Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz is the latest British comedy doing the rounds of the cinemas and reports were that it was actually quite funny. I'm always wary of our homegrown comedies these days, as they never seem to deliver on the preview hype. Directed by Edgar Wright, who also gave us the fairly decent Shaun Of The Dead and the excellent Spaced TV series, it stars Simon Pegg and has a fairly respectable cast so it seemed worth the risk.
Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is an exemplary Metropolitan police officer with an arrest record 400% higher than any other copper on the force. An expert in martial-arts, armed response and high-speed pursuits, he's so good he's making the rest of them look bad so his bosses transfer him to the sleepy little village of Sandford, winner of "Village Of The Year" and almost crime-free.

Once there, he's introduced to his new partner, the amiable but inept Danny Butterman (Nick Frost). Danny is a huge action movie fan and thinks that teaming up with a man experienced in the fast-paced world of firearms and fast driving might just be his ticket to real world coppering. But Danny's dad (Jim Broadbent) is the local police chief so that's never going to happen without help.

However, a series of grisly accidents rouse Angel's suspicions that Sandford isn't the quiet and peaceful place it seems to be and soon, he and Danny are up to their armpits in murder and intrigue. Danny might even get to realise his dream of shooting at the bad guys while hanging out of car in a high speed chase so it can't be all bad.

I haven't laughed as much at a comedy film for a long time. This is a classic piece of work and far better than Shaun Of The Dead. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are excellent as the heroes of the story and with a supporting cast including the likes of Jim Broadbent, Edward Woodward, Bill Nighy, Timothy Dalton, Bill Bailey and Martin Freeman it'd have been difficult for it to be anything other than a success.

Even the story is well written and, with a fairly convoluted plot, it wasn't obvious who the perpetrators were or what they were up to and you're kept guessing as to what's going on all the way up to the climactic finale (and I'm not telling you here either). Suffice to say that it well worth going to see if you get the chance. Good British comedies are few and far between these days so make the most of a good one when you can.

Genre: Action Comedy, Crime
My Rating: 9/10

Friday, February 23, 2007

New City Palace, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

Still apt to wander the streets of Glasgow after work on a Friday evening looking for somewhere to have dinner, we popped into the New City Palace on Sauchiehall Street.

It's another one of those mostly hidden restaurants where all you see is a fairly run down and grubby sign outside a closeway between shops. The restaurant is upstairs above those shops and is a reasonable sized place once you navigate your way up the narrow stairs. The decor is bright and not too over-oriental and the background music is modern and western and the place was quite busy. They have a decent three-course, pre-theatre menu for under £10 so it seemed a pretty popular choice for those planning on going on to see a movie or going for a drink afterwards. We were headed for the movies ourselves so it suited us too.

The menu was a good mix of Chinese cuisine with a few Thai dishes in there too and even the pre-theatre menu had a good mix of dishes. Service was blindingly fast, which is quite common for Chinese restaurants but this was even faster than normal. It was maybe a bit too fast as we were trying to pass a bit of time before the movie start time but better that than slow - I hate slow service.

The food was very nice too and the dishes were presented very well, little carved rose carrots and all. We had barbecue spare ribs and spring rolls to start followed by kung-po chicken and beef with green pepper and black bean sauce. This was topped off with a bit of black forest gateau and cream and we were set for the night.

Cuisine: Chinese
My Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Loch Chon

At last, we got a bit of decent weather at the weekend so we headed into the deeper reaches of The Trossachs. Well, not really that deep but a little bit off of the main centres of Aberfoyle and Callander.

Loch Chon lies between Kinlochard and Inversnaid on the B829 Aberfoyle to Inversnaid road, which is single track for the length of the loch so take care if you're not used to driving on such narrow roads and please use the passing places to allow more experienced drivers to overtake. There are old tales of a dog-headed monster living in the loch that swallows unwary passers-by and it's a place I'd always fancied fishing as a boy but never got a chance to get to as public transport in the area was fairly limited back then.

