Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Month: November 2005 (page 1 of 2)

“Alright, Let’s A-Wassail!”

This evening’s Advent Carol Service was filled with some remarkably appropriate music for the liturgical period of repetance which isn’t best served by joyous (or rather, raucus) carolling or even wassailing, whatever that may be*. Ben selected some lovely pieces for the choir, who did a great job, and some easily singable stuff for the congregation to slaughter. Having seated everyone else, the Chapel Wardens mostly ended up perched on the end of things while the service proceeded. The choir are rather more used to singing to a mostly empty chapel so found their volume somewhat muted when absorbed by a solid mass of bodies. It was followed by the usual free buffet dinner replete with mulled wine and those plates with the cool clip-on wine holders that only ever seem to be brought out at this one event each year — I’d have thought they should be a staple at any respectable law presentation.

On Friday night I took Sparkie, Sonya, Chima and Kirsten to see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It turns out I was right. My encapsulated review is “brilliantly funny, see it now“. A slightly more coherent view is found in the link above, but to be honest the extra words are largely unnecessary. It’s a perfectly balanced comic noir which, I am told, just serves to show how unfunny The Ice Harvest actually is. Or, for that matter, Ben Stiller in general.

I’ve also been further fuelling my eBay habit with the recent discovery of JBidWatcher. I’m only telling you about it because I like you, so don’t tell anyone else. Naturally I think sniping is a filthy practice and could not possibly condone it. But hey, if they’re going to steal items from under my nose — err, finger — then it’s war.

*Yes, I do know that wassailing is the practice of door-to-door singing requesting in return a “wassail” or refreshment. 2 points to anyone who recognises the title quote though.

A Very Expensive Birthday Cake

Kirsten is currently back in Germany. It all started a few days ago when her phone rang while we were eating dinner. She answered it and started talking away in high-speed German. My understanding of low-speed German is virtually nonexistant so I could discern little beyond the fact it was her mother to whom she was talking. After some time she wandered over to my computer and started booking plane tickets, at which point I began to get a little concerned. When she eventually finished the call she seemed more bemused than distraught and it transpired that the conversation went something like this:

“Kirsten, you know it’s your sister’s birthday this week?”
“Yes.”
“Well you know that cake you made before? Did you just follow this recipe?”
“Well I made a couple of small creative changes but I pretty much just followed it, yes.”
“But it’s really complicated… Can you come back and bake it for me?”

And so her mother is paying for her to fly over to Germany, bake a cake, stay the night and fly back tomorrow morning. Kirsten’s not complaining since she gets to be there for her little sister’s birthday. But, we calculated, once flights, airport taxes, trains, coaches and taxis are all factored in, that brings the total cost of the cake to a lavish £110. Without ingredients. I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted a cake that expensive. Either her mother is insane or it must be a damn amazing cake and I don’t even get to try a slice…

On the subject of German baked goodies, Kirsten’s also got me eating festive Lebkuchen, a Christmas delicacy that is essentially spiced gingerbread coated with dark chocolate and topped with icing. Gaudy to look at, but with a rich, spicy taste (there’s cinnamon involved too), they’re definitely growing on me.

World Community Grid: FightAIDS@Home Meanwhile, the World Community Grid has recently picked up a new project, FightAIDS@Home, researching new drug therapies for HIV using the system I mentioned previously. I would seriously urge everyone to think about getting involved since these are serious causes with valuable results. Having spoken to Sparkie I also realised I didn’t provide a link to the Cambridge team last time. That’s now been rectified.

Superman ReturnsFinally, an early teaser trailer (mostly stylistic with little content) has emerged for the long-awaited Superman Returns. Before you ask about the title, no it’s not cashing in on Batman’s success, the return of the man of steel (or rather, blue tights) was announced long before the dark knight’s “beginning”, but suffered from continual delays and difficulty in selecting a lead to step into the daunting boots left by Christopher Reeve. Although the director is somewhat secretive about his admittedly “expensive” budget, he has played down speculation by stating, “it’s under $200 million.” Oh, that’s okay then.

