Friday, December 29

Goodbye, South Africa

And just like that, it's over. I wrote on my arrival to South Africa the mixed feelings I had returning to a place I had found so striking all those years ago, and the fears I had of this trip not quite living up to the nostalgia did, to some extent, come to be pretty justified.

But now that I'm leaving (our final meal having been at Nandos, naturally) I've realised that I was being a little unfair; it's not South Africa's fault that my previous trip was so memorable, and even if it wasn't able to give me that time back I doubt that neither would plenty of other countries. In other words, rather than see this as a return to South Africa, I've begun to see it as a new trip to a country I didn't really explore as much before.

And in that framing it has been quite the trip. Five weeks, four countries, almost 4000km driven, 3300 photos (of which I kept 1190) and nine different beds has made this by far my most ambitious and involved trip ever. I'm still deciding if that was to its detriment or not, but overall I'm glad of the experience (as well as filling in those gaps I had missed on my last visit here). The trip was so long that we were reminiscing about parts of it before the whole thing had even ended.

That said, I did also enjoy the more dossy time I had in Johannesburg and Durban, and it was great to catch up with friends both old and new. And in some ways the pressure is off - if I was ever to visit South Africa again I know I won't have to do much of the tourist trail.

Of course considering how long it took me to go back this time around, whether its a given that I'll visit again is yet to be seen.

Wednesday, December 27

Drakensberg, Day Five: Taking A Dip

As this was our last day, we decided to have another go at visiting the Royal Natal National Park.

It actually did happen to be much less busy than it was on Christmas Day, and so we spent the bulk of the day enjoying the activities it had to offer, including a hike up to a rock pool.

The weather was perfect for kicking off those shoes and taking a dip.

It was nice way to spend our final day up in the mountains - we plan on making our way back early tomorrow to have some decent time in Durban before we leave South Africa altogether.

Tuesday, December 26

Book: Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey Click for more info

The last really decent science fiction I can remember reading is, perhaps unsurprisingly enough, anything that had been written by Asimov. Perhaps it's the rose tinted specs talking (typing?), but any new fangled sci-fi just doesn't seem as science fiction-y as the old school stuff. The trouble is that I'm not entirely sure why.

But using Leviathan Wakes, the first in the series of books that make up The Expanse, as an example it could be because where the classic scifi tomes were unapologetic in their geekiness, modern stuff aims to be a bit more accessible - both in the standard of writing and plot concepts.

That's not to say that Leviathan Wakes was a bad book; no it just didn't manage to give me the scifi fix that I was after. In fact I'd go as far as saying that I quite enjoyed reading it and will certainly consider continuing with the series - I also look forward to watching the television show which I perversely think will be better entertainment.

That doesn't solve the scifi gap I have right now - but after recently finishing the Wheel of Time, perhaps the real answer is to look beyond a genre and seek the fix elsewhere?

Drakensberg, Day Four: Taking A Hike

Deciding that we had had enough of driving, we decided to keep things closer to home today. Our resort had a few hikes available to its guests, and we picked the one most appropriate for the mixed group that we were.

Despite it being one of the more shorter hikes available, it did present some nice paths and decent views and the waterfall at the end of the trail was worth our efforts.

As we were close to home we spent the rest of the afternoon at our chalets, playing boardgames and hanging out. After four days it does feel like our time in Drakensberg is beginning to stretch a little.

Monday, December 25

Drakensberg, Day Three: A Christmas In

For whatever reason, we all thought that Christmas Day would be pretty dead in and around Drakensberg. In turns out that we couldn't have been more wrong - enough so to have us turn from the Royal Natal National Park and head back to our chalets.

On the other hand this did result in a chill out day, with us spending most of the time playing mini golf, bowls and various other activities on the resort.

Sunday, December 24

Drakensberg, Day Two: Exploring The Mountains

A lazy start had us driving north though a bunch of assorted terrain and views. Sterkfontein and its dam was a marvel to to see, but the real sights started as we entered the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Although we mainly stuck to the main roads, we still managed to catch some great scenery.

We eventually ended up at Clarens, a cute little artisan town. It was a nice enough little stop, and a perfect place to spend a couple of hours.

Due to the geography of the land, our fastest way back home was to backtrack down the way we came. Although that meant revisiting what we had already seen, it did make the return drive pass much faster. Oh and we also managed to catch a tremendous sunset, in this instance made all the better due to the cloudline over Sterkfontein dam.

We got back to our chalets in good time, leaving the evening to unwind and relax.

Saturday, December 23

Drakensberg, Day One: Getting There

After the 2000km or so that we had already driven the idea of more hours in the car was less than appealing. On the other hand, Drakensberg promised to be much more of a chill out than the trips we had taken so far - it was to be just the ticket after such a busy vacation so far. The few games of Jenga we played in our cabin today was just the ticket.

Still, I have to admit than I'm feeling more than a little ennui as we enter our last week of our time in South Africa. I do expect to read a lot on this stint.

Friday, December 22

Coming Back to Durban

Our time in Durban, largely by design, was very social, very lazy and very domestic. It was kept so firstly to recover from the intense tourism of the past few weeks but also to leave space for the respective socialising my parents and I wanted to do. That said, it was less of a social whirlwind my previous stint here was (and for the better). In summary:

  • On my first full day here I went to three nikkahs and a Jummah. That's so Durban.
  • I visited the African Art Centre to check out the work of an artist friend (as one does in Durban).
  • North Beach evoked good memories, but new was La Lucia Beach where we had a decent little family chill out.
  • We were able to take a mini tour of a clothing factory (via family friends)
  • We finally got to have some South African prawns, as well as some Bunny Chow (which was more novelty than I remember)
  • At great personal cost I managed to grab a Crystal Steak Sandwich, which for me was the clear winner of this year's South African junk food trail
  • I even managed to get a dive in which gave me sharks, an amazing reef and some excellent visibility.
  • And finally I spent a lot of time (read: eating food and cake) with friends first met in both continents, including a meeting that made skipping ticketed cinema screening look easy.
That last point made me both regret not managing to do the same in Johannesburg and Cape Town, but also even more appreciative that I was able to find it here.

Other comparative observations: Durban seems less tolerant and more segregated than I remember it being, but that could be due to the nature of my trip being more family than friend orientated.

Saturday, December 16

Coming Back to Johannesburg

After we had all agreed that we were done with safari, we decided to make an early run back to Johannesburg in order to make some real time of it there. Johannesburg wasn't originally on our itinerary, so this was a neat little bonus that came out of nowhere. On the other hand, since I hadn't planned on spending any time here I didn't really organise any friends or meetings.

Luckily, as I had previously found, South Africans are the generously social sort and after a few phonecalls and messages I was able to spend the afternoon with an ex-pat friend of mine, and then the evening with more local friends that I hadn't seen for the seven years since my last visit. This included a trip to the Mail and Guardian where we ate an AK-47 and Wonder Why pizza from Akhalwayas (which, for those keeping track, is one of my four must-eats of South Africa).

It was like the essence of Johannesburg good times had been squeezed and distilled into half a day, and a brilliant reflection of good times past. My only regret is that I didn't get to visit Laudium (snigger).

Friday, December 15

Kruger National Park, Day Three: The Big Five

One mark of success for a safari trip is to complete sightings of the "big five". These are, in order of increasing rarity (of sightings):

  • Elephants (~13,000)
  • Buffalo (~40,000)
  • Rhino (number undisclosed)
  • Lions (~1,600)
  • Leopards (~2,000)
The numbers don't necessarily match the covetousness of the sightings since, for example, it's much more difficult to spot a leopard than a lion. Also interesting is the taboo around talking about rhino sightings and numbers, due to the clues such conversations give to poachers.

To recap, we still needed to see a rhino and something other than a lion's bum to complete our big five. Quite frankly it was a miracle that we even had a leopard down on our list.

Our morning safari was a bit of a bust, although we did get some great views of giraffe. Jummah then killed 3-4 hours safari time, and to be honest by that point we had given up on any let alone one of the remaining sightings we wanted to see.

