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Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is probably the greatest piece of entertainment that I have ever seen. My suggestion is to stop reading this review now and go watch it, but I'd prefer it if you paused to rate this review on your way.
Several of my friends recommended that I watched this but I thought that the concept didn't sound that great and the name is frankly weird, so I didn't bother. It was only recently, when yet another friend told me that it was brilliant, that I went to YouTube and did a search. The entire thing is up there, so I watched the show through. I seriously regretted not listening to the first recommendation and watching it ages ago. Over the next few days, I watched the show several more times. Then I went to the website and ordered both the DVD and the soundtrack CD. I watched the show online a few more times while waiting for the DVD to be shipped from America.
~~~ A Bit of Background ~~~
During the writers' strike in America, Joss Whedon (better known as the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly) wrote Dr Horrible and streamed it over the internet for free. The show was made up of three acts, which were put up over the course of a couple of weeks.
There was such a high-level of interest from Whedon fans that the site received well over 1000 hits per minute during the first day. In fact, there were so many people logging on to view the show as it went live that the server crashed. It was due to be screened at a convention in a room that could seat about 500 people. Hours before the screening, there were over a thousand people queuing and other screenings had to be set up by the convention's organisers.
If you do a search on YouTube, you won't just find the official show, you'll find a load of fanmade videos as well. The show became incredibly popular extremely fast and has spawned quite a lot of internet activity.
Fairly recently, the DVD, CD and various bits of merchandise went up for sale.
~~~ The Plot ~~~
The story is one of a villain trying to take over the world and a superhero who wants to stop him and get the girl. What makes Dr Horrible different is that the whole thing is flipped on its head and you actually root for the bad guy.
Dr Horrible, played by Neil Patrick Harris, is a scientist whose inventions don't always work as planned. He feels that the world is a mess and that everything would be better if he were in charge. He's trying to be a real villain and get into the Evil League of Evil (ELE) but he's actually a nice guy. In the opening sequence, he makes a comment about not fighting someone because, "There are kids in that park." As well as being somewhat sweet, he's also slightly pathetic. He has a major crush on Penny, a girl he sees at the Laundromat, but can't work up the courage to talk to her.
Dr Horrible has a video blog in which he talks about his heists, his plans to rule the world and his attempts to get into the ELE.
His nemesis is Captain Hammer, played by Nathan Fillion (aka Captain Reynalds from Firefly). Hammer is a self-absorbed superhero who cares more about how his hair looks while fighting crime than whether anyone is getting hurt in the crossfire. He is utterly unpleasant in an amusing way.
When Hammer attempts to stop Dr Horrible from stealing some Wonderflonium, Penny ends up believing that he saved her life. The two start going out, much to Dr Horrible's dismay. From there, the conflict can only get worse. The story lasts about forty minutes and the plot remains strong throughout.
~~~ The Characters ~~~
Dr Horrible's real name is Billy. He is a very likeable, sympathetic character. While he makes claims about wanting social change, it's quite obvious that he's also after the fame and the money. He's a surprisingly rich character that only touches on cliché for the sake of humour and remains very sincere.
Captain Hammer is slightly over-the-top. Just enough to be really funny, but not enough to get annoying. Nathan Fillion plays the role to perfection, giving the impression of someone who is completely cheesy and who acts the hero just so that he looks good on camera.
Penny, played by Felicia Day, is incredibly nice. Her character is written to be absolutely sweet and caring. She's someone who's had some problems in her life but whose reaction to suffering was to try and help those who suffer more. She works for the Caring Hands Homeless Shelter.
Those three are the main characters, but there are few others who are worth mentioning.
Moist is Dr Horrible's friend. He has the ability to make things damp and comes across as even more pathetic than Dr Horrible. He's best summed up by his own comment: "At my most bad ass, I make people feel like they want to take a shower." It's possible he's a member of the Henchmen's Union.
The Bad Horse Chorus are three guys dressed as cowboys who appear from nowhere when Dr Horrible gets a message from Bad Horse, the leader of the Evil League of Evil. They turn up, sing out the message and then vanish again. It's incredibly well done. It's probably worth noting that the songs are performed by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon and Zack Whedon.
Then there are the groupies. These are two girls and a guy who wear Captain Hammer t-shirts and are clearly obsessed with him. One even has his dry-cleaning bill laminated.
There's also some nice references to other heroes and villains. There are some who appear briefly on screen, my personal favourite being the Pink Pummeller. He has no lines and is only on screen twice, but he really amuses me. This guy wears a pink mask and bright pink boxing gloves. The first time he appears, he's in a very pink bedroom filled with stuffed animals. Even the Evil League of Evil, who are only on screen for a handful of seconds, have their own names listed in the credits.
~~~ The Songs ~~~
The show is called Dr Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog, so it's hardly surprising that there's singing involved. There's no real dancing (except for in Dr Horrible's fantasy), but the songs are excellent and I have all of them now on my mp3 player.
1. Horrible Theme. This is a very short instrumental piece that's played during the opening titles.
2. My Freeze Ray. A sweet and occasionally amusing song sung by Dr Horrible.
3. Bad Horse Chorus. A short, very amusing song by the Bad Horse Chorus as Dr Horrible receives a letter from Bad Horse.
4. Caring Hands. Another very short one. This is sweet and sad as Penny tries to collect signatures for a petition.
5. A Man's Gotta Do. A fantastic song by Dr Horrible, Captain Hammer and Penny. This is the first appearance of Captain Hammer on screen and it's absolutely perfect. Musically, it's brilliant with various layers of lyrics, but it's also got some really funny moments.
6. My Eyes. Another fantastic song. This is sung by Dr Horrible and Penny and the two halves contrast perfectly. Dr Horrible despairs at the filth and lies in the world, while Penny delights at her growing relationship with Hammer and the fact things seem to be improving. This is one of my friend's favourite songs.
7. Bad Horse Chorus (reprise). Dr Horrible gets a phone call from Bad Horse. Short but extremely funny.
8. Penny's Song. Short and sweet. Penny sings about the importance of hope.
9. Brand New Day. Epic and funny at the same time, which I wouldn't have thought possible. Sung by Dr Horrible.
10. So They Say. This is a song sung by just about everyone and it's incredibly well put together. It manages to have humour, sadness and plot all in one place.
11. Everyone's a Hero. Captain Hammer sings this slightly cheesy piece to please a crowd.
12. Slipping. Considerably darker, but still with traces of humour. Dr Horrible makes his move.
13. Everything You Ever. The finale song. This is my personal favourite. It's sung by Dr Horrible and is incredibly moving and beautiful.
14. Horrible Credits. This instrumental piece plays during the final credits.
The songs were written by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen.
~~~ The DVD Features ~~~
The feature is only forty minutes long, so you'd hope that the DVD comes with plenty of extra entertainment to make it worth your money. You'd be right.
~ Commentary: The Musical ~
This is a DVD commentary with a difference. For the length of the feature, the cast and crew perform this scripted and sung commentary. It's extremely funny. The only reason it's not as entertaining as the main feature is the fact that the main feature is so utterly awesome. A lot of the time, the commentary has little relation to what's showing on the screen, so it's possible to just listen to this like a radio play.
It comes with several new songs. I'm actually disappointed that these songs aren't included on the soundtrack, because some of them are really good.
1. Commentary. An introduction to the commentary, sung by the cast and writers.
2. Strike. A very amusing song, sung by the writers, about the strike in America.
3. Ten Dollar Solo. This is a song performed (mainly) by one of the groupies about how she didn't get enough screen time and had to pay Joss Whedon $10 to be allowed a solo on the commentary.
4. Better than Neil. Nathan Fillion sings about how he's... guess what... better than Neil.
5. The Art. Felicia Day sings about performing, art and (briefly) her own internet series, getting slightly side-tracked by shoes.
6. Zack's Rap. A very funny song. Zack Whedon raps about how he doesn't like musicals and was tricked into taking part in Dr Horrible by his brothers.
7. Moist. Sung by Simon Helberg, who played Moist. This is an apparently deleted song about the problems the character Moist has. It's really quite sweet, as well as being pretty amusing.
8. Ninja Ropes. Probably my least favourite song in the commentary. It's a song about playing a game on Jed Whedon's phone, performed by Jed Whedon, Nathan Fillion and Neil Patrick Harris.
9. All About Me. The background cast members sing about the contributions they made to the show. This is a strong contender for being my favourite of the commentary songs.
10. Nobody's Asian in the Movies. Maurissa Tancharoen sings about how she ended up being a groupie instead of Penny, despite writing Penny's songs and playing her in the demo.
11. Heart, Broken. Another one that is fighting for the position of being my favourite. Joss Whedon sings about how everything gets analysed and picked apart in commentaries.
12. Neil's Turn. Another great song. Neil takes over the recording studio.
13. Commentary (reprise). Closing off the main part of the commentary.
14. Steve's Song. During the end credits, the male groupie sings about his position in the movie.
~ Cast and Crew Commentary ~
Commentary's are a fairly standard feature of DVDs and this is no exception. The cast and crew discuss the movie, the processes behind it, how scenes were made, anecdotes from filming and so on as the main feature plays. As far as these things go, it was entertaining enough, but I'm not in a rush to go and watch it again.
~ Making Of Featurettes ~
There are three featurettes which last about twenty minutes if you play them all. These talk about making the movie, making the songs and "what just happened?" which takes about how it became an internet phenomenon. Again, these are fairly standard background features with interviews and explanations. They're pretty good when compared with the same sort of feature on other DVDs, but nothing I'll be racing to watch again.
