Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire

In the fourth installment in the tales of Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, Harry is now fourteen years old and Hogwarts is getting ready for the Quidditch World Cup and the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Here's a brief introduction to the story...

Voldemort's followers are stirring and when they cause havoc at the Quidditch World Cup it's seen as a sign that the Dark Lord is preparing to rise again. When the time comes round for the Tri-Wizard Tournament, held this year at Hogwarts, the names of those eligable are put into the Goblet Of Fire and the Goblet chooses one student to represent each of the three schools. But this year is different, the Goblet chooses four students - one from each school and...Harry Potter.

Harry is too young to enter the tournament but the Goblet has spoken and rules is rules so young Potter must pit his wits and skills against the formidable challenges ahead, some of which could prove fatal if he fails. And all the while behind the scenes, the Dark Lord stirs and schemes with his own plans for Harry.

This was the best Harry Potter movie so far. It's a very dark story and there are a few pretty scary moments in there. Harry, Hermione and Ron have grown up quite a lot since last year and so has the story telling. Romance has been added to the mix as the three find their interest in the opposite sex blooming along with their hormones. On the downside, there are a few bits that happen that aren't really explained or don't make sense and I have the suspicion that you'd need to read the books to "get it". Yes, I haven't read any of the books but my daughter has and she's of the same opinion as it's a big book and they've had to be pretty ruthless to get it down to movie length. Another gripe, probably due to the same time constraints, is that the editing is pretty tight in places and some scenes seem to get cut off pretty sharply and you're off somewhere else.

The CGI effects are absolutely excellent - the dragon chase and underwater challenge are really well done. Gone, or at least minimalized, are the childish effects and props from the earlier films - this is aimed at a slightly older audience and the darker tones definately make this the best so far.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bella Italia, 96 Hope Street, Glasgow

Missed our train back from town on Sunday so, since we'd have to wait 30 minutes, we thought we'd just go and get something to eat instead. Hope Street is just round the corner from the station so Bella Italia (map) looked like a reasonable choice.

Given that I'd eaten in a Bella Italia in Edinburgh a few weeks ago (see Edinburgh Lunches), it was reasonable to assume that it'd be okay and it was pretty much that. We had a better choice of menu this time but this wasn't a special lunch deal so that was to be expected. The food was okay, nothing special but there was plenty of it and it was tasty enough.

The only downside was the service, it was very, very slow. Having sat for over ten minutes waiting on someone taking even a drink order, we were on the verge of leaving just as the waitress arrived.

Cuisine: Italian
My rating: 5/10

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Companions - by Sheri S. Tepper

This is yet another science-fiction tale from the author of such excellent tales as Grass, Raising The Stones and Sideshow. Here we are shown the dire consequences that could await those who would meddle with world ecology so here's the basic storyline...

Humankind has arrived on the planet Moss, a verdant paradise, to discover if any intelligent native life exists there, and to assess the planet for development - and profit. When multi-coloured shapes of dancing light are spotted and strange sounds heard in the night, the researchers send for a linquist to ascertain if it is evidence of intelligent life.

The linguist who tries to decipher the strange language of the Mossen is Paul Delis who is accompanied by his half-sister Jewel - but Jewel has a secret mission. A new law on Earth means the imminent extermination of all animal life on the planet, so Jewel must discover if Moss holds the promise of sanctuary for the doomed animals including her dogs, once mankind's beloved companions.

Time is running out for Jewel's creatures, but it might be running out for Humanity too: An interstellar war is brewing and Moss, itself a living entity, is not sure it cares for any of the species currently living on its surface...

I quite like Tepper's books, and this is one of the better ones, but her feminist eco-warrior themes tend to get a bit predictable. Women as the underdogs in a male dominated society and religious fanatacism are also recurring sterotypes in Tepper stories and it's also fairly obvious that she isn't very keen on war or fighting just for the sake of it either.

