Book Review: As They Slept Part 3 by Andy Leeks

This is the third part in Leeks’ series of writings completed on his daily commute following a Facebook argument over the fact that those who sleep on their journey to work are wasting time.

Like previous installments this means that this is a series of quick, short entries which provide a combination of observation, anecdote and rants. Your enjoyment depends on how much you agree with Leeks. Personally while he writes with some humour in places he’s often a bit too old fashioned and curmudgeonly for my liking. 

Does it really matter if someone else uses Angry Birds to help pass the time? 

What’s weird is that halfway through there’s a piece where Leeks talks about how is wife gets fed up with his optimism. This doesn’t fit with the grumbling that has come before,  although it could be that his optimism takes a while to get going in the mornings.

There are bits that made me smile and a few good observations, but for much of the book it seems like Leeks is a bit of a joyless grump.

A section near the end about his daughter getting pneumonia while on holiday livens things up and shows a softer side. 

Leeks has skill as a writer but is too prone to grumbling, and lacks the wit to make his moaning properly funny. 

Verdict: Not without charms but at times Leeks irritates with his complaints and petty peeves. The idea is solid and fair play to him for writing every day, but too often he misses the mark. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Book Review: Dark Recollections by Chris Philbrook 

I got this book cheap for my Kindle and decided to crack on with it this week. The first part in a series this is a zombie apocalypse novel told through the diaries of a survivor.

Our narrator is Adrian a former soldier who witnesses the dead rise. The story picks him up holed up inside a private school campus and over the entries he explains how he got there and what he’s doing.

For zombie fans this is familiar territory and for me the diary format always robs a bit of tension. We know our hero is still alive as they’re still writing and so the jeopardy is lessened.

That’s not to say that the book isn’t gripping as it’s written in a fast, no frills style and Philbrook reveals more of Adrian’s character as the story unfolds. Adrian is an often profane and laddish narrator, but there are signs of fragility and the writing is done so that while flawed he is oddly likeable.

The action is well done, stripped back and gritty. It’s a nice quick read and for a zombie fan like me ticks a lot of boxes. It will be interesting to see where he takes the story in future instalments. 

Verdict: Quick and easy to read with a believable and flawed narrator, Philbrook kicks off the series well and leaves the reader wanting more. The diary style weakens the peril but it is still an involving read. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do.  BETEO. 


Random Song: Bullet With Butterfly Wings by Smashing Pumpkins

Despite growing up in the 90s I was never a massive Smashing Pumpkins fan. Their heyday was in the middle of the decade and I was more focused on football. 

I heard a few of their songs and I didn’t dislike the, I just wasn’t captivated in the way I am by the bands I’ve loved. They were just a band who I thought we’re alright.

The first real impact they had on me came courtesy of their guest appearance in one of my all time favourite episodes of The Simpsons. 

One of my best friends, Llywellyn, was a fan and that’s why this song stands out for me. 

During our GCSEs we were in the same English class. We sat at the back and prayed not to get called on to read characters in Macbeth. For years 10 and 11 we were put into sets based on ability and we were in the top one. I can’t speak for Llyw, but looking the class I felt a little out of place. These were the bright kids and I felt like I’d snuck in by mistake.

I expected our teacher, Mrs F, a bit of a hippie, to look at my work one day and then at me and realise that there’d been a mistake. 

Anyway, one of our tests was that we had to read a poem and analyse it in front of the class. Our classmates obviously dug into library books or poems they already knew (someone did a Lewis Carroll and there were a few soppy romantic ones), while the two of us waited until the last few days.

And then Llywelyn produced the liner notes to the Pumpkins’ album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness selecting track six, this song. To class it up we said it was written by “William Corgan”. A few of our classmates smiled at this, clocking what we were doing.

I read it aloud, from the opening “The world is a vampire” right through.

At the time my music listening was almost exclusively pop punk, The Offspring and Blink 182 on heavy rotation and I had absolutely no clue what it all meant.

Enter Llywelyn, who talked for five minutes about a variety of themes and imagery. How much of it was just him winging it I’ll never know but we passed and even got praise from Mrs F for choosing a lesser known piece.

