Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Just another Wednesday in Japan...

It began rather well, waking up at 6am after an unprecedented - for me at least - 8 and a half hours sleep. I grabbed a quick cup of coffee and experienced that awful situation of being really pressed for time, but having a hot drink to put away. Then, whilst walking to the station carrying my latest reading matter, and anticipating a glorious 15 minutes of uninterrupted reading, one of the teachers from school pulled over in his car and said he'd give me a lift. Cue some small talk, the chewing of gum, some very grammatical but slightly flawed communication and a quick doze in what was a very warm, smooth car. In my class from hell, the normally blase girls were quite interactive and asked me questions in English. The same couldn't be said for the boys, however, one of whom (who looks like a little pig and needs an ear boxing) relentlessly tried to tug my goatee. An uneventful afternoon and early evening, until my fiance arrived unexpectedly, and, before she left, asked me to swear on my Tango and Cash vhs (a bible wasn't to hand) that I wouldn't ever cheat on her. Of course, I swore. To return the favour, she swore the same oath on my bowling ball. And now I am faced with a tough decision... One Million Years BC or Black Rain?

A few messages to give out...

To the middle aged harridan behind me in the supermarket queue yesterday - nudging my basket out of the way, tutting under your breath and trying to edge me along with your basket will only ever make me go even slower to spite you. Why not spend the few seconds waiting time by preparing the exact amount of change you need, instead of causing a hold up behind you as you dig silver out of your louis vuitton purse with gnarled claws?...

To the nishitetsu bus driver last night - kudos to you sir. Despite being held up by traffic and then being thwarted all the way by death defying Japanese motorists, you managed to knock a full 3 minutes off the journey time and afforded me the luxury of the early train home. Thank you, sincerely.

To the middle aged man that I sat next to on the train tonight - how terrible it must have been to have to sit next to a foreigner for 15 minutes. Perhaps that was why you had a face like Donald Rumsfeld chewing a wasp, and why you kept sighing as if on stage. You're lucky I didn't have a tissue on me, else I'd have blown my nose loudly and dropped the sopping tissue in your lap. Arrogant arse.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The strange stuff you see at night...

I've seen a lot of strange things since I've been in Japan, but they've always been strange in the funny sense. That was until a week or so ago when I was walking from the elevator to my front door. For no real reason, I glanced up at the wall that is opposite my apartment, 2 floors up. This is what I saw...

It looks like there are little children in the window doesn't it? They're actually hairdressing mannequins, and are the creepiest things I've seen for years. I can understand that a hairdresser living there would conceivably put the mannequins on the window sill, but why oh why would they make them all face my apartment?...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Two of my favourite things in the world...

Although I'm the first to admit that I enjoy perks such as the internet (as this Blog alone proves) and occasional bursts of derring do, it's the simple things in life that really please me. And I can think of no finer examples than these:

firstly, on a Friday night after work, going to hundred yen shop and coming across goods with adorably serious phrases such as "Over-optimism modest chocolate and a marshmallow of a pretty strawberry make you feel gentle"

and secondly, having a coffee in a kissaten and letting the cream make its patterns.

A very bad aspect of my city...

Above a stylish clothes shop was the best sandwich shop in town. In fact, the best sandwich shop I have ever come across. It was near legendary when I worked just down the street between November 2004 to April this year, and at least one or two of my colleagues would make the short trip there every day. It was cheap, it was delicious, the atmosphere was good and the owner was incredibly friendly and open to foreigners.

Unfortunately, the shop was turned into a hairdressers over the summer. Just what we all need, another "hair make" shop to go with the 500 others in the city. And how many sandwich shops, good or average, does Kurume have? Well, I'm still looking... I'll let you know if I find one...

The end of the Japanese Experiment

As can be seen from the above picture, the bag of videos has been pilfered! And much quicker than I expected...

