Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy Feet

We finally got in to see Happy Feet last night, third time lucky as we'd ended up seeing both Flushed Away and Pan's Labyrinth the last couple of times we'd gone into town intending to go see it. Here's the gist of the story…
Deep in the Antarctic, the Emperor penguins pair together by finding another who's heartsong resonates perfectly with their own. When Memphis (Hugh Jackman) and Norma Jean's (Nicole Kidman) songs tell them that they're for each other, then that was that and when they're blessed with an egg, it's Memphis's job to keep it warm over the winter while Norma Jean goes off to sea with all the other females.

But when little Mumble (Elijah Wood) is born the next Spring it's soon obvious that he's different from the rest of the new brood. He simply can't sing but instead he tap-dances like a whirlwind. Worried that his seeming disability will affect his future, his parents try everything to get him to sing and to stop dancing but it isn't long before he comes to the notice of Noah (Hugo Weaving) and the elders. The fish are scarcer this year and the elders soon blame young Mumble and his different ways for angering the penguin god and causing the shortage and they cast him out of the flock.

In his wanderings, fleeing from a ravenous leopard seal, he meets a group of little Adelie penguins led by Ramon (Robin Williams) who show him that there are other ways and other cultures. After he talks to Lovelace (Robin Williams), the Adelie flock wise-man, it becomes obvious to Mumble that there has to other beings out there, aliens who are responsible for the fish shortage and they all set out to find out who or what they are…

Happy FeetLorna had been keen to see this movie ever since we saw the trailer but there's just something disturbing about singing penguins if you ask me but the animation looked fantastic so I was hooked as well.

The story is a fairly straightforward dig at man's alienation of anyone different or disabled and how we so easily lay the blame for all our ills on anything that doesn't conform to our notion of normality. There's a fair bit of humour in there but there are also a few scary moments so I wouldn't recommend it for very young children.

Happy FeetHugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman can sing pretty well so their roles as Mumble's parents pan out quite well and Brittany Murphy, who plays Mumble's friend Gloria, also delivers on the vocals. Robin Williams and his accompanying troop of Adelies also give a pretty account of themselves as well and there's a good backing cast of singers so the numbers come pretty thick and fast in places.

The animation is superb! Everything from the way their feet leave little trails in the pack ice and snow, the way the bubble trails squirt and drift as the penguins and fish speed through the water, the old whaling station set with its ice-floes and the killer whales, the skuas and elephant seals to the hard, driving cold that is the Antarctic in the depth of Winter. Visually, it's a very stunning movie and the camera angles and panning shots add much to the effect as well. The only negative aspect was the fact that the animators had given the female penguins a bit of an hour-glass figure, which just looked a bit odd. Animation fans will love it once they get past all the singing and dancing!

Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Family, Musical.
My Rating: 7/10

Friday, December 29, 2006

Thud! - by Terry Pratchett

Thud!, the 30th instalment in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, is set in the sprawling metropolis of Ankh-Morpork...
Sam Vimes has a problem, well actually more than one. Lord Vetinari has given him a new recruit for the Watch, a vampire. Okay Sally is a Black Ribboner from the League of Temperance and has sworn off sucking anyone's blood but fear of the vampire is in your genes isn't it and Sam's only human. Sgt. Angua is positively more than human and she doesn't like the idea either. I mean - a vampire in the Watch!

On top of that, with the anniversary of the Battle of Koom Valley coming up, the Dwarfs and the Trolls are at it again. Fighting I mean! Each side blames the other for ambushing their side and starting the battle and every now and again, they get to fighting it all over again and Sam really doesn't want the streets of Ankh-Morpork awash in blood. Things go from bad to worse when a senior Dwarf turns up dead with his head bashed in and there's a Troll's club lying by his side.

There's also Mr. A.E. Pessimal, the government inspector who wants to go though all of his paperwork and then there's the darkness that's hovering at the fringes of reality and looking for a way in or at least someone to hold the door open for it. But the real problem is, it's late and Sam just has to get home for six o'clock and absolutely nothing is going to stop him from getting there on time.

As you've probably guessed, this is another tale of the City Watch with all the usual characters such as Commander Sir Samuel Vimes, Captain Carrot, Sargeants Fred Colon, Angua, Detritus, Cheery Littlebottom, Corporal Nobby Nobbs and Constables Reg Shoe, Dorfl, Igor and Visit The Ungodly With Explanatory Pamphlets. Of course that lot includes a mix of humans, dwarfs, a werewolf, a troll, a golem, an Igor, a zombie and Nobby Nobbs.

It's a pretty complicated plot with several murders, the theft of insane artist Methodia Rascal's 50-foot painting of The Battle Of Koom Valley from the museum and the mystery as to just exactly what the Dwarves are doing under the streets of Ankh-Morpork. The painting, along with its companion book The Koom Valley Codex, is said to contain hidden messages that could lead the lucky solver to a fabulous treasure hidden in Koom Valley. On top of that is the seriously amazing fact that Nobby Nobbs has a girlfriend and she's an exotic dancer to boot.

Thud tackles topics such as racism and intolerance with the general Troll/Dwarf conflict and the werewolf/vampire tension between Angua and Sally. It also covers the downside of drug abuse in the story of young Brick the Troll. Pratchett always seems to take some serious social issues like these and have us laughing and snickering from cover to cover regardless.

Then there's Thud itself, a boardgame first introduced in Going Postal and which is based loosely on the Battle Of Koom Valley and seems to resemble a variation of Chess. If you're interested (or just plain mad), then you can join the Thud community and play online.

I really liked Sam's new Disorganizer Mark Five, "The Gooseberry™" since I have the unfortunate task of managing a Blackberry™ estate. Oh for a fleet of little imp inhabited handhelds instead of the gremlin infested ones we have now. Another very funny book from Mr. Pratchett!

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy.
ISBN: 0-552-15267-6
My Rating: 8/10

Friday, December 22, 2006

Stargate Lives On

Just spotted on the excellent Stargate site GateWorld is the news that a third Stargate series is in development and probably due for release in 2008. It's early days yet and they haven't yet revealed what the storyline is going to be about but I'm happy that the series will continue.

Stargate SG-1 was phenomenally successful, running for 10 seasons, and Stargate Atlantis is showing all the signs of continuing that success.

I've been a fan since the movie appeared in 1984 so, with a new series of Atlantis coming next year and a couple of movies also in the works, we should be well catered for in the Stargate universe for a few more years.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's LabyrinthAfter a very long days Christmas shopping and a quick burger meal, we went to see Pan's Labyrinth, or El Laberinto del Fauno to give it its real name. I was quite surprised to see it only showing in a few places so we thought we'd better get in and see it before it disappears from the local cinemas altogether. I guess foreign, subtitled movies don't fair so well in Glasgow, which is a pity - market forces I suppose. Anyway, here's a brief introduction to the story…
It's Spain, 1944 just at the end of the Spanish Civil War. The young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) travels with her pregnant mother to live in a rural military outpost commanded by her new step-father, a captain in Franco's army. Post-war Fascist repression is at its height and Captain Vidal (Sergi López) is particularly brutal and sadistic in his fervour to root out the remaining communist fighters still holding out in the surrounding mountains.

Ofelia, like most other girls her age, still believes in magic and romance and she brings along her collection of fairy tale books even though her mother thinks she should put such childish pastimes behind her. However, on the way there, her mother takes unwell and the car has to stop for a while and Ofelia wanders off a little way off the roadside where she discovers an old carved stone and a very unusual dragonfly, which follows them on their way.

