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I picked up a PS4 in August after putting off upgrading from a PS3. Whilst I was gagging for the upgrade in graphics - there were just not the games available to warrant splashing out when the console was launched.
Browsing Gumtree I spotted a bargain I couldn't resist and quickly snagged it.
One of the two games included was inFamous: Second Son - it didn't sway me convince me buy the PS4, I just saw it as a bonus.
As I type, September 2014 there are not a huge amount of next generation only games - most are upgraded versions of PS3 games. This is a shame, but understandable. It's not going to be worth developers time and money until enough people upgrade and encourage strong enough sales. For now it makes sense, but it is a bit disappointing that there isn't a huge choice of games taking advantage of the increased power behind the PS4.
inFamous: Second Son is not such a game - this is game specifically produced for the PS4, and goes someway to showing off what the unit can do.
Graphically, I wouldn't say the graphics are mind blowing - but they almost are. Its not the leap into the future I was expecting but its a great showcase for what the PS4 is capable. At times does verge on jaw dropping but never full smacks you round the face.
The game is a fine blend of sandbox and platform. A blend of action adventure gaming that seems to becoming the norm more and more, to progress in the game you need from A-B, but you can swing by C if you like and how you get there is increasingly unto the player.
inFamous: Second Son has graphics that showcase the power of the PS4, has a style playabilty wise that appeals to a wide audience and ensures hours and hours of engrossing game play - but what is its unique selling point?
I won't spoil the plot of this game too much - but, and you know this from early on, you have super powers. Throughout the game you develop new powers, improve existing ones - and with each bump up you're given new and exciting ways to approach how you play the game. Again, its up to you how you go from A-B but as the game progressing the options for going one place to the next is increasingly varied.
The basic premise of the game is age old - our superpowered up main character needs to beat the bad guys who have the city in lockdown. Luckily for inFamous: Second Son - its a family well crafted age old premise. The voice acting is great, story is great and well paced.
Overall, a great introduction to what the PS4 can do. Its not the mind blowing showpiece it should have been - but it is a solid, above average introduction.
Dexter is a different beast.
A lot of long running TVs series start off with a great central idea, but as time wears on other, usually less interesting ideas are introduced to keep the momentum up. Take Lost for example, a great idea to start things off - but as things wore on ideas were stretched to the point it fizzled out in a haze of confusion. Dexter on the other hand, even into this its 7th season, has stayed true to the basic premise. And, best of all - its managed to still feel fresh.
For those new to the show, the basic premise follows Dexter Morgan, a blood-splatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department and also a serial killer. This lure of Dexter is the reversal of morals and therefore a fresh take on an American TV series. The good guy here, is essentially the bad guy.
Dexter hides in plain sight - half the battle he has is with his urge to killer and the other half of the battle is with the police department he works for and is always alluding. It might sound a little complicated, and it is. Thats the secret to the show - a basic idea that has the potential to become very complex, and thats why they've managed to stay fresh 7 seasons in.
Season 7 starts off as season 6 closed. For those who haven't caught up yet, I won't spoil is - but it neatly swings from one cliffhanger into the next. Very little momentum is lost. As with previous seasons, there is a central bad guy. And, as with more recent seasons the bad guy - and central plot have involved more and more of the ensemble cast. Roughly speaking, there are 3-4 central plots that run through the 12 episodes that all intertwine and link up - with Dexter in the middle of all of them. From digging up an old case, a love affair with a murderer- to police corruption and a crime gang set on taking Dexter out. All these stories are juggled and balanced perfectly, with the now trademark Dexter black humor in the background.
What sets this season apart from the others? Thankfully, nothing. Rather than a standalone season, this feels much more like part of a series. An important one at that, but one that has a sense things generally speaking are coming to a climax. Dexter is in deeper than he ever has been in before, he can't just walk away from himself now - his secret is starting to unravel.
What Dexter does great is mix the chase of a good police who-dunnit and the weight of a good drama, and season 7 is where they strike this balance best. Ideas that still feel fresh and characters that begun to build an impressive back story and hold a lot of weight when they are put in compromising positions. I'd genuinely miss any off the lead cast if they were killed off - what a great set up for the conclusive 8th season.
It would be tough to go into the plot without spoilers - but if you've seen upto season 6 and want to know more, i'd say the plot is slightly more exciting that season 6. Its more realistic and has a much better pace to it and a mind blowing conclusion.
At 12 episodes and at the time of writing £22 on Amazon.co.uk - the extras are the a little on the light side. Some behind the scenes stuff and commentary. Pretty run of the mill fare, that doesn't really give a huge amount of insight - but keep the DVD interesting after you've finished the episodes.
US political TV show, the West Wing had sat vaguly in my memory. I remember it being around, people talking about and I generally got the sense it was a pretty decent TV show. But this was early 00s. Before the box set age as we know it, before TiVo, On Demand and before - well, less legal ways of watching TV not shown in the UK were widely used. The West Wing was shown of course, on Channel 4 - at roughly the same times as in the US - with the finale almost synchronising either side of the pond. But viewers in the US were already at an advantage with DVR culture already having well took off - something that wouldn't really arrive, as it did in the US early 00s, in the UK till towards the end of the decade. TiVo has only really taken off in the UK since it was introduced here in 2011, whereas its been available in the US since 1999.
So, when it comes to long running TV series that have huge story arcs (were not talking soaps here) spanning 20+ episodes, with month long breaks and complex interwoven plot - they have struggled in the UK and flourished in the US. Of recent, the UK has enjoyed more and more lengthy drama series, but its no coincidence most shows here will have a 3-6 episode run, whereas in the US there isn't really a problem spanning something over a few months. TV producers in the US utilising the fact recording and watching stuff at leisures rather than simply when its on, has produced a lot of great TV over the years. On the back of this, TV box sets have flooded the UK market - many of the big shows from the US finding an audience via more and more reasonably price box sets.
So, back to The West Wing. The West Wing is one such show that has benefited massively from the boom in US TV in early 00s, with a staggering $6m being pumped into each episode on average, gigantic salaries for the central cast - each episode plays like a mini-movie. Subsequently, UK views have benefited massively with the box set boom - this super-premium TV shows 156 award winning episodes packaged in one box set for a reasonable £40.
I have owned this box set twice, once when it first came out in its original format for around £100 and a few months ago in its new slim-line version for £40, selling it the first time round as I watched it A LOT and I needed the money. Apart from the packaging, there is no difference - all the episodes and extras are intact, I'd say the new version is a little smarter with smaller, tighter individual boxes with a larger box that features a picture of The White House - the building pretty much all of the action is set.
The West Wing is a US political drama, written and conceived by Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The Social Network) - and it is so far his most crowning achievement. Although Sorkin stepped away after the fourth of the seven season of the show, the high quality writing didn't really dip and the vibe of the show he stamped all over it right from the first episode remains right until the end. And that vibe is very distinctive - super high quality writing, snappy dialogue that simultaneously flows, interweaves and overlaps. Add to this an utterly addictive on screen presence from all of the main cast and most of the supporting cast, a super high budget that makes everything totally believable and gives everything a premium quality feel. Stretch this out over 156 forty five minute episodes, stick a £40 price tag on and you have one of not only the best, but best value for money box set you can buy.
The first episode sets the tone well - outlining clearly what 16 million Americans tuned in for every Wednesday at 9pm for 6 years, 1999 - 2005, and also makes obvious the problems the shows biggest critics make of the show. I love the first episode and it usually wins most people over from the off - but it does present most views with a love it of hate it situation. With want for a better word, this show can be a little cheesy. Its not all out cheesy but in the sense the good guys always (for the first few seasons anyway) win, usually boring people will silence a room with an inspiring monologue and comedy timing always seems to be in abundance when an argument needs winning. The writing has a 90s feels to it, as well as keeping in mind this had a massive audience - they couldn't take too many chances. This show relies on emotions running high and cheer at the screen moments when the underdog or the good guy takes their opponent down with a speech or a quip. Balancing this out is thick political dialogue. Most, myself included will be lost among some of the terms, idea and references - but they never get too heavy you're lost. Just enough to outweigh the cred the cheesy-er moments might lose. Over the first 45 minutes you treated to a film like snap shot at a day in White House, with its tensions, ups, downs and the commitment the staff have - but its film like so its culminates in a killer speech by President Bartlett (Martin Sheen) that ties up the themes of the episode, the tone of show and almost serves as a table of contents style-wise as whats to come over. Those who find it cheesy will be put off from the start, those who fully get behind this show will be gagging for more. Whats great is that there is much, much more to get stuck into.
