Tuesday, March 31

Film: Knowing Click for more info

Disaster movie revolving around a list of dates which seem to predict major catastrophes around the world; the time and place and even the number who end up kicking the bucket.

But what sounds promising turns out to be not that great - the film is overly long with way too much talking, there's not quite enough action (disappointing for a film of this type) and what depth that is provided by the topic of causality versus randomness just isn't quite deep enough - in fact I felt a bit cheated toward the end at the missed opportunity.

It even fails as a brainless popcorn movie as it drags every little thing out. Interesting enough for a DVD watch but a bit of a waste otherwise, I'd give this one a miss. Unfortunate.

Monday, March 30

The Cotswolds, Day Three: Going Home a Bit Too Soon

Insomnia was rife in our house, as once again we were all up much earlier than last night would have suggested we would. Although the omelettes were well worth it breakfast was late and lazy, something which set the pace for the rest of the day. Half the house left for a pre-lunch bike rides while the rest of us stayed in to watch the opening F1 race.

Lunch was held indoors, and consisted of leftovers from the previous dinners. Poker was played, jetty lounging was had (the sun had come out in full force), and much talking and joking was done. It was an essentially carefree day where although not much was achieved no one really cared.

Still, in order to justify the day we headed out for scones and tea - we had missed all the decent tea shops (they close at 5pm on a Sunday - who knew?) so ended up at a nearby hotel instead who was kind enough to delay the closing of their kitchen in order to provide us with our fix.

This pretty much brought us to the end of the day, and indeed the holiday itself. It felt that we had been there for ages as we sat and looked through the pictures up on the plasma; memories that we had created only a couple of hours ago felt classical and we all lamented at how quickly the weekend went - it had barely felt like we had settled in. A couple of hours later (less than half the amount of time it took us to get out there!) we were back in London dining over kebabs, a last effort to squeeze a final drop of holiday out of the weekend.

On the positive side this was such an easy weekend, a quick win in terms of getting away, that there's no reason why it couldn't be done again and more often. A precedent has been set, it seems.

Sunday, March 29

The Cotswolds, Day Two: Getting Out and Staying In

Despite a late night we were all out of bed by a decent hour. Breakfast was a lazy yet efficient affair as we were all raring to get out and do something. The house was even better during the day as we took advantage of the jetty on the lake. Having a lake as a back garden is something we wouldn't see for a while I think.

We eventually decided to venture out and making use of the house bikes we explored the local area. South Cerney is nice enough village, typically so in fact, and we were all lapping in the warm atmosphere despite it being pretty chilly out.

After our pub lunch we made our way back to the house in order to take shelter against the temperamental weather. This meant more chilling out (yay) and finally a chance to exploit some of the entertainment we had brought along with us - we had a game of Pictionary, whiteboard and all. After some exquisite artistic talent the weather cleared up just enough to allow a couple of games of Tennis in the on-site courts.

After a quick round of Poker, we sat down for our second, and final, dinner. This turned out to last for an unreasonably long time: the five hours for which we sat talking and gossiping about nothing flew by.

It sucks that we're leaving tomorrow. It's almost painful to think about it.

Saturday, March 28

Game: Rittai Picross Click for more info

Billed as a 3D Picross, this is yet more quick bash puzzle holiday fodder. The sense of creating something is even bigger and the game itself seems easier and more forgiving than regular Picross. It does sometimes become a bit confusing, what with having to deal with a brand new dimension, but the creators appear to have put enough thought into the interface to mitigate any real issues.

Great for having quick goes, but like the other puzzle games I have I doubt I'll be playing this one to completion. Great fun while it lasts though!

The Cotswolds, Day One: Eventually Getting There

It really shouldn't have taken us four hours to get to The Cotswolds. To be fair, it was a team effort, one in which we did ourselves proud. I won't dwell on exactly why it took us so long.

The place in which we were staying for the weekend was pretty amazing. It was clean, modern, comfortable and well specified: from the plasma on the wall to the jetty on the adjoining lake we were pretty much sorted. We all wondered what it would be like to have such a place as a second home.

Since it was already late, this didn't leave us with much to do tonight apart, from eating a fabulous dinner. I had no problem with this; yes, there is plenty of stuff do in The Cotswolds, but personally I just wanted to chill out with good company. Judging by our time here so far I think I'll definitely get my wish.

Thursday, March 26

Food: Kikuchi Click for more info

You generally get what you pay for, one way or another. Take Kikuchi, for instance: in passing you'd think it was a run down dive of a Japanese restaurant - decor isn't a strong point in this place, especially when you compare it to the entrance of Hakkasan that's within eye shot.

