Tuesday, December 24

Film: Jumanji: The Next Level Click for more info

The (second?) sequel in the Jumanji franchise plays it safe. It is essentially a remix of the first (second?) film, with essentially the same plot, progression and hammy acting. Even some of the jokes are recycled directly from the previous installment.

But you know what? It didn't matter. If you're going to see this, then you'll know exactly what to expect; and that the film delivers on it all is no bad thing.

And that's pretty much why there's not much more to say about Jumanji 2 (3?). It's recommended to those who loved the fir... previous one.

Saturday, December 21

Food: Neat Burger Click for more info

I've been eager to try these new breed of meat like vegan burgers for a while, and although Beyond has been available in certain supermarkets for a while, it was only until I had heard of Neat Burger that I really believed I could give it a go. The marketing is a bit strange on this one though - when it was launched the restaurant was quite explicit in where the meat was from, with the Beyond brand plastered all over the menu. This has since changed to "Neat Meat", so even though I visited today I'm not actually certain that I've tried Beyond meat.

But perhaps that's not really the point. Regardless of where they source their patties, it's the end result that matters the most, as well as how Neat Burger is as a place to eat overall. The place is certainly clean, modern and, yes, neat, and although there's not actually any table service what is provided is with a smile. It being a hipster joint is most certainly reflected in the price, with my double burger with trimmings (I had opted for cheese and to make it spicy), but no sides, hitting the £10 mark. And yes, you need the double.

Which brings us to the food. Although it wasn't the best burger I had, and clearly wasn't meat, it certainly wasn't shabby. It had a overcooked texture, but I wasn't sure if that was due to the nature of the substitute or excess time on the grill. Otherwise it was tasty enough and I would be more than happy to go back if not for the price.

Thursday, December 19

Film: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Click for more info

You know, I'd be the first to say I'm more forgiving than otherwise with regards to this current trend of milking nostalgia. I enjoyed both TFA and TLJ enough for me to consider them decent films (although I also enjoyed the prequel trilogy too so...) Heck, I'm even happy to be described as a Star Wars apologist.

But try as I might, I just can't bring myself to defend TROS. I find it equally difficult to explain why it was so bad. Is it a hack job? A cash grab? Does JJ just not care? I sadly smile while I revisited my review of TFA which warned about Abrams' potential to ruin all our lives, and here we are.

It was just all so flat, so hum drum, so... convenient. I found myself thinking about the MCU, and how easily they managed to serve us such a rewarding experience - was it really not possible to do the same? I guess not, and it turns out that fanservice isn't easy after all. One highlight was Babu Frik, but it wasn't enough to save the film.

I'm even struggling to recommend this for a cinema watch, where the event vibe of such a release would compensate for any shortcomings in its quality. So no, my official recommendation is to not watch this, even if you are a die hard fan - it's perfect for a home viewing though, something to watch with that new Disney+ subscription you'll all be getting.

Tuesday, December 17

Book: Star Wars: Resistance Reborn, Rebecca Roanhorse Click for more info

It turns out that it takes an event to force me to read these days. Enter Resistance Reborn, a Star Wars novel set soon after the events of The Last Jedi and the Battle of Crait.

First up a spoiler: no, you don't need to read this book to get any insight into either TLJ or The Rise of Skywalker. Reading in that hope will, like it did for me, only result in disappointment.

The good news is that otherwise the novel isn't that bad. It's accessible, well written and manages well in the characterisation it offers to the reader. It's very much a "day in the life of a resistance fighter" kind of tale, and as such could be seen as quite flat, mundane even. But it's such a low effort and quick read that's not the problem it could have been.

Overall I'd recommend the book for those who want something to tide them over till the release of the next film, or just as a quick timepass for those who miss the SW universe. For everyone else there may be little to see here.

Wednesday, December 11

Film: Charlie's Angels Click for more info

I mean, for sure, Charlie's Angels is a badly made film. The editing is poor, the acting uninspiring and the plot passable. And yet... I really enjoyed the film.

Maybe it's the charm, or how easy going it is, or that it never takes itself too seriously, sometimes even going as far as to mock itself. It was very laugh out loud at times, and held a constant level of FGF.

It's one of those films that is much better than it has any right to be, and for me just about comes recommended. Just don't go in expecting Little Women, I guess.

Wednesday, December 4

Film: Frozen II Click for more info

It was in looking at Frozen II that I realised I had also watched the first in the cinema way back in 2013. I do feel that my opinion of Frozen has changed - it's a better film after repeat views I guess - and in an over-saturation of animated films it does sit quite high up.

It's ironic then that I could write exactly the same review for its sequel.

I still don't know what was missing: the lack of a decent villain maybe, or just the jarring pacing issues throughout. At the end of the day it just felt like an excuse for another Frozen movie, which if we're honest, it probably was. Still, Toy Story 4 managed to pull it off so there was no reason why Elsa and Anna couldn't have either.

There were some highs. The technology has improved and the film looks great - particularly the water (as boring as that sounds). Oh and that Chicago-esque 80's power ballad was definitely the best part and was possibly even what saved the film for me.

So yes. Frozen II is just another animated film, rather than a Disney classic. But hey, who knows? Maybe when the second sequel is released I'll appreciate the film before more.

Tuesday, November 26

Food: Mak Grillz Click for more info

Halaloodie burger reviews are more or less completely commoditised now, so I won't spend too much time subjectively talking about yet another gourmet burger place open in East London. So yeah - the service was great and more importantly the food didn't disappoint either. I went for the safe choice of a burger with turkey rashers and was sufficiently satisfied with the whole experience.

The price was middling which I supposed is a polite way of saying it was a little overpriced. A quid or so lower and Mak's could have become a go to place, but as it stands it ends up just another option in an already saturated and optimised market.

Film: Knives Out Click for more info

Although mainly billed and received as a throwback to the classic whodunnit genre, I would say that most assessments of that sort really aren't doing the film justice. In fact I'd go as far to say that Knives Out was a poor murder mystery - it was just contrived and convenient enough to always stay ahead of, so if you're looking for a chewy brain busting story to make yourself feel smart when solving... this isn't it. Similarly don't expect too many surprise twists or big reveals here.

But here's the thing: I really didn't mind because the whole thing was so much fun and a joy to watch. It was smoothly made (if you forgive some of the stretches it makes for the sake of the mystery), with some great shot work and as a commentary it managed a lot so concisely without being overbearing. Expect political satire, the contemporary mixed with old fashion and lovely characters just going at it. This is a film with a mansion, a murder mystery author, social justice warriors, alt-right trolls and even Instagram influencers.

I did have some issues with the film, but I can't quite say much about them without spoiling the film. But in any case they don't matter - as long as you're not dead set on a Poirot, you really can't get much better. Recommended.

Wednesday, November 20

Film: Le Mans '66 Click for more info

It pains me to start any review with a comparative, but Le Mans '66 (elsewhere known as what I see as the lesser title of Ford vs Ferrari) is just not as good as Rush - and that on multiple levels.

The film itself had its set pieces, even if they were alongside some wonky pacing. It was otherwise made well enough but overall misses the spice and energy that a racing film is supposed to have.

But more than that, its the rivalry that comes short in this film. There is not much of a "vs" in this film, with our heroes actually only ever battling their own managers and bosses. We don't even hear the opposing drivers talking.