~ ELE Applications ~
These are a series of ten videos made by fans. They are all presented as a supervillain trying to apply to join the Evil League of Evil. Some have songs. Some have a lot of jokes. Some clearly took a lot of effort (particularly the one where the villain's head caught fire half-way through). The one that I think wins for originality was Duchess of Defeet. This is about a chair leg, with an animated face, whose evil plan seems to be to wait until people stub their toes against her. This video has a song which includes backing singing from the other chair legs.
These are pretty amusing. There's a list of Dishonourable Mentions at the end, so presumably they picked the best out of a whole load to be put on the DVD.
~~~ The Easter Egg Hunt ~~~
There are hidden features, known as Easter eggs, on the DVD that you have to hunt around to find. And buy hunt, I do mean hunt. I noticed something I thought was odd on one of the DVD menus, checked it out and got the first clue. In trying to figure out what it meant, I got a couple of other clues and came across various forums where other fans were trying to work out how to get to the features.
It seemed considerably too complicated for my liking. Because I was watching the DVD on my computer, I was able to explore the files on the disk and open up the specific video file. This is probably cheating, but I didn't think it would have been worth the effort to get to the files the way I was supposed to. I wasn't willing to go to the lengths needed to access these videos properly, but I know that for some people, the puzzle is the point, not the reward. If you like puzzles and challenges, you may find it fun to try and figure this out.
What you get, when you succeed, is a short outtakes video and some interviews with the members of the Evil League of Evil. The outtakes are amusing, particularly Captain Hammer on the psychiatrist's couch and Joss Whedon singing bits of A Man's Gotta Do. The ELE interviews weren't that great but they had a couple of good jokes and it was interesting to learn about the identities and backgrounds of these characters who are barely seen in the film, but vital to the plot.
As someone who just wanted to watch the videos, the Easter egg hunt was unnecessarily complicated, but I know that, for some people, that's the whole point. If you're one of those people, have fun! Just avoid the countless Dr Horrible forums that are discussing the clues and what they mean.
~~~ The Merchandise ~~~
Unless you include the soundtrack, I haven't bought any merchandise for the show. That's just because I generally don't but there's quite a lot to tempt you if you're into that sort of thing.
There are various t-shirts from men and women. Some have images on, some have quotes. The quote t-shirts have things like "I don't go to the gym, I'm just naturally like this," and "We do the weird stuff," on the front and the Dr Horrible Logo on the fact. There are a few of the notable quotes, including, "You are not my nemesis." The images are standard show pictures, or things that are actually used in the show. You can buy copies of the t-shirts the groupies were wearing, as well as Captain Hammer's shirt.
There's a hat with the show logo on. There's a bag, a key ring and a mug. There are also bundles, where you can buy several items at once and get a discount.
Not my sort of thing, but available from the website if you want to show to the world that you're a fan.
~~~ Value for Money ~~~
The DVD costs $9.99 plus shipping from Amazon.com which, given the current exchange rate, seems like a lot for a film that's only forty minutes long. But the DVD does come with plenty of extra entertainment. I think it's worth it, but that's because I think the show is amazingly good. My recommendation would be to watch the show on YouTube first and then make up your mind about whether or not it's worth spending the money.
Personally, I'd gladly spend money on this show because I want it to be a success. If the creators can make Dr Horrible as big a success from a monetary perspective as it already is from a fan reaction perspective, then maybe that will open the door for other such brilliant creations. This sort of show puts the power in the hands of the writers, rather than network executives so you wouldn't get a situation where a show is cancelled half-way through (not that I'm still bitter about Firefly).
~~~ Overall ~~~
In case you haven't got the hint by now, I absolutely love this show. I think this is the greatest thing Joss Whedon has ever created. Given how much I like Firefly, that's saying something. I acknowledge that this won't be to everyone's tastes, but it's not going to cost you anything to go over to YouTube and give it a try. The show is somewhat geeky, but you don't have to be a comic book nerd to get the jokes and laugh at the situation.
As well as obvious jokes, there's a lot of subtle humour and attention to detail that make me smile. There are little things which aren't clear on YouTube due to the video quality (watch the background carefully in the soup kitchen scene in My Eyes). As well as the humour, there is a very strong plot. The story starts off a little slow, with a long blog post from Dr Horrible, but once it starts going, it builds to an incredible climax.
The writing is fantastic. The acting is incredibly. The songs are great. The actors are good-looking. Why not give it a go?
If you don't like it, you don't like it. If you do, you may find yourself heading over to order this DVD.
I'm now anxiously awaiting the sequel, which is hinted at during one of the songs of the commentary.
Last autumn, I started a new job which involved moving to the opposite end of the country away from friends and family. Good though the job is, this had some problems associated with it, particularly at first. I got lonely. I didn't know anyone outside work and it wasn't easy to get back home or visit university friends. This led to the situation where I could go from Friday evening to Monday morning without any real, human contact.
This was depressing, to say the least.
So I looked up courses and classes to see if there was anything I could do during the weekends that would get me out of my flat and meeting people. In the course of my searching, I came across a website for Fujian White Crane Kung Fu. At that time, the sum of my knowledge of kung fu came from a combination of The Matrix and Power Rangers, so I was going in blind. But I figured I might as well. The worst that would happen was that I'd waste an hour and know that it wasn't for me.
Fujian White Crane is an organisation that spans a fair few local clubs. The one nearest me has classes twice a week in a local YMCA. I sent an email to the instructor and got a brief reply giving costs and telling me that beginners were always welcome and that I should wear something comfortable to exercise in (i.e. t-shirt and tracksuit trousers). So I put on my sports kit and went along for an hour one evening.
That was last November. Since then I have become a member, bought a uniform, started sparring, been to two Chinese banquets, had a class with the head instructor in London, gone on a training day, passed two foundation gradings, earned a sash and signed up for a week's training in Crete in July. That's not bad for about six months.
I now take classes for about four hours a week (including sparring and Suang Yang) and practice in my own time. I love it. When I went along that first week, I never imagined I would get so into it.
~~~ Classes ~~~
Classes last about an hour. I only really know the club I attend, but I expect most of the clubs follow the same pattern because the instructors all train together under the head instructor. It's probably a safe bet to assume that training at any FWC club will follow similar lines. We've had a few classes taught by a different instructor when our regular one has had other commitments (such as his wife having a baby) and those classes, while slightly different, still were pretty close.
There are different types of classes and they vary depending on the club in question. The club I go to has classes for kung fu, Suang Yang and sparring. Other clubs might have classes specifically for beginners or aimed at flexibility and so on. The website has a list of the different clubs and the classes taught at each.
~~~ Moves ~~~
There are various moves in kung fu or any sort of martial art. Some are simple; some are complicated. Some will be much the same as those in other styles; some will be unique to a particular style.
This is the first style of martial art I've ever studied, so I can't really say what the differences are between Fujian White Crane and the other styles, but the moves which are particularly emphasised are crane kicks and crane blocks. There are various other kicks, blocks and attacks. This style is a fairly defensive one, so there's a lot of emphasis on blocking and evading attacks - but you still get taught how to punch properly!
When you first start, you won't be taught all the moves at once. On my first couple of lessons, my instructor showed me some of the simple moves. Then, when the others in the class were told to practice something I hadn't learned, he would tell me just to work on the ones I knew. This means I wasn't overwhelmed trying to learn everything at once and could focus on getting the basics right. It was also nice to see progress as I was deemed ready to learn other moves.
Some moves are practiced more than others. We will do something involving straight punches most weeks, but there are other moves that we practice rarely. Every now and then, someone who turns up to class infrequently will go, "Erm... which move was that again?" when in instruction is given.
~~~ Gradings ~~~
The club has various gradings. Most of the gradings are based around patterns. Each pattern is a set sequence of moves lasting about half a minute. The idea is that students will run through these patterns as a way of demonstrating some of their capabilities. As you might expect, the patterns get more difficult as you move up the gradings.
There are also three levels of foundation grading to teach the basics of the style.
Once you've passed your first grading, you're entitled to wear a red sash, but I'll get on to that when I talk about the...
~~~ Uniform ~~~
The uniform is made up of a pair of trousers, a t-shirt, a pair of shoes and (once you've graded) a sash. It costs £80 to buy the complete uniform. I'm sure it's possible to buy the individual pieces as one guy in my class requested a second t-shirt (he was sick of constantly doing laundry) but I'm not sure what the prices are for the various items.
The t-shirt is a fairly standard black t-shirt. On the back is a stylised design of a crane in white. On the front is some Chinese writing along with "Fujian White Crane Kung Fu" also in white.
The shoes are flat-soled plimsolls that are very flexible. They a black with the crane design embroidered in red on the sides. The laces on my shoes are ridiculously long and, unless I'm careful, they can end up trailing even when they're double-knotted. Someone else said that they had the same trouble so I think there was a batch of shoes that had extra long laces. Most people don't seem to have had a problem with this.
The trousers are the problem. They are long and black, with the white crane embroidered onto one leg. You're meant to wear them so the crane is on the right leg, but it's easy to get it wrong because there's no fastening on the tops. When you put on the trousers, the waist is probably about twice the size of your own waist (more if you're skinny). You do up the trousers by folding the top over and rolling down in a similar way to how you would get a towel to stay round your waist. I am forever having problems with these trousers. A lot of people cheat by tying a piece of elastic around their waist and folding the top of the trousers down over this, but it doesn't stop me having difficulties.
Supposedly the sash should help keep the trousers up. The sash is a very long piece of fabric that's a deep red. Unlike other martial arts, you don't get different colours as you progress through the gradings. Someone who's only just learned to stand straight will have the same colour sash someone who can knock you down with their hands tied behind their back. Students wear a red sash. Trainee instructors wear a sash of the same colour, but theirs have little blue lines at the end. Instructors wear blue sashes.
