Thursday, November 24, 2005

Shop 'til You Drop

While visiting Cornwall the other month I had the most fantastic shopping experience. I’m a rare breed of male – I love shopping – it’s actually my girlfriend that loathes it. I used to love shopping with my housemate and her friends in Cheltenham. Voicing opinion on various dresses and shoes. But I also love ‘stuff shopping’ looking around for CDs, DVDs, gadgets and kitchen stuff… oh and the toy department of course.

The New Bullring is amazing, as is Cribbs Causeway but down in Cornwall they do things differently. (Of course this is well known but I didn’t realise it extended to shopping.)

Down past Bodmin exists a paradise by the name of Treago Mills. At first arrival it’s a strange building indeed. Surrounded by dense furs and plastic statues. It’s a huge architectural hotchpotch. I wasn’t sure if it was an original timer building or a modern building built to look old – it really is hard to tell.

Inside though it is a vast shopping mall of sheer randomness. No separate shops just separate department all bunged in together and shaken about. The music department was a sheer delight. Old stuff seemed to be proudly on display while new releases seemed to be shamefully buried at the back. Even more exciting was the fact that there was no order to the records. The latest Greenday album was next to an ancient release from Sinatra. The shelves contained Catatonia’s complete back catalogue long vanished from my local Virgin. I found Portishead’s second album on these crammed shelves along with Suede’s Coming Up (both quickly purchased!)

The rest of Treago Mills was just as chaotic. A food department next to linen with a lighting department just a few steps away. There also appeared to be a tack department lovingly displaying neon wall clocks and those pictures of waterfalls that light up and give the image that water is constantly moving (so that’s where my local kebab house got it!)

If you’re ever in the area I strongly recommend a visit even if you don’t buy anything it’s just interesting to see what shopping could be like if we hadn’t been so influenced by the glistening American Malls.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

A Winter's Tale

Just wanted to share with you this picture of a gorgeous evening sky I took the other day. Sadly I only had my camera phone but you get the gist of the lurvely colours. Still it shows why this is my favourite time of year. I love the brisk mornings that wake you up as you walk to work. I love the crisp chill in the air and wrapping myself up in my Gryffindor scarf. At night I enjoy snuggling up in the duvet with a good book (currently Dan Brown’s Deception Point) I also love the anticipation in the air of the countdown to the festive season – this is when it should start, not August as the shops seem to dictate. This time of year I actually feel Xmassy – a feeling that usually evaporates by Xmas Eve but I try to make the most of it. If you ever get a chance listen to 'A Winter's Tale' by Queen - a song that sums up perfectly how I feel this time of year.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

MSN has, today, published an amusing list of things that have never happened on Star Trek. While it is funny I do wish researchers would check their facts, some of them have actually happened;

Uhura puts the Klingons on hold listening to Greensleeves for 10 minutes, causing them to destroy the Enterprise in sheer frustration.

Ok this has never happened as such, however in Star Trek VI Uhura does put the Klingons on hold while trying to impersonate other Klingons with the bridge crew hurrying to translate the langauge in the background.

Starfleet remove red jumpers from the uniform code, after which the mortality rate of senior crewmembers on away missions increases dramatically.

Red Jumpers were removed from the uniform code somewhere between 2269 and 2279. In The Next Generation era it’s actually command that wears red with security now wearing mustard.

There's a bizarre time-warp incident that has nothing whatsoever to do with the 20th century.

This has happened many times – most notably with Captain Braxton in Star Trek Voyager – he was from the 29th Century! Oh and don’t forget ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ – another bizarre time-warp incident having nothing to do with the 20th Century, instead an era just decades ago and the previous Enterprise.

Doors on all Federation starships inexplicably stop going 'pssht'

It’s not inexplicable, no doubt the Enterprise doors are powered by some sort of hydrolics which would explain the ‘pssht’ noise.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Points Of View

Just the other week I Blogged on how I feel the BBC is the most spectacular television and media establishment in the world. They’ve further proven that by personally replying to an email I wrote to them this weekend. An email that was, sadly, a complaint.

You see Saturday morning I settled down to my weekly dose of Dick & Dom In Da Bungalow. The former primary school teacher in me is ashamed by this. I hold a professional degree but I shamelessly watch the weekly antics of Dick & Dom as they get very messy and shout dumb catchphrases – and I love it! Don’t know why but I just find it one of the funniest programmes on television.

