Sunday, October 31

Food: Souk Restaurant Click for more info

Moroccan food again? Seems that's all us Muslims eat nowadays. Frankly there's only so much couscous and tagine a guy can eat. Still, an overload of the same kind of food shouldn't in itself reduce how good or bad it is. Unfortunately that at Souk wasn't all that.

But let's start with the positives first. Decor and atmosphere were pretty good - we (fifty or so) were downstairs for a birthday do, were relatively comfortable and serviced well, and for some reason I paid much more attention to the music (it seems I can't keep still when there's a beat around any more).

Price-wise we were treated quite well; our host had negotiated 50% off the a la carte menu, and with drinks we paid a good £12 per head, much of that for food we didn't manage to finish. For today at least, this place had value.

But ultimately we go to a restaurant to eat, and on that count Souk kinda failed. The food just wasn't special enough. I'll admit that due to the communal vibe of the night we didn't really get to order precisely what we wanted to and I'm sure the fact that we were there in numbers didn't help much either... But for whatever reason I wasn't impressed.

Perhaps going as a private individual in a smaller party would allow me to gain a better idea of what this place is like, but for now I'm unfortunately struggling to recommend the place.

Film: The Social Network Click for more info

Despite what those in the media have said about this film please make no mistake: The Social Network is only interesting because it deals with the phenomenon that is Facebook. It isn't particularly thrilling, well-acted or highly produced but nevertheless manages to grab your attention because - let's face it - we're all Facebook's bitches.

But that's by the by. At the end of the day the relevance of the film does make it and the story it tells compelling to watch, and the two hours fly by as we discover (or at least get an idea of) what happened during those early years. Ultimately the film is about betrayal and manipulation; it's actually quite refreshing to be told a story that didn't necessarily have a happy ending, but I guess that's what happens if you tell a true (and possibly ongoing) story.

Anyway if you have an inkling of an interest in Facebook (and since you're online you probably do), I think you may enjoy The Social Network. Recommended.

Saturday, October 30

Film: Paranormal Activity 2 Click for more info

Seeing as the first film came out less than a year ago, you'd be forgiven if you thought this was just a money spinning sequel.

And of course, that's exactly what it is. However considering how much I enjoyed the whole experience 11 months ago, I saw no reason to see this as a bad thing, instead deciding to hopefully go back for more of the same stuff I found so excellent the first time around.

I wasn't disappointed. In fact I was in some ways even more entertained, which is pretty ironic considering how absolutely similar the two films are. Once again the rational part of me knew exactly how I was being manipulated and once again the rational part of me was ignored as expertly placed bangs, wallops and (most importantly) silences made me a believer. This was genius stuff.

The best bit about the film was how it was actually a prequel and not a sequel. Nto only are we given a context leading up to the events in the first film, we even get to say hello once again to Katie and Micah, both unaware of what would unfold.

Anyway, I guess my review can be summed up with just that - this is more of the same, so if you liked the first film then you're sure to like this one too. Recommended.

Friday, October 29

Film: Red Click for more info

I've said it before: sometimes it's the simple films which are the best. Red is about a bunch of retired CIA assassins, a genius premise since it provides scope for both comedy and action in spades.

Bruce Willis is still super cool, Mary-Louise Parker is super hot, and the rest of the cast complement the film well. Yes, the plot is very predictable (hint: good trumps evil), but the way in which it develops is very entertaining.

If you want a film with a healthy mix of fun, action and laughs, you can't go much wrong with Red. Recommended.

Wednesday, October 27

These Hips Don't Lie

I love dance, possibly even more than singing. Since I can't dance (never been clubbing, innit?) this usually means watching others do it, but it's always something I wished I had the ability to do myself (and I bet I would have if I was a girl). I'd also love to have a dance floor at any wedding I might eventually have, but that of course depends on other factors. But like with most extra-curricular things like these it's a bit too much for a guy like me to learn just for the sake of it - I would need a legitimate excuse at least. You know, like a reality show Bollywood Star (don't worry, I crashed and burned).

So when a friend asked me around two weeks ago to join him in performing something for his sister's mehndi, I pretty much jumped at the chance. I wouldn't know anyone there so if it all went badly wrong it wouldn't harm my street cred that much.