Saturday, November 26, 2005

George Best

When I heard that George Best was at death's door, my immediate reaction was a lack of sympathy, due to the fact that he drank his own liver away and then squandered the one that was donated to him, which would have been better utilised elsewhere. Now, in the wake of his death, the thought strikes me; his genius as a footballer was what really killed him, not the lifetime of booze. As is the case with so many natural virtuosos, he was an ordinary guy with an extraordinary talent. Suddenly finding the world in his hands, he wasn't equipped to handle that kind of responsibility. The other great sporting geniuses in modern times (Alex Higgins, Maradonna, Ronnie O'Sullivan) all have demons that come with the talent, and even though he literally drank himself to death, it's hard not to feel just a little bit sorry for George Best.

Friday, November 25, 2005

A Nova student once told me that he didn't like girls from England because "they're fat, loud and eat too many chips". Whilst this is a rather sweeping statement, it does encompass a number of the girls that you can see lining the city roads on a Friday night. You know the sort - wearing a navel revealing crop top despite having a 36 inch waist and a spare tyre, kebab in one hand, bottle of smirnoff ice in the other. Could there be anything more unattractive? Probably, but I'm not sure what it could be...

The same Nova student went on to say that even though Japanese girls could often be rather highly strung and fashion-oriented, they at least had some sense of propriety and decorum. And small waists and on the whole slim, attractive figures. I had to agree with him. Thus far, life with my fiance has been wonderful. She is kind and caring, polite and funny, interesting and thoughtful. The student told me that he dated an English girl when he was in London, and within a few weeks he was horrified by her behaviour. "She would drink until she fell down, and then shout at me when I tried to help her. She never did any kind of housework and would scream at me if I asked her to do anything for me. Her friends were all unfriendly and childish and I hardly saw her when they weren't there."

He asked me why girls like that behave the way they do. Good question... the emergence of the laddette in popular culture? Decades of girls being told that it's their right to expect instant gratification? Bars' policies of having ladies nights of discounted (or sometimes free) drinks? Probably a mixture of all of these.

"Is that why you came to Japan?" he asked me afterwards, "to escape from the girls?"

I had to answer that no, it wasn't. I came to Japan primarily because I had met my fiance, and she lived there, and also as I had always been fascinated with Japan and wanted to see what it was like. With hindsight though, I certainly don't miss seeing gangs of lumpy laddettes with "kelly bellies" vomitting on the pavement, and a further reason for my emigration was the deep rooted political correctness that was bearing bitter fruit (firemen taking their fire department to court because a fire they arrived at was too hot, a school boy with green hair taking his school to court for sending him home and causing him stress). In February 2004 I thought that England was in ruins, and I couldn't wait to leave. Now, although I do miss certain things, I find myself feeling exactly the same...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

One of these days...

Just as the almost-perfect sign at Nishitetsu train station urges ("please push the red button in case someone falls into the track area" instead of "please push the red button if someone falls into the track area"), the following sign at Yanagawa station is begging for its bluff to be called. Seeing this before me last week, I fancied a tasty danish within that was priced at 120 yen. "Insert an exact amount of money". What about if I put in 100 yen? That's a more exact amount than 120 yen. Would the station master have let me had my danish if I had persisted with my line of reasoning? Probably, but it would have taken hours of deliberations and time wasteage, and forms signed in triplicate...

A Travesty!

Settling down last night to watch Mad Max on video, imagine my horror when it became apparent that instead of the Australian original version, this was the American dubbed version! Oh my god! How they managed to find such a bunch of hamfisted hacks to do the voices I'll never know... and every scene with even a whiff of drama or emotion was given the faux orchestral schmaltz treatment... fucking awful. American audiences are too dense to understand dialects and too lazy to read subtitles, hence the travesty we have here...

Schoolgirl Winter Fashion

Last week, during our interminable morning meeting, I was absently looking through the window at the students making their way to their classrooms, and here is a picture of what I saw...

A too-cool-for-school-girl wearing both the puffiest, shortest puffer jacket and the shortest skirt in the world. Bear in mind that this was just after half eight in the morning, and the temperature was close to 8 degrees above zero...