Jewel, obviously the heroine of the piece, is so talented at everything she undertakes it's a wonder she's not running the planet and she's surrounded by bad guys and incompetents. The bad buys are obvious - her brother, a fairly disturbed misogynist, treats Delis as his property; the reptilian Derac, a nomadic race that discovered the planet, fancy trying human flesh for dinner and cross breeding with them to try and make their own females more intelligent; the insectoid Orskimi race have plans of galactic domination that includes the destruction of both Derac and Humanity; the IGIHFO fanatics who want to kill all non-human life on Earth and eventually everywhere and last, but not least, her mother-in-law. The incompetents are the ESC (Exploration and Survey Corps) and PPI (Planetary Protection Institute), who've been on Moss for some time and can't see what's so obviously in front of their noses.

The book's title is a bit confusing in that it could refer to either the mysterious Concs, also called Companions, that have appeared on Earth and are being adopted by all and sundry as pets or sexual playthings. It could also mean the dogs as man's best friend and long time companions.

All that aside, the story has well developed alien races and societies, a well developed human space culture, a fair bit of action and mystery and even a wee bit of humour.

Genre: Science-Fiction
ISBN: 0-575-07628-3
My Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

My Life: Schooldays

Dunard Street Primary School

Dunard Street Primary SchoolPrimary school for me was Dunard Street Primary in Dunard Street, Maryhill and I can remember my first day as a four-and-a-half year old, betrayed when my mum tried to get me to go into this ominous looking building surrounded by metal bars with the horrible intention of leaving me there! It took her a while but she finally managed it, regardless of my screams and tantrums, and so I embarked on my journey through Scottish education.

I remember using a little slate and a piece of chalk to start with but it must have been just at the end of that era as I don't think we did it for very long. Pity as it's much cheaper option than using paper and pencils but a bit limiting having only one surface to work on.

I only have a few memories of my time there but they were mostly happy ones and I graduated as Dux in my final year so it can't have been that bad. I didn't get the usual medal for some reason as that year the prize was a whopping great encyclopedia, which was almost certainly more useful and my mum still uses it to help solve crossword puzzles.

About mid-morning we'd all get a break during which we'd be issued with a little bottle of milk, about a third of a pint I think. This was the government's scheme to make sure all us kids got something in the way of nourishment, and a bit of calcium, in the morning. Everyone got this free, so even the really poor kids got something, until education secretary Thatcher the snatcher abolished it in the 1970's for children over seven. Quite often, if it was really cold during the winter, the bottles would be frozen solid and we'd bring the crates into the classroom early and stack them besides the radiators to thaw them out.

The only negatives that come to mind were the school dinners and learning that I needed to wear glasses. Bit of a bummer finding out at age seven that I'd be being called "speccy four-eyes" for years but I've been wearing them ever since.

As for the dinners, let me clarify the nomenclature a bit. We had dinner at what is now called lunchtime and we had our tea when most of you lot now have dinner so we had breakfast, dinner, tea and supper (still do really). Anyway, that aside, there was no such thing as a menu back then so there was always a bit of anticipation of what was going to be served. Memories of horrid little balls of mashed potato that never tasted anything like what I got at home, carrots boiled to buggary and tasteless gravy still linger to this day. Every now and then they'd inflict a wee variation on us like cheese potatoes, where the colour of the balls changed to yellow but the taste never quite resembled any cheese I was familiar with.

I hated fat as a child, still do mostly, and I remember a teacher insisting I eat eat some really fatty Irish Stew and to clear the plate. Of course I promptly threw it up over the table - revenge is sweet (or at least a bit stewy).

Not a bad school really and I think I only got the belt once and that was for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. "Wusnae me Sir!" but we all got it. The belt I mean or the Tawse as it was really called. See the section at the end of this post on Corporal Punishment for a better explanation of this.

North Kelvinside Senior Secondary School

I was only 11 when I started secondary school in 1966 and I think being six months or so younger than most of the year's intake made me a bit of an outsider. On top of that, friends from primary were either in different classes or had gone to Garrioch Road Junior Secondary as we had a two tier system in those days.