I'm being unfair of course. Not every racing film can be a Rush or Fast and Furious, and if you don't look too closely Le Mans '66 is a decent enough time pass. It's just not a film that'll win any races.

Wednesday, November 6

Film: Doctor Sleep Click for more info

The best way I can describe Doctor Sleep is to call it an appropriate sequel to The Shining. Those looking for more Kubrick levels of cinematography and mindscrewery might find themselves disappointed - this is first and foremost a horror film from the modern era. The story and direction are all more explicit, and therefore I suppose far easily digestible.

And yet the film doesn't suffer at all for it. On the contrary I suspect if it had chosen to ape The Shining it would have been a bit of a failure. That's not to say it totally disposes of its heritage: there's more than enough fan service here to satiate all but the purest fans of The Shining.

So yes, all in all Doctor Sleep is a well built and enjoyable flick that gets my recommendation.

Wednesday, October 30

Film: Zombieland: Double Tap Click for more info

Quite shockingly, it's been a decade since the first Zombieland came out, and since I appeared to have enjoyed that back then (I can't claim to have remembered it, so thank heavens for this blog) I was mildly excited about its reprisal.

And Double Tap does a pretty decent job - the ten year gap has clearly stopped the producers from making this just a cash in, and instead we get a film that takes what makes the first so great and turns it up a notch or two. The cast are great, the story more than ample and the action firmly of the slapstick genre. At this rate in 2029 I might even be making a claim for best trilogy.

Fun, tight and well built Double Tap gets a recommendation from me.

Wednesday, October 23

Film: Terminator: Dark Fate Click for more info

Despite many flaws, Dark Fate does what the (first two) Terminator movies do best. They each portray a menacing chase against an insurmountable and never-tiring enemy only to come out tops at the end. In many ways then, Dark Fate is just a remake of Terminator 2. That isn't necessarily a criticism though.

Most of the flaws come from the story and perhaps the pacing of the film. The time travelling and other holes are simply magicked away (not least by completely deleting T3, Salvation and Genisys from existence), while some of the special effects fall short of what is otherwise a great spectacle.

It's easiest to consider the film a series of highly enjoyable and high adrenaline set pieces, and forgive the rest. And as someone who also doesn't mind a bit of fan service, the homages all act as the icing on the cake.

A recommendation from me.

Tuesday, October 15

Film: Ready or Not Click for more info

Apart from looking like a fun romp, I was particularly looking forward to Ready or Not due to it's lead actress, Samara Weaving. I felt that a lot of 2017's The Babysitter's decent comedy horror came from Weaving and hoped the same for this film. And it seems that it was a good bet to have made.

Ready or Not is a lot of fun. It's not the smoothest of films, but does have some genius within. It also doesn't pull any punches - I was surprised at its 18 rating but on balance it was well earned. It also manages to balance its simplistic set up with a rewarding enough payoff, although this is a film that seems to solidly follow the playbook so don't expect too much novelty here.

Ultimately the film, and Weaving, both do enough to earn Ready or Not a recommendation from me.

Tuesday, October 8

Film: Joker Click for more info

Joker is a good film. It's actually a great film. It's been wonderfully produced and the acting treads that fine line between class and comic that very few comic adaptations manage to do. It tackles some pretty high level topics like mental illness and civil revolution, and yet provides enough basic entertainment (be that comedy, drama or even violence) to remain accessible. It's multidimensional too, and gives the viewer plenty to talk about post credits.

The problem is that all these things make Joker merely a very okay Joker film. I'd even argue that it would have been far better, perhaps even reaching classic status, if the film was set outside of Gotham. As it stands the superhero (or rather supervillain) context is superfluous at best - and distracting at worst.

That said, with a bit of effort it's easy enough to ignore the comic book ingredients and enjoy the film for its good parts - a dark, sad tale about how an already disadvantaged soul is transformed by the harsh environment he lives in. And with that qualification the film gets a recommendation from me.

Monday, September 16

Peru, Day One: The Sacred Valley

After a what turned out to be not that bad a night, we finally landed in Cusco at 7am, our driver waiting for us at the arrival gate. After a well deserved breakfast in the main square, we headed to our first stop in the Sacred Valley: Pisac. Although we may have lingered there for slightly longer than we should have, the hilltop temple ruin was our first taste of Incan culture and so we never got bored.


As per usual we were on a tight schedule; in fact we had only really budgeted today for the Sacred Valley. Eventually we had to adjust our itinerary, nixing Chinchero for Maras and Moray, each peculiar and vital in their own way.


Moray was a quick visit - the salt mines themselves aren't really accessible beyond a balcony overlooking the area. Contrast that with Moray, where we were really able to get up close and personal. Both were equally vital to visit though.


Ollantaytambo was our stay for the night, and although we had initially aimed to check out the fortress and terraces we were pretty much spent by the time we reached the town. Between dinner and what we knew would be another early start the next day, we decided to call it a night.

Sunday, September 15

Peru, Day Zero: Slumming It in Lima

I won't bore you with another diatribe on my current relationship with travel. And yet here I am, less than four days after returning from what was a pretty epic (read: packed) trip, embarking on yet another. Peru has always been on the list though - it was probably the first on that list - and even though I'd be the first to admit that going now is probably a result of a collective midlife crisis its nice to finally go for something in that has been so long in the making.

Flying West means a long day already, but due to the somewhat irritating scheduling in Lima (where it's impossible to catch any domestic flight if landing direct from London) a 5am flight tomorrow promises a rough night ahead with what will be a first for me: slumming it overnight on the airport floor.

Tuesday, September 10

North Pakistan, Day Fourteen: Islamabad To The End

The biggest issue we faced today was the holiday. It was Muharram, so almost everything was closed. I'd even go as far as to say we became pretty desperate for things to do. In fact, I'd go further and even suggest that, respective to the rest of the trip, the last three days had pretty much stalled.

Our first attempt at visiting an attraction was the Pakistan Railway Museum. The museum itself was closed, but the station itself had plenty of colonial delights to offer us. It was actually quite enjoyable even though most of it was restricted for us. Perhaps just as interesting were the slums we drove through on the way; the first indication I saw of the poverty here in Islamabad.


We then went on to the Shakarparian Friendship Garden, where visiting leaders and dignitaries would be asked to plant trees. There were actually some big hitters named here, including various past leaders of the USA, China and Iran.


Next up was the Pakistan Monument. This was exactly what was said on the tin, although I have to admit the monument itself was pretty impressive - and informative if like me visitors take the time to interpret all the murals present.


We then visited Saidpur, which was esoteric itself even before you visit the Hindu temples at the end of the village.


Our next stop was our hotel to kill a couple of hours before heading off to Faisal Masjid to offer Asr prayer in congregation. This was another significant memory brought back, and considering it wasn't exactly a new mosque 20 years ago it was doubly impressive to see just how timeless its design still is.


Dinner was then at Monal on the Margalla Hills, which offered both decent food and excellent views of the capital. We managed to stay there for sunset so got Islamabad both during the day and night.


By the end of our meal we had all gone into clock watching mode as we counted down the hours to our late flight back home. Our driver took us to Rawalpindi for tea and pakoras, which in my eyes was definitely a bonus as I had never visited the much older adjoining city before (and in fact never realised how accessible it was from Islamabad).

And that was all we had left for our trip of North Pakistan. We did a lot; more than enough, and in some ways we had even done too much on a trip that might have better been served with repeated return visits. Then again, we do still have most of the west of the region to cover, so maybe these are lessons we can forward with us after all.

