Tuesday, December 9

Book: Lord of Chaos, Robert Jordan Click for more info

Before I start with the review proper, there are a few observations I'd like to note. Firstly, it has now been (well) over a year since I started the Wheel of Time series. That's a long time to read any series, and although I suppose it is yet to top GoT I am still under half way through.

Secondly I just found out that this volume, Lord of Chaos, was published in 1995. That's like 20 years ago. For context, the Wheel of Time series as a whole completed this year. I'm not quite sure how or even if I could have travelled with a story over that much time, but it does feel like I'm cheating. With a time machine.

Lord of Chaos itself was a strange book. Like some of the other so far, it felt like it had a big middle rather than a proper flow of start-middle-end; it's a pattern I've come to expect now. Climaxes do occur though - usually ones which catapult the story - so it's not all bad.

I'm still finding the reading quite hard; I have to reread quite often to get my head around what was actually being said and if I'm totally honest I don't think I even grasp all the characters and politics fully. But thankfully the book does work on many levels so I don't even feel like I'm missing out too much.

All in all LoC was a good chapter in the saga that is enveloping my literary world - and for once I want to actually race on to book 7 straight away instead of picking up something else in between.

Thursday, December 4

SMBC Click for more info

I'm not saying I'm old, but...


Wednesday, December 3

Film: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 Click for more info

Maybe I'm just becoming cynical, but these deliberate stretches of books into movies are beginning to grate a bit. I mean there really isn't much happening in Mockingjay Part 1 that could have been edited out in a longer single film but hey, I suppose ticket sales are key now.

Still, the film (and its predecessors) is better than the (half-) book, and I suppose for that I am thankful. Jennifer Lawrence is watchable of sorts and the rest of the case supports her well; it's just a shame it labours more than it really needs to.

Hopefully this would be addressed in the next (and final?) film, so for the sake of continuation and completeness I suppose I will have to recommend this, albeit begrudgingly.

Saturday, November 22

Food: Hoi An Click for more info

It's hard to believe that it's been over two years since I visited Vietnam, but on of the things that I do remember is how easy we had it, food wise. I'm not that much of a fussy eater but with that ingrained preconception of far east food those of us who are Muslim or Pakistani (or both) have, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the cuisine we came across during our tour.

Which makes me wonder why it's taken so long to find Hoi An, a halal Vietnamese joint right here on my front step. Now if I'm totally honest I can't really make any claims to the authenticity of the place - I'm far from discerning enough to specify that - but the food tonight was just as good and enjoyable as I remember it being. I stuck to the relatively simple prawn pancake and chicken curry dishes, and they were both sublime in their simplicity.

If there was one complaint it was that of the price: £20 quid a head put today's food miles away from what we had in Vietnam as part of the fun of eating there was the embarrassingly low cost to eat. I guess it was cheaper than a plane ticket, but I can't help but feel it could have been more appropriately priced given the experience. Still, I would go back and I suppose in that sense Hoi An is recommended.

Friday, November 14

Film: Happy New Year Click for more info

It was an especially good year in 2013 for Deepika fans - so it went without saying I was going to see Happy New Year. That said I'm not a total Deepika fanboy: I still haven't watched Finding Fanny for instance, but this film has been on the radar for a while now so was pretty much unavoidable. That's in spite of my misgivings of what appears to be yet another ugly Farah Khan film. But hey, that video alone would have been worth the ticket entry alone.

But what's this? It turns out that Happy New Year wasn't actually that bad after all. In fact it was more than pretty good - it most certainly ranks as one of the funniest Bollywood films I've seen. Yes there are bad bits, but not enough to ruin the film. And yes, that video was a highlight, but even I would have to admit that the remaining DP scenes came second to the giggles the rest of the film had to offer.

It didn't even feel like the three hours it ran for. I wouldn't call HNY a work of art, but as something to enjoy on a rainy grey winter evening it hits the spot and then some. Recommended!

Tuesday, November 11

Film: Interstellar Click for more info

I always hold a level of fear while going to watch a new Christopher Nolan film. That OCD-like behaviour I portray in other spheres of life tends to manifest while watching films too, which means I need to know everything about what happens, the mystery has to work out and everything needs to fall into place. That's not to say that I'm bothered by loose ends - it's never my fault if a script sucks (I'm looking at you, Equilibrium) - but it does bother me when I know it's my lack of concentration or ability to follow that's lacking.

Which brings us to Nolan. The wonderful thing about his films is how watertight they are. Everything makes sense (well within the bounds of the fiction his films are set in), all the pieces fit and the payoff when it all clicks together is almost always ecstatic. The downside is, of course, how damn difficult it is to watch a Nolan film to it fullest extent. I'm still not sure I understand Inception fully and the last time I watched The Prestige I think I picked up at least a handful of new insights. Nothing comes for free I guess.

Interstellar is a great film for both old and new reasons. It has the same multilayered, multidimensional (is there any Nolan film that doesn't play with the passage of time?) and puzzle box feel to it, yet appears to be the most accessible Nolan film to date. There's no head scratching here - okay fine, perhaps I'm overestimating the general level of physics knowledge out there, but I really don't think the science jargon was as much a barrier as, I dunno, dreaming within dreaming or running a film backwards. Even less so for all the trekkies and Whedon geeks out there for whom this will all be par for the course.

But Interstellar was also an action film, a character drama and, okay fine, a space opera (of sorts). You didn't need to put down your popcorn to concentrate if all you wanted was a good story. It was there.

There were flaws though. Some of the answers to the puzzles were a bit weak for Nolan, a result I feel of the lower cost of entry, and the whole thing just didn't feel as water tight as his previous films. Rather than see that as a step back however, I think its a sign of a maturing film maker who has realised enjoyment doesn't necessarily come from making your audience work very hard.

At the end of the day Interstellar is a brilliant film and one that has to be watched. Recommended.

Saturday, October 25

Food: Ariana Click for more info

I think the fatigue any Londoner has with Persian food is well deserved - I'm still waiting for the identikit cuisine to best fish and chips or curry or whatever the nation's current love is, but I don't think it'll take too long. As such there's really not much to say about Ariana really; you'll already know what to expect as you would have tasted it all before.

However what made Ariana different was the subtly brilliant time we all had. Eating out isn't necessarily always about the food (most certainly not for a non-foodie like myself), and it says a lot that we were able to enjoy our time there for over three hours on a Saturday night, lounging away on the staged platform seating. There's not many places a party of six or so could have done that, so Ariana does get major credit for creating such an ambience.

Oh and yes, the food was okay too - generous portions didn't have us wanting for more, although at 8 quid for a main no points were won for any special level of value. But the desserts sucked so you may want to avoid those.

Otherwise I can't think of any place local where we would have had such a lazy and enjoyable time and for that alone Ariana comes recommended.

Wednesday, October 15

Food: Le Chef Masgouf Click for more info

So apparently there aren't many Iraqi restaurants in London - they're all more Persian or Lebanese - which might explain why I was excited to check out the venue today, recommended by an Iraqi friend. I guess it was my own ignorance of cuisine that meant I couldn't really tell the difference: as far as I could tell it was the same humus for starters and the same mixed grill served with the same rice for mains that we received. That wasn't an issue in itself as it had been a while since I enjoyed such a menu - and on top of that the food turned out to be rather good stuff. Tasty and juicy in the exact right ways, I even embraced the grilled meat and chops, the bits that I usually avoid.

As the meal was paid for I can't quite comment on price, but in terms of food it was all solid and a good alternative to the usual fare you'd get a few metres away in Edgware Road (spit).

Monday, October 6

Food: Jimmy's World Grill Click for more info

Oh dear. Three consecutive buffets in three consecutive months? Even if you take account of the fact I didn't review the few places I have already written about that I visited in between the three buffets, that's still a pretty poor show. I won't be offended if you walk away now.

On the other hand, it does put me in a pretty good position to compare - a sort of buffet veteran as it were. I now know how to navigate the tables, how to pace myself for maximum taste and variety, and where to focus my attention on in order to experience the largest range of food possible in the given two hours or so these places think it's normal to allocate.

So Jimmy's then? Well it was decent I suppose. It had a middling range of food, most of which was halal. The quality varied but most was above average - the mexican stand was a pretty novel idea. Desserts were above average too, although the gimmicks like an ice cream machine and chocolate fountain were available to make it seem we were getting more than we actually were.