When they eventually arrive at the outpost, an old abandoned mill, she quickly realizes that her new father has no interest in her at all and only cares that his new son will be born by his side, regardless of his wife's ill health. With her mother confined to bed, Ofelia discovers an old maze in the gardens beside the mill and can't resist exploring it. It's a brooding place of winding paths and at it's centre is a well with steps leading down into the darkness. At the bottom of the steps Ofelia meets a faun who tells her that she is a fairy princess and, in order for her to return to her people, she must first pass three trials…

Pan's Labyrinth
Written, produced and directed by Guillermo del Toro (Cronos, Blade II, Hellboy), this film is a masterpiece of fantasy fiction - a dark and Gothic fairy tale set against the grim reality of war. Don't be put off by the subtitles, it's a very visual film and reliance on dialogue is secondary to the powerful imagery of the movie. It is however quite brutal and gory in places so maybe not for the squeamish and definitely not a fairy tale for the kids.

With beautiful cinematography by Guillermo Navarro (Hellboy, Jackie Brown, Desperado) and a hauntingly dark musical score from Javier Navarrete, we're led into the world of faery where fauns, sprites and monsters roam on just the other side of the wall and into the very dark world of pain and torture that was the Spanish Civil War. We very quickly discover that Captain Vidal is a sadistic sociopath who has no love for his wife or daughter and delights in beating and torturing anyone who stands in his way. We also learn that the rebels in the hills are being aided by the locals, in particular the doctor and the Captain's own housekeeper, who's brother is one of them. Small wonder that a little girl dropped into this dark and dismal world would seek refuge in fairy tales and imaginary creatures.

The performances by the main players are excellent - Ivana Baquero plays the child Ofelia to perfection and Sergi López is brilliant as the baddie of the piece. There's good support from Ariadna Gil as Ofelia's mother and Maribel Verdú as Mercedes the housekeeper. Visual effects are also very good and, although the fantasy scenes aren't perhaps as frequent as expected, they are beautifully realized.

If you like fantasy movies, then this is really worth seeing on the big screen but don't delay too long or the subtitle Philistines will have had it consigned to specialist theatres before long. With a string of awards and nominations, this is well recommended and I'll definitely be buying the DVD when it hits the streets.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror, War
My Rating: 9/10

Friday, December 15, 2006

Judas Unchained - by Peter F. Hamilton

Judas Unchained is the conclusion to the Commonwealth Saga tale that started with Pandora's Star. It's a tale of first contact with an alien species that goes badly wrong and results in mankind fighting to save itself from extinction. Here's a brief summary of Pandora's Star for anyone interested in reading both books…
It's AD 2380, and humanity has colonised over six hundred planets, all interlinked by wormholes. This Intersolar Commonwealth has grown into a quiet, wealthy society, where rejuvenation and re-life techniques allow mankind to live for centuries.

When an astronomer observes a pair of stars over a thousand light years away vanish, the Commonwealth is anxious to discover what actually happened. However, wormholes can't reach that far so they have to build the first faster-than-light starship,
the Second Chance, and when it gets there they discover that both entire systems have been sealed inside impervious force fields.

Like Pandora before them, they learn that curiosity can be very dangerous and whoever sealed these systems away from the rest of the universe had a very good reason for doing so. But there's also someone or something that wants them to open that box

With the cat literally out of the bag and the Dyson Alpha aliens loose and bent on the total annihilation of mankind, the story continues with Judas Unchained…
After 300 hundred years of behind-the-scenes manipulations, the Starflyer, whose very existence had been long dismissed by the authorities as the ravings of niche terrorist group, has succeeded in engineering a war that could result in the destruction of the Commonwealth.

While the invasion from MorningLightMountain and its vast alien army continues to wreak havoc among the outer worlds, the leaders finally acknowledge that they must fight a battle on two fronts and unite to meet the threat of both the Starflyer and Dyson Alpha aliens.

However, the Starflyer's agent network is deeply insinuated within the Commonwealth at all levels and preventing it from getting back to Far Away and freedom while also trying to hold off and defeat the Dyson Alpha aliens will not be an easy task.

The Commonwealth Saga is grand science fiction at its best with a well crafted and detailed plot, well-developed characters and plausible technology. The alien species are also very well realized - the enigmatic Silfen, Tochee, the Raiel and of course, MorningLightMountain and its horde of motiles. If anything, Judas Unchained is even better then Pandora's Star as the pace picks up and the plot threads come together for a pretty nail-biting finish.

You'll find everything that makes a great story here. From the rich and powerful ruling dynasties trying to outmaneuver each other in the political arena, the Guardians of Selfhood trying to make the Commonwealth believe in the Starflyer, the police investigators trying to bring the Guardians of Selfhood to justice as terrorists for an atrocity they unintentionally committed years ago, the sexy journalist trying to get the scoop of a lifetime, wormhole technology inventor Ozzie Isaacs on walkabout, the completely alien MorningLightMountain trying to logically remove what it sees as a threat to its own existence and the Starflyer manipulating things in the background to suit its own ends.

If you liked Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy, then you'll like this series as well. Highly recommended!

Genre: Drama, Science Fiction, War
ISBN: 0330493531
My Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ho Wong, York Street, Glasgow

With Lorna's sister and her husband over here for a few days, we met up after work at the Marriott Hotel with plans to go and have some dinner and then maybe a drink or two.

We started wandering along Argyll Street back towards the centre of town and spotted the Ho Wong, an innocuous looking Chinese restaurant just off the main road down York Street. We've been working near here for almost a year now and had never noticed it before so it seemed worth having a closer look.

It was a horrible night out, all dark and rainy but the frontage looked inviting enough so in we went and entered a very plush and sumptuous world of thick carpets, solid looking carved wood chairs and vases of fresh flowers. It was quite busy and I think we were lucky to get a table for four even at so early a time slot.

The menu is more traditional than your average Chinese restaurant but not overly so. For example, there were no curries, chop sueys or chow meins in sight but neither were there any chicken's feet dishes so everything should appeal to us more squeamish diners. It leads off with a huge range of starters and then into a very comprehensive list of seafood, poultry, meat, duck, satay, bird's nest, sweet & sour, sizzling and vegetarian dishes so there should be something there for everyone.

Prices are also higher than you'd pay for a standard centre of town restaurant but again, not off the planet. We're lazy and opted for the set meal for four and were treated to a delicious medley of dishes. The starter was mixed hors d'oeuvres (butterfly king prawn, barbecue spare ribs, deep fried wunton, prawn toast and chicken satay) followed by aromatic crispy duck with the usual accompaniments. The main courses were fillet of beef Cantonese style, steamed king prawns with black bean and garlic, chicken in chilli and salt, sweet & sour chicken and Singapore style noodles and to follow we had a choice of ice creams or sweets and coffee.

We washed it all down with a glass of Tsingtao and a couple of bottles of wine and we were royally stuffed. I have to say I enjoyed the lot and we could hardly finish it all. It was still busy when we left which, for a Tuesday night, is quite good going. They were even giving away Chinese piggy banks and calendars in the run up to the year of the pig so Evelyn will be going back to Gibraltar with some more souvenirs.

Cuisine: Chinese
My Rating: 9/10

Monday, December 11, 2006

Flushed Away

We stayed in town on Friday night, had an Italian and then headed for the movies. Since Happy Feet was out at last, we thought it'd be fun to go and see it but, given that it had just hit the streets here, it was full. That left us with Flushed Away or Pan's Labyrinth and since the latter didn't start till much later, we opted for Flushed Away.

To be honest, I didn't fancy this at all. It just seemed too "English" and all that London oriented patriotism just doesn't hit any fun buttons with me at all and it sounded like it'd be like an animated Hugh Grant movie. Still, Wallace & Gromit are brilliant so it seemed worth a try…
Roddy (Hugh Jackman) is a rat, a pet rat and a pampered one at that, living in a grand house in the plush London Borough of Kensington. All's well until a sewer rat called Sid (Shane Richie) finds his way into the mansion and Roddy finds himself flushed down the toilet and into the underworld of the sewers below called Ratropolis.