Based on a tip, we decided to spend another 1.5 hours on returning from Jummah to enter the park via the more southern Malelane gate. The payoff was immediate with rhinos aplenty, with a neat little bonus being a couple of wild hyena. We didn't get to see any cheetah though, despite the sighting having been reported.

This only left the lion. Everyone we asked in passing said that they were also struggling with the big cat, and at some point we got so desperate that we considered counting the ones we saw in Botswana as qualified sightings.

At around 5:40pm (where the camp gate shut at 6:30pm) we took a detour down a gravel path on a wild roll of the dice... and finally found our quarry. Two lions. And a rhino to boot (we even had a herd of elephants, but they had become pretty passe by this point). Three out of the big five right there in our last five minutes of safari.

We were going to go for a 4:40am safari tomorrow (before heading off to Johannesburg for 6am)... but we've all agreed that we've had our fill of driving around looking for animals by then.

Thursday, December 14

Kruger National Park, Day Two: The Early Bird

It what can only be described as the biggest miscalculation of our time in Africa so far, we decided to book our places on the Sunrise Tour, the idea being that for a little pain we'd be rewarded with some amazing sights of the African wildlife waking to a busy day - indeed it was always the early morning that was said to offer the best experience on safari, and since the tour was able to leave before general guests could, booking the tour would be the only way we could do it.

Well I'm here to tell you that it's all a bunch of codswallop. The most exotic animal we saw on this tour was a snail. And that isn't even a joke.

After recovering (from both the lack of sleep and the massive disappointment), we set off for our own six hour tour in the afternoon. Sightings were still sparse, but this safari was much more successful - we managed to see buffalo, lots of fun (and in one instance, scary) elephants, the rear of a lion (which didn't really count as a sighting per se) and the crown jewel of most African safaris, a leopard.

The lesson here was obvious. Since going on an organised tour doesn't appear to increase the likelihood of sightings, safari seems altogether pointless without access to your own car. The freedom of movement along with sighting boards and more recently smartphone apps make it a much more enjoyable experience doing it yourself.

Wednesday, December 13

Kruger National Park, Day One: Getting There

It's fair to say that the drive to Kruger from Johannesburg was a long one. We arrived later than we wanted to and strict park timings meant that we only had 90 minutes or so for our first safari.

We did however see an elephant in those 90 minutes.

Otherwise safari was pretty much what I expected it to be - including cabin living. I was left hoping that the bugs didn't literally bite.

Tuesday, December 12

Book: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, George R.R. Martin Click for more info

No, this doesn't quite scratch the year-plus itch we've all had waiting for the next installment in ASOIAF (we have the TV show for that), but AKOTSK is a wonderful return to a more unadulterated and less polluted Westeros. You have the same confusing bloodlines, the politics that you don't quite understand and of course the pure fun and entertainment that we all know and love.

Written in the same accessible way of the main books, AKOTSK is well worth a read if you're a fan of the Seven Kingdoms. As always however, it's just a damned shame there isn't more of it waiting afterward.

The Garden Route, Day Seven: Ending the Route

What was initially only expected to be an airport run turned out to be one of the more fun days on our Garden Route tour - mainly because of how ad-hoc the itinerary turned out. Our first stop was at Nature's Valley, a intimate little resort tucked away west of Plett. It was the kind of place you'd expect a family drama to be set.

Other stops before we flew off included that to watch the bungee fun on Bloukrans River Bridge as well as a pretty thrilling (yet free!) walk across the Storms River Bridge.

Lunch was at St Francis Cape, another idyllic spot in this part of town - it's almost as if the locals knew those on the tourist trail would skip the bits at the tail end.

But that really was the final stop on our Garden Route tour. Now that it's over I have to say that as wonderful as some of the things were on the 3000 km or so that we drove, as an experience the Route wasn't as impacting as I expected (or maybe that should be wasn't as impacting as it was sold). It seems like a very situational place; one that requires a certain age or company, and as a local first get away I can see some appeal.

But as an travel experience? It just didn't do it for me.

Monday, December 11

The Garden Route, Day Six: Robberg

As appears to be par for the course, we enjoyed a lazy start this morning before heading to the Robberg Nature Reserve for some views and a couple of hikes. We went for the 5.5km Witsand trail, a trail that was deceptively short while taking us through woods, bush, sand and stone. The geography was pretty terrific and given more time I would have loved to have trekked to The Point, but at 9.2km that was a bit more than we would have been able to handle today.

While on The Island we came across some pretty aggressive seagulls protecting their colony, Hitchcock style. The difference being that instead of being pecked to death I was defecated upon. But hey! Experience!

The afternoon was spent in about out of the apartment, in pursuit of becoming more familiar with the small town.

I discovered that Plett is yet another place on the Garden Route in which to chill rather than anything more. No bad thing given an appropriate context.

Sunday, December 10

The Garden Route, Day Five: Animals and Nature

We decided to head east today, toward our final destination of Port Elizabeth. The idea was that we should check it out now, lest we find that we don't have time to check out any of the activities in that direction when we next head that way. The morning was spent on the nature triple of Jukani, Monkeyland and Birds of Eden.

I had mixed feelings about Jukani. It was certainly educational, and I guess like the other two sites I got a warm and fuzzy feeling in supporting "animal sanctuaries" (quotes placed by my cynicism only)... but Jukani ultimately was just a big cat zoo. Still, we did see some majestic animals, the tigers ironically amongst the most impressive.

Next up was Monkeyland. This was fun; walking around with a tour seeing various primates up to no good. Again it was pretty educational, if only because in learning exactly how grumpy monkeys can get while eating.

The last of the three was Birds of Eden. We spend the longest time here, partly because of the size of the place but mainly because we were self guided. Again I saw some wonderful animals but I suppose by that time I really had had my fill of the animal kingdom.

In short, all three were well above average but not quite unmissable.

After lunch we continued east to the mouth of Storms River. This offered us some pretty exciting views, a suspension bridge, and a really good (albeit deceptively short) hike up to a lookout point. It was totally worth it but, you really should budget a couple of hours if you want to check it out yourself.

Geographically, this pretty much marks the eastern most point of our Garden Route experience. My fear that it's quite a bit over-marketed has yet to be allayed, and I don't see it getting anywhere near the top ten of trails or road trips that I've been on.

Still, I have a couple of days left so who knows? Maybe the best is yet to come.

Saturday, December 9

The Garden Route, Day Four: Plettenberg Bay

The early start we made to had to Plettenburg Bay was unwarranted. At thirty minutes or so apart it, you could even say our stay in Knysna was a little redundant; it could easily have been reached via a backtrack. Still, the early start did allow us to check out The Garden of Eden which was a decent enough stop.

After lunch we decided to keep it local and explore the beaches. Standard fare here, possibly unfairly dampened by some overcast weather.

Speaking of the weather, between it and the activities experienced so far, I can't say that The Garden Route ranks high on the road trips I've taken so far. What's clear is that it's definitely a place that requires less planning and more nose-following, (for various reasons that wasn't the nature of this trip), but I would say all road trips are like that.

Perhaps I'm just spoiled but as an experience The Garden Route falls short a little.

Friday, December 8

The Garden Route, Day Three: Knysna

Having written off Mossel Bay, we decided to head straight out to Knysna. In the most part this was because it was Friday, and we still needed to find a place where we would be able to offer Jummah, something that was sure to be a bit of a time sink.

On the way to Knysna we stopped off at Dolphin's Point, a picturesque little bay (albeit with no dolphins).

After settling into our accommodation we went on the hunt for a congregation. Knysna is deceptively under equipped for Muslims - at first glance we thought we would struggle but found no less than three scheduled congregations in the town, one of which was quite central.

The afternoon was spent visiting the Knysna Heads and Coney Glen Beach, a great example of some of the natural beauty this part of South Africa has to offer.