Each of the slimline boxsets containing each season, within the box have 6 dics, usually with 4 episodes on each - and at 45 minutes each I find it just the right length to watch to wind down before bed (I must admit, into my late 20s, a basic pleasure in life is working through boxsets in bed with my girlfriend, so its great to find something we both agree on to the point its a highlight of the day) but more often than not its all too tempting to watch 'one more', then another....finally giving in when we reluctantly admit its best to get some sleep. Its compulsive viewing, and this is for various reasons. The dialogue between the main cast is utterly addictive, but this is just a dressing to the main course of the show. Killer plots and an utterly lovable cast work hand in hand to make sure you keep watching. Plot-wise, the first season is not incredibly strong - with a few smaller arcs pulling together to keep things moving - but further into the series the stories get bigger and bolder making for the aforementioned compulsive viewing. These plots are carried by a cast and set of characters portraying them you can't but love. I won't go into details about who is who; you don't need to know that, but the family vibe they create is what keeps you watching. They look out for each other, they fight and their personal and professional lives overlap and intertwine you'll quickly feel at home with them. Its the kind of central cast you look forward to joining - you feel very welcome in their universe and they seem happy to have you.
They 156 episodes span a very wide range of political, social and personal topics - and the central cast move and get re-gigged with newcomers and stalwarts, and it frankly would be a waste of both out time for me to go into detail about what to expect. You have two options - you can look up the episode guide on Wikipedia and carefully read through what happens, or you can shell out £40 and find out first hand what happens. I'd recommend the latter option and let this well written, well directed and thoroughly enjoyable, addictive show work its magic.
I'll end with a nod to the extras on this DVD. The show itself is mega value for money, but if you were not convinced, the extras might tip you over the edge. Each season has its own set of extras; documentaries, interviews and lots of behind the scenes stuff - but there are 2 additional discs within this box set that collect all available extras together that make this a really comprehensive set with more making of bits and heaps of insight into the people infront of and behind the camera, plus extensive bits from fans of the show, even interviews with well know US politicians on what they thought of the show. I've got through this set twice and only glanced at the extras purely because there is so much additional stuff to get through, but what have have watched has been a great addition to the main feature.
I genuinely can't remember the last time I called someone on a home phone. 1997 I think. Its really easy to forget landlines exist, with people either using mobiles, texts or, if you're anything like me, Facebook as your primary means of communication. I was resigned to the fact I would never need a home phone again, this is the future. Communication on the go, why would I want a phone that was literally attached to my house when I had one on my person 24/7?
Odd thing is, I actually have a phone line - the way I have my Virgin Media account set up means I have to pay for a phone line, free minutes included, that I don't even have connected to a phone - let alone use. On the odd occasion I need to call a number that would be free from a lineline, but costly from a mobile - I just use my mobile and take the hit. Its not usually that much and sometimes I can get a call back - costing me very little. However, a few months ago I ran into problems with Virgin Media, and needed to make frequent calls to their customer services; very costly from my mobile and with no option to call back - I resigned to the fact I would be more cost effective to pick up a landline phone and plug it into the otherwise redundant hole in the wall.
First stop, Argos. I have an Argos around the corner from my house - but its not its proximity that makes me a regular customer. Its the range in price, usually I can pick a product, pick a price range and match the two up. I want something that is value range, I can - want to pay more and have a more up market version of whatever I am after, no doubt they will have something to suit. My main requirement when purchasing a new phone was price, I was looking for a cost effective solution to making calls to numbers that were costly on my mobile, so I wanted to pay the absolute minimum for a phone. I wasn't even really bothered what it looked like, as long as it helped put an end to the hefty charges I was otherwise likely to see on my phone bill.
Right away, price, availability and function made themselves aware when I opened the catalogued, with the Argos Value Corded Telephone being instock, only £4.49 and it looked more or less like a phone.
A quick swipe of my debit card, a couple of minute wait and a short walk home - I plugged the phone in, and I made a quick call to my mobile to ensure it worked - reassuringly right out of the minimal packaging and ignoring the pretty minimal leaflet of instructions, it was working. The phone, as you imagine is very minimal - but for the price its a bargain, no fuss here. The phone has a cord (1.5m long) used to connect the base to the walled connection, and the base has a typical wound cable connecting the base unit to the hand set. Its a very typical, small phone. On the back of the base is a small hole that indicates you can hang the phone on a wall with a screw that you just hook the base onto. I didn't need to do this, I just sat it on a table and it looks fine - but like I mentioned I'm not fussed what it looks like.
Function wise it 'works' perfectly, in that it does everything you would expect. It makes and receives calls no problems, its the details that the £4.49 price tag makes itself know.
Firstly, the sound quality when making or receiving a call is far from perfect. It could just be the quality I am used to using mobiles almost all the time, but the Value Range phone sounds a little dull and muffled - a downgrade in the quality I have become accustomed to. Don't get me wrong, it sounds fine enough and works OK, its just it does have a value quality feel to it.
Secondly, the ringer could be described more as an alarm than a ringer. "SOMEONE IS CALLING YOU!!" it would say if it could speak. Again, this is a basic function of the phone that it does what you would expect it to, but the value side of things makes itself known when you can't turn it down, let alone change the tone. Maybe again, I'm used to just having a phone on the unobtrusiveness vibrate mode, so a phone screaming at me is a little odd. I must admit though, the sound of a landline ringing within a house did fill me with nostalgia the first time I heard it ring - it really has been a long time since I used a landline.
The only extra this phone has is a redial button, where you can call the last number you dialled. Handy if you are impatiently trying to get through to something or someone, or just a bit lazy.
The feel of the phone is value, with the buttons feeling a little flimsy and the casing feeling a little cheaply made - but not to the point its off putting. If I am to be honest, using this was a breath of fresh air compared to using my mobile to 'press option 1' meaning I had to fiddle with the touch screen and usually miss options. The simplicity of this phone was quite nice.
Being something I am not going to use often, and picked up to try and save me money this was a great by. I estimate this £4.49 phone has saved me about £50 in calls over the past month not using my mobile. A great buy for a device that most people will only have as a secondary device these days. Its super easy to use, feels reliable enough and does its job.
------Film Only Review------ (some small spoilers)
You can't underestimate how much I was looking forward to this film. Not only am I huge fan of Alien and Aliens - but, ready for this, I actually also like Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection. I like all the films for different reasons - but it goes without saying Alien is my pick of the bunch, I'll go as far as to say it's one of my favourite films ever made. My heightened anticipation of Prometheus wasn't just due to my admiration of the Alien series, but something bigger.
Let me interject with a brief interlude to the review and tell you a quick story. I vividly remember my first trip to the cinema. It was to see Jurrasic Park. The anticipation prior to arriving at the newly built Odeon (and now either derelict or a bowling alley, I moved away years ago) in Lincoln already was at bursting point. I didn't really know what to expect, the 11 year old me liked films but I knew this was more than a film. It was an experience, and it was one that, like most people, stayed with me. I still recall every detail of the film, the music, the sounds - and things outside the film; the smells of the cinema, the moment the lights went down, even the studio's logo filling the screen and the trailers were exciting. It's not the greatest film on earth, and looking back the cinema would be considered by todays standards as a hovel. Over the years I've visited the cinema loads of times - and even though I hate popcorn, as soon as the smell hits me it evokes the excitement of that first trip. As time's gone on though, despite the involuntary excitement the sights, sounds and smells of walking through the door triggers, I've left disappointed. I'm a strong believer that my formative years as a cinema goer were the final few years of the golden age of film. If the £12 ticket price wasn't enough to put me off going to the cinema on a regular basis, the downturn in quality made sure I bothered less. For me, the increase in visual quality, HD, 3D, IMAX and what-not, have had a detrimental affect on film - taking the emphasis away from story telling and moving it to simply making a film look good on a big screen. Looking great on a big screen is fun, don't get me wrong. But it, for me, is not a nourishing cinema experience. OK, there have been some pretty good films, and not every film is intent on looking great - but I can't remember the last time I saw a film that felt exciting. Felt like the makers were taking a punt on an exciting new idea, or something with some edge at least. The decline in films rated 18 is a huge reflection of this - film makers are less likely to rely on telling a worthy tale to get people to the big screen, and opt for the safer option with either the lure of 3D, a big name; or worst of all, pushed a franchise (I'm looking at you Pirates Of The Caribbean) to the point no hint of magic is left and a well worn couple of hours of film making are spelled out to the viewer.
However, a few years ago there was a beacon of hope blinking amongst the detritus of the Hollywood rumour mill. When Ridley Scott finally announced he was making an Alien prequel, the buzz was a roar that got louder with every snippet of plot that was leaked & casting rumour. But the buzz really got deafening when the trailers made their way online, things only quieting down what it was understood that Promethues would simply be set in the Alien 'Universe' rather than a direct prequel. I remained excited, and more importantly hopeful that this film would be what I hoped for - something that would reaffirm my faith in cinema, that would make going to the cinema exciting, even if just for a couple of hours. Let me just point out, I've not being without fulfilment when it comes to finding something engrossing and exciting to watch - its just that I've found my fill in TV over that past few years. I know people are still capable of making amazing drama, comedy and Sci-fi, but this has pretty much all been fed to me with TV - with things like Battlestar Galactica, Lost and The Office (US) making it clear talent is abundent, its just I have rarely been finding this at the cinema.