Of course, Roddy wants to get back home as soon as he can but, as luck would have it, he falls into bad company right away when he's caught up in the theft of a valuable ruby from The Toad (Ian McKellen), the leader of the Ratropolis crime gang. He also meets Rita (Kate Winslet), an enterprising rat scavenging the sewers in her little boat the Jammy Dodger, and both of them manage to escape The Toad's clutches along with the master cable for the sewage workings.

The Toad needs that cable for his dastardly master plan, which is to open the flood gates during the half-time interval of the world cup final and so drown the entire population of rodents, whom he despises. So the pair soon find themselves hunted by The Toad's buffoonish henchrats Spike (Andy Serkis) and Whitey (Bill Nighy) and, when they fail to capture them or the cable, he sends for his cousin Le Frog (Jean Reno) and his team of ninja frogs.

Well, I was wrong and it was actually quite entertaining once I'd turned off my "hate all English toff gits" mode. Why Hugh Jackman was cast as an English rat goodness only knows but he does carry off the stupid accent quite well and I expect he had a bit of fun doing it too. The characterizations from Andy Serkis, Bill Nighy, Ian McKellen and Jean Reno are all top notch and they really carry the comedy pieces while Jackman and Winslet pretty much stroll through as the hero and heroine of the movie.

The singing slugs are of course the real stars here and if you don't laugh at the antics of the ninja frogs and the one doing a Marcel Marceaux spoof while The Toad is on the phone, then you're from a different planet. There's loads of humour in there for all ages and like its predecessors, The Curse Of The Were Rabbit and Chicken Run, this is full of little homàges and references to other movies and it'll take few viewings to catch all of them.

Aardman have a had a great reputation as claymation artists and I suppose this was the inevitable move to progress to more modern methods. However, while they've moved to 3D digital animation, the movie has retained the look of a claymation production and I'm not sure it works like that. Better if they'd just moved on and embraced the new technology altogether and given us a visual treat like Shrek or Ice Age.

Stiil, it's worth seeing if you like animated comedies and I'm sure most kids will love it.

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

ChoicesUK CDs and Mobile Phones

Online DVD and Video Game store Choices UK are now selling music CDs and mobile phones. They've been a pretty reasonable supplier for some years now and I've bought quite a few DVD box sets off of them in the past as they do some pretty good deals now and then.

I was looking for a few CDs and have to say that I wasn't impressed by their prices but they are offering a 5% discount on your first music order up until the 31/12/2006. Just enter the code ROCKON at the checkout.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Free(View) At Last!

Well, after months of dithering around, we finally went out and bought a Topfield TF5800PVR so we could get Freeview and get rid of our VCR and the pile of VHS tapes cluttering up the living room. I was waiting to to see what Humax would come up with in their new pvr-9200T and to see if Topfield were going to release a network compatible model but they haven't and the Humax doesn't match up so a TF5800PVR it had to be.

Topfield TF5800PVR
The "Toppy" is a brilliant bit of television kit. It comes with two FreeView tuners, which means that you can watch one channel, while recording another. In fact you can watch one and record two others at the same time with it. It's also got a 160Gb hard drive, which translates to about 80 hours of recordings and that's equivalent to about 20 240 minute VHS tapes and that's a lot of tape. There's a 250Gb model available but I really couldn't see us filling it but I suppose if you were a TV series addict, you might. On top of all that, you can enhance the functionality of the box by installing Topfield Application Programs (TAPs).

Now if only FreeView was actually any good :-(

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Koh-i-Noor, North Street, Glasgow

We got lured all the way up to some pokey little pub in the Charing Cross area for someones leaving do on Friday night. However, finding that there were no seats available, we ended up sitting at the bar and having a few drinks or three before saying goodbye and heading off for some food.

The Koh-i-Noor is one of Glasgow's oldest Indian restaurants, having opened back in 1964 in Gibson Street. Nowadays it's a stone's throw from the Mitchell Library and Charing Cross and, as we hadn't been in this one, we thought we'd give it a shot.

Inside is pretty big and there's lots of painted screens, murals, coloured glass and lacquered chairs as well as a central fountain, around which is arrayed the evening's buffet selection. Buffets are great so we opted for that right away. There were loads of starters - about four kinds of pakoras, chicken chaat, chana, aloo, onion rings, popadoms, etc. and you could easily just stuff yourself with that lot alone.

There was also a decent range of main courses, with a good few vegetarian ones too, ranging from mild kormas to fiery curries. Having stuffed myself with lots of starters as indicated earlier, I had some kashmiri lamb and chicken tikka masala with a side of boiled rice and nan bread and then went back and had some lamb korma. The meats were tender and well cooked but the tikka masala sauce was a bit bland for me - maybe that's a side effect of fast food buffet cuisine.

The sweets were good - chocolate cake, strawberry sponge, ice creams, fruit salad and gulab jamin so a little wedge of cake, some ice cream and a couple of gulab jamin suitably drizzled with syrup and cream saw me well full.

The staff were friendly and attentive and, aside from the somewhat bland masala sauce, the food was pretty good on the whole. The only downside to the evening was the arrival of a party of about 40 or 50, some of whom were pretty loud and merry. Thank goodness we got in before them though as the buffet just wouldn't have been an option - it was like a cloud of locusts descending and the waiters could hardly manage to keep the dishes filled before they were empty and the horde were howling for more. There's something to be said for small restaurants!

Cuisine: Indian
My Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

CD-WOW Books!

I've just had an e-mail from CD-WOW! telling me that they're now selling books. Now that's excellent news as they're already a very well respected supplier of CDs, DVDs, Video Games and lots of other stuff.

First impressions of the service aren't great as most of the titles displayed on the main books page are hardbacks and there's no way to browse by genre. Still, it's a new line for them and it's bound to improve.

If they stick to the same formula of stocking mostly best-sellers and new releases as they do with CDs and DVDs, etc., then they're bound to pick up lots of business, especially with free shipping.

Several other entertainment media suppliers such as, DVD.CO.UK and the have gone down this road already and are always worth checking if you're looking for a book. Of course are always worth checking too but bear in mind that they charge carriage on orders under £15.

You might also find online book price comparison sites worth using as well.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Path Clearing In Linn Park

When an e-mail came round the office a few weeks ago asking for volunteers to go and help with some conservation work, both Lorna and I thought it might be something we'd like to do (and it meant a day away from the office).

Anyway, we eventually learned that we'd be going to Linn Park, Glasgow's second largest public park, to help with some of the ongoing conservation work there - clearing paths, planting trees, that kind of stuff. It's miles from our usual haunts and I'd never even heard of it before now. I grew up on the north west side and Lorna's not even from Glasgow.

The White Cart, Linn Park

The weather had been reasonable all week but when we looked out this morning - it was raining! So, all wrapped up in waterproofs and with a flask of hot soup packed, we headed off, hoping that the weather would clear up.

13 of us turned up at the park where the professionals from the ranger service and BTCV soon got us organized into clearing all the undergrowth and overgrowth blocking out the view of the waterfall on the White Cart and overcrowding the path leading down to the viewpoint. We also had to dig a trench down the side of some steps and across the path and then lay some pipe in it to divert rainwater from eroding the path.

We also got some good health and safety advice on handling, carrying and using loppers, bow saws, spades and mattocks. All of these tools are pretty sharp or pointy and I don't imagine they wanted anyone being injured - kind of puts a dampener on the day of that happens.

Come lunchtime, it was still raining heavily so some hot soup and a sarny in what looked like a converted cargo container (but at least it was dry) and we were back out again and managed to get all the tasks done before posing the obligatory group photo and then heading back into the office and a welcome change of clothes.