You wrap the sash tightly round your waist to support your lower back and to hold the trousers up. The sash is tied at the left hand side. Apparently this is because it's a civilian style. According to Chinese traditions, tying it on the right would indicate it was a military style. Tying it in the front indicates that you're the "main man," so only Dennis, who I will talk about in a bit, wears a sash tied at the front.
You have to have the full uniform before you can take a grading. This caused me some difficulty because I was put in for a grading at the last minute, before I'd bought my uniform. My instructor came to a Wednesday class and said I should take a grading soon. I was pleased - until I realised he meant I should go the grading that Sunday. He brought my uniform along on the Sunday. At least, he bought the shoes and the t-shirt. He didn't have any trousers in my size so I ended up taking my grading wearing a pair of trousers that belonged to my instructor's wife!
~~~ Club Dinners ~~~
There are two club dinners, held at Christmas and Chinese New Year. These are held in a restaurant in China Town, near Leicester Square in London. The club basically takes up a couple of floors of the restaurant for a Chinese banquet that lasts all afternoon.
By banquet, I mean banquet. There are about ten courses, each delicious. I can't remember exactly what the courses were, but there were things like lobster, duck in yam, honeyed pork (especially wonderful), and loads more. The menu is slightly different at each dinner, but you can be certain you'll like some of what's on offer. There's a vegetarian table as well. Because the restaurant are told how many people will be attending, they can prepare something really special.
My theory is that Dennis has been into the kitchens there and the staff are as terrified of him as I am, because the quality really is exceptional.
You don't have to know how to use chopsticks. You will be expected to try, but there are forks provided for those (like me) who can't seem to get the hang of them. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who can eat lobster with chopsticks.
Beware of being the most junior person on the table, particularly if there are instructors there. It seems to be a tradition to present the most junior person with the head of something to eat. At the Christmas dinner, I got presented with the head of the lobster. The next most junior person got presented with the cheek of a fish. One of the instructors gave an anecdote of being presented with the head of a duck by Dennis and not knowing whether it was a joke or if he was really meant to eat it. Yes, you are meant to eat it. The lobster head was actually quite nice.
Fortunately, there were no instructors on the table at the Chinese New Year dinner, so no one was presented with anything.
At the end of the dinner, there are speeches. Everyone piles onto the same floor as Dennis's table and Dennis and the other instructors stand up and give speeches. At the Chinese New Year dinner, Dennis had the foundation instructors and the instructors' wives and partners give speeches as well. This went on way, way, way too long. We were all absolutely stuffed with amazing food and none of us wanted to stand/sit through that many people talking. Plus, if you get stuck at the back, you'll only hear half of what's being said anyway. The food was worth it, but the speeches (aside from a couple of highlights) really did get tedious.
~~~ Food ~~~
Food is surprisingly important. Not only are there the club dinners, the various instructors seem to be firm in the belief that the right food is vital to being a good martial artist. The instructors will talk about the importance of eating a good breakfast and so on. I've picked up a nice smoothie recipe since starting kung fu.
At the end of one class, a new student made a comment about how he was really hungry after all the exercise and how he was going for a kebab. From the way my instructor reacted, you'd think he'd suggested committed some heinous crime.
At the training days, Dennis cooks dinner for everyone and provides a selection of fruit. He will talk at length about the importance of eating right. I've been told that food is an enormous part of the club trips as well.
Whether you intend it or not, you may find your eating habits improving after starting training.
A word of warning though: Dennis doesn't seem to think much of vegetarianism. He seems to strongly feel that you have to eat meat to be strong enough. He will never force anyone to eat meat, so there will be vegetarian alternatives at dinners and so on, but he will be extremely clear on his opinions. It must take some considerable strength of will to be a vegetarian and to train with Dennis regularly.
~~~ The Chief Instructor ~~~
The chief instructor is a man called Dennis Ngo. He basically runs the club in the UK and all the instructors train with him.
There is no doubt that he is an amazing martial artist, but I don't personally like his teaching style. He knows what he's doing and can spot mistakes in anybody's style from a mile off, but I don't think he's particularly good at explaining what those mistakes are to the person who's making them (or I wasn't good at understanding him).
He seems to have two modes. In one, he is a friendly person. When he's with his family, telling anecdotes during speeches or when he's eating, he is cheerful, funny and smiling. Then he goes into teaching mode and he is just scary. He is loud, serious and accepts no nonsense. If he spots someone doing something wrong, he will yell, "NO!!!" across the training area, demonstrate the move correctly and just stare at the poor person as they try to do it right.
I should point out that I have only trained with Dennis on two occasions and one was in an incredibly crowded class. My judgement of him is probably not entirely fair and there are plenty of people who train with him regularly and come back for more. There are probably as many different teaching styles as there are people in the world and it just happens that his teaching style doesn't match my learning style. I just think that if I'd him as my regular instructor, I'd have given up in a week.
I have actually been considering going to Dennis's classes occasionally, simply because it would be good to train with the best but I don't think I will ever like his teaching style.
~~~ Training Days ~~~
The training days are held at Dennis's house and are basically a day practicing with him there to point out all the things you're doing wrong. These are held outside in a field behind the house so you have to hope that the weather is nice. When I went, it was a gloriously sunny day and I actually got a bit sunburnt. Dennis came out with a garden hose at one point and we could go and get sprayed to cool off.
The training days can focus on different things are a lot more relaxed than classes. No one minds if you stop and have a chat or go to get a drink of water or eat an apple or something. Something I noticed was that the more senior people seemed to spend a lot more time standing around chatting than those who weren't used to the training days. Even with the fairly relaxed approach, my arms had started aching before the first tea break.
We had a tea break in the morning and the afternoon, where there was tea and cake and a chance to just sit around and talk. There was also a break for lunch where Dennis brought out a meal that he'd prepared for us. When I was there, it was stewed lamb and it was very nice. The price of the food is added on to the training day, but, since it's home cooked, it's pretty good for what you get. If you're junior, you'll probably find yourself doing washing up at some stage.
~~~ Suang Yang ~~~
Suang Yang is a soft style. Some of the instructors refer to it as Tai Chi, which is a name I expect more people have heard of. The Suang Yang classes tend to be a lot slower and gentler than the kung fu classes. Please note, this does not imply that they are easier. In Suang Yang, there's a lot of emphasis on balance and breathing and the exercises can be as tough as kung fu training. They're just hard in a different way.
The two styles complement each other. There are plenty of people who do both. Then again, there are plenty of people who do just one or the other. If you think you might be interested, try out both and see which you like.
Suang Yang has its own set of gradings and passing these entitles you to wear a yellow sash.
~~~ Overall ~~~
You've probably got the hint by now that I really enjoy going to kung fu training. I first went on a whim and found I love it.
If you're even half interested, it's worth going along and trying out a lesson. If you don't like it, you don't like it, but at least you've tried. Go to the club website and see if there's a club near you and then get in touch with the instructor of that club. http://www.fwckungfu.com/
It's great for keeping fit and having fun. When I went to my parents' house for Easter, my mum commented on how I look stronger and have better posture than when she saw me at Christmas. Kung fu did that to me in just a couple of months. I'm certain my strength and flexibility are a lot better than they were when I started.
And it succeeded in achieving my main goal, which was to get me out of the flat and making friends.
Picture the scenario. You're working with a team of people who are fairly spread out. Maybe they're in different rooms in the building. Maybe they're in different buildings. Maybe they're in different towns or even countries. You have an idea you'd like to run by someone.
So you call someone up. They're unavailable so you get their answerphone. You try the next person on the team. This person was in an important meeting but had forgotten to put their phone on silent and you've just inadvertently interrupted a presentation with your colleague's annoying ringtone. You try someone else. This person is available and you have a productive discussion about whatever it was you needed to talk to them about but only after you wasted time on two false leads. And when your colleague checks his phone and finds the missed call, he'll phone you up to ask what the call was about, wasting even more time.
That would be prevented if you had Communicator.
With communicator, you see the names of the people you work with (grouped however is appropriate for you - I have recent contacts, then my immediate team, the others on the graduate scheme, then other colleagues) and next to their name is a little dot. If the dot's red, it means they're busy. If it's pink, they're not online. If it's yellow, they're away from their computer. If it's green, they're free to talk. If it's a do not enter sign - they don't want to be disturbed and some attempts at communicating with them will be automatically blocked. If you hover over a little red dot you get a bit more information - whether they're scheduled to be in a meeting, giving their status as busy or in phone call. I know at a glance which of my colleagues are free to talk. I can just look at communicator and see which of my team would be able to take a call so I don't waste time calling those who are unavailable or chasing up answerphone messages when someone called me.
To call them, I click their name and get a menu. One of the options is a voice call over the computer. Communicator is part of a voice over IP (VOIP) solution. This basically means phone calls over the internet - which is a lot cheaper than phone calls over a traditional phone line. I get a clear voice conversation as if I was using a phone and the bills are a lot lower. I've not had any problems with sound quality so I can speak as clearly to someone over the internet as I could if I were using a phone.
I can call people all around the world. The company I work for has offices in different countries. I can call up someone in any of those offices and have a phone conversation without anyone having to pay international call rates. In fact, without anyone having to pay anything because it's all done over the internet.
It's not just confined to calling people who are in the same company also using Communicator. I can phone ordinary phone numbers through Communicator with the same voice clarity.
And phone is just a tiny part of what Communicator is useful for. If I click on someone's name, I can start an instant messenger (IM) conversation with them. This is like MSN messenger. It's a chat window in which I can enter text and smiley icons and they can reply. Because it's an internal system rather than something like MSN messenger, it's a lot more secure. This means the company isn't going to worry about me discussing important company business over IM which it might do if I was using an external IM tool.