So, with the throttle down on the expectations front - did Prometheus deliver?
Let me start by saying this; Scott did more with the first 20, dialogue free, minutes of Alien than he did in the full 2, 3D packed, hours of Prometheus. That's not a bad thing - it says more about how great the opening of Alien is rather than Prometheus being poor. I am hinting at something though, and that is the fact everything that made Alien amazing is present in Prometheus, but so seldom, blink and you'll miss it. It's there, unlike the Alien Vs Predator film which, for me, should have been done for copyright infringement - it's just sparing. It's as if Ridley Scott has made Prometheus in a film industry influenced by Ridley Scott, his touch is very light here - what's replaced it is the heavy hand of visual effect, most noticeably the 3D. You can of course see this film in 2D and I kind of wish I did. The first problem came right away, and it feels as if for the first time what the film makers wanted to do was ahead of the technology. Sweeping shots of mountains and waterfalls are presented in 3D that would be stunning, if it wasn't pulling you in and and out of focus. I thought this was just me, so I asked my girlfriend who was sat next to me and she said the same. I'd go as far to say it was distracting, if not a little nauseating. The shot will pull a waterfall into the foreground and have a wide open landscape in the background - I like it when I can choose what to focus on rather than have it shoved my my face.
As I eased into the 3D and the action moved mostly indoors, things became a little easier to take in, but I found it over done. Where as the film opened abrasive 3D, you were invited into an environment with visual effects so advanced it was dull. In my mind, the job of a film maker is to feed your imagination, not simply recreate it as accurately as possible on the screen. Sometimes the suggestion of the possibilities is more exciting than a cleverly represented and well rendered display of the possibilities. Take 'Moon' the low budget 2009 BAFTA award winning micro masterpiece. No real special effects, its quite obvious the set is made out of MDF - but it works. It owes a lot to Alien; the quiet, tension, and loneliness of space - and it pulls off the same trick as Alien by suggestion rather than telling.
Prometheus isn't setting out to be a horror film - it's setting out to be a Sci-Fi Action film, with glints of Horror. The biggest mistake they make here is with all the Sci-Fi elements, the technology, the clones, the space travel - they work hard to make it feel real. And it feels too real, by just extrapolating on current technology and assuming if technology moves forward like it currently does we will have they kind of toys they have in this film, they kill the imaginative feel they are trying to create.
When I heard Idris Elba would feature, I was excited. I love him as Stringer Bell in critically acclaimed US drama The Wire , and hoped he would bring some of that on screen authority to Promethues, but he was wasted. A very standard role, typecasting him as the affable, reckless rogue before the rest of the film and TV industry really have had chance (the makers of Luther had a go) but giving him a strained Southern accent and lacklustre set of lines and despite his prominence in the crew on paper, on screen he come across as part of the background rather than a memorable feature. His demise is about as predictable as its timing - about 2/3 of the way through, giving time to tie things up & leaving just enough rope for a sequel.
Idris Elba's placing isn't the biggest wrong footing cast wise, this they do in spectacular fashion with the combo of Noomi Rapace as supposed lead Elizabeth Shaw and should be hero, and Chalize Theron as Meredith Vickers, the, frankly, miserable Weyland employee overseeing the mission on behalf of Weyland CEO, Peter Wayland. What they do here is try to recreate the onscreen power of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, but across two characters. Ripley was the stoic survivor you could only sympathise with, and they seem to have dished out survivor to Shaw and stoic to Vickers - they problem is you can't sympathise with either. Shaw is too irrational to be likeable and Vickers too cold to be intriguing.
There is one man though. A saving grace. A smart bit of casting. Genuine on-screen magic. Fassbender.
Fassbender plays David, the ships super lifelike android. Prometheus's Bishop. Fassbender manages the role of lifelike android perfectly. Functional, but believable. Robotic but human. Considering he is purely a functioning machine, he is never dull. It's telling that of the rest of the cast, that the character bringing most life to the screen is a robot. This is down to Fassbender rather than any clever scripting or direction - I say this as he has brought the same kind of magic to other roles, noticeably for me, "Inglorious Basterds". Fassbender most definitely carries the film - both ensuing the onscreen presence is never quite as empty as it otherwise would be, and also unfortunately carries the films biggest and most obvious plot devices.
Plot wise, it's all to easy. I was very disappointed. Although it still carries more intrigue than most Hollywood blockbusters it's still unforgivably predictable - the only sign something 'off script' is at play aboard the ship is tasked to Fassbender's David to carry and slowly reveal - it's maybe the way Fassbender's excellent acting distracts from the obvious side plot that you only half guess where things are going.
I would usually preface this paragraph with the warning 'spoiler' as I'll talk about the plot, but given as its so blindingly predictable I wouldn't worry. A team venture into space to find a planet that has clues to the origins of man. They find it. It's not what they think. I watched an interview with Theron where she revealed they had an allotted short amount of time to read the script and were strongly warned about revealing secrets - but when the plot unfolds on screen you wonder why they bothered. I'm sorry to say it couldn't have been easier to predict. Almost as a matter of course the ships crew are picked off one by one, but not by Alien lifeforms - usually by their own incompetence. I worry that someone could be qualified to fly into space to discover the origins of mankind, but lack the common sense to follow the basic movie plot predictability that if you get left behind and it's promised 'we'll come back for you when the storm has passed!', you're good as dead.
As much as I dug my claws into this film, my expectations were very high and despite the dull plot, largely lifeless cast and almost stock standard special effects it was an average film. Fassbender is the soul of this film for me, ironic that his character has no soul - but what he does speaks volumes. Its the power of suggestion rather than telling, and raw talent shining through, as much as it might be drenched in special effects. Scott, like I mentioned when I started, is still there. Sweeping shots, vast, empty spaces filling the screen with a depth its hard not to soak in despite there being little other than nothing to soak in. You can see him trying to get the pacing right, trying to sustain and release and to draw the viewer in. You can see him trying to create wonder, and you sense he is genuinely enthusiastic about Sci-Fi being a device to feed the imagination. You can feel him trying to create tension, fuel some fears and propel the plot - but you can only usually see him try these things, or present them fleetingly, this film rarely screams RIDLEY SCOTT. Like I said at the beginning, the influence of Scott is felt more here, rather than the actual presence. I'd go as far as to say, Scott works well within the safe confines of his ability, rather than working to redefine them, let alone affirm his film making prowess.
As predicted, but this time fulfillingly - H. R. Giger's Alien, literally, rears its ugly head as the film reaches its closing moments. It's this final part, after the main plot has been wrapped up and left open at the same time that for me, was the most exciting. It was a fleeting moment of excitement that came too little, too late. It suggests the Alien will feature in future films, but I think it served more as a way of keeping the story within the universe. Apart from this and an obvious back story with Weyland - little links Prometheus with Alien. I felt a little short changed in believing the films were linked. It become all too obvious as the film closes that rather than continue with a franchise, Scott is set on starting a new one.
I can't hate this film. No doubt I'll buy it on DVD, but it will be as a collector rather than an outright fan. It's an average film, and I was desperate for it to be an amazing film. That is the biggest disappointment here, that the film that would have, no - should have, re-energized my faith in the power cinema, was only average.
This is my third Brookmyre book, and the third Brookmyre book I have loved. What I love about Brookmyre's writing seems to be what puts other people off. Labelled as a crime writer; he mixes in politics, satire, comedy and off-beat references aplenty. I can see how someone looking for a thriller writer might be put off with the rantings, and I can see how someone wanting rants against the system might be put of by the crime aspect.
Reading reviews of Brookmyre's books, its disappointing to read so many people slate him for not sticking to one genre within one book. Many reviews seem happy to focus on one aspect of his books and this seems to have forced Brookmyre to build a very split fan base, you either love or are indifferent Brookmyre. Its no coincidence that more recently his publishers have convinced him to focus more on crime, take out the spite, black humor and wit and even change his name to 'Chris' to fully acknowledge this change. And, if I'm to be honest, I'm not really looking forward to reading the newer stuff.
The first Brookmyre book I read was ' Quite Ugly One Morning', also his first. In this great first novel, Brookmyre introduces Jack Parlabane. Brookmyres Harry Hole, Jack is a part time journalist, investigator, truth seeker and borderline freelance spy. He is daring, risky and crammed full of charm, Brookmyre blessing him with the sharpest, most caustic lines and exciting plot lines. Of the 14 books Brookmyre has released, only 5 feature Parlabane - and I wasn't going to rush through these, as much as I wanted too. So, after 'Quite Ugly...' I picked a later non-Parlabane novel, and although 'A Tale Etched...' was great, I was eager to get back to Jack, excited even.