I wasn't great at sports and didn't follow football much so it wasn't too long before a couple of swines called Ranstead and Gillespie decided to make to make my life there as miserable as possible. Being bullied isn't any fun at all and I wasn't the only one they picked on so here's hoping they've had their comeuppance by now.

One other memory I have is of the panic that ensued when it was rumoured that the Mummies were going to be round at four to sort out one of the teachers. Glasgow had a fairly unhealthy gang culture at the time, nothing like it had been some years before, but they wear still pretty rife and the Mummies were one of the local gangs along with the Fleet, Tongs and the Toi. Such was the reputation of this gang, we were sent home early and the police were were called in to fend off any impending attack. Needless to say that nothing transpired and the streets were quite. I suspect now that the rumour was just that and was probably started as a joke by some schoolkid. The gangs then mostly fought among themselves and rarely bothered anyone else.

Got the belt a lot more here but then almost everyone did. Our maths teacher belted anyone for anything but she was so useless at it that no one was that bothered. However, there were a few teachers there that were good at it and had seriously nasty belts and you behaved in their class I can tell you.

I have to say that I hated my time at this school and was so glad when we moved from Maryhill to Knightswood in 1968. The school was closed in 2001 and has since been demolished.

Knightswood Secondary School

We moved to Knightswood just after the great storm of 1968 and it felt like a new page had been turned - a new house and a new school. To a kid from Maryhill, Knightswood was like moving out to the country. The streets were wider and had much less traffic and almost every house round about had a garden - amazing.

Knightwood Secondary was pretty good and I enjoyed it far more and made some new friends as well and it even had a decent dinner hall. Can't say as anything momentous ever happened to me there but the teachers were a reasonable lot and most everyone got on fine. From there it was off into the grown up world of 1972. I didn't fancy going to university or college (and probably didn't have the qualifications anyway) so it was time to look for a job but I'll cover that later.

Corporal Punishment

Just to explain about the belt or Tawse, which was the official form of corporal punishment dished out in Scottish schools when I was a boy. Basically it was a leather strap of varying length and thickness and some even had three tails. The "Lochgelly" was the model to have as well as that was where the best ones were made. Depending on the model and the teacher dishing it out, the effects ranged from a mild slap to extremely serious pain.

To receive it, you could stand with one hand out to the front or side or with both hands crossed in front. Some teachers had a preference on how they liked you to stand and either way could cause problems. Too close to the side attack and the belt could wrap around the hand and arm and too close in front and you could get it all the way up the wrist and arm. Too far away from either angle and the ends of your fingers could get a bad hit.

Of course a miss was always your fault as it got a laugh from the class at the teacher's expense. Deliberately dodging the belt by moving your hand or hands out of the way was a risky move as it almost always added a stroke to the sentence. Refusing the belt outright meant a trip to the headmaster's office and invariably a stronger sentence from him or your parents were called in.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Wallace & Gromit - The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit

This was the last of the holiday movie backlog so it was good to get to see it before it disappeared from the cinemas. This is Wallace & Gromit's debut on the big screen and here's the plot...

Mapcap inventor and well-known cheese addict Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his trusty hound Gromit run a fairly lucrative humane pest-control business called Anti-Pesto. With only a few days to go until the Annual Giant Vegetable Competition, they're up to their ears in work and rabbits.

When a huge Brassica munching beast begins raiding the townfolk's beloved garden plots at night and destroying everything in its path, the competition hostess Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham-Carter), commissions our heroes to catch it save the veg. However, her ladyship's slimy suitor, Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), would rather shoot the creature to try to impress her and gain recognition as the local hero. Of course, catching or killing the monster rabbit isn't as straightforward as any of them might think.

Well we thoroughly enjoyed this one, Wallace and Gromit's first full-length feature film is hilarious. If you liked Aardman's previous shorts of the pair - A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave, then you'll love this. I thought it might be too long for clay-mation to sustain audience interest but the plot and all the little visual jokes keep it ticking along just nicely.

Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Mystery
My Rating: 8/10

The Westerton Arms, 34 Henderson Street, Bridge of Allan

Went over to see Lorna's dad at the weekend and thought we'd try a Bridge Of Allan again but see what else there was on offer. The Westerton Arms (map) looked pretty busy, which is usually a good sign, and so we went in...

Well it was busy and we had to wait for about 30 minutes before they had a table but, having a bar attached, that wasn't a problem. The bar was pretty busy with a mix of locals and people waiting for tables but not over-busy so it was reasonably comfortable.

The food was mostly pretty straightforward fayre with a good few exotic additions and it was not bad at all. The menu is on the web site above. The only downside was the that the service was a bit slow and, while we had asked for the dessert menu, we gave up waiting on anyone asking us if we wanted anything from it.

Cuisine: Varied
My Rating: 6/10

Sunday, November 20, 2005

More Edinburgh Lunches

It was a full five day course so here's the continuation of what I started in part one...

Wednesday - Domino's Pizza

We were falling behind due to the amount of firefighting required to get the labs to work as they hadn't been properly set up and the servers weren't responding as expected. Anyway, to try and catch up some time they sent out for pizza instead of taking us out.

Anyway, to start we had portions of the Garlic Pizza Bread, which were simply small cheese and tomato pizzas and totally boring. As for the pizzas, I had a Cheese Steak Melt as I thought it might be a change and I was right. It was basically a congealed lump of cheese with bits of rubbery steak embedded in it and with very little of the green peppers, onions and mushrooms advertised.

I don't think I'll be sending out for a Dominos Pizza anytime soon!

My Rating: 2/10

Thursday - The Buffet Lunch

We were still way behind so this time we had a buffet lunch brought in. You know the stuff - sandwiches, chicken drumsticks, wraps, cold quiche and cold pizza. Don't know where it was ordered from but it was pretty good and did the job.

Friday - Saigon Saigon, 14 South St. Andrew St, EH2 2AZ (map)

Being the last day, and even though we were still behind, we got a bit of a treat. Saigon Saigon is an "All You Can Eat" buffet restaurant and it had loads of interesting and standard Chinese and Thai dishes to choose from. The food was hot and well replenshed so you could really pig out if you wanted to.

It was reasonably busy and is obviously popular for a even quick lunch and empty plates were quickly wheeched away by the staff so there's was always room on the table for more. Not a place for a quiet or romantic lunch though.

Cuisine: Oriental
My Rating: 7/10

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Madagascar Penguins in a Christmas Caper

Went to see Wallace and Grommit movie tonight and got treated to this 15 minute short, starring the penguins from Madagascar.

Frankly I thought the penguins were the best and funniest characters in that movie and they could easily find success in a movie of their own. Anyway, we've now got this hilarious short animation to keep us amused. Certainly got the laughs going before Wallace and Grommit so it's a good warm up act...

It's Christmas at the New York Central Park Zoo and all the animals are happy and having fun, all except the polar bear, who has no-one else in his enclosure to share the festivities with. Private notices this and, being a concerned penguin, tries to get the others to help but they're all busy being penguins and partying so he heads downtown to buy the bear a present. Needless to say, he gets into bother and requires a military style rescue attempt by Skipper, Kowalski and Mason.

More Madagascar penguins animations please!

Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
My Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Edinburgh Lunches

I'm at a training course this week in Edinburgh and so far we've been being taken out for lunch so here's the breakdown so far...

Monday - Bella Italia, 9 Hanover Street, EH2 2DL (map)

Fairly busy little place with friendly staff and a simple menu. I've no idea what the prices are like as we ordered before we got there but the food was reasonably good and there was enough of it. It was okay and I had Lasagne Al Forno for simplicity but I've had better.