I know some people worry about employees using IM at work. They worry people will use it to chat when they should be working. To be honest, they probably do, but there are occasions when IM is incredibly useful. In a lot of ways, it's a like a phone conversation because you can have a two-way discussion. But it's also like email in that you can save conversations and refer back to them later. How many times have you had a phone conversation with someone and then, a few days later, needed to remember exactly what was said? When I have an IM conversation with someone, it automatically gets saved to a conversation history folder so I can go back and check. If a colleague says they're going to do something, I have it in writing and I can remember exactly what I said I would do.
I can start video conferences too. If I have (and the other person has) a webcam hooked up to my computer, it's a simple matter to click on their name and choose to start a video chat. This opens up a video displaying their camera view and shows me what my camera shows. You get asked first. So If I'm working from home and still in my pyjamas, then I can turn down a request for a video chat.
Communicator is clever in how it handles bandwidth. If you're having a video conference over a poor internet connection, Communicator will lower the quality of the video so that you can still see what's going on. If the connection gets worse, the video may stop altogether but you'll still get perfectly clear voice. This is because, in the vast majority of cases, the voice connection is what's most important.
Then there are conference calls. I know that the company I work for has, in the past, spent a small (actually, not that small) fortune on conference calls. They used a conference call service that charged 12p per minute per person. So a call between three people for an hour would cost over £20. That might not sound like much, but these calls happen extremely often. And you would get situations where one person would leave the call and you'd be left with two people talking through the conferencing service - at a cost of 24p per minute for what is essentially a phone call. Given that just about every business is talking about cutting costs these days, saving money on conference calls seems an obvious step.
I can start a voice call with someone on my team. Partway through the discussion, we could decide we need to ask someone else's opinion. It's a simple matter for one of us to click the "invite" button in the call window, type in the person's name (or choose it from a contacts list or enter a phone number) and they will get a call and be able to join in. Maybe we'll want to run something by our manager, so I'll invite him in as well. Any of the new invites can invite people if appropriate. If everyone involved is using Communicator, the call will cost nothing. If one of the invitees is using their phone, the cost of the conference call will be the cost of an ordinary phone call at local rates to that number.
The same works with multi-person video calls. With video calls, Communicator detects who's speaking (with some clever software working out what's background noise and what's speech) and shows the speaker in a main video image with the others in smaller views embedded in the same windows. This way, everyone gets to focus on whoever's speaking.
Another great feature is simultaneous calling. I've set up Communicator to automatically ring my mobile whenever someone calls me. When someone calls my work landline number, the call comes up on my computer and I can answer it there, using my computer's speakers and microphone (or, more usually, a headset) but my mobile phone also rings. So If I'm not at my computer, I get the phone calls I would otherwise have missed. It doesn't matter whether I'm at my desk, somewhere else in the office, out visiting a partner or working from home - a single number will reach me.
If I lost my mobile phone, I can set up the simultaneous calling to call a different number. I can get Communicator to put all my calls straight through to voice mail if I'm busy. If I go away on holiday, I can set it up to forward all incoming calls to a colleague to handle. It just takes a couple of clicks.
All answerphone messages (which aren't that common thanks to simultaneous calling) get sent to my email inbox. I get an email with an audio file that I can play back. Have you ever had an answerphone message where someone rambles on for ages and then gives their phone number so quickly you're not sure you got it correct? You want to listen to the number again so you can be sure it's right but this means you have to listen to the whole message again. Not anymore. You can skip right to the relevant part of the message. They're stored somewhere easier to access - I hated having to go through those automated menus to get to my voicemail before now.
I don't have to remember phone numbers anymore. Everyone on Communicator is listed by their name. I can type in a name into a little search window (I can also start typing a phone number but I've rarely needed this) and it will bring up names of people as I type. So I don't even need to know the accurate spelling of someone's surname to start seeing results and probably find them. So I'm calling people not numbers.
You can type in notes. A lot of people I know automatically link Communicator to their out of office message when they go out to partners or on holiday. There's a little note icon next to their name and by hovering over it I see the message. Some people use this to say which office they're currently working from or to say something like, "I'm currently very busy working on... please don't call unless it's urgent." It's a really useful feature that adds to the coloured dot to give more information on what's happening with my colleagues.
With the coloured dot, I don't have to update this (though I can if I want). Communicator links to my Outlook calendar and automatically changes my status to busy when I have a meeting scheduled. If I lock my computer screen, my status changes to away without me doing anything. If I don't use my computer for a few minutes, the icon changes so it shows half yellow (away) and half whatever colour it was originally. So if I wander away from my computer for five minutes, people will see that I'm not necessarily there, even if my schedule says I'm free.
Communicator is incredibly easy to use. No one's ever given me any training in this program. I just use it. The features are clear and obvious.
Setting it up was also amazingly easy. I clicked to install, clicked next a couple of times in the wizard. I entered my username and password and it took my details from the company's directory. The only time I would need to enter any more information would be if I wanted to add a personal phone number for Communicator to call (it took the details for my work mobile automatically from the company directory).
I have never had a single problem with this program. It's never crashed or frozen or given bad voice quality. It's not so much as hiccuped.
You've probably got the impression by now that I love this program. I do. It makes my work much easier - I can work just as well from my desk as I can from home. If it saves my employer money so that they don't have to cut jobs, I'm not going to complain about that either!
But it's only as useful as it is used. If I were the only person in my company to be using Communicator, it wouldn't be nearly as wonderful. I would still be able to use it for the call forwarding and simultaneous calling. I would be able to answer calls on my computer or start conference calls but no one else would be able to start conference calls or invite people to join. The presence (which is one of the most useful features to me), instant messenger and video calls wouldn't work.
To get the most value out of Communicator, just about everyone in a company would need to be using it. Because it's so easy to use and useful, it shouldn't be too hard to convince them to try.
It's not for every company in the world. If you work for a business with only one or two computers, there's no point. If your office is a single room so you can check whether someone's available just by looking, the presence features aren't exactly much use. Where Communicator starts being useful is when you have a large building with lots of employees using computers to do their jobs. When people are based in different rooms, the ability to have instant conversations and see whoever is free is really helpful. When Communicator becomes unbelievably valuable is when you have multiple offices or people working from home or other sites.
For large companies with offices in different countries, Communicator is so useful it's almost a no-brainer.
I started a new job last year and my manager got me kitted up with the tools I'd need to do my job - including a shiny new mobile phone. I needed a phone capable of receiving and sending emails.
Before now, I've not cared much about my mobile. My personal phone is the same one I've had since before I started university. I don't demand much from my phone. I have never cared for the fancy features that now come as standard. Still, I sat down with my manager and went through a list of the various phones that the company would be willing to buy for me. We settled on the Samsung i780.
The phone arrived and I (and the two other new starters on the team) excitedly opened the box to look inside. I found the phone, plug adapter, a charger, a USB connector that can hook to either the phone or the charger, and two batteries. That last one worried me. My personal phone has excellent battery life (combined with the fact I don't use it that much) and it seemed that my new work phone was equipped so that one battery would be constantly charging while the other was being used in the phone.
It turns out I was right in my doubts. Once I started using the phone, it became apparent that the battery life sucks. I've done what I can with changing the power settings and the background display but the battery still only lasts about a day. I can work with this. I start each day with a fully charged battery (while recharging the spare) and I can be reasonably sure my phone won't die on me in the middle of a call to a partner. It also means that the battery will run out on Friday evening and I have a wonderful excuse for not checking my calls or emails all weekend.
The keys are tiny. This is a fault of almost all phones that come with a keyboard. It's very difficult to type messages or enter phone numbers. Typing messages is a horrible chore and writing even a sentence probably takes me five times as long as on my personal phone. When making calls, you can bring up a keypad on the screen which makes it considerably easier if you're making a call to an automated system and need to enter numbers.
Occasionally, I have an issue if I've locked the screen and someone calls me. Sometimes the phone automatically hangs up on the person when I try to answer. This doesn't happen often, but just enough to be irritating.
Before it sounds like I detest this phone, I should probably talk about some of the things I like.
It has good sound quality on the calls. This is one of the most important things about the phone and I've not had any problems at all. When I'm making a phone call, I can clearly hear the person I'm talking to and I've never had any complaints about the quality of my voice.
The screen is a good size. I can easily read my emails or view websites without having to squint or find a magnifying glass.
It has good connectivity. I expect this is as much to do with network coverage as the phone, but I've never had difficulty getting a signal for either calls or internet connection.
I like the operating system. It has Windows Mobile installed and this is a very easy to use operating system and extremely simple to navigate. It's easy for me to find the functions I need.
When I start to enter a phone number, the phone brings up a list of the contacts and recently called numbers that start with that combination of keys. So I don't have to dial the whole number every time if I call the same number more than once, even if I don't add them to my contact list.
It was very easy to set up and is now connected to my work contact list. This means I don't have to enter contact details for everyone, I just enter their name and the phone searches the work database.
I can use it to store files. I haven't used this feature much but it's useful to know in case I ever forget my USB drive.
The touch screen interface is nice and responsive. The phone comes with a little stylus which tucks into a slot in the back, but I tend to use the phone by tapping the screen with my thumbnail. There are also buttons and a little mouse control. The interface is all I would expect it to be.
However, there are a lot of features about this phone I don't use. I don't need it to have blue tooth connectivity. I've never used the camera. I don't expect to want to use media player to watch videos on a screen that size. I'm not going to use it as an alarm clock if I can't be sure the battery will last the night. I don't need a pocket calculator. I don't see the appeal of playing solitaire on the phone. The phone comes with quite a lot of functionality that I don't expect I will ever use. I sometimes wonder if it would have been better if they stripped out have the functions and put that effort into better battery life.
Overall, I'm happy with this phone. I can use it for making calls on and checking my emails which is what I need it for. The only things I particularly dislike about it are the size of the keyboard and the battery life.