The End Of A Very Wet Day

All in all and not counting the awful weather, I think we all enjoyed the experience. It certainly makes you appreciate just how much hard work goes into to keeping our parks accessible. Nature never sits still and I don't imagine it'll be that long before the Rhododendrons, Japanese Knotweed and general undergrowth are all clawing their way back again but it was worth the effort to clear it all away for a while.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Shadowmarch - by Tad Williams

Shadowmarch is the first installment in yet another epic fanstasy trilogy from Tad Williams, the man who gave us the excellent Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and Otherland tales.
An ancient war between humanity and the Qul-na-Qar saw the faerie people exiled to the Twilight Lands in the north, separated from the world of men by their protective veil of the Shadowline, a magical barrier through which no man may pass and return sane. Southmarch Castle has been the last bastion of defence for hundreds of years, guarding the lands from those beyond the Shadowline.

But now, with King Olin held hostage in the south, the rule of Southmarch is left in the hands of his children and it isn't long before those envious of the crown seek to take control for themselves. Meanwhile, far to the south in the land of Xand, the Autarch is also looking to extend his empire and his eye also falls on the lands of the North.

While the prospect of peace looks bleak for the people of the North, things take a turn for the worse. The Qul-na-Qar, the Twilight People, have chosen this time to begin a campaign of revenge against those who wronged them so long ago. . .and the Shadowline has begun creeping South.

Initially conceived as an idea for a fantasy movie and then a TV series but when both of these fell through, Shadowmarch was launched as an online series way back in 2001. But poor subscription take up meant it didn't get past its first year and the project moved into print with this as the first volume.

Williams has another huge hit on his hands with this one. It's a great mix of political manoeuverings of the noble families, the dark plans of a despotic emperor in the South and the mystical faerie peoples as they begin to wage their final war on mankind. There are basically three threads to this volume and, while they don't all come together here, they certainly develop well and are definitely heading in the right direction but with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing what's going to happen next or what the characters are planning.

Shadowmarch contains a rich world of diverse races with their differing cultures, histories and mythologies and Williams has begun weaving them all together into what should turn out to be a classic series.

Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, War
ISBN: 1-84149-443-7
My Rating: 9/10

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Callander Crags and Bracklinn Falls

Another decent Sunday and walk was on the cards again. This time we thought we'd head up to the Trossachs and walk up into the hills above the Pass of Leny. However, we drove up to Callander and then headed up the A84 as there's a car park just opposite the route down to the Falls of Leny. Well, there was a car park but by the time we reached Loch Lubnaig, we realised that we must've somehow passed it. Backtracking, we eventually found it but discovered that it had been closed off. No explanation, just no access.

Loch LubnaigLoch Lubnaig

Still, we were up here so we headed back into Callander with the intention of climbing over the crags behind the town. We've done it before and it's a fairly strenuous climb but the views are pretty good.

Callander Crags

We parked in the main car park in Callander and, after getting lured into a local farmer's market with thoughts of cheese and fudge, we headed off. Walking to the very rear of the car park, the route to the crags lies just a little along the road to the left. It's not very well signed but a wee lane leads up to back of the houses and at the end you'll see a sign for the Crags as it meets a path running east to west.

Callander CraigOn Callander Craig

You can take either route but the usual way, and I think the driest, is to head west and just plod on up almost 900 feet to the top where there's an enormous cairn. The views from up there are pretty good. There's the obvious, almost aerial view of Callander town itself and to the west, there's Loch Venachar with Ben Lomond beyond. To the east there's the Braes of Doune with its wind farm and to the south lies Flanders Moss and the long road heading towards Aberfoyle.

Continue along the path on the top of the crags to the northeast and you'll start to head down again and eventually you'll reach a small road, which would eventually take you all the way down into Callander again. However, after about half a mile, you'll come to a car park and a path leading off east, signed for Bracklinn Falls…

Bracklinn Falls

Bracklinn FallsIf the weather's nice, then this is a pleasant detour to see the falls on the way down. The path is fairly level for about half a mile and then drops down some steps towards Brackland Glen and the Keltie Water on which lie the falls.

The water here rushes down over the falls and through a very picturesque gorge and the drop in height from top to bottom is quite impressive. There was once a bridge over the gorge, the Bridge of Brackland, and it was there when we were last here but some ferocious storm in 2004 swept it away. It's a pity as the walk up the other side of the Keltie Water is nice too.

When we were just about to leave, a couple of guys appeared with canoes and began checking the gorge out for a possible run down it. Having just clambered around quite a bit trying to get some photographs of the falls, I wasn't convinced there was enough water on the upper falls so we hung about to see if they'd have a go (bloodthirsty we are). They were of the same mind but thought they'd get a run down from a little lower down but we gave up waiting and headed back along the path.

Back on the road, you could continue all the way down into Callander but there's a route back through the woods that will get you back to the start just behind the car park and that's a much more pleasant walk then on any road. Mind you, we got a little lost at one point but soon found our way again and then it was home for that cheese and what was left of the fudge.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Open Season

I'd quite fancied seeing this ever since I watched the trailer some months ago. Those rabbits juts looked so funny. Any, here's the gist of the plot…
When Boog (Martin Lawrence), a 900lb Grizzly bear working in a ranger sideshow, saves a mule deer called Elliot (Ashton Kutcher) from the gun-happy, thoroughly nasty hunter Shaw (Gary Sinise), he becomes the target for both Shaw and Elliot, who wants him to be free.

However, Boog likes his domesticated life and wants nothing to do with Elliot but events and Elliot conspire against him and the pair soon find themselves released into the wild only a few days before the start of open season.

The hapless pair soon become lost and the brunt of ridicule from the native wildlife, mainly in the form of McSquizzy (Billy Connolly) and his cone chucking squirrel clan. Things are made worse when Boog, still trying to get home to the comfort of his garage den, wrecks the beaver dam and dumps the lot of them right in the middle of the hunting ground. So Boog and Elliot have to team up to survive and, with the help of the locals, make their way back to the high ground and safety.

I quite liked this although it got off to a slow start and I wasn't convinced about Martin Lawrence as a North American Grizzly. His voice was just a little too much Boyz'n'the'Hood for me.

That aside, the movie works quite well and it should a hit with the kids. There's plenty of humour and laughs for both kid and adults and what they do with those rabbits is hilarious. On top of that you've got mad Scottish squirrels, a couple of bitchin' skunks, a troop of disgruntled beavers, a herd of macho deer and a very strange porcupine.

Then there's the hunters and a sorry lot they are once they get involved with Boog, Elliot and the troops. It all makes for a pretty fun and enjoyable movie with plenty of laughs. One of the guys at work took his kid to see it in IMAX 3D and he really liked it. The CG animation is stylised to be more cartoon-like and isn't trying for the kind of near-realistic fur and feather like effects found in other animated movies but it works very well. Ashton Kutcher is extremely funny as the fast-talking Elliot and Connolly is...well, Connolly and very funny he is too f you like the idea of a Glaswegian squirrel.

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ashoka Shak, Phoenix Leisure Park, Linwood

We nipped into the Ashoka Shak in the Phoenix Leisure Park before going in to see Open Season at the movies. We've been a few times before and the food's always been good, even if the presentation and ambience were a little on the "fast-food" side. I mean they used to serve the pakora dips in sauce bottles!

However, it's been recently revamped with a new indotapas theme and the decor is decidely on the contemporary side. The food's still as good but portions were a bit on the small side and prices a bit higher than we'd normally pay for a quick pre-cinema meal. And that decor, it doesn't really sit well with an Indian restaurant theme - too bright and sparse.

The Ashoka on Argyll Street, from which this offshoot derives its name, has been one of the most popular Indian restaurants in Glasgow's west-end since 1982 and I've had many a good curry in there in my youth. However, I think it's lost a lot of its original appeal since it became part of the Harlequin Group and expanded the name into a chain.

