Gig Review: Iron Maiden at the Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff

You know you’re going to get one hell of a show when Maiden are in town, and they did not disappoint last night. After a short video intro, Bruce Dickinson appeared, hunched over a smoking cauldron, a hooded robe around him.

The showmanship, almost panto-like in it’s playfulness at times adds to it but driving the show is the music. As Bruce finished the four guitarists rushed to the fore, while he remained downstage, atop a raised platform above Nicko McBrain’s drumkit.

Dickinson in action

Steve Harris, continuing the theme of West Ham fans being sound, wielded his bass with boundless enthusiasm. This was matched by the three guitariats, who all carried themselves with seemingly endless energy and obvious enjoyment. The band look like they’re having a ball and it translates to the crowd who were really getting into it.

It was a pleasant experience to be in the younger half of a concert audience for a change, and there was a good atmosphere among the mainly old rockers seeing their heroes perform.

A lot of the songs played were from their most recent album, Book of Souls, and so not so familiar to MWF and I, but they did bring out some of the big hits,  with “The Number of the Beast”, “The Trooper” and “Fear of the Dark” among them.

What I loved most was the sense of humour, the band don’t take themselves too seriously and there to have fun. They delight in the showy sets, the costumes and the excess. When mascot Eddie shows up it’s a fun, goofy cameo with the band messing around.

Great fun, providing some class tunes in an entertaining performance, well worth checking out if they come to your town.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Of Mice and Me by Mishka Shubaly

I’ve become a fan of Shubaly’s work because he has the knack of mixing dark humour and scathing honesty with moments of fragile tenderness. This is evident in this short read, which is another slice of honest, introspection and tinged with a recovering addict’s regret and worry.

While staying with his sister and his family, Shubaly rescues a baby mouse from the pet dogs and decides to look after it. Nobody is surprised than he, as he lacks a nurturing instinct and keeps people at a distance. And yet over the following days he becomes devoted to his rodent son.

The mouse serves as a jumping off point for Shubaly to examine family and caring. He reflects on the once strained relationships with his family and how they have slowly strengthened and healed.

He examines his own ideas about fatherhood and his suitability as a father, with honest admissions of fears and flaws.

It’s a very touching, emotional book which is a captivating read. There are still glimpses of Shubaly’s jet black humour and the chaos of his past, but it’s a tender book without lurching into cloying schmaltz.

Verdict: A moving and charming short read, Shubaly continues to impress but shows a softer side here. Lovely stuff. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Disney Classics #11: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad

The final film of the wilderness period is another I hadn’t seen before, this includes stories based on The Wind in the Willows and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. These are narrated by Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby respectively.

For my money the Ichabod Crane story works best, as it’s got a stronger story and is done with genuine humour. The story is handled well and the animation is cartoony but well done, and Crosby’s voice is a good choice for the narrator.

The eponymous character is slightly pompous which makes the mishaps that befall him more entertaining.

The Headless Horseman rides

The Mr Toad portion was unlikely to score big with me as I’ve never liked The Wind in the Willows and the character of Toad is such a douche. The court sequence however is well done and the characters are well realised, but the plot is simple and like I said, Toad is just annoying.

This feels like a lesser film from the get go and despite sterling work from Rathbone and Crosby, neither half really catches fire. It’s entertaining enough, but compared to many other Disney movies it’s weak and rather forgettable.

A shame because as a short the Ichabod half would work quite well, but bolted together it doesn’t quite work. It’s better than the compilation of shorts that preceded it, but it still doesn’t feel like a proper film.

Disney Score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Fat Boy on a Diet: Off the Scale

I went to the doctor’s on Friday. Fear not, reader, I’m not ill but I have been iffy recently and thought better to have a check up in case it turned out to be something I could fix.

After a quick exam I was asked to hop on the scales.

This is par for the course, at least for chubsters like me. I get it. Weight can be an exacerbating factor for many things and a doc should prompt you to get fitter in the same way they should tell people to quit smoking, health promotion is part of their job.

I don’t get when people complain about doctors advising them to lose weight, I mean, sure it should be approached tactfully, but what do you expect them to do? Ignore something that might be detrimental to your health?

So, logically I don’t mind. But I still feel embarrassed. Of course, it was about to get worse.

I stepped on and the shot round like Usain Bolt in a jetpack. 

In fact it shot right by the last number. 

Yes, my weight was beyond the measurements of the scale.

If only blushing burnt calories. I’d have dropped half a stone easy.

The Doc, without a word, fetched a second scale. This had a display screen. This could show my weight.