It’s a decent song, starting with a quiet, driving riff before exploding into Corgan’s anguished chorus and crashing guitars. But it’s the link to the past and the fact it always makes me smile that this will always be my favourite Smashing Pumpkins track and have a special place in the soundtrack of my life.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Moving Out

This weekend MWF and I took a big step forward and moved into our first house together. I’ve lived outside my family home before, but this is the first time I’ve lived with a partner and it all feels rather grown up.

We picked up the keys on Saturday and spent the day moving some stuff over. This didn’t take as long as we thought thanks to generous help from some friends and our parents. Sunday was unpacking and with things out of boxes and a few of our things set up it was starting to feel a lot more like our place.

We’re a Disney house.

Still it was half empty and with our new bed arriving on Monday we had to stay at MWF’s mum’s place on Sunday night.

And so I spent yesterday alone in the house for much of the day slowly going stir crazy. After a DVD, numerous matches on Fifa and some reading, I was fed up and would have liked to have been able to leave for a bit.

Making it worse is the fact that my phone signal is erratic and that I suspect my phone is actually trying to mess with me. I’d check signal in a new spot and discover the 4G was working and I had a decent number of bars. Joy!

However, as soon as I tried to do anything it would cut out to absolutely nothing. This happened repeatedly all over the house. So, I have internet and signal unless I want to use them.

Without Twitter and Facebook the time dragged even more. And I had yet to set up the TV license so I couldn’t even have daytime TV for diversion lest the dreaded License Van find me.

Not sure if this ad is a bluff or an Orwellian nightmare

The wifi won’t be connected for another fortnight so I feel all cut off from the outside world and apologise if this blog becomes more sporadic, as I’m stuck using my phone, which I hate.

Anyway, there are a few minor teething problems with the house-

First, and most pressingly, the toilet is broken. A plumber is expected today. 

As he was on Saturday. 

And yesterday. 

To be fair he did turn up yesterday afternoon. 

After we rang and complained to the letting agents.

With no toilet I am foregoing breakfast and painfully aware that we are now on a clock. I pray that the plumber appears soon as eventually the call of nature must be answered. 
It’s a simple fix, replacing one part, so hopefully all will be sorted by this afternoon and I can be relieved.

The second problem is that we don’t have a sofa until next week. The plan was to use bean bags, blankets and cushions for the moment, but one day on the bean bag left my back a wreck and I was stiff and achy all evening. This means I either have to find an armchair for a few days (tricky enough without the fickle internet) or stay in bed all the time. 

I suppose as we need a bed for the spare room I could just buy a mattress and set up a day bed on the living room floor? At least I could watch TV then. I sorted the license, so you can call off the dogs, TV License Patrol.

The only other hitch has been Midnight, who has been a little hesitant and nervous in her new home. While she has explored a bit more now she legged it for higher ground and set up camp on our bed yesterday evening.

Queen of the Castle

She cowered under the blankets and it took a lot of cooing and fussing to get her to come out. She seems better this morning but she spent much of the night sleeping on me, which isn’t ideal for any of us.

Hopefully she can improve today and won’t be too bad tomorrow as she will be left alone for the morning as MWF and I will be at work. I just hope I don’t return to a wrecked house. 

These minor quibbles aside, I’m very happy with the place and it’s nice to have our own space for our little family. It already feels like ours and I’m sure with more of our things out and the problems sorted it will feel like home.

Anyway, must dash as need to distract myself from my complaining stomach. 

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Book Review: Spectacles by Sue Perkins

I ‘m a big fan of Sue Perkins, one half of the comedy duo Mel and Sue, although I mainly know her from her work on her own as a guest in Qi and her shows with Giles Coren where they would eat in the style of different historical periods. 

Of course her most recent success has been reuniting with Mel to front The Great British Bake Off on which they are funny, charming and serve dual roles of comforting distraught baker’s when their cakes fail to rise and keeping up a stream of knowingly laboured puns and innuendos.It is the success of this show (which MWF introduced me to and which we are now both obsessed with) that has no doubt encouraged interest in a memoir.