Cuisine: Indian
My Rating: 7/10

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Loch Thom And Shielhill Glen

We got up late on Sunday and, since the weather was pretty reasonable, headed off for a small walk. After our visit to Muirshiel Country Park last month we thought we'd venture further into Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park and have a wander around the Cornalees Centre just south of Greenock to see what was there. The Centre is a good starting point with a decent sized car park and a small café for that hot cup of tea.

Loch Thom

This area is littered with lochs and reservoirs and the main attraction for walkers has to be the Greenock Cut walk, which is a roughly seven-mile, circular walk following a good length of the old Greenock Cut aqueduct that used to used to supply water from Loch Thom to Greenock. The aqueduct, built around 1825, was designated an Ancient Monument in 1972 but sadly, little seems to have been done to maintain or restore it and it looks more like an old ditch now. That's a real pity as the scenery and views around the area are pretty good and well worth taking in.

Loch ThomLoch Thom

However, seven miles was a bit more than we fancied walking so we wandered up past the Compensation Reservoir to Loch Thom cottage and then walked along the rim of the loch for a ways and returned back down to the Centre. There were quite a few anglers out on the little Compensation Reservoir but we didn't see anyone catch anything.

Shielhill Glen

Then we walked out along the Kelly Cut and down Shielhill Glen. The Kelly Cut is another 19th century aqueduct but this time one supplying water into Loch Thom. Shielhill Glen is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest as it's the best example of mixed deciduous woodland in Inverclyde, with Oak, Ash and Wych Elm dominant in the lower section grading into Silver Birch and Rowan in the upper section. This walk is circular again and less than two miles long but there's a fair drop and rise in altitude involved.

Afternoon On The Kelly CutAfternoon On The Kelly Cut

The path follows the Kelly Cut out over the moorland for quite a way until you come across a wooden boardwalk leading steeply down into the glen and towards the Kip Water. However, we kept on going along the cut for a while as we were a bit nosy and wanted to see where it came from. There are some very good views out over the Firth of Clyde from here and after wandering for a while and not really seeing where it was leading, we gave up and returned to the designated route.

The boardwalk drops down into the glen very steeply and there only really room for one person a time on it so passing others as they come the other way is interesting, especially as no-one wants to step off into the boggy ground surrounding it. We passed a few groups along the way but the maddest had to be the ones with buggies and toddlers, as they had to negotiate the path steps up a fairly long way.

Once down by the stream, the path returns up to Cornalees Bridge between the Kip Water and Greenock cut and it's quite a pleasant stroll up along the riverbank. That was enough for the day though and we headed home after a hot cup of tea and a bun at the café.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Departed

We went to see The Departed, Martin Scorsese's latest movie, last weekend and, even though I'm not a great fan of gangster movies, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

In essence it's a remake of the hit Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs for the Western audience and the scriptwriters and Scorsese have given it a truly gritty and explosive storyline. As you'd expect for a Scorsese movie, it sports a serious big-name cast with the leads being played by Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson with solid support from Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Winstone and Alec Baldwin. Here's a summary of the plot…
Set in the South Boston territory of Irish-American gang boss Frank Costello (Nicholson), this is story of two young men and their conflicting roles in the ongoing war between the gangs and the Massachusetts State Police. Both have grown up on the hard streets of Boston and now, graduates of the Police Training Academy, they join the force with very different goals in life.

Sullivan Graduating
While Colin Sullivan (Damon) has grown up as a favoured confident of Costello and has been groomed to become one of his inside men on the force, Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) has had a rougher ride, being the son of a man who deliberately walked a straighter, if much poorer line through life. When they join up, Sullivan fits easily into a role within the Special Investigations Unit and is ideally placed to help further the aims of crime boss Costello while Costigan is immediately recruited by Sheen and Wahlberg as a member of their undercover team. His mission is to infiltrate and become a trusted member of Costello's gang in order to provide information and evidence in the ongoing investigation.

While Costello has engineered the theft of some serious military microprocessors and intends to sell them to the Chinese, it becomes obvious to both Sullivan and Costigan that there's a rat in each other's respective camp. What follows is a violent and bloody race to discover the rats' identities before the goods can be exchanged but who will triumph first? If Costigan wins, the Police stand a chance of arresting Costello and his mob red-handed but if Sullivan wins…

Costello and Costigan
This is probably the best gangster movie to come of Hollywood for years! It's way up there with the likes of Goodfellas and The Godfather. Scorsese's direction is superb and there's hardly a minute to hang to your seat while the action and tension drives through a high speed. The casting and acting are also of an extraordinarily high quality and, while the gold star has to go to DiCaprio for his best performance to date, both Damon and Nicholson deliver performances of equally high merit. And, even though their roles are smaller, Sheen, Wahlberg, Winstone and Baldwin are powerful presences when on screen.

As you'd expect of a Scorsese gangster movie, this is a very violent, profane and gory film but it's done with such gritty realism and conviction that it's all used to great effect in portraying the characters as they were meant to be. Only a few minutes into the movie and we're left in no doubt that Costello and his sidekick Mr. French (Winstone) are a pair of ice-cold killers.

I've been known to doze off in a darkened and warm cinema after a decent meal but my attention was riveted to the screen all the way through with this one. The Departed is destined to become a classic of the American cinema so go see it now while it's on the big screen.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
My Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dino's, 39-41 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

We went to the movies the other night and, fancying a pizza beforehand, opted for Dino's on Sauchiehall Street. It's one of those places that been there for years and years and we've been in a few times before but it gets bypassed a bit these days simply because of that search for something new.

Anyway, it was pretty busy but the head waiter let us have a table on the understanding that we'd be done before eight as he was trying to get ready for some bookings. Since we were going to the movies and didn't want a full multi-course meal, that wasn't going to be a problem. A few other couples were in the same boat but we all got seated.

Service was fast and I mean fast. The guy wasn't kidding when he said he needed the tables later and he was going to make sure his staff didn't keep us there any longer than necessary but I wouldn't say we were rushed at all though.

Since all we wanted were a couple of pizzas and beers, I can hardly comment on the more traditional Italian fare but we've been before and it was always pretty good and the pizzas were tasty too.

Cuisine: Italian
My Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Magician's Guild - by Trudi Canavan

The first installement in The Black Magician trilogy, this is Trudi Canavan's first novel. Here's a short synopsis…
Each year, just before Winter sets in, Imardin's king orders the magician's guild to purge the city streets of vagrants and other undesirables. The magicians gather behind an impenetrable shield and herd the unfortunate poor towards the city gates and expel them.

This year however, they are in for a shock. A young girl, furious with rage at the magicians for their treatment of her friends and family, hurls a stone at the magic shield and, to everyone's amazement, it passes through and strikes a magician down.

The purge is abandoned as the guild focus all their attempts at capturing the girl as an untrained magician poses an enormous threat to the city. Without the proper training, her powers will soon escalate beyond her control and unleash forces that could easily destroy the entire city.

The theory on magicians here is that, while magical powers can develop naturally, it's very unusual and they normally need to be "turned" on by another magician. Obviously this means that the guild only really ever looks for budding magical talent among the ruling class families and the poorer inhabitants and never given the chance to join.

Untrained magicians cannot control the powers they have within them and, if allowed to build up, these forces could easily destroy huge areas of the city. So, the main plot of the The Magician's Guild is for the magicians to find the girl and train her to control her powers before the inevitable catastrophe occurs. Trouble is, she hates magicians and all they stand for and will do anything to avoid being found.

As a first novel it's not bad and, while it's enjoyable enough, that fact shows throughout the story. The story lacks any real depth, character development is minimal, the plot is extremely predictable and the dialogue very stilted. I get the impression that Ms. Canavan has done a bit of Dungeons and Dragons playing as it comes close to such an adventure - all surface, single-layer action and no deep storyline. There is a little hint of a darker story in there but we don't get to see much of it here - perhaps the second novel will be a bit more gripping.