Service and atmosphere were both okay - this place was noisier than JRC so probably more suited to larger parties. The cost was also pretty decent, coming to around 14 quid for the session.

Out of the three I've most recently visited Jimmy's most certainly wasn't the worst - I guess the decision to go lies on those intangible things like mood and company. However just like the other places I can't quite bring myself to recommend it fully; I guess you just have to accept buffets as a part of the food scene now.

Wednesday, September 24

Book: Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn Click for more info

Yes fine, I'll admit it - I only read this book because of the upcoming film release. I guess it's a kind of bandwagon jumping, although I did resist reading when most of the London Underground was so there's a bit of a moral victory there. But of course I had already decided it for what it was: a trashy populist thriller aimed at the common denominator of readers - the type who feel clever because they're reading something off a paper page and not an iPhone screen.

But what's this? I was... wrong? Well let's start at the beginning. Gone Girl has some pretty decent levels of the stuff I look for in a book - characterisation - it's almost even a bit too much as the main protagonists exceed reality and become a little caricature at times. But still I have to applaud the author for creating character so refreshingly deep and multilayered, and in fact it's the depth of character that the book rides on for the most part; the plot is a little shifty, although the writing standard itself is sound.

But toward the middle of the book it all starts going terribly wrong. As genius as the "method writing" of the author is (I actually reckon she might be a little unhinged in real life), the cracks do start to show as the plot fails to keep up with the people portraying it. In fact it all reduces to something a bit feminist and propaganda-ry by the end of it, and that's not even mentioning the ending which by all measures was just a cheat.

It's a shame actually because for me it was just enough to spoil the book. It was great while it lasted, but ultimately the prophecy came to pass and Gone Girl did turn out to be just another trashy page turner designed to please the masses. Ironically though I do think it'll make a better film.

Wednesday, September 17

Food: JRC Global Buffet Click for more info

In a town full of generic identikit all you can eat buffets, anything different can immediately be seen as something really special. Take JRC Global Buffet for instance - it's huge for one, quite well done up for another, and at first glance has a pretty decent range of food to pick from. There were Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese and Continental kitchens, each with the staple, if not comprehensive, dishes that you would expect to find.

But looks can be deceiving, and things start unravelling a little for a Muslim visitor when they realise that not everything is halal - the Chinese in particular appeared off limits. But still there was plenty to compensate; in particular I don't think I've been to a buffet that has sushi and teppanyaki - I think I saw staff walking around with a stick of BBQ too at one point. The quality of food was more decent than otherwise - surprisingly the beef lasagne was worth the entry price alone. Desserts were also of a decent nick and range, although I was a little rushed for time so didn't get to investigate as much as I'd like to.

Otherwise this was pretty standard stuff, albeit if a little above average. At £15.99 it was priced on par, and even the drinks were of a decentish value.

I'd definitely like to visit again at some point, at which point I'd hope there would be slightly more of a choice. As it stand though JRC is a good effort in a sea of mediocrity.

Saturday, September 13

Burq Off Click for more info

On paper Burq Off didn't stand a chance - an autobiographical one woman play telling the story of her repressed upbringing in a Pakistani family home and her coming of age rebellion as she discovered her sexuality (amongst other things) while living away for uni. Sigh etc. And yes if I'm honest I really didn't have much more than contempt for the cliché (and I guess by implication Nadia) itself.

And yet I came away having really enjoyed the show. The reason? Well it turns out that Nadia Manzoor is actually good - really good - at what she does now: theatre. Putting aside the genius and talent that comes with a one actor show (the final character count was 21 which is pretty impressive), she was brilliant at taking on the disparate roles and evoking emotion in us, the audience. In fact it went so far that at times it was quite confusing - we were supposed to feel bad for her when she was laughing? Laugh at her when she was crying? It was a bit of a roller coaster at time, and I found myself mentally tripping up quite a few times. I think intense was the word I immediately used when talking about the show afterwards.

So I guess for me Burq Off was just another example of raw talent shining through bad content. I'm perfectly fine with that - after all, it's not like Manzoor's next show will be telling the same story.

Tuesday, September 2

Film: Lucy

I really enjoyed Limitless, the film agaisnt which Lucy will always be compared. And for a while it fared pretty well - the only thing better than watching an everyday Joe gain superpowers is watching an attractive Jane do the same.

However the Besson craziness does kick in pretty soon (at under 90 minutes, it has to), and by around two thirds of the way through the film embraces the abstract and goes a little nuts. That's not fundamentally a bad thing and I'm sure the arty types will love that, but I personally preferred the plot led approach of Cooper's version.

Still, that's not to say Lucy was a bad film and I have no qualms in recommending it.

Monday, September 1

Book: The Fires of Heaven, Robert Jordan Click for more info

And yet another chapter closes in the saga that is The Wheel of Time. Characters have levelled up, geographies have transformed and plots developed. TFoH was a comfortable read: it's come to the point where I was successfully guessing the themes and pages to come - but don't get me wrong, that isn't to say that the book was formulaic or predictable either.

One of the downsides of cramming on a saga like this is that you don't get a chance to absorb and develop as the characters do - they have been written to unfold and develop over years rather than months and so the transformations they have gone though can be jarring for someone like me who is reading them back to back. But that's a minor, almost tenuous complaint really, although I have to say I was vastly irritated by one of the lead characters (I'm almost certain that was by design).

A cracking book and series, I'm left looking forward to six.

Saturday, August 23

The Decade

Although most people don't realise it, ten is a pretty arbitrary number - a consequence of biology and cosmic design, it's simply because we have five digits on each hand that we picked ten for the first double digit value. But regardless of the reasons why, it's generally accepted to be an important number, and so here I am writing a post on what is the tenth birthday of this blog. Ten years since that first post. Crikey, I honestly didn't expect it to last this long and reaching this far invokes that paradoxical feeling where although the start seems like such a long time ago, it also feels so familiarly close.

Radio Shak has already been the longest project I've ever been involved in for a while now - longer than all my jobs put together, longer than any hobby I've participated in; heck it's outlasted many of the friendships I've had; which is sad if only because it's also appears to be pretty normal. On the other hand I can count many of my current friends as somehow being found via these pages, directly or indirectly, so perhaps this is just a symptom of the future.

As has been the theme in the previous few anniversary posts, I've all but accepted that this is what my blog will be now: mostly restaurant and film reviews (the hatred of which makes up the totality of any explicit feedback I've received) with perhaps the odd opinion piece every now and then.

Yes there will always be those fifty odd drafts I have saved which I might one day get back to completing, but they mostly seem oh-so-outdated now; as much as I like to deny it I suppose I am a different person from who I was a decade ago. On the other hand I'm reading the first few posts and maybe I'm not that different after all. Whatever the reality, I did (reasonably) think that my life would be different to how it has turned out, and that in all the obvious ways - in fact I think it was when I realised that change wasn't necessarily going to be the case that the steam might have run out here; perhaps that's also when I felt that I no longer needed to express myself in this particular way either (much to the joy of the friends I leveraged for my ranting instead).

So here it is, a decade of my ramblings. It might even be the milestone at which to stop, but I don't think there's any need for an action as dramatic as that - judging by the way the Internet is going I suspect it's more likely that Google will make that particular decision for me. On the other hand who knows, maybe I'll decide to focus more on my writing this year? I wouldn't bet on it though; after all, ten is nothing but an arbitrary number really.

Wednesday, August 20

Film: Guardians of the Galaxy Click for more info

Although GOTG was first pitched as "the other" Marvel comic book film, there is a lot that made it fit in quite well with its phase 1 and 2 movie siblings. We had the familar humour, action and plotlines that made the others so enjoyable to watch, although yes it has to be said that this film did deliver heavy on the funny - okay most of it was of the deadpan "but seriously" kind but it was refreshing in a self aware way.

The cast was good too - well, what you could see of them. Pratt had the charming rouge down to a T, Saldana was hot even in green, and the rest of the support, although heavily laden in makeup and CGI were hilarious and interesting and actually rather deep.

If I have one complaint it's that the film went a bit too fast for me - both the action and plot had me scratching my head at times, but overall it wasn't enough to spoil it and I think it was paced fairly well.

Of course you're going to watch this regardless of what I say, but hey, I'll recommend it anyway. You know, for completion.

