Roddy's Ramblings

Thoughts and tales; some of them may even be true.

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Location: Australia

Hopefully whatever there is to know about me will come through whatever is written below - whatever that may bring...

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Pride... ?

Some things that happen to you in life can bring things into sharp relief. The other day I heard of a closing down sale at an Adairs outlet. So I headed on down to check out the Manchester (a bizarre all-encompassing Australian term for stuff like bed linen and towels) and was about to enter when the advertising lady outside with the microphone was saying, "Come in ladies, you'll not regret it..."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Tale... Changes

She looked over and smiled at him, seeing him in his new suit against the deep red sunset. Tasting the salt on her lips, she shivered slightly.
“Shall we go in?” She asked, seeing him come out of his reverie and smiling back at her.
“Yes; good idea,” he replied, “it’s getting a bit cold on the deck. You must be frozen in the dress.”
“Yes,” she nodded, “but it still feels so good to wear it.” She found she was touching the fabric again and feeling it between her fingers. So smooth, unlike anything else she had ever felt. His arm curled around her shoulders and they stepped into the plush hallway. It seemed full of people; some laughing, others deep in discussion as they strode along the corridor that never seemed to end. Bits of conversation could be heard as they walked past couples and groups.
“Do you think...?”
“I heard that we may arrive in New York early tomorrow...”
“ has four funnels you see...”
“The food is as divine as the music...”

As they entered their cabin, she flung herself on the deep bed and stretched her whole body trying to cover it.
“This is wonderful!” She called out to the room. Sitting up she watched her husband watching her, his smile still there, but his eyes almost distant, almost in memory. “Are you well?” She asked him.
“Yes,” his smile grew and his eyes never revealing a trace of where they had been.
“There seems to be something on your mind. You don’t regret spending all that money you received on our anniversary?”
“No, of course not. It’s not every day that you get to give someone their dream; especially the someone whom you care most about.”
As perfect as it looked, she could hear something in his voice, something that she couldn’t touch upon. Perhaps she was afraid to. Nonsense, she thought and cast the thought aside immediately.
“Let’s go for dinner,” he grandly suggested.

The music played as they sat with their plates half full in front of them.
“It seems such a waste,” she said to him, almost mournfully.
“I’m sure it’ll go to use in third class,” his voice lightly cynical. “Don’t worry, it will at least feed the fishes.” He glanced around him, trying not to let it show, but she noticed all the same.
“Do you love me?” He asked her, suddenly turning to her.
“Yes,” she replied without even thinking, “of course.”
“You know that I would do anything for you and the last ten years have been the most fulfilling of my whole life.”
“Why are you saying this?” she asked quietly.
“Please, just hear me out.” He shuffled with the fork and knife on the table. “I have not been able to give you what you deserve or the life that you should of had.”
“But, that’s not...” She started, but he cut her off by taking a hold of her hand in his.
“For the happiness you have given me, I would do anything. I would risk so very much for you.” He stopped, and took a deep breath. “The cruise is almost over and, well, something has happened and I have to tell you now that I did take a risk, for this, for you, and I thought that by us going to America it would never catch us up.”
She tried to take her hands away, “It’s the money...?” she trailed off.
He took his hands away and sat back in the chair.
“What did you do?”
“Is sir ready to have the table cleared?” The adroit voice came from above them both, causing them both to break the reverie.
“Yes,” he started to gather the plates, but the waiter politely pushed his hands away and piled them himself. After he had gone, he could see her eyes in the dimly lit room, red rimmed and watery.
“Please,” he held his hand to her, “will you dance with me?”
She looked at him with confusion in her, and held out her hand for him to pick her up and take her away from where ever it was they had ended up. He pulled her out of the chair as the small orchestra started to play slowly. The violins carrying the melody and she felt his arms around her and his shoulder against her cheek. No thoughts would come to her mind and the music grew in volume, playing to a crescendo. It was all she could hear in her mind, then the warmness against the side of her face, there was something in her hair, reaching up to touch it, sticking to her white gloves. Her husband pushing against her, so heavy, pulling back and watching him falling to the ground in front of her. Reaching for him, his stained shirt, rolling him over, her screaming. But she wasn’t screaming alone. There was panic all around her. People running, pushing past. He’s been shot, she cried out, but no-one listening. People all around her and no-one noticing. She was being pulled away, her husband’s body being trampled and kicked, unknown strangers kicking her husband aside. Nothing was happening, she thought. I have to wake up now. The whole world raised itself around her as she tried to claw her way through the crowd to her husband. Her hand pushing out, trying to see him as everything was sliding downwards. She tripped, holding her hands in front of her, but it was him. He had found her.
“Thank you,” she whispered to him and held him to her resting his head on her lap. “I’ll stay with you this time, you won’t lose me again.”

Background... Changes

This part of the writing course had another title to make something of: First Night on a Cruise.

You can tell the course was in Surrey, England. I doubt this would come up in a writing class in Birmingham. What the hell do I know about cruises? I’m not even gay. So, the story of ‘Changes’ came about. This is definitely a minimum information story and the reader has to fill in the gaps; there are a few clues as to the location and what is happening and I would be keen to know if anyone can place it. Go on, leave a comment.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I have the blood and the tears, but where's the sweat..?

Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration... Thomas Edison.

This is from one of the greatest inventors (or thief for those outside of the USA) of all time. But if I'm not searching for Genius then surely the ratio must change a bit?

For starters, the word genius is bantered around far too much; anyone who has come up with an idea while having social standing, noteriety or being rich is pretty much included there in recent times. So that alters the ratio somewhat.

Also, quite a few places on the all-knowing Google are quoting the phrase a 5% inspiration, so this is a good indication that there is room to manoeuver.

So if I'm looking for above mediocre but below genius, then the percentage for inspiration must be a much bigger chunk of the perspiration bit. Well that was until I really started to think about it.

