Saturday, 6 February 2016

Bullfighting. And Bullfighting With Babies.

Take a good, hard look at this picture and see if you can guess what the considered opinion of the internet’s indigenous folk was…

Yes that’s right, it was that most ubiquitous and pervading of all The Internet’s emotional states: ‘Uproar’.  

It was the same reaction it had when that girl from Big Brother noshed off that bald guy; the same when Jeremy Clarkson didn’t say the N word on the outtakes for a TV show; and it was the same when Rio Ferdinand once said something slightly derisory on Twitter about someone’s Mum.

One of the reasons the photo caused ‘Uproar’ was because the subject was bullfighting.  Which to city dwelling folk, barely able to imagine a bull for all the smog in their eyes and shattered dreams in their hearts, seems like ‘The Worst Thing Ever’.  Particularly when some of the greatest minds of their generation, such as Ricky Gervais, came out and condemned the sport with a pithy one line comment on Twitter.  Yes Ricky Gervais; the vegetarian who eats chicken.  Which should be all the information you need to realise that his opinion on this might not be the most well-informed one out there.

(Dear World.  Please stop basing your opinions on what comedians think.  I thought we got over all this shit with Russell Brand).

So let’s get one thing straight before launching into the arguments I’m about to make here in favour of bullfighting.  If you’re a Vegan or (go on then) a Vegetarian then you win.  You are right.  I hope the world changes.

However, if you’re in the Venn diagram of people who eat beef and still feel the need to leave angry comments about bullfighting being cruel on social media, then please stop reading this and immediately stamp on your internet router.  Your internet privileges are henceforth revoked and you are requested to visit your nearest abattoir ASAP, where you should ask to watch the cattle being butchered.  Preferably Halal style.  Please pay particular attention to the cows as they are led in single file to have their throats slit without being stunned first.  Once you’ve watched this process for about an hour and fully immersed yourself in the sounds of cows screaming then please buy yourself a burger and proceed to actually watch a bullfight.  You may now try to repair your internet router (although if you start having a pop at the Muslims as a result of this exercise we’ll need to repeat this process with a visit to your local mosque).

So, you are now watching a bullfight and you will notice something.  The matador is fighting a BULL.  He isn’t standing in front of a trailer and randomly picking on the giraffes and the camels and the horses that come tumbling out of it.  The horses used by men in a bullfight are in fact deeply respected and protected with armour (unlike the humans).  No, the matador just fights bulls.  And bulls are right cunts.  Seriously they are; go into a field, call one a prick and see what happens.  Told you so.

At the start of a bullfight the picador pierces the bull’s shoulder with a spear.  This is far less about hurting the bull and handing the matador an advantage than it is about making the bull realise its life is in danger in order to make it fight.  Without this the bull would just sit down, and ultimately follow the rest of the cows into the abattoir.  Because (let’s just clear this up right now) the bull is eaten at the end.

From the moment the bull enters the ring to the moment it fights the bullfighter, the matador is observing how the bull runs; if it holds its head high or low when charging; which way it swings its horns; its gait and various other individual traits to that specific animal.  All this information needs to be studied, processed and acted upon to allow the matador to avoid a goring.  If everything goes well then the final test is the kill.  If the matador cannot execute the bull quickly and cleanly with his sword then he is booed by the crowd and his reputation lies in tatters.

So back to the picture.  The second reason the photo caused problems was because there was a child in it.  Obviously there are some people who think it is not safe for Francisco Rivera Ordóñez to be fighting a bull while holding his child in his arms.  Well yeah, but maybe I don’t think it’s safe for you to be driving a car with your child in it.

Besides, do you know if it was a big, mad bull that could pose a risk to a professional bullfighter?  Or a small one that would present about as much danger to a matador, whose entire family have been matadors, as reverse parking would present to a Lewis Hamilton / Sebastian Vettel tag-team?

The only thing I personally take away from this picture is that I don’t think that I should be fighting a bull with a child in my arms.  Then again I don’t think that I should be driving a car with a child in it either.  Or doing anything with children really.  This is mainly because I don’t have any children.

But if you’re an airline pilot and you want to take your child with you then I’m not really in any position to question your professional judgement as to whether that’s ‘safe’ or not.  As a writer the only thing I am really in any position to judge and monitor is my children’s use of words.  A thought made even more depressing by the ones I see spewed out on Twitter by my own generation.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Benefits Street (Episode One)

Next Monday I shall be participating in a massive sponsored piss over the North of England (and any poor people I encounter on my way) to show my support for the inspirational Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street.