With a pretty open afternoon here at the high school, I have taken it upon myself to listen to Metallica’s …And Justice For All album and give it some kind of critical appraisal.

I first listened to it back in 1994 during the summer holidays from school. It was a time of being 14, idolising Metallica with almost unwavering devotion and due to that, playing the guitar every day with vigour. Widely regarded as a lesser album than the albums that immediately preceded and followed it (Master of Puppets and The Black Album respectively), …And Justice For All has a number of things going against it – most notably the fact that all the songs are really long and intricate, and that the questionable mixing of the album totally negates any bass and reverb.

Nonetheless, I’ve always thought that Justice has some of the band’s finest material, and without further ado, let’s set things in motion with the first track…


The intro of this song has always affected me physically… it’s follows a Classical Music progression and is aching somehow, which perfectly fits the topic of the song – that we humans are killing the earth with our pollution, our progress and our decadence. As soon as I hear the harmonious fade in, I get what my fiancé would call “chicken skin”. The body of the song is vintage Metallica, with tight riffs and fast, melodic passages from Kirk Hammett. For me, this kind of song shows Metallica approaching their best – monster guitar riffs with an important message in the lyrics. However, the production greatly hampers the overall impact.

…And Justice For All

The title track continues the Classical theme introduced in the previous song with a very 18th Century opening, utilising both Hetfield’s sense of harmony and Hammett’s ear for a counter melody. Again, as is the case with Blackened, …And Justice For All has an important message to convey – that capitalism and greed and money are destroying the truly important things in life; justice, honour, truth and temperance. Ulrich’s drums patterns that eventually introduce the first verse are memorable and quite different from anything else Metallica did prior to this album. It’s not all good though – Hammett’s solo is formulaic and lacks the kind of spark and depth that would come on The Black Album, and at 9’45” it’s far too long.

Eye of the Beholder

From the age of 14 to 15 and a half, this song was always known to my friends and I as “the song before One”. However, towards the end of 1995 we started to see this song for what it was: a musical force that had all the hallmarks of a great Metallica track – a heavy, iconic intro, great tempo changes and simple but monster riffs. There is also the continuation of the Classical theme with Hammett’s pre-solo and the passage leading up to it. Despite its robustness, Eye of the Beholder always suffered by being the track before One, though like The God That Failed on The Black Album it’s something of a sleeping giant.


The most famous song on the album, and arguably any of the other albums. The lyrics really mean something, and paint a very grim, realistic picture of a casualty of war that wakes up to finds he is limbless, and lacking all of his senses. Hetfield and Hammett expertly manage to make their guitars stark and heavy, and yet at the same time exquisitely sonorous and tender. Ulrich’s drum breaks compliment the music without being intrusive and along with Enter Sandman, it’s the Metallica song that has to be played at their concerts.

The Shortest Straw

Perhaps the reason why I liked this song so much is that it’s quite straightforward to play the main licks on the guitar and sound like Hetfield. That and the unusual, broken-sounding intro, as well as the fact that the main riffs move up and down the guitar neck. Again, the Classical theme is suggested in the run up to Hammett’s solo (which is, again, technically impressive but a seems a bit like he is going through the motions). The lyrics have meaning, but this is really a music song, not a word song.

Harvester of Sorrow

My favourite song on the album, then and now, for a number of reasons. Great intro, heavy, different-sounding riffs, Lars Ulrich doing stuff on the drums that I’d never heard before, well-fitting lyrics, an unobtrusive solo, nice hooks and an overall sense of dark energy that really set Metallica apart from all the other metal bands of the time. Such a lot happens in this song, but it’s tied together with Ulrich’s precursors and responses to Hetfield’s guitar. One of those truly great Metallica songs where great lyrics and great music combine to create a superb song.

The Frayed Ends of Sanity

Again, a different sounding intro which leads into one of the heavier and more memorable riffs on the album. Some great interplay between Hetfield and Hammett with close harmonies and complimentary passages, but again, the main solo is really nondescript and I always got the feeling that it was put in at the last minute with time running out. This is one of those songs that sounds better if you can play Metallica riffs on the guitar. Some great parts in it, but overall it can’t come close to the true greats of the album (One, Harvester of Sorrow).