For mediocre, the inspiration is pretty low, practically zero, therefore there is actually more perspiration required. Damn, didn't see that coming - it puts my whole life into perspective; I've worked far harder for my mediocre ideas than if I'd attempted to be a genius. So being a genius is only an escape from real work and the probable seeking of nerd hero worship. What a bunch of bastards.

A Tale... Addiction

I sit and look at it and it looks right back at me. Do I want it? Of course. Should I take it? That is more difficult. I want it, but do I need it? Looking at it I take another deep draw from the cigarette and watch the grey, blue smoke rise from the side of my vision, but still it occupies my sight. Questions, reasons and excuses float around my mind. What would it actually mean if I had it? There is nothing else to distract me as everything I always watch has finished on television. I lean back in my chair bringing the glass of wine with me. Still looking intently at it, I drink from the glass. Swirling the dregs around the base, I down it and notice that the bottle beside it has been emptied. I stand, stretching, taking a deep breath deliberately closing my eyes to intensify each feeling from my stiff body - desperate for distraction I go to the fridge to retrieve another bottle. But even as I remove the cork, it reaches back into my thoughts to encapsulate my attention.

Standing in front of the table, filling my glass, I approach the problem as logically as possible. To find the solution you first have to understand the problem. Is it a lack of will power causing this low key dilemma? If I was to have it, would I just be proving myself a slave to something? Who else would it affect, I mean, really? It’s not as if she’d even notice. She’d already had some. Another puff on the cigarette. Would she? No, it’s just silly; it not as if it even matters and I can’t believe it’s bothering me so much. Really. I had some yesterday, I had some the day before that, but it wasn’t a problem. I have too much sometimes and the sickness takes hold of me soon after, my body attempting dissuasion of abuse; but it can feel so good to have it. The foil packaging is already open revealing its temptation. I take it.

Sitting back in the chair, the pleasure swirls around inside me and all thoughts are banished, unaware of my surroundings. The voice comes from behind me, filled with anger and disbelief. “I don’t believe it; you’ve eaten the last bloody Rolo!”

Background... Addiction

The directive behind this one was to use the 'Show - Don't tell' philosophy. So, being me, I took this to the limit. This led to it being a very short short story, as it were; which is no bad thing if you are working weekends.

Only a couple of people in the class got the reference to the tin foil.

Circle of language

Language is one of the main things that separates us from the animals. Fair enough. Like everything that is following, this is a generalisation, but one that is not without an anchor. For the purposes of this, it is embedded into the world that I grew up and grow older in.

In my own experience, those of the people I know and that passed down from generations past, it is given that everything goes in circles. Take ones of our own devising, like fashion. Take a step further back and look at trends. Then politics as we drift to the right after the liberal views of the 60s took us to the left. Take a step back and look at other man-made influences affecting our lives, like money. In line with politics we live through depressions and excess, each following the other. Then forget about stepping back in those tiny increments and take a giant leap to language.

Language allowed us to inform through speech and remember through writing. It allowed discussion and debate. Above all else it was our most successful tool. And its use grew and spread and became part of our lives without question. And it developed, its complexity increased and the skill of its use became art.

But is the circle of language starting to form? The use of language has been subverted and is becoming more so with each passing day. We use language to pass on our thoughts, ideas and feelings. The meaning of the word that manipulated this basis has become diminished over time by its granduer - Propaganda. Used by dictorial states to tell people a lie that hides the truth. This in itself was a pretty blunt tool at its inception and worked only without other means to verify its subtext. But like language itself, it developed.

With the accelerated growth of corporate marketing, the consistent spin doctoring of politicians and manipulative control of the media on all fronts, language is being used to hide ideas, blunt debate and, most importantly, direct our thinking. Its use in our working lives, the bombardment of our home lives from media in all its forms is all compacting its use and original intent. How far can it go before language loses its meaning? To quote Harry Nilson, "... a point in every direction is the same as no point at all."

Can the circle of the use of language complete itself to the point where every word means so many things that language means nothing?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Tale... Left of Centre

She knew she’d seen him somewhere before. The long black cloak seemed to signal something in her mind, then the sound of a sob brought her back to herself.
The man beside her was sitting on the ground sobbing into his hands. What a walkover, she thought to herself. So she picked up from where she’d been interrupted.
“And if you think I’m going to accept responsibility for this,” she gestured around her, not even taking in the damage, “you can take my number plate and stick it up your backside.” He said nothing and she grinned to herself. This is what she did best; there would be no insurance claim coming from him. She had plans for today and this wimp wasn’t going to delay them any longer than humanely possible.

She walked through the doors to the office and stopped. Where did she leave the car? Focus, she said to herself. If you blow this, it’s goodnight Vienna for yours truly. She knew the colleagues she was up against would love to see her sink without a trace after today, but she had dynamite in her folder and she wasn’t afraid to use it. Then she clapped her hands together to try and warm them up. Hang on, she thought, and did it again. If I had a folder in my hands then I wouldn’t be able to do that. Oh, damn, she sighed. It was in the car. She took a deep breath, and mouthed the word, improvise. I can do this. The elevator seemed to be stuck in the upper floors and refused to budge, no matter how many times she pressed the button.
“Is any bloody thing working in this building,” she shouted. That’s not the way forward, she chastised herself. Looking around, no-one appeared to have noticed so she crept to the stairs and started the long climb.

She felt like the White Rabbit by the time she got to the right floor. I’m late, I’m late, I’m buggered, she mouthed to herself. No, I can get through this. I’ve risen above everything that’s gone wrong today with downright aplomb. Just do it. She walked through the corridor and straight into the meeting. No-one even turned their head as she took her place at her empty chair. The usual drivel was being spouted by the usual suspects, then the focus of the meeting changed. The chairman at the head of the table looked towards her then spoke.