The first 20 pages of 'Country Of....' 400 serve as an excellent showcase for what Brookmyre does best. Teeth and claws are sunk deep into the media circa 1997 (although most of the references could have been pointed out 2012), with conservative media mogul Dutchman Roland Voss at the top. Brookmyre is seething with rage, the way media bosses and politics mix his target, and he gets vicious. And, as someone who shares his outlook here - I loved these opening parts really laying into reactionary tabloid news with no sense of remorse or regret - holding nothing back. If bad language puts you off, be ready to be put off.
As the unaplogetic rage quietens down, Brookmyre carefully makes various threads that will eventually form the plot come to the fore - eventually we have 4/5 parties that over the course of the book will eventually entwine and form a riveting story, full of pace that become thoroughly addictive reading. The kind of story that will force you to pick this book up whenever you can.
Brookmyre turns up the rage, as well as the pitch black humor as he introduces Jack to the plot - and builds on an already brilliantly well written character giving even more flesh, story and uses him as a deafening voice to further shout his outrage at the way the media works. Before Jack saves anyone life, he's already a hero with his razor sharp lines at how atrocious modern day newspapers function.
The pace picks up and very rarely slows down - I can't explain too much without giving the plot away, but to sum up; a media boss is murder and 4 men are framed. Unwilling, it comes to Jack to get to the bottom of whats going on - but the deeper he digs, the deeper he's in. What Brookmyre does great here is effortlessly jump from timezone to timezone, rant to ramble to plot and back to rant again. There is never a feeling you're about to get lost - even though it feels like he's trying to loose you, he shows you the way just in time. This gives Brookmyre a lot of chances to squeeze in lots of ideas - the plots, nostalgic flashbacks and generally raging out wherever possible.
As the book flies by the threads get plucked and pulled and the paces picks up with little snippets of whats to come - and slowly revealing the truth, opting to take a pop at the media in the final part of the part rather than save things for a big reveal - a satisfying ending non-the-less, but I can see how crime fiction fans might be a bit deflated.
I was a fairly disillusioned iPad owner until late 2011 when I sold my iPad (as in iPad1, although the iPad 3 is now as far as Apple are concerned known as the iPad). I wrote a review on in, on this very site and whilst I loved it in principle, it being super fun to use, it was fairly useless. Well, to me it was anyway. So I sold it as I wasn't really getting much use for it and had pretty much written the iPad off as 'fun, but useless'
About a month ago I rang the service provider for my MiFi (another review of that on this site), Three, to cancel my contract as I was no longer making much of the unit - and I was plonked right into the middle of a tricky dilemma. I was offered an iPad 3 for the same price as I was paying for my MiFi (£25pm). I told them I would call them back whilst I had a think about it.
On one hand, I found the iPad 'fun, but useless' and on the other I was so used to the £25 coming out of my account I had barely noticed it - it was such a regular part of my monthly budget I don't know what I'd otherwise wisely spend it on.
So, I think you can imagine what my decision was - 2 days later the iPad was delivered, and I wasn't struck with the 'buyers guilt' with the first one, it felt (I know its not) like a win win. I got rid of something I wasn't using and replaced it with something I hope I would. Right out of the box it felt recognisable, but different to the original model. Apple seem to have a knack for making all their products (of recent years anyway) feel super premium. The iPad 3 is light, has a really clean and polished finished and as I felt with the original iPad - right away it feels exciting. I don't know how Apple do it, but after using a range of tablet PCs - the iPad 3 effortlessly feels like a step into tech future.
This feel is only confirmed when its turned on. I was impressed with how the screen looked on the Ipad, but the Ipads upgraded and self branded 'Retina Display' takes things to another level. I was expecting this too look good - but its on the borderline of mind blowing. It took me back to the time I first watch a blu-ray in full HD and I my eyes struggled to adjust to what they were previously used too. With the iPad 3s screen my eyes were once again treated to a near nauseating level of clarity. As a test, I on of the first things I did was check out some HD videos on Youtube - one of the most viewed being a BBC clip featuring a mountain and what not. It loaded faster than I was used to (more on that later) and with almost no buffering I was treated to a stunning 10 minute clip. I wasn't just the depth and clarity that was stunning, but the colours where some of the cleanest and crispest I seen on any device, let alone a tablet. Whilst the blue of the sky in the clip was still blue, the display seemed to add a new vibrancy to it. It's safe to say, my first impressions of the iPad were great. I was blown away a bit with the first iPad - the feel and the screen, but I was very, very impressed they have taken already top notch qualities and upgraded them to revolutionary levels. Quickly, the 'fun' factor was outweighing the 'bit useless' factor and quickly confirming this as a decent decision to pick up an iPad rather than save £25pm.
This was within the first 10 minutes of busting the device out of the box - I'll rewind a little. It was packaged minimally as I expected with a small guide and the usual stickers, a data cable and a plug which when connected to the data cable formed a power supply. No headphones or cover, and mine also came (separately) with a 3 sim card that slotted in a way similar to an iPhone rather than a regular mobile. Apple don't tend to spoil with gubbins in the box, but as with most of their products this came fully charged so after confirming the settings (country, time etc) and signing into my iTunes account, plus a few other calibrations it was good to go - and with the sim in and connected to my home Wifi I was pretty much fully set up - no more than about 5-10 minutes and I was going.
So, after my initial tests with Youtube I had a look around at how the device was app wise out of the box. Mostly, things hadn't changed that much. The standard apps you'd expect with an iPad and most tablet devices are there - calendar, books, iPod, video, Safari (internet), mail, photos, but the main one that was new to me was the camera function. I had not used an iPad with a camera before, and this has 2 cameras. One is front facing and a 5megapixel camera facing out on the front of the device. Now, 5megapixel doesn't sound like a lot - with most mobile phones being higher than that these days - but its the quality of the camera that gives it the edge, plus photos displayed on the retina display. The addition of the camera was a big plus for me.Whilst not something I would use a lot, it felt missing from the first iPad and I have made some use from this camera - its just nice to have an additional camera to hand when you are out and about. As I don't use Facetime (Apple patented video calling service) I have made minimal use with the front camera, but like the idea I have a Facetime ready device - with the main reason I don't use Facetime being I don't know enough other people that use it.
I found when I synced my Ipad with my Itunes on my PC - some, not all, of the Apps I had previously paid for synced as well, so was happy to see Pages and Numbers arrive back, two Apps that I was hoping to make more use of this time around (Apples tablet version of Word and Excel) as I found both feature full and fairly straightforward to use. My only gripe was that typing was a little clunkly and didn't feel natural on an iPad - and to be honest, still doesn't to me. The way the keyboard sits and how you have to position your hands, plus it not being physical takes some getting used to and even when you are it puts strain on your wrists and fingers after only 30 minutes or so - the stain you'd feel with a physical keyboard after hours of use. This is slightly outweighed by how crisp and smooth these, and pretty much all apps are with the combination of Retina display and the upgraded processor. Apple boast its the most powerful tablet device around and using the device casually makes subtle hints at this - with the screens flowing effortlessly and apps opening almost before you have clicked them , webpages opening quickly, smooth and almost shockingly nice to look at. That is where most of the upgraded processing power works its magic - making the everyday functions super smooth and effortless - with gaming becoming more and more powerful on this device. I'm not much of a gamer when it comes to mobile device - a quick blast on Temple Run maybe, the serious gaming needs a control pad, a big TV and deep gameplay so its left to the PS3.I've found quirky, quick games are more fun on iPad, and there is no shortage of these on the Apple Store - some paid, some free - and on the Ipad3 they play smoother, cleaner and quicker than ever - something I never thought I'd say after I first played Angry Birds on an Ipad and was blown away by how responsive everything was. Well, on this its quicker, smoother and as a result a richer, if not still simple gaming experience. Again, another point for 'fun' over 'a bit useless' here.
The processor shines in other areas - but you get the whammy of a decent processor and the Retina display when watching video on this. I usually watch a lot of TV and films in bed on my laptop - via Iplayer and Netflix - but the iPad is now my go-to device, with its just being a nicer experience. The screen is a little smaller than my laptop but the beautiful screen on the iPad and the speed it connects to my WiFi greatly outweigh this. Again, another point for fun.
A quick note on battery life - whilst I charge this every night, I don't always need to. It will go a day easily using WiFi and begin to run down after a day of 3G - but whilst the device is 'resting' it can go without a charge for 3-4 days. So, unless you are planning a trip to Mars, this will easily last any journey between power points. Also, this device boasts 4G - something we don't have in the UK yet, and not for a few years - but its 4G ready non-the-less, with 4G being what will eventually replace 3G making mobile browsing much faster.