This groundbreaking television show finally confirmed my deepest suspicions that all Northerners emerge from the womb as work shy criminals.

Honestly the best thing Margaret Thatcher ever did was to finally take away the last of their silly little jobs in the 80's, thereby removing the ridiculous notion that Northerners are somehow hardworking folk. 

Well we’ve put paid to that idea haven’t we!

Now they haven’t got any jobs or industry and we’ve made sure everything is based in London we can see their true colours!

How brave the documentary was to not mention any of this as an underlying cause for long term mass unemployment in the North, instead turning its beady eye towards the oft overlooked angle of human laziness and focusing on the desperation that results from poverty before spinning this in a near total eclipsing negative light.

And how inspiring it was to watch nearly an hour of television that autistically failed to empathise with what the effects of long term unemployment actually are on a man, a family and a community. 

Yes, what the poor of this country really need is a good, hard, solid kick in the guts to firmly remind them of their place.

I suppose you have to feel sympathy for the producers of Channel 4. 

These are men and women who doubtless have to leave their apartments in London as early as 8am to get to the office, where they probably spend day after day hi-fiving each other about how cool their haircuts are or keeping up with the latest trends on Facebook, before coming back home and trying to decide whether to spend their 35k salary on prostitutes, cocaine or the latest I-pad.

No wonder they’re bitter at these Northern layabouts, with their social problems stemming from the ever increasing hopelessness that ingrained long term unemployment with no end in sight brings.  How these hard working media types must envy them as they get to swan around in parks drinking lager and smoking weed in the middle of the day!

I mean that’s the lifestyle we all crave isn’t it?  It must be bliss!

I live in London and it’s pretty much all fine here so I assume the rest of the country is fine too.

And if it really is so bad ‘ooop’ North, which I somehow doubt (though obviously I have never had call to drive further north than Watford) then there’s a simple answer here guys!

Move to London you lazy so and so’s!

I’m sure the government would help fund your relocation! 


Well then I’m sure you could always rely on Daddy for a £250,000 loan to buy a house.  I’m sure that £55 a week giro must have stacked up over the years right?


Well whatever.

Channel 4 could have made a much more interesting programme by examining their own attitude and then using Benefits Street to debate whether the entire infrastructure of capitalism isn’t starting to hit a bit of a wobble. 

Because the one thing Benefits Streets did do was to show that half of the country are out of work and giving up hope of ever seeing a wage packet again while the other half of the country are wondering why they’re even bothering to turn up for work when the rest of the country is living what they perceive to be a glamorous lifestyle. 

If you ask me, like the G'Gugvuntts and the Vl'hurgs, we should combine our forces.

Let’s just stop the job market, make everyone unemployed and then we can all enjoy the free and exotic lifestyle that receiving £55 a week brings.  Then everyone could experience the pleasure of drinking in a park all day to numb the deterioration in self confidence and self worth that being on benefits actually results in.

That way at least everyone might stop being such a dick to one another.

And Channel 4 might not feel the need to persistently exploit the weakest sectors of society in a bid to increase their own ratings.

#benefits street 
#channel 4 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Future of the Left - How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident

It’s nice when music and lyrics combine in a way you can relate to and end up succinctly summing up a feeling isn’t it?

“Once I dreamt of owning my own home and renting six bedrooms / to call center veterans, good tenants and better communicators / but ambition encountered in an economy dominated by forces so deep they confound themselves / I’m just a man (a simple thing).”

In fact I could more or less dedicate an entire Blog to just reciting the lyrics on this album.  I won’t.   But I could.  For example this is the delicately sung chorus of ballad French Lessons:

“Well I don’t need coy carp swimming round my feet / and auburn haired children blocking my path / as I run to the disabled bathroom / topping off a 12 hour drinking spree / The rich kids stole the ball.”

As a lyricist, singer Andrew Falkous has matured and improved with each album he has released – that’s 3 with former band Mclusky and 4 with current group Future of The Left.  Considering some of us can spend three years writing an album which retrospectively only has a couple of good songs on it this is QUITE GOOD.

Musically Falkous’ previous band Mclusky all but refused to incorporate the post-Metallica predictability of guitar chords in order to make their music stand out from the crowd, perhaps inspired by similarly bald-man-fronted Nirvana-influencing scamps The Pixies.

Future of the Left have no such quibbles, preferring instead to use oft repeating combinations of power 
chords to make their music unpredictable.  On this album this is best showcased in opener Bread Cheese, Bow and Arrow but this was also demonstrated to full effect in adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood and the superbly named Robo-Cop 4 (Fuck Off Robo-Cop).