Monday, September 9

North Pakistan, Day Thirteen: Civilisation

We began the day with a visit to the Patriyata Chair Lift. This was a decent enough time pass, with the chairlift itself being more of an attraction than the park at the top. Unfortunately the second cable car leg was closed, and I suspect that might have been where the real views were offered. Ultimately though, I feel that we should have stuck with Neelum Valley.


We were now in Muree proper, and spent some time in Mall Road for shopping and ice cream. It was again nice to be back in the hustle and bustle of a tourist attraction, although I suppose we didn't spend enough time there to get bored. After that it was on to Islamabad, eating corn on the cob en route.


The rest of the day played out like a Islamabad checklist: we spent some time in Lake View Park, and had a quick drive by tour of all the various administrative buildings that you might recognise from the usual news channels and the like.


After checking into our final hotel of the trip, we went for well deserved chapli kebabs at Habibi's, after which we treated ourselves to a quick drive around Islamabad.

Sunday, September 8

North Pakistan, Day Twelve: Not in Kansas Anymore

Abbottobad was the final location on this leg of backtracking. It was there that we turned east toward Muree. The original plan was to visit the Neelum Valley, but given the current climate that was thought to be too risky.

This was an area near Islamabad that we had also visited all those years ago. Back then it was an exotic trip to the mountains - now it looks like a commercial suburb that the City Folk go to for a couple of hours' jaunt. If that sounds like a complaint, it's not - after ten or so days of road travel and sparseness it was comforting to be back on familiar ground.


We visited the Samundar Katha Lake, a man made lake-cum-park that was a bit of a bust even if you discount the single road lane bottlenecks going up and down to the site.


Back in Muree town, St Matthew's Church was closed, and many other sights were just overly bust due to the Muharram long weekend. Even when we popped out after checking in at around 8pm the place was still busy.



Saturday, September 7

North Pakistan, Day Eleven: Back to Backtracking

Today we continued with our backtracking, visiting many places we had already passed before, but of course this time in reverse order.


So we again saw Babusar Top, Naran (where we stopped for a pretty excellent lunch at the Mountain Top Restaurant), Kaghan (but sadly with no chapli kebab this time) and finally settling in at Bisian near Balakot for the night.

Friday, September 6

North Pakistan, Day Ten: The Long Road Back

A 4:30am start was required for us to take on the Skardu Road.

That said, any fears I had of becoming bored of the driving here vanished as we were treated to yet another winding, albeit very unfinished, mountain road. We stopped for breakfast at around 8:40am - or rather we decided to have breakfast while we were stopped by a temporarily closed road.


We stopped for a break at a PTDC hotel, this one with a stunning example of how obnoxious badly planned commode toilets can be. I didn't fit, and so I requested my preference of the squatting type.


Back on the road, and things still were not uneventful. Lots of roadworks, waterfall stops, valley-traversing-trolleys and even a landslide, all before noon. All that, and accompanied by some stunning views of Nanga Parbat.

Jummah was offered at the same mosque in Juglot that we visited what now seems like months ago. After that, it was more backtracking, and we finally reached Chillas at a decent hour where we had a night's stay.

Thursday, September 5

North Pakistan, Day Nine: Forth and Back

To start what could only be described as a day of time pass, we visited the Amburiq Mosque, said to be the first of Shigar.


We then travelled West on to Skardu for what was supposed to be a brief ATM stop but turned out to take over an hour. Still, we got to see the Old Market at least.


After a brief diversion to see a dried up lake and some sand dunes (and eat a bag load of Apricots), we continued to Kachura Lake.


The best thing about the lake? The fish lunch. Trout? Herring? I didn't care. It was great.


Interestingly I noticed a lot of polite yet very public instruction for women to wear and respect the hijab. I've yet to see any kind of similar material in Karachi. And it's probably going to get me into trouble to say it but the girls did appear a little more discreet this far north.

On the way back from the lake we stopped off at the Shangrila Resort where we paid 500 rupees each to wander its grounds. Needless to say this was a waste of both time and money. A late evening tea was had at the Skardu PTDC overlooking the Indus River. We took the opportunity to visit an exhibition on the K2 and the impressive services provided to those who wish to challenge the mountain. The sense of national pride was palpable.

We then headed back to Shigar, which was a little irritating as a big chunk of our journey tomorrow will be to retread most of the road that we drive today as we finally start making our way back in the direction of Islamabad.

Wednesday, September 4

North Pakistan, Day Eight: The Palace

Like Hunza, Shigar is also a "dead end" on our itinerary, a location from which we plan to turn back from. So we spent today travelling east for the last time, along what now seemed like a less exciting mountain road to Khaplu. I admit, I'm probably becoming desensitised to the mountains.


We reached Khaplu by 1pm, immediately noticing the Tibetan roots in the people here. The main point of interest here as the palace, one of the more impressive I've seen this trip. Unfortunately another sight, the Chaqchan Mosque, was closed due to a Majlis, so we had to make do only with photos of the exterior.


After lunch we headed back to Shigar, stopping off at Manthokha Waterfall for sunset.


It was quite the inefficient day, but in the same way easier than the most recent. We also returned back to our accommodation quite late, which among other things gave us a chance to finally see the stars... as well as the horrific aftermath of a car accident.

Tuesday, September 3

North Pakistan, Day Seven: The Great Plains

Another early start, this time continuing along the Astore Valley Road in the direction of Skardu. After a wrong turn (which honestly didn't actually bother us since any road offers unique views) we were back on track and reached the Deosai Plains by noon.


I guess as all great plains would, it seemed endless.


We spent what felt like many many hours crossing the plain into the Skardu Valley Road which matched, if not beat the Astore equivalent for sights.


We hit Skardu at 1630, which is when I realised that we weren't actually staying there - no, we continued on a little further to Shigar, where we found the fort we were going to stay in.

Yes, that's right. A friggin' fort.

Monday, September 2

North Pakistan, Day Six: Backtracking

After a touch of morning souvenir shopping we continued with the backtracking that had begun yesterday.


Even though it hadn't been long, and we hadn't really stayed much in these places, it was almost poignant passing back through the Nagar Valley and seeing Gilgit and so on. We eventually stopped for a Chup Sharo lunch we had taken away from Hunza at a little stop near Jaglot (the first one), before turning into The Astore Valley Road.


What a road. This was the quintessential narrow and winding valley road and offered us sights I thought I could only see in films. It was quite the road in other ways too; slow going, we finally reached Astore itself by 4pm.


We carried on to Rama for more vast views, arriving at our hotel for 5pm.


That was enough for today, and even not having any wifi, phones, or hot water didn't bother us... much.

Sunday, September 1

North Pakistan, Day Five: Hello China!

Today we headed north. Of course, we've always pretty much been heading north so on the face of it there's not much new here. The thing is, today we're heading as north as we can without leaving the country. As a result this is as far as we're going to go this trip.

On the way to the China border we stopped off at Lake Attabad to hear the story of the flooding of Gilmet and the rebuilding of the Karakoram Highway.


The rest of the journey was pleasant, yet varied. We stopped off at Khyber to eat apricots off the tree, and were fed some amazing rice when stopping off at a police checkpoint for the bathroom. It was another example of the continued hospitality we received on our trip - many conversations were essentially "Salaam, wasalaam, chai?" and it was endearing to experience.

We also spotted Ibex and Yak as our altitude increased.