To Live is to Die

This song was always skipped through when we were at school (it seemed too long and too slow at the time). Now, with a further decade under my belt, To Live is to Die strikes me as a real “studio” song… lots of cutting and pasting and experimentation. It feels like it was a big glob of all the parts that they had to choose from, and that at some point they would pare it down to a manageable song and knock it into shape, but they ran out of time.

Dyers Eve

As is the case with The Frayed Ends of Sanity, this is a bit of an album filler. With songs like One and Harvester of Sorrow, it sounds like a lot of effort was put in. With Dyers Eve, it really sounds like Metallica found themselves a song short and quickly threw together something that was kicking around on a demo tape. Great riffs, pretty mundane solo. Quite symbolic for the album as a whole really.

Well, there we have it… and what have I learned on this little journey back to the age of 15? Nothing I didn’t already know actually. It’s true that some of the songs on …And Justice For All are amongst the band’s best, but the frankly awful production and mixing makes them sound more like a 6th form band than the greatest metal group of all time, especially when you consider the superb job done on Master of Puppets and The Black Album.
At the time we were listening to the album at high school, my friends and I all wished that Metallica would re release the album exactly as it was but with the same production as on Puppets or The Black Album. Now, I wish they would trim the songs as well.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

On a Tuesday afternoon with not a lot to do...

Most afternoons are not exactly action packed for me at work, but today will take it to the extreme. That's because I am going to stay on at work until 8pm, in order to meet Ben and head back on the train together. It's now 2.50pm ish and already the fingers of lethargy are seeking limbs. My dilemma is simple... drink coffee but risk getting that bitter-mouth-and-tense-energy-rush or don't drink coffee and have a cat nap. Usually I'd choose the latter, but the President and the Principal have both paid a few visits to the office today, and I don't want to appear to be a loafing foreigner (even though I am).

So, what I thought I would do is sit here, and in a kind of stream of consciousness thing, try to think of the perfect crime. Actually, is there such a thing? I'll be content to come up with a crime that baffles Columbo for a time. So here goes...

I'm thinking that there's no such thing as a perfect crime, firstly as humans are not perfect themselves, and even if someone was, the kind of crime that would warrant staging and risking imprisonment for would likely be the sort of crime that would also warrant more than one person being in on it, and as we all know, when it comes down to the wire, we can only rely on ourselves.

That said though, many of the so called perfect crimes that are used - and thwarted - on TV are simplistic, and often ingenious. The example that springs to mind is the old chestnut of the victim being clubbed to death with some kind of root vegetable, only for the police to arrive and be served it as part of a stew, thus eliminating the evidence. Using murder as an example (because it would be rather easy to do a smaller perfect crime - say stealing a packet of sweets from a shop), how would I kill someone and get away with it?

Obviously, the first thing would be to work alone. Of course this would make it more difficult in many ways, but with only yourself involved there would be no unwanted wagging tongues. The second thing would be to kill someone you don't know. They say that the vast majority of murder victims knew their murderer, so this could be a way to get around that. Of course, the "benefit" of killing someone you know is that you know their routines, their habits, their weaknesses. To kill a stranger would mean that you would have to study their routines unseen for a while until you saw an opportunity.

Most people are murdered for a reason. Very few are murdered on a whim, but if we want to get away with it, maybe we should do just that (or at least make it appear that that is what we are doing). Ok, so we'll kill a stranger. And we'll work alone. This is where things start to get more tricky. First of all, we'd need to choose a victim. Too much reconnaisance and we'd leave a trail from the victim (unless we took measures, such as not doing the deed close to home, not looking in places that we know) and too little it could easily backfire (the victim could be a martial arts expert, or a suicide bomber on their mission).

