Sunday, February 26, 2006

Queen Elizabeth Forest Park

The weather looked nice this morning, cold but bright and sunny, so we packed up and set off for David Marshall Lodge in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park near Aberfoyle for some light walking.

We started off thinking we'd follow the red trail, which is the longest if you tie it in with the blue one and trek up to where the radio mast used to be sited. Anyway, the signage was a bit off and we ended trekking up onto the old slate quarry wagonway. We've been up here a few times and it's a slog of a climb but worth it for the views and the easy walk around the contour of the hill as far as the old slate quarry.

Unfortunately, it looked like something out of a war zone. The forestry work has pretty much devasted the hillside and it's no longer a pretty site although the views are still good. You can see Dumgoyne to the south and Ben Ledi to the north as well as the imposing bulk of Ben Lomond over the Loch Ard Forest. Both the larger peaks had a fair dusting of snow on top as well.

We plodded on and dropped down through the quarry to the road and found the cross over point where we should have ended up on the red trail but the track was closed - forestry again. So we went back down the road and retraced our steps back down to the lodge, just in time for tea and scones.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

10cc, Alice Cooper and Dragonforce

Now that my work has moved offices and we have to get there using public transport, an iPod is essential and I thought it'd give me a chance to listen to music I hadn't heard for ages. So this is what I've been listening to this week...

10cc: The Very Best Of 10cc

This takes me back a few years to when 10cc were a top band. I've been to see them live at the Glasgow Apollo in 1975 and their stage act was pretty good - Une Nuit A Paris and I'm Not In Love were excellent as were the classic pop numbers like Donna, Rubber Bullets and Wall Street Shuffle. Who said pop music would never last, I bought Sheet Music in 1974? Anyway, this CD is a good representation of their best music...

  1. Donna
  2. Rubber Bullets
  3. Dean And I
  4. Wall Street Shuffle
  5. Silly Love
  6. Life Is A Minestrone
  7. Une Nuit Paris
  8. I'm Not In Love
  9. Art For Art's Sake
  10. I'm Mandy Fly Me
  11. Things We Do For Love
  12. Good Morning Judge
  13. Dreadlock Holiday
  14. People In Love
  15. Under Your Thumb - Godley & Creme
  16. Wedding Bells - Godley & Creme
  17. Cry - Godley & Creme
  18. Neanderthal Man - Hotlegs
Alice Cooper: The Definitive Alice Cooper

Going even further back with some of these tracks, I was still at school when some of these came out and I remember buying School's Out as a present for a girl I had a crush on at the time. Rock classics like School's Out, Elected, Hello Hooray, Billion Dollar Babies, No More Mr Nice Guy and Poison still sound great even now. I'd always wanted to see Alice live but never managed it. He's still touring so maybe someday...
  1. I'm Eighteen
  2. Desperado
  3. Under My Wheels
  4. Halo Of Flies
  5. School's Out
  6. Elected
  7. Hello Hooray
  8. Generation Landslide
  9. No More Mr Nice Guy
  10. Billion Dollar Babies
  11. Teenage Lament '74
  12. Muscle Of Love
  13. Only Women Bleed
  14. Welcome To My Nightmare
  15. Department Of Love
  16. I Never Cry
  17. You And Me
  18. How You Gonna See Me Now
  19. From The Inside
  20. Poison
  21. Hey Stoopid
Dragonforce: Inhuman Rampage

On a totally different track, my son David bought Dragonforce's latest CD so, still trying to retain a vestige of my youthful rebellious nature, I have to keep up with the latest rock bands. Mind you David, who's a damn good guitarist himself and can shred tracks by the likes of Vai and Satriani, says these guys play guitar so fast that they can't be human ....
  1. Through The Fire And Flames
  2. Revolution Deathsquad
  3. Storming The Burning Fields
  4. Operation Ground And Pound
  5. Body Breakdown
  6. Cry For Eternity
  7. Flame Of Youth
  8. Trail Of Broken Hearts
  9. Backstage Rockumentary

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Zathura: Special Edition

Got sent this Region 1 DVD of the follow up to Jumanji to review. As with that movie, this is an adaptation of a book by Chris Van Allsburg about a couple of kids who find a board game called "Zathura: A Space Adventure".

