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Aaaargh me hearties, tis summer and there be sequels etc. etc.
POTC: DMC is the longish awaited follow up to POTC: The Curse of the Black Pearl, a surprisingly huge hit and even more amazingly for a Disney Pirate movie highly critically acclaimed and nominated. Actually, though I say sequel, second in a trilogy would be more accurate, since a third part is due for next summer.
And that, me hearties, is the problem - the film feels too much like the middle of a trilogy whose mission is to set up as many plots, subplots, and characters as possible in order to have a rollicking finale next summer. It may well be the case that once that film is out it this part really works as the first half of a five hour film, but I was hoping for a bit more for my money - not something more complex, but rather something more straightforward - a clear plot with a couple of subplots and some kind of resolution.
Instead we get an awful lot of characters (I count at least 15 major or majorish characters) with an awful lot of plots and subplots - off the top of my head these include: (this shouldn't spoil it if you haven't seen it, but if you're fastidious then seriously look away now)
1. Does she doesn't she Elizabeth wanting to marry will
2. Will and his father reunited cue lots of angst etc. and a desire from Will to restore his father to his old self
3. Commodore Norrington trying to rediscover his honour
and wanting vengeance or various people for leading to his downfall
4. Jack trying to save his soul from Davy Jones (the notional main plot)
5. Lord Beckett trying to take over the West Indies for the East India Company
6. Jack being declared a god by some cannibals
7. Seymour and Ragetti generally blundering around and trying to look as though they are there to do more than remind everyone that they were funny in the first one
Many of these subplots having little subplots of their own
OK you can come back now if you looked away
In the interests of dealing with all these subplots the main characters are cast far and wide with the result that key characters aren't seen for huge chunks of the film, and you keep waiting for them to stop setting up subplots and start buckling some swash. What's more, and more serious, a lot of the characters, particularly Jack, just aren't used enough - the Cannibals sequence in particular seems to be there to give Johnny a little more to do.
In general I get the idea that the writers had a really good think, came up with 20 fantastic ideas, and couldn't bear to part with any of them. Maybe they will all be resolved in the third part, but they weren't helping *this part*. It's a they didn't plump for a more limited cast and a smaller number of subplots to keep it tight and maximise the entertainment
Now, having got all that out of my system, I am categorically NOT telling you to stay away. Plenty of the excessive number of characters are very entertaining (including Bill Nighy's giant squid-man Davy Jones), and some (for example Norrington and Elizabeth) have discovered quite a lot more depth since POTC: TCOTBP. Depp remains fantastically funny as Sparrow, and there are a number of excellent scenes - in particular watch for Elizabeth's reaction to a three way fight between Sparrow, Turner and Norrington. I also liked (though managed to predict and was quite chuffed with myself) the final little twist which sets up next summer's finale. The make-up, costume, set design etc. is as good as you'd expect from a blockbuster of this budget, and, when they finally get around to it, they buckle swash with the best of them.
So do go and see this, just be aware that it isn't as good as you might hope or expect it to be.
I confess that this isn't quite about revision but it's close enough, because too many people spend ages revising content, getting it all clear in their heads and ready to use, and then blow it on an unfortunate exam whoopsie. It's also curiously timed since the exams have just gone, but that's why I'm writing it now.
You see I teach politics and I've just finished marking 300 AS Politics exam papers, and more than once I came across heart-rending scripts where the candidate clearly knew their stuff but ended up failing or getting a low grade because of some cock up or other. As a teacher I want everyone to do as well as they can so that exams reflect knowledge understanding and skills not cock ups.
Obviously this guide is focused on AS/A2, and on essay based subjects, bit quite a few comments, especially 1-5,9 and 12, apply everywhere
How people fail (this focuses on essay subjects)
1. They don't follow the rubric
On the front of every paper it tells you how many questions you need to answer. Read and follow. Suppose for example it tells you to answer two, if you answer 1 then you can't more than half marks (a particularly unfortunate example of this for me was a candidate who answered one question to Grade A stnadard and no other, just about hitting an E overall). Equally if you answer three questions instead of two then 1/3 of your time has been wasted.
2. They start writing before they've read ALL the questions, particularly the high mark parts
Doing exams is about getting marks and thence grades, so read through all the questions before you pick, particularly the high mark parts. In politics parts are worth 5, 15, and 30, and too many candidates have obviously read a question, seen that they can do the five mark bit, and jumped in. They then get to the 30 mark part of the question and are stumped, leaving the unfortunate choice of losing a lot of marks, or having to switch questions. Always go for the question on which you are most confident that you can answer the parts worth the most marks. Do not go for the question where you can simply say something for most parts.
3. They change their mind about the questions to answer
Once you're into answering a questions its very hard, and usually inadvisable, to switch to another one that you've suddenly realised you like better. However I have seen it done, and generally it has cost the candidate marks, because they have so little time left to attempt the new question that it gets them less marks than they would have got by continuing the other. Obviously if, 2 minutes into writing an answer, you suddenly realised you can do something else better then swap, but try to avoid even that by carefully picking your questions first.
4. They don't attempt every part of the question
My father once marked a script that comprised of one word 'Sorry'. I marked a couple were they left out one part or even two. Don't. Writing even one vageully relevant sentence is likely to get you a mark or two, not least because no examiner likes giving '0', but nothing only gets nothing.
5. They spend too long on one question (and then run out of time)
No matter how much you know about one question, it is only ever worth a set amount of marks, and these marks are governed by something called 'the law of diminshing returns'. By that I mean that your first half page generally gets you more marks than your second, your second than your third and so on. It follows then that writing tons and tons of time on one question willonly gain you a small number of extra marks. On the other hand starting a new question, even one that your less confident on, will probably gain you quite a few marks.
By all means spend an extra few seconds adding a killer extra sentence - you don't need to spend exactly half your time on each of two questions - but be sensible, half finished answers cost marks.
6. They don't read the question (i)
They don't use examples where asked for
Almost every single essay question in AS/A2 exams like Politics, Sociology, History, Psycology etc. includes the words 'with examples' - so follow them. It's generally impossible to get an A if you don't, and will generally slot you down a grade at least, no matter how good your theoretical discussion is.
7. They don't read the question (ii)
They ignore qualifiers
One question on the politics exam was 'To what extent have Prime ministers becomne more powerful *in recent years*'.