The geography of Knysna is quite unusual; the river mouth before the heads proper have a couple of islands and we spent the remaining hour or so on Thesen, taking in the sunset.

We're only staying here the one night - tomorrow we head to our final destination on the Garden Route to Port Elizabeth.

Thursday, December 7

The Garden Route, Day Two: Caves and Passes

After a lazy start we headed north and inland toward Oudtshoorn and The Cango Caves. This was a bit of a judgement call as it would mean missing out on Mossel Bay proper, but the caves just seemed too compelling to ignore.

Spoiler: I felt it was the right decision. The Adventure Tour especially was great fun, if a little grubby, with some of the crevasses and potholes we were made to pass through were quite challenging.

We took the scenic route back via the recently reopened Watsburg Pass - South Africa has many of these, each offering their own range of spectacular views and thrilling drives. Watsburg didn't fail to deliver - it was by far the most thrilling mountain drive I've been on.

In this case moreso, as the reserve fuel light came on just as we entered the pass. It turns out that steep inclines mess with the fuel reading so we were okay, but the idea of running out of fuel on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere did worry me a little.

As predicted we got back to Mossel Bay quite late and so didn't have a chance to check it out. We might try tomorrow or just write it off - there's plenty to do on the way to our next port of call.

Wednesday, December 6

The Garden Route, Day 1: Vineyards and The End of the World

Of all the things that I felt I missed out the most on during my last trip to South Africa, it was The Garden Route that really piqued my interest. It's not like I knew what was actually on the garden route (I knew it wasn't flowers), but more how it was sold as The Road Trip To End All Road Trips, a rite of passage for those heading into maturity. And so just like with some of the other parts of this trip that were serving to fill in the gaps, I was pretty excited to finally be able to go on the drive between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

Although we had an early start we didn't actually leave Cape Town till later in the morning, having made a quick stop off at the Botanical Gardens. As with most of the road trips I've been on, I've found the trick is to balance the leaving of space to follow unbeaten paths, while knowing where to spend that precious time as you find those hidden gems - I knew that there were a fair few miles (or rather kilometres) between here and our first stop in Mossel Bay, so I did hope that we wouldn't miss those few hours spent in the gardens (which wasn't actually that bad either).

Stellenbosch was our first port of call, and we chose the Tokara Vineyard to stop at. Although it's tough to justify the value of visiting a vineyard to a Muslim Family like ours the views were spectacular, and the offer to partake in olive tasting tempting enough. But time was against us anyway so we moved on pretty quickly.

We then had a choice - to go to Ceres for fruit juices or Elgin for some apples. We chose the latter which turned out to be a bit of a bust, even though we found the Appletizer factory and stocked up on some concentrate. A pretty random road trip so far then.

After a bit of driving we stopped at Hermanus, a lovely little seaside town, for some tea and cake. It was a nice place to take a break; it was quiet, cute and intimate, and it was here that I finally started to regret not having as much time today as I would have liked - it would have been nice to have just lounged around town for a bit but we still had a way to go and another stop to make.

That last stop was L'Agulhas, the southernmost tip of South Africa and the place where two oceans met. Unfortunately the weather had deteriorated by this point, and I reckon the place would have given a much better impression of scale and geography had I the time to let it all sink in. But by now the sun had gone down along with our collective energy and so we called it a day and carried on to our hotel in Mossel Bay.

All in all aside from some brilliant views it was a pretty unenthusiastic start to the Garden Route today, although I'm told it only really begins from where we've laid our hat today. I do hope so.

Coming Back To Cape Town

Of the three places I visited last time Cape Town by far had the most to offer to the tourist. It's why we've scheduled four days here, and alas why we mostly filled it with tourism rather than social activities. That's not to say there wasn't much to remember - retreading some of the old pathways was quite poignant, if only because it reminded me of the people who took me to all the places. In summary:

  • Table Mountain was a washout. Or rather a cloudout. Visibility was terrible and it made me both thankful for the amazing views I got the last time and regretful for those with me for whom this will probably be the only chance to see Cape Town from this height.
  • Robben Island was actually not too bad considering my previous experience. Perhaps it was maturity, perhaps a better tour guide, but it does seem that experiences can vary on such a small island.
  • Fish in the Rocks down in Hout Bay provided more nostalgia, but alas still decent (versus amazing) fish and chips
  • Cape Peninsula is still deceptively small and took the whole day to drive around. Chapman's Peak still offered amazing views, and we also got to see random lighthouses, ostriches and penguins.
  • Cape Point appeared as ordinary as it did last time; furthermore I didn't get to go down to Dias Beach, which was actually one of my favourite spots from my last visit to Cape Town.
  • The drive through Simon's Town was nice, if only to help us realise how immense False Bay was.
  • I got a better chance to see historical Cape Town by going on a walking tour of Parliament, the Company's Gardens and the Grand Parade.
  • The District 6 Museum is still worth going to.
  • The Gatsby is still worth eating.
  • Bo-Kaap is still cute and such a quick win to walk through, particularly while the Adhaan is being called.
  • New for me was the V&A Waterfront, which seems like a wonderful place to just sit at to enjoy live music and good weather.
  • Also new for me was the Botanical Gardens. We visited this on the way out of Cape Town so it's arguable that we didn't give it as much time as we should have... but for me a couple of hours was more than enough (if not too much).

The clear difference between this and my last visit was us being on our own while also having access to a car - the peninsula alone presented a whole different experience because of the driving and map following. I do feel like I now know Cape Town a little more intimately.

Nevertheless, the overriding feeling was of slight disbelief, that I had returned to a place I never thought I would... while all the time acknowledging that it was indeed a very different trip.

Friday, December 1

Coming Back to South Africa

My first trip to South Africa was 7 years or so ago. Technically it wasn't actually my trip per se, I was just graciously allowed to hijack a couple of friends' plan to attend a wedding there. Whatever the context, that trip (which now seems like a lifetime ago) most certainly ranks as one of my best. Perhaps it was the drama of getting there (ash clouds and the like), or how I was just a passenger being taken care of by some wonderful people. Or perhaps it was the total ignoring of the tourist trails in lieu of some first class dossing, bonding and socialising. Whatever the case it was a whole bundle of perfect moments strung together like pearls on a necklace - I know for sure there will never again be a trip like it for me.

It's difficult not to reminisce about that trip during normal times let alone on the day when I've returned - indeed I actually spent most of the time writing this post revisiting what I had written all those years ago. So it wasn't completely surprising how emotional I felt just merely landing at Johannesburg airport to catch my flight to Durban (Ocean Basket! The ex-Mugg and Bean! Even the prayer room!).

And yet I already know that my second time in South Africa will be very different from the first. It's absolutely more of a tourism-themed trip - I'm travelling with family, not friends and so expect a much more independent, isolated and perhaps even clinical trip this time around. We're self-driving a lot of kilometres too, something that is sure to increase my intimacy with the land. I'm both excited at seeing more of a country I had such an amazing time in, but also sad that the context is so different.

We also have much more time here. The total including our stint in Zimbabwe will be five weeks, a time not spent away from home since the heady days of Summer Holidays in Pakistan. That timescale, alongside the aforementioned tourist vibe, almost guarantees homesickness for me. But despite the immense amount of time here Johannesburg itself has become a bit of a casualty, with us using it mainly as a transit hub. That also makes me sad since I do have some pretty important people there I would have loved to have seen again.

But still, I write this in Durban, staying again at the friend's house I randomly found myself in all those years ago. It's almost like I had never left.

Thursday, November 30

Victoria Falls, Day Four: The Devil's Pool

In what was a last minute squeezing of our time here, we successfully had an early enough start for our second crossing into Zambia. If I'm honest I did feel a slight twinge of regret but was committed to the morning's activity.

After crossing the border post (this time complete with immigration and stamps - okay, maybe now I've really hit 40 countries), we headed to the lush Livingston Hotel to sign in for our excursion. Naturally while we were waiting we hung out with the zebras and giraffes - although we were told afterwards that they, alas, were domestic.