But aesthetics clearly isn't the point with Kikuchi. No, this place is all about the atmosphere, and more importantly, the food. It's one of those lovely Japanese places where the service all cheer as you come in, cheer while you're ordering, cheer as they bring the food and then finally cheer as you walk out. And although the place is nothing to look at, it's clean, intimate and authentic, oozing atmosphere as a result. In fact, I'd say I felt very much out of place during my time there, almost like a tourist.

The food was marvellous, if a bit on the small side. The fish, cooked or raw, was yummy, the tempura delectable and the Japanese omelette different enough. The cruel size of the portions meant we had to order a lot, something that was reflected in the final bill of £160 for the three of us (although that did include a couple of sake bottles). As wonderful as the food was, that's still quite the tally.

So yes, ultimately you really do get what you pay for; I guess what you have to decide when faced with a delight like Kikuchi is how much you really want excellent Japanese food!

Video of the Day Click for more info

Presenting Padma Lakshmi in all her burger eating glory:

'Nuff said eh?

Thanks to Steve for the link.

Sunday, March 22

Film: Lesbian Vampire Killers Click for more info


I like to think that I have some standards and I probably wouldn't have enjoyed a film made purely for titillation purposes. That's not to say that LVK isn't all about hot vampires who like to make out with each other - 'cos it is, and there's plenty of t&a to back that up (but no blue penises, perhaps somewhat fortunately) - but since it also brings with it a semi-decent plot and a whole bunch of laughs and balls I actually managed to look past the obvious and have fun with this movie.

Yes, it's poorly made (the hammer b-film thing doesn't work too well) but it has got charm and wit (if you're into that kinda thing). You'll know if you'll like this, and not just because you've always dreamed of a film about lesbian vampires: for those of you who are probably way more sensible than I am, give it a miss. For the rest of you, enjoy.

Wednesday, March 18

New Music

Love Story - Taylor Swift


Thinking Of You - Katy Perry

I hated Kissed A Girl. With a passion. And this isn't that great but has just enough poignancy to keep it going.

Sunday, March 15

Film: Watchmen Click for more info

Yet another comic book adaptation, but this time one which is less about Good versus Evil and more about civil liberties, vigilantism and whether noble ends are actually worth the means. Whether or not this depth makes Watchmen a better film is up in the air; I know quite a few people who left the film disappointed for not getting what they wanted. For me, it brought something both fresh and enjoyable to a well trodden genre.

I found it a bit like V for Vendetta actually; superheroes and their superpowers (indeed most were just pumped up and slightly crazy nutjobs) were an aside to attitudes and politics, and the storyline lent itself in such a way that we ended up with a brilliant detective thriller. In fact the costumes almost became incidental as a result.

The big budget didn't spoil the film either, with the unknown (to me, anyway) cast doing a brilliant job and the film itself being shot beautifully. It all just worked so well, just supported the bigger picture just right, that you couldn't help but be drawn into it all.

In the end though, it all depends on whether you have the patience or not to give something different a chance. At 160 or so minutes or so it's pretty long, but I didn't really feel the length. There was little fat to trim, but that's irrelevant if you're going in to see a regular popcorn superhero movie. You'll be disappointed if so. For me it was brilliant and I can't recommend it enough.

Tuesday, March 10

Film: The International Click for more info

Thriller about a bunch of law enforcers (the DA and Interpol, no less) trying to take down a rogue bank. And if that sounds unexciting to you then don't worry; this is a whiff of a film that struggles to get going from the start.

The most depressing thing is the missed opportunity; the context is big enough to have provided some pretty awesome thrills but each time a set piece presented itself the people behind the film decided to kill it. As such it was pretty frustrating as each seed of excitement was taken away prematurely.

The International got the basics right: the acting and production values are pretty good, the film well made as a whole. It's just a damn shame nothing much happens in it.

Saturday, March 7

Courchevel, Day Eight: Coming Home

There wasn't much time to do much this morning. I was the first to get up (it's a teeth brushing thing) and I spent a few minutes on the chalet balcony, alone, watching Courchevel wake up while thinking back on the events of the past seven days. The whole thing was pretty emotional and poignant; no doubt partly due to the physically intense activity I had participated in for the past week - for a few days at least life had quite simply only been about skiing and not much else. I also realised that I would miss the chalet and people I had spent my time in Courchevel with. I was actually sad to be leaving.

The journey home was pretty uneventful as I took the opportunity to catch up on some rest. The whole week had me dreaming about the slopes, physically twitching in my sleep as unconsciously I traversed blues and greens. It was going to be difficult switching off and getting over skiing, but that's okay since I think a part of me wants the feeling to continue in whatever form it can anyway.