But of her personal life I knew very little other than that she is a lesbian and in a relationship with fellow TV presenter Anna Richardson.

Perkins and Richardson

So going into this book I only had a brief idea of how the story would unfold but suspected that it would be told in a funny, affable manner.

It definitely was and Perkins’ style is a delight, easy to read, self deprecating manner with some nice repeated gags and some moving sections as well. Spending your time in this book is like listening to a very nice, funny woman chatting to you and I found myself liking Perkins more and more as I went on.

One of the aspects I enjoyed most was how much time Perkins spends talking about her family, who she recounts several funny stories and gently mocks their foibles in a loving way. She gives little snapshots of life in the Perkins household and they are told with real affection.

The book is divided into different sections around important places in her life, including Croydon where she grew up, Cambridge where she went to university and Cornwall where she moved to.

Perkins is funny throughout but there are moments which are achingly moving, especially the frank unsentimental way that Perkins discusses cancer and a failed relationship. What I admire most is that Perkins is in control of what she recollects and so there are references to certain events which are never explored in depth, and I think that’s fair enough, we choose what we share and what is too personal, or painful, to relive.

Of course, she knows what the reader has come for and her sarcastic, jokey description of GBBO behind the scenes is funny and well done, as is her handling of her sexuality and experiences coming out. It’s consistently funny and Perkins is a talented, witty writer who instills her writing with charm and warmth. If you’re not a fan before, you will be by the end.

Verdict: A funny and warm memoir in which Perkins tells her stories with humour and insight. In the company of such a likeable narrator this book is an easy, fun read and leaves you with great affection for Perkins. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Ch-ch-changing: Fear and Loathing in the Disabled Toilets

I balanced on one leg like an overweight, graceless flamingo. I managed to get my leg free of my trousers and placed it on my empty trainer. 

This had to be one of the most awkward changes in my life. I felt uncomfortable, for a variety of reasons. 

Firstly, there was the smell, which was rather unpleasant. It was a toilet, and recently used, and being a toilet I didn’t want to touch anything more than I had to. I especially didn’t want to put my socks on the floor. If you’ve ever stood in anything wet wearing socks you’ll know it’s a deeply unpleasant experience. Hence the drunk flamingo bit.

The other reason I felt awkward was because it was a disabled toilet and I felt a bit of a heel for possibly depriving someone of the only toilet accessible to them. I prayed to the gods that nobody was waiting outside.

Luckily there wasn’t and completely changed I left and headed for the bus home.

So why was I changing in a toilet?

Well, I’d finished work and it being a warm day was a little sweaty. My uniform is uncomfortable, and I didn’t fancy wearing it on a warm, full bus. But this meant finding somewhere to change. 

We have a staff changing room but it has zero cover. No cubicles or corners. 

You have to change right out in the open. This means waiting until it’s empty and praying that nobody comes in because as soon as the door opens they’ll see you. 

Just writing that makes me feel on edge.

I haven’t had to change in a public changing room for years. Not since school. And if I can avoid it for another 15 years I’ll be happy. I have no desire for anyone except for MWF to see me half naked. And of course that won’t be until after our wedding.

But anyone else? The idea makes me nervous.

I’ve been this way since primary. When I was in year six we used to have swimming once a week. I can distinctly remember there was a time when changing after didn’t bother me. We were all 10-11 so it was before any adolescent insecurity crept in.

I can remember goofing off. Wrapping a towel around my head and doing an impression of Whigfield, who’s “Saturday Night” a year or so earlier. 

Whigfield

It got some laughs and I kept doing it for a few weeks.

Now I was a chunky kid. I had what we called “puppy fat” and I think part of me honestly thought that it would all fall off during my teens and I’d emerge like a ripped butterfly, able to realise my dream of playing for Wales and Swansea.

Of course, this didn’t happy and my puppy fat grew into full grown adult St Bernard fat.

But back in the mid nineties none of this bothered me. I was chunky bit didn’t think much about it. 

Until it was pointed out by some of my schoolmates. And not politely. It went on for a few weeks, and I came to dread those swimming days. I was a crap swimmer anyway, so it wasn’t like it was massively fun to begin with. But being called names afterwards soured it even more.