I got some essays waxing lyrical about Walpole (18th century) and Gladstone and Disraeli (29th century) which is rather over stretching a point for recent years. These types of answers were limited to somewhere around a D
8. They don't read the question (iii)
They ignore key words
By which I mean things like 'explain' (as distinct from 'name') and 'discuss'. Discuss means looks at *both* sides of the argument - only talking about one will limit you to about half the marks. Explain means tell me what something is, don;t just give it's name - e.g. 'explain the different types of Lord' wants you to tell me what a Life Peer is, and what a Law Lord is, not just that they exist.
Another example of key words is the difference between 'features' (what something is) and functions (what it does). E.g. two features of dooyou are that it's written by volunteers, and you can mark other people's opinions. Two
functions are to provide people with information about prdocuts that they might wish to buy, and to provide something for people with lots of opinions to do. Confusing features with functions costs a lot of candidates marks.
9. They don't check their work
I'm not talking here about Spelling and Grammar, which is sometimes worth a few marks, and is of course worth getting right, but isn't the be all and end all. I'm talking about the fact that in a high pressure exam people often acidentally write 'is' where they mean isn't, or say 'Thatcher' when they mean Blair - the examiner might have a fair idea of what you meant to say, but on the other hand you might actually be a numpty who does think that the Queen *is* elected. Either way, they can;t guess and you can;t have the marks.
10. They try to joke or preach
Most examiners, in everyday life, have a sense of humour. Most examiners, when marking 300 scripts with about 10 minutes for each one, don't. Trying to be funny is actually more like just to confuse the person marking than to impress them and it's generally a waste of your time - play it straight and stick to answering the question.
Similarly you are not going to convert the examiner to you hobby / political stance / religion so keep your opinions and strictly relevant.
11. They use silly, trivial, overly personal, or anecdotal, examples
Examples should be short, clear, easy to check, and to the point. Examples of the sort of thing to avoid, all based around the question 'How powerful is the PM' are
Silly: The Prime Minister can propose laws on anything, for example to make everything wear pink on Sundays
Trivial: The PM isn't powerful because he has to live in Downing Sreet rather than anywhere else
Overly Personal: The PM is powerful because he can change government policy for example Blair put my Gran's pension up by only 75p a week
Anecdotal: The PM is powerful because my Dad's friend's cousin in an MP and he has to do what Blair tells him to.
12. They don't switch off their mobile phone.
Exam centres don't mess about - phone going off means candidates going out.
1. Read the rubric and make sure you answer the right number of questions
2. read all the questions before you write anything
3. Choose your questions carefully and stick with them
4. Answers all parts
5. Divide your time roughly equally between the questions
6. Read the question and use examples
7. Read the question and take note of any qualifiers
8. Read the question and follow the key words
9. Check your work for accuracy
10. Play it straight
11. Keep examples to the point
12. Switch you phone off
I believe it was Dawn French who commented that there are two types of women ' those who love chocolate and complete b*tches. A trifle excessive perhaps, but in any case so many women fall into the formner category that it hardly matters. With men it isn't so much, and as an avowed chocoholic I find myself firmly in a minority. However as a Bury fan, teacher, and Liberal Democrat who used to be the only foreigner in a Japanese town of 9,000 being in a minority isn't a huge problem. Now, customary waffle aisde, let's get down to the serious business
10. Galaxy Caramel
In my younger more naive days a Galacy was the epitome of chocolate sophistication - smooth, creamy, and the closest a nine year old could get to heaven without a Super-Nintendo. I would hoard my galaxy pieces a la Charlie and his Wonka bars. From the dizzy heights of adulthood Galaxy's seem rather more commonplace than they once did, but they still remain one of the creamy and tastier options, and the addition of caramel adds nicely.
9. Heroes and Celebrations
Many chocoholics seem to have a United vs. City, Sony vs. Betamax, PC vs. Apple like committment to one or the other of these but with with me they rank the sme - nice if you can't make your mind up which bar to have (and aren't feeling quitr sinful enough to have a full one or 'fun' size). Also very useful for making obedient slaves out schoolchildren if used as an inducement.
Good clean children eat Dairy Milk or Caramel one chunk at a time. They place it carefully in their mouths and don't get any on the back seat of Dad's Fiat. Naughty messy children choose flake and try to covver up the resulting mess by sweeping the bits down the side of the seat, instead ending up just covering the back in a long chocolate smear. The resulting trouble however was always worth it - flaky = messy = tasty.
7. Chocolate Orange
There not Terry's OR Dawn's, they're bloody well mine I tell you. A staple of chrstimas stocking everywhere and with good reason, the chocolate organse combines reasonable price with a nice flavour, and convenient small guilty pleasure sized segments. The chocolate isn't precisely of the highest quality but it doesn't matter. The Plain Choc Orange and the Choc Orange Easter egg are also particular pleasure
6. After Eight Mints
Another chocolate that makes a more interesting Easter Egg han usuaL, as well as an excellent accompaniament to after-dinner coffee. These have also been part of the recent trend to release old favourites in multiple flavours (Lemon Sorbet, Orange, Oirish Cream etc.) but they can't compare to the original and best - minty, smooth and tasty.
Leaving aside some of the less advised innovations of recent years (what the hell, pray, is a 'truffle chunk' and why is it taking up space that could more usefully be occupied by extra Hazels in Caramel?) these remain the best huge-tin-for-the-family-at-christmas option - there is something for all tastes whether soft, hard or fruity, and even the noisettes whirls all tend to get eaten in the end by *someone*.
There was always something slightly suspicious about kids who preferred Bourneville to Dairy Milk - something slightly outre and sinister which suggested an urge to stand out from the crowd and possibly try to take over the world. Yes of course I was one of them, what did you expect? The bitter edge of dark chocolate has always held an appeal and Boruneville nails it. Simple as.
3. Fry's peppermint cream
I do have a fondess for plain chocolate combined with mint, and this particular number is not unlike an after-eight mint in bar form with the satisying off-set of the refreshing mint and the mildby bitter chocolate - a touch above most commerical bars.