Law Ball: Cabaret

Law Society Ball: CabaretLast night was the Cambridge University Law Society‘s Annual Ball, one of the highlights of the calendar because of the frankly ridiculous sponsorship it attracts. This year’s theme was “Cabaret” and it was being organised by last year’s Downing Ball president, Charlotte F. In fact this was one of the nights when Downing’s dominance becomes painfully obvious with Nick doing the rounds as CULS President and Carlo as one the first year reps. In an unforgivable move for a lawyer, I discovered that I’d somehow neglected to bring any bow ties with me this term. Fortunately TomTom ably stepped into the breach offering me not just a tie but a choice of colours. We actually arrived at Chilford Hall very early due to Kirstin’s (you’re going to have to start distinguishing between CompSci Kirsten and lawyer Kirstin, I’m afraid) overly enthusiastic taxi timings. The ride up was certainly much more comfortable than queuing in the cold for an overpacked draughty bus like last year. A champagne reception awaited us followed by the prerequisite three course meal (with complimentary masks) and then several hours of dancing with a swing band and the inevitable declined into cheese. The food was decent but not particularly noteworthy it must be said, aside from the profiteroles and the wine (which was good for Merlot).

The Cabaret Girls | Cheese!

Anna and Mr. PleasingWith tales of last year’s excesses spreading swiftly, this year we were inundated with a large contingent of non-lawyers who all seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly. Lucy and Liza came along, as well as an impressive number of NatScis, Ravi nabbing a spare ticket at the third years’ table. The Globalist contingent of lawyers was also out in force. Late in the evening I swapped numbers with a rather wasted Dawson whom I assume accompanied the Pembroke lawyers and seemed to have been making good use of the ample amounts of freely flowing booze (albeit in slightly less debaucherous quantities than last year). On the downside there was a distinct lack of a vodka luge or chocolate fountain (although that’s arguably a good thing since it meant no chocolate to clean out of my suit this morning…) but there was a full cold breakfast of Nadia’s-supplied pastries at around midnight which kept everyone full and content. The addition of two scantily clad dancing girls to accompany the jazz band during the reception was a good “themed” move. I’m considering hiring a some for my room. You know, for special occassions.

Even Ravi was eventually forced to concede at about 2am, “I have to admit you lawyers do know how to have fun.” That we do.

Ali and Ravi | Andy Capp

The Downfall

I went to see Downfall last night with Kirsten and some of her friends. I’m sure it’s a flagrant breach of some strict social protocol to see a film about Hitler with several Germans, but I had intended to see it several months ago when it was released, and it came highly recommended by Martin. Kirsten seemed slightly surprised despite the fact it was on the list. It’s not an easy film to watch by any stretch of the imagination. While any war film will contain its share of brutal scenes, unlike those that cover the full spectrum of a conflict, Downfall deals only with the very end of the war, a nation on its knees awaiting the inevitable. The result is both relentless and highly compelling, with a phenomenal portrayal of Hitler’s last days by Bruno Ganz. A sympathetic portrayal in its introduction, it shows him as a grandfatherly character, later losing his mind as swiftly as his country, hand shaking uncontrollably, and finally as the ferocious leader who would sacrifice any number of lives to achieve his goals, screaming at his generals and blaming for his own failures the very German people who were loyally dying at his command. I was shaken by it, and Kirsten understandably more so (“They’re not his people,” she corrected me, “he’s not even German…”). In England we barely remember the state London was in, let alone the war-torn husk of Berlin which greets us here. And yet Downfall also manages to produce a positive cathartic experience akin to this year’s emotional powerhouse Crash.

I love to study the character and history of such great world leaders precisely because I fail to believe in the indivual’s power to alter the course of history. Rather I tend to believe in what I call the tide of history, this force of inevitability that pushes humanity along its journey in a more structuralist way. Of course there is no denying the vile acts of Hitler and equally his oratory and inspirational strengths, I feel that much of the blame lies with the Allied powers at the end of the WWI. After all, the alleged “second” world war was really a continuation of the same conflict after a brief respite. The ridiculous attempt to crush a nation through peace treaties and expect them to set aside their pride and subject themselves to a degrading cowed state was clearly going to stir up precisely the bitterness and anger which led to a man like Hitler being adulated and elected. He was not alone in his sentiments, perhaps only in extent.