It got worse in secondary school and all the enjoyment I’d got playing football in primary evaporated. I started “forgetting” my kit on a regular basis, and PE became my least favourite lesson. I wasn’t the only chunky kid. Or the chunkiest, but when I did have to change I just did it quickly, quietly and as closely to the corner as I could.

To be fair I never got any grief at comp. Well, aside from once when two kids who I did PE with tried having a go. For sports two classes were teamed up and my class was put with one of the classes that was for less academic kids. These two in particular were knuckle dragging morons of the lowest order. Think Crabbe and Goyle but without the charisma.

Now one of them was about the same size as me, so when they had a go bout my belly and budding mannaries I was surprised. I then told him that it was a bit rich as he wasn’t exactly slim and to get out of my way, as I needed to get to English and I’m sure their teacher had set up some colouring in for them to do.

Being a gobby, sarky git paid off and the surprise of me actually firing back meant they didn’t bother me again. 

But even without outside influence my insecurities over changing grew like an unattended plant that soon takes over everything.

I was starting to get interested in girls, and starting to realise this was a one way street. And that I didn’t look a thing like the slim, toned celebrities they fancied.

On a family holiday to Jersey I wrecked a beloved Superman shirt leaving it a weird purple-pink colour because I refused to swim in the pool shirtless. 

I’m more comfortable with myself in a lot of ways. I voice my opinions, speak out for myself and don’t worry about my looks that much. But hopping about in that disabled toilet I realised that I still have those old hang ups.

I need to get better. In Sri Lanka I sweltered in the sun, only taking off my shirt when I knew nobody was about and keeping it within reach at all times. I went in the sea a couple of times, running in and out to avoid being spotted.

I haven’t swam in years but with Florida coming next year I’d like to be a bit more comfortable, so that even if I can’t quite summon the courage to take my shirt off I can at least go in the pool and risk a wet T-shirt moment. If I want to cross “swim with dolphins” off the bucket list I need to do something.

Hopefully the weight loss (which has stalled of late) will help and maybe getting a bit fitter again will make me feel more positive too.

I really appreciate and respect all those who promote body confidence and self love, but when it comes to myself I’m not quite there. I would love to be able to strut down a beach or go swimming without feeling self conscious and hating how I look, worrying what people think. I’d love to be comfortable and confident.

I’ve gotten better, and don’t worry about looking stupid as much. I’ve quit running from cameras too. Hell, I’ve even started putting selfies on Instagram.

My mug

But I still need to get to the stage where I don’t look in the mirror and hate what I see. And where I can change clothes without having to find the most secluded spot I can. It would just make my life a lot easier and happier if I could just do my changing in a room where I wasn’t worried about touching anything.
Sorry, this kind of turned into a ramble.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Sausage Party

Warning! Spoilers ahead!

Despite the success of adult orientated animation on the small screen, Hollywood has been less ready to dip it’s toe into feature length animation geared for grown ups. There have been a few attempts, but a 15 rated animated film is still a rarity. The trailers looked fun so MWF and I joined a friend and went to check out Sausage Party.

This, co-written by star Seth Rogen starts off with a simple, Pixar like premise “what if food in the supermarket had feelings” but then takes it in a far more darker direction. All the produce view humans as their gods and dream of being chosen to go to the “great beyond” outside their home in Shopwell’s supermarket.
Hot dog Frank (Rogen) and bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) develop an attraction and want to be together, hoping to be getting selected together. The relationship between dogs and buns is leant a sexual element.

Frank and Brenda

In the run up to Independence Day a jar of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) is returned and appears traumatised by what he saw on the outside, ranting that the “gods” are evil. When he is chosen again, alongside Frank and Brenda, he freaks out and tries to kill himself. Frank leaves his packaging to save him, followed by Brenda. In the confusion that follows both fall from the trolley, along with other products who are damaged in the chaos.
Lost in the store they try to get home although Frank is troubled by what Honey Mustard saidand begins questioning what is really going on. One of the other products that fell from the cart is Douche (Nick Kroll) an obnoxious feminine hygiene product (obviously) who blames Frank for his being discarded and damaged. Seeking revenge he begins drinking other products becoming stronger as a result.