“All right, quieten down,” he soothed, waving an invisible toilet rug in front of him. Probably pink, she thought. “Mary Margot-Scott..,” without waiting for another beat she was out of the chair and striding towards the whiteboard with determination. Her chair was still spinning as she had leapt out of it and the room was turned towards it, completely silent. That’s what I call making an entrance. She grabbed one of the pens and squeaked her attention grabbing headline to the top of the board.
“Overzealous depreciation of assets,” she spoke to the room. I have them all, she thought. Everyone was silent and staring at her.
“Bloody hell,” said the chairman.
“I know this is something you have all talked about previously, but I have evidence that there is in fact a substantial depreciation in several departments.” She turned and drew several squares on the board and marked them with their respective letters of the alphabet. The whole room was rapted to everything she was covering. This was better than she could have hoped. “Having analysed the accounts of departments A, B and C which were…” She continued on; the odd outburst of exclamation at things she had written, but every time she turned everyone was staring with their mouths agape or expressions fixed in astonishment.
Then she heard the chairman’s voice over hers.
“What’s going on…”
She turned to answer him and saw the figure in the long, black cloak again.
“What the hell are you doing here?”, she blurted out. “Are you stalking me or something?”, she asked threateningly narrowing her eyes. “Could you call security?,” she asked the chairman in a power-flexing voice, “and have this ‘gentleman’ thrown out?”
The chairman completely ignored her; he was still staring at the whiteboard, looking stunned.
“Look, it’s really not that interesting..” she said, but stopped as the chairman stood up and reached for the whiteboard putting his hand straight through her. “Eugh,” she muttered, wrinkling her face and stepping to the side. “Keep your hands to yourself you dirty old sod,” she warned brushing herself down. But, she thought, something’s not right here, everything was as it should be, but, there was something that was being kept left of centre by her absolute focus on her meeting. She looked across at the still, dark figure as if for the first time, seeing the lack of a face on his skull. She frowned at him.

Background... Left of Centre

We were given the opening line of a story:

She knew she had seem him before...

I wanted to write this from a women's point of view and it went down better in the class than the other stories, which was a shame as I had written it only 20 minutes before it started.

Still, its all yours now to decide what you will...

The writing course...

I've always enjoyed writing and while living in Guildford wifie and I decided to each do an evening course; her choice was fine dining and mine's was Writing for Fun and Profit. I certainly had fun, but not managed to see any profit yet but I digress...

I was the only man/boy/guy/male (select one from the list) on the course. This is not important, but I feel bears mentioning.

On the first evening of the course, as an introdutory excerice we were to write something down about our most frightening moment. This was a great start as I drew an immediate blank and sat there while everyone else was writing away with the proverbial nothing on my mind. The following is the best I could come up:

My most frightening moment

My most frightening moment is something I can remember as if it happened yesterday, but had happened today.

I was sitting in a class surrounded by people I didn’t know and desperate to find the words for a subject I’d never given much thought to. I could feel the dread building up as the expectation of having to read it out loud was dawning upon me and very little was appearing on the paper. Of any consequence.

Would it be discussed with partners, spouses or children as the “I really felt sorry for him...”

It was as bad as that and what could only stretch the limits of kindness by being called inauspicious.

From then on it was writing a story on a subject given each week. This could come from a title (and which they mostly did), a theme, a sentence or a method. The idea was to have a stock of material that could then be sent to magazines. I'll start with the one that I did and was rejected...

Call this progress...

Today was the first visit we have made to Ikea for about 4 years and to be honest, we spent quite a bit more money that we'd planned but I am now sitting on one of the reasons we went and its rather, nay very, comfortable. But here's the crunch...

We bought a couple of chairs and footstools (or pouffes as we used to call them, honestly...) which went together rather well but then I turned around to face the packaging. There was masses of it; cardboard, corregated cardboard, plastic bags and tape. Are we in the 21st century or what? We were doing all this in the 70s - 30 years ago. If we can make stuff that expands on contact with air, why can we not make something that contracts? You know, fill up a vacuum bag with the dismembered furniture then pump it full of this contracto-foam. Open the bag at home, foam contracts to something the size of a sugar cube leaving the furniture for you to assemble with no excess packaging to deal with.

Wouldn't it be nice to have something that made you feel that you were indeed in the 21st century; with the exception of an uncomfortable number of self opinionated pseudo diaries at your fingertips...?

Sporting quotes...

I love the odd sporting comment that makes you pause and think, did he really say that??? Here's a few that should raise a smile...

From the Australia/South Africa cricket game tonight:
"The ball hit him just above the elbow. Thats not going to tickle."

From Triple M footie commentary (radio for those outside of Melbourne):
"He's standing diagonally parallel to the goal posts."

And my favourite, passed on from my friend Steve in Edinburgh from a soccer game:
"They're really playing with their jackets off today..."

Friday, January 13, 2006

Cautionary tales...

If you have read any of this veritable rogue’s gallery of attempted wit and emotion and dare I say it, humour, then you may come across some tales in future posts that have a darker edge to them.

Some of the tales that will be appearing were written on a evening course and where appropriate the background to each of them will be presented after; though given the backwards nature of this blog, it will be placed chronoligically before. If that clears anything or everything up, well, thats a good thing.

Murder She Wrote....?

Having seen that this is back on television again the other day, it started me wondering about the whole underlying thread of Murder She Wrote and I think its not that hard to work it all out...

The first thing I realised was that anyone who invited this lady to a party, or heaven forbid a family reunion, is not only committing social suicide, but likely to be involved in a series of 'mysterious' murders. But where's the mystery? Everywhere she goes people are murdered; can't be that hard to see the common link. This lady is America's most prolific serial murderer and is possibly its most proficient bullshitter. Not only can she convince the police with deftly cast aspersions that the pile of bodies stacked up behind her are nothing to do with her, but she can do it once a week! She even has motive; her career is based on writing about these very murders and it must get a bit tiring waiting for one to happen by co-incedence.