After a almost a month with this - I'm impressed. Without any super huge changes most predicted Apple have taken themselves further into revolutionary territory and I'm glad I've given the iPad another go. Yes, its still a bit useless and pretty much all word processing is done on my laptop - I'm using the iPad3 much more for browsing and watching video, and with 3G its a really useful device out and about - well, maybe not useful, but much more fun that a phone I'll opt for the iPad to make a quick search rather than my phone, despite the iPad not being the pocket sized go-to device my phone usually is.
The iPad comes in 16g, 32g and 64g formats and prices start if you're looking to buy outright at £399. I would recommend to anyone looking for very fun, and just functional enough to be worthwhile portable device that is a pleasure to use.
I'm ashamed to say, I hadn't heard of Christopher Brookmyre until a couple of months ago - but I'm glad to say he's quickly become one of my favourite writers of any genre. Which is good, because he doesn't seem to do genre. Well, its marked as 'crime fiction', but his books are more, and less than that. Social, political and personal - Brookmyre seems to use crime in his books as a device, rather than a means to an ends.
Anyway, I picked up his first book - 'Quite Ugly One Morning' and loved it, so picked up all of his other books from Amazon. 14 in total, and it didn't cost me that much, about £25 overall - and I've been working through them over the past couple of months. After 'Quite Ugly....' I wan't to move to something later in the collection. I love the 'hero' in 'Quite Ugly...', Jack Parabane, and after some research he features in his first 5 books and returns in a later book - and its the books featuring Jack that are said to be the highlights, so I didn't want to rush through them all first. Instead I wanted to see how his books hold up without Jack.
So, I picked 'A Tale Etched...' randomly off my shelf from my new and fully organised Brookmyre collection and cracked on with it. And cracked on with it is exactly how it felt - compulsive reading that I (and I'm usually a fairly light reader) got through in 4 or so days - unable to resist a few pages whenever I had a spare second.
To avoid spoilers I will keep a plot summary brief, its a little too easy to give too much away - but plot wise its paced well enough to keep you turning rapidly over the 400 pages, whilst not being what I'd describe as a 'page turner' in that the whodunnit is only used at key times, its Brookmyres addictive wit that keeps you wanting more.
Set in a town near Glasgow, Braeside, the story takes place in three distinct timezones that all have their own feel but link and intertwine well. They take place in the school days of a bunch of kids, during a murder and in the present - as the crime is being pieced together. The kicker here is that the crime (a double murder) is committed and investigated by the same bunch of children that went to school together. We see these kids grow up, grow apart and eventually become adults whilst being thrust back and forth into their lives 20 years into the present as they all become more or less regrouped amidst a less than savoury situation.
Hints and clues are given during the school days about what kind of people these kids would grow up to be, and Brookmyre does a great job at building a likeable, and believable cast that provide an intriguing vessel into the events of the present day. Its during these school days most of the book is set - with Brookmyre giving detailed account of primary through to secondary school - from the first day as these kid met on equal terms to the last day as they left with the baggage they'd amassed, some baggage would help form the events later in life (and in the book) and give some subtle and some obvious clues to what would unfold.
Brookmyre gets a mix of attention, criticism and admiration for the language he uses - making no compromises to write in strong Scottish at times - and personally I love it. Some words pass me by, others I know and some I half know but make enough sense (in any case, there is a glossary at the back of the book) However I interpret them though they all have the same effect - they add heaps and take nothing away. A great trick he employs is when the kids are young he uses language - even when speaking as narrator - that young Scottish kids would use. As they grow up, he widens not only their vocabulary but thickens up the Scottish with certain characters and thins it with others - helping the reader make sense of his world by making his less than sensible characters make less sense.
For me, the sign of a good book is one that leaves with a little void where the books has been for the past few days - and this did that. I would have wanted more, but I left feeling quite attached to the being the spectator in this situation looking over a bunch of kids growing up - and the reveal at the end is heavy enough to leaving you feeling satisfied and ties things together well.
All in, its a great read that I look forward to enjoying again. Maybe their are too many characters and too many plots that are drench in thick Scottish lingo for someone looking for a crime thriller - but if you're looking for a sharp, moving and witty tale with a whiff of whodunnit it, this is a must.
Me and energy drinks have had a turbulent relationship. As a cook with a super hectic lifestyle, they have, over the years, become a necessary evil. Necessary to cope with the early mornings, later nights and the co-joining hours either side - evil; headaches, caffeine crashes, toothache, (usually) pricey, plus the long term health risks of replacing a decent nights sleep with a can of sugary chemicals are not great.
With the negatives in mind I have tried to move to more herbal tea and a few less caffeine injections over the past year of so, only dipping my tongue into the murky world of energy drinks when a bout of work fed sleep deprivations calls. My usual tipple of choice when it comes to kick starting a painfully early start is Red Bull - but I've worked my way through the lot, and they all have one thing in common; never really that nice. Some are nicer than others, but usually the chemical/sugar packed undertone shines through most of these drinks strong - any kind of flavouring only ever partially masking.
So, over the past few weeks I've had a telling time workwise with lots of long shifts, late nights and covering staff left right and centre. Its fair to say I needed to call on caffeine on more than a few occasions, and due to Red Bull being a little steep (especially bang in the middle of the month, with payday but a blip on the horizon) I started picking up this Euro Shopper Energy Drink from my local newsagent.
The price was the first big plus here - at only 35p a can - you can get roughly 4 cans for the price of one Red Bull can. The first place to note this value price point is in the packaging - its no where near as appealing as the price with a very cheap looking aesthetic. Bulky red print on the plain silver can with the 'Euro Shopper' logo on the front of the can, its stylised to look a little sporty but this doesn't really land very well. If you didn't know better, the packaging would put you off - it gives the impression of cheap and nasty, and just looking at it you'd imagine it would taste nastier than usual. The packaging comes with the usual warnings (not for those sensitive to caffeine, pregnant) as well as the expected ingredients and nutritional information.
When you open a can, you get the hiss as with any fizzy drink but also the distinctive calling card of an energy drink - a strong chemical whiff. Red Bull for me is the benchmark - I can smell a can of that being opened in another room, and this is pretty strong (I have a can open on the table, I can smell it from here) with it smelling very sugary. Tastewise its not to bad - similar to sugar free Red Bull, a little flat and although the ingredients list 'flavouring' its rightly most of the way down the list - being very much in the background, nothing prominent here flavour wise. Its hard to put your finger on what taste they are trying to recreate, but its like a vague caramel berry concoction, but the overwhelming taste is sugar. You can taste in you teeth, fillings - you'll soon find out if you have cavities because a swig of this will let you know. That said, its not to bad. Provided its chilled (drinking this warm is like drinking a burp) its fairly easy to chug a can down, not exactly thirst quenching but OK. Its mild enough in its mix of flavours with nothing here is too obviously abrasive.
So; the important bit - does it work? Yes, it does. So much so I'd say this is great value for money. It perks you up within minutes, assuming the sugary taste hasn't you livened you up already, after 5 minutes of so it will start wakening your sense. After a can of this I feel awake, more aware and a bit more ready for the day. How I would expect after an energy drink. I'd say its not as intense as Red Bull, but its up there among the fair sized servings of wide eye juice. As with all caffeine products the hit never lasts, and this wears off a little quicker than you'd like - about 2-3 hours for me but the dip isn't too bad, with Red Bull I get a fairly sizeable crash - but this is a bit more of a slow let down. However, at only 35p a can having another hit is not that pricey. Personally, I find I will never need more than a couple of these - more than 3 or so will leave me feeling a little too gittery after a while, so for 70p its still cheaper than most energy drinks out there and not to bad.
Overall, I would say this is definitely worth the 35p and if you're looking for a little pick-me-up, don't be put off by the cheap look of this product - it does more than you would expect.
I've gotten back into gaming at a great time. I picked up a PS3 about 6 months ago, after last owning an Xbox 360 about 2 years ago. Now, back then some great titles were out, but after 2 years away I've been catching up on some of the most highly recommended games (most recommendations come from a gaming obsessed workmate) to come out in the past couple of years. I worked through Skyrim. Declared it as the best game I ever played. Worked through the Uncharted series, then declared all three of those the best games I've ever played. Then, and for the past few months have been seemingly forever stuck into Dark Souls. Guess what? Its actually is the best game I have ever played.
Some will have heard of this game, some will have not - its almost a cult game. Don't let that give you the impression it might be poor visually, short or somehow not the premium gaming experience you might be used too. Its none of those things, infact quite the opposite. It looks great - VERY long and as high end, in every respect as you get.
Those who have heard of it might already have heard the one everyone says about this game (and let this be a warning to those not already aware of this) it is a very, very hard game. Well, people say hard but I think challenging is a more apt way to describe this. Its frustrating, tiring, rage inducing, control pad smashing, but its also amazing addictive and the gaming buzz this game gives off is class A.
Some background to the game, its a spiritual sequal to 2009s 'Demon Souls' and whilst the style and gameplay is very similar, the story and setting are totally different. 'Demon Souls' was plauded for being a very, very tough game to be but also an incedible gaming experience, and after 90 hours with this 'Dark Souls' the same can be said for the follow up.