2. Thornton's Rum Truffles
Chocoholics of my aquaintance are rather divided on Thorntons and they find themselves besieged obn both side - one camp find them overly pricey and pretentious, another insists that they don't actually offer a much better taste than ordinary bog-standard choccy. I however belong to the third camp which finds them both superior to standard offerings and not too horrendously pricey. The Rum Truffle is the best of the lot, a prefect truffle slightly boozy but not too boozy, and covered with just the right amount of chocolate. All the other boozy truffles, with the exception of the Oirish Cream, are also highly recommended, as are the Sicilian Lemon bars.
1. L'Artisan du Chocolat
The most expensive on this list by far, but equally the best - L'Artisan are a luxury chocolate shop in London, but also have a website with online ordering. They use only very good quality chocolate to make their chocs, which are generally in the 'ganache' style with various interesting flavours. Personal favourites includes Moroccan Mint (smooth and cool), Tobacco (lovely tingle at the back of the throat) and Lumni (Sharp tangy lime). Pricey, but worth it
Well OK, not quite. Yet. I ask you though, how long can it be before we hear that the PM can now launch our nuclear arsenal in under 30 seconds using his mobile phone, just in case Al-Queda attack when he's in the loo? After all phone's seem tpo be able to do pretty much everything else that you can think of under the sun. Indeed I'm now, at 25, in the embarrassing position of having to ask people younger than me how to work the more obscure bits of the damn thing (didn't have bluetooth when I were a lad etc.). But enough of this nonsense: the phone
I will concentrate on what I like and don't like, rather than minute analysis of features, since that's been done very well elsewhere. I will also focus more on the uses as a phone, since I'm still not fully au fait with all the technology
Compact (four inches by two roughly), light (around 100g) and packed with all the usual refinements including
2 megapixel camera and video with zoom and light
Radio (earphones included with set)
Text and picture messaging
Games: Super Real Tennis, PuzzleSlider, Aero Mission 3
The usual organiser / alarms / light / stopwatch etc. etc.
To work these various functions you are also provided with
a USB cable, memory stick, headphones, charger etc. I was also given a set of speakers, though these aren't standard
My handset was free through 02 if you signed up for at least 6 months, but obviously I can't speak for others. Full handset price for replacement purposes is about £250
What I like
1. The phone book feature is very comprehensive, with the potential for adding a whole host of numbers for each person (work, home, mobile, other etc.) as well as email address etc., avoiding the annoying necessity of multiple entries for the same person.
2. The camera is easy to operate and provides decent quality for a phone camera. The USB with lead also makes retrieval easy.
3. Menus are reasonably self-explanatory and easy to navigate (using a joystick)
4. Hundreds of hours of standby time, plus about 9 of talk time make recharges relatively rare, and they are also quick.
5. The size and weight - no dangers of anyone thinking that you're just pleased to see them.
6. The more complex features seem to be reasonably easy to navigate provided you have a short tutorial from an 11-year-old
What I don't like - all minor niggles
1. My most persistent complaint is that the 'K9' text predictor is annoying to use for such an advanced phone and takes far longer than the preductor on my previous, much more low-tech, phone. In particular if you want to turn the damn thing off you have to go via the menu, rathwer than just hitting a button to toggle.
2. Very minor point, but the few-second delay after switching on before you can actually navigate the menu is annoying, particularly when in a hurry. No doubt this is due to the number of bits that need to get working, but if you're used to a simple and quick phone is can give you the urge to throw it accross the room.
3. The video camera works fine, and is good for catching short segments on the hoof, but the quality isn't great and the picture is not quite smoothly flowing
4. The choice and play of games is pretty poor, and I cannot forgive the lack of Snake
5. As someone whose whose pockets are a black hole into which things disappear and do not re-emerge, I don't tend to carry round all the associated bits with me and therefore the radio function isn't much use for casual listening, since it requires the headphones.
It's also worth mentioning that some could find the joystick fiddly, but it works well for me. Finally I must in honestly re-emphasise that if you're really after the associated technology, the bluetooth, internet, MP3, etc., then you need to read a review by someone with a better idea of the intricacies.
Crimson Tide is a what-if action thriller, based a nuclear submarine ordered to fire nuclear weapons at a renegade-ruled Russian who might be trying to fire his nukes at 'us' (The motherhood-and-apple-pie loving West). Communications get cut off at a critical point and whilst the Captain (Gene Hackman) is all for nuking the blighters rotten, his Number Two (Denzil Washington) is slightly worried about the idea of starting a nuclear war when you're not quite sure. Hackman's consensual approach to command is summed up by his barking 'I've made a decision, I'm captain of this boat, now shut the %$^£ up!' which leads to mutiny, counter mutiny and general confusion.
What really works here is firstly the genuine feeling of tension - even though you know how it's all gonna work out in the end (see below) you're never quite sure exactly what will happen next and who will turn out to be on who's side. The dialogue is very sharp, and if you're anything like my brother and I then you'll be quoting it for years afterwards. Finally the chemistry between Hackman and Washington is there in abundance - during the critical scenes they spark off and at each other and you're never left with the urge for them to just stop bickering and flip a coin for it. The supporting actors are also generally solid, though they don't all have a whole lot to do for most of the time.
Having said all that the film is a touch predictable, but if you haven't worked it out yet then look away now.
There is no nuclear war and the world does not get destroyed.
Shocker eh? The last five minutes where Hackman and Washington decide that they they can see the others point of view and he's actually a damn good chap to have around in a flap is also way past Edam and into Stilton territory cheesiness wise. Finally, whilst the acting support is good one or two of the minor characters are a touch annoying and occasionally seem to to exist only to slip in random cultural reference (comic books, star trek etc.). Apparently this was largely Quention Tarantino's contribution to the script, though I'd like to think that the author/director of Pulp Fiction also had a hand in the face-iffs between the two protanganists. Imagine Vince and Jules only more respectable and arguing about Nuclear Armageddon rather than the relationship between foot massage and oral sex.
The Morland saga now numbers 28 books, with the 29th due to be published shortly, covered British history from the Wars of the Roses through to the First World War through the stories of a fictional yorkshiore family of gentry. They will eventually cover through to at least WW2.