Bored, one of them starts playing the game and before they know it, the entire house is transported into space and they are fighting for their very lives. They must continue playing, surviving whatever the game throws at them after every turn, until they complete it and reach the planet Zathura...

You can read my full review of this DVD on DVD Lard

Genre: Action, Adventure, Family, Fantsay, Science Fiction
My Rating: 7/10

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Aeon Flux

Went to see Aeon Flux after working last night and, even though it's definitely more style than content, it's not a bad movie at all - way better than the critics would have us believe. It's based on characters created by Peter Chung for the MTV animated series of the same name...

Set 400 years in the future after a virus has decimated 99% of Earth's population, humanity is reduced to living in one perfect city called Bregna. The remaining five million people living inside the walls of Bregna are ruled over by the scientist that discovered the cure, Chairman Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas), and to some it is a perfect society.

But while there's no pollution and everything is recycled, things are far from perfect! People have started disappearing but the government says everything is under control and then there are the dreams, dreams that cannot be explained. Their perfect society is crumbling and some see revolution as the only course. Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron) is one of the resistance's top operatives and when she's sent in to eliminate Goodchild, she uncovers not the evil she was expecting but a world of secrets that could spell the final end of humanity.

As convertions from TV series to film go, this isn't bad at all and doesn't overly rely on it's audience having seen the series. I haven't seen the series but it certainly has the style of Chung's work such as The Chronicles Of Riddick: Dark Fury and The Animatrix: Matriculated short. There are loads of flowing garments and skin-tight suits and the obligatory ridiculous hairstyles and beautifully styled futuristic sets and it all works except for Aeon's sleeping attire and the Keeper's (Pete Postlethwaite) costume, both of which are just way too out there. I've reviewed Dark Fury on DVD (see the link above) and thought then that the costumes and style were a bit over the top but translated to live action, it works very well - the visuals are stunning.

I've seen comments that say it's too dependent on foreknowledge of the series but, having seen none of that, I picked it up without any trouble and I can't see where those comments are coming from as it stands alone fairly well. Charlize Theron is great as the warrior babe eye-candy but also adds her excellent acting skills to the role. She's definitely the most powerful character in the film and she's adequately supported by Marton Csokas as the scientist/man in charge - trying to run the government and its ministers while also following his true vocation. If it has a weakness it's in the dialogue, which is a bit on the thin side.

It's not a long film and the fast-paced action helps keep the storyline on track without it being bogged down with trivia such as what I thought happened in Minority Report and, given the various plot twists, you're certainly kept guessing as to who the bad guys really are. Definitely worth seeing for science-fiction fans and I might even try to get hold of the series on DVD.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Science-Fiction, Thriller
My Rating: 7/10

Monday, February 13, 2006

Bar Milano, Byres Road, Glasgow

We got caught in a horrendous gridlock of traffic on the way home tonight so, seeing as we were still pretty close to Partick Cross and there was no obvious sign of the traffic problem easing off soon, we pulled over and parked with the intention of grabbing a bite to eat somewhere close.

We fancied nipping into La Riviera as we'd been before and it was really nice, but it was closed! Might have been too early or maybe they're just closed on a Monday. Anyway, just over the cross, at the foot of Byres Road, was Bar Milano and we'd never tried it before so in we went. We used to stay just round the corner and remember the place being once the site of Wilson's Bar and then a restaurant called Leonardo's but, as usual, places change and hopefully for the better.

It's a bit of a cocktail bar come small restaurant and the decor is nice and light. It was just about 7pm and it had quite a few diners in already but we got a table right away. The menu looked not bad at all, having a decent range of pastas, pizzas and main courses. We started off with garlic foccaccia and pate and then Lorna had penne contadina and I had rigatoni norcina. Add a pint of lager shandy and a large glass of house red and it all came to about £30 so not very expensive and reasonably tasty fare.

Must remember to take a different route tomorrow though!

Cuisine: Italian
MyRating: 7/10

MSG Woes

I spent most of Sunday in bed, in the dark, with a searing headache and I suspect it was due to me trying something new the night before from the Chinese carry out. I'm pretty sure that I'm intolerant of MSG (monosodium glutamate) as I frequently get hit with such killer headaches after eating exotic food and it's usually the afternoon of the next day before I get them. It could be an allergy to something else completely but it's almost always after eating such things as a Chinese take-away or a pre-packed ready meal.