Don't let all that put you off though as younger readers will probably find it quite satisfying. If all you fancy is something simple for a change instead of the normally over 800 page jobs with more sub-plots going than you can cope with, it'll do the job nicely.

ISBN: 1-84149-313-9
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
My Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


We're not long back from a couple of weeks on the Greek island of Rhodes, the largest of the Dodecanese Islands, off the south west coast of Turkey.

We'd been to Rhodes before, over 10 years ago, and enjoyed it - the weather is usually warm and the nightlife is pretty good. This time, we went in the last week of September that, according to the holiday rep, is prone to some rain and thunderstorms on almost the same few days every year. Sure enough, we had a couple of storms on the first few days but it soon cleared and the weather was pretty warm for most of the rest of the fortnight.

Officially the sunniest place in Europe, it was said to have been born of the union of Helios the sun god and the nymph Rhode. It's a place full of history with plenty of places to see or you could just lie in that warm sun.

Mandraki HarbourMandraki Harbour and the Palace Of The Grand Masters


We stayed in Ixia, which lies on the northwest coast just a few kilometres from Rhodes Town, in the Solemar Apartments. I can't really fault the place at all as it was pretty much what we expected.

We had a one-room apartment, which had a little kitchen alcove by the door but that had everything we needed - sink, kettle, fridge, two-ring cooker, coffee maker and a microwave along with all the usual pots, dishes and cutlery. The room had twin beds and a telly and it was cleaned and changed every day so, given that we didn't plan on spending a lot of time indoors, it was fine. The TV was pretty basic; with BBC World being the only English channel among about 12 of various languages so don't count on keeping up with any UK soaps.

The bathroom was of the standard Greek "wet room" type where the hand-held shower can get a bit manic and always soaks the place, regardless of the meagre shower curtain. Doesn't matter though as there's a drain in the middle of the floor and it soon dries up.

Air conditioning is available for an added charge but it always gives me a cold so we passed and just left the balcony door open at night, which kept the place cool enough. The only downside to that was the noise. Not from the road as I've mentioned in a couple of reviews of the place, that wasn't actually that bad as the hotel is one street back from the main road, but some eejit across the road had two cockerels. Once one started crowing, the other piped in and they tried to out crow each other until they got hoarse and they did this several times a day, usually starting at about five in the morning.


Ixia basically exists to accommodate the tourist overspill from Rhodes Town as it consists of a strip of some of the largest hotels on the island. That said it's very handy for popping in and out of Rhodes Town for shopping, sightseeing or nightlife as it only a short bus or taxi ride.

Other than hotels and apartments, there's a decent array of restaurants and bars to keep you fed and watered. For food, the Alexandros, Coconut, Dimitrios and Jason II are all good but the best place we found was the Napoli Pizzeria, which was just opposite where the road splits to go down to Ialyssos beach. One we missed, which got good reviews, was Le Gourmet but it's quite a ways off the main road and one we avoided like the plague was the Poseidonias, as it seemed to encourage the diners to have a dance but if that's your thing…

All of the bars were much the same with numerous large screens showing a range of football or rugby matches from some the most obscure and piddling leagues around the world and you're really unlucky, the British TV soaps. I can't understand why anyone watches that rubbish at all. There were a few good international football matches on but most of the rest was pretty dire stuff.

The beach in Ixia and in fact on most of the northwest coast of the island consists of pebbles. No sand just pebbles so if you like a sandy beach then this isn't the place for you. It's also much windier than the other side of the island and the Aegean Sea here is about 4°C colder than the Mediterranean on the other side too. But if you're into water sports like windsurfing or sailing, then this is an ideal place.

Rhodes Town

Rhodes Town is the capital of the island and well worth a visit. This where the Colossus of Rhodes, a giant statue of the god Helios and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, once stood. It consists of a modern city, a medieval old town built by the Hospitallar Knights of St. John during the Crusades and an ancient Hellenic Acropolis above them both.

The modern city is good for nightlife and shopping and Mandraki Harbour is worth a visit as it's always bustling with people and boats. There also seemed to be a different cluster of giant cruise ships berthed there every day, offloading their hordes of day-tripping passengers. We got the bus in quite a lot and, just where you get off at the end of the run, there's a busy market with a row of cafés at the front, looking out over the harbour. It's amusing trying to get past the waiters who are pretty serious about trying to get you sit at their little bit of territory but it's also a nice place to sit and have a coffee or a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and one of those enormous cakes on display. It's not cheap though but worth the occasional indulgence.

Rhodes Old TownThe Old Town, Rhodes

The jewel of the place has to be the medieval town. Surrounded by 4km of massive Byzantine walls, it contains a mix of ancient Greek archaeological sites, museums, churches, Turkish mosques, shops, restaurants and cafés and above all of these is the magnificent Palace Of The Grand Masters.

Over several visits, we had a walk around part of one the moats, visited most of the museums and the palace, wandered through the maze of little streets looking for some of the older sites and spent a fair bit in the shops for souvenirs. Beware the restaurants and cafés around the main squares though as you pay through the nose for the privilege of sitting there.

Getting Around

We hired a car for a couple of days to see some more of island and, if you cope with roads full of maniac drivers hell bent on running you off the road, it's worth the trouble. Speed limits seem to be optional and if you try to stick close to them you'll soon have a taxi at your back literally trying to edge you off the road. Driving on Rhodes is not for those of a nervous disposition. We got a taxi back from town one night and he drove at 100kph along a stretch of road that was supposed to be 50kph and he was laughing as he edged other cars out of the way and then he ended by driving the wrong way up a one-way street to our hotel. God help anyone mad enough to hire a scooter, they treat those like targets just to see how many they can scare.

That aside, it's worth getting out and about to see the rest of the island. Here's where we got to…

The Valley Of The Butterflies (Petaloudes)

This is a narrow, heavily wooded gorge of pine and storax trees where huge swarms of Tiger Moths gather each year between June and September to breed. Yes, these are actually moths and not butterflies but just try selling a day trip to the Valley of the Moths.

We got there just too late in the season and all of the moths had had their fun and then dropped dead so if you want to be swarmed by hordes of flapping moths, then get there before late September. We saw a couple but they were pretty done and only saw one flying. The moths feed on the tree resin, which is also used locally to make frankincense.

Valley of the ButterfliesValley Of The Butterflies

That aside, the walk up the narrow gorge path beside the tumbling stream is quite pleasant and when you get to top you can visit Kalopetra Monastery where a little wrinkled old lady will sell you a glass of freshly squeezed orange or a bowl of yoghourt with honey and almonds. There are some great views down to the coast from up there too. You can go into the monastery and see the gold and silver treasure in there but be aware that you're expected to cover any bare arms and shoulders before entering and there are garments by the door for just that purpose.


Further down the north west coast is the ancient Dorian city of Kameiros, discovered in 1928 and, along with Lindos and Ialysos, was one of the three main city-states on the island.

KameirosThe Ancient City Of Kameiros

It's been destroyed twice by earthquakes over the centuries but there's still quite a lot to see like the Acropolis, the Temple of Athena and the fountain square. They've even done some restoration work on some of the more important buildings.


We kept going south until we reached the impressive castle of Monolithos, a Venetian castle perched atop a massive jagged rock by the edge of the sea. There a little café there and there are also some stalls selling honey and suma, a fairly strong local spirit.

MonolithosMonolithos, Rhodes

You can climb up onto the top of the rock and the castle for some excellent views out over the sea and smaller islands. There's a small white church dedicated to St. Panteleimon on top now and it looks a bit out of place among the ruins of the castle.

I should say at this point that we'd intended on going down to Glyfada Beach before reaching Monolithos but the map was definitely wrong and we missed the road down. On top of that, there were some serious road works just beyond Sianna and by the time we'd gotten past them, we were at Monolithos.