It was around 1pm that we made it to Kunjareb Pass and beyond that, China. As an islander I've previously talked about my fascination with land borders, and this one was no different even though it was accentuated with, well, a mountain range.


Alas borders, natural or not, are a reason to change direction... and so the backtrack began. We passed back through Sost for a Yak lunch, and grabbed some Apricot cake at Passu.


Our final stop was to visit the Hussaini Bridge - ultimately just another rope bridge but the sunset we had while there was worth the stop.



Saturday, August 31

North Pakistan, Day Four: The Two Forts

We left Gilgit at a leisurely 10am under a surprisingly strong sun. Most of our driving time would be through the Nagar Valley, the start of which was marked by a visit to a woodcrafter in Jaglot (confusingly not the Jaglot we offered Jummah in yesterday).


After lunch we continued on to Hunza Valley, passing though Allahabad on the way. It was en route that we finally got to see our first glimpse of the 7.8km tall Rakaposhi.

Our first real sight was in Altit for its fort. This building was impressive enough, but it was also our first contact with local ethnic people who weren't your typical Punjabi that one would typically find in this region. Their Sheena language was almost musical.


Interestingly this was the first time we had encountered white tourists. Thinking about it I don't think I've ever met a white person in Pakistan, but its a testament to both how accessible the area has become, and how exotically it's now viewed, that Western tourism is now becoming visibly commonplace here.


We then headed to Karimabad for the Baltit Fort, and if I thought I had already witnessed the peak of the tourism in this area, Baltit proved me wrong. The fort itself was okay; larger than Altit but the latter was nicer in multiple way. Sunset was spent at Duiker, otherwise known as the Eagle's Nest, and we treated ourselves to some local walnut cake after dinner.


Friday, August 30

North Pakistan, Day Three: Passing The Heights

So much for sleeping well. Full body aches ensured a rough night. So an update to yesterday's conclusion then: both Siri Paye and Saif-ul-Mulk were ones to skip.

Given the above context, it wasn't a surprise that we needed an early start today, the day of Jummah. We made Batakundi by 8am, Lulusar Lake by 9.15am and made it over Babusar Top by 10am. This hit an altitude of 4km which we all felt after climbing even the most simple of stairs.


As we descended back to 2km the heat was also rising. From 14c at the top to 36c at the bottom it was fascinating to watch how the climate changed.


We were now following the River Indus, driving along the Karakoram Highway to just touch the edge of Chilas. We stopped to see some Bhuddist carvings at around 11.40am, and made it to Jaglot for Jummah at around 1pm.


We also stopped to see the confluence of the Rivers Indus and Gilgit, which is also where one can see the three mountain ranges of Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himilaya. It was a significant stop, in weight if not physicality.


Our final stop was Gilgit proper, where we treated ourselves to Kashgari Pulao. On the way to our hotel we stopped for a quick look at the Kargah Buddha and Gilgit Bazaar.

Thursday, August 29

North Pakistan, Day Two: Jeeping Along The Mountain Roads

For our first real excursion we left the Prado behind and took a bumpy Jeep ride up to an altitude of 3km to visit Siri Paye. It was nice once we got up there, but debatable if the journey was worth it overall, especially since we had to make the same journey back down to Shogran at the end.


We then hit the road to Naran, stopping in Kaghan for another food highlight, this time some chapli kebabs. We generally avoid street food in Karachi, so this was truly us embracing the tourist trail.


A surprise awaited us at Naran: another Jeep ride up to Saif-ul-Mulk, for the mountain lake there. Although a highlight in many itineraries before ours, for us the visit was merely "okay". I tried to compensate by going off on my own hike but slightly over did it (let's just say a horse might have been sent for me), so all in all today was a bit of a bust.


On the other hand I will sleep well tonight.

Wednesday, August 28

North Pakistan, Day One: Hitting The Road, Running

Ah, Islamabad. The last time I visited this city was way back in 1990 - although contrasting then and now in my mind didn't really highlight any difference. It was the first time that I discovered that Pakistan was more than Karachi, and it was possible to have clean streets and low(ish) crime in this subcontinent country. A naive view would be to say that people actually gave a poo here, but dig a little deeper and there are real reasons for the contrast.

Not that we had much time to do a more through analysis; from the airport we made a beeline to Shogran, where we were going to spend our first night.


We stopped in Abbotobad for lunch. This town was still clean, and perhaps even more affluent than Karachi, although in many ways that just emphasised the rich-poor divide up and down the country. Oddly I saw no women anywhere and was surprised when we were asked to use the family room for our mixed group of 4 people, where we had quite possibly the richest dhal I've ever tasted (I could feel a heart attack coming on as we ate - not a good sign for day one of the trip).


Our journey took us through Mansehra, Bisian and Balakot. I've mentioned before how as I get on it becomes more difficult for travel to impress me. But this drive alone had enough continuous views and panoramas that never got old. I was in awe.


We entered the Kaghan Valley, stopping off at the Makayla viewpoint on the way to our final destination via a mountain road to Shogran, the cliffs so sheer and the valleys so vast that it became difficult to make sense of the perspectives and scales of what we were seeing.


And so we found ourselves in a little mountain resort, settling in for what we expected to be a rewarding slog for the remainder of the trip.

Tuesday, August 27

North Pakistan, Day Zero: Strangers at Home

Even though I average about one trip a year to Pakistan, two trips in six months is pretty unprecedented for me. But this wasn't a usual trip "back home" to Karachi, but an exclusive tour of the north of the country where we will pretty much stay as tourists for the whole duration we're there.

My preference would have been for an internal trip as a part of a normally scheduled Karachi visit, but that idea was vetoed. As such I am once again stuck in travel hell, and Gatwick will be my new home for the next month or so.

And let us not forget the recent change in the geopolitics of the area. A part of our trip has already been changed to allow for any sparking of violence; it remains to be seen if there is any further disruption to our itinerary.

Friday, August 23

Fifteen

It's actually a struggle to recognise the decade and an half that this blog has existed. I've managed to say something somewhat apt to mark the occasion so far, but it's actually taken me two days to write this back-dated post, mainly because there's not really much more to say. And yet my OCD-completionist side compels me to write something, even if it's anything. And so here I am, playing the stream of consciousness word-vomit game that seems to work so well on Instagram. Maybe it'll even work without the photo.

Fifteen is an odd number. It's certainly a lot, but it's also just within grasping distance of my ability to measure the years, not that I have much else to use as a yardstick. Cliched as it sounds it does feel like yesterday that this blog would see weekly long form "opinion" posts which would regularly spill into real life. Ironically though as the content of the blog forever distills into a diary like journal, so does its value change for me. I do use it to look up dates that I travelled or watched a film, and maybe that's always been the point of it. Either way I've grown comfortable with its current form, even if ticking off the list of due posts makes it all fell like a chore sometimes/always.

Anyway, I think I've hit the minimum word count. Heaven knows what I'll write about next year.

Tuesday, August 20

Film: Good Boys Click for more info

I'm not sure if Good Boys was supposed to be a Home Alone for the current age or just another attempt to juxtapose kids with swearing, but something didn't quite work for me. It could have been another Sausage Party but bad producing and flat acting (they are kids after all) was enough to neutralise any novelty or gimmick the film might have had to offer.

There were some standalone laughs, but no where near enough to warrant a recommendation. Pass.