After a speedboat to Livingston Island, we took a shortish walk across the edge of the (currently dry) waterfall, experiencing the literally cliff edge views and double and triple rainbows caused by the mist of the waterfall. After enjoying those views, we needed to swim a short distance across the river to reach this morning's real destination: The Devil's Pool.

I have to say, the whole thing was pretty amazing. A natural pool at the edge of the falls, its no exaggeration to call it an infinity pool on drugs. There's almost no point in even talking about it it was that good.

We hung out in the pool for a good 20 or 30 minutes, being nibbled at by the fishes and taking photos. After that we were treated to a decent breakfast before being taken back to the Livingston, and then back to our hotel on the Zimbabwean side of the river.

That brought us to the end of our time in Victoria Falls, and indeed Zimbabwe. But this isn't the end of our trip; oh no, Zimbabwe was merely a prologue. The bulk of our holiday really begins as we enter South Africa, making it four countries in 24 hours, which for island dwellers like us is never going to get old.

Wednesday, November 29

Victoria Falls, Day Three: Chobe

I can't claim that Botswana was ever on our list of places to visit, but apparently Chobe is one of the things to do while visiting Victoria Falls, and since we already had our Kaza Univisas it was too much of a quick in to pass up.

The tour generally consists of transport across the border and back, a "game drive" mini safari, lunch and then a boat tour. It was plainly filler, but we did get to see (and hear!) lions feeding, and a few elephants, zebras and giraffes (and of course lots and lots of impala and hippo). The trip was just about worth the cost in time and money, but I'd probably have rather limited my stay in Victoria Falls instead.

On the other hand, Botswana marked the 40th country I have visited, so there is that.

Returning to Victoria Falls in the evening, I realised how dead it was after hours. This is contrast to many other tourist towns I've visited and I miss the live music and the random chilling with people you just met in a cafe. I'm not exactly a party animal, but the town does seem a little... functional for my tastes.

Tuesday, November 28

Victoria Falls, Day Two: Victoria Falls

After deciding against spending the whole of today on a day trip out of town, we instead set out to see what local activities the town had to offer - which largely meant a visit to the falls.

In what can only be described as tourist trail efficiency our helicopter tour was booked and flown before 11am. It was just as you can imagine: a thrilling and exciting yet expensive and short-lived experience which just fell short of being an unmissable experience.

We then set off to the falls proper for a look on foot. Now it's important to realise that we were here in the Zimbabwean summer, otherwise known as The Dry Season. Since I have nothing to compare to I have no idea if it was the right time to come - I did appreciate not getting soaked for sure, yet I couldn't help feeling a little underwhelmed at the volume of water being displaced. That said the views still gave a sense of enormity and overall it was a much more worthwhile experience than seeing it from above.

After we had our fill of the falls, we walked up the road to the bridge to catch the views from there (as well as place a foot into Zambia). Although we each had Kaza univisas (which gave us unlimited entry into three countries for 30 days) we took the bridge stamp option (if only to save some space in our passports). It was a pretty long walk but was just about worth it.

After a quick lunch back in our hotel we took the opportunity to book our remaining activities, after which we headed to the luxurious Victoria Falls Hotel for an opulent chai. It was very swank and an extremely nice way to spend an afternoon.

And that was it for the day - we decided to call it an early night so we could catch a fresh start the next day. I felt that we got right amount done, and was pretty done with what the town had to offer... although that might also have something to do with the price of entry. One thing is definitely for sure, Victoria Falls is expensive.

Monday, November 27

Victoria Falls, Day One: Getting Sold Down The River

Zimbabwe was never on my list of places to visit. In fact I'm still not sure how we've ended up here - in what can only be described as clear proof that feature creep doesn't just happen in software development I guess our main trip just spilled out into the rest of Africa, as if this was the only time we'd ever be visiting the continent. Add to that the recent news of good ol' Bob having been kicked out of office and we were quite apprehensive on arriving at Victoria Falls (the airport). Getting here was quite the chore too; we actually had to fly through Johannesburg which added both time and cost to the travel plan. Needless to say I had a bit of grumpiness to shake off after landing.

Landing at 2pm, the original plan was to take it easy for the rest of the day... but after being offered a sunset river cruise my need to optimise kicked in and so we decided to make the most of an afternoon. Logistically this was the right thing to do, but an overcast sky and chilly river made the two hour cruise one hour too long. But hey, at least we got to see some hippos.

Otherwise my initial impression of Victoria Falls (the town) is that of a typical African (or indeed third world) tourist town - lots of tour operators and hawkers trying to sell you stuff, with not much local culture or vibe to enjoy.

Either way... I'm going to sleep well tonight.

Tuesday, November 21

Film: Justice League Click for more info

Disagreeing with the mainstream reaction to the DCEU is par for the course now: I quite liked the films I was supposed to hate and didn't really think much of the one I was supposed to love. So given the almost universal panning that Justice League has gotten so far, I suppose it's not that surprising that, well, I kinda enjoyed it.

Yes, it was cobbled together and yes they really should have been patient and gone with the origin stories first. But despite the obvious flaws and awful pacing the film did entertain and had enough pow wallop to keep me going. And at a forgiving two hours long it really wasn't asking for much in return.

Tuesday, October 24

Film: Thor: Ragnarok Click for more info

I'm not quite sure when the MCU went from just two to three fixes per year, but it does seem like we've been waiting an age for this, the third in the Thor series of films. For some reason I anticipated Ragnarok to be an epic in its own right, the pivot on which the MCU turns to bigger and more darker things... so I was very surprised by what it actually turned out to be.

That's not to say Ragnarok was bad... just different. It was very aloof - perhaps a little too much - and seemed to follow on from the slapstick approach of the more recent MCU films like Guardians and Spider-man. How that suits the more serious character of Thor I'm still not sure, but the film did make me laugh out loud multiple times so there is that.

I think I'll sum up my thought by saying that Ragnarok is a better film on its own than as part of the MCU, something that does disappoint in the context of the wider franchise. But its still a good film and on its individual merit definitely worth a recommendation.

Thursday, October 19

Food: Brioche Burger Click for more info

I'll skip the bit about visiting yet another gourmet burger place - the drill is well known by now. Needless to say Brioche is decent, costly and fits in just about where you would expect it to these days.

BUT! Brioche also does some things very different and unique. From the HMC certificated Wagyu (I mean, what?) to the Philly Cheese Steak sandwich(alike) there was enough uniqueness here to raise it above the other good options the area has to offer.

Strangely enough the burgers didn't quite feel as though they hit the spot, resulting in a post-burger burger. Alas this has to be taken into account - the same doesn't usually happen in other places but it may have had something to do with my choice of the Philly Cheese Steak sandwich(alike).

The bill came to a whopping £20 per head for drinks, a shared side, and 1.5 burgers each. That really is enough to wreck Brioche as an option... except I really want to go back and try the (also pricey) Wagyu options at some point.

Recommended, but probably not a regular option.

Tuesday, October 10

Film: Blade Runner 2049 Click for more info

In many ways Blade Runner was a pretty straightforward film, despite its quite high level moralising. This paradoxically made it a bit inaccessible, and only really appreciated by those who already had a standing in science fiction (and perhaps philosophy), those who were able to navigate the glitz from the action from the plot. It remains a classic for sure, but I can see why some people wouldn't get it.

Blade Runner 2049 has been made for modern audiences, one that has already been exposed to technology, robots and AI (both in popular fiction and real life) and its this familiarity that has made for a much more accessible film. Yes, a fair few are watching just in case Gosling does another La La Land number (spoiler: he doesn't), but that would only have been a bad thing if, in anticipation, the film had been dumbed down for a wider audience. I'm glad to say that it hadn't, and as a result respects its audience even more.

2049 just about falls short of a terrific film; the length could be a point of contention, even though I didn't feel that it laboured too badly. The acting is top, as is the action and plot - there really isn't much to complain about here really.

So yes, recommended for both fans of the old and new.