I know I’m big. I didn’t expect to step off at 10st or something. But seeing it in black and white hammers home.

Before uni, I was the lightest I had been for years. I was jogging, eating better and walking everywhere. I’m now back where I started in 2011, where I got on the scales for the first time in years.

The weight loss resolution is dead in the water. Penny pinching for the wedding meant I had to stop Chub Club. Laziness and apathy has seen my weight tick up slowly. Worse, I knackered my knee last year and that means jogging is out.

The doctor advised power walking. I have become Harold Bishop.

Dropping weight for the wedding seems a folorn hope. 5 months to go. Suit fitting in a month. I can shift a bit by October, hopefully, but it won’t be a lot.

Looking good and being comfortable in Florida looks unlikely.

The blame lies with me, and I need to buck up and sort this out. I can’t run, but there’s a local gym. It has a pool, but I don’t think I’m ready for that. 

I have to do better.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Bag of Meat on Ball of Dirt by Mara Altman

I’ve read a fair few of Mara Altman’s Kindle Singles already, so I knew I was going to get a fun, warm and personable read. This book sees her travel to India to find people who are trying to find themselves.

It’s interesting and she has to overcome her own shyness to talk to strangers. She then interviews them about why they’re there. She finds a world of hippies, gurus and a few stereotypes, but it does raise the question of why it’s India people go on their personal quests? Can’t you find yourself anywhere?

  These snapshots of the travellers are quite entertaining but the book feels a bit aimless.

Why Altman chose this topic seems vague and unlike her other books it doesn’t revolve around a personal life event or experience. For me it suffers because of this as Altman feels out of place, and it lacks resolution.

It’s an entertaining enough quick read but it’s a bit something of nothing.

Verdict: Altman is a skilled and likeable writer but this book feels pointless and unsatisfying. Raises plenty of smiles but the weakest of her books I’ve read. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Favourite Films #46: The Return of the Jedi

In Clerks, Dante Hicks dismisses the third film in the Star Wars trilogy saying “All Jedi had was a bunch of muppets”. It’s a harsh assessment of the movie, but highlights a problem that some viewers have with the movie. The Ewoks.

ewok-wicket

This alien race, who look like teddy bears, are the kind of thing that little kids love, but for older audiences appear rather cutesy and twee. Personally, I quite like the Ewoks, because their guerrilla tactics against a superior foe are surprisingly brutal and they are kinda cute. Also, they don’t look so bad after some later additions to the universe.

jar jar

While it’s not as good as Empire, I still love this movie, which continues the trilogy’s crowd pleasing, entertaining action. It brings the Darth Vader (the body of David Prowse voiced by James Earl Jones) story to an end, with him earning redemption thanks to the faith and goodness of his son Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Their final showdown where the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) attempts to get Luke to give in to the Dark Side is well done, with Luke finally realising what’s going on and stopping himself.

Vader, witnessing this mercy and then the Emperor’s attack on Luke finally rediscovers his good nature, lost years earlier. He sacrifices himself to kill the Emperor and Luke escapes before the Rebels manage to destroy the second Death Star, which they had been tricked into believing was yet to be operational.

trap

The Death Star, half built and hanging in space is visually striking and the revelation that the Emperor has set a trap for the good guys raises the stakes greatly and sets up the largest space battle of the series.

Meanwhile, on the planet there’s a different battle going on as Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) lead a small rebel force, and the Ewoks against the Empire’s forces to try and disable the force field that protects the Death Star. The fight, which sees the primitive Ewoks triumph through ingenuity and surprising viciousness (their cuteness distracts from the fact they are straight up murdering Stormtroopers).

Han Solo’s rescue from Jabba’s clutches is a cracker, providing some old school heroics from Luke Skywalker, and shows Leia is a badass herself, having posed as a bounty hunter she thaws out the frozen smuggler only to be kidnapped, but she gets free and kills Jabba. It’s a shame all these heroic moments have been overshadowed in the public consciousness by her golden bikini.

princess-leia-luke-skywalker

Of course, the movie also includes the big reveal that Luke and Leia are twin siblings, which Luke discovers from the dying Yoda (Frank Oz). It changes the dynamic between the two, and works rather well. It also clears the way for Han and Leia’s relationship to blossom fully, and this is the heart for much of the movie, with the two’s bickering softening and Han confessing his feelings this time around.

What makes this movie work is the ending, where good triumphs and Luke makes peace with his father, and the galaxy celebrates. It’s an entirely satisfying ending to the series and while it’s since been added to, it still serves as a solid ending.