And as I write this I'm a still a bit sad.

Friday, March 6

Courchevel, Day Seven: Ripping A Red (Kinda)

And so we came to our last day of skiing. As was the case yesterday I found the lesson to be a bit of a waste - we weren't in a position to learn anything new but doing the drills we had become well versed in was a bit boring.

Since it was the last day we decided to push the boat a bit in the afternoon. In skiing terms, this meant doing a red run. Or rather I allowed the red run to do me. It wasn't very enjoyable to be honest; it mainly consisted of traversing, falling, getting up and traversing again, but looking back I'm lucky nothing worse happened. I'm glad I did it, if only because it totally showed me how rubbish my technique (and confidence in my ability) was.

Since I wanted to end with a high, I decided to then try out a blue; something I hadn't actually done yet. Possibly unsurprisingly this didn't quite work out to plan as I stacked it again - my worst fall yet as I came off both my skis, ate snow and begun to see stars.

Although there was still an hour to go before the slopes closed I didn't get a chance to end on a green; we had decided to keep the afternoon free for luging on a purpose built slope near to our chalet. I must admit that I felt a bit poignant having to give back my gear. In some ways those boots and skis had become an extension of my legs and returning them meant that my skiing days were finally over for the time being.

Luging was brilliant fun as technique and style went out of the window. Anything went as we re-enacted our own version of wacky races; we shunted, pushed, sabotaged and spun our way down at some pretty fast speeds, while counter-intuitively deliberately aiming for bumps and dips to catch some major air (as well as risking major death). I say it again: absolutely brilliant.

Quite fittingly, we ended the day with some wonderful fireworks (fortunately for us Courchevel was hosting a European air pyrotechnics festival that week) after which we hung out at the chalet and rode out our last night together. I'm not ashamed to admit that I was feeling a little sad for it to all be coming to an end. It felt like we had been in Courchevel for ages.

Thursday, March 5

Courchevel, Day Six: Winding Down

I had a bit of an uneventful day today. Not that I didn't do any skiing, but as we approach the end of the week we've kinda plateaued in what we can actually achieve in lessons. My technique is still poo, but since we were asked to buy a full pass (as beginners we were previously sticking to the cheaper minipass) we tried another, higher, green.

The afternoon wasn't much better. I did a couple of greens in total, pretty lax compared to yesterday, but we did go up on the massive 160 person telecabin to a height of 2740m. Visibility was bad so we didn't see much but it was still scary being that high.

So overall it was a bit of a doss day - I didn't get much skiing in but had a laugh exploring the resort. Round that off with a brilliantly violent snowball fight between friends and you have a day that was inadvertently great.

Off the slopes, chalet life is still brilliant, intimate and fun.

Wednesday, March 4

Courchevel, Day Five: The Bug Bites, Badly

My new "sod technique" attitude is allowing me to enjoy skiing a whole lot more. The feedback from instructor, that I didn't have a correct posture, was now taken as something to constantly improve on while I skied rather than before I did.

This new confidence, knowing I could control my movement even though it was done in an incorrect way, allowed me to work on my technique, since I could easily fall back to my previous style when I needed to. I decided to apply The Ten Percent Rule and focus on what I had rather than perfection.

The afternoon was the best yet. Grabbing a friend who had a similar level of skill but a more inspiring "just do it" attitude we managed to cover four Verdons and two Bellecotes, almost all without falling. The bug had bitten us as we both kept racing to the cable cars for one more go.

The sense of freedom, control and liberation was immense. Being able to ski instinctively and naturally, plotting your own course and being able to look around and check in the surroundings while having a conversation with a co-skier at 20mph is an amazing feeling to have, almost romantic but totally exhilarating.

Things didn't just fall in place on the slopes. Chalet life was also coming into its own with simple things like staying in for two hour long games of Charades providing tear-inducing laughter (it's amazing how smutty the quiet ones are!). Perhaps it was the intensity and excitement of the slopes which had caused it but everything seemed so magnified, so much more.

This really was turning out to be a most wonderful and awesome holiday.

Tuesday, March 3

Courchevel, Day Four: Stacking It

I've begun snow ploughing in my sleep. I repeatedly find my legs twitching to slow down or turn, or myself standing in a position that would better suit skiboots. Even when I walk down a Courchevel street, I'm finding the best traversing line. My friend says that this is a sign of stress and he's probably right; we are skiing a good five or six hours a day after all.