Murder She Wrote... more like Murder She Did.

Game Review... Metroid Prime (GBA)

Enjoyed this one too - give it a go (make sure you read the control instructions before taking on the last boss though).

You're not the boss of me now...

This is (or at least was originally intended as) a tirade against Boss levels in games. Mainly the final (or penultimate) bosses in a game.

I've just finished Metroid Fusion on the GBA and spent a few hours trying to get past the last Boss in the game (the Metroid Omega on the left for those interested). In order to get past it you have to use a blast in a diagonal direction; the only way of getting a diagonal direction is while you're moving and aiming upwards which is a royal pain in the D pad; get too close and you hit the creature and fly backwards, get caught by the claw and you're stunned for a while, don't get close enough and the blaster misses and all this while the clock ticks down. Up until this point I had enjoyed this game a lot. Another crux was that you had to build up the energiser weapon so you had to be holding down the B button and letting go at the right time. Not to put to fine a point on it, it was a pain in the @rse.

If you've played the game then you are probably shaking your head and thinking unkind thoughts about the whole thing. As I have just found out you can hold the 'L' button down to aim diagonally. Bugger.

So much for the tirade. I had planned a whole passage on asking why game designers constantly have to screw up a game by making the final boss(es) so damn fiddly with frustrating controls; Metroid Fusion was to be my prime example. But nothing is entirely useless, it can always serve as a bad example...

So anyway, about Metroid Prime on the Gamecube. What the hell were they thinking? The bosses are insanely hard and inanely iterative. I think I got to my third or fourth boss before just throwing down the controller in digust.

Then we get to the penultimate boss on Resident Evil 4, Krauser. I'm not asking for reality here, but it was getting a bit silly. I fired just about every bit of ammo I had into him; you see, he was what can be called a staged Boss. You have to batter him around so much to progress to the point where doors open and he shows up again. And it was a few times indeed. The thing I can say for this game is that you do have the option for buying a rocket launcher; this can be used throughout the game (although only at the last stage of Krauser) for when something has just split apart into disgustingly raw and fleshy tentacles and massive teeth and you just can't be bothered working out the patterns and shooting all the individual weak spots. Bonus points there for the game designers. For a full review of Resident Evil 4, check out the game review below.

Another fine game - God of War. Everything about this game was rather excellent including, but not limited to, the learning progression, the voice acting, the amazing presentation. This game is the very definition of visceral. Then we come to the final battle, the final boss, the big, bad and rather fiery Aries, God of War. Great idea to face off with the energy balanced between the two opponents; but it was the most frustrating experience and the bust plastic on the PS2 controller can attest to the amount of times it flew across the room. Difficulty is one thing, but when the boss has attacks that you cannot defend against, then its just a case of hanging on in there until the particular sequence you've picked works; however many number of times it needs to be repeated.

Why do they do it? Shouldn't the game designers try to leave you with a smile? Why do I not just put it down and say they've blown it? I think it mostly comes down to having spent immeasurable number of hours getting to that point and, controller be damned, it will not beat me.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Game Review... Resident Evil 4 (PS2)

I enjoyed it, give it a go.

A Tale... The Elves and the Shoemaker

A Corporate Warning

Once upon a time there lived a shoemaker and his wife. They had fallen upon hard times and his stocks had fallen to the last items he needed to make his last pair of shoes. He laid out the items for the next morning before retiring to bed.

In the morning he found the leather made into the most exquisite shoes he had ever seen. His wife chattered excitedly, but the shoemaker knew better.

"You silly woman," he said, "this is terrible."

"But, why?" she asked.

"I have no market for these shoes." He shook his head sadly at his wife. "I cannot sell them in this part of town at their market value as no-one will be able to afford them. If I reduce the price to the market rate for the poor quarter then they would be too suspicious to buy. And although these shoes are pretty, they won’t have the expected life expectancy for a peasant’s requirements."

"But they’re a miracle..." his wife interrupted.

"And," he continued, "the upper town folk buy their fayre from the stalls of the market and would not buy a pair of such shoes from an old man from the poor quarter thinking I could only have stolen them...."

I need to think of a strategy for the selling of upmarket shoes, thought the shoemaker. He decided he needed someone who specialised in the upper town business methodologies and proceeded to a shoe consultancy. The man with whom he parlayed was very jolly and convivial and advised him to take the shoes to a wholesaler who could take the shoes at a reduced price to the market. The consultant also advised him that his fee would be a share of the remainder of the profits given to the shoemaker and the profits of the next subsequent pairs of shoes, in a jovial and well-mannered fashion. The shoemaker merrily signed the pretty document and thanked the consultant.

The shoemaker returned home and excitedly told his wife of the day’s events and she explained to him exactly what she thought of the dealings he had done and of the jolly and convivial consultant. Undeterred by his wife’s comments on his intellect he still had enough left to buy leather for two pairs of shoes. Following his newly conceived shoe-making process, he laid out the newly bought stock items on his workbench then went to bed.

In the morning, to his delight, there was two pairs of exquisite shoes on the workbench. His planned shoe schedule was culminating delightfully. The days continued onwards with the shoemaker making a gradual increase in his profits until he could afford his own stall. Unfortunately the agreement he had signed under the wholesaler disallowed this action.

Once the shoemaker had enough of a comfortable profit margin to enable risk-taking, he and his wife hid behind the curtains one night after preparing his part of the shoemaking process. Much to his surprise, at the stroke of midnight two tiny, naked elves ran in to the shoemaker’s workshop and proceeded to make the required thirty two pairs of shoes. The worked merrily until dawn (rushing the last six pairs, thought the shoemaker) then they danced out, slowly.

Feeling indebted to the elves, but reminding himself that he had provided a rent-free environment for them, he asked his wife to make them some clothes as the start of an Employee Care scheme.