I have to be careful where I get take-away food from and the place in question is one of those I can usually trust but it depends what dish I get as well sometimes. I thought I'd try the Szuechen Beef for a change and it was really nice but obviously it's one of those dishes they add the dreaded flavour enhancer to. I even have to be careful in restaurants as well as they are just as likely to give me a reaction if the dish contains whatever it is that triggers my allergy.

If we're shopping and fancy a ready meal as something quick and easy, I give the ingredients a quick scan and reject anything with MSG, E621 or the words flavour enhancers in the ingredients now. The after effects of such quick and tasty food are such that it really isn't worth the pain. Analgesics such as paracetamol or ibuprofen don't work at all for me but migraine relief tablets sometimes do the trick and so does Solpadeine.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Mr India's West End Balti and Dosa House

We went out for a meal to celebrate my birthday last night and, as we hadn't had a curry in a while, it had to be to our favourite Indian restaurant, Mr India's West End Balti and Dosa House in the west end of the city. We used to live not far from where from where it is but it was called the Rajdoot then and our only experience of it had been getting a carry-out, which turned out to be too hot to eat. Anyway, at some point in the 90s, it turned into Balbir's and the Mr. India's as it is now and an excellent wee place it is.

It's located just off Dumbarton Road so it's easily passed by but do that and you're missing some excellent traditional home cooked Indian cuisine. Everything is cooked fresh and contains no artificial colours or preservatives which, given my intolerance for M.S.G., is a real plus. On top of all that is the basic fact that the food is really tasty - hot or mild if you want it that way and medium means medium. The staff are really friendly and attentive as well.

The menu is reasonably extensive and has a good selection of all the standard favourites like Tikkas, Bhoonas, Baltis, Jalfrezis and the like as well as some really special items like their Chicken Butter Masala. We started of with a couple of popadoms and spiced onions, aloo tikka with chana and vegetable pakora. Their pakora sauce is a real speciality - you get two kinds, one spicy apple puree and the the other is spicy carrot based. We usually order a couple of main dishes and just split them so we had a chicken tikka garam masala and a lamb balti along with a boiled rice and a nice big garlic nan bread. Absolutely excellent and we were too stuffed to have a sweet!

Cuisine: Indian
My Rating: 10/10

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Happy Birthday To Me!

Oh well, another year has gone by! My hair is greyer and the eyes and ears are a bit less sharp but I'm reasonably healthy so life isn't too bad.

The stress of living under an absolute piece of trailer trash and her uncontrollable brat for the last few years has taken it's toll but we've got new neighbours now and, apart from a bit of access hassle that seems to have been resolved, they seem a pretty reasonable and nice couple so here's hoping the future is rosier.

Got a nice new pair of trainers from Lorna and she also wants to buy me a Topfield Freeview PVR as well so I'm well pleased. At last, two Freeview tuners and a 160GB hard drive - an astounding bit of kit for a telly addict and you can also feed it MPEG files from the computer. Mum and dad gave me a wad of cash as well, which always amazes me and I always say it's too much but they never listen. I think they still think of me as their wee boy but I've got a 21 year old daughter and 17 year old son so I think I'm a bit past that now. Anyway, I'll need to think of something to buy with that now. I think I'm getting Red Dwarf VI from the kids but they usually surprise me as well.

So, we're now off home and then away out for a celebratory nosh-up at our favourite curry house and perhaps there will be some alcohol involved as well (hic!). So Mr India's West End Balti and Dosa House, here we come!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

King Rat - by China Miéville

King Rat, by China Miéville, is an odd book. After reading his multi-award winning Perdido Street Station and The Scar, I thought I'd try a few more. This is his first novel but it's is a completely different kind of story from either of the aforementioned titles...

When Saul Garamond's father plummeted from a top floor window in Terragon Manshions, it was a long and terminal drop and the first Saul knew about it was when he was rudely woken by the police, who saw him as their prime suspect.

While waiting in the police cell, Saul has an unexpected visit from a shadowy figure calling himself King Rat and he's come to break Saul free. So King Rat leads Saul to freedom via a nail-biting escape over the roofs of London and down into the safety of its damp and dank sewers among the rats and spiders.