Of course me being me, what should have been a bit of fun became a bit of a project, involving research, planning and even a spreadsheet. The general formula went something like this:

  1. Pick some music, hopefully tracks with some obvious choreography.
  2. Arrange the music by cutting, shifting and joining all the tracks into one.
  3. Analyse the final track by marking each section into packets.
  4. Go through each packet and choose what move to fill it with.
This all took a couple of days, after which it was just a matter of practising what we had decided on. Since we now had it all written down, we didn't even need to be in the same place at the same time.

With regard to practising, 90% of it was just going over it again and again. We must have done the routine at least 30 times. In terms of other tips, as usual it's the obvious ones which hold true - recording ourselves and playing back to see how we looked (a mirror would have been even better for immediate feedback), while we were amazed at how pumping up the volume pumped us up too.

Audacity on the PC was used to cut and edit the tracks, but it was also handy to A-B (or loops sections of) the music. We also had fun practising at slower (to give us time to recall what we were doing) and faster speeds (to test that we knew what we were doing), but that was really just to mix it up a bit.

As expected I became a bit obsessed with it all. The cut track was all I was listening to over the past couple of weeks (my playcount indicates I played it back around 80 times). I also found that it was difficult to just listen to the music, and so fellow commuters must have thought I was pretty crazy bopping my head and smiling to myself as I went through the moves in my mind.

With respect to the final performance, rehearsals were by far technically better. We each made so many mistakes, but I'm guessing (hoping) only we really noticed the major ones. Aside from that, the whole experience was very different to that we had when we practised; the energy was different as was how much we enjoyed the whole thing. To be honest I kinda blacked out for most of it; the music did actually take over.

The guests seemed to have enjoyed it too (although I'm still not sure if they were laughing with us or at us), and we seemed to have increased our popularity slightly with the chicks. Although when I say chicks, I mean the auntie jees. Whatever the case, in terms of entertainment it seemed to have been a success, especially seeing as a planned response from the girls was pulled after they saw ours. Whether this was due to them realising the potential embarrassment for themselves or that they were scared of being outdone by a couple of boys I don't know (I suspect the former).

The only thing left to do now is for me to pass on my gratitude to those concerned, since we did get quite a bit of help. First up comes Ish for actually asking me in the first place. Then there's Asma for the initial tips and pointers (basically who on YouTube to rip off), Ash Kabir (for allowing us to actually rip him off - click here to see how it should be done). Oh and a big thanks to my parents for putting up with the noise and boy smell during practice, and for the support on the day (I like to think they were proud as they recorded us doing our thing); I guess I really am the daughter they didn't have.

Of course there is a YouTube video, but it's unlisted at the moment as we gather the courage to, well, pretty much socially destroy ourselves on the Internet (I'm not quite sure how this affects my value on the marriage market). It will probably become public at some point as we get over ourselves (at which point I'll also update this post), but I'm sure those interested in viewing it would have by then. Perhaps I'll stage some kind of PR leak.

Overall though I had lots of fun both during practise and on the night itself. I still wish I could dance properly... but in the meantime at least I know I'm willing to give it a good shot. If only there was somewhere I could go, maybe with friends, I dunno, where they play loud music just so we can dance?

EDIT: I've disabled comments for now - please direct any feedback to the YouTube page itself.

Sunday, October 24

Film: Despicable Me Click for more info

Shallow story aside, Despicable Me deserves an award for being so damn laugh out loud funny. It's essentially a collection of set pieces, some heavy, some light, some cute and some emotional - but all funny.

If you're looking for a full package... well go watch Toy Story 1, 2 or 3 again. If you want to laugh uncontrollably on a Sunday morning, you could do worse than to check out Despicable Me. Recommended.

Saturday, October 23

Cherry Picking

More and more of us become interested in religion and making it more of our lives. This, of course, can only always be a good thing, and is an essential part of Islam (and other religions). However due to the quick pace and overtness of this change, There seems to be an increasing tendency to ignore the other ideologies and mindsets that we may already have built up within us via other sources. As a result it seems that sometimes we end up using Islam to these reinforce fundamental thoughts, a kind of subtle post-justification. In that sense we're not really changing at all, but merely re-dressing what we already hold as true.