Earlier books cover a period of up to 50 years, but these narrow as the series progresses (due to increasing popularity) and later works in the series often focus on a short period - for example no. 28 focuses on the two years or so before of after the voyage of the titanic. They also often focus on a particular theme, the succesion of the crown and religion are favourites in early (pre 19th century) books, moving on to industrial and political reform, particularly through the Georgian and Victorian era, and then women's rights, which is a topic running through several of the more recent books. Each individual book tends to focus on a number of related characters, telling the tale of the era against their own stories, loves, trials and tribulations etc. They are all handily accompanied by a family tree to help you keep track.
The books are written in an engaging and flowing style and manage to find a good balance between engaging you in the characters and filling you in on the detail, happenings, styles, controveries, scandals etc. of the era. The second book for example is partly set at the court of Henry VIII and weaves the tale of his marriages and divorces (or other such disposal of spouses) in with the story of the fictional Morlands serving at court, or trying to develop their land and standing.
The historical detail tends to be very accurate (with the odd exception) and whilst small liberties are taken in terms of who is involved (adding the Morlands in), nothing is actually changed in terms of outcomes - i.e. the same side still always win.
Having said that, their is a definite perspective on all the events, which may disagree with your historical views - e.g. the War of the Roses is heavily biased to the Yorkist view, the Civil War to the Royalists, the Glorious Revolution to the Jacobites and so on. In her defence this is probably realistic to the characters, and Harrod-Eagles does tend to favour the side that 'lost', which gives an interesting alternative perspective.
My other minor niggle is the repetition of a number of cliches - the unhappy first arranged marriage followed by the discovery of true love with another major character is one (my partner and I have a game of 'who can take the least pages to spot the two characters who will eventually marry'). Another is the Morlands fight on the losing side but somehow don't get punished for it (one or two characters manage to commit treason at least three or four times without ever actually being punished for it) whilst a third is to make a character a royal barstard possibly realistic occasionally, but it happens at least three times in the series. Harrod-Eagles also has a midly disturbing tendency towards inter-marrying her characters although that probably has some historical basis! A number of character types also pop up on a regular basis - the strong but wilful matriarch, the young rake, the solid reliable brother/uncle etc.
Having highlighted those niggles I have to say that they are very much the criticsms of an avowed fan and I wholehearedtly recomend the series - they are extrenely enjoyable reading and aren't too tricky to get hold of these days (including second hand providing your happy to persude ebay and charity shops).
Summary: Like history? Like fiction? Have an open mind? Read!
Enthusiasts of cheese or fans of all music as long it's loud be warned. Detesters of all things 60s do not enter. What lies within will not suit. I confess that when it comes to music I'm a bit of a 60s fiend with a sprinkling of seventies and a hint of fifties. As ever I will no doubt change my mind about the list as soon as I've written it but hey, that's never stopped me before. I have limited myself to one per artist (with a slight bit of cheating by having a John Lennon solo as well as a Beatles number) and as ever there are 11 because I can't narrow it down any more than that. If I could have put more in it would probably have been a fight between Californian Dreams (Mamas and Papas), Alright (Supergrass), Changes (Artist temporarily slipped my mind) and American Pie (Don Maclean). If I included more than one by the same artist then everything by Tom Lehrer would be fighting for a place
11 Yesterday by the Beatles (1965)
'Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away'
My favourite songs seem to split somewhat into optimistic (I say a little prayer etc.) and somewhat unoptimistic. This ones fall firmly into the latter category. Everything was fine yesterday but now its all a pile of...something and I just want to run off and hide. Good tune good lyrics.
10 Stand by Me by Ben E King (1961)
'I won't cry, I won't cry, No, I won't shed a tear, Just as long as you stand, Stand by me'
A favourite of drunken couples at Kareoke nights but don't hold that against it because it's a great song. The title is fairly self explanatory - I can take anything as long as you stand by me seems to be the message.
9 We have the time in the World by Louis Armstrong (1969)
'If that's all we have, you will find, we need nothing more'
Sticking firmly to my one artist one song plan it came down to a clear fight between this and What a Wonderful World and though it wad very close this one just edged it. Vintage Armstrong crooning effort. All we need is time because we've got love so we don't need anything else. I like the message and I like the song. This was also the theme tune to bond film 'On Her Majesties' secret service'
8 Bridge over troubled waters by Simon and Garfunkel (1970)
'Like a bridge over troubled Waters, I will ease you mind'
Of all the songs in my list this is possibly the one best not sung by someone whom can't sing. So to all those who've been in the bar when I've tried, sorry. It has a nice contrast between its fairly gentle parts and the rather louder finale and the general is that you don't need to worry because I'll make sure you're OK (because I'm like a bridge over troubled waters)
7 Space Oddity by David Bowie (1969/73)
'This is ground control to Major Tom'
I find that this quite a nice one just to sit back to and not concentrate on anything in particular. However if you take notice of the lyrics (which to be fair I usually don't) it carries a serious message and is possibly the most depressing song on the list - Major Tom has flown into space and everyone is celebrating and wants to know about him but then he goes for a space walk and his circuit is cut off leaving him drifting around his ship in space. My spies tell me that this is the only song to ever not make number 1 when first released and be re-released and make it to number 1.
6 Imagine by John Lennon (1971)
'Imagine there's no countries, It isn't hard to do, Nothing to kill or die for, No religion too'
People who generally share my taste in music seem to make an exception for this one - too depressing seems to be the general objection. In a way I can see what they mean - it's about how the world is full of hunger, death and greed. But I still see it as an optimistic song because its talks about how things could be better 'You may say I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only on, I hope someday you'll join us, And the world will be as one'. This was Lennon's second big hit after the Beatles split and definitely comes under the category of 'songs that make you think'
5 Stuck in the middle by Stealers Wheel (1974)
'Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am: stuck in the middle with
I will hold up my hands and confess that this selection has political overtones, to me if to no-body else. Other people may think it means other things but to me Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right can only be the song that should be the Lib Dem theme tune. It would probably double our (yes I'm one, Sorry!) votes to at least double figures
Anyway it's very lively and generally quite neat. It originally reached no.5 in the US charts in 1974 but achieved cult status after it's inclusion in Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs in 1992
4 I say a little prayer for you by Aretha Franklin (1966)
'The moment I wake up, before I put on my make-up. I say a little prayer for you'
Definitely one of the more optimistic songs on my list this one. All through the day I'm thinking of you because you're so great and I will love you forever (and Ever and Ever etc.). Very lively during the chorus and with some pretty good lyrics too this was a definite challenger for the number two and three spots
3 We will all go together when we go by Tom Lehrer (1959)
'Why the air get uranious, we will all go simultaneous, yes we'll all go together when we go'
This one is somewhat different from my other choices. Most of them relate to love in one way or another (not deliberate but the way it worked out) and they are all 'serious'. The one is most definitely not. If you haven't encountered Tom Lehrer before he's a Harvard Mathematics Professor who, in the fifties and early sixties, made a living on the side by writing and performing satirical songs. He's still alive but he stopped writing years ago. Listen to any of his songs and marvel at his genius. This particular number is a humorous take on nuclear war - anyone who can manage that as successfully as Lehrer does MUST be a genius!