Thursday, September 28

Film: Kingsman: The Golden Circle Click for more info

The first Kingsman was a surprise for almost everyone I know. The general transformation would be something like: "oh look, it's a British Teen Agent" to "did he just say/do that?" while frantically figuring out what the age rating is. Of course it's precisely this juxtaposition which made the first Kingsman such a great film - the brashness, the charm, the acting talent, the acting... even the roughness of the cut and less than polished production values added to the overall appeal.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle, is, thankfully, more of the same. It's funny, it's mature, it's engaging without over promising... its a film of little surprise and is stronger for that purity in scope. Just watch it.

Wednesday, September 20

Film: The Villainess Click for more info

It's difficult to say whether The Villainess's incoherence is its favour or to its disadvantage. On the one hand, the layers upon layers (upon layers) adds a certain, albeit implausible, depth that will keep you engaged throughout. On the other hand it does make the film a bit of hard work, and not really something to enjoy if you wanted an easy time.

That said, the best way to enjoy the film is to just lie back and let it wash over you - it does a decent job of leading you through its maze, even if it does take a while to understand the storyteller's language. The wonky subtitles didn't help, and neither did my shameful inability to tell some of the actors apart (I'm happy to say that by the end of the film I had warmed up enough for this not to be a problem). Still, I'm not afraid to admit that the film was much more clever than I was, and again I'm not sure if I enjoyed it more or less because of that.

The film has action, comedy and, oddly enough, romance - there were times when I thought I was watching a South Korean soap for instance. The camera work is adventurous if not a little too experimental; I can't say that the film managed to pull all of it off, but these rough cuts added to the charm of the film rather than to its discredit.

So perhaps not a great film, but definitely one to check out. It's currently on very limited release here in the UK so chances are you'll have missed it if you haven't seen it already - but you're probably better off watching with pause and rewind buttons in hand anyway.

Tuesday, September 12

Film: It Click for more info

For most of us born in the 70s and 80s, Pennywise was a real thing. This is in spite of none of us having actually watched all of the 1990 mini series, but I certainly do remember the scary clown in the drain, coaxing poor little George with his paper boat. Stephen King claims that clowns were always scary, but for me it was always his fault.

But I digress. It (the movie) is both an attempt to revisit the town of Derry (because, you know, nostalgia) and present it in a new format - this isn't just a remake as (possible spoilers!) the film only covers the first half of the chronology; that is the protagonists as youths. This is probably a good thing as you end up with a scary movie dripping with that Goonies (and now, Stranger Things) vibe that we all love.

It's scary, but not too much. The plot is alright, relying on the thrill to prop it up. Overall the film is very normal, if not passable, but enjoyable nonetheless. On balance a recommendation then, if only as a way to finally put those Pennywise nightmares to bed.

Tuesday, September 5

Film: Detroit Click for more info

I'll be honest: I hadn't even heard of the Detroit race riots until the opening of this film. But I was sold on Bigelow taking the helm, having thoroughly enjoyed her last two flagship movies - Detroit was guaranteed to at least have impact, but I was also expecting some great acting and production values.

I wasn't disappointed. As is becoming a staple for Bigelow, the film was clear in both its objectives and storytelling, leaving me gripped and engaged throughout. It was in its final moments, however, that I did feel a little let down; the conclusion of the movie (the accused police being cleared by a jury) betrayed the authenticity of the rest - can a film really claim to tell us the truth of the matter after a court (which should, in theory anyway, have a better grasp of the facts) has told us a different story? The question is a rabbit hole, and for me at least unravelled quite a bit of the story.

As a film however, Detroit was a good one and despite the meta-conflict I'm left with I can also easily recommend it.

Saturday, September 2

Book: A Memory Of Light, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

It may be a little ironic how long it took me to finish this book, the fourteenth (2014) and final in the epic that is the Wheel of Time. I'd like to say it was due to a recent change in lifestyle that has resulted in my reading less, but the truth is that after reading about Rand, Mat and Perrin for so long, WoT has become such a part of my reading habits that having it finish would just feel weird. And here, after almost exactly four years of starting on this journey, it does.

Any ending to such a series of books would always seem too pacey, too quick, and A Memory Of Light is no different: it was almost entirely focused on a single event spanning no more than a few days, and in terms of plot progression there was none. I don't think I felt too cheated - I certainly wouldn't have the right to - but given the glacial pace of some of the books that came previously (particularly before the arrival of Sanderson), I do think that it's a bit of a shame that it happened so relatively quickly. And then I remember that I've only reached this finish line three years after those who would have started decades ago.

But an ending it was (ha ha), to an epic that I'll keep with me for a while - I'm sad that I probably won't have the time or inclination to read it again, particularly seeing as how certain I am that I missed 20-30% of what was going on. That's probably my biggest complaint about the book; the investment required to solve the almost puzzle like elements that needed to be solved in order to follow, and so enjoy, the story to its maximum. I certainly wasn't equipped to deal with that, and it kills me to know that I've only scratched the surface.

On the whole though it was a brilliant ride over four years and one I'll remember when reading other books of all genres. How I'll fill the gap that the Wheel of Time has left I'm not quite sure... but I've been told Sanderson's Cosmere series will keep me going for a while at least.

Tuesday, August 29

Film: Logan Lucky Click for more info

As a heist movie, Logan Lucky did just about enough to get past the finish line. The plan is clever, the team sassy, the cause real. The characters are fun, and you do really end up rooting for most of them by the end, the movie offering plenty of twists and turns on the way there.

The problem was that these twists were largely manufactured, with the film trying to be too clever for it. Most of the apparently twists were of the protagonists own design; it was almost as if they wanted an excuse to pat themselves on the back. As the a result, the film loses a bit of the charm that most heist movies rely on to be truly great.

Overall then, Logan Lucky was a largely forgettable, fun-while-it-lasted flick that will perhaps leave you feeling a bit cheated. It wasn't a bad film though so just about gets a recommendation from me.

Wednesday, August 23

Food: BGR Click for more info

Topping the list of "most local generic gourmet burger places" is the 6 week old BGR, down in South Woodford.

I could claim that it was my ideal of supporting local business that made me want to try BGR, but in reality it was the offer of 10% off our bill if we mentioned our local mosque. Genius.

At this stage I don't really expect much from gourmet burger places - it's quite hard to get it wrong these days - so I generally frequent based on price and location. BGR isn't the cheapest, with only the 10% putting it on par with other local options.

That said the menu is pretty interesting, but what I really had to note was how rare the burger was when it arrived - quite possibly the rarest I've had from places in this category. It was so rare that I actually had concerns in eating it (even though it did taste fabulous); it remains to be seen if anything comes of it*.

The rarity aside BGR is a decent enough place, and one I'll try to go back to... as long as the 10% discount stays in effect. After that disappears well, unfortunately, I don't see any reason to pick BGR over the many many alternative options we are lucky enough to have.

*EDIT: I am pleased to confirm that I survived the few days after consuming the pinkest burger I have ever tried.

Isn't Thirteen Supposed To Be Unlucky?

I did try. I even went for the most obvious topic of, well, marriage, since that's what I was told was missed the most. But aside from the fact that it probably wasn't read in a world of status updates and retweets (I write for myself dammit), it was actually a bit difficult to write in the first place. The thoughts and arguments that were so easily spilled during those golden years seem to be having trouble leaving my older brain.

Having said all, my personal situation and lifestyle has changed a bit; whether this will make room for more posts or manifest at all here remains to be seen.

Other points of note: I've broken the 3000 post mark which is pretty cool. Also my film label count (not all of which are reviews) is 20 short of 500, while restaurants stand at a smidge over 200. If there's one thing I'm sure of with respect to this place it's that those two topics will continue to be covered. I guess that's a consolation of sorts.

Tuesday, August 15

Film: Atomic Blonde Click for more info

We went into Atomic Blonde expecting a somewhat dumbed down action butt kicking flick - a John Wick with a hotty, say. Boy were we wrong.