Loch Dhu

There's plenty of car parking at the south end of the loch so we started from there and headed back along the road to the turn off for Loch Dhu House, which would take us round the little Loch Dhu and over to the other side of Loch Chon. From there we planned to walk up the west side of the loch and come back down on the road side.

It's a fairly straightforward walk along a forest track until you get to the top end of the loch. It has to be said that forestry workings along the side of the loch have left it a bit on the unattractive side and in some places we couldn't see the water for the trees as the forest plantation goes right down to the water's edge and was obscuring the view. However, when you do get a clear view of the loch it is quite spectacular - with a few little islands and set against a backdrop of beautiful hills.

Looking Up Loch Chon

Our almost 20 year old guide book mentioned an aqueduct on the west side and we thought it might be something of a scenic attraction but it turned out to be just a little sluice of water running down from the hillside. What's of more interest is the number of air shafts along the track. These serve the tunnel feeding water from Loch Katrine to Glasgow and we got the impression that a vast reservoir of fast-flowing water lay just beneath us. One entrance to the tunnel system even had a sign up prohibiting bathing! How likely it is that anyone would want go down there to swim in what must be absolute darkness is beyond me or am I just not taking account of that thrill seeking percentage of us that are just plain suicidal in pursuit of an adrenaline rush?

Once past the top of the loch, the track continues on past Frenich Farm and then curves round to rejoin the main road. Unfortunately, the return route follows the road back down to the car parks but there are a few places you can deviate off of it if you get fed up having to move out of the way of traffic. All in, the walk around the loch is about six miles long but it's fairly easy going mostly on forestry track or tarmac. We had lunch sitting on a fallen tree on the east side bank of the loch and watched some wildfowl careering about near the far bank on the flat calm water - very peaceful.

On the walk back to the car, we had to make way for no less than five tourist coaches and this is a single-track road. I can only assume they were heading for Inversnaid on Loch Lomond or an evening sailing from Stronachlacher on Loch Katrine but seriously, these little roads aren't built to take that volume of coach traffic and they're a hazard to walkers and small cars alike. I realize that the area would soon fall into ruin if the numbers of tourists fell but it doesn't mean I have to like how they get them there.

And no, we didn't see the monster! It was so cold there was a thin layer of ice at the edge of the water and we didn't even see a single fish rise all day. It's a bit early for trout anyway so I expect the cold had them huddling in the ever so slightly warmer depths.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Kelvin Walkway

Yet another cloudy, overcast and damp Sunday saw us stuck close to Glasgow again. Well not just close this time but right slap in the West end. Since the weather was a bit on the damp side, we decided to go and visit the newly restored Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, which was a place I'd visited often as a child but haven't been in for years.

Looking through the Queen Margaret BridgeLooking through the Queen Margaret Bridge

That was the plan anyway but things didn't exactly turn out that way. On the way over, Lorna thought it would be nicer to go and walk around the newly restored (yes another one) Kibble Palace in Glasgow Botanic Gardens, yet another haunt of my youth and a regular location for having a sandwich lunch when we worked over in the west end. Of course, we didn't get in there either as, at the last minute, near the top of Byres Road, Lorna suggested the Kelvin Walkway as yet another venue for the afternoon's walk.

Heading over into Queen Margaret Drive, we parked just beyond the bridge and took the path beside it down to the walkway by the side of the river. Not knowing how far North the path went, we opted to go South.

Belmont BridgeThe walkway is a fairly popular place for a stroll, going by the number of people on it and it's also a well used cycle path. We followed the river downstream, spotting some Mallards and a Moorhen on the way, until we reached the Belmont Bridge, beside which stands the fairly impressive bulk of the Kelvin Stevenson Memorial Church as it towers over the river.

Crossing over the river by a small footbridge here allows you to continue on the walkway as it goes under the Belmont Bridge and heads down river towards Great Western Road and the much larger KelvinBridge. Again the path goes under the bridge and on the other side you'll notice the blocked railway tunnel that used to serve a now defunct arm of the Glasgow Central Railway. I used to play in there as a child and we would often walk along in the pitch dark, feeling our way along the walls, until we reached the old derelict station under the Botanic Gardens. It was a good place to catch frogs, what more can I say!