2 Sitting on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding (1968)
'I'm sitting in the morning sun, I'll be sitting when the evening comes'
After that brief interlude its back to vaguely depressing again I'm afraid. I left my home for love but it didn't work so now I'm just sitting on the dock of the bay being generally depressed. A true great though this one and very well done by Redding. For some reason this seems to be more temptation that people I know can bear and they always all start singing along. I can see why though 'now I'm just sitting on the dock of the bay...' (cue sound of cracking glass and shrieking children). This one was released the month after Redding's tragic death in a plane crash in late 1967
Drum roll please?
1 Why do fools fall in love by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers (1955)
'Why, does the rain fall from up above, why do fools fall in love, why do they fall in love'
The one position in my top 10/11 that required no thought. Easily my favourite song ever but just don't ask me why. I don't even agree with the message (which as the title suggests it about how falling is love is generally a bit of a silly move) but for some reason it just really 'works'. I particularly like the opening bit (which I can't really describe but is basically Lymon singing 'oom ba be dum baa be dum baa be dum baa be dum baa' a couple of times followed by the Teenagers breaking in with a bit of Doo wah, doo wah dooooo wah doo wah). This was alas Lymon's only real hit as he went a bit downhill once he'd done so well out of this one. A great pity particularly given how truly great this song is.
Pity I'm not in the bar or I'd be making for the jukebox pretty sharpish
Now don't misunderstand me: this is a very entertaining book and, like a lot of thrillers, is better than the film because it goes into more detail. Alas it also comes across a bit too much as anti-Russian propaganda with virtually no opportunity spared to have a dig at them. More of this later, for now the basic plot Captain Ramius (played by Sean Connery in the film if you've seen it) is a top Russian Submarine Captain who is extremely miffed with his country after the death of his wife. He thus most of his officers that they should defect and take his submarine 'The Red October' with them as a present for the USA. When the Russians discover this they pursue the Sub whilst trying to hide the truth from the Americans. Jack Ryan is an American Intelligence analyst who is the only American chap to work out that Red October is really trying to defect. That's the basic plot and as I say very entertaining too as well as being based on an actual incident of a Russian Sub trying to defect many years ago. But the plot is carried off in a slightly unrealistic way: The Russians' new 'undetectable drive' is worked out by the Americans very quickly and then detected before the Russians get past Iceland by a Junior Sonar operator on board a US sub who just happens to be an utter genius who enlisted to pay for his college fees (what a happy co-incidence!). The Russian fleet meanwhile just blunders round all over the place unable to do anything. This whole image of the Russians as Dumb and the Americans as really clever comes to a head when the Yanks finally get their hands on Red October. The Russian officers are astounded that the Americans are so great and have been tracking them for days - it just confirms their feeling that America is just fantastic and much cleverer than them. If I sound a tad cynical I hope you can understand why: Clancy uses an pretty damn entertaining story with some good characters as pro
paganda for his views - for a more recent example see 'The Bear and The Dragon' which, whilst also an entertaining story, pretty much does the same with the Chinese. Obviously Clancy is right to say that the USSR were the 'bad guys' but in my opinion he just takes the 'Yanks Good, Ruskies Bad' thing too far. If on the other hand you don't mind this then this is definitely a good book to read, fast paced and gripping with a decent number of twists in the story line. Probably Clancy's best.
?to think about the message of this book that is, because gripping though it is just as a thriller it also carries a message that certainly made me think. The basic plot is two racist rednecks in Mississippi kidnap and rape a 10-year-old black girl. They are arrested but the girl's father, unconvinced that he will get justice, decides to take matters into his own hands and he machines guns them down. He is charged with pre-meditated murder and faces execution if convicted. Along comes the hotshot lawyer who wants to defend the Man partly out of a sense of justice but partly to get himself publicity. At the same time the local Ku Klux Klan is stirring up racist hatred against the defendant and his lawyer In this novel Grisham asks the reader whether Vigilante justice can ever be justified and how we, if we were on a jury, would treat a person who'd killed two men for raping his daughter at the same time he explores race hatred in the Deep South. In doing this he also highlighted the huge differences in culture between the American South and the UK (and incidentally made me glad I was living in the latter). Despite or probably because of its deep thought provoking properties I really enjoyed this book a lot and had difficulty putting it down: The characters are strong and in places very funny if sometimes a little over the top (e.g. The Drunk ex-lawyer brought along to help defend the accused is both). The factual stuff is as impeccably accurate as ever and the plot is full of typical Grisham twists and keeps you guessing most of the way through about what will happen next. I say most because I did find the ending a little predictable which is a lot more unusual for Grisham than for most thriller writers: with him usually the ending isn't really certain until you get there. Anyone who doesn't like violence on books should be aware that the Rape at the beginning and some later scenes are pretty graphic although they are always entirely relevan
t to the story and in no way gratuitous. If you've read some of Grisham's other books I'd say this is most like, if not quite as good as, 'The Chamber' in this issues it explores and the way it explores them.