We carried on along the road past Monolithos for a few kilometres, where we found the little pebbly Fourni Beach and we settled down among the pebbles to watch the sun going down before heading back to Ixia.

Seven Springs (Epta Piges)

Seven SpringsOver on the east coast is a little valley of plane and pine trees where seven springs burst out of the ground. We could only see about three springs but they've got them numbered and signposted for your enjoyment. There's also a café to help relieve you of any heavy money you might have in your pockets. It only seemed to sell beer or chilled coffee though so if you fancied having lunch there, take your own.

It's a nice place to visit in the heat of the day as you can walk up the valley for quite a distance in the shadow of the trees until you get to an olive grove at the top.

Massari and Haraki Beach

We drove south to Massari, which has an enormous, if somewhat shingly beach and we had a nice lunch in a small restaurant by the sea. The beach there seemed to go on forever and it was completely deserted.

From there we walked along the road to Haraki, which is a bit more tourist oriented. It has a nice little shingle bay surrounded by bars and cafés. There were some little fishing boats pulled up on the shore and quite a few people sunbathing but not too many so it looked fine for a quiet kind a seaside break. There were no large hotels here so I imagine it's mostly rented rooms and apartments.

Feraklos CastleFeraklos Castle, Rhodes

The village is overlooked by the impressive ruins of Feraklos Castle, another Knights of St. John fort and the last one on the island to fall to the Ottoman Empire.

Tsambika Beach

Driving back north again, we stopped in at Tsambika Beach for a swim and a laze in the sun. Tsambika is a long, golden sandy beach - real sand at last and no pebbles. It can get quite busy but the water is clear and shallow so it's ideal for families. There are loads of small fish in the water too just swimming around you as you wade or swim in the crystal clear water.

Tsambika BeachTsambika Beach, Rhodes

There's not much else here though - a W.C., a mini-market and a few catering shacks along the beach so don't expect a restaurant lunch.


We took a coach trip to Lindos for the day. It saved the driving and didn't cost much more than a day's car hire. Well it didn't as we booked the trip in a local travel agents in Ixia as they're always much cheaper than doing it through the holiday rep. Same with the car hire, get it yourself and save a lot of money.

Lindos is another of the ancient cities of Rhodes and the main attraction is the Acropolis, high above the little village of white sugar-cube houses. We came here last time we were in Rhodes but we came on a boat trip then, which was really tedious as it takes ages to cruise down all the way from Rhodes Town and then back again.

LindosLindos from St. Paul's Bay

There are 300 steps up from the village square to the Acropolis so take care if you're not as fit as you should be. Take plenty of water with you too; it's hot climb up and if you're getting there by boat then you can double that climb, as you need to get there from the beach. It's worth it though as the views from the top are very good.

The sandy beach in Lindos is horrendous. It's overcrowded and far too narrow to accommodate the huge number of sun beds crammed onto it. If you want some space, then go for a paddle or a swim - the water's shallow and clear and there's plenty of fish again.

Well, that was it - a couple of weeks holiday on Rhodes. The whole set of pictures can be seen here.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Woken Furies - by Richard Morgan

Woken Furies is Richard Morgan's third novel featuring anti-hero Takeshi Kovacs. In essence it's a sequel to Altered Carbon and Broken Angels but it also casts some light on Kovacs' earlier life, before he became an Envoy.

To give you a bit of the background, Takeshi Kovacs is an ex-Envoy, a retired super-commando and now pretty much a mercenary/hard-ass for hire. He's a ruthless, no-nonsense killing machine with very few morals and not much in the way of a concience but there's a spark of goodness in him, just a spark. Of course, we're in the far distant future. Mankind has spread out to the stars and discovered that many worlds, including Mars, had been occupied by a long extinct race of flying aliens who've left a legacy of mysterious technology and some amazing architecture. Everyone gets fitted with a cortical stack at birth and this is able to store or backup their personality, which can then be transferred to synthetic or clone bodies or transmitted over vast distances to other worlds. To all intents and purposes, immortality is possible . . . if you have enough money. Here's a brief rundown of the plot…

Takeshi Kovacs is back home on Harlan's World, an ocean rich planet where boating, surfing and diving are a part of everyday life. It's just as well as not much takes to the air on Harlan's World and survives very long. The planet is surrounded by a network of orbital platforms, leftover by the Martians, that are programmed to destroy anything of a sufficiently advanced technology flying above a certain altitude. It makes it difficult to get around by anything other than sea travel and it makes physical, off-world travel impossible.

Kovacs is on the run from a group of religious fanatics and also from the planet's high ranking Yakuza criminal elements. He killed a lot of them while saving a woman in a bar and now there's a hefty contract on his head. The woman, Sylvie Oshima, offers him refuge among her troop of mercenaries as they operate out in the unoccupied zone, decommisioning sentient military hardware and no-one goes out there unless they have to.

But Kovacs isn't in for an easy time. The Yakuza have hired the one person he'd never have guessed they'd use to go after him - a younger, fitter version of himself. But they're not really after him at all, the ruling families of Harlan's World have a much older score to settle and he'd just be the icing on the cake.

Another good Takeshi Kovacs story that doesn't let up in the action stakes and with more than one twist in the tail to keep you wondering where it'll go next. If you like fast-paced action stories with a good mix of graphic violence and descriptive sex, then you won't be unhappy with this one. The science-fiction elements are very well thought out - the Envoy conditioning, the cortical stack/sleeve culture and the "Martian" artefacts make it so much better than the average spy/combat novel.

While it follows on chronologically from Broken Angels, Woken Furies could be read on it's own and, while there are quite a few references to Kovacs' earlier adventures, the story doesn't rely on them. I'd definitely recommend reading both earler novels though as they're both pretty good reads. Avoid his other novel, Market Forces, like the plague though.

Genre: Science-Fiction, War
ISBN: 0-575-07652-6
My Rating: 8/10

Friday, September 22, 2006

Sunset Over Loch Bracadale

Got another photograph into the Flickr Scotland Photoblog

Sunset Over Loch Bracadale
Sunset Over Loch Bracadale

It was taken on Skye from our holiday cottage in Fiskavaig, after a day out walking in The Cuillin, relaxing with a beer and watching the sun going down over Loch Bracadale and MacLeod's Tables.

To think I almost deleted it, as I didn't think it very good, but Lorna made me keep it 'cause she liked it.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Muirshiel Country Park

Another rainy Sunday and with the Australian Moto GP finished on TV, we had to get out for some fresh air, rain or no. Anyway, for a change we headed southwest towards Lochwinnoch and Muirshiel Country Park, which is part of the larger Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park that ranges from Greenock in the north down the Clyde coast and inland to Lochwinnoch.

It's less than 20 miles from our door so it's ideal for a few hours away from the city. Getting to Lochwinnoch is easy - straight west along the M8 and take A737 just past the airport and the turn off is well signed. From Lochwinnoch it's a bit more difficult - the signage isn't great and once you find the right road, it's three miles along a single-track road that doesn't have a lot of passing places.

There's plenty of parking and we parked right in the visitor centre as it was pretty empty what with the rain but I imagine it's much busier on a good day. Apparently the main visitor centre is built on the site of a Victorian shooting lodge, once the home and estate of one of Glasgow's nouveau riche in the mid-nineteenth century. But now entry is free to the public so we picked up some guide maps from the centre and headed for the first walk.

Muirshiel Waterfall

This is only a short walk along a dead-end path from the centre but it's a wee bit of a letdown. It's quite a nice stroll along the riverside path and it looks like it'd be a nice looking waterfall but you simply can't see it from the path. The only viewpoint you get is from the top of the falls and, while the view down the River Calder and the surrounding countryside is nice, you just can't see the falls. You'd have to cross the river and walk round the to lower side to get the kind of view we were hoping for but you're actively discouraged from doing that. Fair enough, there's no bridge or ford and you could fall in but the addition of a little footbridge and fenced walkway would certainly make it a better attraction.