Previous album The Plot Against Common Sense was a collection of terrific pop songs that lost a bit of the band’s customary grunge sensibilities but still maintained the cutting edge and controlled rage that are the band’s hallmark.  It was also their most complete, enjoyable and strongest collection of songs to date.

Funded by fans via Pledge the follow up How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident is perhaps a step sideways rather than a step forward.  Power chords are unapologetically back in vogue while songs like Future Child Embarrassment Matrix echo the more punk idea-track sensibilities of early Mclusky album tracks.

Johnny Borrell Afterlife would have been comfortably at home as the stand out track on The Plot Against Common Sense but feels strangely out of place in the running order of this album.  How To Spot A Record Company sounds bizarrely influenced by Blur’s Britpop bridge-too-far The Great Escape.  The first minute and a half of Bowie-esque Something Happened is haunting, unexpected and promises enormous excitement. 

Unfortunately the final two minutes are ultimately predictable and boring.

When I first heard Mclusky’s second album Mclusky Do Dallas as a spotty faced whippersnapper I was acutely aware that I either hated it or loved it.  I just wasn’t sure which.  It ended up being the only album I wanted to listen to for about a year.*

And I had a similar vehement love / hate reaction the first time I listened to this album.  I expected to love it but in truth I didn’t enjoy it as much as I anticipated.  Then I started to dislike it...

This was a frightening moment of identity loss for me.

Could it be that I had started to hate what I loved the most?

Whatever next?          

Was this the first step on a path that would end with me kicking pets, sending my friends spiteful group text messages and burning my copy of Football Manager?

Then it clicked.

There’s nothing wrong with the songs. It’s the running order of the album I don’t like.  Previous Mclusky and Future of The Left albums have been flawlessly constructed and perfectly paced.

Pacing is a key part of making a record.  It’s what makes an album an album rather than just a collection of songs.  It’s what makes Radiohead’s OK Computer a great album.

The pacing of this album is flawed.  Most noticeably the 3rd, 4th and 5th songs are simply in the wrong place.  As a man not totally unaccustomed to the occasional bout of OCD this annoyed me enough to make me want to switch it off.

Thankfully in these days of Spotify playlists I can just rearrange them.

Hey Presto Bingo.  It’s one of my favourite albums.  A masterpiece.  IN THIS ORDER:

1.       Bread, Cheese, Bow and Arrow
2.       I Don’t Know What You Ketamine
3.       French Lessons
4.       Future Child Embarrassment Matrix
5.       Johnny Borrell Afterlife
6.       The Real Meaning Of Christmas
7.       The Male Gaze
8.       How To Spot A Record Company
9.       Donny of the Decks
10.   She Gets Passed Around At Parties
11.   Something Happened
12.   Things To Say To Friendly Policemen
13.   Singing Of The Bonesaws
14.   Why Aren’t I Going To Hell?

*Might have been longer than a year     

Monday, 16 December 2013

Xbox One and Playstation 4

I’ve made a number of confident predictions in my life.

Here are some randomly selected highlights: 

“That Eric Djemba-Djemba will turn out to be a terrific player”

He wasn’t.

“I bet you Portugal’s lone striker Pauleta will be the top goalscorer at the 2004 European Championships”

Played every single game.  Didn’t score a single goal.

“I think Watford will win the 2013/14 Championship and get promoted to the Premier League”

We are currently 13th and, as of today, managerless.

“I'm certain England will win the 2006 World Cup”

We didn’t.                                                                                                       

You get the idea.

Well the time has come for me to make another one. 

“I'm not convinced the Xbox One and PS4 will really catch on”.

There I said it.

We are currently experiencing a massive price crash on Xbox 360 and Playstation3 games due to those heartless bastards with jobs and those fucking awful rich children whose parents buy them entire houses trading in their consoles for the latest fancy technology. 

You’d think I’d be bitter and you’d be right.  But mainly because that’s just my default setting.  Generally this is good news for me. 

I bought ten games today for less than 50 quid.  A couple of months ago the same ten games would have probably cost me closer to £250.

When the Xbox 360 and Playstation3 came out the Xbox and Playstation2 didn’t stand much hope of surviving.  

This was down to a number of factors.

First of all HD technology was clearly about to revolutionise our television screens, and nowhere was this to have such a big impact as with gaming.  The 360 and PS3 came with built-in HDMI capability whereas the Xbox and PS2 still ran off of SCART.  The PS3 also included a Blu-Ray player, before HDTV or Blu-Rays had really even been invented.