'Dark Souls' has no rulebook. The story is vague, the controls are not really explained and as for how any of the RPG side of the game plays you're given nothing - you have to learn through playing the game how to level up, what the attributes mean, etc. You can pause this game, you can't save it whenever you like and it has no difficulty settings. There is no set route, no clues and the makers are assuming you have unlimited patience. There is no introductory section to this game, simply a boss just a few seconds in that until you figure out the secret will seem impossible. You've usually overcome the first hurdle if you don't get a look to get refund after the first hour.
Assuming you stick with it, and I imagine most gaming fans will - our of pure spite for the game, you're in for a treat. I mentioned there is no route to this game - its a simple case of work through it best you can - some sections come later, but the only way you're really going to know if a boss is not right for your character at this point in the game is if you really can't beat it. And considering most bosses are very hard at whatever level you are at, 'working you way through it' is more of a slog rather than patient trial and error.
Once you have picked your character, got over the first hour or so - you find yourself fighting through and spooky, medieval looking asylum. Full of traps, enemies, bosses and other lost souls fighting their way out. Some help you, some hinder you. Some help you, then hinder you. Most will at some point try and kill you. As you crawl through this game, more and more unfathomably tough tasks will be laid upon you - boss fights with creatures so huge and impossibly tough you wonder what how on earth you can ever win - its OK because after 5 hours on the same boss, 100s of deaths - you might finally figure out its weak spot or the secret to victory (you can always look at the 100s of videos on Youtube detailing the secrets to every aspect of this game). Or, you might find yourself in a hellhole of a section of the game - with no obvious route, no health and no where to rest - at your wits end, then you finally find a bonfire. Phew. Yes, bonfires. Bonfires are the mark of salvation in this game. Bonfires are scattered around the world of Dark Souls - some hidden some obvious - all a welcome sight. You move you character towards the bonfire and its finally a place you can save the game, rest (you character and yourself) and do things like level up and tweak your stats. Its not all hope though, because every time you rest at the bonfire, all enemies with the exception of bosses respawn. Imagine you clear a section - its taken you hours to fight you way through, finally finding the best route to the bonfire. You rest. You now have to fight your way in and out every time. Like I said, its tough. And these are not always easy enemies. Some can kill you in a split second - with one hit. Some will follow you till your dead, other will attack you in groups. Its a game that can only be played patiently, with planning and preparation - you can't just run into a room and hope for the best.
As you move through the game and kill pretty much everything you see before it kills you, you collect souls. Souls are the currency in the game and they are used to level up your stats (to become stronger etc) and to buy items within the game, or level up things you already have. Its with this graft - killing things to acquire souls, spending souls on levelling up - facing stronger bosses, that is the driving force in the game. Its how you'll eventually beat it.
For me, the most important aspect of any game is how it plays - the nuts and bolts in my book. How do players move? How intuitive are the controls? How much fun is it running about, killing things? Can you control you player with ease? All these things I look for in a game. Its what put me off Assassins Creed and made me love Assassins Creed 2. With the rare exception of the camera going bonkers and you loosing sight of you hero, this game is flawless. Once you get used to the controls, you have total control - hardly anything is done for you (with the exception of an auto-lock on when fighting that you have the option to use) and you can move very easily and freely in the game. Fighting a boss and want to stretch your tactical ideas as far as you can? No problem. Finally figured out the only way to kill a certain character is with a backstab after you parry his killer axe-swing? No worries - moving into position become a breeze once you figure out what you need to do. Thats when this game has its rare moments of ease - when you figure out how its done (or look it up)
A few workmates are also playing this game, and its become all we talk about, mainly because we are having such different experiences. Some have taken different routes - all of insist ours was the bast, different tactics for bosses and all know the secret you location for loot no one else knew about. Thats one thing I love about this game - there is so much do dig into to. Even after 90 hours it still felt like there was so much more...and there is.
Once you finish the game you have the option of New Game+ where you play again from the begging but you character has all the same stats and gears as when you finished. Sounds good? Its is, but its not easy. Everything is now much harder to kill, but gives more souls - progressing a second times is now an even richer experience.
As you can see, I can't recommend this game highly enough. Its makes Skyrim look like a round of Noughts and Crosses, and it leaves you wanting to cram play in wherever possible (as well as work, this game is also responsible for my recent time off from DooYoo)
Just make sure you have plenty of time, patients and I'd double check your blood pressure before picking this game up.
My previous laptop had just had its fifth birthday. In human terms, not that long - but a lifetime for a laptop. I was looking for a replacement with two quite polarized requirements; it needed to be cheap but also decent. Multiply these requirements by the fact I'm not that tech savvy and I was facing quite a tough purchasing decision. I've become quite attached to Samsung of late, with a Samsung TV and Samsung phone - I decided I take a look at Samsung for laptops firstly. I like the build and quality of the Samsung products I already have - so figured their laptop range would not only be of similar semi-decent quality, but it was a brand I'm starting to trust.
First I looked at Amazon.co.uk, searching 'Samsung laptop' after a brief run through the results - totting up average reviews versus price I quickly found a 5* right at the lower end of my price range
At £319 for the 15" model I made a quick decision. Now, I looked at the spec, and you can too - and if makes sense to you, great - but if you're like me, you'll want to know how it actually performs hands on. (the only bit I understand is the harddrive at 500gb, a decent size and more than enough for me)
Out of the box and with minimal set up its running Windows 7. I'll admit, it didn't at first feel as lightening quick as I hoped - fairly responsive but a little sluggish. A bit of a let down. Conversely to this, despite taking a little while to do things it looked great doing them. The screen is super vibrant - the colours are bright, smooth and watching a movie on it in bed feels like a premium experience. Another boon is the keyboard, its full sized and crammed with little bits if innovation making for an nicer, more intuitive experience. A function key sits on the bottom left row of keys, and when pressed with other keys on the right hand can control brightness, volume, screen lock etc. It feels like a lot is to hand with minimal fuss. The same can be said for trackpad and mouse keys. Just the right size in just the right place, very little getting used to - it felt as if I'd been using this set up for years after only just a few hours. Battery wise, it's solid but not revolutionary. 3-4 hours on the lowest settings away from the charge.
I'll finish on a big negative; its feels cheap. The screen almost bends when you open it, not that firmly attached and the casing feels sub-par.I wanted basic functions done well. Fast browsing, decent for watching movies and a bit of word processing. It's safe to say it can do all these great - but its hardly a lot to shout about. Good for the basics - but next time I think I'll splash out.
For most people, Easter is a pretty nice time of year. Heaps of chocolate, and extra night at the pub and a bonus lay in. Well, not for me. I work in a pub, I eat heaps of chocolate 365 and I don't think I've had a lay in since 1997 - so I can't really remember what one is.
So, Easter looms. I work in a pub and its a busy time of year, people really take advantage of that extra night and the subsequent lay in - and my rota is a little on the unrelenting side. But that's nothing, that's the easy bit. The tough bit come's later today; parental visit.
Unfortunately, not mine. Mine know what I'm like - they expect a mess. The girlfriends parents however have little idea we live like slobs. With her parents working in education, its an early Easter visit from them - taking advantage of the school holidays this forthcoming week. So, in preparation for their visit later today we have a lot of cleaning to do - especially the kitchen. God the kitchen. Its my least favorite part of the house to clean - things are greasy, sticky and I can barely hear the TV. Yesterday, during our weekly shop we thought it best to pick up some additional cleaning products - and as this Cif Power Cream was on offer in Sainsburys for £2, reduced from £2.99 we thought we'd stick it in the trolly. Other than the price, what made me pick it? Well, firstly its a spray. They had a range of cleaning products - both plain bottles and sprays, but I wanted a spray basically for ease of use. If I owned a monkey I would defiantly have it helping around the house - its the least it can do with me providing food, shelter and Sky Sports and even a monkey would prefer a spray bottle like this. There are all kinds of dangers involved in trying to teach a monkey to dilute a cleaning product correctly, not to mention the danger of the having the monkey simply attempt to drink Cif - not so many such dangers with a spray bottle. (idea for Dragons Den; monkey friendly kitchen cleaning products/Film Idea; Planet Of The Apes; The Apes Get Domesticated) Working in a professional kitchen, pretty much everything we use is in spray bottle form. Its quicker, easier and as you don't have to wipe it on its more hygienic - imagine you have to apply detergent to a cloth then wipe on a dirty surface, if you don't clean the cloth before the next application you're just spreading more germs around. So a spray bottle is generally my preferred way to apply when it comes to kitchen cleaning. Other than ease, Cif is a well known brand so you'd hope it was pretty decent and its lemon scented - I don't know about you but there is nothing nicer than a lemon fresh kitchen. I had a quick scan of the bottle before we picked it up - and cutting through the buzz words and what not on the bottle, its basically a degreaser and perfumed soap for your kitchen. This Power Cream from Cif is one of two the brand offer; Kitchen and Bathroom. The kitchen one, as mentioned is designed to tackle grease and the bathroom one limescale - they are both roughly the same price, and if Sainsbury's are anything to go buy you'll find them right near each other in the supermarket.