Wednesday, August 7

Film: Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw Click for more info

As much a fan of the Fast & Furious franchise I am, I was prepared to enjoy Hobbs & Shaw as much as I did. Especially for the reasons why - for me H&S is one of the most laugh out loud funny films this year. In fact I'd even say it was produced much more as a police comedy than the ridiculous crime action of before - a Rush Hour for current times perhaps.

The cast was as good as you could hope for, with some straightforward, if a bit hammy, acting, and the plot and action all supported the chemistry of the main protagonists. It was all very reassuring and a great way to spend the two hours or so it ran for. Recommended.

Saturday, July 20

Food: Kinkao Click for more info

I guess that the law of averages is immovable. Just as I was expressing how nice it is to be discerning about where I eat - so that all visits remain special - I end up visiting Kinkao. Generic, bland and normal are the adjectives that spring to mind, and the £25+ per head paid at the end was enough for me to fundamentally question the whole point of eating out, and whether it's just safer not to.

Service was with a smile and the place was roomy, but to be honest that's just me trying to fill up this review a bit more. It's not that Kinkao is a bad place, just that if a measure of success is to have felt like an experience is one to be remembered, Kinkao is as solid a failure as it is a restaurant.

Wednesday, July 17

Film: The Dead Don't Die Click for more info

What could have been outstanding kind of fell flat from the start. I'm happy to accept that I just didn't "get it", but for me The Dead Don't Die was a hot mess from the start, and just gets messier and messier as its run time hits its end.

And it's not just the plot that's nonsensical - the acting leaves a lot to be desired too, although the rest of the production is passable. Perhaps if taken as an experiment there might be some value in watching this film, but for the rest of us it's one to avoid.

Wednesday, July 10

Food: Amber Click for more info

As my personal circumstances and preferences change I find myself going out less and less for for meals out - I've always maintained that I've never been much of a foodie and as a placeholder for socialising restaurants just fall by the wayside for more wholesome and intimate options.

That said, there are times when eating out is fully appropriate, but the re-framing of food as a poor social pastime means that I'm much more discerning about where I'll go. All of which made it quite fortunate that Amber was really really good. I suppose "Mediterranean" is the closest word I could use to describe it, but it was much more interesting than the usual med fare. We decided to get a spread for the table and so got to sample 14 hour shoulder, pide, meatballs, halloumi fritters and a selection of salads, all complementing each other perfectly. We even went all out with dessert, the hit of which was a pomegranate topped orange cake.

The place was smart yet open to facilitating a good time - breezy maybe - and service was always provided with a smile and generosity. And the cost was a pleasant surprise too, with the bill coming to under £25 even though I felt we have slightly over-ordered.

It'll definitely be a future option if I'm ever in Aldgate for dinner. Recommended.

Film: Midsommar Click for more info

If there's anything to take away from this review it's not to make the same mistake that I did and go into this thinking it as a follow up to last year's Hereditary. That's not to say the difference in pace and tone is to the detriment of this film, no, but it pays to go in without a specific framing in mind.

Midsommar is probably just as interesting as Hereditary though. It's a film that is equally steeped in bizzaro world as it is in human normality and it's in that juxtaposition that the genius lies. A (fatal for me) consequence however is that there doesn't seem to be much of an ending to the film as it just potters off to inevitable conclusion.

If you're looking for something different, then Midsommar definitely fits that bill. Whether it wholly satisfies or not is less of a certainty.

Wednesday, July 3

Film: Spider-Man: Far from Home Click for more info

In what is a clear case of us having just been plain spoiled, the latest Spider-Man film was never going to live up to expectations. In any other year this film would have been great, with our friendly neighbourhood web slinger swooshing and webbing and growing to face a foe that started with that upper hand. In the world of the MCU formula isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the flaws here are just way too apparent in the shadow of Endgame.

The romantic story is clumsy and schizophrenic, while he constant calling back to Iron Man is suffocating. Jake Gyllenhaal was great though, and in my view managed to carry most of the film.

The hope here is that as the Avengers double finale fades into memory comic book adaptations will have a more realistic baseline to aim for. Whether that pans out or not we'll just have to see.

Wednesday, June 19

Film: Men in Black: International Click for more info

I recall the original MiB films as being quite bland and a bit flat - a decent enough watch once but nothing really else. And such is the case with the latest installment.

It's all just so... fine, it's hard to actually care. There was a stand out genius moment but that was drowned in a sea of adequacy. One to skip then.

Wednesday, June 12

Film: X-Men: Dark Phoenix Click for more info

I'm not sure what the timeline is exactly, but it's almost like the makers of this, the final installment in the Fox X-Men franchise, knew there was no chance of further work so they just left it to the dogs. From the editing, to the plot to the acting and even makeup (which I'm sure each actor did themselves) everything was so amateur it was hard to take the film seriously.

It's a shame, because the framework was there and with a little bit of attention this could have been quite passable. There are reports of the ending having been rejigged and with such a flat third act that could have magnified the flaws in the rest of the film, but really none of the reasons matter too much. Dark Phoenix is one to avoid.

Thursday, June 6

Film: John Wick 3 - Parabellum Click for more info

What a film. If there was any doubt that the John Wick series didn't have legs, the latest installment totally puts those doubts at rest.

It's just so, so generous. A film that keeps on giving - with Chapter 4 already announced I was waiting for a cynical cliffhanger that just refused to come.

The flaws are easy to list - perhaps starting with the slight overstretching of the mythos, or maybe the over-rehearsed cracks in the otherwise dazzling choreography and action. But you know what? They ultimately all just add to the charm. Unlike other similar action series JW3 managed to improve on its previous installments.

I was grinning throughout and didn't want it to end. One of the films of the year for me. Recommended.

Tuesday, June 4

Film: Godzilla: King of the Monsters Click for more info

So it turns out that this is the actually the third in a "Monster" franchise that includes the Skull Island film from 2017. This would be an epic fact if this, the second Godzilla film in the series wasn't such a mess.

It would be unfair to call it flat. If anything it was a bit too much. No, what the film actually proves is that scale and awe isn't enough if there isn't even a semblance of good story telling too.

At its best, the film is a decent timepass. In that sense it's probably one best seen at home on a rainy day.

Thursday, April 25

Film: Avengers: Endgame Click for more info

Avengers: Endgame is a film that fulfills what it set out to do - to be the conclusion to a saga spanning 21 previous films released over a decade. Although it manages this mammoth task perfectly, it doesn't quite manage to do so while being a technically good film in itself.

Of course, the film's making was unusual - Brie Larson has already told us that her first scene as Captain Marvel was from Endgame (spoiler: who is still a badass by the way), and you can almost see the seams in the patchwork of the way in which the film must have been shot. The acting is fine, the plot a little thin and the pacing off, but the action exceeds what we've seen before. Given the circumstances, it's all the best it can be.

But it would be useless to judge this as a film since it would never be seen as one. No, this is a final chapter, a deliverance, a closure of sorts, with a third act that's worth any flaws in not only this film but in the whole of the MCU altogether. The tears I shed and the communal cheers I joined in with weren't because of any technical quality in film-making but because it knew exactly how to push the button it's been building for so long. The term "fan-service" comes no where near in describing what this movie provides.

Before watching this tonight I was already planning my second viewing. And three hours later and I'm no longer sure if that will happen. This is not going to be a classic in itself, and probably won't even hold up as one of the better MCU movies. But what it is is an essential chapter in the Infinity Saga, and the perfect end to a classic series.