I will be using this phone for the foreseeable future and it will suit my needs well enough, but it's probably not the best phone on the market.
This website is a blog giving thoughts and experiences to do with eating disoders in general, but with a focus on non-purging bulimia, which is the disorder suffered by the blog's writer.
The writing is very non-technical, meaning it's easily understandable even by those with little knowledge about eating disorders. The writer states that she hopes to increase general awareness of these difficult issues.
The blog only started recently, but it updates regularly, with text posts and with videos. The videos are incredibly touching, sharing an insight into the mind of the creator and her feelings towards the disorder. The variety is nice and it means you don't just have to go wading through loads of text to enjoy the content.
The blog is very open, honest and personal.
I believe it could be useful as a source of encouragement for someone struggling to recover from an eating disorder. It would also be useful as a source of information, particularly since not many sites deal with the non-purging form of bulimia.
The blog allows comments, so readers are able to share their thoughts and opinions on the subjects posted about.
I would recommend taking a look if you have any interest in the subject. You don't need any previous knowledge of the subject to understand the posts.
It doesn't take long to look and there's no cost involved. If you're not sure, it can't hurt to take a look anyway. If you find you like it, you can subscribe or read the post archive, if not, you don't.
Amelia Lockwood is thirty-seven, a successful TV producer and painfully single. At the start of the book, she sees an advert for a course promising that, if she joins, she'll be engaged within a year.
That's the start of a series of unfortunate encounters with ex-boyfriends as she tries to work out what went wrong in her previous relationships. She must track down her ten most serious boyfriends and figure out why things didn't work out with them. Armed with that information, she must try to do better if she's ever going to end up walking down the aisle.
The book is written in a light-hearted way and is a roughly even split between the present day in which the story is set and a series of flashbacks detailing the disasters that litter Amelia's past love life.
The book is written entirely in the present tense, even the flashbacks. I don't know why that irritated me, but it did. I imagine a lot of other readers would be perfectly fine with this writing style, but I wasn't. I coped with it though and quite happily read through the entire novel, I would have just preferred if it had been written in the past tense.
There is an entertaining cast of supporting characters. These appear more like caricatures than plausible characters. They're all amusing, with their own idiosyncrasies, but they're all slightly larger than life. This makes reading about them entertaining, but it's hard to believe in them. As the story goes on, the reader is given more information about all of them and gets to know them well.
The plot of the book moves steadily. I think the best thing about the book is its pacing. It doesn't feel rushed, but you're not left waiting for things to happen. Events move fairly quickly from chapter to chapter to keep you reading, but the book never leaves you feeling left behind. The story doesn't just focus on Amelia's search for a boyfriend, but also covers her life at work and touches on the lives and experiences of her friends.
The book is clearly intended for an audience of single women in their thirties. I'm only a third in that category, so that might explain why I didn't enjoy it that much. It wasn't the style of story I usually read and therefore it wasn't quite my cup of tea. However, that doesn't change the fact that there are plenty of people who would enjoy it. I read the whole thing even though it's not my usual style, which says a lot about its quality. If you do normally read books about women looking for relationships, I think you'll probably enjoy this a lot.
The book is a light read. You get a large book for your money, but it's no effort to read. It's very much a mood-lifter, encouraging the reader to feel content with their lot, even while striving to improve it. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but I would describe it as amusing.
If you enjoy stories about relationships and trying to find love, then I think you will probably enjoy this one. If you're more into action plots than character development, turn away.
Beth is a perfectly normal teenager who should be happy with her life. She has a good relationship with her parents, particularly her mum. She has friends and isn't bullied at all. She does well in school. As far as everyone is aware, she is a normal, healthy girl.
Except that she throws up after she eats.
Beth is severely bulimic. She has been for three years. And now the affects on her health are becoming noticeable.
This film deals with the reactions of Beth's friends and family. It concentrates as much on the others as it does on Beth and shows how difficult an eating disorder is on those who know the sufferer.
I love this film because it deals with Beth's recovery rather than how she became bulimic. A lot of films on this subject will show a person developing a disorder, but then end when people find out or the sufferer decides to get better. Instead, Sharing the Secret shows Beth when her disorder is at its worst and the challenge she has of acknowledging her problem and getting free of it. I think it gives a great message because it shows that eating disorder sufferers can't just stop. It also breaks down the assumption that eating disorder sufferers act just through a desire to be thin, when there's a lot more to it than that.
It's an incredibly touching story. I was in tears at parts of it.
The acting is extremely good, especially considering that some of the actors are quite young.
The characterisation is great. Everyone, whether a major or a minor character, is believable and distinct. Watching the film, you get to understand how everyone feels and why they act the way they do.
The plot is moving and brutally honest.
As special features, the DVD includes text about the film background and cast biographies. It also has the trailer for Sharing the Secret and a couple of other films. The special features aren't all that special, but I buy DVDs for the films, so I'm OK with that.
I would strongly recommend this film. I would also recommend you have a box of tissues handy.
I would particularly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about eating disorders or know someone who's a sufferer. However I think it's a great story and would be enjoyable to people who know nothing about bulimia.
This book is a diary of a bulimic girl, edited by Beatrice Sparks. I'm not sure how much was changed during the editing process. Presumably, people's names were altered, but I'm not sure if any other contents of the diary were changed or amended. Certainly, this book is based on a real diary and therefore can be taken as a true and emotional account of one girl's suffering.
Kim is a gymnast in her final year of high school, getting ready to go to college. Being a gymnast, she has to be careful of her weight if she's to do well, so there are comments right from the start about her weight and fears of being too fat.
Initially, the diary entries focus more on her school, friends and family, along with her desire for a boyfriend. But, as the book continues, her concerns with food and her odd eating habits begin to play a larger part. They never completely take over and, as a reader, I was as much concerned with her relationship with her family and her crush on the intelligent Lawrence as I was about her eating disorder.
I wonder, but I've no way of knowing, if the diary was editing to give it a more cohesive plot. There is a definite storyline to the book and it feels like a well-crafted plot, but I don't doubt that the entries are based on a true account.
The fact that it's a diary lets the reader get right inside Kim's head and feel what she's feeling. The writing style is very simplistic, which makes it accessible to a range of reading levels. I got through this book in a couple of days. It's less than 170 pages, so it's hardly a daunting read.
The diary entries are generally very short. A few are two or three pages, but most are around half a page. This means it's a great book for just picking up and reading a single diary entry if you're waiting for someone or something. You don't have to set aside time to get into it. That said, once you start learning about Kim's life and problems, you'll want to read further to find out how things turn out and how she copes.
Kim is a very likeable character and it's very easy to understand things from her point of view. I always find this an important factor in deciding whether I like a book; do I want to spend time with the main character? In this case, the answer is a definite yes. I felt a great deal of sympathy for Kim and I cared about what happened to her.
I would definitely recommend this book. It's a great insight into eating disorder sufferers and it's a moving and compelling story. It's honest and emotional. Even if it's not quite your cup of tea, it doesn't take long to read, so you won't waste much time if you give it a try. I would particularly recommend it to teenagers who are concerned about their weight.
Because of its length and the shortness of the time needed for reading it, maybe buying it full price isn't great value for money. It might be better to look for a copy in the library or see if there's a second hand copy you can get relatively cheaply.
The Best Little Girl in the World was a book I vaguely recalled a friend in school saying was good. When I saw a second hand copy selling cheaply, I didn't hesitate to buy it. Now, I'm very glad I did.
Fifteen-year-old Francesca is the good girl of the family. Her older sister Susanne has gone off to live in a commune in California. Her older brother Gregg is at Harvard doing exceptionally well and never has the time to write or call. Francesca is the one who never causes trouble. She's good to the extent that any conversation about her inevitably ends up turning into an argument about Susanne.
She dreams of being a dancer so when her teacher tells her to lose a little weight, she takes it to heart. She decides to reinvent herself as the new, thin Kessa. As Kessa, she starts calculating each meal, creating little rituals to do with eating or not eating.
It's not long before her parents notice, but their attempts to get her to eat don't work and Kessa's weight drops lower and lower. They make her see doctors and psychiatrists, but nothing helps and soon there's no other choice: Kessa needs to go into the hospital.
One thing I find brilliant about this book is that it tells the story from the perspectives not only of Kessa, but of her parents and the various people who try and treat her. It shows different reactions and interpretations of her behaviour and it gives wonderful insight to every one of the characters, even those that are only around for a couple of pages.
Most of the story, however, is told from Kessa's perspective. The narrative gets right inside her mind to show her twisted logic for her apparently illogical actions. It makes the strange behaviour seem understandable.
The author is an authority on eating disorders and has treated many anorexics. This gives him the ability to write convincingly from the perspective of a sufferer. The characterisation is very realistic and highly thought-out. Every character has depth and individual personality traits. They react and respond to each other in a highly plausible way.
The book is fairly short. The edition I have is roughly 250 pages. It's also quite an accessible writing style for all levels of reading. I finished this book in less than two days. Because of how easy it is to read, I think it's a great book for kids, particularly young teenagers. However, the fact that there's an adult perspective quite often and the depth of the subject matter makes it a great read for adults as well.
The cover of the book I have has a picture of a very thin girl then, next to it, is the same image mirrored and stretched, so that girl looks a lot fatter. It's quite a simple design, but it gives a vivid insight into Kessa's distorted body image before the reader even looks at the first page.
I think this is a brilliant book. It's moving and emotional. The plot flows well and isn't too predictable. At no point in the book was I sure where the plot would go or how the story would end.
I would strongly recommend this book to just about anyone, but I would particularly recommend it to young teenagers who worry about their weight. It might serve as a useful warning about what could happen if they go too far.