So, Cif Power Cream. Firstly, this spray is not anti-bacterial so it wouldn't do much to help eliminate the risk of food poisoning at home, you'll need to buy separately for that. As I have a bottle of own brand anti-bacterial spray in the kitchen, I wasn't bothered the Cif was not anti-bacterial. I wanted something I could basically douse down the kitchen with , wipe down and it would leave the kitchen sparkling and smelling nice - and this product pretty much does that.
When you apply it, its doesn't seem very much like a cream but a thick foam. It does stay pretty much where you put it with it draining away a bit but staying long enough to start working. This was handy for me - the taps needed a clean with a build up of dirty and grease in some hard to reach places. Covering the taps in this and leaving it for a few minutes before not only got most of the dirt out but left it sparkling. Its almost satisfying spraying this on and leaving it to do its stuff knowing you won't have to do much scrubbing. As its a degreaser I was keen to coat the hob and metal hob surround with this stuff - hoping it would clean it up nicely, and it did. Infact, its not looked this clean in a while despite it getting a daily wipe down. After it has been wiped down and dried the surfaces do feel nice and grease free and it seems to have quite effortlessly shifted most of the grease - and while this is no heavy duty oven cleaner it does do a decent job on many a greasy surface. Just using hot water will tend to just move the grease around but this really breaks it down leaving little trace.
The smell is maybe the highlight to this product - its very strong and after I cleaned the kitchen my girlfriend remarked how she could smell it from the other room. Lemon not only smells naturally clean, its also a really refreshing smell. As its quite strong and seems to have quite a lot of staying power - its been smelling pretty nice for a few hours, the lemon scent has faded a bit but the kitchen still has a nice hygienic ambiance about it. I'm sure when the mother gets (in a few hours as I type!) she'll have no idea this morning this kitchen looked mostly like a grease ridden bomb site. Cif has hidden pretty much all trace at my past weeks laziness/late night bacon addiction.
Its a pretty big bottle, so it does feel quite good value for money - even at the RRP of £2.99. The blitz it had on the kitchen only use a smallish amount - I anticipate I'll get another 10-15 cleans from this so for about 20p per clean that pretty good. Obviously there are much cheaper alternatives out there but the smell and ohmph of this product make it feel like the premium, branded product it is.
I like this product and will try to keep a bottle under the sink at all times - this sits as part of your arsenal of kitchen cleaning products. You'll still need oven cleaner and anti-bacterical cleaner but to give your kitchen a nice, clean smelling finish this stuff works great. I've only given this product 4 stars as it did pretty much what I expected and there was nothing particular incredible about it. A solid 4/5. As with all products like this, be careful. Don't spray it in your eyes, don't drink it and although it says nothing about monkeys - I would personally ensure they are well trained enough before handing them a bottle.
In school you either liked Blur or Oasis. Some of the cool kids liked both, but the really cool kids liked Pulp. I wasn't that cool - I liked Blur. I had a bad haircut and distinctive eye brows and by default I looked like any member of Oasis - but Blur were way cooler. Nonchalant, hip, and cheeky - and despite my seemingly innate pre-dispossession to be a Oasis fan, Blur were my band. I'd love to say I was one of the actual cool kids and I remember 'Different Class' when it came out, seeing them live first time round and trying to convince people Jarvis Cocker actually was cool - but I wasn't. Pulp were there but always in the background, and it wasn't until a few years after 'Different Class' (97-98ish) came out that I really got stuck into the album and recognized it as one of the greatest albums ever made - almost certainly the album that defined the 90s.
I was too young to fully 'get' 'Different Class' when it first arrived in '95. I was more at ease with the punchy, upbeat rhythms of 'Parklife' and 'Song 2' and I loved nothing more than a simple clever lyric that I could easily remember and quote the next day in school. Pulp didn't offer this to the 14 year old me - their lyrics were clever, story telling and grown up. Their music pounded to a less simple beat, keyboards and violins underpinning the sassy, slutty, melodrama the band would produce. They were darker, quieter and less easy to sing along to. Of course, this was all nonsense, and as soon as my age allowed me to catch up with what was cool 'Different Class' would soon become one of my personal favorite albums of all time, a record I have never spent a dull second with despite 100s of repeated spins.
Pulps second record, 'Different Class' followed the trail and error of 'His and Hers' in '94, a great record that was brilliant but far from perfect. With 'Different Class' they remained the distinctive Pulp from the last record but injected a kind of magic into their music that, they not only failed to have in such abundance previously - they would also struggle to capture again. 'Different Class' was Pulp in their sweet-spot - musically and lyrically they captured something - their age, their demographic and the existing in Great Britain in the 90s all worked together to capture not only a sound but a vibe that would dissolve - just as quickly as the 90s became the 00s, the band made money and Jarvis became a celebrity.
From the off, the front cover says a lot about this album and indeed this band. It shows a happy wedding photo, with the members of the band dotted among the guests but blanked out in black and white - in an almost ghostly way. They are made to look like a reluctant part of the picture and match this up with the albums title -'Different Class' and Pulp already capture the vibe of the album on cover alone before you even start on the 12 tracks on the album. Inside the front sleeve of the inlay booklet (note to younger readers; there used to be these things called CDs, and CDs came with little inlay books that sometime contained lyrics and pictures. You don't get inlay books with MP3s) is a quote from the band 'We don't want no trouble, we just wan't the right to be different. That's all'. Social class played a big role in Britpop - to be working class became cool. Pulp personified this, to be working class was no longer a struggle, or the aggressive call to arms 70s/80s punk would want it to be - it was cool. Pulp would put this into words with 'Common People' - one of the two big anthems from the album.
'Common People' is a polite call to arms, as a story of middle class Vs working class perceptions is told - set to a throbbing, chant-able pace with Pulp musically at their most furious - still precise, in tune and catchy - but this song rounds off headline sets at festivals for a reason. A chorus packed with energy pulls together each verse as frontman Cockers tells a story of teenage love stunted and interrupted by class perceptions, him working class and her middle class - but her wanting to tour within the working class world. Cocker and his working class army come out on top though, with pride over coming lust as he convinces the listener the reality of his lifestyle is not as 'glamorous' as it seems. This song was released as a single, and although it did well chart wise in '95, its the kind of song that would just struggle to exist if released in 2012. Its not obviously immediate and not the glossy cool 99% of the sewerage pumping out of radios is these days. Its place seems firmly, and comfortably in the 90's - but to revisit it is a joy - not only does it take me back personally, but it harks to a different time. Top Of The Pops. New Labour. Pints for under £2.
Single number two came in the form of 'Disco 2000', another wonderfully told story about teenage love suffering at the hands of time. Cocker tells the story of a pact made with a girl, only to jump forward in time to see not only the pact broken - but shattered and trampled on. Its a song that not only deals with teenage innocence but the reality of adult life - with it musically seeing Pulp again produce another anthem.
Around these two single, the other 10 tracks are just as great - but these two were clearly picked on how catchy and radio friendly they were.
Kicking off the album in style, come another song dedicated to the coolness of working class - as Mis-Shapes' not only talks about not fitting in personally, but the lyric 'raised on a diet of broken biscuits' talks about not fitting in in the wider context. For me, every track is a highlight but its when Pulp turn down the lights with 'FELLINGCALLEDLOVE' is when it gets super magical. This is a dark, dirty song with Cockers lyrics at their most adult and a little cringe-y to the teenage me. The adult me doesn't find them as cringe worthy, instead they add to the tone of the song - as it throbs and pulse and and eventually reaches musical climax as the title of the song is gradually called out. Pulp do similar things with 'Live Bed Show' and 'I Spy', and you hear Cocker sexualising his songs - something Blur and Oasis never went within miles of - and this again gives this album and edge and a depth that makes it a masterpiece.
The heart rate of the album builds with the drug fueled anthem 'Sorted For Es and Wizz' - Cocker capitalizing of the cool of lost weekends at festivals - but also, with comedy - giving a little bit of a cautionary tale to those to not yet have a bad trip. This song feels like a live song, with crowd sound effects and all - and its maybe the most fun song on the album, sat right in the middle of the record helping keep the pace.
The album rounds off with 'Bar Italia', a sassy also fun song that borders on feeling out of place at first - but builds and as it finishes and easily warrants its place on this album. But thats not where this album ends. Its an album I have listen to countless time, and will listen to many more - so when its done giving it another spin is hard to resist.