Sunday, August 17

Food: Nawaab Click for more info

Ah Nawaab. The crutch on which all visiting Mancunians rest. I mean sure, I was lucky enough to have visited Manchester in the 90's when Wilmslow Road was actually something to boast about, and I still have a soft spot for the kobdeh at Rusholme Chippy. But 15 odd years is a long time and a lot can and does change in that time. Food is now London's forte, unless you're from Manchester and have enough pride to delude yourself.

Take Nawaab as an experiment. This is a wildly acclaimed joint in Manchester, the place that needs to be on the list of anyone who wanted to check the culinary credentials of the place. And yes, it's not half bad. In Manchester.

But take the place out of it's comfort zone and place it in the different context that is London and you see exactly how it ranks. And that is: not very well. The food was oily, the atmosphere cheap, the choice (Nawaab is a buffet) limited, the price unimpressive (£20 per head), the service poor... there really wasn't anything that made Nawab anything more than adequate really. I can think of at least five places across London that beat it.

And so there you have it: conclusive enough proof that Manchester doesn't really have the nicest Indian food in the UK, at least not any more. Not that that has anything to do with Nawab itself - no for that, I simply leave you with a recommendation to skip.

Tuesday, August 12

Film: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Click for more info

Apes! With guns!

That pretty much sums up Dawn, although yes, I guess there was a political plot of sorts somewhere too. The simplicity of the film worked in its favour though - there wasn't much to dislike and overall it had a lot of balance and good pace. The visuals were pretty outstanding - I often forgot I was looking at computer generated imagery and believed that there were talking apes in the world.

It wasn't as good as the first one, but that's okay. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 6

Food: Roast @ E7 Click for more info

Apparently the spin off of a very popular and successful take away in East Ham, Roast does well in the now too common "Muslim bros do meat" category. A bit too well I suppose; as such there aren't many surprises here. We have the same BBQ chicken wings everyone else does, the same burgers and chips, and of course the same milkshakes. The quality of food was well above average, and my half pounder (comprising of two quarter pounder patties) was deceptively simple - it actually was one of the best burgers I had in the recent spate of attempts I've had over the past year or so. Even my friend's doner was pretty awesome.

However due to its typical menu and layout Roast did struggle to differentiate. I guess the nasheeds playing in the background was an original touch (if you're into that sort of thing) and it was great to have a quite corner in which to pray when we needed to. Location is pretty good too, with it providing convenience to the meat eaters of Wanstead, although there is a BBQ Express next door.

Pricing was very confusing, and that to the detriment of the place. Most mains were listed at under a fiver - a price that didn't include a side. This puts Roast firmly in the "amusingly expensive, who do they think they are" section - but it was the half pounder at a quite insulting £8 that really made this a place I probably won't return to. The total price for the evening was £15 each, which is at least a fiver more that what I would have otherwise wanted to pay. The pricing confused me as far as to prompt me to actually ask the owner what it was based on. He all but indicated that it was arbitrary - which isn't as crazy as it sounds in a world where people are paying up to a tenner for "gourmet" burgers.

It's a real shame, because with some tweaks this place could be a great hit. As it stands I fear it will just attract those with more money than sense.

Sunday, June 22

The ICSS BBQ, 2014

I'm not sure why I stopped writing about the ICSS BBQs - the last post was made way back in 2009. I've been to all of them except for one, and it's been interesting to see how each year had evolved from the last - the last few have been quiet, intimate affairs, and for some of us for the better.

We decided to throw open the doors again this year to celebrate the tenth year of ICSS - a pretty amazing feat in itself - and it was good to see the old faces and new all coming together to, well, stuff their faces. We were obviously out of practise hosting such a large event as the flow of meat dried up at times. But it was all worth it as always, and I like to think the guests were forgiving of us. I do think that we broke some kind of record with the sheer amount of cake we had though.

But otherwise we had the usual face painting, henna, cake decorating and bouncy castle slide as well as the not so typical in the form of Silkroad playing some live music. The sister school CWSS was also on duty providing some much needed help.

I guess all that was left to do is start the countdown for the next decade's anniversary. Good times until then.

Food: Bounce Click for more info

Okay this might be a bit of a cheat here - although I had a pizza dinner here Bounce isn't primarily a restaurant, but what I can only call a "ping pong" bar. I didn't count the exact number but you're basically in a room full of table tennis, uh, tables and loud music, the idea being to have a bat around while chilling with friends. They even had ultraviolet lights at one point.

It certainly was novel and if I'm honest... not that pricey if the group is big enough. Unfortunately the music was way too loud which kinda defeated the purpose of having too many people there. The food (which pretty much consisted of pizza) was decent if a touch overpriced, so all in all Bounce is probably a place to try rather than frequent.

Aamer Rahman: The Truth Hurts Click for more info

I'm happy to accept my reputation as a cynical hater when it comes to fun stuff, and my ability to analyse anything to death comes secondary to genuinely not accepting the usual Facebook/Twitter fodder as anything of quality. But brown comedians get a special mention here - I just don't think they're funny. I've already attempted to explain why elsewhere - the built in censorship, the fear of offending an unsophisticated and immature audience, the lack of originality - but in all honesty I don't care enough to have to explain it: brown comedy just isn't funny. Well, except for Aziz Ansari (I hope).

But it's not fair for me to introduce Aamer Rahman with a diatribe of my own issues. He describes himself as a political comedian, something I haven't yet had a chance to see live, so there is that. And there were some genuine belly laughs throughout: there's no doubt about it, Aamer is a charming guy. On the other hand, it did feel like he was holding back a lot of the time (I think he dropped the f-bomb once) and yes, not only had a lot of the jokes already been made in groups of friends, but most of the political points too. There's something about a guy on stage complaining about how we all have to apologise for terrorism that feels so patronising. Where's the depth? The irony is that in the few moments Aamer had to improvise or react he was actually funny. Maybe that's the trick here.

So yes, a decent night out but not really one that lasts in my mind. Still, at least it gave the audience something to tweet about - amusingly at least five people in the audience claimed to "know" Aamer. You gotta love social media, eh?

Thursday, June 12

Film: 22 Jump Street Click for more info

If a film could be deemed schizophrenic, 22 Jump Street most certainly would. Just like the first one, I couldn't quite place my finger on whether this was a spoof, a situation comedy or improv - it was probably all three, a fact alone that makes this a unique film (well, again, apart from the first one).

But my confusion regarding the film doesn't end in trying to classify it: I honestly don't know if I enjoyed it or not. The good bits were really good, the bad pretty poor, and at time it laboured the point (some of which were comic genius - like the self deprecating references that they were in a sequel cash in) oh so much.

Hmm. So I guess I'll recommend this, but perhaps only for DVD.

Tuesday, June 10

Book: 2 States: The Story of My Marriage, Chetan Bhagat Click for more info

Oh man. I generally have the belief that books which make it out of their native lands do so on merit. Not so with 2 States, a book about two kids' struggle with their love marriage.

I guess such a concept isn't really novel here in the UK: we've been exploiting the theme for the past thirty years (even overdoing it in the past decade as Muslim women decided to use their newly found literary freedom to write about love and how the guys they were matched with always seemed to suck).

If I sound crabby it's because I'm just so bored of the genre. But the book is just too clichéd and predictable to be labeled a sell out. I tried enjoying it as a trash novel but even that didn't work, because not only is it badly written (Twilight was a masterpiece in comparison) but the characters were one dimensional and, well, boring. They did make me feel like punching them each in the face, so I guess some emotions were evoked.

Those who don't read much (read: Brown people) will love this, just as they lapped up GGM and got excited with the Ferreiras. For those who actually care about what they read this is definitely one to skip. On the other hand, the film adaptation has Alia Bhatt in it so I'm looking forward to watching that. Silver linings, eh?

Thursday, June 5

Food: Olives and Figs Click for more info

Just when I thought there could not possibly be any more room in London for yet another generic Turkish, here I go. There really wasn't much I liked about Olives and Figs; the service was poor, the place cramped, the food unsubstantial - even the price made no effort to redeem coming to a princely 20 quid per head for starters and mains.

Yes, I had a fun night but that was more due to the company than the place, although I do suppose there aren't many restaurants who would be willing to host a rowdy bunch of fifteen so I guess that's one silver lining. Otherwise move on - there's nothing to see here.