Secondly Wi-Fi was about to completely alter the way we used the internet.  It went on to make online gaming and indie gaming a mainstream activity.  Sure you could play online games on the original Xbox and PS2 but it was about as popular as cooking baked beans in a toaster.

Fast forward 8 years and the situation is completely different.

Most major titles are currently scheduled for release on both the Xbox 360/PS3 and Xbox One/PS4 generation of consoles.  DragonAge 3 for example is currently scheduled for a late 2014 / early 2015 release on both Xbox One and Xbox 360.

This didn’t happen back in 2005 when production of Xbox and many PS2 games all but stopped in favour of the new generation.

Undoubtedly the Xbox One and PS4 are more powerful machines than their current generation counterparts.  And in two or three years time game developers will no doubt be producing games purely with their specifications in mind.

But it’s difficult to feel the same inexorable wave of revolution as back in 2005.

The only exception to this is in the case of motion tracking technology and voice activation.

Call me old fashioned but personally I’m still happy to turn my console on by pressing a button.  Likewise the idea of having to stand up or move to play a video game is still about as appealing as it was in 2006 when Nintendo released their fun with a very small F Wii.

So there you go.

I’ll leave that there. 

I was only writing this while Battlefield 3 installed itself on my Xbox 360 which it just has.

That took over half an hour.

But then again that’s current generation loading times for you...

Grand Theft Auto V

It’s worth noting that the only movie to have cost more than GTA V to make was Pirates of The Caribbean: At Worlds End and GTA V more than recouped all of its 270 million dollar production costs within a day of its release.

It’s certainly a dramatic improvement on GTA IV – the game that decided to make it difficult and tediously unenjoyable to drive cars in a game where all you can do is drive cars.  In GTA V the driving has been made fun and you can fly planes again.  Much like in 2004s GTA: San Andreas...

It’s all still a triumph of glamour over substance however.

GTA games are often held up as being an ‘open world’ experience but unfortunately this is something of a misnomer.  Missions will see you repeatedly drive through the gloriously rendered world by staring at your GPS system and then get led through a series of tightly scripted often uninspiring set piece routines.

The open world elements in the game have no point to them.

As fun as it is to fire rockets at police cars there’s no reason to do so and this is GTA’s biggest crime. 

It builds a game out of its weaknesses rather than building it from its strengths.

Sure you can mow down policemen or businessmen to your heart’s content but aimlessly doing this for days on end loses its shine rather quickly.

Sure you can race cars in mini-games found around the map but there’s plenty of other similarly average racing simulators out there that I could pick up and similarly never want to play more than once.  You also don’t win any money for winning a race or unlock any new items.  So why bother?

Sure you can play tennis and golf or go skydiving but the same applies.  Where’s the reward?

As a game GTA V is weaker than the heavily GTA influenced Red Faction: Guerrilla and Assassin’s Creed 2 which were both masterpieces in their own right.

If you’ve seen the extensive marketing campaign this game is still putting out now Christmas is nearly upon us you’ll see it has essentially been marketed as a film.  I’m usually an enormous critic of video game stories and characters but I have to admit the ghoulish character of Trevor is interesting enough and I actually related quite well to Michael.  There’s also a guy called Franklin in it.

The story is good to a point but ultimately nowhere near strong enough to be sustained over the time it takes to complete the game.  Within about an hour you’ll have sussed out everything the story has to say.  The rest is an awkward attempt to stretch and pad out its content.

And for a game that places such a massive emphasis on story this is a fundamental problem.

Cutscenes are at their strongest in video games when they are used to reward the player for completing a section of gameplay.  GTA V instead uses a few minutes of gameplay, often driving to a point in the map, as a reward for watching its self indulgent cutscenes.

The open world it creates is a technical and graphical marvel.  This is undoubtedly where the several hundred million dollars really show themselves.  The attention to detail is staggering. 

If you beat someone up a member of the public might film it with their camera phone.  The changing moon phases dictate the contrast of the night lighting.  Puddles form over time when it rains.  You can invest in the stock market.  Characters sweat when they run.

All of which is nice enough, but it’s a bit like a girl proudly swallowing your cum after a bad blow job.

And if that joke seems distasteful then if you plan to play GTA V you better get used to it. Because GTA V is also frequently crass and misogynistic in a way that is neither clever nor funny.  The game contains no strong female characters and it openly mocks and belittles the ones that it does have.

And in 2013 that’s a real shame.