Atomic Blonde was a bit more cerebral than that, but still managed to capture a lot of the aforementioned butt kicking. The last spy film that had me in such a brainspin was Tinker Tailor, so maybe this is a kind of amalgamation of that and good ol' Wick?

This combination might have worked against it however, as the plot did end up being a bit confused, muddled and hole-ridden; the assumption being that a lot got left on the cutting room floor to make room of the kicking of butts. It definitely was not as satisfying to grok as Tinker Tailor was.

In conclusion the film was flawed for me overall. I just hope the sequel disposes of the mind games and sticks to the butt kicking.

Monday, August 14

A Northern Road Trip, Day Three: The Peak District

The second of the more popular Northern "districts", the Peak District offers more wonderful vistas and fun driving routes. The weather held today so we were able to do a bit more exploring - including a trip to Speedwell Cavern (you know, the one with the underground boat), as well as a nice afternoon tea at the Rose Cottage Cafe down in Castleton.

It was another successful day, cut short by us having to drive home. That kind of sums up the whole weekend really; a bit of a rush but with some ad-hoc serendipitous moments that made the whole trip. A quick win if you will.

Sunday, August 13

Food: eastZeast Click for more info

First of all: what's with the name? Is it a clever copyright avoiding rendition of "East is East"? Or something more hip for the youth? Maybe it's the only domain that was available? Who knows? Names aside, eastZeast was actually more than your typical Pakistani restaurant, and indeed was very good evidence of those up North claims of having the best Asian food.

We stuck to the usual: mixed grills, biryanis and kebabs and everything was tasty enough without being too heavy on the stomach. The bill came to around a tenner a head, which wasn't bad but also not unexpected as we were sat as a family of mixed ages as well as were very prudent while ordering.

Of course being situated in Bury means that I'll almost certainly never have the chance to go back, but I wouldn't be too upset if I did.

A Northern Road Trip, Day Two: Blackpool

Ah, Blackpool. I've been here a fair few times and if I'm honest haven't had too fond a memory of the place. But the weather was glorious and there was an excellent air show too, and along with the fish and chips lunch our time on the promenade was actually quite brilliant.

We then drove a bith further south to St Anne's Beach, a wonderfully sparse and sandy spot just made for whiling the afternoon away. Here's hoping it remains that way.

Today was fun, in a relaxing, carefree kind of way. It was just the ticket after yesterday.

Saturday, August 12

A Northern Road Trip, Day One: The Lake District

It was probably a good idea to travel up last night, a Friday. It allowed us to begin our Saturday relatively early with us reaching The Lake District in enough decent time. My memories of the Lake District are firmly rooted in the northern end of Lake Windermere, and as is always the case when visiting childhood locations the feeling of nostalgia was pretty compelling. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, we decided pretty on that we wouldn't spend too much time in the place we were all too familiar with.

Instead we headed west, toward Wast Water, braving the fun country roads in the not so fun rainy weather. We picnicked in relative isolation which was nice, but aside from that there was a lot of driving for not much outdoorsy stuff. We wanted to try a boat or something but found that the time and weather was against us.

Dinner at a friends house in Manchester meant a relatively early night and so we headed back. Perhaps tomorrow better whether will bring more fortune.

Thursday, August 3

Food: Pizza Toto Click for more info

I'm not quite sure how we ended up on Walthamstow High Street for a pizza, as poignant as that might be. The place was empty which wasn't the best sign. The service was lovely though, with what seemed like Authentic Italians™ welcoming us and making and serving our food.

Most of us went for the Calzone, substituting the pork for halal beef. We received some garlic bread too (and now that I think about it, I'm not sure if they charged us for that) on top of which was Scotch Bonnet oil. That alone was an experience all in itself. Luckily we were able to remove that ingredient from the calzones to come.

When they did arrive we were quite taken aback by the sheer size of them, although our fears turned out to be pretty unfounded by the end of our meals. They were perfectly weighted, if a little soggy, but ultimately satisfying enough for me.

Topping off the meal was a scoop of ice cream, promised to have been sourced by one of the best suppliers in Italy. It was decent, although I'm not sure if it was entirely worth the £2.80 it was listed at. Luckily we were given a decent discount on the bill (with the costing of the garlic bread remaining a mystery) which resulted in a relatively acceptable £7.50 charge per head.

Overall I'm not sure if I'd go out of my way to eat at Pizza Toto again. That's a bit of a shame since it was actually quite a nice experience having eaten there, and could possibly improve loads as time goes on. If you're on the High Street at the time then you could probably do much worse.

Tuesday, August 1

Film: Dunkirk Click for more info

I don't really have much of an affinity for war movies. I'm not entirely sure why this is; it's certainly nothing as lofty as finding war porno perverse, or a distaste of the glorification of killing or even a critical stance on certain perceptions of history. I guess I just simply find them boring, so it was with some trepidation that I approached Dunkirk (having primed myself on the relevant Wikipedia page beforehand).

Although I was aware that this was a Nolan film, a few things did take me by surprise. Tee shifting time spans had me puzzled for a while, but showed their effectiveness once they made sense. The acting was a bit mixed, with some terrific performances sat alongside... well Harry Styles (he wasn't that bad actually). The plot was simple and straightforward, with some subtlety if you chose to acknowledge it.

Overall the film was a good one, and less warlike than I was anticipating (not withstanding my lack of reference material, that is). Recommended.

Tuesday, July 25

Film: Spider-Man: Homecoming Click for more info

You know your blog is old when you've already written about the previous two reboots of a comic book character. On the other hand, that kind of pedigree and exposure does put this, the first MCU iteration of our favourite neighbourhood webslinger, in a unique position - it's impossible to watch this without some kind of comparison.

Well in short Sam and Tobey still top the list for me. In fact I'd go as far as to say that the MCU might have even spoiled the character a bit - the superhero side at least is pretty much unrecognisable from what we've been fond of all these years. The characters are revamped and updated and the whole thing just feels a bit shoe-horned in and web 2.0.

On the other hand this is possibly the first Spider-Man that captures the immaturity and youth of Peter Parker, and that while avoiding (in the most part) falling into the angsty trap that young adult film sometimes falls into.

So yes, MCU Spider-Man is okay, not great... and that probably only because we've seen it done so well already. Given the size of the MCU now that's probably as much as we should expect really.

Tuesday, July 18

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

Oh man, where did they go wrong? After the first two chapters in the sublime franchise about clever apes, how can releasing such a shallow cash in of a movie ever be seen as just or fair?

Yes there are apes, yes there is a bad guy, yes there is action. But it's what's missing that's really upsetting - there's no depth, no nuance, no engagement here. It felt like more of a formality than a conclusion, and that's quite sad seeing as how the first two we really did have the making of a great trilogy.

On the other hand, if you did like the first two then you probably won't hate this. For me, it's made all three forgettable and that's a real great shame.

Sunday, July 16

Food: Razza Click for more info

I was preparing to say how generic and passe Razza was, being just another Indian... but it turns out that it was actually novel enough to stand out from the usual - if anything a few of us were stumped by the dizzying array of new options to try. The highlights included Tava Rolls, Chicken Paneer and even a Chicken dish served with a mango sauce and whipped cream (!).

The food itself was above average - so not great but passable. The service was also above par. Cost wise we ended up paying a tenner per head after enjoying a Gourmet Card discount which didn't feel too unfair.

Overall Razza was curious enough to grab our attention for this night, and for those who live in the vicinity it's a solid enough choice.

Wednesday, July 12

Film: Baby Driver Click for more info

As a film, Baby Driver was an okay, largely forgettable, series of car chases and musical fanservice. It's probably worth a watch at some point, but I don't think I would have been too upset if I had missed out.

But as an Edgar Wright joint, Baby Driver was very disappointing. It's almost as if Wright had started with a musical theme (a la La La Land) and built a movie around it, while omitting any of the depth or nuance of his other ingeniously made films.