Tuesday, June 3

Film: Edge of Tomorrow Click for more info

Yes, it is exactly as you think: EoT is just Groundhog Day with futuristic guns. And despite the exoticness of time travel there's not quite that much originality here. If you're expecting Star Trek then prepare to be disappointed.

On the other hand, as a film EoT is pretty solid. It's well paced, looks great and has some charm courtesy of Cruise and the lovely Emily Blunt. The plot develops well - it would have been very easy to waste the context here - and the payoff is decent. There may have been a bit of an issue with the ending, but it's forgivable enough given the rest of the film.

Thoroughly enjoyable, EoT gets a reccomendation from me.

Friday, May 30

M.F. Husain: Master of Modern Indian Painting Click for more info

Tonight's random cultural visit was to the Victoria and Albert to see an exhibition of works by M.F. Husain. The first adjective I thought of when I saw the preview on the web was "fun", and seeing the pieces live proved that - with vivid colours and an almost cubist yet accessible style. Yes, I suppose it was modern art, but I understood what was going on anyway.

I learned that Husain started his career painting Bollywood cinema movie posters, which I suspect explains why they appealed; you can see the influence once you know it's there.

The only downside of the exhibition was the length - it was pretty much over within ten minutes. If you're in the area then it's definitely worth a look, but unfortunately it's just not enough to warrant a trip to see.

Film: X-Men: Days of Future Past Click for more info

The premise itself was sound: a tie up of all the various X-Men movies done right would have been quite the coup. Add time travel (otherwise known as "how to get away with rebooting") and we have all the ingredients of a classic comic book flick of Avenger proportions.

Alas Days falls slightly short of its potential. I wouldn't call it a bad film, but it is certainly a wasted opportunity. The old guard is underused, as is the context, and I was just kept wanting for more for most of it. The last 45 minutes or so do redeem the movie somewhat, but it all ends up being passable rather than great.

It's more disappointing than bad though, and if you are a comic book junkie then you'll definitely enjoy this anyway.

Thursday, May 29

Book: The Shadow Rising, Robert Jordan Click for more info

And suddenly it clicks - and the sheer scale The Wheel of Time will present became apparent for me in this, the fourth book in the series. We're given a peak behind the curtain in this volume - enough for me to be very excited at the prospect of reading the ten or so more books to come. It actually threw me back to the the handful of JRPGs I played when younger - with headspinning layers upon layers of plot, character and development, all presented in a way that all but forces you to invest in the long game. I actually wouldn't be surprised if some JRPGs borrowed from WoT's storytelling techniques.

As a book The Shadow Rising does drag a little (it's the longest so far in the series), but it's all essential I suppose and does more than enough to whet the appetite. And as far as epics go I'm still pretty early in the whole thing; I can't even guess what's to come.

Wednesday, May 21

Film: Godzilla Click for more info

Let's face it: the version that was released way back in 1998 (which, for those of you in denial was 16 years ago) wasn't that great. It was more a showcase of special effects, the type of shallow film that was gaining traction back then and one we haven't really managed to shake off since. Any newer version was always going to be better, but even so I was expecting some bad things today.

Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed the film. Yes, it was still pretty shallow and a good showcase of special effects, but it managed to handle that inevitability by fully embracing the b-movie heritage from which it draws. There wasn't much emotional baggage here, no forced depth of characters, and although there wasn't quite enough Monster fighting for my liking, I didn't seem to mind as that gap wasn't filled by the film makers trying too hard to overcompensate (Pacific Rim, I'm looking at you).

So yes, a jolly good romp and one that I recommend at least for a home viewing.

Tuesday, May 20

Food: StickyWings Click for more info

Most times it's the simple things that work the best. Take StickyWings: not only is it exactly what it says on the tin but also does it so well, and any misgivings I had over a place that only did chicken wings were immediately dismissed when our order arrived.

The simple nature of place didn't limit it though - I can see this as a place for the guys, for mixed groups and for dates. The food was solid and fulfilling, and 20 quid worth of chicken and sides was more than enough for the three of us guys who were eating tonight.

Alas the pessimistic in me can see exactly where StickyWings is heading though - either it'll go under because people will dismiss it or it will become super popular and start cutting corners. It hasn't happened yet, so I'll be sure to be checking it out as much as possible before it does. Totally recommended while it lasts and for me a brilliant alternative to the current spate of "American burger diner bars" cropping up every five minutes.

Thursday, May 15

Food: Notting Hill Kitchen Click for more info

I've not had the chance to try tapas for a good while now - not since 2007 according to these pages, so I was especially looking forward to tonight. I was fortunate enough to be invited once more to a foodie meet-up (and yes, I feel dirty just saying that) at the Notting Hill Kitchen, an almost boutique like joint hidden in plain site in, well, Notting Hill.

Being in such a suave and quiet central London location, the experience started before you even enter the restaurant - you just know this would be a place where the classy and sophisticated go to eat, and in fact I found it a little awkward spoiling the vibe with our oversized and pretty rowdy party. On the other hand I would imagine it being perfect for smaller, more intimate groups, with the maze like layout of the place providing plenty of nooks and crannies in which to embed.

The food was good - well, what I could eat of it as a good 30% of it was meat based (usually pork). That was the fault of the set menu of course - I'm pretty confident that the restaurant has fish and veggie options too. What I did eat was pretty fun - the mini fish burgers and doughnuts placing high in my picks of the evening.

So a pretty interesting place albeit not for large groups - I'm also not able to comment on the price since I didn't pay - but it's definitely somewhere worth checking out if you happen to be in the area on a lazy Sunday lunchtime.

Wednesday, May 14

Food: Meat And Shake Click for more info

Oh Tinseltown, what have you done? Okay, perhaps it's a little unfair to blame what I see as the veteran place for the "fancy burger" epidemic we're currently facing, but I don't remember ever seeing this pseudo-genre of food much before the late nineties. And it would be fair to say that these later ones are an evolution on Tinseltown - they certainly are when it comes to price - but I have to say so far I've been disappointed with most of them. And alas despite the hype coming out of South London about the place, Meat and Shake is no exception.

It all comes down to style over substance - the place does pretty well if all you want to do is take pictures of food and post them on Facebook, or check into whatever app the kids are checking into nowadays. But when it comes to the real point of a restaurant - the food - M&S falls short of the mark. And not before robbing you of a decent amount of wonga too. The whole experience was just so shallow... But I will give it some kudos for the few touches of originality it had on the menu (check out the rack of ribs for example).

But otherwise no, no recommendation here I'm afraid.

Sunday, May 11

Food: Molana Click for more info

"Persian food" has long since lost its effect in making my mouth water - the conclusion being that it would always ever just be bland Indian food. But after finding myself in Ealing and being taken to Molana, I think I've found a place that is not only a decent Iranian but also rather special.

It comes down to basics really - Molana scores top marks in the usual categories: generous portions, good service, a presentable environment. But where it really does amazingly well is in the sheer quality of the food. It was so good, I began to wonder where exactly they must have sourced their ingredients from.

And all this without a premium price - a decent meal won't cost more than 15 quid per head which, for what you get, is pretty good value.

The only downside is the location, but who knows? Maybe I can suggest the place on the way to the airport or something. Recommended.

Saturday, May 10

Food: Vapiano Click for more info

You know, I don't think I eat enough Italian food. Chinese, Indian and (for heaven's sake) Turkish always seem to be the default choices, which is a shame because I think I prefer Italian over most of those.

Whatever the case, it was refreshing to visit Vapiano tonight - the food was good and prepared in pretty novel style, right in front of where you queue to place your order. We went to the Bankside location which was clean and spacious, with some very polite if overworked staff. As as a bonus desserts were good too - and served in both small and large sizes which I considered a masterstroke. The bill was easy to swallow too, with my main and dessert coming to around 12 quid.

Vapiano isn't the most amazing places I've been to, but it's most certainly a solid choice and one I'll definitely go to again if passing.

Thursday, May 8

Film: Bad Neighbours Click for more info

Acting seems like fun. But of all the actors I'm jealous of because of that fun, those who make films like Bad Neighbours top the list. That scatter-shot approach of "here's a context: now go nuts and don't worry about the camera" makes me realise that these guys aren't actually here to film anything; no, they're just having a party and a doss, and as a bonus are selling us the footage.