As the title suggests I am freshly returned from the Opium den having been taken there by my Dad who is visiting at the mo. I could say that it makes a change from kebabs, and I'd be right but I'd also be doing the Opium Den a huge injustice because with the possible exception of the Yang Sing in Manchester it's the best Chinese Restaurant I've ever been to. In order to give you a true picture of what its like I should first tell you what we had this evening. It was one of the set menus and was Selection of Dim Sum [Salt & Pepper Chicken, Spring Roll, Satay Chicken and Spare Rib] ---- Crispy Duck with Pancakes ---- Sweet & Sour Chicken Mixed Meat with Mushroom Stir Fried Vegetables Special Fried Rice And by gum it was good! The Spring Roll was much of a muchness - there isn't much you can do either good or bad to a spring roll but the rest of the dim sum was exceptional - The Satay and Salt & Pepper chicken were both very tasty in the flavoursome sense of the word and the Rib was practically falling off of the bone it was so tender. Most Dim Sum tends to just get you in the mood for some serious eating but this was so good and plentiful that it took a bit of an edge of my appetite by itself! Next was the Duck, which was also excellent - very crispy and succulent with the usual pancakes, plum sauce and veg. 3 Pancakes worth each is which is a very decent portion for an entree. By this time I was starting to fill vaguely full already and hadn't even begun the main course which was swift in following. The S&S Chicken was tender and tasty and the Mixed Meat with Mushroom also good. The special fried rice was packed full of prawn and veg and was substantial in and of itself. What a feast it was! A couple of hours later and I'm still totally full. At about £45 for the two of us it's rather beyond student budgets and thus very much limited to the parental v
isit but it's very very good. The atmosphere is good apart from the obligatory dodgy music, which sounds like it came from the Chinese equivalent of Eurovision (and no, that isn't a compliment!) The service was reasonably quick and friendly, chopsticks rather than forks were provided but if you ask the waiter they'll get you a fork (so I'm a peasant, so sue me!). All in all definitely worth a visit if you've got the money. Alas, usually, I don't.
So it says Top 10 Action movies. So sue me. War films are full of action and underrepresented in Top 10 lists of films so here I'll gonna devote my Top 10 Action Movies exclusively to this particular Sub Genre. And even doing that doesn't make things easy because there are so many great war films: doing No.s 1 to 4 was OK because they're all already in my Top 10 movies of all time but picker the rest was a real stinker. Still just for you and for 100 dooyou miles, here we go: 10. The Dirty Dozen "You can go one of three ways: You can foul up in training in which case you'll all be sent back to jail for immediate execution of sentence. You can foul up in battle in which case I'll personally shoot you in the head. Or you can do exactly what I say in which case you might just get by" As ever with my Top 10 films lists No.10 is a film which is actually not that well acted or technically good but manages to keep me entertained. And this one certainly did. 12 condemned prisoners due to be locked up for a long time or executed are offered a reprieve if they go on a suicide mission. Lee Marvin as Major Reisman has to train them to kill the enemy and not him. Good action sequences and generally enjoyable to watch if undeserving of the number of sequels it generated. 9. Kelly's Heroes "Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?" More of a Crime Story with a War Backdrop it tells the fictional tale of a platoon of US soldiers who try to rob a bank containing $16m in gold 22 miles behind enemy lines. Savalas and Eastwood both perform reasonably well though Donald Sutherland as before-his-time-hippy Oddball is easily the best performance. The title theme 'Burning Bridges' is excellent. 8. Full Metal Jacket "The dead know
only one thing: it's better to be alive" Very gritty. Split into two halves - the first in the training centre where the usual psychopathic drill instructor so favoured by Hollywood puts a new intake through their paces. The second is in Vietnam where we see a not very nice view of what the war was like. Assuming the aim of this film is in an anti-war direction then it does a good job. 7. Saving Private Ryan "He better be worth it. He better go home and cure a disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb" Many might put this higher in their lists and it certainly does a good job of putting across the harsh realities of War. But maybe it just does a little too much of a good job in this and forgets to entertain the audience enough as well. Tom Hanks is very good as Captain Miller leading his soldiers to rescue the last surviving son of a large family. Incredible opening sequence. 6. Bridge on the River Kwai "If you work hard you will be treated well. But if you do not work hard YOU WILL BE PUNISHED!" A classic and another film based, though more loosely than some others, on real life events. Alec Guinness stars and performs very well as the Senior British Officer initially resistant to working for the Japanese who ends up helping them to build a bridge. But then William Holden who escapes from the camp early in the film returns to blow up the bridge. Very well directed, produced and acted 5. The Great Escape "If you escape again and be caught, you vill be shot" Another true one. All the allied escape artists have been dumped in one POW camp. Unsurprisingly they want to escape. Richard Attenbourough leads an all-start cast in a very good movie. The action sequences are very good especially the Steve McQueen motorcycle chase and there is some excellent wit in there as well. Oh and a very good title tune. Da-Da Da-Dah Da Da-Da...
4. A Bridge Too Far "I like to think of this operation as rather like one of the old American western films. The Airborne boys lacking essential supplies and equipment are the besieged homesteaders. The Germans, well naturally they're the bad guys. And we, we my friends are the cavalry, riding to the rescue!" Based on the true story of the Allied attempt to capture three key bridges towards the end of World War 2 and unlike some recent War Films actually historically accurate. Stars a host of big names including Edward Fox, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman and Michael Caine. It's got the gritty realism of war as well as some genuinely funny moments and excellent acting by all. 3. Crimson Tide "Mr Hunter, I've made a decision, I am Captain of the Boat, Now shut the F*** Up!" A real cracker. A mad Russian politician has seized a nuclear missile base and is threatening World War 3. On a US nuclear submarine Executive Officer Denzil Washington and Captain Gene Hackman can't agree what to do about it: launch their missiles to protect the US or wait to re-establish radio contact and find out if the fighting has actually ceased. Full of action with both lead actors vying for control of the sub whilst trying to avoid getting sunk by the soviets. Slightly predictable ending but good performances from most of the lead actors and a strong plot. 2. Dr Strangelove or How I Learned to stop worrying and love the bomb" "Well, I've been to one world fair, a picnic, and a rodeo, and that's the stupidest thing I ever heard come over a set of earphones. You sure you got today's codes?" In my view the funniest film of all time, which is quite surprising for a film about nuclear war. Peter Sellers plays three different roles including the title character the US President and a prim and proper RAF officer. George C Scott and Slim Pickens co-star as an Amer