Spec Ops: The Line

In my own way I suspect I may have helped the British war effort more than any soldier.

Judging by my performances in today’s modern war video game shooters I would have killed and maimed Taliban, Americans, British and casual passersby fairly indiscriminately.

Not out of pleasure or psychopathic revenge upon humanity you understand but purely out of my own incompetence and inability to quickly recognise slightly different coloured uniforms.

Perhaps it’s what comes of being raised on a diet of playing Doom and Wolfenstein 3D as a child.

If it moves, it dies and I apparently have neither the patience nor the intelligence to work out who I’m meant to be shooting.  Yet not one person I know who has served in Afghanistan has ever sat me down and thanked me personally for not going to Afghanistan with them.

Not one. 

It seems to me in many ways these people probably owe me their life.

Spec Ops is a 3rd person shooty Afghan war inspired thing set in Dubai.  You command a small squad of soldiers who frequently shout things like “Friendly fire!” and “Stand down!” at you throughout the course of the game.

My main criticism of this game is that the standard white generic meat head I’m forced to control is voiced by the same bloody guy who voices every other main character in this generation of games.  So in this game he’s Captain Whatthefuckever but he’s previously cropped up as the astonishingly dull Desmond from Assassin’s Creed 1, 2, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 3, 3.2 and 4, Nathan Drake from Uncharted 1, 2 and 3 and he also sounds identical to the identical looking protagonist in Bioshock Infinite and that guy from The Last of Us.

The game has a vibe to it though.  A thinking man’s Call of Duty if you will, that attempts to in some way examine the psychological effects the horrors of war can have upon soldiers.  And for that it deserves credit.

It also has a style and atmosphere that feels surprisingly distinctive.

From the sweeping sandstorms that dominate its impressive visuals to the exceptional soundtrack that accompanies them.  Usually I have to turn off music on games but I have to confess that slaughtering bad-twats in a Dubai Aquarium to Mogwai was the highlight of my day.

Still, it’s a rough diamond rather than a fully polished carbon beauty. 

Enemies will frequently spawn right on top of you from nowhere and this becomes progressively more frustrating throughout the game as you are continuously returned to the same checkpoint.

The cover system is more Mass Effect 1 than Mass Effect 2 (in that it doesn’t quite work).  Your character will happily stand still under a hail of gunfire while you desperately try to convince him to hide behind something and frequently dying in this manner can make the game feel cheap.

Overall though it’s a damn sight better than most of its competitors. 

At least it tries to engage my emotions and involve me in a narrative that has some depth behind it as opposed to the over enthusiastic Call of Duty jerking me off at full throttle for increasingly unstimulating and unsatisfying hours on end.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Fernando Llorente - The Album

While living in Bristol myself and Steven Warnes (TTB) wrote and recorded, to the best of our knowledge, the first Fernando Llorente concept album there has ever been.

Described by at least one of the co-creaters as having ‘little artistic merit’ and being ‘a difficult, at times sexually exhausting listen’ FERNANDO LLORENTE – THE ALBUM successfully represents perhaps the zenith, or at least the nadir, of football concept album ambition.

This is the concept, track by track:

1.       Hello Fernando Llorente

A joyous greeting to our hero!  From the fans.  From his family.  From football lovers everywhere.  Hello Fernando Llorente!  All hail El Rey Leon!  The Lion King!

2.       Pre Match Jitters

The dressing room before the game is tense and The Lion King sits amidst the commotion and noise detached and immersed in his thoughts.  Will he play well?  Will he score?

3.        The Lion King (Kick Off)

The game begins.  Our hero plays like The Lion King he is.

4.        Tempers Flair (The Foul)

A frustrated Fernando Llorente is antagonised by the opposition and retaliates – leaving his marker lying on the ground looking up at Llorente.

5.       Half Time (Come on Lads!)

Llorente and his team mates are reminded of their responsibilities and told they must do better.

6.        Just the Keeper to Beat...

Llorente and his team come flying out of the traps at the start of the second half.  Within minutes The Lion King has ridden several challenges and is clean through on goal.  With just the keeper to beat, Llorente lays a perfect ball for a team mate…who skies the ball over the bar.

7.        I Miss You (Javi Martinez)

The Lion King reminisces of the times when he played with Javi Martinez.  He hopes they can play together again.

8.        The Injury

Llorente is hacked down, taken off and forced to watch the rest of the game sitting on the bench.  The out of time sections of the song signify Llorente’s mental distress.

9.        MoM

The game ends.  Fernando Llorente is the Man of The Match.  The final score is irrelevant.