Because let's face it: we don't watch these films for the plot or the acting. We watch them to see Zac Efron's abs, hear jokes about pee pees and boobies and to witness the sublime Rose Byrne say mofo multiple times. This is pure slapstick, nothing more.

It's also a risky strategy, as slapstick can be very hit and miss. And although there were more than a few laugh out loud moments here, I don't think there were quite enough to carry the film the distance. That's a shame really, as all the ingredients were present and accounted for - they just weren't put together as well as they could have been.

One for a home viewing then.

Wednesday, May 7

Film: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Click for more info

It says a lot about the state of comic book cinema when you go into an adaptation expecting to hate it. Of course the plus side is that with the low expectations comes a better chance of enjoyment, and such was the case with The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Yes it was sappy (just like the first was, it seems), yes it was confusing and yes there was something quite smelly about the pacing.

But Emma Stone was great, the chemistry between Gwen and Peter electric, and there were some seriously thrilling moments. Whether there was enough to justify the film I'm still trying to figure out, but I do know that I enjoyed the film while it lasted.

So a tentative recommendation then? If you liked the first one, and can get through a couple of hours of wanting to punch Andrew Garfield in the face, then you should definitely check it out. The rest of you should wait for the DVD.

Monday, May 5

Superhanallah Click for more info

Speaking of class creativity that really hits the spot, I'm really loving the stuff that comes out of Superhanallah. Not only does he hate on the Internet and hate on Muslims, he also hates on Muslims on the Internet:

Of course the reason why he's so brilliant and astute has nothing at all to do with him not being brown. No way.

Friday, April 25

Because We're Crappy

Even if it does mean blowing my own trumpet I do see myself as the (if not, one of the) original proponent of seeing women in a hijab as human. But just to reiterate the more subtle point of that post, I wasn't excusing egregious behaviour but more arguing that the standards to which any person is measured should depend on more the specific attribute of whether a woman happens to have her hair covered or not.

I mean hey, it's not like I'm particularly modest or well behaved myself. A case in point: I love music way more than I should and I still have N.E.R.D.'s Lapdance on my track list and loved Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines (and not just because of that video). Both tracks happen to feature Pharrell Williams, someone who won't need any further introduction if you happen to be in that most wonderful and cherished of demographics - a Muslim on the Internet - right now.

But seriously, I'm really not sure what's the worst thing about this whole Hashtag Happy Muslims topic (and no, you won't find any links to the video here) that's keeping everyone so busy on Twitter and Facebook right now. The video itself was bad enough but at least that just made the makers of it look like fools, however the following halal vs haraam debate, although inevitable, made common folk like us really look dim and shallow. That debate was such a pointless distraction that I wonder if it was actually deliberate and strategic - perhaps it came for free with whatever paint-by-numbers media consultant was hired to advise on the video?

I can't write such strong words without actually explaining why the video really was such an awful thing, not just for Muslims, but for the universe as a whole:

  1. The insecurity and irony of it all. Just like their rich and religious counterparts, truly happy people really don't need to shout it out.
  2. And even if you did want to tell people how happy you were, creating videos backed by chart hits just smacks of tacky overcompensation. Happy people generally do not suck up either.
  3. It's inconsistent. If any of these guys and gals danced at a non-segregated (I'm pushing things, I know, but baby steps eh?) Muslim wedding, then maybe I'd give them a round of applause. If they instead made an exception for some media exercise, then no, sorry, you're fired.
  4. It should have at least tried to plausibly deny its political agenda loading. Even worse, the people behind the video seemed ready to fall on their swords and defend themselves before they had even published it. But hey, martyrdom is our thing I suppose.
  5. The only thing worse than the professional management of an idea is when that professional management tries to dress things up as a grass roots enterprise. At least be subtle about the spin - although admittedly this is harder to do when your KPIs are measured in "number of retweets and likes". But hey look - rock star imams, yay!
  6. The Internet sucks, and anything that relies solely on in will remain virtual and always lack credibility.
  7. For heavens sake stop making Islam a brand. I have no intention of buying your blummin' t-shirt.
  8. And finally, it's a bit outdated. There's a reason why we don't see happy happy joy joy United Colours of Benetton and Gap ads any more: they're lame.

There's more here on Fug's blog. And hey: all of the above is invalid and void if, as I'm still hoping it will be, the video turns out to be a massive joke and example of some genius satire.

You see, here's the thing. This isn't about religion or Being a Muslim™, but about our shocking level of creativity, depth and critical thought, the lack of which we so desperately seem to want to hang on to. The dumbing down and common denominating of such a rich way of life is disappointing at best, and it seems the only way we can think of making it accessible is by creating some kind of Islam-by-numbers, easy listening variant that also happens be easy on the eye.

The consequences of this are both internal and external. Bandwagon jumping is obvious to all but those doing the jumping and as we continue to dumb ourselves down and volunteer for these self inflicted lobotomies, we push others away. On the other hand, the self harm comes in the form of us normalising our ever increasing shallowness. It's just so immature and not only unhealthy for us, but unattractive for those we may want to collaborate and work with.

The real shame is that we were doing pretty well for a bit. Outlandish are an excellent example of a truly creative and spiritual venture (although it doesn't count if you only liked Aicha because: OMG hijab). Real grass root initiatives like those from Imran JK (<3) and the much loved Rebel Muzik did more for us than this video ever will. But things seemed to have stagnated over the past decade as things like the GPU become the main event of the calendar with which we're all associated. Because, well, Islam innit.

The real measure of maturity, confidence and security of us as Muslims will come when we don't see these kind of stunts any more - when we'll be provoking instead of responding, actively pushing forward with society instead of actively defending ourselves against it. Will it come soon? Who knows, but I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, April 15

Film: The Raid 2 Click for more info

By what I assumed was design, the first Raid was a clinically pure and focussed beat em up action flick - that actually what made it great. As such, I had a feeling that the 2.5 hour runtime of its sequel would be a pivotal factor in it repeating that success: either the makers had managed to create 150 minutes of unadulterated bone crunching violence, or they had succumbed to the criticisms of the previous movie and decided to add irrelevances like "plot" and "characterisation".

And it turns out it was the latter, and unfortunately the film does indeed suffer for it. Granted a lot of that disappointment stems from wanting more of the amazing same that was delivered before, but even if we rebase our expectations and consider this a film in its own right, it does somewhat fall short of being the balanced film of action and depth that it strives to be. The plot is longwinded and, well, boring, with characters being manufactured out of nowhere just to progress it. It all makes for a film that doesn't seem to recognise it's own worth.

On the bright side the fluff is superfluous to, and not instead of, the real goods so with patience you do eventually get rewarded. The film is much more violent than the first, sometimes in a worse, more cringworthy way, but all that is excused for some amazing set pieces, some of which exceed that we saw before.

But alas the dilution is enough for me to recommend saving this one for a home viewing - who knows, perhaps by then there'll be the 90 minute edit this film really needs to be awesome?

Sunday, April 13

I Once Ran a Marathon

There are pivotal moments in every person's life which are so life changing they end up remembering them every year in the form of anniversaries. The obvious and generic ones are birthdays (which if you think about it might be more special for a parent than for a child) weddings and deaths, but there are many more which although more personal and intimate can be just as potent. The start of a new job maybe, or a season in which a Muslim performed a Hajj - perhaps even a house move. Some dates you just remember.

Today marks ten years[1] since I ran the London Marathon (back in the days when it was a Flora and not Virgin), and I've never understated exactly how much that day (as well as the six or so months leading up to it) had an effect on me. I could say that the lesson was that anything is possible with hard work or something, but I think what I actually learned was that everything in life has a cost, and the more major it is, the higher the cost. In those terms it's a pretty obvious statement to make, but then I guess most life lessons are.

Blogs (well this one for me anyway) are quite handy in that they catch the moment at its most raw; before one has time to process or even misremember it. I regret not having Radio Shak for many pivotal life events, but the two I do the most are the marathon that I ran and the Hajj that I performed. Still, I did manage to get a "one year later" post down, which captured part of what I was feeling at the time. On the other hand a part of me is disappointed with how hard I'm clinging on to the achievement, if only because this essentially implies that the last thing I managed to do of any great value was a decade ago - and that compounded by the fact that I don't really run any more at all.