Windy Hill

This looked the best walk of the lot - a kilometre long stroll through a conifer plantation and out onto the hillside to Windy Hill, an old volcanic plug with some good views over the surrounding landscape.

The lower part of the walk is up through some replanted native woodland so it'll be quite nice there in a few years. The conifer plantation is another story altogether - dark and densely packed, you can't see very much at all as you pick your way along, trying to keep your eye on the track. There were loads of fungi out, ranging from loads of little white toadstools up to the huge mushroom-capped giants. We also came across a reconstruction of a Hut Circle, dwellings used in the Stone Age (3,000BC).

Once out of the woods, it's a plain walk to the summit (316m) of Windy Hill. Most of this track is on a double path of old railway sleepers, which help keep your feet dry, as it's a pretty soggy looking area. The view from the top is quite good and you can see across the rocky top of nearby Craig Minnan to Kilmacolm and Bridge of Weir with Glasgow beyond. I'm told you can see Ben Lomond from here as well but the low rolling clouds kept that mysteriously hidden today.

We had a bit of detour through the woods on the way back and got slightly lost in the dark forest tracks (or lack of them) but not for long and then it was time to head home.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Walk Up Kirkton Glen

With the weather forecast looking like we were going to get a decent weekend at last, Lorna fancied going for a walk in the hills. Sounded good to me and it'd give me a chance to break in my new, light hiking shoes and try out my new camera. Mind you, I'd worn the shoes all day Saturday just to get a feel of them and they were pretty comfortable.

So, after poring through the walk books and maps, we decided to head for Balquhidder and walk up to the top of Kirkton Glen. Rob Roy Macgregor, one of our more famous or infamous Scots, lies buried in the kirkyard there and it's a place I've never visited before so we'd get to take in a bit of our heritage as well.

Kirkton Glen runs north(ish) from Balquhidder, probably somewhere between two and a half and three miles up to the top so bank on at least a five mile hike. The walk starts from the back of the church and there's plenty of parking there but it's a busy place with visitors to the graveyard so don't be surprised to see quite a few cars there. The O.S. map of the glen makes it look like it's all pretty much forested but most of it has been cleared of trees. That's good news if you don't like hiking uphill through a warm and humid forest and the warmth brought out some late butterflies so I was happy enough chasing these around and trying out my new camera.

Green-veined White butterflyGreen-veined White butterfly

It's a pretty straightforward walk, if a bit strenuous as you climb just over 1,500 feet doing it. You follow the path north on the right side of the burn for about an hour until you get to a fork in the road. The left fork goes down towards the forest and, if you go that way, it crosses the burn and curves back round and back down to Baquhidder along the edge of the forest. Continue on instead and you'll soon come to a bench at a curve on the path and just across from it is a small footpath heading off north into the hills and signed for Glen Dochart and you can clearly see the rising summit of Leum an Eireannaich ahead. The main path continues curving round and turns south towards Balquhidder again so you want to take the Glen Dochart path. We had lunch, sitting on the bench so it's a nice place to stop and rest for a while.

All you have to do then is follow the Glen Dochart track up overt he hill until you reach Lochan an Eireannaich, which is another nice place to sit and relax against the backdrop of the cliffs of Leum an Eireannaich. On the way up you'll pass a huge boulder, noted on the map as Rob Roy's Putting Stone. It's obviously split away from the cliffs and has slid down a fair way before coming to rest. The lochan looks nice enough for a swim but it's probably freezing. Might be good for fishing as there was a good splash from a reasonably sized trout at one point. We had a wander round the loch and it was well populated with tapdoles and we also saw a few tiny froglets near the water's edge.

Leum an EireannaichLeum an Eireannaich

If you walk on past the lochan and through the beallach onto the hill beyond there are some good views to be had of Ben More and Stob Binnean to the west and the Mamlorn Hills to the north. You could keep on going, following the path down into Glen Dochart, if you had the means of getting back to Balquhidder but the normal return route is back the way you came until you hit the place where the main path curves and you can take any of the three routes down.

As for the new shoes...they did the job as well as I'd expected. Great for light hikes on decent paths or tracks but not quite enough ankle protection for serious climbing. The Sony DSC H2 camera also performed very well, once I'd figured out where some of the functions were.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Another Online Bargain

I've fancied a pair of light walking boots/trainers for a while and have never seen anything I liked enough before now. I'd also wanted something I could abroad on holiday and do some light walking in. I usually just plod around in trainers but we end up doing miles and my feet are killing me by the time we're done.

Anyway, we were trolling around the outdoors shops in town last weekend and looking for walking sandals for Lorna and I saw these…

Merrell Chameleon II GORE-TEX XCRMerrell Chameleon II GORE-TEX XCR

So I tried them on and they're really light with a good Vibram sole for walking in. They're also lined in Gore-Tex® XCR® so they're breathable and weatherproof - ideal for light day hiking in any conditions. This is getting to sound like an advert but I baulked a bit when I saw the price - £85. That's more than I've ever paid for any kind of footwear other than my climbing boots so I thanked the salesman and headed home to hunt for them on the net.

Suprisingly, most online stores were selling them at £85 as well so I thought that a bargain wasn't going to be found but after a bit of a surf around I managed to find a store with a sale on so and I got them for about £71 with the P&P and that's nearly 16½% off. Not a great bargain by any means but better than a poke in the eye with a pointy stick!

I just need to break them in now…

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Cars is Walt Disney and Pixar's latest animated tale. It's set in a world where there are no people but where the machines like cars and planes are all alive. It's all about a cocky stock car called Lightning McQueen and his coming to realize what's really important in life. Here's a brief summary of the plot…

Up and coming rookie of the year Lightning McQueen has his sights set on winning the Piston Cup and a lucrative sponsorship deal with Dinoco. However, the final ends in a three way tie with his two main rivals, Chick "Hicks" Murphy and Strip "The King" Weathers and so a tie-breaker race is scheduled.

However, on the way to the race track, a series of mishaps befalls him. First his crew walk out on him after his usual arrogant behaviour and then, when asleep in his transporter, it's nudged off the road and he ends up stranded on a back road in the desert. While trying to find his way back to the Interstate, he goes out of control and crashes through the small town of Radiator Springs, doing a great deal of damage on the way. Of course the local judge doesn't take too kindly to this and he ends up being sentenced to community service and has to repair all the damage he's done before they'll let him continue on his way to the big race.

Though he really wants to avoid the work and escape from the hick town and it's motley inhabitants, he eventually learns that there are more important things in both life and racing than winning trophies.

Based on the American NASCAR racing theme, Pixar have again come up with an amazingly well animated feature. The graphics and art work are top notch and the sound is amazing - think Days Of Thunder and you're right in there, amidst the deafening roar of dozens of high powered muscle cars whizzing around the track.

The voice talent is as good as ever with Owen Wilson as Lightning McQueen and Paul Newman as Doc Hudson being the two main characters but with excellent support from Larry The Cable guy as Mater, Bonnie Hunt as Sallie, Michael Keaton as Chick Hicks and the Disney/Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger voicing four different characters. There are even cameos from real NASCAR stars Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip and Bob Costas as well as some other notables like Jay Leno, Michael Schumacher and Mario Andretti. Oh, and Jeremy Clarkson gets his oar in on the British version as McQueen's agent, Harv.

The storyline is very similar to Doc Hollywood in that an up and coming wannabe gets stuck in a small town and learns to appreciate the slower things in life, to value friendship and even finds love. It works very well in that the characters are all pretty well developed and the attention to detail is as good as ever. I really liked this movie and would love to see it again but I'm not sure some of the messages in there would be picked up by children but there's enough humour in there to keep them amused. Stay right to the end of the credits as they're pretty funny in themselves.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family, Sport
My Rating 8/10