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The Spirits of Sunday

Three small whiskies

And now for a brief Sunday diversion from the normal topic of this blog. I’d like to talk for a moment about whisky (although one could argue that whisky and journalism have often been closely linked…)

Some months back a jokey comment about heading out for a bottle of whisky to drown my frustrations was picked up by the team that manage the Grant’s Whisky twitter account. A little gentle leg-pulling by myself and Suw, amongst others (Twitter’s lousy search and my worse memory is making it hard for me to track down exactly who) actually led to Rebecca from the @grantswhisky team sending us all some miniatures of their products. I’ve finally got around to drinking all three, and these are my thoughts:

Grant’s Sherry Cask – the idea behind this (and the next) whisky is to age the spirit in a cask formerly used for sherry, imparting different flavours to the drink. And, in this case, the result is something a little warmer and smoother than a traditional Scotch. And, honestly, this didn’t grab me. It reminded me a little of drinking an Irish whiskey (triple distilled against Scotch’s twice), and I think I’d rather do that that drink this.

Grant’s Ale Cask – Now this was rather more up my street. The Ale cask has given a lovely creamy texture to the whisky that made me think of autumn evenings. An enjoyable, drinking whisky that I’ll be getting a bottle of once the summer is done. Something to look forward to after a walk in the woods…

Grant’s Family Reserve – If I’d drunk this on its own, I’d have really enjoyed it. I made the mistake of drinking it too close on the heels of the Ale Cask, though. They share too many notes to avoid making a comparison rather that treating the Family Reserve on its own merits. It’s less challenging to the palate that the Ale Cask, and that made it seem slightly insipid to me, but then I’ve always like my whiskies full of character and punch. I’d happily drink this, but I’d be secretly lusting after the Ale Cask.

Rather ironically, though, I wouldn’t count any of these three whiskies as the sort you’d use to drown your sorrows in. Far better to just let your sorrows drift away on an Ale Cask-aged haze…

Blogging London

It looks like the London Metroblogging site has a new competitor, Londonist. Like its competitor, it’s one of a group of city sites, which have a US-bias. And, like its competitor, it has got off to a less than promising start. It feels like it’s trying to be something like the opening pages of Time Out, with a mix of news and updates about local cultural events. Of the posts on the front page, only this one was of any interest. The rest, well, they felt like they were written for people who don’t live here – and maybe they are. It’s impossible to tell, because the link to the about page is broken,

As for the London Metblog, the quality of posts seems to be going up. I’m enjoying Bignoseduglyguy‘s stuff in particular. However, at least one of the contributors is an American, which seems to fly in the face of what they are attempting. Still, it’s a better read now than it was a few months ago, and that’s a good thing.

Movie Weekend

It’s been something of a movie weekend. After a couple of disappointments recently – we must be the only people who enjoyed the Spider-Man sequel less than the original and King Arthur was decidedly average – I’m happy to report that we were delighted both times.

On Friday night One Woman took ourselves off to see The Bourne Supremacy, which was great fun. The film sucked us both in and didn’t let us go until we emerged into the Docklands night a couple of hours later. It’s a really relentless watch, with the story barely pausing from the moment it gets underway. Great stuff. I really hope they go on and do the third books as well.

The only complaint I have about the evening was the feeling in the cinema. Normally, we go to the UCI Filmworks out on the Greenwich peninsula, but I fancies having a drink, so we went to the UGC West India Quay. My, but the people there were stressed. There was an edgy tension about the crown that made queuing at the concessions stand and waiting for the film to start positively unpleasant. I don’t think we’ll go there on a Friday night again.

On Saturday we treated ourselves to the 2 DVD edition of Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World. Over two hours of 19th Century seagoing glory. Barely a hint of land. BArely any women, and certainly no romance. A barrel-chested English hero with a passion for the sea and a love of classical music. How could I not enjoy it?

And they did it without Americanizing it. Will wonders never cease?

Duelling Ukuleles

I’m just back from Blackheath Halls, where we saw the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. The orchestra is just what it sounds like: eight people with ukuleles of various sizes (although the big, bass uke looked suspiciously like a guitar to me….), doing what amounted to musical comedy by covering various songs with their fine little instruments.

It strikes me again and again just how skilled musicians have to be before they can perform really good musical comedy. There was one marvellous moment during the encore where all eight members of the orchestra were singing or playing a different song. Wow. That’s not easy to do.

Oh, and it’ll be a long, long time before I forget the Tony Bennett-style rendition of Wuthering Heights. If you get the chance to catch these guys, do so.