Let me give some examples. Recently more and more single Muslim women are insisting on the right to not change their surname after marriage, and without fail they would always punctuate this desire with a "there is nothing in Islam that says we have to" or "in Saudi they don't", the implication being that either it's virtuous and an Islamic duty to keep a surname, or worst still that they reason they hold such an opinion is because scripture and "authentic" Islamic tradition (you know, because we've all been culturally corrupted for the past 200 years) dictates that we should.

Let's make no mistake here. This is a progressive and feminist idea first and foremost, and the west is precisely where it first entered our heads from. I'm not denying any Islamic opinion on this matter, but the emphasis placed is clearly from an external source (possibly due to the self-serving nature). Other (possibly easier to swallow) examples include men using scripture to beat their wives or marry mulitple times, or why a suicide bomber finds it so easy to blow themselves up amongst innocents.

So now the question is what came first, the opinion or the evidence? It's human nature to be attracted to those who already agree with you, and so it's not surprising that many of us will read the books and listen to the scholars who only tell us what we want to hear. How often are we challenged by what we learn? Most of the times someone tells me about a talk or book they enjoyed I often get the impression they only did because they were able to nod in agreement throughout.

The flip side of this is that we'll reject an opinion as false if it contradicts our own. Reducing this to the basics results in an argument not saying much more than "I'm right because I say I am".

If you look closely at my Islamic posts, I rarely quote scripture or a scholar when putting forward any of my ideas, be they secular or otherwise. I recognise that I think the way I do for a variety of reasons of which my Islamic exposure is but one (albeit a major one at that). As such, there's plenty with traditional Islamic teaching that I disagree with.

This is why I tend to glaze over when someone punctuates a point with "Islamically we should..." or "according to Islam we...". Tagging what you say with "Islam" doesn't make your subjective view objective, and since I'm hardly the best Muslim it's a bit presumptuous to expect it to carry any weight anyway. Would the same argument be put to a non-Muslim? Would it be expected for them to take it seriously? If not, then it's probably not an argument in the first place (which explains why we're generally so bad at dawah at the moment).

But my point isn't that we need to discard our original ideas in order to pave the way for a purer and non-subjective Islam, but more to be honest about where our ideas actually come from. If you're a feminist or chauvinist or socialist or whatever, then why not just accept that? Why the incessant need to justify it with Islam? If anything it's cheapening the religion, but aside from that you should be secure enough in your opinion to not have to reinforce it. But perhaps that's what the actual cause is; that we're so unsure of our own real opinions that we need to prop them up - not in an attempt to convince others but mainly in an attempt to convince ourselves.

Friday, October 22

Food: Needoo Grill Click for more info

Poor Maedah Grill. There's not much doubt over it's role as where people go if they can't get into Tayyab's. Not that the food was that of anyone's second choice, but nevertheless I suspect a lot of its business came from the overflow. Which was fine... Unless of course what you really wanted was Tayyab's.

Which is why Needoo's is so important. I'm not sure of the particulars of its history (apparently it's run by an ex-partner) but this place is essentially a clone of Tayyab's and offers an almost identical menu at an almost identical price (a mixed grill, four curries and a jug of Mango Lassi cost a tenner a head). It's essentially extra capacity for Tayyab's.

Decor is slightly under par when compared to the other two places, but who cares about that? The food is just as good as Tayyab's, the service is much better and best of all: you don't have to queue up for over an hour on a Friday night to get a table. In that sense I don't see any reason whatsoever to even aim for Tayyab's any more, since Needoo's offers the exact same thing without the increasing level of pretentiousness that has come with the former's popularity.

Tuesday, October 19

XKCD Click for more info

And we have a double bill this time. First up, every frustrated call centre user's biggest fantasy:

The fantasy is to find someone who doesn't know less about the product you're calling about than you do. Although if it was a hottie then I guess that'd be a bonus.

Next up we have another love-related comic:

But as much as the cynic in me wants to agree with Randall, I can't quite bring myself to. On a semi-serious note, perhaps it's precisely the omission of having had any "young love" that's making it so hard for so many of us to proceed with a more practical mindset? Anyway.

Wednesday, October 13

Shak's Choice: Sandeesh Samra

Sure she was always going to be an obvious pick, but even I'm surprised at how quickly I've become a fan of Sandeesh. We've not even seen much of her yet.

As with all the Apprentice girls, she's smart, sassy and has tons of class. Oh and of course she could end up with a six-figure job. Cha ching. And she started in the place most the hotties are found: in retail.