The biggest charm of this album is that it serves as a great antidote to the music of 2012 - its works best played in full, as an album - its great on CD format and the youth of today are guaranteed to hate it. There is hardly any swearing, zero bass lines and its impossible to remix. Perfect.
They kind of music you'll hear on this record is pretty popular these days. Lyrically odd, refreshing and most of the time a bit confusing. Beat wise, its just as odd with things off tempo, disjointed and a wide range of obscure samples - only as soon as track 2 you're treated to a looped Accordion. Hip Hop artist like this are popping up everywhere right now, you can't turn a page of the NME with an interview for the next big thing proclaiming woman bashing, gun clad rap is over and its all about doing something fresh and new. The catch is though, 'Madvillainy' is almost 10 years old.
Well, its 8. Released in 2004, Madvilliany is a collaboration from rapper MF Doom and Producer Madlib and its something of a cult masterpiece. You wont hear any of these tracks on the radio, the TV and MF Doom's antics are unlikely to find him attention in any of the tabloids. This is a millions miles from 50 Cent, The Game and all the other dross giving music a bad name. (bad as in bad by the way)
Before this album was recorded, the two musicians were both established in their own right - but its almost fair to say this is the record that put them both as close to the mainstream as they are ever likely to be. MF Doom is a very odd character. A lyrical style you can't ignore, he raps about things people don't normally rap about (he ones dedicated an entire album to different food stuffs) and his flow is irregular. I'm not talking about anything personal, I'm referring to his lyrical delivery - its complex, off beat and most at first will struggle to get their head around it. I know I did, but once you let him in but once you do its welcome. Rather than rap in time with the beat, he sort of does what he likes. Sometimes he's time, sometimes he borders on talking and combine this with his unique subject matters he takes you on an interesting journey. Its no doubt this is why he's found mainstream success - but on the underground seems just the place for him. He also wears a metal mask most of the time, maybe a bit responsible for him never making it big.
Madlib, too has never made it on a huge scale and for similar reasons. He has had large enough success, being the man behind respectable label Stones Throw and producing an array of cult hip hop records. But its his disjointed, off beat and irregular sound that has kept him from mega stardom.
The mixture of their two distinctive styles works together brilliantly - but tender ears, or those condition to mainstream rap might need to give this a few spins before it takes hold. Its a super cool, fun, interesting record that no doubt will be refereed to as a huge influence in the new era of hip hop in years to come.
After an intro that portrays the collaborators are super villains with cut and chopped samples, your treated early to the track that displays what makes this such a great record right away with track 2 - 'Accordion'. Predictably, it samples an Accordion and actually refers to Accordion in a manner I can't really refer to here. I told you it was odd. The beat is sultry and melancholy - a banger this is not, but its got a certain energy. MF Dooms drawly, off beat delivery is laid back, chilled but by no means boring. Its a great record to put on an relax too, and a great record to stick on in the morning to wake up to. The beats are flow are in no way harsh, but the interesting ideas are invigorating enough to have a certain energy.
The record flows and ebbs - with nothing that could be classed as a single, but lots of great moments. Musical interludes, guest rappers and Dooms unique commentary move are pulsate as the record goes on - insisting you get lost in the musical scenery being built. Most of the time the beats are underpinned by Madlibs muted funk sound - sometimes moving to a slight 70s disco sample and other interesting moods - toe tapping to turntable cool, a warped RnB moment, sound effects and many other things - but without ever sounding crowded. Every beat and sample sound as if they were put there for a reason and when you really think about so much is going on - when you don't think and just listen it just seems to make sense.
Midway through the record comes 'Money Folder' and its for me, the highlight. Vocally is exciting - the beat is smooth, laid back and uber cool but the highlight comes as Doom is rapping about jazz music the music stops and gives way for a 20 second avant garde jazz interlude. This is the peak of a great record to put on late at night if you trying to kick back.
Following this track is another gem. Shadows Of Tomorrow has the closet thing to a riff as the beat throbs along underneath a loop guitar that gives this an almost menacing sound. Whats great about this song, and indeed this album is that it feels like a real collaboration - Madlibs styling are just as present as MF Dooms - sometimes Dooms will appear on a track but just for a verse of so with a fleeting vocal addition.
Whilst this album has 22 tracks - its quite short with many on 1-2 minutes long, so its over pretty quite to the point I just leave it on repeat - that said even after 5/6 spins in a row I've never round it repetitive. If you like hip hop, or even interesting music and this album passed you by its a super great addition to your collection, and if the £7 price tag on Amazon is off putting then its 'free' on Spotify.
I love cooking - I do it for a job and I do it for fun. My days off are full of experimenting with recipes, baking and generally making lots of mess, I like nothing more than cooking from scratch and seeing what happens.
A few years ago I acquired 4 cast iron skillets - they are 11 inches in diameter and have two small handles on each side, the kind of things you'd get in a Tapas bar and have had copious abuse in my kitchen. I picked them up cheap from a friend who was getting rid of some excess kitchen wares from a former restaurant venture and I wouldn't have bought them otherwise due the price. I'm glad I did, being cast iron they are very hard wearing - they will last a life time if treated right and they serve a wide range of jobs in the kitchen. However, as they don't have a long handle they are bit tricky used on the hob - enter the ICD 11.5 inch skillet.
I knew I wanted a skillet with a handle, so a few weeks ago I had a quick look on Amazon. Right away a few pretty intriguing options came up. I took particular note of the Lodge range - this was the make of the ones I owned and I knew they were good. I found the size I wanted but disappointingly it was out of stock - so after another little look about I arrived at this, and for about £20 it was within the price range I was ready to pay so snapped it up.
Those unfamiliar with a skillet - roughly speaking its a frying pan. Kind of. You could happily refer to this skillet as a frying pan, but you couldn't refer to a regular frying pan as a skillet. Skillets tend to by cast iron, one solid piece of metal, don't usually have non-stick surfaces and have low sides. As far as I'm aware, there is no real definition but frying pans matching that description tend to be called skillets rather than 'cast iron frying pans'. They don't have to have long handles like frying pans are but do need some kind of handle to grab on so its not just a metal bowl. Its getting confusing now isn't it? You kind of just to know something is a skillet - they look and feel heavy duty and have the character of a heavy duty cooking utensil.
Another common characteristic of a skillet is they tend to be quite small, about 10-12 inches rather than the 14-17 of a regular frying pan, and this skillet fits right into that category at 11.5 inch. It might be small, but its heavy - that's one of the first things you notice and it feels robust too. Right after getting your hands on this you become aware its going to be something you're going to using for years to come. I wanted one 11 inches for a specific reason and many will be put off that it seems quite small. You're not going to be able to fix up a Spag Bol for a family of eight in this, but that's not what its for - so don't worry, 11.5 inches is more than enough for ample kitchen experimentation. And not just experimentation, you might even get a decent meal out of it.
They fact it is cast iron has its pros and cons - firstly seasoning. The older skillets I have came pre-seasoned, so I was using them right away but this did not come seasoned so a little preparation was in order before I could use it. Naturally cast iron is not non-stick, its needs some help and that means seasoning it. Simply just wipe the inside with olive or vegetable oil and stick in an oven, on full, for about an hour. After you have taken it out and let it cool it will be partially non-stick and ready to use, but the more you use it the more non-stick it will get. This first hour of prep is a small price to pay for something that actually gets more non-stick as you use it, rather than with say Teflon that will wear out over time.
One of the biggest pros about this pan, and the reason I got it that it can be used in the oven. Do you ever fry sausages but fail to get a restaurant looking even cook, one side burnt and the other raw? (I understand this sounds like it came right out of a JML advert) Or burgers, find they burn on the outside but raw in the middle? A skillet is you answer and way more. This can just be stuck in the oven. So fry your burgers on each side on the hob in the pan, then stick the whole pan in the oven to let it cook through. That's just a perk of having such a pan, with some messing about you can get so much from this. As its pretty small it can sit on the top shelf of an oven with other skillets - 3 of my older ones and this can all fit on the top shelf in my oven so I can have 4 different things cooking at once. Great for things like tapas or if you making something with lots of small components that need to go in the oven. You could even use this skillet to cook small lasagnas as well as fry sausages.Cooking a lasagna in something like this might seem odd, but that's exactly what I use my other skillets for. Due to their size you could make 4 small ones at once, ideal if you cooking for meat eaters and veggies.
Being careful is essential with this, it will get crazy hot. The heat transfer well throughout the entire thing including the handle so if you grab that you'll end up cooking your hand instead. This heat transfer is great though, I often not only cook in this pan but also bring the pan to the table (make sure you put it down on something like a thick wooden chopping board or you'll ruin your table) as not only does it stay nice and hot its got a great rustic look - great if friends are round.
If you're looking to get more out of your kitchen and waiting for the next cutting edge gadget - look no further and pick up a bit of kit that's been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. You can fry, bake, grill, saute and serve with this pan - a kitchen essential.