Any kind of choice that has to be made decreases the chance of success, as we are trusting our intelligence, and as is the way of the world, there is always someone smarter than you. Whatever we decide to do, we would be restricted by the limitations of our brains. I have no evidence for what I am about to say, but something in the back of my head is telling me that most unsolved crimes are due to ineptness or oversight on the part of the good guys rather than devillish intelligence on the part of the bad. Herein is another problem... if we start making plans that are dependant on the mistakes of others, our chances decrease even further.

Ok, so here is the idea I've just had. How about strangling someone with their own hair? This way, you could cut it off afterwards, and there would be no clear evidence (although experts would be able to tell that their hair had recently been cut). I say clear evidence, because obviously there would be traces of DNA or micro fibres of hair on the body of the victim. Then there's the fact that such a victim would have to have had quite long hair in order for strangulation to work, and anyone that knew them would immediately notice the hair cut.

Unless... what about if the victim was killed by their hairdresser? Having somehow persuaded them to have their hair cut short, they could keep the locks and then fashion a noose or a strangulation device of some sort. But how realistic would it be to be able to get someone with long hair to cut it off just because you asked them to?

Well, I'm not sure this is going anywhere... surely the idea of the perfect crime appeals to us because life isn't perfect. We realise that our time on earth is short, and that in the grand scheme of things, even the famous figures of history won't live forever. Perhaps the idea of committing the perfect crime is our way of trying to leave some sort of perfection as our legac, in a world that is far from perfect?...

Friday, November 18, 2005

My new tincture of note...

It was a Thursday, halfway through the November of 2005. The temperature had started its swift descent, which would culminate in a frosty, blue veined February some 3 months later. Across the way from me, the mildly psychotic sports teacher was getting a shoulder massage from one of his more attractive students, and she was looking intently at his newly dyed black hair. My boss was wearing a light knit vestlet, and there was an interminably dull meeting going on in the counselling room, which is where the fridge is. Which is where my carton is milk was. Which is why I couldn't have coffee that morning.

So, braving the sun-lightened boxes of teas and herbs that overseas students had brought back from trips home, I tried to find something to drink. Faced with a choice of what appeared to be withered blossom leaves tea, undisclosed brown bits tea and ginger tea, I chose the latter. Not expecting much, I supped.

And by God it was the best thing I'd had for time! Essentially hot ginger ale, it was both soothing and with enough of a kick to get me through lunch time. Enquiring about it amongst my colleagues, it seems that only myself and the-teacher-that-resembles-my-aunty-and-probably-isn't-as-nice-as-she-makes-out-to-be like it, but unfortunately it is only available outside Japan (chiefly Korea and Taiwan). Even so, I have abox and a half left, and a glut of Korean students from which to procure more from...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Japanese Experiment

Ok, so here is my experiment... I have left a plastic bag filled with some videos that I can part with downstairs in the cycling area. How long will they remain there? Will anyone take them? Have they already gone? It was rather an executive decision to part with Ghost Dad and Brewster's Millions, but it's in the name of Science....

Friday, November 11, 2005

The reason why face huggers are so scary...

Face huggers... the name alone is enough to send a chill down your spine. The sight above sends another one. I've talked to not a few friends about the Alien films, and most of them say that the face huggers are scarier than the fully grown aliens. Of all the sci fi monsters over the decades, why is it that something so simple is arguably one of the scariest things of all?

I think the answer is simple. Face huggers are rapists. They forceably pregnate their victims, and are indiscriminate (man, woman, child, beast, fish, fowl, anything is fair game). Then there's the fact that the rape always results in childbirth, as it were, and the "mother" always dies in the process.

Like all great sci fi of this kind, the underlying message is that humans have become complacent about being at the top of the food chain. This, as well as the rape connotations, are not explicitly spelled out but suggested, and just like the alien egg that swells in the escophagus, this notion grows in the minds of the viewers. If you want more information on face huggers or aliens, click here.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Alternative Heroes - Pat Roach

Pat Roach will long be remembered for his role as Bomber in the excellent tv series Auf wiedersehen Pet. A gentle giant, Bomber was a proud, unassuming Cornishman that would utter "Bomber doesn't like that, Bomber doesn't", and it's a credit to the character that no one considers him a fool for talking about himself in the 3rd person.