There’s heroism, resolution and some cracking intergalactic action, and just like the other two movies it continues to entertain years and many rewatches later.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Would You Rather? Part 4: Caves, Clowns and Climbing Trees

Would you rather be the best in the world at climbing trees or the best in the world at jumping rope?

I think I would go for the trees, because that’s probably something I’d enjoy more. I could be a nature photographer or something, climbing up to get pictures of the critters and whatnot.

Being able to jump rope well wouldn’t help as I’m not a Victorian schoolgirl or a boxer.

Would you rather live in a cave or a tree house?

Tree house. Aside from people terrified of the slightest height, who would pick the cave? Especially as some tree houses are pretty awesome.

9262

Would you rather have everything on your phone (browser history, pictures etc.) accessible to anyone who Googles you or never use a cell phone again?

The inconvenience of not having a phone would be pretty annoying, especially as I like using my phone as a distraction. But at the same time, would I rather lose that and have my personal stuff shared?

I guess I’d have to sacrifice my phone. Because while it’s highly unlikely people would be Googling me, I’d rather not run the risk of some random getting my emails and text messages.

Would you rather be accidentally responsible for the death of a child or accidentally responsible for the deaths of three adults?

If I’m picking one or the other surely the “accidental” part is out the window? Because you’re choosing one of the options to happen?

This is a really tough one, because like most normal people killing a child is utterly beyond the pale, but it’s rather hard to condemn three over one. Logically you should pick the kid, but there’s that emotional aspect that just messes with you.

This is a rough one. I guess I’d pick the kid, because I think the loss of three adults would have a much wider impact on the world, and the guilt over three lives is bound to be more intense, surely?

Would you rather all plants scream when they are cut/picked or animals beg for their lives when killed?

I imagine that animals make a lot of noise anyway, but as I’m not responsible for killing my own food I don’t have to face that. On the other hand, with plants I do cut the grass occasionally and pick blackberries so the screams would impact my life more.

So, I’d rather animals beg for their lives, simply because I don’t have to hear them.

I wonder if we did have to kill our own food more of us would be veggies?

Would you rather lose your best friend or all of your friends except your best friend?

I don’t really have a best friend, more like a circle of friends who are at the same level. So, I’d probably pick to keep that little group at the cost of everyone else than the other way round as I’ve been mates with them for years, and can probably do without the more distant friends and acquaintances better.

Would you rather have the police hunting you for a murder you didn’t commit or a psychopathic clown hunting you?

I hate clowns.

At least the cops would have to abide by certain rules and hopefully could be convinced of my innocence. But a psycho clown? Probably not open to reason.

And I’d be freaked out the whole time. So, I’d take the police option. Unless I thought there was a chance I could take the clown.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: See Them Die by Ed McBain

I decided to return to the 87th Precinct, and I’m glad I did as this is a belter. 

Love the variety of covers for the same book

It ditches the usual formula of starting with a body being discovered and instead sets the scene on a hot, sunny street. The characters are introduced slowly; a sailor, a cafe owner, a punk kid, the cops. Then it transforms into a tense stand off between the police and a cornered criminal. 

It’s aided by McBain’s knack for evocative description and character, a keen eye which layers in background for all the players in the tale. It’s also quite interesting to see McBain, through the interaction of two of the Precinct’s detectives, loutish Parker and Puerto Rican Hernandez. The story is set in the Puerto Rican neighbourhood, and the racial tensions bubble away in the background and in the different characters. 

It adds a different level to the book, and allows an exploration of how the community reacts to the stand off and the criminal involved. To some he’s a hero. To others a disgrace. Even the cops differ on their view of how he wound up there.

The tension ratchets up and the different subplots unfold nicely throughout, with McBain cleverly acknowledging what would be a happy ending before stating “but that’s not what happened “. The finale, a tense, bloody climax to the siege is handled with simple brutality and manages to be satisfying and frustrating.

Throughout the writing is filled with the usual wit, toughness and intelligence that I’ve come to expect from McBain and while the slang and some attitudes are dated, it still holds up as a gripping, enjoyable read with depth and empathy beyond it’s pulpy trappings.

Verdict: Another excellent addition to the series, this is an incredibly absorbing quick read which hooks you in. McBain builds tension throughout and crafts realistic characters. A cracking read. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


15 Minutes #GE2017: Who to vote for?

The general election is fast approaching, and I thought I’d write about it on my blog. However, to stop it just turning into a massive rant I’m keeping it simple and to a 15 minute timer. So here we go.

stream_img

Ever since Theresa May announced the snap election a few weeks back the British press has been working itself up. The parties have been scrutinised, they’ve made announcements and they’ve started pitching their manifestos.