Reviews, Opinions & Screeching Howler Monkeys

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to talk about reviews. You see, a good friend of mine, Mr Bruce Baugh, is busy undergoing a firestorm of mixed messages on his latest project, the D20 edition of Gamma World. This is an almost inevitable side effect of the internet age. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, true enough. What most people fail to realise is that they are not entitled to have that opinion taken seriously. The ability to bash out a few hundred barely coherent words and post them on the internet does not automatically make your opinion worthy. That respect has to be earned.

How do you get this respect? To answer that question, let's take a little step back into the past.

Read more

Reviews: Alias: Come Home & X-Force: Famous, Mutant & Mortal

Over in LiveJournal Land, several of us are keeping journals of what we read through 2003. I’m going to push that a little bit further here by shoving up media reviews as I go. I used to do film and theatre reviewing for my student newspaper and it’ll be nice to get back into the swing of it. (Note that I use the word “reviewing” and not “criticism”. I know where the boundaries of the two lie, and I’m not aspiring to the latter just yet.

Alias vol. 2: Come Home
Brian Michael Bendis seems to be working from an interesting thesis in Alias, which has nothing to do with the TV series of the same name. He postulates that in the Marvel Universe there are superheroes, who are prone to being sucked into Secret Wars, dropped into the Negative Zone and battling strangely dressed foes above the streets of New York. Then there’s pretty much everyone else, who watches that shit on their TV or reads about it in their papers. Bendis adds a third layer, that sits between the two. People with super powers, but who have never really made it into the superhero category or, if they did, didn’t last very long. Now they live in the real world again, with occasional periods of overlap with the world of the superheroes. In a sense, the book is the spiritual successor of Kurk Busiek’s Marvels.
The heroine of Alias is Jessica Jones, a reformed superhero who now eeks out a living as a rather seedy private eye. Come Home collects the third arc of the comic book, in which Jessica is hired to find a girl who has gone missing is a small town. The previous two arcs dealt with what happens when the real world impacts on the superheroic, and what happens when someone from the real world gets obsessed by super-powered characters. This story develops the theme by looking at how living in the Marvel Universe affects people living far, far away from the centre of the action.
As ever, Bendis’s strength lies in his dialogue. He is one of the few writers in comics today who can make two ordinary people standing still and talking to each other riveting, and he is ably supported by Michael Gaydos, whose scratchy pencils give a grimy, harsh edge to the proceeds yet convey a wonderful range of facial expression. These two talents are well used in this detective tale set in small-town America.
Essentially, if you like the idea of a tale of very real, very ordinary people set in and around the madness of the Marvel milieu, with a harsh, gritty edge, you’ll love this. Most of the drama derives from normal human relationships and the inevitable problems that occur. It’s an exploration of love, bigotry and hope and has the finest dating scene published in recent comics history, only a handful of pages after a really nasty one-night stand.
Bendis is doing something really uninteresting and different with an established comics universe and I really can’t praise this book enough.

X-Force: Famous, Mutant and Mortal
Like the Alias book, this recreation of X-Force is doing something very different within the established confines of the Marvel Universe. More of that in a moment. First, I’d like to coo over the presentation of this wonderful hardback book. I admit it:; I’m a complete bibliophile and the hardback collections that Marvel publishes are things of beauty. The printing makes both art and colouring shine and the extra features make what’s already a good-value package even better. Mmmmm.
Milligan and Allred aim for stylised satire rather than the gritty realism of Bendis and Gaydos, giving us a tale of a celebrity mutant team whose wealth and fame is only marred by their brutally short life expectancy. In short, this is pretty much what a mutant super-team would probably end up as in the real world. Their missions are stage-managed for the camera, their exploits ruthlessly merchandised and their every move watched in fascination by the mass media.
It’s clear that the authors are having a vest amount of fun with this book, taking pot shots at both the conventions of comics in general and the X-books in particular, as well as our media-obsessed culture. Plotlines play out with unexpected, cynical yet utterly convincing outcomes and characters perish with frightening frequency. In short, it takes the piss.
And then, all of a sudden, it sneaks up behind you and makes you care. By the end of this collection, you’re starting to sympathise with these shallow, fame-obsessed characters. The disposable (literally) caricatures of the early chapters are replaced by characters we come to care about and understand, without ever losing the biting edge of the satire. It’s a real page-turner this one, and only the necessity to get some sleep before work stopped me from reading the whole damn couple of hundred pages in one sitting.
Allred’s art takes some getting used to, with its mix of retro 60s poses and modern minimalism. However, it does grow on you to the point where a single fill-in artist for a chapter seems to stick out like a sore thumb. Somehow the style of art matches the style of storytelling perfectly. Allred does a particularly disturbing set of intestines, for a start.
If you’ve never read an X-book in your life, then read this. It makes Grant Morrison’s New X-Men look like late 90s Scott Lobell work.