Meanwhile, Frank’s friends Carl (Jonah Hill) and Barry (Michael Cera) have been taken home and witness the other products being cooked and eaten, horrified by what they see. Barry escapes and decides to head back to the store where things were better.

Can Barry get back? Will Frank work out what really happens in the great beyond? And if he does how will he change things?

As the premise tells you this is an incredibly silly film, and rather stupid. The film keeps the jokes coming quick and fast, and I laughed a fair few times but it doesn’t quite work. While the premise is clever there’s not enough there for a full length movie, as a short it might work but here it’s laboured and some of the jokes are worked to death.

Take Brenda and Frank’s companions on their journey Sammy Bagel Jr (Edward Norton) and Lavash (David Krumholtz). Both are stereotypes, a Woody Allen-like Jew and an angry Arabic character. While the initial gag about the Israel style situation between the two is funny, it drags on far too long and the continuing stereotypes feel lazy and old fashioned.

There are some parts that work though. A running joke about puns is quite well done especially when they acknowledge how laboured some of them are. It’s also quite clever in the way that it cuts between the human view of the world which is drabber and the colourful world of the products where they have facial features and so on.

The human version of events

It’s also quite a funny sequence where a stoner (James Franco) pierces the veil between the two worlds while tripping.

There are some quite dark moments as the film unfolds particularly when the products declare war on the humans, and it’s kinda jarring. And the attempts to go for a deeper subtext of talking about faith, acceptance and finding what people have in common, but it never really goes deep into anything and most importantly the characters don’t engage you fully. Without forming a connection with the players it’s hard to care and leaves this as a series of vulgarity and OTT moments which after a while lose their charm.

While it delivers some laughs it feels kinda like a bunch of teenagers trying to be as shocking as possible, and while they probably enjoyed it’s very messy, particularly a food orgy at the end which goes on far too long. It’s self indulgent and could have done with some trimming, which for a film that doesn’t even reach an hour and a half is quite damning.

Most telling is that it’s a day later and I don’t remember a single line. It’s a pity as I usually like Rogen’s stuff and this boasts an impressive cast, but it all feels a bit of a waste.

Verdict: There are enough laughs along the way but it feels flat and self-indulgent. They obviously had fun making it, but it doesn’t quite translate and it loses it’s way. I laughed but it gets old doesn’t have a lasting impact. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I don’t think I’ve ever had such mixed feelings about a book before. I picked this up at a charity shop, only dimly aware of Virginia Woolf and her writing. Her stream of consciousness writing was mentioned in something I read recently and then by chance I saw this a copy of this.

What I enjoyed about this was the way Woolf captures how a train of thought winds about and the way people make brief, quick stories for those they encounter. Much of the book follows the eponymous character as she prepares to throw a party in the summer of 1923, running errands, meeting old friends and interacting with her family. From here it spins off to follow other character’s thoughts and actions, and this is all done very well.

The problems are is that the story doesn’t really build towards anything. Perhaps due to convention I expected the different strands to come together but they never do, and it all feels rather flat. And not much happens, which makes sense as it follows a regular day, but it means that at times it feels a slog. Page after page is devoured but very little has happened or changed.

Luckily despite these frustrations it does benefit from some fantastic writing, with Woolf having a distinctive voice and keen insight for how people think. Characters have recurring phrases or ideas, which rang true for me and every character’s view reflects their own outlooks and prejudices.

At times the writing is beautiful, with Woolf capturing snapshots of London life and creating evocative images and believable, familiar characters. Her talent is obvious but the story is thin and left me unsatisfied at the end.

Verdict: Some beautiful writing and a skillful execution of stream of consciousness make this a decent read, but Woolf’s talent can’t quite make up for a lack of incident and an unsatisfying ending. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Finding Dory

I love the movie Finding Nemo which for me is right up there with The Incredibles and the Toy Story trilogy as the best work Pixar have done, so I was pretty stoked about a sequel, especially one that focused on Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), the upbeat fish with short term memory loss.