In addition to Pat Roach's fame in Auf wiedersehen Pet, he is also one of the great movie henchmen, the English answer to Al Leong. Can't recall the big man in a movie? Let me refresh your memory:

- A Clockwork Orange (milkbar bouncer)

- Raiders of the Lost Ark (Giant Sherpa)

- Never Say Never Again (Lippe)

- Temple of Doom (giant Indian guard)

- Conan the Destroyer (Man Ape/Toth-Amon)

- Red Sonja (Brytag)

- Willow (Gen. Kael)

- The Last Crusade (Gestapo)

Pat Roach was also a fine wrestler, and I had the priviledge to see him (along with Big Daddy) at Diss Corn Hall c.1992. I must admit that until I began this entry, I had no idea that Pat Roach was dead (due to throat cancer in July 2004). One of the downsides to living in Japan is that it is very easy to get completely out of touch with world news, other than the CNN headlines. Once again, another of my childhood heroes has passed before I had a chance to meet them. Pat Roach joins the likes of Bruce Lee, Lee Van Cleef, John Lennon, Sid James and Peter Cushing at my minds eye dinner party. For all those great roles, for making the announcement about "no longer coming in your parlour" when wrestling went off the air in the UK, for being able to give Mr T a run for his money in the fisticuffs stakes, as well as for all the above, Pat Roach you are an Alternative Hero.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Osaka trip

With Japan being Japan, in order to set in motion the wheels of marriage, I had to head to Osaka today to sign two pieces of paper and swear on the bible that my marriage intentions were honourable. So, I was up at 5am and off to Hakata to catch an early shinkansen (bullet train for those of you not au fait with things Japanese).

Anyway, despite having to lug myself halfway across the country, it wasn't a bad day. In fact, it was one of those rare lucky days when everything seems to go in your favour. Allow me to elaborate with a list of what happened:

- First, I magically found a seat on the Jr train from Kurume to Hakata, despite not being at the front of the queue and it being quite busy for 6.20am.
- Second, I found not only the shinkansen but the door closest to my seat, by sheer chance.
- Third, I managed to find the Osaka subway line, despite not looking at any signs or pausing to survey the area.
- Fourth, at my destination, I was quite lost, and with more than 10 exits to choose from, I chose the correct one.
- Fifth, despite stopping for a toilet break, I managed to stroll into the subway and straight on to the train without missing a stride.
- Sixth, I entered the very busy ticket office, and a counter suddenly became free, at which I reserved my ticket in record time for the shinkansen that left 6 minutes later.
- And seventh, I walked up the first stairway I saw, and found that once again I was in exactly the right spot to board and sit down.

This sort of thing has happened to me before in England, where the traffic lights seem to change to green as you approach them, good things come on tv and the weather does what you want it to. Had Japan a weekly national lottery, I would probably have bought a ticket.

Oh, and just going back to the subway, I have a message for the young woman that was sat opposite me from honmachi station, just in case she is reading. Young lady, you are quite attractive, but if you wear

- a huge black bobble hat, well over a foot tall.
- giant gold Elvis shades perched on the said hat.
- a far too small black satiny jacket with a lucky rabbits foot hanging from it.
- elasticated too short camoflage trousers.
- oversized black stilletoe heels.

then you look every inch the dog's dinner you probably are. And, if you really want me to look at you, discreetly stamping one heel and coughing will only make me ignore you all the more.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A weekend in Japan part 2...

The slide show forgotten, my weekend soon progressed towards it's true purpose. Ostensibly, the weekend was about watching hot air balloons, but that was merely a side attraction, for the night of Saturday 5th November 2005 was the night that nations, generations, and ideologies met in what can only be called...