When the night came, the elves saw the clothes and danced excitedly before putting them on. They laughed and danced in their new clothes then ran out into the night, never to be seen again.

"Bloody typical," said the shoemaker, looking at the unmade leather.

With the drop in output from that day forward, the shoemaker was found in breach of his contract with the wholesaler and was taken to court. When he told the judge of his shoemaking process and of the elves, they took him and locked him away forever in the dark town tower.

After giving a statement of his history of mental instability, his wife lived happily ever after making doll clothes.

Retro - good fun, but not necessarily a good thing...

I have been playing games since the late 70s; initially in the arcades (well mostly watching them being played) and then on to the home computer in the early 80s, starting with the ZX81 and working my way upwards.

It was a great time, and in recent times I've had a pretty good time revisiting these games in emulators, remakes and new hardware. I even went as far as to build my own arcade machine (which I am very, very proud of and drop into conversation wherever it may loosely fit); which will be even better when its finally finished.

But it has been concerning me recently that there is so much 'Retro'; music from the 80s, games from the 70s/80s, anyone old crap in someones attic sold on eBay as retro. What strikes me as ironic is that at the time, we were constantly looking forward. Back in the 70s we were reading books in primary school about the year 2000 and how we would be wearing silver heat-retaining suits and getting around in flying cars. In the 80s everything seemed so modern and heralding in the future... now we are past the year 2000 and constantly looking back. Keep looking backwards and you'll eventually stumble.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The death knell in the 80s not being heard today...

The only truism I know is that there is only one truism. Likewise, the only thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history.

Take the World War 1914-1918; it was called "The war to end all wars".

But where does the above lead apart from the massage of an egocentric word prowess? It leads to consoles, the next generation and the 80s.

There is currently a big race on for the next generation of consoles, the Xbox 360, the PS3 and the Revolution. There is not really a need for next generation consoles as yet as the current ones are still making more and more use of the hardware. For examples, check out Resident Evil 4 for the Gamecube and PS2, God of War for the PS2 or Half Life 2 for the current Xbox. There are others as well that deserve a mention like the Burnout series and Shadow of the Colossus. I would hope that when the games can no longer make any headway on the current hardware, then it is time for a next generation.

So what has all this to do with the 80s; well its because history may be about to repeat itself.

At the beginning of the 80s, arcades were the big thing. I was there and I remember it well. It was exciting, there was innovation and there was lots to different machines to spend any 10p I had. I remember the first time I saw the sit down Star Wars machine's colour vector grahics, voices from the film, blowing up a Death Star - it was fab. Then there was the first time I saw the full sit-in, moving Out Run cabinet... those were glory days.

As time wore on in the early 80s, the Jamma standard came around. It was prohibitively expensive (i.e. lowered the profit margin) to keep making unique cabinets and circuit boards for each game. The Jamma standard allowed the same cabinet to be used for different standardised boards; take one out and put another in and it'll fire up mapped to the generic buttons on the top. The first thing that was noticable was that machines started to head to the lowest common denominator. They became grubby with games not matching the marquees and as they were in use for longer they were often covered with ripped stickers and you could not tell which buttons were meant to be in use. Most of all though, when the cabinets became generic, so did the games. The became horizontally scrolling beat 'em ups, vertical shoot 'em ups or copies of old games like Pacman or Galaxians. The few original games like Starblade or Virtual Skiing were costing #1 or #2 for a very controlled, very short game. Then the market collapsed. Nobody saw it coming, but everybody just stopped going.

Fast forward to today...

The next generation of consoles have started arriving and what games to we see for it? Updates of previous games with updated graphics like Call of Duty 2, the standard EA annual release of their golf, football and whatever sport they have bought the rights to. The controllers are exactly the same; with one notable exception we will come to in a tick. The cost has gone up dramatically. Here in Australia, when the Xbox 360 goes on sale it will be $650. That is a lot of money. Considering buying 3 games for it, then you're up to $1,000.

I hope you can see where I'm leading with this... higher prices for games becoming more and more generic... the market is going to collapse once more. If you think that someone in the media will see it coming and point it out, think again. There are reviews of the Xbox 360 that say "its a revolution in gaming" followed a few sentences later by "the lineup of games is not very impressive". Reviews are waxing lyrical about the controller, which is a copy of the original without the wire.

There is also an expectation to buy credits as soon as you buy your machine. This will allow you, amongst many exciting things, to buy a new desktop layout. Maybe your gaming enthusiast will lap it up, but Joe Blogs man-on-the-street will not want to fork out any more money having just spent so much on the machine. I'm one of them, so I speak from experience.

There is a light shining in the distance in the shape of the Revolution. It has a controller in the shape of a TV remote control; filled with gyroscopes and funky stuff. It is basically a Gamecube version 2.0, with the same line of processors but faster and the same with the graphics card... fully backwards compatible with every Nintendo first party game and built in wi-fi.

Anyway, time will tell...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Tale... Tripping to Australia

To start this in the right context - I didn’t expect to get the job. To nudge it further into context, I hadn’t even realised I’d applied for it; ploughing through the 30 - 40 applicable jobs every night on the internet can blend the most unique opportunity with the mundane (similar to a tall glass of chilled Moët after 8 pints of VB). This was, anyway, what I told my girlfriend at the time.

The interview; then there was the wait.

"Can’t possibly happen," I chided myself, then phoned the agency. "No reply as of yet, Mr McNeill." Then finally, "You should receive a reply on Thursday direct from Australia."

Up at 6.00am, Thursday. Cup of tea. 7.00am. Several more. 9.00am. Unlikely they’ll phone - I’ll give it ‘til 12.00pm just to make sure.

4.00pm. Called the agency to get the reply, "blah, blah, tomorrow, blah..."