Cuisine: Italian
My Rating: 6/10


Tuesday - Zest, 15 North St Andrew Street, EH2 1HJ (map)

Zest is billed as a contemporary Indian restaurant, which basically means minimalist decor, bright and airy lighting, laminate floor and a fairly cold atmosphere. Oh, and no sitar music either! It was pretty quiet for the time of day so maybe the "contemporary" theme doesn't work as well as they'd like.

I had a Lamb Karai, which was okay although I felt it seemed a bit like a tourist curry and the portion was tiny. I usually try to avoid Indian restaurants outside of Glasgow and especially in tourist towns as, in my experience, they tend to cater to a general market, which means that the curries are usually a bit on the mild or tasteless side with not enough bite. I had a vindaloo once in Fort William that tasted like a plate of stew and potatoes! Anyway, Zest didn't do it for me.

Cuisine: Indian
My Rating: 4/10

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Legend Of Zorro

Yet another of those movies that came out while I was on holiday, we went to see it through the week (Orange Wednesdays are great). It's the sequel to The Mask Of Zorro, an excellent romp starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Banderas and Zeta-Jones are back in this one so here's the plot...

Ten years have past and California is poised to enter the American Union. Alejandro and Elena have a son, Joaquin, who wishes his father was more like Zorro while Elena wishes Alejandro would give up the mask and spend more time with his family. Alejandro is torn between his two lives and things are not going well in casa de la Vega.

When Alejandro breaks his promise to put away the mask, Elena leaves him and sues for divorce. Alejandro starts drinking and Elena starts seeing a new arrival to the area - Armand, Comte de la Fère, a wealthy French landowner. Needless to say, Alejandro doesn't like the man and when he witnesses a huge explosion on his land, he decides that he needs to look into things as Zorro. Especially as someone has also been trying to thwart California's entry to the Union.

Things have moved on - California is growing up and both the characters and actors have aged alongside. Both Banderas and Zeta-Jones are more accomplished in their art and reprise the roles very well. As a sequel, this works very well although it is much more aimed at the family audience. The violence is much watered down from that in The Mask Of Zorro - there's no blood on view and definitely no severed heads. That aside, it still works quite well and the action scenes are excellent.

I don't think I've ever seen a bad Antonio Banderas movie and he obviously loves the swordfighting and acrobatic action stuff. If you're looking for a good old swashbuckling movie with a fairly simple and transparent plot for the whole family to enjoy, then this easily fits the bill.

Interesting Note: The Comte de la Fère was the title of Athos, one of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Western
My rating: 6/10

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Scar - by China Miéville

The Scar, by China Miéville, takes place on the world of Bas-Lag, first encountered in the multi-award winning Perdido Street Station and chronologically following the events that occurred there. While there are a few references to events in that story, this is not a sequel but those that have read it will be more familiar with the world and it's exotic mix of arcane and mutant inhabitants. Here's what this one is all about...

When her friends and acquaintances start to disappear, courtesy of the New Crobuzon authorities, Bellis Coldwine decides that heading across the Swollen Ocean to Nova Esperium for a while might be a good idea. Her fellow passengers include scientists and misfits mostly heading for the new land and a new life. They also carry a cargo of Remade, criminals physically altered as part of their punishment, bound for a much grimmer life of servitude. They never make it...

On the way, on a diplomatic detour to the vast undersea city of the Cray, the crew discover that one of New Crobuzon's secret underwater drilling rigs has inexplicably disappeared and when a shadowy individual called Silas Fennec, working for the government, takes command of the ship with the intention of returning home immediately, Bellis fears her escape has been cut short. However, on the way back, the ship is attacked by pirates and they find themselves pressganged into the population of a vast floating city called Armada.

Bellis, resigned to her fate as a citizen and prisoner of Armada, longs to return to New Crobuzon so plots a means of escape with Silas
, knowing it will be nigh impossible and could lead to theur deaths if discovered. However, the rulers of Armada have plans of their own that lead to an island of forgotten people, the raising of a vast underwater beast and a journey across the Hidden Ocean in search of The Scar, a massive wound in reality but possibly also a source of ultimate power.