ican General and a Nuclear Bomber Pilot respectively. Immensely funny and that's all I really need to say about it. Watch it. 1. Zulu "Oh well, I suppose there are such things as gifted amateurs" Another truth based war film this time from the Zulu Wars. The story is of Rorke's Drift where 136 men mostly of the South Wales Borderers held off 4000 Zulus winning 11 Victoria Crosses in the process. Great Acting especially from Michael Caine and Stanley Baker who co-star. Excellent action sequences and the 'singing scene' is very well done. For a fuller review see 'If 1500 men couldn't hold a defensive action this morning, what chance have we with 100". Looking back at my list I've realised just how many great films I've had to miss off. So I will give a brief list of the films that nearly made it: The Battle of Britain, All Quiet on the Western Front, Laurence of Arabia, Where Eagles Dare. All great films and the fact that they didn't make it in just confirms for my how many fantastic War Films there are out there
...assuming I can think of ten that is. Still shouldn't be too difficult given what a great place it is. So here we go in no particular order... Buildings: As in historical and beautiful. My review of the City ('Could You Direct me to the University please') goes into more detail but some of the colleges are very pretty: Magdalen, Christ Church, The Chapel at Balliol. Plus outside of the colleges is The Sheldonian and the Church of St Mary The Virgin - the most visited church in Britain. Oxford Union: 'The Last Bastion of Free Speech', run by elected students and famous for its speakers from the world of Politics, Sport and Entertainment. Visitors in recent years include Michael Jackson, Rolf Harris, The Dalai Lama, OJ Simpson and Kermit the Frog. David Trimble & John Hume spoke in a debate on Northern Ireland there last Tuesday. The Union also runs social events and has a Bar offering Pound a Pint as well as offering ample student debating opportunities. Societies: 100s of different societies ranging through Journalism (two student newspapers) to Sport (from Tiddlywinks to Rowing) and Politics (all the major parties and pressure / campaigning groups) to regional societies (many different countries represented). It's impossible to find nothing that caters to your particular taste. Colleges also run some societies of their own - whilst I've been here I've tried Bridge, Baseball and Debating, none of which I'd really done before. Accommodation: Pretty good relatively. The rooms are huge or really modern or anything but they're not too bad on the whole and virtually all colleges let you live in for either 2 or 3 years - a big money saver on places where you have to live out twice. And when you do live out there's plenty of financial help if you need it. Libraries: Not the most exciting thing possibly but damn useful when you've got essays to do. As well as the Bodlean, which ha
s every book ever, published in Britain every college and faculty has its own library as well making it a lot easier to get hold of what you need. Kebab Vans: Opinion varies wildly on this particular subject but I'm all in favour of Kebab Vans. OK so Doner Meat looks suspiciously like it came from the college Cat but provided you pick your Van well the Kebabs are actually pretty tasty. I recommend Hassan's in Broad St outside Balliol. Teaching: In most Unis you read what the famous authors wrote, in Oxford you get lectured and taught by them. Whilst I've been here I've had French Politics, Political Theory & Philosophy tutes from published authors in those areas as well as Macroeconomics tutes from the guy who wrote one half of 'Two Sides of the Coin' a highly selling book giving both sets of the argument on the Euro. And the Oxbridge Tutorial system means that most of your teaching is done in pairs giving you much more of an opportunity to talk to the experts teaching you. Many people also find Lectures very useful tho' personally I don't. College Bars: I only really know mine very well so I'll tell you about that. Over 100 different varieties of alcohol - 3 types of Martini, 4 Malt Whiskies, 5 Flavours of Bacardi Breezer, Guest Beers every week and a cocktail menu with over 20 different types on - something for everyone here. And its cheap - 1:30 a pint or less early in the evening with 69p shots (or £1.35 doubles) on Tuesdays. No better place to get mildly drunk after your tutorials! Facilities: As in Sports and Computer. Because it has a lot of money relative to other Unis the facilities in this regard are pretty good. My college (Balliol) has a computer room with about 15 reasonably decent computers and its own sports field with Squash and Tennis Courts attached. It also like most colleges lets you get internet access in your room if you bring a computer. And as well as college spor
ts facilities the University of course has lots of facilities as well including a huge sports centre. People: So I'm one of the people here, which makes me biased. So sue me! I've found the vast majority of the people here really friendly - no one seems to have any hang-ups about where people come from or their personal preferences or anything like that. Obviously there are one or two exceptions but they really are just that - exceptions. Of course the place isn't perfect by a long stretch - it can be tricky to get into (see 'Don't be intimidated, be argumentative') and there's a fair bit of work but if I had the choice again there's no way I'd ever pick a different Uni.
[Collective groan] Yes OK, apologies for the AWFUL pun in the title but it leads nicely into my opinion because the Dim Sum is one of the best aspects of this fantastic restaurant. People who know about these things tell me that the Dim Sum is 'Hong Kong standard' and yes that means bloody good. If it's to your taste you can have a whole lunch made up entirely of Dim Sum and 'Starters' (slightly more substantial and expensive). They will bring a procession of different Dim Sum for you to try - specific ones if you request them or just their recommendations. The last time I had a Dim Sum Lunch here was with my Dad about a year ago and it was magnificent. We had about 8 different Dim Sum - Prawn, Beef, Pork etc. all of which tasted exceptional particularly my personal favourite Paper Wrapped Prawn (see below). We then had 3 or 4 'starters' including 'Pan Fried Ostrich in Satay Sauce with Lemongrass' which was exquisite. For those of you who haven't tried ostrich, do so and do it at the Yang Sing There are also very good Set & A La Carte menus with all the dishes you'd expect and some more. I could comment on and applaud various dished for a very long time so I'll settle for highlighting one dim sum, one soup and one set of main courses: Paper Wrapped Prawn: As mentioned above: Crammed full of really meaty prawns with some herbs as well, delicious Crabmeat and Sweetcorn Soup: Thick and very tasty and full of both crab and corn, the best soup there is Sizzlers: Usually Beef dishes they will bring the cooking dish to your table and sizzle it in front of you creating a huge cloud of steam (and usually a few turned heads and rapid decisions from other diners to order one of those). Beautifully cooked and very tender All of the food is well presented, well cooked, tastes delicious and relative to many restaurants not too badly priced. The atmosphere and decor too are g
ood and in keeping with the restaurants style. I'm told they have a pretty good wine list if you're interested in that sort of thing but personally I prefer to stick to Chinese Tea here. Perhaps the best indication of how good a place this is the number of Chinese customers there are, I'm always wary of Chinese restaurants that are packed full of nth generation Brits and no one else. So if you're in or near Manchester and fancy an exceptionally good meal giver this place a whirl. And don't expect to want to eat again for at least three days afterwards. If I ever win the lottery I'll be there every day. Or maybe I'll just hire their head chef!