That's right - me, my uncle-in-law and a fridge full of Kirin Beer. My fiance and her aunt were at the table for chitchat and comfort, but this was all about the lads. Ever since Yoko mentioned to me that her aunt and uncle drank every night, I was looking forward to the weekend. Usually, such visits to relatives are rather sterile, formal affairs, when you have to be seen and not heard and raise your beer cup even if you are in the middle of raising your chopsticks to your mouth. This was so different in all sorts of ways. First of all, uncle-in-law put a fourpack on the table between us before so much as a morsel of rice was even looked at, which is an incredibly un-Japanese thing to do. His eyes said "we fill our own cups in this house", his grin said "let's get fucking hammered". Secondly, he and his wife asked me lots of interesting questions, and really listened and responded to the answers. Almost all of the other inlaws I've met follow the distancing protocol of "how is your job?" and "how is the weather in England?". Uncle-in-law? Hells no! He was more along the lines of "How exactly do I pronounce London?", "What's the best beer you've had?" and "Tell me your drunken stories!". I was in a little corner of Heaven.

But I digress. Back to the contest. Although it wasn't stated, both of us knew that there was honour to be upheld. Each of us was curious about the drinking prowess of the other, and we were, for a night, foreigner with generations of beer in his genes and native with a lesser constitution but a generation of beer experience. We had a table full of yakitori, pig's trotters and sashimi and our respective other halves. It was perfect.

So we drank, and ate, and talked, and drank, and made jokes, and drank, and generally made merry for about 3 and a half hours. Beer was quaffed, suspected empty cans were shaken and fresh were quickly pulled from the fridge.

And the result? On the night, after drinking around 12 pints each, uncle-in-law was a little worse for wear. He would giggle and insist on shaking my hand every few minutes, and his speech was slurred. As for me, I had a little warm feeling in my legs but that was about it. However, the next morning I felt like merry death, and uncle-in-law was rather chipper. This would be a tough one to call.

The verdict: a draw.

Being a good foot taller and 25lb heavier, as well as European genetics, in a one off contest I would most likely be the victor. But over successive nights, uncle-in-law would most likely win, due to his supping stamina and night in, night out ale.

Although it could be said that the battle was mine, the war, should it ever come to that, would assuredly be his...

A Weekend in Japan...

It happened to my parents in the 70s, it happened to Victor and Margaret Meldrew in the 90s and now it's happened to me and my fiance in the 00s. At a seemingly innocent dinner, the hosts turn and utter the dreaded words, guarranteed to ruin an evening: "We'd like to show you some of our slides after dinner."

Once you hear those words, it's too late to escape. The boxes are fetched from the attic, the projector is placed on a pile of books, the screen is unfurled. The worst thing about slide viewing? As painful as it is the first time, you know that every subsequent time will be even worse...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

My 5 Favourite Spectrum Games of All Time

As I have already mentioned on this blog, 1988 was the best year of my childhood, and it was also when I got a ZX Spectrum +2. For those too young to remember, the Spectrum was a kind of basic home computer, and had games that came on cassette tapes. These had to be loaded in the Spectrum's tape deck, and could take anywhere from 2 to 8 minutes to load (depending on the game). This seems like a hell of a hassle now, and it did then a bit, but we didn't know anything better. Loading errors were commonplace, and it wasn't uncommon to get 7 minutes into a load and be suddenly jerked back to the start screen. But whilst the loading process was often annoying, it did mean that once the games loaded we tended to appreciate them more. As was often the case, this appreciation was misplaced, as the Spectrum was responsible for some of the worst excuses for games in the history of gaming, partly due to bad programming, limited technology and ill-conceived ideas. But when the Spectrum got it right, it got it right, and this blog entry is dedicated to a handful of those. So without further ado....

Number 5 Robocop

Robocop is one the better movie tie in games that flooded the market in the late 80s. One of the reasons I liked the game is that the levels were quite varied. Aside from the generic side-scrolling shooter levels, there was a level in which a bad guy had a hostage and you had to aim the crosshair and shoot him, and also a photo fit level. A reason that I didn't like it was that, for me anyway, Robocop was a very difficult game. I only got to the photofit level a couple of times, before running out of time and being shunted back to the title screen. It caused me pain, but it was always fair, and I respected it for that. My lasting memory of Robocop is from the summer of 1990, when a young family friend that was visiting our house (called David Kershaw) kept calling me inside from my game of football to tell him how to play "Robotcop".