This week though I was angered. The last 15 mins vanished to be replaced by The Lord Mayor's show. WHY?! I live nowhere near London and as such feel that this has no relevance on my life. Why oh why is this dull ceremonial precession being beamed into my home on BBC1 – the mainstream channel? Shouldn’t it be on BBC 2 or 4? (Do you here that, it’s the Degree level ex-teacher in me screaming at my disregard for British culture!)

Anyway, they’ve replied and apologised but reassured me that as a recognised tradition the BBC feel duty bound to broadcast The Lord Mayor’s show. Which is fair enough I suppose. (They were, no doubt, sniggering at a 25 year old Dick & Dom fan as they typed the reply.)

The one slight gripe is that they announced that the 15 minutes transition to BBC2 was publicised in the Radio Times. Sorry to burst your bubble dear old aunty beeb but not everyone buys the RT, instead I rely on the free weekly listings in The Saturday Times – which I always go out to buy AFTER Dick & Dom, D’oh!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Baby On Board

No it’s not the number one international smash hit Grammy Award winning record by the B-Sharps but the signs that the record was based on. What is the point of them? Why do they exist? Forget 9/11. Forget Stonehenge, or the face on Mars. Baby On Board signs are the greatest mystery/conspiracy of our time. What function do they serve? Does displaying one on your car magically make you impervious to road accidents? Do you honestly expect the driver behind to read them and think ‘Oh they have a baby (or the more annoying version, a ‘young person’) on board in that case I’ll ease off them. In fact I’ll ensure if a tyre does suddenly blow or a cat stray into the road I’ll swerve anywhere but into them.’

I suspect these signs merely exist for new parents to gloat about the fruit of their loins. ‘Look at fellow me motorists, I’m fertile, I got a shag at least 9 months ago!’

It doesn’t work on me though. I hate babies. They shit, spew, eat and sleep. That’s it – that’s all they’re capable of. And they’re ugly. To top it off their puny brains can’t even hold a conversation. Instead you have to guess what they’re crying about. It’s like a real Tamagotchi and you know how annoying they were.

Why can’t new-borns start life around the age of two or three? They are much better looking and have better bowel control. They’re funnier and can – to a degree – talk. You can play with them and don’t have to spend a fortune on nappies, teething rings and clothes that will last just three months.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Customer Services Service

Over the last decade the service industry has grown in the UK exponentially. Leisure has been the fastest growing industry and with it has come the customer service training. Being in that industry I’ve had my fair share. ‘The Customer is always right’, they must come first etc etc.

Well it’s all soooo wrong. The customer is rarely right. The customer doesn’t read things they’re meant to then blame you because they got their head severed by the pool table - despite the big sign saying “Don’t Do It.”
They imagine things and rephrase things you’ve said to them. They tell you that ‘the person they spoke to on the phone last week said ‘this’ - when all along they didn’t because that mystery person on the phone was you.

Or the other classic line – “You used to do it this way…” Um no, we actually never have. I’ve been with this company every day for 8 years – I think I’m more familiar with how things have been done… or, perhaps we did used to do it ‘that way’ but have you ever considered that things change?

Isn’t it about time that Customers had service skills taught to them. We, the oh so smiley-ready-to-help staff are not punch bags, we’re humans too believe it or not. We do care when things go wrong for you but when you treat us like a piece of dirt that care will evaporate. We are usually just following policies set by higher staff so don’t get all demanding with us when we are powerless to help because stupid beaurcratic rule 1.5a won’t let us – we’re just as frustrated as you!

But it boils down to what is wrong with the country at the moment – the lack of repect. The Chav culture has mutated into the more menacing Hoody culture. But how do you expect these teens to have respect when they see their parent shouting and bawling at service staff with a lack of respect.

Or what about those thrown out of Labour Party conventions for merely voicing an opinion? Nice one Tony. When did Labour become so fascist?

People need to slow down, become more aware of their surroundings, read signs more and you might find tempers get less frayed and mutual respect grows…

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Back In The Red

Yesterday morning my Red Dwarf VII DVD arrived 48 hours early. After following the creation of this DVD at I had quite a high anticipation. A lost episode, Robert Llewellyn’s much publicised video diary, the commentaries and, of course, the deleted scenes.