Now, I think voting is something everyone should do but I can understand people’s hesitation and doubts over our current system. I’m living in a different constituency at the moment, one currently held by the Conservatives and it leaves me in an odd position of not knowing who to vote for.

Under a proportional representation system it would be simple enough, and I would just pick the party I agree with the most. However, the first past the post measure that we employ in the UK means that there has to be some tactical voting, which sucks as it means voting against someone instead of for.

I’m currently inclined to vote for Plaid Cymru, as I respect their leader, agree with their policies and as we blunder into Brexit talks, would like someone to speak up for Wales in a way that I don’t think the other parties will.

92001782_plaidconflw-2

However, Plaid aren’t much of a force in the Vale of Glamorgan and so it’s likely to come down to Labour vs the Tories.

The Tories are right out of course. Their austerity push has just caused people to suffer and there is a startling lack of empathy about them. Witness how the NHS is doing in England under Tory rule. I also don’t like the “no deal is better than a bad deal” argument and the bullishness approaching Brexit.

And frankly, I don’t trust the Tories to serve the public properly. And I don’t want to see the NHS slowly fall apart until they can justify scrapping it. Look at healthcare in the States, and you realise that for all it’s flaws, the NHS is a brilliant creation and something we should be proud of.

So, to stop them do I vote for Plaid and hope they have an upswing in support? Or do I vote for Labour, a party I don’t have much warmth for.

Here’s the thing, I regard Labour as better than the Tories, but that’s taken a beating in my lifetime. It was a Labour government that lied to the public and entered an illegal war which has caused far more problems than any it solved.

And the party hasn’t helped itself over the last year or so with some monumental gaffes, infighting and by failing to stage a meaningful opposition to the Tories. Theresa May isn’t a strong PM, but she’s never really had to look like one because Corbyn has been so ineffectual on the opposite side of the house.

He seems a decent bloke, and some of his ideas are sound, but I can’t see him as a leader and I think Labour are so fractured that they would struggle to hold it together. May might have pushed the “strong and stable” line to hard, but at least the Tories all seem capable of falling in line behind a leader. Labour seem to have split, and there’s a nastiness to both factions. They’ve made it alarmingly easy for the Tories, by looking massively incompetent and disorganised in opposition.

Worse yet, Corbyn has announced that he won’t make a coalition with other parties, which seems foolhardy. If both of the parties fail to secure a majority he’ll be in an impossible position, either holding to his position and allowing the Tories to form a coalition and retain power, or else go back on his word and catch hell for it.

No, I think as a party leader you have to acknowledge that if you don’t get a majority you’ll do your best for the public and form a coalition with like minded parties.

As for the other parties? Well, there’s not much there:

  • The Lib Dems- They have a few decent policies and have cleverly set themselves up as the anti-Brexit party after Labour put up very little resistence to May’s plans. But the sting of 2010 still lingers and they don’t seem to have much of a chance.
  • The Greens- I admire the Greens for their enthusiasm, and they have some decent policies, but they haven’t got a hope, have they?
  • UKIP- Never.
  • Independents- They may be well meaning but I can’t think of one who actually made it to Westminster, and once there they are a lone voice. That being said, with the right manifesto and the right candidate it’s a possibility.

I guess I still have some thinking to do on this before I go to the polls.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Football Neutral: Season 2014/15 by Jim Smallman

One of my favourite books that I read last year was Jim Smallman’s first Football Neutral. This is the second season as Smallman continues his travels to various clubs. A stand up comic, Smallman decided that attending football matches on Saturdays instead of wasting time in cafes, and blogged about them, the results being collected here.

Like the first one this made me miss the experience of going to matches regularly and I’ve made a nee resolution to try and go to at least five matches in the 2017/18 season. I would especially love to go see Clapton FC, who, based on the entry here, have a great following that creates a fun, entertaining atmosphere.

The Clapton players marking their anti-homophobia match

Smallman writes with natural charm and enthusiasm. His analysis of the games is fair and unpretentious, but where he excels is capturing the atmosphere and characters of the matches. An astute people watcher and seemingly a lover of humanity, these are usually warm and funny.

Throughout the book, Smallman is enthusiastic and passionate about football and it’s infection. 

He also seems like a top bloke, and is great company here.

Hopefully, there will be more collections to come.

Verdict: A charming, fun read that gives readers a great tour around British football, with a likeable and engaging guide in Smallman. It’s fuelled by a simple, honest love of the game and its fans and gives more background to clubs I only knew from the classifieds. A nice, easy read full of charm. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.