This is a bit of a shame since the industry needs someone like Edgar Wright, whose willing to stick to his guns instead of buckling to common denominator pressures - his leaving of Ant Man was a case in point of his belief in his movie making style, but alas it didn't seem to quite carry all the way to Baby Driver. All apart from the opening credits coffee fetching scene - that was pure Edgar. It's just a shame it all ended there.

All of which leaves me quite sad actually, and so I've decided to revisit Hot Fuzz to cheer me up.

Wednesday, July 5

Film: The Mummy Click for more info

It turns out that The Mummy really was as bad as they told us it was. The premise was decent enough I guess - on top of the standard mummy affair we had the opening of the Dark Universe (what can I say? I'm a sucker for franchises), the introduction of a wider set of characters and some fun and games along the way too.

But the film itself just didn't work. The acting was shoddy, the production and editing confused and the whole flow just a bit of a mess really. It would be unfair to call the film terrible, but it certainly wasn't unmissable. I like to think that my investment will pay off when the franchise eventually opens up... but I'm not holding my breath really.

So no, I guess that really falls short of a recommendation.

Sunday, July 2

Food: Faroz Click for more info

You know, it's now come to the point where it's difficult to do a bad Turkish or Lebanese. That's not to say that such places serve no purpose - they're great for when adventure or pomp isn't required, the default workhorse when it comes to picking a restaurant. So yes, a solid and dependable grill will always be welcome - more so at least than a substandard one.

Faroz is a solid restaurant. There were no surprises here, the food was well above standard with the food coming quickly in an effective demonstration of good service. The price was bang on as expected, with my two sticks of kobdeh and chips coming in at just under a tenner.

Oh and the location was interesting, with the restaurant paying for our parking while we ate - a decent bonus all things considered. Faroz at the very least has become my go to place when I can't be bothered to look further afield.

Saturday, July 1

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child Click for more info

Just to be clear, I had no plan (or hope) to ever get to watch this play - the idea of booking anything a month let alone A WHOLE YEAR in advance makes me a little queasy, and these days I'm happy to overlook things if they happen to be just too much hard work. But that's why I jumped at the chance when a friend offered me a spare ticket for both parts today - there really would have been no probable way I would have seen this play otherwise.

First things first though: Harry Potter And The Cursed Child is not an epic production. It's okay. That of course is more than enough for any kind of Harry Potter fan (of which I place myself at a sturdy 6 on a 10 scale), and there was plenty of fan service and nostalgia for those who fondly remember the last two decades of the Wizarding World. The lack of music is particularly jarring, although I'm not quite sure why I expected this to be a musical in the first place.

So yes, the acting was okay, the wardrobe okay, the plot slightly undercooked (especially when placed in relation to some of the more twisty Potter plots). Technically the stage was pretty fun - the sense of magic was definitely there with some clever and cool tricks played on us, the audience. But I can't say too much, especially seeing as I picked up a #keepthesecrets badge too. Oh and on that note, splitting the play into two parts was pretty much criminal; there's no real reason for it to have been so long really.

So in conclusion: Am I glad I went? Absolutely, most definitely, and not just for the exclusivity of the occasion. Watching The Cursed Child definitely expands the Potter world we know and love and you can't really claim to have seen it all with out it.

On the other hand, do I think it's indispensable? Probably not, but then that is coming from a 6/10 fan. If you have the patience to wait a year then you probably should, especially for the price of £30 that we paid for both parts. Otherwise you could read the script for the story, which for me was the best part of it all.

Wednesday, June 28

Film: Wonder Woman Click for more info

The DC Extended Universe has had its critics in the past, so much so that Wonder Woman has been seen as the uptick in the series, the first indication that yes, perhaps the alternative will be able to combat the mighty MCU. I have to kind of disagree though, both with WW being the turning point (I actually quite liked BVS) and that WW is a decent enough film.

It was, at best, okay. Gal Gadot's acting was okay. The special effects were okay (although really the CGI fighting scenes really should have been better). The plot? Okay. The film was very middling, and didn't even take the opportunity to discuss feminism and the like in any great depth.

So yes, I left a little disappointed... but not enough to completely dislike the movie. As I mentioned I've already formed a like of the DCEU and WW hasn't really changed my stance there.

Wednesday, May 24

Food: Pizza East Click for more info

Hipster pizza ahoy! I really wanted to dislike Pizza East, but it turns out it wasn't half bad. The food itself was mixed - the garlic bread starter was uninspiring but the main itself, a veggie special, was equally spectacular. At around £15 per head it wasn't the best deal but it did just about enough for me to want to try it again. Recommended.

Tuesday, May 23

Food: The Big Easy Click for more info

BBQs are typical useless areas for us Muslim types; a meat orientated menu doesn't really offer much. But this is London in the 201x's (?) and even the most hardcore of meat places now cater for those with particular diets. Not that Big Easy is the perfect place for an Eid lunch; alas no, it's only the chicken that's Halal here, most of which is smoked alongside more porky types of meat (if indeed such a restriction applies). But alongside the various lobster options its enough to provide a decent amount of range - I at least was happy with my lobster roll and chicken strips.

The food was solid and plentiful, and with a lunchtime menu pretty decent value. £13 got me more food than I could eat (except I did) consisting of a starter, main with chips and a drink. That's pretty decent fare if you ask me and alone earns The Big Easy a recommendation. That everything was good just added to the good times.

Wednesday, May 17

Film: Alien: Covenant Click for more info

After the train wreck that was Prometheus, one might accuse me of being insane to give the franchise another try. But here I am, that glutton for punishment, hoping that this time things will be different.

And for me at least it kind of paid off. I rather enjoyed Covenant. It appeared to have corrected all the issues I had with the previous instalment at least - sure there were still some issue here and perhaps even some plot holes, but all in all there was enough to keep the film ticking along.

I do have to give the crew of the Covenant a special mention (or even award) for being the least professional shiprunners ever in any film with a ship, but that frustration just added to the engagement really. Recommended.

Wednesday, May 10

Book: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams Click for more info

I know I'm supposed to have read this years ago, and I know I'm supposed to like h2g2, I know it's supposed to be a core part of what makes me a nerd but I also know I'm the first to be surprised by what I actually think of the book.

I didn't like it.

I found it scatterbrained, illogical and... quite boring. The thing is, it is actually quite nerdy, and this manifests in a certain level of arrogant comedy where the book laughs at itself with quite cheap humour. I guess that could mean that I found it of little substance? The book doesn't flow, the plot is non existent and farcical, and it all seems to have been a bit of a punt. That said, it does feel like it would make a great radio show.

I have the collection, and the next book is something about a Restaurant at the end of the Universe, but I can't quite find myself to continue.

Wednesday, May 3

Food: Saffron Kitchen Click for more info

Sometimes it's the local options that remain overlooked. Saffron has been on my list of places to try for the five years its been open, but it was always skipped for other more seemingly exotic options. But now that I've been, I've come to realise exactly what Saffron is: the safe, solid choice if you want a decent Indian without wanting to optimise or think about it too much. The default option if you will. The fact that the place is huge (190 covers or so) means you don't even have to plan a visit ahead (although the proprietor at the time did tell it it does get very busy).

We stuck to starters tonight, which were all more than enough for us. Dessert was also a decent surprise with the red velvet cookie dough hitting the spot quite nicely. If I'm honest, the £55 bill for four (including a jug of Mango Lassi) was a bit of a surprise, but we did over order slightly so perhaps it was a calibration error on our part.

All in all though it was decent and I will come again.

Film: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 Click for more info

GotG Vol 1 was a bit of a surprise hit when it came out in 2014 - I for one wasn't expecting it to be as good as it was. It also heavily progressed the Infinity arc, was fresh in a landscape of "samey" MCU films and all in all was generally full fat and very much good value for money.

In contrast GotG Vol 2 is a very vanilla film. That's not to say that it wasn't good - I thoroughly enjoyed it, in fact - but it doesn't feel as magical or fresh as the first film. It was actually all rather safe in fact. This isn't a bad thing, since sometimes you do need to rebalance the stage that is the MCU, but for some who are expecting "more" it could feel a bit disappointing.