Fiery Goblets

Now is the time of year when I can start getting a little excited about a new Harry Potter. Okay, maybe “excited” is the wrong word given how the hardcore fans show their enthusiasm. Whilst not being hugely enthralled by the books, I am now a stalwart fan of the film franchise. The first two were competent distractions, albeit lacking any real magic and with variable performances from its inexperienced child actors. Last year’s Azkaban changed all that. Admittedly I was somewhat biased in my approach since I was a huge fan of the new director Alfonso Cuaron. Nevertheless, the maturing young actors and darker tone (not to mention Gary Oldman) made for a truly spectactular film with top notch realism in its special effects. I was somewhat underwhelmed to discover that Goblet of Fire was being helmed by Mike Newell, best known to most for Four Weddings and a Funeral which I found okay, but I am told several people really loved. Of course, the man also has Donnie Brasco in his past so he’s nothing if not versatile. Nevertheless the footage that has gradually emerged, climaxing in the biggest premiere event Leicester Square has ever seen, has definitely suggested that this film is going to be something rather special. I may not be queuing up for opening night tickets, but I am looking forward to it.

Bill HicksI finally picked up Totally Bill Hicks, which was recorded in London, from eBay the other day. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Hicks for a couple of years now, having been bizarrely introduced through Tool‘s Ænema album. There are a number of reasons he’s one of my favourite stand-up commedians. despite still being virtually unknown. Sure, as NME point out he’s consistently hysterical. Which helps. But there’s something more to this man, behind the fire and anger. He’s truly passionate about what he does; not just the comedy but the message behind it. He sees the world and he sees the wide disparity between what humanity could be and what we are. And it pisses him off. I found it incredibly enlightening last year to listen to his rants about the first Gulf War and realised that it was applicable in its entirity to this Iraq war, right down to his attack on President Bush! He’s the sort of angry voice that one assumes must have killed himself when hearing he died young (32), but perhaps stranger still it was cancer that took him.

Those of you who click on the links here will have noticed that Penny Arcade has been extensively swankified in line with the design for Child’s Play. The downside to their upgrade is that their file structure totally changed so every link from here had to be altered. They should all be working again now.

Lost Its Touch?

When I started watching Lost, I raved about it. There was so much to love not only in its mystery and tense, tightly scripted storylines, but also in its character-driven elements (I’ve always rated good characters higher than a good story). We had a host of apparently one-dimensional characters who, we gradually discovered, were far deeper than their surface suggested as each episode delved into the backstory of a different person. Half a season in, the whole thing began to lag seriously. Although there were forty survivors, it was clearly too large a cast to focus on in equal depth. As a result we ended up with a core group of around a dozen major players with extraneous people who were expendable at the writers’ whim. This meant that before the first season was complete, we were already revisiting the same character’s history twice or more.

Indeed, much of the problem with Lost stems from the length of an American TV season. In Britain, eight to ten episodes is considered a very respectable number; in the States, anything short of twenty implies serious financial difficulty. Crafting a suspenseful mystery is all well and good, but the scriptwriters seem to think that this can be achieved by constantly injecting new questions for 24 episodes without ever answering the old ones: what this actually creates is something that feels more like an hors d’œuvre platter of plot holes. It’s not a momentum that can be maintained for such a duration. The season finale has to have been one of the more underwhelming I can remember. Sure, dynamite is fun and I like fiery explosions as much as the next pyromaniac, but the truth is that I was just bored of this particular jungle by that point. That said, the opening to Season 2 injected some much neeeded energy back into the proceedings and has pushed to the story forward considerably, so it may not be too late. If nothing else, I’m still intrigued enough that I keep watching, so I certainly can’t claim it’s failed entirely in its aim.

Meanwhile I’d strongly suggest checking out Prison Break, a new show that deserves to be a big hit. With a similarly claustrophobic feel to Lost, given a cast of characters confined to a prison, it manages to broaden its range of sets with a conspiracy gradually unfolding outside the prison walls. Great dialogue and tense storytelling combine with a critical social commentary on the prison system and its corruptibility into something that often feels like a modern Shawshank Redemption.

Speaking of things that got lost, My Vitriol have almost disappeared since releasing the double-CD version of their debut album Finelines. Seemingly knocking around in the studio forever, creating the follow-up they jokingly (I hope) referred to as “17 Movements in the Key of D Minor”, they’ve released a couple of decent tracks through MySpace, which they’re now using as an interim website. Disconcertingly the album is labelled as “Chinese Democracy”, the name of the much awaited Guns N’ Roses album which never surfaced. Let’s hope that’s their idea of a bad joke.