But someone other than the police is looking for Saul so, against a pounding backdrop of Jungle Drum and Bass music, he must discover the real murderer, learn his true heritage, rescue his friends and and face an enemy straight out of fairytale horror!

It's not as deeply plotted out as his later works but it's still a dark tale with interesting characters. The whole idea of an animal sub-culture, with semi-human rulers, certainly works here and mixing the storyline with characters from the old 13th century German legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin is definitely inventive. I was a bit worried at one point when it seemed as if the author was going to get a bit too detailed about the Jungle Drum and Bass music scene as it's not one I'm familiar with but, while it's deeply involved in the latter stages of the book as the tale reaches its climax, it doesn't deter from or interfere with the story line.

King Rat is a fairly gruesome and violent story, hence the horror categorization, but it all works and I think it'd make a pretty good and entertaining movie. The pace never lets up and there's plenty of action and a fair few high tension moments in there as well. I can just visualize the hordes of CGI rats, birds and spiders flowing over and under the buildings of London - shudder!

Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Mystery.
ISBN: 0-330-37098-7
My Rating: 7/10

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Second Chance At Eden - by Peter F. Hamilton

For anyone that's read Hamilton's excellent Night's Dawn Trilogy, this is an absolute gem. It's a series of short stories, and one novella, set in the same universe as The Reality Dysfunction, etc. but prior to the events in that series...

Sonnie's Edge - The popular sport of 'beastie-baiting' involves contests to the death between artificial monsters controlled via human affinity bonds. Sonnie's team is particularly successful...but her monster, Khanivore, has a unique advantage.

First published in New Moon magazine, September 1991, Sonnie's Edge is set on Earth in the year 2070. It's not a bad introduction to affinity and it has a reasonably good twist at the end.
A Second Chance At Eden - A bitek habitat orbiting Jupiter, mining the He3 fuel on which Earth is dependent, Eden is a mini-nation of radical politics and even more radical technology. Then its creator, Penny Maowkavitz, is murdered in full view but no-one can identify the perpetrator or even the motive.

This is the main story in this collection. It's a detective story set in 2090 and it tells about the events leading up to the formation of the Edenist society. Fans of Night's Dawn will love this one as we get a good introduction to bitek habitats and affinity.
New Days Old Times - Settlers came to the planet Nyvan hoping for a lifestyle free of Earthbound hatreds. Alas, though environments may change, human nature does not.

Set in 2245, this is a fairly straightforward and standard fodder sci-fi tale.
Candy Buds - The crime-lord Laurus rules Kariwak with an iron fist, jealously guarding control of the bitek trade. But when an astonishing new substance appears on the streets, virtual reality takes on an entirely new dimension.

First published in New Worlds #2, 1992, this is set in 2393 and is a pretty good tale where two ragtag children, one disabled, start producing an amazing virtual reality drug and soon come to the attention of the local bad guy. Good twist at the end as well.
Deathday - On a desolate planet, a man wages an obsessive campaign of retribution against the last survivor of an alien race. But vengeance can cut both ways.

First published in Fear magazine, February 1991, this is another fairly straightforward and standard fodder sci-fi tale.
The Lives And Loves Of Tiarella Rosa - A passion that spans two generations of woman...and endures beyond.

First appeared in a different form as Spare Capacity in New Worlds #3 in 1993 and it's an excellent short story about relationships enduring beyond the normal lifespan.
Escape Route - the starship Lady Macbeth encounters a long-abandoned alien spacecraft with its escape route still intact - but leading where and is the craft as empty as it seems?

This was first published in Interzone in 1997 and was the spur that started Hamilton off writing the Night's Dawn Trilogy. Set in 2586, it's a story about Joshua calvert's father Marcus and his ship, the Lady Macbeth. Good stuff and an excellent link to the trilogy with the ship and the hero's father.

All in all, this set of well-written short stories is an excellent addition for anyone that has read, or is intending to read, the Night's Dawn Trilogy. Major events in the timeline are explained between each tale so you get an idea of how technology progressed through the stories up until just before the start of Night's Dawn.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Science-Fiction
ISBN: 0-330-35182-6
My Rating: 8/10