Okay, I admit that I have less of a business case for Sandeesh than I had for Ghazal and Sara when they made Shak's Choice, but based on what little we have seen I'm sure she'll do us proud when her first featured episode airs. Not that she's made it here solely on her looks or anything, but oh my: those eyes.

On a technical note I may have somehow scored a high enough pagerank to place this post on the front page of a Google search on her name. My last two Asian-Apprentice-Girl-related-posts were both read by their respective Asian-Apprentice-Girls, each time before I had the pleasure to meet them in person. In short, if you do happen to read this Sandeesh, well, then I look forward to congratulating you on your success in person. That's the power of Shak's Choice.

Monday, October 11


On discussing the pay gap between men and women as highlighted by the recent EHRC report:

wel .. it's like the whole wimbeldon thing. I still dont see why they should get paid the same as men. they play less hours, the tennis itself is not as exciting to watch. the only way i tihnk it woudl be worth it is if both the finalists were fit and waering skimpy clothes, but seeing as it's always the wiliams sisters .... i'll give that a miss

Saturday, October 9

Film: The Town Click for more info

I don't like Ben Affleck. I think he's a prat. He seems to only write and direct films that make him look good, which then makes him a bigger prat. The Town is one such film, and seems created just for Ben to get a shag, be an anti-hero, pout a bit and then reform. Like I said: prat.

Putting aside my deep hatred for Ben, we're left with an okayish crime thriller. Nothing unusual happens in this story about a bunch of bank robbers (they rob banks), with the film choosing to be character rather than plot-driven. This proves to be a bit of a mistake since it's actually the action bits which prove to be the best parts, with the romance angle and serious acting kinda superfluous to it all.

So yes. Wait for the DVD and forward all the quiet bits and you'll be sure to enjoy it.

Saturday, October 2

Film: Back to the Future Click for more info

Listing your most favourite film ever is a recurring debate amongst friends. And where others always name a classic - Das Boot, Star Wars, The Godfather, Schindlers and Shawshanks - I've always considered Back to the Future to be mine, although I would only have admitted to this relatively recently; for some reason it never seemed as epic as the other options presented.

But I finally realised that, for me, BTTF was more than just a film. It was more a marker in my memory of a childhood I loved. From the freebie BTTF paraphernalia found in my Shreddies (which totally worked - I've had Shreddies for breakfast ever since), to watching a preview of the film on breakfast television, to going to watch movies with my dad and brother.

But aside from personal reasons to love the film, it was also a throwback to a period of time when films were fun to watch. It wasn't just the Spielberg touch, although he did have a lot to do with it. Heroes, romance, action, coolness, fun were what these films were about. Watching BTTF was when I first realised that science was cool, that it's okay and even cool to think about weird stuff like time travel and paradoxes.

Which is why I was almost dumbstruck when I saw the poster for the impending re-release of BTTF. I didn't care about digital remastering; this was the chance to watch one of my most loved films on the big screen. Although we've definitely watched the last two on the big screen, I can't quite remember if we went to watch the original, but either way I knew I had to watch it.

I never thought I'd be writing about the film here. It also makes it difficult to review with any kind of objectivity, so I probably won't bother too much. The acting is wonderful, the script fabulous (I often quote the film), the plot magnificent, the direction amazing and even the score is brilliant (walking down streets, I still randomly hum it while imagining myself on a skateboard). The lessons taught and the morals presented are all spot on.

Watching it on the big screen didn't uncover the new details I expected the experience to. There were a few new nuances I hadn't picked up before, but nothing more than what usually happens during a rewatch. I still fancy the original Wells' Jennifer (well as much as Shue anyway), Marty is still my hero (I want to skateboard and play the guitar too!) and the whole Lorraine fancying her kid still messes with my head. And yes, I still cheered when George takes out Biff. I still fantasize about meeting my future missus like that (yes, yes, I know I'd probably get a broken nose instead).

I was grinning throughout and merely recommending this would be doing it an injustice.

Friday, October 1

New Music

Bandslam - Bandslam

Although not strictly a musical there is plenty of themes on Bandslam OST. My picks include the cover of Everything I Own, Someone to Fall Back On, Amphetamine (all by the made up band I Can't Go On, I'll Go On) and Where Are You Now (by Honor Society).