Tomorrow came, tomorrow went. No call. New box of teabags. The weekend arrived on the doorstep like an unwanted relative and it stayed for a very long time. "Can’t possibly happen…"

Monday. It didn’t happen. Having accepted this I was settled down with my flatmate that evening to watch ‘Cracker’. It was intense, 10.55pm - 5 minutes to go. Will the house blow up? Can he talk the boy into letting the blind girl who has been saturated in petrol go? The phone rang... Expletives... Grumping, thumping steps to the phone.


"Hi, it’s Dania from Eurolink Australia here."

"Oh, hi!" A u-turn quicker than Concorde on ice.

"Sorry to phone so late."

"Oh, that’s no problem."

"Want some good news...?"

And that was when the problems really started.

The Matters of the Heart:
"Bonjour, weh, it’s Roddy here...... Fine. Yourself?..... Want to meet today for lunch?....... Yes, I think there’s something we ought to talk about...... ah, yes I did - hello?"

"Hi, yes - it’s me again, I mean, look, I haven’t accepted it yet or anything...... yes, I know, but........ well, yes, but........ ah, well.... well, okay, but..... look can we meet to talk about this?.... No?......... that hurts....alright, it’s true - I mean I can only say - ah."

The Matters of The Bank:
None, actually. I didn’t tell them I was going.

The Matters of Friendship:
"God, I feel awful - great party; where you going?"

The Matters of Family:
"Right, bye then."

The Matters of Preparation:
Organisation. The word is at home with me as a Taliban on a hen night. There was a list as long as my arm to consider, and the writing was very small. I was thankful to leave the organisation of the travel to the agency; the flight tickets (which were booked as a single, sent by post over Christmas, never arrived, then booked as a return to be collected at the airport), the visa (not applied for correctly, organised by the carrier as a holiday visa - had to pretend to be visiting the country when arriving at immigration), the accommodation upon arrival (no word as to what it might be or if it would be definitely organised).

My first intercontinental flight (and only until recently) was to Milwaukee from London for a 2 week training course. I was left at the airport with no pick-up. After practically hitch-hiking to the hotel on the outside of town I was informed that I was mistaken and there was no room booked for me. I insisted. They were full. I was tired. In the end I was put up in the top floor board room on a pull down sofa.

Putting all this behind me I left the house with optimism and I would have had a skip in my stride had the backpack not been so heavy.

The Check-In:
I collected my tickets at the Air New Zealand desk at Heathrow and proceeded to Check-In. The first thing that hinted at things not being as they should was the expression on the attendant as she read my ticket.

"Are these the only tickets you have?" A simple question that deserved a simple answer - yet my whole body seemed to sag.

"Yes. I just collected them from the Air New Zealand desk."

"Ahh." With that, it passed. The relief of, "Oh, yes - my mistake, on you go," ‘twas not to be.

"These are incomplete. I’ll have to check them, wait here." Once again I found myself waiting; the nagging worry turning to dread as time stretched, breath shallowed and people behind me glared.

"I’m sorry," she said. The worst words I could have heard. My mind was reeling. "I can’t check you in, there is no outbound portion. You should have received it by post."

"I didn’t receive anything." I waited.

"You should have."

"But I didn’t." I waited. "So that’s it, then?"

"I can’t check you in without the correct tickets. Your seat is properly booked, though."

Oh, great. Yippee. It would be preferable if I was in it when it arrived.

"I can’t go then?"

"Not without the right tickets."

"Right, ...." It was if by turning round and leaving it would be finalising the fact. The woman could not brighten up and say, "Only kidding - just having a bit of a laugh - on you go." My insides were churning. I wasn’t a complete bubbling, pitiful wreck; at least on the outside. What now? I couldn’t go back - it would be so embarrassing. I went to the information desk and put a call out for the person I was meant to be travelling with, to no avail. He had his tickets. It was just me. Merde. I went back to the Air New Zealand ticket desk to let them know my plight and as an excuse to have a go at someone.

"Hi. Look. It seems I haven’t received my ticket in the post; I’ve just been to Check-in and ..... whinge, blah, blah, whine."

"Okay, Mr McNeill, fill in this form and here’s a reprint."

"Ah… Well, thanks."

My first thoughts were, Salope! Why hadn’t that bloody woman at the Check-in not just directed me back to the ticket desk? Grosse Salope! I stood in the same queue at check in and gave her my best (yes your drunk and I don’t like you but I’ll still have to serve you) barman smile.

"Hi." Salope.

"Passport, please"

"There you go." Salope.


The main advice I got from everyone about long-haul flights was ‘Don’t drink’. No problem, I generally replied. On the first flight to Los-Angeles I risked a drink with food; plenty of time to sober up, I mean, over a day! After several more with my erst-while colleague and travelling companion; I’ll just not drink anything on the second flight, sleep a lot. The stop over was in a small grey room in LA airport for 3 hours. There was a coke machine and a toilet, a few chairs and a lot of pissed-off people. They did open the Duty-Free cupboard for a while, but it didn’t do anything to ease the aggravation of the constant high-pitched whine of the alarm that was going off.

I couldn’t have anticipated my travelling companion of the second flight, or the amount of Bloody Marys we tried, not to mention the sparkling wines and the complete lack of sleep. None of which was absorbed by the ‘food’ which seems to have been imported from Lilliput. All in all, common sense was noticeable by it’s absence.

I think that immigration sobered me up in an instant. Lots of people. Lots of questions. Of course I’m on holiday, I was thinking in the queue, that’s why I have a couple of recipe books, a business suit and an offer of employment in my hand-luggage. Being taken aside is a scary prospect in any country. I stood in front of the official trying not to look guilty about something as he perused my passport. Questions that my tired mind were not processing, then the motion to go on. Instant religious conversion.

And then I had arrived; into sun, sea and sand from wind, rain and ice. Not bad, really.

Humour is the best defence...

The tale above this post has history behind it and a lot of future in front of it; it was written in 1998 and the brief passage containing the conversation with 'the girlfriend' was a particularly painful thing to deal with.

