on leaving the cinema.

I won't bother recommending AVPR; you'll already know whether you want to watch it or not.

Monday, January 14

Twins Click for more info

You couldn't have scripted it better - just like a storyline from Eastenders or Hollyoaks, a pair of twins separated at birth managed to find each other in their new lives, fall in love and get married. It's not clear how they figured it out or whether they remained chaste before the nuptials, but then such details are irrelevant to those of us who aren't busy body gossipists anyway.

Considering cases like these, it's easy to see where Islam's insistence on recording and demonstrating hierarchy, parentage and lineage comes from. For those who are unaware, adoption by name is unrecognised in Islam and the status of an adopted child is always apparent in contrast to a birth child; in fact some Muslims hold the opinion that adoption is not allowed at all. I'm not personally aware of what the opinions are on surrogacy or anonymous donorship of eggs or sperm, but the point stands that in all cases knowing your linage is supremely important in Islam.

Of course practise is different in theory and even a strict parental record will allow cases to slip though (due to fraud or administration errors). But seeing how there are now some in the UK who believe that adoption should no longer kept secret perhaps it's the right way to go anyway.

Game: Assassin's Creed (360) Click for more info

How can any game that allows you to play as an assassin be bad? Well during development no one could imagine that AssCreed would get the disappointing reviews it did. Although not completely slammed, most publications accused it of being a pretty yet shallow experience, full of flimsy and pointless game mechanics. After playing it for a bit on the PS3 I kind of agreed.

But after having the chance to play it with a bit more care and attention, I think I've changed my opinion. AssCreed is actually pretty good. It looks good and plays well, the missions aren't actually that repetitive (although I suppose if you play it to complete every little sidequest it could feel like that) and the story is engaging. Is as much of a MGS replacement as you can get really. Oh, and it has Kristen Bell in it. I like how you can take as much time as you want - I'm just interested in the story so am pretty much ignoring any bits I don't have to and the game accommodates this.

There are flaws - the otherwise perfect controls sometimes get "stuck" (although even then they're a whole lot better than that of others), the voice acting is a bit too low key for my taste (I wish subtitles were available) and the stealth bits get a bit dreary at times. But these are all flaws I've bringing up to somehow relate and justify the reviews it got - I'm enjoying the experience and that's all that matters really.

So I do think that reviews were a bit unfair, and possibly victim to expecting way too much or falling for the hype. Taken as what it is, there's no doubt that AssCreed isn't a bad game at all. You get to play a frikin assassin after all!

Sunday, January 13

Film: Charlie Wilson's War Click for more info

Highly amusing political drama about the decadent Texan congressman Charlie Wilson going out of his way to militarily enable the Afghan "Muj" and so helping them to defeat the invading Soviets.

I had little complaints with War. The acting was superb, drawing from a brilliant leading cast of Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Direction and production were also top notch, but it was the script and plot which shone the most.

Yes, the events themselves have probably been Americanized, but there is a poignant feel nonetheless for the lengths Charlie went to in order to provide arms to the Afghanis. We don't see too much detail of the process itself - further reading would probably be a good idea if that's required - but it appeared to be an altruistic move rather than manipulative one.

One could even forgive Charlie for having been a womanising alcoholic; not that I had a problem with him myself. I mean when he says of why he doesn't hire men that "You can teach them to type, but you can't teach them to grow tits" you have to admit that he has a point. Or maybe that's just me...

Anyway, the film itself is risk-free short and so is worth checking out if you're dubious; even if you decide that it overbearingly puts the America of the 80's in a good light, it acts as a fun and smart way to begin looking into the real events of that time. I certainly will be doing that myself.


Sunday, January 6

Film: Lust, Caution Click for more info

Ang Lee manages to surprise his audience again by bringing something different and, at last, actually not that bad.

Set in 1940s Shanghai and Hong Kong, Lust, Caution mainly tells us the story about Wong Chia Chi, a student activist chosen to assist in a political assassination by going deep under the covers with the target. It really isn't much more than that, yet manages to keep the viewer entertained for most of the two and a half hour running time anyway.

Well acted, shot and scripted, it wasn't as difficult to watch as it could have been so credit has to be given to the producers for making the film as accessible as it was. There was a gratuitous amount of sex and nudity though, most of which may be irrelevant and off putting for some. It's worth getting past it if you are though. And although the film didn't feel as long as it actually was, there was a few threads that cold have been cut off.

A good spot of drama, and recommended to those of you with too much free time on your hands.

Food: Lahori Nihari Restaurant

No external link for this little backstreet Nihari place down on Plashet Grove. But what Nihari lacks in marketing it makes up for with some awesome and pretty authentic food.

The accommodated nineteen of us with pleasure and we managed to order almost everything that was on offer on their basic menu; from the Haleem to the Kharai to the Nihari this place got its name from everything was damned fantastic.

And that's really all there is to it. A measly 6 quid per head got us more than enough grub to keep us happy; hell I'd come here every month if my arteries could take it. The next time you're in Green Street, make sure you check it out.

Food: Goley Restaurant Click for more info

Quite possibly the worst restaurant I've been to for a long, long time. I'm not quite sure what it was though - I mean the food was pretty good (although I was struggling to believe that it was authentic Somalian), the place was clean and the staff polite. But the whole thing just didn't quite manage to put it together on the day.

I guess first impressions were bad when we were told that almost half the menu wasn't available to order. Still, I settled for the twice-baked goat's cheese (that didn't seem to have been baked once let alone twice) and the Cajun Chicken. Both starters and mains were very generous (I think we could have gotten away with ordering half as much as we did), but on the bright side that made the £12 quid per head charge, including drinks (a very nice fruit cocktail), pretty good value.

So pretty bad then but not without charm? It's no place I'll be rushing back to any time soon and there's no way I can recommend it, but since I've alive to tell you about it and am remembering the pretty good time we had there anyway it can't have been that bad I suppose.

Friday, January 4

Nemi Click for more info

Once again Nemi says it how it is:

Of course I'm just going to be accused of being a cold hearted hypocrite by posting this, but I guess that's the cost for standing up for truth.

Game: BioShock (360) Click for more info

A particularly good Christmas offer finally broke what resistance I had to buying a new console. But now, as the proud owner of an Xbox 360, I get to play some of the games I only heard about.

First up is BioShock. Wildly acclaimed by professionals and players alike as being one of the best games of 2007 (if ever), I was always going to check this out be it on the 360 or an upgraded PC in a couple of months' time. Essentially it's another story led FPS and compared to other games of its ilk even less than that; there's no co-op or multiplayer modes here, folks.

To be honest I've not been impressed so far. I've never really been a die hard fan of the FPS genre but can appreciate and enjoy a well built one - confer Half-Life 2 or Portal for instance.

But so far there's just nothing special about BioShock. It's as dark and gloomy as all those other games (why do they insist on restricting these games' brightness levels?), it's pretty slow and clumsy in a world where lightening fast reactions are supposed to win the day and it seems to be super tight on the ammunition. Oh, and it has the same effect on my as Halo does; that is I'm left headachey and drained after as little as an hours play. There are some clever bits including an exciting story and the whole plasmid secondary weapon system, but these aren't really enough to call a game great.

Still I owe it further play if only due to the acclaim it's received from others. I've had my first impressions proved wrong before (see: Ico), so I owe it that much.