Tuesday, April 16

Film: Hellboy Click for more info

Hellboy is a mess. In fact it's more than that. It's an example of how, given an idea with lots of potential, that the making of the film cannot be taken for granted. We're firmly in the age of superheroes now, there really shouldn't be any excuse for doing it badly. Yet here we are. If anything it goes to show just how well placed the appreciation for a good MCU flick is.

To the point though: Hellboy is a confused, badly produced, and flat film. It's not even "so bad its good" - I fully expect the film to be forgotten within the next few months. As much as emotion shouldn't be present in a review, it is more sad than anything else.

Please avoid.

Tuesday, April 9

Film: Shazam! Click for more info

It's not that I dislike "silly" superhero movies - Aquaman was silly in the right way and there's plenty of further examples in the MCU - but there was something very childlike about Shazam! It wasn't the plot or the story (this is essentially a coming of age flick), but more about how the whole thing was put together.

I've recently started recognising the three act structure in films, and I think in those terms the biggest mishap in the film was the sloppy second and third act merging into one. This in turn threw off the pace of the film somewhat, and even took away from it's pretty good ending.

In conclusion then Shazam! was a decent watch if a bit forgettable - and although it's unclear if it resides in the DCEU it remains to be seen if this is a temporary misfire or a taste of what's to come.

Saturday, April 6

Book: The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman Click for more info

Self help books are always going to be controversial. Some people will swear by them, others will see them as a con, or the monetisation of common sense. Add to this that the book might be about love and relationships and it's inevitable to be the centre of an explosive discussion.

The truth is that, as with a lot of non fiction books of this nature, they're not for everyone. If you're good at relationships or are clearly emotionally intelligent, then a lot that you'll see in a book like this will be obvious or even vacuous. Similarly I can imagine someone who is naturally and innately into fitness rolling their eyes at dieting advice.

As in previous books of this type, the main thing I took away from The Five Love Languages was a framework with which to think about the subject of relationships and marriage. From that perspective, I found the book to be great in its analysis, but perhaps a little lacking in the solutions it offers. This could be because the book is a couple of decades old now. I found the classification of the five languages pretty striking and perhaps even obvious, and was even able to go as far as to recognise which ones I would most associate with myself.

So in many ways the naysayers might be right - the stuff in here is pretty obvious. But so is most things that people don't know, and as a piece of informal academia (rather than a practical guide to saving one's marriage), I think the book was a useful one.

Tuesday, April 2

Film: Eaten By Lions Click for more info

I was always hoping for too much.

Looking at the trailer, I think it's fair to have expected something different - we have Omar and his half brother Pete, on a journey to find Omar's estranged Asian father. The set up is a strong one, but it was probably my own naivety and hope for a brown/Muslim British comedy that would actually hit the mark that convinced me to give it the benefit of the doubt.

But no, once again brown- and Muslim-ness was at times just used as a prop for other comedy but mainly not even used at all. The same film could probably have been made using any other context. That said, there was the Indian Wedding outro so at least we had that.

A film not worth watching I'm afraid.

Tuesday, March 26

Film: Us Click for more info

Although it just falls short of Peele's last film Get Out, Us is still an interesting enough movie to watch. More thrilling and in your face than the previous, it might be seen as a bit of a blunt instrument, but the great production and acting all prop up a film that shouldn't be this good.

I do have to note that the third act is a bit wonky, although I do appreciate Peele's habit of elucidating so I can forgive that much. And the rest of the movie is so well done that it doesn't matter anyway.

A great follow up and I look forward to what else Peele has in store for the future.

Wednesday, March 20

Film: Escape Room Click for more info

Firstly a public service announcement: there are at least thirty different movies named Escape Room, one of which was released less than a couple of years ago and is currently on Netflix. This review is for the 2019 version. That said, you should probably save some time and money and watch the Netflix version (or maybe even anything else on Netflix).

It's not to say the film was poor. It just wasn't very good. A promising start just degenerated into a rushed Saw-lite, and we all know how those turned out. The biggest shame is that it could have been so much more - all the ingredients were present.

A blatant laying up of a sequel might bring some hope to a wider franchise that might be good... but for now I can't quite bring myself to recommend this.

Saturday, March 16

BAHfest London 2019 Click for more info

So here we are, at the fourth (but my third) annual celebration of all things bad science-y. Tonight was so much fun that it's more than easy for me to say it was better than last year's. It was bigger, longer and just all round funnier.

Three out of the seven were repeat presenters, which is again a shame (are the rest of us really that boring?) but despite the repeat appearances their stuff was fresh enough. Which brings us to the line up:

  • How cheetahs were a necessary factor in Savannah tree control
  • The use of sewer systems as a mass transit system
  • How childbirth pains and issues were a direct consequence of a belief in a vengeful God
  • How dark matter was largely made up of vampires
  • The use of Dad Jokes to eject offspring from the nest
  • How to make global overview a viable mass cause of social change
  • How bipedalism was a direct consequence of social anxiety

Oh and there was an excellent keynote about the how the power of economists was rooted in their understanding of incentives.

Honestly, the BAHfest really has become one of the few things I genuinely look forward to and I can't wait till 2020.

The Ig Nobel Awards Tour Show Click for more info

In a brilliant example of genius and as a special one off treat, the clever people at Improbable Research and the SMBC webcomic brought both of their respective tours and live events to the same day and venue resulting in almost a FULL DAY of nerdy science fun. First up was the Ig Nobel Awards Tour Show, which was basically just a bunch of funny science lectures. In contrast to the following BAHfest, the Ig Nobels are actually rooted in real, albeit funny, science... and as a result generated a different kind of joy and laughter in the audience.

I wasn't too familiar with the Ig Nobels before today, so from an educational perspective it was well worth it too - at the very least it made me feel envious that I probably won't get to see the actual awards show live. And as its an event based in real science I also got more of an appreciation of its value (vs the BAHfest which, lets face it, is just for laughs).

Of course it's unlikely that today's double billing will be a regular occurrence (I don't think the tour is intended to be a regular thing) so I'm glad I caught it when I did.

Wednesday, March 13

Film: Captain Marvel Click for more info

As an origin story Captain Marvel does adequately enough. Amnesia was the tool used here, although I was looking at my watch during the first half as the movie laboured along. Fortunately the second half more than compensated for the build up and after summing all the bits the net result is an above average MCU film. Brie Larson was excellent in her sassy way, while her supporting cast all played their parts well. The action was on par, and overall the movie felt very feel good.

If any commentary on the feminism is required, well, it was a bit bemusing. The MCU decided to go the obvious route, with our super powered super hero being constantly repressed by her father/boss/AI Supremo and finally breaking free by embracing her ability to self determine. I did think it was a bit of a shame to have gone the common denominator way (the baselines being the usual twin goals of "doing what men can do" and "saving the world") but this is Disney so hey.

Social gripes aside, Captain Marvel was enjoyable enough and as a character I at least can't wait to see her in further MCU films (like the next one). Recommended.

Saturday, March 9

Food: Hamgipak Click for more info

As my general eating outings decrease over time it becomes all the more rare that I actually visit somewhere new. Enter Hamgipak, chosen not because it was good, or we were hankering for Korean food... but only because it was a stones throw from the the actual venue we were heading to after dinner.