The average pre-conception of Oxford for most tourists seems to be: 'it's got an old university' and that's about it. Yep the University has been around for a while but describing it just in those terms hardly does the university or the city justice. I came to Oxford just over 18 months ago to do PPE at Balliol and frankly have fallen in love with the place: both the city and the university. Oxford has its weak points but is still a wonderful place. For those of you who don't know (including all the American Tourists who keep asking the way to 'The University') Oxford is a collegiate University: there is no central building (though their is a clock tower which is traditionally considered the 'centre of the university' for some reason). There are instead 39 colleges who each have their own buildings and a large degree of control over their own running and teaching. Some of these Colleges are truly beautiful such as Christ Church (famous for its bowler hatted porters), All Souls (where every few years the Fellow practice a strange tradition involving chasing a wooden duck carried on the end of a pole) and Balliol, my own college, known for its stripy chapel, for being one of the oldest colleges and for having produced 3 Prime Ministers (Asquith, Macmillan and Heath). Unfortunately the colleges also help to illustrate one of few gripes about Oxford that insufficient respect is shown for the architectural environment: some of the more recent colleges are just plain ugly monstrosities totally not in keeping: St Peter's for one will know who I'm talking about here. And some of the bits of the beautiful colleges are modern edifices of concrete and glass too: the Quad of Balliol is somewhat spoilt by a REALLY ugly lecture theatre building. Outside of the University the pedestrianised Cornmarket street is very ugly and not much as it pains me to make the comparison not something you would probably find in Cam
bridge where they seem to have more respect for history. Still despite the occasional lapses Oxford is still a beautiful place, The Famous Sheldonian Theatre and The Radcliffe Camera are two other beautiful buildings though both slightly demonstrate the tendency of Oxford architects to design phallic buildings. And the fairly recent move towards a car-free town centre has, I think, made things a lot better. Park and ride services ensure that it's not difficult for motorists to get into Oxford and open top buses help tourists to get around. Outside of the beauty of the place Oxford's got plenty of other stuff going for it too especially if you're a student: The eating out opportunities are not too bad with Kebab Vans and Decent Restaurants depending on taste and budget (personally I go for the cheap option except when the parents are visiting and paying!) and a decent selection of pubs. The sports facilities are even better than you'd expect with most colleges having their own fields, squash courts, tennis courts etc and unsurprisingly with over 40 different libraries it's a bit easier to get hold of the books that you need than at other Uni's. Finally there is the World Famous Oxford Union, which regularly holds debates and speaker meetings with the great and the good from around the world including recently Michael Jackson, Rolf Harris, John Hume and David Trimble (not all at once apart from the last two!) And even if you're not a student can't use a lot of these facilities there's still a lot to see and do. Not everyone loves Oxford I admit but I do and it's definitely worth at least one visit during your lifetime.
I believe that everyone has the right to their own views and to act on them how they see fit unless they effect others. And I suppose this is where my problem arises. Because it seems that some types of Christianity do not accept this. I had a religious education the other day: I was chatting to my housemate about religion. My housemate calls himself a Christian Evangelist, by which he means that he believes that the Bible is the only important text to tell him how to behave and that To get to heaven all he requires is belief in God. But whilst he was explaining his religious views several of the things he came up with disturbed me a little: 1. Belief in God My housemate said 'It's up to each individual whether they believe in God but only God decides who believes in him'. This obviously confused me just a tad. But his argument was that yes OK this is a circular argument but he seemed to think that this was a good thing. He said that it had to be circular argument because otherwise it would require no special leap to embrace God. I was understandably a little baffled here 2. The Bible We must live by the Bible because it is the word of God. It is the word of God because it says so in the bible'. Once more this argument seemed a mite circular to me. And from this argument flows quite a lot because of the position the bible takes on various issues. I asked my housemate about Homosexuality and the Bible's position. His response was that the bible said it was wrong. I asked him to justify the Bible's position on homosexuality in logical earthly terms, his response was that 'it's not for us to quibble about God's will'. That is if it is in the bible then if we disagree then it is us who are wrong not the bible. This seems to me to be a slightly dangerous position to hold: if something doesn't make sense surely that should concern us rather than leading us to say 'oh, it's
simply our lack of understanding?' 3. Sin This was the portion of this conversation that possibly worried me the most and followed on from the discussion about homosexuality mentioned above. My housemate said that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about what sin is: it is not doing something that isn't allowed per se it is 'believing that we and not God control our own lives'. I asked for clarification here: was he saying that personal freedom to choose was in itself a sin? Yes, he was. This is something that I just cannot accept. It seems reasonable to me that to take religious teaching as a guide to behaviour but to say that effectively it must govern all of your behaviour because making one's own decision is sinful seems just illiberal. (Please note that if someone else wants to live that way I have no objection, I am saying that I personally could never live believing that I had no control over my life' 4. Religious Conflict Now in case anyone takes objection to all of this criticism I should re-stress that this is in relation not to all religion or to all Christianity but just to evangelical Christianity. After the discussion detailed above I was talking to another friend who's also a Christian but calls himself a Liberal Christian and holds that the Bible is a guide not an absolute and that personal control over one's life in not inherently sinful etc. But what concerns me here is that my housemate in our conversation had attacked the position of Liberal Christian (and indeed of Roman Catholics) saying that they were not true Christians. The former because they live insufficiently by the bible and the latter because a) They accept the Pope as being higher than God (his argument not mine) They puts other texts above the Bible and they believe that Jesus' death does not by itself gain a believer access to heaven - waiting in purgatory, confession etc. is still required. Fine, he's
entitled to his view, the reason I mention it here is because this is symptomatic of the conflict that religion has caused: obviously my housemate wasn't advocating religious crusades or anything but religious differences do seem to have a nasty habit of leading to conflict particularly when debates begin about what is the 'true faith' - holders of different religious views seem to conflict with each other over minor differences far more than they do with say Atheists or Agnostics. I have no objection to anyone holding whatever beliefs they wish provided they do not lead to their harming others but the arguments put above make me certain that even if I did believe in God, I could ever be a Christian of the sort described above.