Thursday, April 30, 2009

Odds 'n' sods

I believe it's called 'Googlewacking', but in my days working in comics, we always called it 'Doing a Gibbo'. This is the peculiar self-indulgent gesture of putting your own name into Google's search engine and seeing what it returns. 'Doing a Gibbo' was a dubious honour bestowed upon Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons, who upon getting Internet access, typed his name in a search engine and was literally bowled over by the number of times his name was mentioned (I mean, it was more likely for him to find something than say you would, he is responsible for a number of comic books).

The first time I did a Gibbo, the first three entries on the list were for: "Phil Hall is an okapi at the Bronx Zoo", which as you might imagine, rather puzzled me. Yes, I know there are far too many 'famous' Phil Halls out there - former News of the World editors, novelists, musicians, artists, etc., but the last thing I expected was to see an okapi named after my name. Further investigation yielded bugger all - it appears there is, or at least was, an okapi called Phil Hall at the Bronx Zoo. This morning's newspaper ran a story that the Bronx Zoo is closing down because of the economic recession and most, if not all, of its animals have to be found new homes. This is shocking (in a relative way), because one never considers that other creatures can be affected by man's greed.

If there's still an okapi at the Bronx Zoo with my name - I have a shed, and ducks, a rabbit and 4 dogs, it won't be lonely. Stick it in a crate and ship it this way. If nothing else, when the wife accuses me of doing something I can say it wasn't me, it was Phil Hall.

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The following will spoil things for people who haven't seen what I'm about to talk about:

I sat down and watched Caprica, the pilot for the proposed prequel series for Battlestar Galactica. It was considerably better than I actually believed it to be, mainly because I felt that Battlestar, like my mate Chev, jumped the shark a little with the final episode (actually Chev thinks it jumped the shark a lot, but I'm being a little more benevolent). This, however, bore little more than a passing resemblance to that critically-acclaimed hell in space series.

Caprica looked like the Sci-Fi Channel meets HBO. There's enough titillation in the pilot to get many rampant fanboys erect for weeks, but that's an aside. It has an intriguing premise - the story of two families, one of which is the Adama family and their involvement in the creation of the Cylons, the other being the Graystones, the family responsible for the creation of the very first Cylon. It's full of political intrigue, covert shenanigans and endemic racism and excess, which comes at a time when our world is facing a downturn.

The series debuts in 2010. My gut feeling is it could flop.

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I'm currently laid up again with my back; but I might be seeing a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. I had an assessment on my arthritis at the hospital on Monday and a couple of interesting things came out of it. My left shoulder, which has borne the brunt of most of my pain in the last 6 months, has something else wrong with it, not arthritis. Yes, I have arthritis in my shoulder, but no worse than the other one - what I have done is fucked up the natural shock absorber that sits between the ball joint and the shoulder blade. The physio did something on Monday that I would have gladly paid money for her to do it again - and no, I'm not talking wild sex in a cubicle. She took me firmly in her hands... one hand on my shoulder, the other gripped my upper arm and then she pulled and Jesus Harry Christ on a unicycle, it was almost better than an orgasm. The affect was immediate, the pain stopped, in fact it didn't just stop, it felt unbelievably brilliant. However, despite offering her money to do it for the rest of my life, she refused and I have to either have a big nasty kind of injection or an operation.

The rest of my arthritis is... about the same, if not a little worse, but while this has been a constant source of depression for me for months; I did have a talk with one of the pain specialists at the hospital, who assured me that in most cases my kind of arthritis becomes more manageable as time goes on - the pain might not subside that much, but mobility will increase, despite my advancing years. She also explained to me that depression is very common amongst younger people diagnosed with arthritis and the main problem is the general ignorance of GPs. I was given all kinds of leaflets and bumph to read about all the shit I've gone through in the last 18 months; contact numbers of support groups and now, for some strange reason, my glass is half full instead of half empty. But of course, that could just be the drugs...

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My play list has been a bit odd just recently. I discovered both Last.fm and Spotify (yeah, I know, but...) and subsequently have either been listening to stuff that sounds like other stuff I like or catching up on all manner of stuff I either haven't heard in yonks (such as LPs which I can't play at present) or stuff I wanted to give a chance to but wasn't going to buy (or couldn't download for free). This has meant a discovery of Ladytron, which, despite the 80s synth pop overtones, have rather impressed me and is good driving music. Pure Reason Revolution were recommended to me by Marc Laming ages ago and I think I gave them the briefest of listens; but thanks to Last.fm I've been playing their The Dark Third CD to death in the office for over a week (It's on now!). They're like a weird cross between indie band and Yes. Long proggy songs mixed with catchy choruses and spellbinding harmonies. If you like Mew you should like these.

Away from the Internet (sort of), my mate Roger did me a copy of an album by Pineapple Thief, who he described as a sort of cod Porcupine Tree. Neither of us knew much about them and because we're both forgetful Luddites neither of us bothered to check them out on the web. For me they were just a sort of poppy version of the other PT and the similarities were obvious - it was like Pineapple Thief had based their entire style on Porcupine Tree's MOR stuff. Then I saw an album by them which I hadn't heard of - What Have We Sown? I downloaded it and was totally blown away, especially by the 28 minute title track, which rather belittled the idea they were Porcupine Tree wannabes. The truth about What We Have Sown is that it pisses all over Porcupine Tree's output of the last 10 years. I've since 'discovered' the rest of their discography and while some of it is a little hit or miss, the last three albums have been progtastic examples of why fans of Radiohead and other art rock bands should be investing a few quid in this band.

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I'm hoping to cheer myself up this weekend by visiting two beer festivals. One at my new local and one at my old one.

The Victoria inn (on Poole Street and Military Road in Northampton) is a charming little pub that looks like it was built by converting a couple of terraced houses. It's smack in the middle of town and has limited opening hours, but it offers a fantastic selection of microbrewery beers, as well as the very palatable Vale Brewery Company, who own the tenancy.

The Vic is a really homely pub, and its new(ish) landlord Allen, not your conventional landlord goes out of his way to make improvements all the time. So much so that the pub has doubled its clients since he took the place over.

The Romany, which is on the edge of the Kingsthorpe area of the town, has been a regular haunt of mine for years, but has slipped out of favour in the last couple of years - mainly down to a few factors - the landlord died, the staff didn't know how to keep the cellar well and the decor reminded me of the inside of a cell block H room, the brown walls just reminded me of shit. But the place has had a face lift and a new landlord, and a cellar man I'd trust with my beer. It also has a beer on this weekend that I can't recommend enough, but that will do no good... HMS Warrior is brewed by the awesome Newby Wyke Brewer in Little Bytham in Lincolnshire. If they produce a bad beer I haven't tried it; this new one from the brewery is quite extraordinary - its the colour of lager and the taste of angels dancing on your tongue. It's a limited edition only available for this month only! Never again will I drink this ambrosia, so I'm going to have as many as I can on Saturday before I fall over.

Sticking with pubs for just a second more. There's this pub in a tiny village called Hunningham, about 7 miles north east of Leamington Spa. The owner is a huge comics fan and his entire pub is covered in framed comics - literally thousands of them. He's a nice guy the landlord, even if he was a bit top heavy with Batman comics.

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May has always been my favourite month of the year. Just to revert to type for a second; I somehow think that might change as of this year.

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