What as turned out well though is that we are now married in a particularly happy kind of way... enjoy the tale.

A Tale... Bon Chance

“So, I don’t know…” I tailed off and looked around me. The deep valley of snow covered coniferous trees below me to the right and the high, stark stone of the mountains to the left. The long, winding gravel path I was walking along extending for a long way in front of me.
“I mean, I have no idea where I am at the moment.” I looked down at the dog padding along beside me on his three legs. He looked back up at me briefly, but said nothing.
“And where are you from? You attach yourself to me in the middle of nowhere and refuse to go away no matter what expletives I throw at you. Though, since they’re not in Bulgarian, I suppose you can’t understand them.” I shrugged and given no response carried on. “So what do I do? I’m backpacking here,” I said to him pointedly motioning to the large rucksack on my back, “in case you hadn’t noticed.” The dog gave neither a sign for the positive or the negative, but continued padding along beside me. Given his resoluteness in the matter, I decided to lay it on the line for him. “One. I don’t know if you belong to anyone so I can’t take you with me. Two. There’s a small matter of customs and immigration when it comes to animals. I can’t show up at the airport and declare that I’ve found a dog which I’d like to take back. For starters, my Bulgarian is not that good.” I stopped. He wandered on for a little, then seemed to notice I wasn’t there and turned back towards me. Seeing me standing there, he folded his legs under him and sat down keeping his deep, brown eyes on me. I was transfixed with the image and took out my camera to take his picture. It was past mid afternoon, so I pressed on. The dog raised itself, stretched, then caught up with me and kept pace. It looked up at me.
“Look, as I told you when we first met; I don’t have anything to feed you on.” I wondered which one of us I was trying to persuade. I wasn’t sure of the effect of a BeanFeast rehydrated meal on a dog, but I could guess at the side effects. “I don’t even know where I’m going…” If the dog cared, he kept it to himself. I noticed the distinctive three legged trail behind him in the snow and it made me smile, probably for the first time in a few days.
“So since you refuse to leave,” I looked down at the dog to make sure he knew I was addressing him, “what do we do now?” He kept his ideas to himself, sparing me a brief look of complete ignorance that seemed to steal inside me. I tore my gaze away to see if there was any break in the path up ahead. “If I can’t find anywhere, I don’t know what I’ll do with you. If I do find somewhere I don’t know what they’ll do with you.” My walking companion offered no thoughts on the matter and left it firmly in my court. “You don’t seem to get it. I can’t even keep pets in my house back home. It’s rented and the owners are very, very protective. There’s just no way I can look after you.” If the comments bothered him, he kept it hidden and just offered me a toothy smile for my troubles. Then he barked. I was taken completely aback, then I heard the faint noise of an engine in the distance before I saw a jeep bouncing over the rough track behind me heading my way. He barked again and wagged his tail at the turn in events. The jeep approached and stopped just ahead of me and I could see a figure in the back waving towards me. I jogged up to the window and looked in. The figure was gestulating at me and saying something that sounded like the word rhubarb repeated many times, but without the vowels. Unsure I stepped back then he opened the back door and motioned for me to climb in. I looked up at the road ahead of me and climbed into the back of the jeep closing the door behind me and the jeep took off. I was bouncing around the back of the jeep when I saw him running behind us trying to keep up on his frantic three legged run. The man across from me pointed to the dog then to me again and I slowly shook my head and turned to the window to see the frantic dog shrinking into the distance and I could feel something tugging heavily in my chest. I closed my eyes and held back.

It was several miles up the track when I was dropped off. There was no way I could have made it before nightfall to this point and I could see the coloured markings on the rocks showing the way. Slowly I headed to the stop-over camp that I could see in the distance hugged by a horseshoe ring of mountains. Staying for the night in the cold wooden hut, I got up in the morning to face the frozen snow I would have to climb very carefully to carry on. The slow progression was halted completely about half way up when I saw the tracks frozen in the snow of three legs and I knew, so deep inside, that I would never see the dog again. Even now I can feel my insides twisting when I think back and know that something had happened in that place in time that I will never be able to put right.

Finding the flow

Wordsworth once said (or it could have been Graham Greene) that to avoid writers block you only have to write 500 words a day.

So why not carry on with a few hundred words more...?

A Tale... Extract from travel diary for Europe in 1996

17/8/96 En Route (to Aosta)

My ankle has swollen. It was sore last night and this morning – but now it hurts like hell just doing nothing. I can walk on it – which is good – but the camp site would appear to be about 20 minutes drive from the station.
At this point, I must intervene to give some basis as to what I was rambling on about. I was on a train trip in Europe on my way to Champex having obtained, as I was later to find out, somewhat inaccurate directions. Part of the trip was to pursue the idea of walking up a mountain. After perusing my railway timetable maps, and as an added bonus working out what was land and what was sea, Aosta in the north of Italy seemed like an excellent choice for a stop over; thus allowing me to travel via SCNF rather than the Suiss trains (i.e. relatively freely) through to Chatelard Frontiers where I was informed a coach would take me to Champex.

Caught the leaning tower of Pisa while at the change over. I don’t think the rapid walk there and back did my ankle any good.

I’m getting a bit worried. I seem to be the last, or at least one of the last, people on the train The last town was crawling with soldiers. Scary.
Without any semblance of a doubt, I was uneasy. Each small station had a soldier on guard and usually a few more around and about the station, but since the only person in the carriage who could have taken me hostage in a scene of military defiance was an elderly lady of about 70, I felt a bit more at ease; but I gripped my pen should the need have arose for physical defence – all things considered I would still have preferred a sword.

18/8/96 En Route (@ Mont Blanc)

My hand is badly damaged from last night. I am finding it very difficult and slow to write. Ankle is going not it’s best fit to burst…
What happened on the night of the 17th? It is best to begin with when I arrived in Aosta just before dusk.