So far the Red Dwarf DVD’s have been some of the most finely produced shiny disks I have ever bought – really crammed full of meaty goodness that any fan could get wet over. Red Dwarf VII as a series though, is a different kettle of fish.

After four years absence from the screens Red Dwarf VII aired in 1997 with very mixed reviews. While the press were finally realising what a golden nugget of television the series was the fans we unsure of the shows new direction. VII was shot more like a drama, Chris Barrie was departing as was Rob Grant. There was a new character and it featured new CG effects and a filmic look with dramatic lighting.

At the time I didn’t know what to think. It was Red Dwarf and for that I loved it but something just wasn’t right. Like most fans I agreed it was the weakest series ever. Some ripped it to shreds though I still believed there were very strong moments. The opening to Stoke Me A Clipper is one of my favourite Red Dwarf scenes.

Last night I curled up in front of the goggle box and pressed play. Without the 4 years of anticipation and sudden shock of a completely new look – do you know what? My verdict has changed. The filmic look seems much much better when viewed on DVD as apposed to VHS. The lighting is sumptuous – the scene in Starbug’s engine core in Tikka To Ride looks simply gorgeous. Sadly the CG effects look worse than ever but the new CG inserted into Tikka for the DVD shows, that with the budget, it could have been glorious. I only intended to watch one episode last night but ended up watching three. I loved every moment and wished that they’d done more Dwarf in this way. Perhaps in hindsight we fans didn’t know how lucky we were to get a series that looked that good on a BBC Sit-Com budget. Sure some of the gags were weaker but the SF premises were stronger than ever. I mean, JFK assassinating himself? A virus you can talk to that feels sorry it has to kill you but is ‘just doing his job.’ Being your own father to ensure the human race is never wiped out and debating if cottage cheese (with pineapple chunks) should be kept in the fridge or cupboard… these are issues that even Star Trek hasn’t touched!

Perhaps RDVII needs a second chance?

More from the Crimson Short one here.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Pixels & Power Ups

One blissful memory of my youth is that of computer games. Hours spent controlling Codemaster’s ‘Dizzy’ on his various quests across the Spectrum Sinclair +2a before upgrading to the adventures of Sonic The Hedgehog on the Megadrive. There was Tetris on my Gameboy, which for some reason, school decided was the spawn of satan leading my best friend and I to find clever hiding places from the dinner ladies so we could link up for two player battles.

I progressed to the N64 and spent one whole summer leading Mario on his amazing 64-bit adventure while spending the winter guiding 007 around the perils of Goldeneye.

It seems though that, as the graphics and consoles improve, the gameplay gets worse. The last game I was truly addicted to was the Gameboy Advanced Kuru Kuru Kirin (I think that’s how it was spelt) guiding a rotor blade around tricky mazes – simple but addictive and tucked away amongst the millions of movie tie-in games that now seem to clog up the shelves.

Thankfully the Gamecube did have all the classic Sonic The Hedgehog Games in one mega collection and a new incarnation of Mario in Super Mario Sunshine. The main problem with the current console games I find is that there is simply too much to do. You have to collect all 100 icons, as well as emeralds and all coins on all levels. You have to complete all levels in ‘x’ amount of time. Once you have done this you unlock more levels where you have to do it all over again before you then unlock a new character and have to do everything again in reverse… You just get fed up. I loved the old Sonic Games they were challenging but at the same time genuinely possible to complete. These days your are robbed of that feeling of completion simply because you can’t be arsed to go back to level 6 and find that missing statue.

The DS has now arrived and I’ve loved revisiting Mario 64 – I’d sold my N64 to fund my Gamecube, a decision I was regretting until Mario 64 DS came along. However the gem I’ve discovered is Wario Ware Touched. At first it seemed utter chaos. There are hideously long cut scenes which are extremely irritating but once you’ve braved those and got to the mini-games it’s sheer genius. The games take mere seconds to complete and its all about bettering your time/score – simplicity. This is what makes it so compelling. Have games developers finally learned the simpler the idea the more addictive it is? Doubt it. However I’m guessing this game, along with Mario 64 DS could be all I need until the revolution appears…. Though a Starfox or Pilotwings DS might be nice…

Relive classic game memories here, and classic game music here.