That said, as a pick of convenience it wasn't too bad. The place was clean and friendly, and intimate containing no more than 30 covers or so. The five of us were able to enjoy a rowdy enough meal with some decent food, although marks were lost due to how late my own order took to arrive. Price-wise there weren't too many surprises with the bill hitting around £19 a head for a main each and shared starters.

It's unlikely that I'll visit Hamgipak again, mainly because I tend not to visit Fulham that often, but if you're ever in the area and in need of a meal you probably can't do much worse.

Wednesday, March 6

Food: Bim's Click for more info

I have a informal minimum requirement when it comes to food reviews. Fast food doesn't usually make the cut, mainly because there's not really much to say about a generic dirty chicken burger or grill-defrosted quarter pounder. On the other hand seeing as fast food makes up 70% of my eating out, and then even that proportion further split only between two or three places it probably makes those places the most important ones to tell others about about[1].

Crises of existence aside Bim's is interesting enough to share some thoughts about. Billed as the closest Muslims will ever get to a halal MacDonald's, the headliner here is the £1 cheeseburger which, to be completely honest, is exactly what you would expect a £1 cheeseburger to be like. It certainly wasn't enough for us and so we decided to explore the remainder of the menu, eventually settling on a Double Fumey (which, for those counting at home, resulted in three patties each). In short, as inoffensive as the food was here don't kid yourself - the £1 cheeseburger is a false economy and not a reason to visit Bim's.

The food is decent but between the location and waiting times I can't think of why I would ever recommend Bim's over other options - an established Peri Peri is far superior for that quick bite, while Bim's isn't exactly the place to go for a sit down meal (not least because it has no seating). I suppose there is a novelty factor somewhere - after all we did make our way there to try it - but by that measure almost by definition there's no need to go back now that we have.

[1] GG's and Ed's, both in Redbridge, are frequented by us almost weekly.

Wednesday, February 27

Film: Happy Death Day 2U Click for more info

Happy Death Day was a sleeper hit back in 2017 and managed to bridge the gap between a nerdy premise, horror and lots of fun. A sequel would have had its work to do - making something even just as good without just doing the same thing again isn't a trivial task.

And yet here we are. As in the first film, the real joy comes with not knowing what lies ahead so I can't speak too much about the plot except to say it's just as accessible as before, if a little wonky as it tries to add more stuff. Ultimately though the film manages to be just as fun as the first, possibly at the cost of the horror aspect - don't expect many screams here.

If you were a fan of the first then you'll enjoy this. And so as I was a fan of the first I have no qualms in recommending its sequel.

Wednesday, February 20

Film: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Click for more info

In my view the real genius in The Lego Movie was the many layers of meta it managed to lay on itself and the audience. Not only was the film full of superfluous in-jokes, the plot itself was intrinsically based on the fact that The Lego Movie was a story being told. And so the hardest part about The Lego Movie 2 is how to top that - since really once you do meta meta, it's always going to be turtles all the way down.

And yet The Second Part does manage to solve the problem... by not trying. The first two acts of the movie are thus just regular animation antics and storytelling, which although fun, was definitely no Lego Movie. In fact I would go as far as saying that I wasn't too impressed by what I seen by that point - that is until the third act came along and saved not only the movie as a whole but also my own rash judgement in thinking the makers didn't know what they were doing.

Of course any muddled reviewing is a result of my trying to keep the spoilers to a minimum, so I'll just cut to the chase: The Lego Movie 2 is a worthy sequel to The Lego Movie and if you enjoyed and appreciated the first then you'll almost certainly do both for the second - just make sure you reserve judgement till the end.



Tuesday, February 19

Film: Alita: Battle Angel Click for more info

In many ways Alita doesn't really surprise. It's a coming of age movie, a sports film, a thriller and a revenge flick. It has great action but also a decent plot and progression. In fact I take it back - the real surprise is how Alita manages to be so many normal things in one single movie.

I guess "solid" is the word I'd use to most describe Alita. It rarely does anything wrong, and although it could be accused of being boring for playing it so safe... it's anything but boring. If there was one criticism I could make it's that it all felt a little too compressed - I wouldn't go as far as calling it too generous but it does feel strange to not only not have to complain about how much filler there is in a movie but how it might not have enough.

Overall though Alita was a great ride and a definite poster child for the movies coming in 2019. Recommended.

Monday, February 18

Travelling Sucks

Here's an interesting fact: since September of last year I have used planes more than I have any kind of public transport in London. I state this not with amusement or even pride, but with a little bit of shame and incredulity. As I return from Karachi, I'm even left hoping that I manage to spend at least a month in the UK before leaving the country again. Before you scoff at my ingratitude, in my defense the relationship I have with travel had begun to deteriorate well before the spate of trips these last few months.

Just like I would never describe myself as a foodie, neither would I ever consider travel to be a passion of mine. This is in spite of hitting 69 on the Travelers’ Century Club's list (here). It would be easy to conclude that the reason why I don't enjoy it as much as my peers is because I've done my fair share, but I think the reasons run deeper than that. I guess I just don't fundamentally buy into the idea that travel is a necessity in life, or the only (or even a good) way to grow. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the current global obsession to travel is a bit of a fad.

My best and most memorable trips have always been social. So to see native friends in Hong Kong or Singapore, or family in Canada or Pakistan, or to attend weddings in Australia or Mauritius. Some trips have even been a combination of all three. These are the trips that remain with me years after, and the trips I feel really lucky to have been on.

But most of my trips will have none of that, and I find that I have to "epicify" it to make it really worth it - clearly in compensation for my lack of enthusiasm. And so I cross multiple borders, create long road trips, veer as much off the beaten path as I can. My trips therefore tend to be quite dense, an idea that is usually anathema to those who, unlike me, list travel as a passion.

It's interesting to note that the non-family/friend/wedding trips have all usually been instigated by others who would have had the generosity to invite me along. For me travel will always be a luxury rather than a human right. It is something that comes to me rather than me to it, and if I ever lost the opportunity to travel (for example if a future partner doesn't enjoy it, or I no longer have the financial means to do so) I'll be okay with leaving it all behind. Given the world we live in I do see this as being unlikely, although maybe the frequency will reduce.

The thing is that I don't think I'm alone in this. Although travel seems as accessible and popular as ever now, I do often wonder just exactly how popular it would be if Instagram (or whatever) didn't exist. Would people be as enthusiastic about it if they weren't able to tell others where they had been? It's not surprising then how correlated travel is with social media - after fashion and beauty and food it appears to have the most visible number of "influencers" and posts desperate for likes.

It's often claimed that travel is supposed to be about self discovery, but that was a reason that didn't seem to matter as much to us before the Internet. I suppose we don't get to see the people who don't post about their trips so it could just be a visible minority who see "holiday publishing" as the primary point of travel. The danger of course is that the importance of travel itself may have been inflated way past its true value - there are many who, like me, believe that travel isn't entirely for modest people due to its inefficiency, lack of sustainability and polluting aspects. Travel itself isn't alone in this - take for example the food industry and how that's been transformed by social media and the Internet. Whole topics and industries have been subject to "blog eyes".

But whatever the detail, as time goes on travel does feel like a bit of a hassle to me personally, and sometimes it almost feels like I'm labouring the point just by going. This jadedness means that I'm not as impressed with the otherwise unique and amazing things that I get to see. This might just be the curse of the blessed, so perhaps I've just simply been desensitised. Then again maybe I'm just lucky? I've often claimed that the top ten most memorable moments I've had in my life have all happened within 10 miles of where I lived, so perhaps I just don't see the point of travelling for life experiences that will never really make the cut.