I'm once more trying to lose weight, but this time I'm going to do it sensibly. This means starting off every day with a good breakfast.
I was put off the cereal I was going to try because I noticed the price. Then I saw Nestle Fitnesse on a special offer. It was really the price I went for, combined with the fact it claimed to be low fat and no added sugar. I wasn't keen on starting the day with any cereal loaded with sugar and sweeteners.
I weighed out the 30g recommended portion into a bowl. It didn't seem very big. The cereal, despite being quite large flakes, filled less than half the bowl. Still, I decided to stick with the recommendation for the first try. I could always pour myself a bigger portion tomorrow if this didn't keep me filled.
I added a decent splash of skimmed milk and then put it to the most important test: the eating.
It tastes... like a multigrain cereal. There are a lot of these about and I can't really tell much difference between one brand and another. There's always a slight worry that these things that claim to be healthy end up tasting of nothing, but not so with Fitnesse. It's a pleasant taste, but not overpowering. It's slightly sweet, but not much and certainly not as much as some cereals out there.
I like the texture. It stays crunchy even with a generous portion of milk tipped over it. I don't like it when cereals go limp and soggy, but I've never had that problem with Fitnesse.
Did the small bowl keep me full? Surprisingly, it did. The portion might not have look like much, but it keeps me from getting peckish through the morning.
Now that I'm getting to the end of my box, I would definitely consider buying it again... unless the supermarket has a special offer on something else equally appetising. The cereal isn't anything particularly special, but it's nice enough and it keeps me going, which is the important thing.
30g of Fitnesse contains
I've seen Fat described as science fiction, but it doesn't seem like it is. It's set in a world that's so close to our own it's scary. The setting of the book is maybe a handful of years in the future, when the government is cracking down on obesity. There is now a fat tax, where people who are overweight have to pay more in taxes on the grounds that they use more NHS resources. The government is pouring huge amounts of funds into a project called Well Farms. The idea is that people go to these Well Farms and they are forced to eat healthily and do exercise in order to change their lifestyle.
The novel follows the lives of three very different people. At first, it seems that they're completely disconnected, but the three storylines tie together nicely by the end of the book.
Grenville is a TV chef who's doing pretty well for himself. He's got his own show, he's got a book out and there's another book on its way. The problem is, he's obese. When a woman referred to only as The Girl starts working at the studio, Grenville is attracted to her and decides that it's time to lose weight.
Jeremy has been hired by the government to promote the Well Farms project. He's got to make these places look like a wonderful initiative and appear appealing to those who'll be living there. While in the process of this, he meets Jemma, a research assistant who's not convinced that the Well Farms are a good idea. She is convinced that the government is doing the wrong things as far as the nation's health is concerned, and manages to persuade Jeremy.
Hayleigh is an anorexic school girl who spends her time dreaming of pop star Jason and trying to make it look like she eats. She goes to great lengths to convince her parents she eats (including biting bits off an apple and spitting them out in the bin so that she's left with a chewed core) but this doesn't stop her health deteriorating to the point where she needs to be hospitalised.
The three characters are completely different in personality and voice. The book is written from their three perspectives and each has a distinct tone. I think this is brilliant as it lets the reader get to know each character and get to feel as they do.
The writing style is light-hearted despite the subject matter. Even when the situations are serious, the tone can be amusing. This makes the book as easy read, even though it deals with some heavy issues. It's entertaining and not challenging at all.
The plot flows nicely. The storylines are very definitely distinct, but they compliment each other well and tie together into one, satisfactory conclusion.
I only have one complaint about this book. There are a couple of points where it seems that the author is trying to lecture the reader. Some of the conversations between Jeremy and Jemma seem to be there for no reason other than to allow the author to point out flaws in how people perceive BMI or how we understand cholesterol. The information is useful and interesting, but it doesn't quite fit with the novel.
Other than that, it's a great read. It's enjoyable and gives a very important message about how we perceive weight and appearance. I would recommend it to anyone.
Perfect Body is a film I've watched several times and will probably watch many times more. It's very different from most of the other films I love and can't quite put my finger on why I like this as much as I do. I can understand why it was never a big film and why so many people have never even heard of it, but I would like to share my feelings of it in case there are others here who would enjoy it as much as I do.
--- Plot ---
Andie Bradley is a talented gymnast. She's offered a chance to train with David Blair, a coach who's trained several girls to Olympic levels. On her first day, he tells her she needs to lose weight if she's to have a shot at the Olympics. The movie follows her as she tries to achieve the perfect body and ends up developing anorexia. It shows her developing the eating disorder and how it affects her relationships with her parents, her boyfriend, her friends and how it affects her life and her gymnastics.
--- Characters ---
The characters are very well written and extremely believable. It's easy to understand the motivations behind each of their actions as the story progresses. The characters are varied and very well acted.
The main characters are:
Andie's parents who are trying to support her dream and are scared by her developing problems.
David Blair, the coach who will drive his gymnasts as hard as possible to get them to achieve as much as possible.
Holly, Andie's best friend.
Josh, Andie's boyfriend who she's pushing away because of her anorexia and her training.
Leslie Reynalds, a bulimic gymnast who's already medalled in the Olympics.
--- The gymnastics ---
The film is about a gymnast so, obviously, there is a lot of gymnastics involved. The actresses for Andie and Leslie are both gymnasts, so they were able to do some of the gymnastics themselves. There were also doubles to do the more difficult moves.
I thought the gymnastics were handled extremely well. Watching it, I can't tell where the cuts are between the actresses and the body doubles.
I enjoy watching gymnastics and so I liked having this in here. You never sit and watch a whole routine, but there and plenty of short sequences expertly choreographed and directed.
--- As a warning against anorexia ---
I don't think this film really works as a warning. Because the purpose of the film is to tell a story that people want to watch, the movie doesn't mention some of the more gruesome physical side-affects of anorexia and focuses on the emotional affects. It would be easy for people who don't understand eating disorders to watch and think that they wouldn't act in that way.
Another reason it doesn't work as a warning is the fact that, obviously, they couldn't starve the actress to make a film. This means she's just as slender and beautiful at the end as she was at the start. They did a great job with make-up, baggy clothes and suchlike, but they couldn't change the fact she still looked healthy at the end of the film.
--- As a help for anorexics ---
Those suffering eating disorders won't learn anything from this film that they don't already know, but the film is pretty honest about some of the affects. I think those who have anorexia or other eating disorders might be able to watch this film and take comfort in the fact that other people feel the same way I do.
I know several ED sufferers who love this film. I haven't asked them why it appeals to them, but I would assume it has something to do with liking to feel that they're not alone.
--- Special features ---
I only mention this because otherwise someone will comment about the fact I haven't mentioned them. There are none. The DVD I own just contains the film with no special features whatsoever.
--- Soundtrack ---
I didn't really pay attention to the soundtrack the first few times I watched this film. That's probably a good thing, because it means I didn't notice songs as sounding out of place. Having thought about it afterwards, there are a couple of songs I really enjoy. The music fits the feel of the movie perfectly and links to Andie's state of mind. I don't think the soundtrack is available as a CD.
The songs listed as the soundtrack are "State of Mind" by Merril Bainbridge, "Don't Give Up" by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, and "Big Time" by Peter Gabriel. I think the first two songs fit brilliantly where they're used in the movie.
--- Would I recommend it? ---
Well, I love this film, but I know there are plenty of people who it wouldn't suit. If you like guns and explosions, you're looking in the wrong place. This is an emotional, character-driven story dealing with difficult issues. If you think that describes the sort of films you enjoy, then give it a try.
I would definitely recommend it to eating disorder sufferers, but that doesn't stop it appealing to those who don't have any problems.
I think the acting is good, the story is strong and the characterisation is great.
Hmm, maybe I'll go watch it again.
~~~ What is a Bar Camp? ~~~
A Bar Camp is an unconference.
At a conference, there are often people hired to speak on a given topic and guests will listen. At a Bar Camp, there are no hired speakers. The same people that attend the talks will be giving them.
The original Bar Camp and all of the London ones last for a weekend. Some of the smaller ones only last for one day. During the unconference there are several time slots and several rooms available. Those who wish to give a talk, on whatever subject they feel like, will choose a room and a time slot. Everyone is strongly encouraged to give a presentation on something, but no one actually enforces this rule. At some of the smaller Bar Camps, there might not be enough time for everyone to talk.
Bar Camps are aimed at tech geeks. This means that a lot of the talks will be about computers or websites or programming. I've found that the easiest way to described a Bar Camp is to say that it's a geek gathering.
The events are completely free and food will be provided. There may be freebies as well. There's no accommodation provided, even for the weekend events. You can book a hotel or, more commonly, you just bring a sleeping bag and kip where you can.
~~~ The origins of Bar Camp ~~~
In computer science, there are some words that have become commonly used as "dummy" names. If you want a name for your variable and don't care what it is, call it "foobar." One of my lectures gave examples of logic in terms of foo and bar. I'm not sure where the words came from, but they're often linked together and they will turn up in loads of examples of programming.
A group in America set up Foo Camp, advertised as "the wiki of conferences." Essentially, it was a conference whose content was created by those who took part. The name came from the abbreviation of "Friends of O'Reilly" since Tim O'Reilly was the organiser.
In 2005, a previous attendee of Foo Camp decided to set up an alternative. He'd liked the idea behind Foo Camp, but didn't like the slight snobbery to do with who got invited and who didn't. So he decided to set up a Camp of his own, which would be open to everyone.
The name was just a joke.
Since the first Bar Camp, there have been two more London Camps and others have been held in 31 cities around the world.
~~~ So you don't camp out at a bar? ~~~
No, but this is a gathering of geeks, so there will be a substantial amount of alcohol.