Still, I will recommend the film.

Tuesday, April 18

Film: Fast & Furious 8 Click for more info

Although it only seems like yesterday that I watched it, I can't quite remember much of F&F7 apart from how... flat it compared to the three before it. Unfortunately that trend continues with the eighth instalment with Dom and co providing all the actions and thrill you'd come to expect... but little of the heart, charm or magic that always used be the most important part of the films.

Perhaps it's just run it course, or maybe after continually trying to top the previous one F&F has just devolved into a farce of preposterousness. It's just not the same.

Having said that, the film was fun and still worth watching as a fun packed action flick, so it does still get that recommendation... I just wonder if it's time to give up the idea of it being that everlasting franchise we all hoped for.

Sunday, April 9

Food: Masala Chai Nashta Click for more info

South Asian Breakfasts have long been a thing, with greasy Sunday morning halwa poori and the like being served all over East London in the last few years or so. Its a guilty pleasure (well, for some who actually care what they eat) which then makes it a bit of a special occasion really - which then brings with it a bit of cognitive dissonance since most of these places can only be described as "sleazy dives".

Which is why Chai Nashta was a bit of a surprise. It was actually a pretty clean and relatively swanky place, with lots of space and families treating themselves this Sunday morning. The service was on a "best effort basis", accommodating but a bit slow, but the food that eventually came was certainly worth it. Already then, Chai Nashta is a bit of a hit.

The only real puzzle was the menu - it seemed a little bit imbalanced really, but that does mean those who know what they want will be able to apply a bit of arbitrage. If they do then they're in for a bit of a bargain: a few pence over five quid fully satisfied the five of us who were sat there today, which to be frank was already a steal.

So yes, definitely recommended for the place then, although of course the qualifier about one's health still applies. Maybe every couple of months is a decent enough balance. Cough.

Tuesday, April 4

Film: Power Rangers Click for more info

So I was actually a pretty big Power Rangers fan back in in the days of my youth. I'm not sure if I actually spent any of my Eid money on merchandise, but I certainly did get up every Saturday morning (or whenver it was) to catch the weekly episode of my favourite hammy fighting team. And oh my days, the zords were super cool too, and that was before the Green Ranger came on the scene. Oh Tommy.

Despite my nostalgic love for show, I was fully expecting the film to be bad. Like really, bad. Except.... it wasn't. In fact, it was rather good. Yes, sure, it laboured with the angsty teen stuff a bit longer than it needed to, but as a film it flowed pretty well and was a lot of fun. It even managed to recreate the same sense of hammy fighting and action I so dearly loved.

Which kind of puts me in a quandary. Do I recommend Power Rangers or not? Does the context matter? I'll with my gut and say no; that Power Rangers 2017 was way fun enough to stand on its own two feet.

Thursday, March 30

All the Single Muslims

(Blog title shamelessly ripped off from the recent Extremely British Muslims here)

I mentioned in a previous post how I had recently discovered a vocabulary/language/framing that I found to be quite useful in thinking about some of the trials and tribulations suffered by those looking for a partner in these modern times. In that article I alluded to some of the more unique or specific scenarios that single Muslims are subject to and as promised here is the follow up post hoping to discuss that further. To recap though, those looking for a partner generally fall on a scale between two extremes:

  • The Companionates, who are looking for something a little more practical and measurable.
  • The Passionates, who are looking for something a little less describable and more subjective.

I'd recommend having a skim of the last post if you wanted more detail on the two groups. The important thing to note is that companionate and passionate concerns largely lie on the same axis and it's difficult if not impossible to reconcile the two. Feedback from the last post suggests that many don't agree, and if you're one of them the following probably won't hold much water for you either. In fact in many ways the manner in which some people claim that the two are orthogonal is the essence of my post below. Not that may smack of some kind of personal post-justified confirmation bias but hey, that's why this is a blog and not an academic paper.

I'll start with Identity. We all have one. Sometimes we choose what makes it up, sometimes that happens naturally via osmosis or upbringing. As we get older, we get more control over it. Muslims are generally taught to make Islam a large part of their primary identities. There are well defined concepts of brotherhood, community and character and with Islam being a largely scriptural religion a lot of things have been modeled for us, not many less so than marriage. In essence, marriage in Islam is naturally companionate and we are taught what to value and look for, and what to offer in return.

This isn't necessarily an issue (and perhaps even made things easier during simpler times), except for the desire for (or pressure placed on) many to embrace more identities alongside that of Islam. There seems to be a natural drive to be more than just an individual of a single dimension but the trouble here is that as with most things, identity is a finite measure and has a capacity, and each component we wish to add to it takes up some of that capacity at the expense of stuff that's already there - in fact we're often explicitly told to ignore any limits we might have or compromises we'd be making, and the result is a struggle to reconcile some quite disparate internal agendas. This struggle manifests itself in the issues some face in our workplaces, in our more social settings and (as you might have guessed by now) in our marriages and relationships. And I should be clear here: having multidimensional and multifaceted identities isn't in itself a bad thing, provided that the implications are acknowledged. Unfortunately they are more than often not.

With respect to marriage most requirements from the non Islamic part of ones identity will almost certainly be passionate in nature - for example a man might be less expected to fulfill what would have been seen as an Islamic duty to provide. Potentially, partners might not even need to be Muslim in the first place. In other words, the companionate requirements due to the Islamic identity should, in theory anyway, be replaced by the more passionate demands introduced.

And this is where the first obstacle might be seen: the Muslim identity is a powerful one and difficult to overtly compromise on, particularly when third parties become involved. Some have a tough time accepting the fact that if they want to embrace new identities in themselves, then they will have to compromise on their existing Islamic identities as well as compromise on the level of Islamic identity they expect in others. As a result they are left with two sets of requirements, one companionate and the other passionate... and we already know that that's the easiest way to have a very difficult time in the search. It seems like most caught in this trap are passionates on the surface, but can't quite let go of their ingrained companionate requirements. Worse still, the companionate demands tend to be requested and not offered, with the subject offering only passionate fulfillment in return. For the opposite party, whether companionate and passionate, this will never be seen as a fair trade.

Otherwise the observations are the same as in non-Muslim interactions: there seem to be more Passionate types than Companionate (at least overtly), with the latter knowing what they have to give to get and the former taking more of a "let's see what happens" approach. The twist is that many want and want to be both, the end result being complaints about candidates either "not wanting to fulfill their responsibilities" or "with whom a click isn't found", the irony being that in some ways these two requirements will always be diametrically opposed (at least during the search itself). The search for a passionate also demands a flexibility in dating that many believe their faith might have a positive view of: intimacy, co-habitation and the like.

Apart from the mismatch between passionate and companionate requirements, this "identity dissonance" also manifests in other ways. Progressive individualism contradicts the more traditional communalism many also seem to want, and we're left in a situation where every party is looking for someone to subsume rather than join. Differing concepts of chastity and morality also tend to add confusion, resulting in marriage sites which blur photos (demanded by a companionate, but scorned by a passionate) and mass marriage events - something I believe can only be seen in the Muslim demographic.

These internal conflicts have brought challenges and problems that still haven't quite been solved, and indeed seem to be the root of many issues seen in the Muslim demographic elsewhere. Coming back to this specific topic however, it seems the only perceived answer is to somehow conjure up a notion of Halal-yet-passionate boy/girlfriend type relationships which seems extremely difficult if not impossible to implement. It's then not that surprising there's a bit of a crisis.

Or is it really that impossible? Perhaps Islam has already dealt with this very issue by default. If so the real solution might be for those in the conflicted position to figure out exactly which companionate requirements they genuinely want and then to make those abundantly clear - and once formalised in a legal way to then focus on the less objective stuff. That in itself sounds like the companionate search, except one that forces each as individuals to decide for themselves where those requirements actually lie.