But lament aside, I am proud of being in that club of people who have managed to run 26 odd miles in one go, and although I'm not quite sure where my medal is the whole day ten years ago does stay with me. Perhaps that's another reason why anniversaries are useful - to both remind us that not only is time always moving, but that it makes space for further achievements too.

[1] Well not exactly - we ran on the 18th of April in 2004.

Sunday, April 6

Sri Lanka, Day Fifteen: The Return

And there we have it, the end of my time in Sri Lanka. Just like the other wedding-cum-holidays I've been on (Australia, South Africa and Mauritius/Madagascar come to mind), this was a pretty complete and epic trip, consisting of friends, family, good times and some amazing travel. The people, food, natural scenery and overall vibe were all top notch and I honestly can't think of any downsides to the place. It would even make for a great honeymoon - it makes a great cultural compliment to a few days of relaxing in The Maldives for instance.

In all honesty Sri Lanka was never on any travel list of mine, and I'm very thankful for not only having a wedding to draw me to the country but also the opportunity of enjoying the place under such a wonderful context. My sadness at leaving is only consoled by a genuine desire to return (although perhaps without a wedding), and I've already begun to strongly recommend the place to everyone I talk to, and if you're reading this I really hope you consider checking it out in the near future.

Saturday, April 5

Sri Lanka, Day Fourteen: The Gap

And so it finally came - the last day of our tour. We decided to take it easy this morning and left the hotel at a relatively leisurely 10am, heading to the last major point on our itinerary, The Ella Gap. On the way we got to see the scenery we missed last night due to the rain and lack of light, but even those amazing views didn't prepare us for Ella - by this point I had given up trying to not be impressed by the things we saw. A small drive into the gap brought us to Ravana falls, which was nice too, but nothing beat sitting at the top of the gap in one of the hotels taking in the view with a milkshake.

Although we were running out of time (Colombo being over four hours drive away) we found it quite difficult to leave the area and managed to fit in both the Diyaluma and Bambarakanda Falls, each which had their own price to pay. Diyaluma was reached via a hour long drive on an under-developed road, which wasn't too fun but did present us with some more amazing views as well as the opportunity to visit some of the more smaller villages in the area.

Bambarakanda Falls required the use of rickshaws to get to a viewing point. In hindsight the whole plan turned out to be a bit of a disaster - further torrential rain, our rickshaw breaking down half way on the 20 minute trip and even leeches all made it a trip to remember - and considering how dry Sri Lanka had been over the recent weeks most of the waterfalls weren't as spectacular as they should have been (although sure, the aforementioned torrential rain did help a little with Bambarakanda).

But we eventually made the decision to make our way back to Colombo, tired, hungry, wet, but totally fulfilled with today and the whole tour. We got back to our hotel pretty late, hunted for dinner and got ready for bed, myself preparing for the flight I had back to London the next day.

All photos from today can be found here.

Friday, April 4

Sri Lanka, Day Thirteen: The World's End

Another unholy start meant we were out of our hotel and on the way to Horton Plains by 5:30 am. The main reason was to catch the trek at its best - visibility decreases as the day goes on - but for us we also wanted to be back in town for Jummah prayers. Early starts aside, the trek itself was worth it, if only to see the impossibly incredible sights from The World's End. I don't think my breath gets taken away too often but the sheer immensity of the gap was pretty gobsmacking. Also on show were waterfalls and other examples of natural beauty, and I strongly recommend anyone who visits Sri Lanka to make time on their schedule to check out the plains. Photos can be found here.

Although the trek is described as easy you do need to be of a decent level of fitness and surefootedness to get through it unscathed - oh and some sun protection as although the sun isn't particularly bright, it is searing. But complete it we did, although it turned out we should have left a little earlier as the normally 3-4 hour trek turned out to take a little more for our group. Still, a mad rush back to Nuwara Eliya ensured that we made it for Jummah on time, so it all turned out okay.

To treat ourselves we spent the afternoon checking out the Heritance Tea Factory (photos), a boutique hotel situated in the middle of yet more heavenly views. Although we had a lovely time having tea (which means milkshake for me) and cake, it was all too brief and another reminder of just how many shortcuts we were taking timewise during this tour. If only we had another couple of more days or so to plant ourselves in a hotel and relax - it would have been pretty great.

But alas it was time to say farewell to Nuwara Eliya and head to our final destination of Haputale - due to the lateness of travel we were cheated of the views, but what was even worse was the torrential rain that had decided to break during our drive - at time pretty scary. But we eventually made it to our hotel safe, if not a little damp.

Thursday, April 3

Sri Lanka, Day Twelve: The Tea

As we were not planning to stay for more than one night anywhere on this mini tour, early starts were vital to get the most out of the limited time we had. This morning we mopped up the remainder of Kandy, managing to visit both the Sri Dalada Maligawa (The Temple of the Tooth) and Kandy's Botanical Gardens (photos) before lunchtime. Both were pretty interesting and I would say unmissable in Kandy - get the timing right and you might get to see the Bhudda's Tooth enclosure like we did.

Kandy (photos) itself is a very pretty city, nestled in a valley leaving it a very magical and mysterious vibe - almost like it's a secret. I regret not being able to spend more time there actually, but alas we had to leave (oh, but not before visiting a "Gem Museum" - we managed to get away relatively unscathed).

Interestingly when previously asking around about Nuwara Eliya I seemed to get the exact same response from all Sri Lankans: That it's a little England, it's a bit cold, but the views you see on the drive there are pretty amazing. Starting from the last point, the views were pretty stunning, with vast tea fields, rolling mountains and hills and some of the most amazing vistas I've seen anywhere.

It got so much that there came a point where I gave up taking pictures because 1) there was always another similar or better view coming along, 2) pictures really didn't do much justice to what you could see and 3) I wanted to spend as much time experiencing them with my naked eyes than through a camera.

Speaking of tea, we did stop off at a tea factory where we saw how the stuff was produced, as well as given the opportunity to purchase some freshly packed tea.

But we finally arrived late in the afternoon. It turns out that the universal assessment of Nuwara Eliya was based on truth - between the British architecture and climate it really did feel like we were in a quaint little countryside village in England. We even managed to find the time to walk around town - it soon became clear that this was another place I wouldn't have minded spending a couple of nights in instead of just the one we had.

More photos of Nuwara Eliya can be found here.

Wednesday, April 2

Sri Lanka, Day Eleven: The Elephants

Okay so I lied - yesterday wasn't the end per se. Those of us who are still in Sri Lanka began our mini tour of the country this morning and it was in the early hours that we packed into a van to head to Kandy.

On the way we stopped at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, exactly what it says it is, and got to see a whole herd of elephants bathing and feeding by the river. Now I've certainly seen elephants before, usually in zoos and the like, but seeing so many of them so... free was quite special. You could almost feel the power these animals had. Going into full tourist mode we paid a few extra rupees in order to feed the animals, which was a surreal experience in itself.

More photos of the elephants at Pinnawala can be found here.

Since we were on an organised tour in Asia, we were fully expecting to be introduced/stitched up by various "cultural" shops along the way. The first of these was a herbal medicine shop where we were given a no obligation tour of a herbal garden and even a free massage before being given the hard sell. Judging by the amount we spent they seemed to have done a really good job (on us). I look forward to using the snake oil we were sold.

We eventually hit Kandy this evening where we caught a somewhat entertaining cultural show full of dance and acrobatics after which we called it a night and headed to our hotel. Oh and if you were looking for a place to stay in Kandy, the Earl's Regency is top notch.

Tuesday, April 1

Sri Lanka, Day Ten: The End

And so this was it: the last day on the wedding itinerary.

After an unholy start of the day in order to catch a dive this morning (which had actually turned out to be one of the best I have been on), the rest of the morning was spent lounging on the beach, dossing, joking and playing beach volley - hanging out for what would probably be the last time under such circumstances. It was nice but poignant - a lot happens in a wedding week to bring people together and it's a bit jarring when you face the reality of having things go back home.

But indeed after lunch back home (by which I mean Colombo) we did head. Our hosts provided us dinner (haleem: amazing) one more time, and then that was it: it was all over.

Monday, March 31

Sri Lanka, Day Nine: The Beach

As a further testament to exactly how well the baraat was being treated by our Sri Lankan hosts, we were all to be taken to a beach resort in Ahungulla for a couple of days and a night in which to bond, enjoy each other's company and bid our farewells - a sort of long winded but very much appreciated goodbye if you will.