Sunday, February 17

A Failed Plan

Well, it was always going to be a long shot.

The ticket sold to us allowed an hour transit in Dubai on the way home. Although the question was raised if it was even possible to change planes in that much time, the fact that we've done shorter transits and that they wouldn't have sold the ticket in the first place convinced us we'd be okay.

Of course we didn't consider Karachi itself but even after waiting almost an hour for a missing passenger we still thought that we would make our connecting flight. And to be fair the pilot made good time with us only really landing 15 minutes late. However on exiting the plane we were welcomed by a service representative who explained that we had been de-boarded mid-flight and had been placed on the same flight the next day (as there was only the one per day to Stansted). Of course, our destination being London did mean we were able to easily take the next Heathrow flight, but by that point we'd may as well have taken the PIA.

A first world problem for sure, but still annoying (but maybe because we have to submit to PIA's whims again). Interestingly the experience has also made me realise that Karachi International is probably second to Heathrow when counting which airports I've used the most. It's a thought that leads me to many more, but that's something for a further post.

Saturday, February 16

Karachi 2019

This might be the coldest I've ever been during a visit to Karachi. I mean sure, it's in the shade, but still. I'm wearing socks and everything.

Otherwise it's business as usual: crap Internet, a daily routine largely consisting of frequenting the mosque and visiting relatives, and the meeting of new members of family while the missing of those who are no longer with us.

I love it for the two weeks (max!) that I stay here.

Sunday, February 10

Book: Death's End, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu Click for more info

If The Dark Forest was The Three-Body Problem squared, then Death's End continues on that exponential curve. The stage is much grander, the ideas of a much grander scale, and the science the best I've experienced in fiction for a long, long time. This was more like a tachyon Star Trek TNG episode than a BSG soap opera, and the unabashed (if a little out there) science-first approach was a welcome change from the more gizmo futures we've been offered in contemporary sci-fi.

Cheng Xin, the new protagonist for this volume, is, quite frankly, an idiot and quite possibly the most frustrating anti-hero I've had the pleasure of reading. Expect that her character and her decisions are essential to the unfolding plot and even the lessons being taught. By the end of the book I realised the real idiocy lay on the opposite side of the fourth wall.

But the real genius of the book (and thinking about it now the series as a whole) is how it almost manages to undo itself, and the author is nothing less than brave for the approach. The slight downside is that, similar to The Dark Forest, in this vacuum of world building the ending feels almost rushed. I've decided to accept this as the book's character though.

Overall the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy (to use its formal name) is like a breath of fresh air. No, actually, it's like a reset on the genre of science fiction, throwing back to the likes of Arthur C. Clarke and Asimov in scale and approach. This approach isn't popular or even one that necessarily prioritises accessibility, but by avoiding the dumbing down of concepts we end with something much purer and better for it.

Friday, February 1

A Quick Stop

Perhaps as expected, flying to Karachi tends to be logistically a mixed bag. On the one hand, despite the lack of options the PIA direct flight from Heathrow used to actually be rather convenient as it flew during a Friday night. The only real issue is that it was a PIA flight - between the lack of any visible standard and the danger of flights being late (or not flying at all) it's never the most convenient of carriers. The other option is to fly indirect, usually via the Middle East, but that adds both cost and time to a flight that would otherwise be a breezy seven hours.

However with Emirates now flying from Stansted, the idea of taking those indirect flights does become more attractive. The only downside in this case was the transit time - a minimum of four hours at Dubai airport wasn't ideal, and so we decided to make a day of it and take an even later flight to Karachi, giving us the day to check out Dubai.

And so it was that I ended up with a lazy brunch, a Jummah in the Sustainable City, and even a BBQ in a park with friends I hadn't seen for years. So far so good, and Stansted-via-Dubai might even end up being the plan going forward.

Tuesday, January 22

Film: Glass Click for more info

Split was an interesting film not least because of its divergence from Shyamalan's usual style. As I'm not the biggest Shyamalan fan this wasn't necessarily for the worse - in fact I quite enjoyed the increased accessibility of the film even if it came at a slight cost to its conciseness. Ironically though despite being more in the classic style Unbreakable remains one of my favourite Shyamalan films, which actually worked out quite well when it turned out to be part of the larger trilogy.

If you were to plot Unbreakable and Split on a graph, Glass would lie on the same gradient. In many ways its the total opposite of Unbreakable, with lots of plot, lots of foreshadowing and lots of comic-style turmoil. In that sense it was actually quite meta, as comic book lore and style play a major part of the workings of the film.

Major props go to McAvoy who amazingly manages to improve in his presenting of multiple personalities, but he's also not alone in some decent performances by Willis and Jackson, with Sarah Paulson doing more than enough to fulfill her particular role as the sceptic.

On its own then, Glass isn't really that exciting, but as a bookend to a trilogy spanning almost twenty years it's actually quite perfect. Recommended.

Saturday, January 12

Food: Hankies Click for more info

My Hankies story begins a couple of years ago, when I visited the Hankies Cafe on Shaftesbury Avenue and immediately walked out after checking the menu. If I was going to pay for overpriced hipster Indian street food then I wasn't about to make it a quickie in a cafe.

Fast forward to 2019 and here I was, but in the restaurant situated in the Montcalm in Marble Arch. I'll make this one quick: the food was good and the bill not too terrible (£20 per head, no drinks or dessert) but the service was terrible - almost to the point where I thought it was part of the whole experience.

Honestly, it's astonishing that restaurants like these still think they can get away with it in a city where an alternative lies just two minutes walk away. I was asked on leaving which of the hipster Indian places I liked the best and I surprised myself by answering Dishoom... which pretty much says all you need to know about this particular genre of food.

Friday, January 11

Food: Issho-Ni Click for more info

Apart from the discussion generated regarding exactly where Shoreditch starts and whether or not Bethnal Green Road will resist the ever encroaching gentrification, Issho-Ni was as solid a choice as you can get when it comes to Japanese food. The concept revolves around a sharing menu (which I, albeit cynically, still read as "we want you to order more than you actually want to") of various sliced meats, skewers and (of course) sushi, nigiri and sashimi (those on a halal diet should enquire about what meats are available to them). We ordered enough variety to keep everyone's tastes and bellies filled and generally came away happy enough.

Despite being a small place (I counted around 30 covers maximum), it was spacious enough for our party of seven to enjoy ourselves comfortably. Our bill came to around £30 per head, although with a bit more discretion during ordering I think you could expect a fiver less and still come away feeling well fed.

Issho-Ni makes for a nice place to go to infrequently, perhaps on a special occasion, and in that context gets a recommendation here.

Wednesday, January 2

Film: Aquaman Click for more info

The good news is that Aquaman isn't terrible. The DCEU finally appears to be turning a corner somewhat, finally shedding its reputation of being dark and serious for something a little more fun and accessible... and being a whole lot better off for it. Hooray!

That's not to say Aquaman isn't without its flaws. It actually plays more like a Indiana Jones with powers than a superhero film, and there are some bizarre scenes that could have come straight from a Bollywood movie. These aren't bad things per se, but the filmakers are clearly trying to experiment and establish what works and what doesn't.

There's a few continuity errors scattered about and the acting is adequate at best. But overall Aquaman proves to be a fun enough journey to forgive its minor issues. Recommended.