Being able to turn on the slopes really is wonderful and multiples the exhilaration many times. I am now free to go where I want to provided there's a gradient and the freedom is liberating. Well, provided we stick to the nursery slopes, that is.

My instructor tells me that I'm doing it wrong, I can see that I'm doing it wrong, but I have no idea how to do it right. The overwhelming bookish part of me refuses to enjoy the activity of skiing until I know what I'm doing and doing that technically correct. This mindset proves to be a total disaster as we're taken to the top of Bellecote to run down a green. I repeatedly fall over, once again due to a bad technique I cannot rely on enough to qualm a fear of killing myself.

The whole ordeal was confidence sapping and put me back a couple of days. Even the nursery slopes became a challenge again. I felt pretty impotent and useless as the frustration crept back in.

The afternoon brought with it a new mindset. I was now interested in progress and a realisation that lessons weren't working (in isolation at least) and a realisation that beginners around me (especially the girls) were doing much better than me prompted me to throw away the instruction manual and to just go for it.

Two greens were run this afternoon, both with my own particular (read: incorrect but naturally comfortable) style of skiing. The expert friends who escorted us down said a few things that made a lot of sense - that ability is more important than technique, that bad technique was better than not having any control and that none of us were expected to be perfect skiers and would all improve with practise. We were now to concentrate on having fun and "feeling" the mountain; enjoyment would keep us interested and focussed, which in turn would allow us to correct any errors in our technique. The attitude made perfect sense to me.

Of course it didn't all go swimmingly well. The second green, Verdons, was a new run for me, and slightly steeper than the Bellecote I was used to. Reaching an approximate 25mph rendered my snow plough useless (see?) and turning ineffective. Since I was to die anyway I decided to enjoy the rush while everyone watching took mental bets as to when exactly I would inevitably stack it.

As I came off my skis, joints twisting and popping, I realised that wiping out wasn't actually that bad. Crashing that badly was a rush in itself and the rest of the run was taken with ease. Now I knew what to expect "going for it" was a much easier thing to do and ironically it was that sense of purpose, that confidence in my ability, that kept me on my feet.

These things really are all in the mind.

Monday, March 2

Courchevel, Day Three: Finding My Ski Legs

Sometimes it just takes a click to make things work. Take the snow plough, for instance; where after a whole afternoon practising yesterday I still couldn't get it to work, it immediately did during my lesson this morning. However being a master of the snow plough has allowed me to see with even more insight how useless it truly is.

But we went on, this time learning to turn. That connection between snow and ski that the more experienced skiers may tell us about was beginning to form in me and things were starting to flow a bit more naturally and instinctively now. I was even beginning to have a little bit of fun.

Toward the end of the lesson we were taken down half a green (Jardin Alpin), the same it took the others an hour to come down from yesterday. It was scary and brilliant; I fell many times, at times due to being technically rubbish and at others due to plain old fear (why don't these places have fences dammit?).

In the afternoon I decided to try the run alone. I nearly gave up and bailed, but I'm glad I didn't. It was awesome being able to ski alone back down to the cable car station that first took up up; I don't envisage using anything but two planks of wood on my feet to come down a mountain now.

Sunday, March 1

Courchevel, Day Two: Hitting The Slopes

Skiing is hard. Really hard. I'm pretty sure it had something to do with my age, but even if that wasn't the case watching children as young as two running the nursery slopes wasn't too encouraging.

I immediately decided that the snow plough is a myth. Or alternatively, as I repeatedly called it today, a "piece of crap". It doesn't slow you down. It doesn't facilitate control. It just makes you tired quick.

It probably goes without saying that the whole day was pretty frustrating. I wasn't really understanding what the instructor was trying to tell me, and I couldn't see the subtle movements and positions he was so "obviously" making with his ski joints either. I decided to decline the offer from my friends of being chaperoned down half a green; I was in no position to fall down a proper slope let alone ski down one. This was lucky as it took those who did try over an hour to get to the bottom.

Right now I don't see the fascination with skiing. Black toes (my first pair of boots were too small, apparently), having to walk around with heavy gear and spending a lot of time on your bum didn't seem too appealing today and I didn't see my taste for it all improving either. Of course, I'll keep going, if only to attend the now clearly essential lessons. I'm hoping this is all toothing problems.

Courchevel showed off some amazing views from up the mountain. The resort itself was also pretty good, one of the best that my fellow experienced skiers had been to. This quality was reflected well in the expense and affluence about the place; this is where the Saudi Royal Family comes to ski, with Bentley's parked on the street and BMW X6's ten a penny. The rest of us chose the Spar across the road for lunch.