The resort was, of course, beautiful, with a semi private beach we all spent way too much of today on. The Indian Ocean (which I've never actually stepped in before) was wonderful: just the right temperature to stay comfortable while popping in and out of, while the waves were of just the right level of thrilling and calm in which to have fun in. I don't think I've spent so much time in the sea before today.

We built castles and faces in the sand, drew diagrams and messages and even buried people. It was the kind of carefree fun that only really happens during that perfect moment after a wedding while on holiday (that is to say: not too often). Sunset eventually came, and with it showers and dinners.

The late evening was spent with all of us (so around 40 odd) playing games including quizzes, charades and truth or dare: more silly stuff that took us well into the morning of the next day. It really was Sri Lanka Good Times.

(Photos of my time in Ahungulla can be found here)

Sunday, March 30

Sri Lanka, Day Eight: The Valima

Another easy going day, with lunch hosted for my immediate family at the Colombo Club at The Taj. It was yet another great meal with great company (I lose count how many I've had this trip) and yet slightly poignant as it also marked the end of the first chapter of this trip: our time in Colombo.

Tonight's Valima at the Cinnamon Grand was the last of the wedding events and a nice way to end all the proceedings. Guests and family had started to leave by this point too so it was also a chance to say goodbyes and make promises to cement the new relationships and keep in touch - as well as maintain existing ones as by yet further chance I bumped into that honeymooning couple again (I think they were getting bored of serendipity by this point).

Saturday, March 29

Yasmin and Kashif

It's definitely a blessing having so many people around me getting married, but sooner or later there was bound to be a clash - in this case a total of three couples tying the knot in three different continents, all on the same day, meant I had to miss out on witnessing the celebrations. I guess I should be thankful that it hasn't happened before till now. If there was a way to have travelled the distances involved to attend all three I would have done so.

Yasmin is one of those pretty smart chicks who has the uncanny ability of being easy to talk to - I'm sure it has something to do with intelligence or being a good listener or something - and I've had a lot of wisdom from her over the years, particularly when it came to the whole game of finding a spouse. For sure, a part of me will miss the trading of stories and advice, but it's a small price to pay to see her on the other side.

My disappointment in missing Yasmin's wedding is only tempered by knowing how happy she is to marry Kashif, but the good news is that I'm sure I'll have the opportunity to catch up with them as they begin this amazing journey of theirs.

Imraan and Zeenat

Some friendships just naturally lend themselves to analysis. Take mine and Imraan's for example: we live a continent apart, have only met once (although that "once" did involve crashing at his place for a few days) and yet when we do talk it's like we're old friends (qualification: this may be one sided, but I don't care). Of course it helps that we have some things in common - a paradoxical blend of cynicism and optimism, that level of literacy and articulation that allows the efficient transfer of opinion and idea, and finally of course the innate ability to navel gaze. Sure we don't speak as often as we should, but when we do it's always fun.

Both this friendship and commonality make his marriage today particularly striking, and not least in a "if he can do it there's hope for the rest of us" way. Seeing him happy and excited makes me happy and excited, primarily for him but also for myself, and I expect to learn a lot from seeing Imraan get on with things. As is becoming way too common I haven't yet met Zeenat, but I am looking forward to doing so and I expect it will happen sooner rather than later.

My only regret is that I wasn't able to attend - but for sure it was only a family wedding in Sri Lanka that could have stopped me from doing so.

Sri Lanka, Day Seven: The Nikkah

And so, the day had arrived, the reason so many in the family had travelled (not that anyone was complaining - we had pretty much fallen in love with Sri Lanka by this point): the wedding day.

Midday was spent at the mosque witnessing the Nikkah, after which we began the mad dash to get ready for the wedding reception in the evening.

I don't think any of us could quite believe that only a week had passed - we had managed to cram a lot over the last seven days and it wasn't even over yet.

Friday, March 28

Sri Lanka, Day Six: The Lagoon

The wedding itinerary officially marked today as a "free day", which in we, in hindsight, should have exploited a bit. Instead a lazy start to head to Jummah, followed by an even lazier lunch before a meander to the Old Dutch Hospital for tea and small shopping resulted in the squandering of what time we had today - having said that I don't think anyone was complaining too much as it appeared we had pretty much exhausted most of the things to do in Colombo over the last week.

Dinner was at Lagoon, a wonderful fish restaurant at the Cinnamon Grand - most certainly the best food we had had in Sri Lanka so far.

Thursday, March 27

Sri Lanka, Day Five: The Culture

After the events of last night we decided to focus on a being tourists again, so as we gained confidence in the street of Colombo we walked the 30 minutes or so to the Colombo National Museum where we spent a couple of hours taking in the exhibits. It wasn't a particularly amazing museum, but given the time I would have spent some more there.

The rest of the day was pretty easy going. I caught a massage at the hotel which was... interesting (more so than the ones I had in Vietnam and Cambodia which I never thought possible). Buyer beware I suppose.

The evening was spent at the Peethi of the groom where all sorts of gate, slipper and messy mendhi games were played, including some of the most drawn out negotiations for the return of chappal I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Still, the food was awesome and we got to see someone being thrown in the pool so the late ending was worth it.

Wednesday, March 26

Sri Lanka, Day Four: The Dance

Another free day, and so we went into full tourist mode and grabbed rickshaws to the Galle Face Promenade for bit of a wander and lunch. Oh a bit of a warning regarding rikshaws: although you can choose to limit yourself to metered cabs only the chances are that your drivers will compensate by taking the scenic route to your destination. Having said that even inflated rikshaw fares are dirt cheap so you might just want to gloss over the con this time. After lunching at The (somewhat overrated) Gallery Café my family were then taken to The Kingsbury for pleasant company and high tea which was a wonderful way to spend the remainder of the afternoon before the busy evening ahead.

Tonight's mendhi marked the first event of the wedding proper. It was a ladies only affair in the main, during which the men were treated to a lake cruise with dinner and live singing which I thought was a genius stroke in the recent age where men usually get left out to dry in the frivolities. It was well received and much appreciated and I something I hope becomes the norm as people choose to maintain segregation during (mainly Muslim) wedding events. Anyway, rant over.

After the majority of guests had left the remaining (mostly family) men did eventually join the mendhi proper: our side had some routines planned and they all seemed to go pretty well - I was hoping it would considering the weeks of practice we had put into it. We had a total of five tracks (including one with us wearing lungis), although I did manage to sneak one in with the bride's side too - only the two of us knew it was coming and I think everyone else was pretty surprised when we did it.

It was all a lot of fun, but sitting here thinking about the day and how it's Wednesday already makes me realise how quickly stuff is happening on this trip. We're blazing through our time here, which kind of sucks as we're having such a brilliant time so far too.

Tuesday, March 25

Sri Lanka, Day Three: The Curry Leaf

The day was left to us, so my father, cousin and I took the opportunity to meet a local family friend. Going at it alone was helpful as it allowed us to explore and observe Colombo a little more freely. Not only did we get a bit more of an idea of the geography of Colombo - most strikingly with how small the city actually was - but also the demographic and social make up of the place. Quite surprisingly halal food is plentiful and readily available in most places and between that and the availability of butt showers in the toilet (I know, right?) it became quite strikingly clear how Muslim friendly Sri Lanka is. And the best thing? Ironically that it wasn't a Muslim country and so was immune to some of the issues that brings. In short, Sri Lanka is possibly the most friendly non-Muslim country I've visited.

And yes, the women are also beautiful here which always helps.

Dinner was again a wedding related affair, although I did happen to randomly bump into a couple of friends who were honeymooning in Sri Lanka. I'll gloss over the coincidence (if only because it happens way too often to keep calling it that) only to agree with them with how good a destination Sri Lanka makes for couples.

Monday, March 24

Sri Lanka, Day Two: The Sizzle

Today was mainly family stuff - visiting the in-laws to be during the day (there were a lot of them) and also joining them at a steak restaurant for dinner. Wedding things might not give you a tourist view of a place, but it does a native one which in many ways is even more handy - knowing the layout of a place more than the centre for example, or seeing how native Sri Lankans deal with the everyday in their home town - these are insights that one might not necessarily get as a tourist.