Picking up a year after the original Dory is still living with Marlin and Nemo (Albert Brooks and Hayden Rolence respectively). One day she remembers something about her childhood and parents, and decides to go find them, aided by an excited Nemo and reluctant Marlin. They cross the ocean where they find the Marine Life Institute. Unfortunately they are separated when Dory is captured by humans.

Inside the institute, Dory begins to remember some things and is marked for transfer. Enlisting the aid of cranky octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill) who doesn’t want to be released back in the wild and agrees to help if he can get Dory’s tag which will help him be transferred. They begin searching the institute looking for clues.

Dory and Hank

Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo must try to get in and find their friend. Along the way both are aided by different marine residents including two lazy sea lions, a shortsighted whale shark and a lonely clam. 

Can Marlin and Nemo find Dory? Will Dory find her parents? And if she does which family will she live with?
I quite enjoyed this film which is fast paced and fun. The plot is simple but the Pixar team load it with some exciting sequences, colourful characters and plenty of emotion, but it falls short of the original. it lacks the scale of Marlin and Dory’s journey across the ocean or the heart of the Marlin and Nemo story.

That’s not to say this isn’t emotionally involving as they take the comical Dory and add depth, exploring the isolation and sadness that comes with her condition. It also shows us her family life which is incredibly sweet and features an unbelievably cute baby Dory.

Baby Dory

This is the heart of the film, as is the theme of family, with Marlin and Nemo being driven to find the adopted Dory as she seeks out her biological family. The question of whether Dory will leave them is a major question and one we see the characters have to face with some reluctance.

The flashbacks are warm and sweet, and Dory’s fears and frustration about her loss and getting back are well done and moving. DeGeneres manages to make Dory engaging and likeable through her voice work and adds just the right wobble of uncertainty to the formerly cheery and charming character. It’s the same Dory audiences fell in love with, but with a slightly deeper insight.

The story moves along briskly and the action sequences have a chaotic, humourous tone which keeps the audience hooked and the laughs coming, as do a selection of new characters.

I laughed numerous times and it continues Pixar’s knack of layering jokes for adults into their family films. There are some nice running gags and Hank’s camouflage skills are used well throughout, and an OTT car chase is wonderful.

It’s gorgeous to look at and quite good fun but MWF and I both left with the feeling that this is a lesser Pixar work, good but with their ridiculous high standards a slight disappointment.

Verdict: Full of fun and with likeable characters, a simple, engaging plot. But it can never match the original and feels slightly lightweight in places. Good but not great. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.



Stop Sticking Giant Bows on Babies

The bow is too big. If you changed the scale no adult would wear a bow that big. Not by choice. Look at this poor model, look how unhappy she looks because of that stupid bow that some designer thought was a good idea. She knows it looks ridiculous.

But despite this I see them all the time. Babies forced to wear gigantic bows because of their mother’s insecurity and fear someone will misgender their daughter.

You’ve probably seen them too. A baby with a giant bow. The only purpose to say “This is a baby GIRL! Don’t you even dare think about saying that she’s a ‘handsome little fella'”

Is it really that annoying? Most babies kinda look alike, bald and with big eyes. Cute but dress ten babies in white and I bet the successful gender guess rate would be quite low. 

If someone does make a mistake just correct them and go on with your day. It’s no big deal. Just be glad they didn’t say something like “why the hell have you got a dog in your pram? And what the hell happened to it?”

People want to say something nice about your baby and if they’re not sure they’ll guess if it’s a boy or a girl, and they might be wrong but they know that they can’t just call the little nipper “it” as that’s just plain rude.
Just accept the compliment, politely inform them that he is a she, or vice versa and everything is sorted. Don’t dress your girl like a damn birthday present!

The old fashioned “pink for girls, blue for boys” is silly enough, but the bow trend is frankly ridiculous.

It’s silly to get worked up over. So what if a stranger thinks Glenda is Glen? Does it effect them at all? Didn’t think so.

I find it weird there’s no male equivalent. Or are that what those knitted beard hats are for?

Not gonna lie. That is cuter than a whole box of buttons.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.