Miéville has crafted a rich world as the background for his tales in Bas-Lag and the sprawling metropolis of New Crobuzon and this story extends that world to encompass new lands, oceans and peoples. Those who have read Perdido Street Station will be familiar with that city and the spiked Hotchi, the thorny Cactacae, the insect-headed Khepri and amphibious Vodyanoi races but we get also to meet some new ones in this story - the blood-sucking Anophilii, the part-crustacean Cray, the Vampir and the mysterious and powerful Grindelow. The concept of Armada, a vast floating city of ships tethered together, being pulled across the oceans in search of booty and trade, is simply amazing and makes the story so much more detailed and involved. On top of this there's the wealth of diverse and well developed characters - The Lovers, Shekel, Tanner Sack, Johannes Tearfly, Uther Doul, Silas Fennec and The Brucolac.

I preferred Perdido Street Station but The Scar is well up there and well worth reading, even though I was slightly disappointed with the ending. Gaining a Special Citation in the Philip K. Dick Awards and nominated for The Hugo Award, The BSFA Award and The Arthur C. Clarke Award, this is well worth a place in any science fiction fan's bookshelf.

Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction
ISBN: 0-330-39290-5
My Rating: 8/10

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Brothers Grimm

Having just come back from holiday, there are so many movies out to catch up on! Anyway, the first one we went to see was Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger as the two brothers...

It's an alternate take on the lives of the famous fairytale authors, where Jacob (Ledger) and Wilhelm (Damon) Grimm are a couple of con-artists, travelling around Europe during the French occupation of Germany collecting folklore and tales. They then make a living by setting up all manner of enchanted situations and get the terrified villagers to pay them to boldly vanquish the demons or exorcise the evil spririts, etc.

However, when young girls start to disappear in the forest near the village of Marsbaden, the regional French military govenor (Jonathan Pryce) captures the brothers and threatens to have them executed if they don't go in there and get rid of whoever is copying their "act" as it's causing unrest among the locals.

But this is no act and the pair soon find themselves pitted against a real evil and they have to find the courage to save the girls and vanquish a 500 year old Witch Queen, who wants them to restore her beauty.

Being a Terry Gilliam movie, it's pretty manic from the start and there are some very funny scenes and lines in there. But a lot of the script was written by Ehren Kruger, who wrote the horror movies The Ring and The Ring Two, so there are also some very dark and scary moments in there as well.

Both Ledger and Damon seem miscast here, Damon is an outgoing womanizer and Ledger is the bookish one, but they do a reasonable job and seemed to gel together fairly well. Apparently, they were originally cast in opposite roles but both obviously fancied a change and they swapped. The heroine of the piece is played well by English actress Lena Headey as the huntsman's daughter. Pryce is good as the ruthless French General, constantly more interested in what he's having for dinner, but the comedy prize has to go to Peter Stormare for his Pythonesque performance as Cavaldi, his chief torturer.

All in all, it's a reasonably entertaining few hours and there are loads of homàges to Grimm's Fairy Tales in there as well such as Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Grethel, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and Snow White.

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror.
My Rating: 6/10

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Beware Of Budget Airlines

We've just come back from a holiday in Lanzarote (more about that in a later posting) and we flew with budget airline flyglobespan and I have to say that the return journey really put a dampener on the trip.

Excess Baggage

The first thing to say is be very, very careful about your baggage weight! Go over your 20kg and they hit you for €7 for every kg over. Our cases were obviously close to or slightly over the limit so they asked us to weigh our hand luggage, which mostly contained presents and some stuff for eating and drinking while waiting on the flight. Anyway, we stupidly put the lot on the scales without thinking and it all came in at 13kg over and they wanted an extra €91!

This is obviously a common way to boost the takings as the queue to pay for the excess amounts was a constant stream during check-in but when you think about it it's really a bit of a scam as well as they've no checks beyond that and you can easily load up in the shops beyond passport control. Sure, they say that the cabin crew have the power to refuse excess hand luggage but unless you're obviously over-loaded with bags, they would never have the time to police this while boarding the aircraft.