At Bar Camp London 3, the guests managed to completely empty Google's beer fridges, something the employees had never seen before.
~~~ My experiences ~~~
I went to Bar Camp Leeds, which my boyfriend was involved in the organising of. This was a one day event that included several guests who didn't know what a Bar Camp was but who'd just heard that there was free food.
Then, the very next weekend, I attended Bar Camp London 3 in Google's London offices. This was a much bigger event in terms of location, number of people and the amount of experience. There were loads of people who'd been to both previous London Bar Camps, there were people who'd been running Bar Camps in their home towns. There were people from different countries joining in the fun. I'll be focussing on my experiences of the London Bar Camp, but a lot of what I say can be taken to apply to most Camps.
I will go into more detail on some of the main features, but I think the whole thing can summed up in two words: great fun! If you're into computers and are, for preference (this isn't required), a little bit weird, you'll have a great time.
~~~ Arrival ~~~
I caught a horribly early train down from York in order to arrive on time for the start. This meant I arrived a short while before the official start. There were a handful of others who'd arrived early. We sat in the reception to the office building since they couldn't let us in until the official start.
When the time came, we each given badges with our names and BarCampLondon3 written on them, along with Google's and the BBC's logos, since they were the major sponsors. We were told to keep the badges on at all times.
We were taken up in the lifts to Google's canteen where there was a selection of food available for breakfast. There were pastries and toast, but most of the food was healthy stuff like fruit salad, yoghurt and dried fruit. We sat there with our delicious breakfasts and the rest of the guests began to arrive. It was very informal and every milled around a bit, getting second helpings, joining in with interesting-sounding conversations and introducing themselves to complete strangers.
Once everyone had arrived, the official welcome began. This was a talk from two of the organisers which described how the event would work and gave a few rules. These talks were kept brief, humorous and to the point.
Then came the introductions. This was one point that I thought the event could have done without. Everyone stood up, gave their name and said three things about themselves. This took ages as there were about a hundred and fifty of us and no one could possibly remember everyone's names. I think we would have been better to skip this whole process and just let people get to know each other during the event.
Once the welcomes were over, we headed to the atrium, a large, open space in the middle of the offices, where the boards were set up. These were white boards divided into a grid of rooms and times. We were all given pens and paper and wrote our talk titles on the paper, which we then stuck in our chosen slot on the board.
~~~ The talks ~~~
Bar Camp is aimed at techies. Most of the talks were written with this in mind so the majority of them were to do with computers. There were talks on the merits of specific programming languages, there were tips for designing good websites, there were talks on game design, there were case studies of technological developments. It was an enormous range of topics because everyone talked about something that interested them. However, not all the talks were about technology.
There was a session teaching how to play a card game. There was a talk on self-publishing and writing over the internet. For one session, a group went to the front and encouraged the audience to ask them any question that came into their heads.
Some of the talks were serious. Some of them were amusing. Some were a mixture of the two. I went to one talk Norm's Laws, which contained a load of useful rules to follow while programming, but told in an entertaining way. I remember one rule in particular: "Always write a program assuming that the person who uses the code after you will be an axe murderer who knows where you live." I'm currently using someone else's code for my final year project and I wish they'd followed this rule.
The thing about Bar Camp is that you don't know what you're going to find until you get there. Some people will give the title of their talk on the website when they sign up, but others won't even get written until the day they're given.
The time and effort that goes into each talk varies enormously. Some are rushed together in a few minutes, others are meticulously planned with slideshows and examples. A few are recycled from Bar Camps elsewhere.
~~~ After the talks ~~~
In the evening of the first day, there were a few things organised. They were playing the Matrix sequels on a projector in one of the meeting rooms. And there were a lot of games of werewolf. For those who haven't played werewolf, it's a bit like murder in the dark, but somewhat more sophisticated.
It was very informal though. People moved around the offices, caught up on emails, played werewolf, watched bits of films or whatever they felt like doing.
At midnight, Google had organised a treat. There was a chocolate fountain with marshmallows, waffles and fruit kebabs.
People went to bed whenever they felt like it. For a couple of guys, that was never. People just found a quite spot with their sleeping bags and went to sleep. There were beanbags and giant cushions lying around the atrium and a lucky few managed to use these as beds. Most people just made do with whatever they could find. I got a surprisingly good six hours sleep lying on the floor of a conference room using my pillow as a mattress and a beanbag as a pillow.
~~~ The food ~~~
The catering was all provided by Google and it definitely deserves a mention. I heard one guy say that he'd accept any job Google offered him, even sweeping the floor, if they would continue feeding him like this!
The lunches were a selection of sandwiches, sushi, vegetable crisps and a small selection of hot food such as chicken wings and sausage rolls. For pudding, there was a selection of cakes.
The dinner on the Saturday was a Thanksgiving dinner, with turkey and all the trimmings. There were vegetarian options as well. It was all amazing.
The breakfast on the Sunday had an option of fruit and yoghurt, as well as toast and pastries, plus a decent selection of cooked foods. You could have eggs and omelettes cooked to order!
And, as if that wasn't enough, all around the offices were snack areas which had selections of fruit, chocolate, biscuits, freezers full of Ben and Jerry's, fresh orange juice machines, huge selections of tea bags and just about anything you might want to snack on. There was even a cheese board!
Even if you don't care about computers, it was worth being there for the food.
~~~ Computers ~~~
This was an event hosted in Google's offices. Of course we had an excellent internet connection.
Most of the guests brought laptops with them and were able to check emails, blog, post photos of the event and anything they would normally have done at home. There were even people broadcasting talks to another Bar Camp in Germany using webcams.
A lot of people used their computers for their talks, giving Powerpoint (or equivalent) presentations.
It's safe to say that a lot of the attendees were the sort who go into withdrawal if they don't check their email every ten minutes, but I do think you should bring a computer. It's not essential and you could enjoy all the talks and organised activities without one, but you might feel a bit of an odd one out.
~~~ Signing up ~~
Booking of tickets is all done over the internet, as you would expect for something like this. Tickets are completely free and the organisers go to great lengths to ensure that people don't sign up and then flog the tickets on ebay. You have to give your name when you sign up and may have to show ID before you're allowed into the event.
There is an official website for Bar Camps in general: http://barcamp.org. On this page, you can see a list of all upcoming Bar Camps in all countries. Click on the one you're interested in and there will be a link to a sign-up page.
Because it's free, tickets tend to go pretty quickly, particularly for the London ones. I know quite a lot of the people at Bar Camp London 3 had set up email alerts and suchlike so that they'd know the instant the tickets became available. Others were checking the site several times a day when they knew the tickets were about to be released, just so that they didn't miss out.
Supply is a lot lower than demand. If you want to go to a London Bar Camp, you'll have to be quick off the mark when the tickets are offered.
~~~ Overall ~~~
I had an amazing time. I will definitely try and get to the next Bar Camp London. I'm already signed up for one in Manchester.
Bar Camps are brilliant fun and completely free. They're a wonderful way to meet people, learn new things and just have a good time for a weekend.
I would strongly recommend attending one if you're into computing, whether as a job or a hobby. They're definitely for a specific target group, but not everyone attending was an IT professional. There were many who were just interested in computers but who worked in or studied other fields.
There have been a few more unconferences in the same style on different topics. Given the success of Bar Camp, I wouldn't be surprised if there aren't a few more of these turning up. If someone organises one on a subject that interests you, go along.
I have a lot of extended family and the Christmas is a time for seeing as many of them as possible. I was staying with my parents over Christmas and one of my mum's sisters and her family came to visit us for the day. We had lunch out and Mum booked us a table at Woodborough Hall.
We were there at lunch time, so it was fairly quiet, but they usually require pre-booking. For evening meals, you usually have to book a few weeks in advance.
The Hall also offers overnight accommodation and rooms for functions. Since I haven't really tried either of these, I can't give a good review on them. I'll focus my review on Woodborough Hall as somewhere to eat.
~~~ Setting ~~~
The restaurant is in the village of Woodborough, a few miles out of Nottingham. It would take about 20-30 minutes to get there from the centre of Nottingham. There's not a great deal else in Woodborough, but the village is a pleasant one to have a short walk round.
The Hall is in its own grounds with a small amount of garden. It was cold and rainy when we went there, so we didn't look round the gardens.
Woodborough Hall might be a good place to stop for lunch if you're in Nottingham and want to go to Patchings Art Centre (which I've reviewed) or visit Southwell for the afternoon, as you'd be heading in the right direction to get to either of these places.
~~~ Arrival ~~~
When we arrived, we were greeted by a friendly member of staff who checked our reservation and took our coats. They have a cloakroom behind the reception desk for coats and bags. There is always someone at the reception and they take note of which belongings go with which table reservation, so you can be reasonably sure that no one else is going to walk off with your stuff.
Then we were shown through to a bar area with comfortable chairs and sofas. We took our seats and a waiter came round with canapés and took our drinks order.
They have a cocktail menu as well as a selection of wines, spirits and beer. I don't drink, so I didn't pay a great deal of attention, but it seemed to be a well-stocked bar. There was a lot less variety in terms of the non-alcoholic drinks. There were no non-alcoholic cocktails offered, so the drinks available for me were about the same as you might find in any other restaurant: coke, lemonade, orange juice and so on.
The canapés were included in the price of the meal. At lunch time, this is a limited menu with three courses for £22.50 per person. The price is slightly less if you only have two courses. We sat in the bar with our drinks and our canapés while we decided on the food.
The canapés were chorizo sausage, cucumber and quails egg, and absolutely delicious tartlets filled with tomato and garlic. You could very easily treat these as the starter if you want to skip a course for either diet or money-saving reasons.
We placed our order in the bar then, a short while later we were taken to our table.