The third taxi driver I asked knew even less than the bus driver about the location of a campsite. Fortunately after walking around the shuttered town centre looking for camping signs, I stumbled, almost literally, into someone else with a backpack. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak any English. Had it not been for the arrival of his two friends who did – well, its best not to postulate. Knowing what I know now, or rather, not knowing what I didn’t know then, alarm bells did not ring at the directions:
“Keep going ‘til you can’t go any further and turn right.”

Followed by:
“The path gets narrow…” and then, “Should take about 40 minutes.”

I was feeling, at this point, quite pleased and added an extra 20 minutes due to the state of my ankle.

The path did get narrow and started going uphill, but it kept going. My first passing doubts – not to mention the passing expletives every time I brushed my ankle – came with the path going up mountain and getting rockier, not to mention the need to use my torch to negotiate small groups of trees with night falling rapidly. I must hasten to add that I did keep on eye on the decreasing lights of the town behind me, while I could, to check for a camp site I may have missed.

An hour had passed since I’d began and still the orange-tipped poles marking the path as having some sort of distinct direction (although in writing this down it occurs to me that it may have been to Aosta) carried on. Apart from the point where I thought that someone with a torch was following me, which I soon discovered was a sort of white flash in my eyes when I stumbled or jarred my ankle, or maybe even the hopeful sound of motorcycles ahead turning out to be a small waterfall, the climb continued without much of interest to relate.

It was welcome relief to see a collection of houses off to my left, some of which even had lights on, and relief was surpassed by sheer gratitude when after a little look around I saw an elderly man walking his dog. Fortunately in the north of Italy, mst people seem to speak French, so with more than a little enthusiasm I asked where the nearby camp site was.
“No camp site near here. You need to go to Aosta.” It’s at this point when you know you’ve just been told the worst news you can imagine, that it gets worse.
“7km that way,” he says as he points down the tarmac-sealed mountain road. Even from where I was standing, I knew it was going to be winding – a lot. The timetable on the bus-stop that the old man told me about before I limped off informed me that the last bus had already gone an hour and a half earlier; leaving me to a long hobble back to the town I’d left, none the wiser and a lot wearier.

The torch waved by my side at the occasional approaching car but one veered towards me; my body shifted, my ankle gave way, slipped off the side of the road, twisted again and the ground leapt up to me. My hand held out to stop me, scraping off dirt and rocks, my wrist taking the full weight of my body with a four-week full backpack including the four man tent strapped to it. My exposed legs, knees scraped and cut, the torch and bag scattered out in front of me, sunglasses no longer held in the neck of my t-shirt, but lying ahead. The pain in my ankle was racing through me making me numb except for the tingling in my fingers. I must have lain there for twenty minutes or more, unable to find strength to move. The headlights of five cars lit me up then drove on. I seemed to be inside myself, looking at me from the outside when I lifted myself up, picking up the items around me but unable to straighten my backpack which was left askew and misplaced on my back. The climb down the mountain road was spent moving forward. I don’t think I would have recognised myself swearing at the dogs barking at my presence, keeping myself going to a place I didn’t know on a river of expletives and curses. The passing of time takes me to the outskirts of the town, the choice of paths, each with as much chance as the other – and then to the arched sign of a camp site appearing to my left, unlit and unknowing of the relief it could bring. Inside there were people sitting around a television showing “Fried Green Tomatoes…” with no-one watching it, but making comfortable conversation. To this day I wonder what I looked like making my way towards the shop and office with the blood dripping off the end of my fingers and starting to dry on my legs, one of my arms held in position by an imaginary sling. I asked for a place for the night; headed towards it and then collapsed against a tree. Sitting there, my body seemed to fall into itself and tears were rolling down my face. It was a strange mixture of relief at having made it somewhere and the hurt that had been kept at bay by some part of me that I didn’t know existed, coming all at once.
“Are you ill?” The voice was the same man who later was to give me some antiseptic for the various cuts that were plentiful, but not deep. The people not watching the television tried to satisfy their curiosity while I dabbed and winced, but my knowledge of French was not up to the task and neither was my will power. I managed to put up the tent with one hand and the help of my forearm, but I didn’t even bother to try putting in the pegs and hoped there would not be a very strong wind during the night.

I set off again the next morning, to get the train I required for Chatelard Frontiers. The directions I had were wrong almost to the point of disbelief, so I ended up having to pay for the Suiss trains (with my foot being relieved by it’s own seat whenever possible) and travelled the St. Bernard’s Express, through some of the deepest and highest countryside I’ve ever seen, to Martigny; I transferred to Orsiers where the coach was waiting to take me to Champex. I never got to walk up the mountain I had gone there for but was rewarded with some of the most picturesque nature it has ever been my fortune to discover at first hand. My camera rewarded me with dead batteries, not allowing me to take more than a couple of photographs. It was the only cold night during the whole journey (and in the most expensive camp site – which only goes to show, something) but if it was this that helped the water taste as good as it did then it was more than worth it.

After a few days my ankle improved as did my wrist (thankfully, in time for Prague). The legacy of the journey still exists in the fact that my wrist re-asserted itself seizing up my whole arm and caused me a visit to the Accident and Emergency some days after I returned from the whole trip and I now have to wear a wrist support when it gets too painful or I pick something up awkwardly. It makes me think that some things stay, just in case we forget.

Getting the hang of it...

Okay- so we have some pictures (well one that actually shows me and not a blur); but maybe a massage of the ego is required.

This is probably not the way to do it though...

Starting up...

So the first thing to do is upload the charismatic image to give someone some kind of insight into your personality... so I'll try an animated gif; just to see if it'll work.

Nope - it didn't. Converted it to a jpg and gives that grey blur just to the left here.

I'll search the old archives... and... well it comes up (far left), but as for appropriateness, who knows? I've always liked it personally.