Following the river downstream again is pretty much the only option so wandering on, we noticed some Gorse in flower by the riverside. That seems awfully early but we saw the same thing a few weeks ago over at Roslin Glen so maybe global warming is real after all. We eventually emerged from the walkway at the Gibson Street Bridge and crossed over into Kelvingrove Park. It had brightened up a bit by then and we decided to keep on going until we reached the Art Gallery.

A grey squirrelA Grey Squirrel

The walk through the park alongside the river is fairly open and pleasant, if somewhat busier. Wildlife is fairly plentiful here and the place is pretty well populated with grey squirrels, who think nothing of coming right up to your feet looking for some food. Needless to say, they're pretty well fed squirrels. There were plenty of them scurrying around in the bushes beside the path and we even spotted a rat, feasting on some nuts in there as well. On the river there was a group of Goosanders, more Moorhens and Lorna caught a flash of blue streaking up river and the only thing that seemed to fit the bill was a Kingfisher. They're not usually found round here so that's maybe yet another side effect of the warmer climate.

We left the park at Kelvin Way and crossed over to the Art Gallery but, as luck would have it, the fire alarm had gone off and they had just turfed everyone out into the car park. We milled about and walked along the river path round the gallery and by the time we got back round, they'd reopened so we spent an hour or so wandering around inside. It didn't seem to have changed all that much to me - they'd cleaned up the sandstone and moved stuff around a bit but that big stuffed elephant looked exactly like the one they had when I was a boy, bullet hole in the centre of its head and all.

By the time we got kicked out at closing time it was getting dark outside so we headed back up to the car by way of Byres Road. Definitely worth revisiting the walkway again though! Having read up a bit on it, we now know that it actually goes all the way out to Milngavie to connect up to the West Highland Way so maybe another time we'll head North and see what the walkway holds in that direction.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Pushing Ice - by Alastair Reynolds

Pushing Ice is yet another work of classic science fiction from Alastair Reynolds, who gave us the excellent Revelation Space series and Century Rain. It's an interesting tale of alien contact and the complex interactions of a spaceship crew caught in a situation beyond their control…
Humanity harvests the heavens for comets and their bountiful cargo of water ice, essential for the growing economies of Earth. The comets are fitted with nuclear powered mass driver engines and programmed to head towards Earth orbit where they are picked up and processed. They call it pushing ice!

Bella Lind and the crew of ice-mining ship Rockhopper are looking forward to finishing off their latest comet and getting some much needed R&R but when Janus, one of Saturn's moons, breaks orbit and starts to head out of the solar system under its own power, mankind is understandably intrigued.

Rockhopper is the only ship close enough to investigate and the crew agree to shadow the moon for a few days and gather as much information as they can before it passes beyond reach. However, once within the gravitational pull of Janus, events force Bella to make a decision that changes all of their lives and has repercussions reaching into the far future of humanity.

Pushing Ice is hard-core science-fiction tale of space exploration and attempts to answer the age old question of whether mankind is alone in the vastness of the universe and how, if we're not, would an alien race attempt contact with such a primitive species as us. The concept of them leaving a ship disguised as a moon and which is triggered into action by our forging into space isn't new but it is one that requires us to think big. The title is a little misleading as it's not about pushing ice at all and, once the Rockhopper starts its investigation of Janus, we hear nothing much of that trade again.

On the whole I enjoyed the book but Pushing Ice is a work of vast scope, spanning a lot of time and I think that's where the problem lies. Like Marrow, it tries to do just too much and I eventually got a bit bored with it as it didn't seem to be going anywhere fast and the characters weren't developing any further and were getting too predictable.

Worth reading but his earlier work is much better.

Genre: Science Fiction
ISBN: 0-575-07815-4
My Rating: 7/10