The most striking thing I learned was how nice the people are here. Our hosts aside (who were actually wonderful), the people on the ground were amazingly smiley, polite and all round nice wihtout being overbearing - the kind of attitude that unfortunately seems to only come from a country that had been through a war relatively recently. Another shocking observation was how incredibly clean Colombo was; enough to shame those of us who call Karachi their second home. The cynical side of me wondered if these behaviours would stand the test of time, but for now I just accepted that brown people can actually do a decent job of their homes if they want to.

Sunday, March 23

Sri Lanka, Day One: The Arrival

It is a bit frustrating when any advantage a direct flight has gets clobbered before even taking off by a flat tire. On the other hand, safety considerations aside, it was quite amusing to hear that our plane had one - and since the air stewardesses were nice enough to feed us I guess I wasn't too upset on the whole. For me holidays start at the originating airport - checking in, transit prayer, cute hostesses and cabin food are all part of the experience, delays or no, and so far the epic holiday which was to be in Sri Lanka had started off relatively well last night.

I think the first thing that struck me when landing was how green the place was. Seriously, it was almost like landing in a jungle. Still, Bandaranaike International Airport is actually an hour or so away from Colombo, so it made sense that we didn't get to see our home for the next week from the air. The drive to our accommodation did build up the excitement though, even though today was mainly about settling in for the days ahead. We were here for a wedding and that in itself promised a lot, but the fact that this was the first time the extended family had travelled anywhere was also something for me to look forward to and so far it seems my excitement wasn't overstated.

(Photos of my time in Colombo are here)

Wednesday, March 19

A Softer World Click for more info

Once again, ASW says it how it is:

Lucky how contentment comes from within though, eh?

Friday, March 7

Food: Loaded Gourmet Burgers & Fries Click for more info

Gourmet Burger seems to be the in thing now, with various "unique experiences" popping up all over London. Of course, it takes more than fancy decor and a doubling in price to make a place worthwhile, so sometimes it takes a good look to figure out if a place is decent or not.

We go there early - luckily so as the take away queue soon left the building. I don't think the place had been open that long so I'm assuming this was more due to novelty than quality, but either way it's not a terrible sign. Alas the staff did seem to buckle slightly under the weight of their popularity and there was a few mix ups when it came to ordering, and I'm still not sure if I got what I wanted - and I had finished my meal before my friends had even received theirs. Oh and the milkshakes had run out. Not looking that great any more.

What I did receive was a little on the cold side and visually had seen better days, but it tasted okay. The chilli fries were a saving grace I suppose.

So overall not particularly impressive, particularly as they charged a premium - a tenner got my my burger and half share of fries which is more than GBK, and would buy two (better) burgers in other (better) places. That said, it wasn't a complete disaster and I do see myself going back if only due to its vicinity to my home. I just hope some of the teething problems would have vanished by then.

Friday, February 28

Book: The Expats, Chris Pavone Click for more info

Everyone loves a good twist in a tale - it's probably one of the few times one doesn't mind being duped; cheap tactics not withstanding. And a book about an ex CIA expat mum of two is bound to have its fair share of twists. However this is where I get stuck: due to the nature of plot turns it's probably not a good idea for any review to talk about them too much, but I will say that The Expats was flawed in the way it delivered.

But quality of suspense aside the book was overall a decent romp. It's not the most sophisticated book I've read but it appears to be well researched though and for those who are familiar with the European setting that is something that could be appreciated. Characterisation is, well, appalling to say the least - the protagonist Kate is such a cliché I couldn't decide whether the author was doing it purpose or not. The style of writing grated a bit as it flipped back and forth between times and places - I see a book that makes you work hard to figure out what's going on as a bad book.

If you have a quick week to spare you could do worse, otherwise there isn't that much to recommend here.

Friday, February 14

The Annual Inevitably Cynical "I Hate Valentine's" Post Click for more info

Oh don't worry: the fact that this is my tenth post of vitriolic rambling is as depressing for me as it might be for you. On the other hand, I am impressed by the sheer stamina of the theme and although I don't know how they would look, I reckon I have at least another ten posts in me. Crikey. Ten! You can click the title link for the rest by the way.

But what exactly do I talk about this year? Could it be the unprecedented increase in apparent losership (a clear sign of whippage in my opinion)? Or how about how pervasive it's becoming in places I previously thought immune (oh why Karachi, why?)?

No, perhaps what I will talk about is my increasing indifference to the theme here, not because I denounce most forms of blatant commercialism, but because I've become even more cynical about anything and everything, of which my distaste of this day is but a mere iceberg tip.

Woah there, this post almost became seriously dark. Let's bring the humour back:

But hey, at least I got my own back on the day - Krispy Kreme offered me some sweets if I was to complete the old "Roses are red..." poem at the time I was claiming. I did so, humorously so I might add, and got not just one but two original glazed doughnuts as a reward. That extra doughnut was the difference between me being exploited and doing the exploiting, and so I see no problem seeing it as a win for the little man. There's no need to thank me.

Thursday, February 13

Book: The Dragon Reborn, Robert Jordan Click for more info

With three down and eleven to go, for me The Dragon Reborn was a bit of a turning point in the WOT series. So much happens in this book both in terms of plot and character development I find myself both curious and excited to see what else has been left for the rest. It became clear that this will be pretty epic, with more layers and more depth unravelling with each story (kind of like Dragonball Z if I could possibly make the comparison), but I'm left hoping that Jordan hasn't paced himself out of a good story (again, like Dragonball Z).

I found the book much more enjoyable to read on a technical level too, with the flows and jumping around much smoother and less jarring than the first two books. If I have any comment it was it was a bit "middling"; I didn't even realise I was at the end of the book until it hit me, but I guess this is par for the course in a series that spans so many volumes.

Wednesday, February 12

Food: Gaylord Restaurant Click for more info

I challenge any East London schooled lad to resist chuckling at the name of tonight's restaurant. I mean: seriously? That being said I did already know that the place had been around for a while, well before its name became commonly used in a 90's school playground. But still, chuckle.

What made tonight really interesting (and possibly something I should be writing about separately, except I'm too lazy), was that it was actually hosted by a restaurant reviewing website I contribute to. This meant three things: firstly that it was to be a free meal; secondly that we were to be treated like royalty; and thirdly that it was to be a free meal. Now I'm not a foodie (which by the way is exactly how I had introduced myself to everyone tonight - insecure much?), but I do believe I have credibility and integrity and so apart from the over done transparency in this paragraph here's my official disclaimer: I have no doubt that my experience will be different to that which you might receive, and so if you choose to ignore this review I wouldn't blame you. It is only for completeness that I write it at all.

Gaylord in many ways is a typical Classic London Indian restaurant, and in many ways reminded me of my poignantly favourite of the bunch, Khan's of Bayswater. The menu (we had a special one created for us. Wowzer) was derivative of the normal; which is absolutely not to say it was bad, just not unique. We had the standard kebabs, tikka, prawns, butter chicken, paneer, dhal, chickpeas, nan, rice and poppadoms (I may have messed up the order a little). Of these the chops were the most visually impressive, being the size of my face, even though they didn't quite hit the spot taste wise. Oh and although we had them first I have saved mentioning the best for last - some amazingly novel amuse bouche consisting of gol guppay (or pani puri in my tongue), bhel puri and some papri chaat, all joyously delivered to us. It was a genius stroke as it really did literally get the party started. I'm not sure whether these were available on the a la carte menu, but if you visit make sure you ask for them anyway. Desert was kulfi and a flaming ball of gulab jamun laced with spiced rum - I of course took the virgin (and hence flameless) version. It looked more exciting than it tasted.

The service deserves a paragraph of its own. I don't think I've ever been to a medium class Indian joint with such good service: the servers were professional yet informal, and it almost felt like we had friends serving us at times. The manager was in a class of his own: words like humble, sweet, polite and conscientious immediately spring to mind. So yes, top marks for service (although I do have to once again point out that dastardly second paragraph up there. I know, boo). Price wise I cannot comment, but I would find it really hard to imagine a meal costing more than twenty a head here.

The overall evening was massive fun and a big part of that was, as always, due to the venue, and as my more experienced diner friends pointed out, some things can't be faked. But if I normalise my experience and remove the context, I think I would settle with saying Gaylord is a very solid place about which I have nothing special, but more importantly nothing bad, to say and if I ever happen to be in Oxford Street and fancied an Indian, I now know where I'd go.