Having drinks in the bar area first is a little unusual, but I like it. It makes the whole thing seems a lot more relaxed and more of an event.
~~~ The Dining Room ~~~
The dining room is very nicely decorated. It has smart wooden floors, cut-glass chandeliers and some interesting plasterwork around the ceiling. The whole décor is one of elegance and they pull it off very well.
There weren't many tables, which probably explains the need to book well in advance. They're spaced out so the serving staff have plenty of room to move about and so you don't have to push past other customers if you want to leave the room. The spacious feel is great and helps carry on the relaxed feeling from the drinks in the bar. The tables are a pretty standard size for the number of people but the chairs are more comfortable than many places I've eaten at.
~~~ The Food ~~~
The most important part of any restaurant review.
The portion sizes are good and the quality is brilliant. If you go for the lunch menu, you have about half a dozen options for each course, which includes some vegetarian options. The elegant style is continued, but there's nothing pretentious about what's on offer.
I went with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding as my main course. The beef was good quality. It was cooked perhaps a little more than I'd usually have it, but I like my beef very rare. Most people would probably be perfectly happy with it, and there's always the option to ask for it well-done. The Yorkshire pudding was excellent, as well as being about twice the size I'd expected.
All the main meals came with roast potatoes, new potatoes and seasonal vegetables. These were served in large bowls. There were seven of us and we got two large bowls or each for our table. We were all able to help ourselves to as many as we wanted (my dad and uncle were both able to take seconds of the potatoes as well). I'm very fond of roast potatoes when done properly and these were.
For desert, I had lemon crème brulee. I would seriously recommend this. It came with a raspberry sauce and a brandy snap (the brandy snap wasn't mentioned on the menu and was a wonderful surprise). It was simply wonderful.
~~~ Tea and Coffee ~~~
Like most restaurants, there is the option of tea and coffee after the meal. We decided not to go for this, but I regretted the decision when we walked past the bar on the way out. There was another group there who'd been in the restaurant at the same time as us. They were sitting with their cups of tea and coffee and a little silver tray of homemade truffles.
They looked absolutely wonderful and are, apparently, included in the price of the tea and coffee.
~~~ The Toilets ~~~
This may seem like a strange topic to mention in a restaurant review, but I was surprised enough to think them worthy of note. In most restaurants, toilets are toilets. Not here.
There's a little anti-room with a smart dressing table and a comfortable sofa. Then the room with the toilets in is as nicely decorated as the dining room and the bar. There were little baskets of flowers and decorative mirrors. Everything was very elegant and spotlessly clean.
You know it's a nice place when you're impressed by the toilets.
~~~ Price ~~~
No we get to the one draw-back.
I was glad that my parents were paying the bill. The food may be wonderful, but you pay for what you get. The meal was £22.50 each. This is included the canapés, but not the drinks.
So, it's not a good place if you're on a tight budget or looking for somewhere cheap. However, you do get all the value you should expect for the price you pay. If you were eating in the city centre, you'd probably have to pay a lot more for the sort of quality you get here. I think I would still say you get value for money here, because the standards as so high.
~~~ Overall ~~~
It's a very nice place to go as a treat. I wouldn't go there regularly, because I'm a student and haven't got a great deal of money available. However, if I want to eat out somewhere as a special occasion, I would definitely consider going here again.
The service was friendly, polite and efficient.
The food was outstanding. None of us had any complaints.
The setting was lovely. The facilities were well above standard.
I would definitely recommend visiting this place if you've something to celebrate. Do remember though to book well in advance; other people clearly agree the food is excellent!
If you're looking for a place to host a function, you might want to investigate Woodborough Hall. I can't review on how they perform for functions, but the building is lovely and I imagine that the food would be as good as it is in the restaurant.
You have to go upstairs to get to the dining room. I think there's a disabled lift, but it could be awkward if you're with someone who has mobility issues. Since it wasn't an issue for myself or those I was with, I didn't give it much thought at the time.
It's not a great family restaurant. There was no children's menu and no form of entertainment for kids. It's definitely a place designed for adults to have a pleasant meal out, rather than families. If you have kids, I think you should go to the Springfield, just down the road.
All in all, definitely somewhere to think about.
There are three main examples I want to give as my experience of public transport.
The first: village buses.
I grew up in a fairly small village in Nottinghamshire. We did have a bus service... officially. The buses were scheduled to turn up about five times a day. They would then go round every single village in the area before heading into the city. This meant that the ride took over an hour, while it takes less than half an hour to get into the city centre by car.
If that were the only problem with the buses, I wouldn't complain. It wouldn't make sense for one, small village to have a direct bus service. But there was one village, Calverton, on the route which had a very good bus service. It was a lot more expensive, but it would get into town in about twenty minutes and the buses were very regular. I know that a lot of people caught our slow bus as far as Calverton and then change onto their service. This more than doubles the cost of a trip into town, but it was so much quicker.
In good weather, I know that plenty of people from the village would choose to walk to Calverton rather than wait for the slow bus. The only route is by a footpath through woods that gets incredibly muddy in even the slightest bit of rain. The walk takes about half an hour, but it's not pleasant unless it's been dry for at least a week. That so many people would choose to walk, I think says a lot about our bus service.
I've known the buses to be three-quarters of an hour late. It's common for them to be at least ten minutes late.
And, twice, the bus I've been on has broken down. On one of those occasions, it spewed hot fuel all over the road. There was no replacement bus organised.
No one who has any other option relies upon the village bus. This means it doesn't get many passengers. So the council assumes there's not much demand so we don't get funding for decent public transport. So it will be unreliable. So people won't use it. It's a vicious cycle. No matter how many adverts people make advising us to use public transport, people won't unless the service is decent.
I think that there are a lot of flaws with the bus system where I'm from. I think it would make a lot more sense to have one cheap, reliable bus go round the small villages and stop in Calverton. People could then use the Calverton bus to get into Nottingham. A lot people do this already, so the council should take this into account.
At the moment, there are two buses that go through Calverton to Nottingham, but only really gets used. If someone in charge would notice this, they might make some changes to the system that would save them money and give us a decent system. Calverton could act like a small hub for the surrounding villages.
My second example: Helsinki
I spend three months in Helsinki, taking the bus to work and back every weekday. I took the bus from my flat into the city centre quite often at weekends. I also use the metro and the commuter trains.
There may be some things I don't like about Finland (namely, the weather for half the year and the language) but I fell in love with their public transport system.
They had in affect a payment system similar to the Oyster cards. These travel cards could be purchased for a small fee. Once you have your card, you have two choices. You can buy a period of time (between 14 and 365 days) and then use your card to travel as much as you like in that period. Or you can put an amount of money on the card and travelling then takes the cost of a ticket (slightly cheaper with the card) from you when you use a bus or train. To top up the card, you could either use a machine (there were a couple at the bus station in Helsinki, one at the train station and one at a major meeting of bus routes) or go into any newsagent.
They allowed transfers on the tickets. You didn't buy a ticket to a specific location, but to a region. If you want to travel to somewhere in region one (the city centre and the area immediately surrounding it) you purchased a region one journey. You would then be able to travel absolutely anywhere in region one for about forty minutes after the initial purchase time. This means, if you're quick, you could catch the bus into the city centre, buy something from one of the shops, and catch the bus back on the same ticket.
The buses ran to time! My boyfriend and I were joking about how shocking it was on the one occasion when the bus was more than a minute late.
Even the buses were a better design than ours. They had three sets of doors. The door at the front was for people getting on. Everyone getting off used the doors in the middle or at the back. There was enough space at the front for someone to stand and talk to the driver to buy tickets and, behind them, for everyone else to swipe their travel cards on the machine and go to their seats.
How often have you stood at a bus stop, waiting for loads of people to get off before you could get on? That never happened in Helsinki, so everything was much more efficient.
Another thing I noticed was that people with prams and pushchairs got on at the middle set of doors, where there was a wide space for them, and didn't have to pay.
Taxes are higher in Finland than they are in the UK, but this just goes to show what can be done if enough money is put into public transport.
My third example: FTR.
I'm a student in York and, a couple of years ago, the main buses between the university and the city centre were replaced by a brand new style of buses. A huge amount of money was put into the project and they came up with something that no one liked.
The buses have a machine at the front. Here, you select which type of ticket you'd like and enter your money. It requires exact change and, if you're not quick enough, it spits your money out and resets. I saw an old man struggling to put the coins in the slot. He got part-way through only to have the machine return the coins. But the return tray was badly designed, so the coins bounced out and onto the floor. After about five minutes (even with another passenger getting up to help) the driver told the guy just to get on free.
The idea behind these machines was that they'd make things quicker. They failed.
It's amusing to note that, after all this effort, they've now stopped the machines being used and have a conductor in every bus. It is slightly quicker now, but only because the system is used in a completely different way to the one that was intended.
We need better public transport in general. With all the damage that we, as a people, are doing to the environment, we need to encourage greener travel. If we could get more people to use buses rather than cars and make the roads quieter, maybe more people would be willing to cycle (the lack of decent cycle paths in this country is another rant).
I realise that a good service would cost money, but the situation with the FTRs makes me think. What if, instead of replacing a decent route, they'd reorganised the transport system for more remote areas. People stopped using buses when the FTRs replaced the old number 4 because they were so badly planned. The government and city councils can't just throw money at a problem; they need to plan it carefully. I think they should look at examples from places like Finland and Switzerland and follow what works there.
As for the cost, I would agree to a raise in car tax, particularly on fuel-guzzling models. If the cost of tax worked on a scale based on fuel consumption, people might be encouraged to buy more efficient cars, even if they don't switch to buses. I also approve of the idea behind congestion charges, provided that there's a guarantee that the revenue would go into improving transport in ways that are strictly necessary.