Anyway revenge of a sort was to come calling as, once we'd all boarded amost an hour late and then hung about while they dragged the paperwork around for another hour or so they pilot announced that the plane was too heavy to take off and we'd all have to get off while they siphoned off some fuel. So they were happy to take everyone's money for the excess weight but the smaller aircraft that they put on for the return flight, a Boeing 737-300, obviously didn't have the power to take off with that extra weight and the allocated runway and associated steep ascent that this and the wind conditions required.

Now that meant that we took off two and a half hours late and had to stop over in Malaga to take on enough fuel to get home. I say revenge as it must have cost them much more to offload the fuel and then stop and refuel again than they made skimming the extra baggage weight.

Mind you, I had the credit card out to pay the extra charge but Lorna decided that we weren't going to pay more to carry some of the stuff than it was worth (good Scottish head on her shoulders) so we dumped about 9kg worth of wine, liqueurs and sweets and made them reweigh the bags to save us a fair bit of money. Anyway, the moral here is to check your baggage weight if you're flying on the cheap as the airline surely will and charge you heavily for any excess.

The Service

The second thing is that the service is shaved to the bone. There were only three cabin crew to deal with over 150 passengers. No complaints about the staff as they coped pretty well with the constant workload and were pretty friendly. There's no onboard entertainment at all so take a book or puzzles or something like that to pass the time and, if you've got kids, some toys will be essential. As for food, they sell a pretty limited range of sandwiches and sweets onboard and they're happy enough to let folk bring their own food on as well so you won't go hungry.

Whoever was flying the plane could have done with some lessons on how to land the thing. When we landed for the fuel stopover in Malaga I thought the undercarriage had cracked as we practically bounced with the impact and the landing in Glasgow wasn't that much better. It might just have been this one particular bloke but I'd hope he wasn't their regular standard of pilot.

Conclusion

Would I use flyglobespan again? Possibly but I'd make sure I had some spare baggage capacity for the return flight. I can't really complain about the flight service as that's part of how they keep costs down so if you're happy with no entertainment, very few cabin crew and do it yourself meals, then you'll definitely save on normal package holiday prices.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Going Postal - by Terry Pratchett

We're back in Ankh-Morpork with Going Postal, the 29th instalment in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series and this is definitely one of the good one's - I was practically crying with laughter at some points...

Moist von Lipwig is a con-man, one of the best in the game but as Albert Spangler, he's now languishing in a condemned cell in Ankh-Morpork. He may not have ever hurt anyone in his life but he's stolen from some of the most powerful people and everyone knows that's far more serious than murder so he's to be hung at dawn.

While Albert is almost certainly for the drop, Lord Vetinari offers Moist a choice - revive the city's ailing postal service or well, die! Simple choice you might think but, faced with a seriously run down postal business, a staff of two (three if you count the cat), Mr Pump his parole officer and the unscrupulous chairman of the Grand Trunk Semaphore Company, there are times when Moist almost wishes he hadn't accepted it.

Basically the story is about Moist's attempts to get the Postal Service back up and running in the face of lethal opposition from the Grand Trunk Semaphore clacks service but it's so much more than that and seriously funny too.

Pratchett is excellent at describing characters and scenes in the most humorous ways - Lord Vetinari is a well known fixture to Discworld fans and these new characters of Moist, Groat, Stanley, Adora Bell (Killer) and Mr. Pump fit so well into the mix that you can easily visualize them. There's also an Igor in there and we get a fleeting appearance from a couple of the Night Watch favourites and good old DEATH himself.

The story is well composed from several diverse threads and the relevance of some earlier sections only emerge as the tale progresses along its hilarious path. From the moment we meet Moist trying to escape the cell, you just know it's going to be a good one. Definitely one to read for Discworld fans and easy enough for the casual reader to pick up and enjoy.

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
ISBN: 0-552-14943-8
My Rating: 9/10