Number 4 Oh Mummy!

Oh Mummy! was one of the 5 free games that came with my spectrum (the others being Alien Destroyer, Crazy Golf, Punchy and Treasure Island). It's a classic example of what a good spectrum game was - simple, addictive and despite being easy enough for a small kid to enjoy, you had to use your loaf to progress far. As young children, my brother and I tended to stick with Alien Destroyer and Crazy Golf, but Oh Mummy! did get some screen time. As an aside, I firmly believe that Oh Mummy! introduced me to the concept of peripheral vision, as later levels in requires the player to watch both their character and each portion of the screen very closely at the same time.

Number 3 Footballer of the Year

When I bought Footballer of the Year whilst staying for the weekend at my Grandparents, I had no real idea what it would be like. I trusted the cover illustration and the "actual spectrum screenshots" on the back. What it turned out to be was a decent management/play hybrid that occupied countless hours in my life circa 1990.
Always huge, football seemed even more important that summer, what with Liverpool being all-conquering
and the world cup dominating everything. Footballer of the Year had been out for 4 years, but it still seemed quite new, thanks to a stylish interface and quirky style.
Of course, given the option of starting in any division, I chose what was then Division 1 and Liverpool, but I soon found that my money ran out quicker than it would if I were in a lower, cheaper division. The system of goal cards (literally chances to score a goal) was an interesting idea, and it worked well. As was the case with many of the games of my childhood, I was never fantastically good at them. I seem to recall earning a transfer to a higher division only twice, and I only got the chance to play for my country a couple of times. My lasting memory of Footballer of the Year is when, 4-0 down after the first leg of the FA cup 4th round against Arsenal, I scored 4 in the return leg, winning the match 6-1 and pipping them at the last.

Number 2 Kikstart 2

To a casual observer, Kikstart 2 would have seemed a rather dull game. No music, no in game sound or effects, just a man on a bike going from left to right over an assortment of obstacles. For me and my younger brother, however, Kikstart 2 was addictive and challenging, and best of all, there was a level editor, which was simple to use but rewarding. It may not sound like much, but brothers pitting their wits against eachother to see who could negotiate the wooden fence without falling off seemed very important back at the tail end of the 80s. Our times were scrutinized and bragging rights were there to be lost and won. The memory I still treasure is the day that my brothers score and mine were perfectly identical through endless rounds, and in the end, he pipped me by something ridiculous like 1/100th of a second. He had the bragging rights that day, and I was happy for him.

Number 1 Target Renegade

If you went into a primary school in England around the end of 1988 and talked to some of the older boys, sooner or later the conversation would turn to Target Renegade. This was the big game of its day, a definitive sidescrolling beat 'em up that not only stood its own against the likes of Double Dragon and Final Fight, it bettered them. True, in hindsight the graphics were rather basic, and there was the classic spectrum glitch of your sprite being whatever colour the background was, but all in all Target Renegade was new, fresh and utterly playable. The controls were devilishly simple, with only one button used for attacking. With various directions added, you could punch, back kick, fly kick and grab someone by the ears and put your knee into their family jewels. As an impressionable 8 year old, I loved the "fly ckick someone off a motorbike or get run over" intro to some of the levels. I also loved the way that the phone would ring at the end of some levels, and you had to answer it. Simple idea, big effect back then.
Target Renegade was a tough game to beat. I never managed it, getting as far as the bar before being pasted by the bald guys with the pool cues. My lasting memory of Target Renegade is when I parted from it, a little reluctantly I must say, when I sold it to a boy at my school (called Nathan Miles) for about 5 quid (5 weeks pocket money for me back in 1990). Even today the game plays well, and it's perhaps the definitive misty-eyed-whilst-remembering games of all time. A true classic.