A review of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is up, with more to come soon.

“I’d Rather Be Lucky Than Good”

Having said that I had no photos from Hallowe’en, Sparkie and Shamini were quick to offer their own so (somewhat belatedly) I thought I’d let you look at a couple while I write.

ShaminiHaving survived the traditional — nay, institutional — week five blues, I collapsed into bed last night and eventually managed to pry myself from the warm sheets at about 3 o’clock this afternoon. Slovenly and slothful, I am sure, but I really needed it. A whole bucketful of the Colonel’s finest chicken later, I was feeling very much recharged and ready to tackle the work for next week. It’s strange how from one end of the week it feels as though we have only just arrived, and from the other term seems almost over. Time is not just relative, in Cambridge it’s telescopic: a day could be a week, a week a year, and yet the whole term feels like merely a handful of days.

A 2nd year Coven | Oli

Lucifer lays down the lawHaving resisted its eerie siren call for several months, someone made the mistake of mentioning eBay not just within earshot, but directly to me. In just a few days I’ve nabbed several bargain DVDs, but as ever, the bargains do add up after a while. I’m hoping the relapse will be brief, but at least it looks to be profitable (well, insofar as spending money can be). Amongst my recent acquisitions is Manhattan. As one who has never explored Woody Allen as well as one ought, I have to say it is extraordinarily clever, witty stuff. It makes one wonder where the modern, illiterate comedies come from and why on earth we put up with them. I am particularly intrigued by Allen’s latest project, not least because Scarlett Johannsen stars, an adulterous little British film called Match Point. “The man who said ‘I’d rather be lucky than good’ saw deeply into life,” intones its lead. Strangely, I’m feeling rather more lucky at the moment…

Incidentally, my current must-see is the very original, very funny Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang with Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer. It’s generally being touted as the best work either of them has done in about a decade, so if you’re interested in coming along then let me know.

Kong

Another killer Thursday. After doping myself up with sugar to get me through the first supervision of the day, I ended up crashing in my third lecture right before another supervision, leaving me in not the best state as I staggered back home. Slumped down at last, I began feeling much rosier as I realised that at least I was free for the week. Our Ball posters are now strategically positioned around the faculty which cheered me up, especially since one is sitting right next to Girton’s (theirs is the same day) and totally blows it away. You know, from an unbiased objective standpoint. The committee’s Ball stash has also arrived, though I haven’t had a spare moment to drop by and collect it from Sara. I’ll snap a couple of photos of the hoodie and the t-shirt, possibly modelled by someone prettier than me.

When I heard Peter Jackson’s next project was King Kong, I’ll admit I wasn’t particularly interested. When I heard he’d cast Jack Black I was less than enamoured. Having seen the teaser trailer, I was just bored and looking for something else to entertain me. Yet another needless remake that, while very pretty, seemed to have nothing in the way of substance or anything new to offer. All that has changed with the release of the new trailer (available in high definition). From the very first glimpse of Kong, you realise there’s something special going on here. I’m a little apprehensive about waxing lyrical over Weta’s work again so soon (last time it was regarding Narnia), they’ve done another phenomenal job. You see such majesty and feeling etched upon the face of the great beast who shows not just expressions but emotions. His power and presence is immense. And he’s not even real. The only thing that piqued my interest from the start was that Andy Serkis (he of Gollum fame) had been hired to provide similar services in the titular role. Unsurprisingly it looks like he’s worth every penny.

Child’s Play 2005 has kicked off. Gabe and Tycho set up the charity a couple of years ago with a very simple premise: for each hospital in the scheme, Amazon wishlists of gaming products are created and the donor simply finds an item on the list and purchases it. This utterly removes the usually charity donation concerns about administrative costs and how much of your cash really reaches its target as the gift is sent directly by Amazon to the hospital. Better yet, this year they’re looking to expand the scheme to the UK as well, but the hospital is unconfirmed yet. If you spot that change then let me know. Finally, since the issue of the use of first person plural on this site has been raised before, perhaps this will shed some light.

Dinner For Two

Two dinners in two days. The first was paid for by Linklaters of whom I’m already a big fan. They took us out to Chez Gérard, the only quality restaurant I know that is famed for it’s signature dish of…steak and chips (or as they say “steak and frites” if you’re feeling pretentiously franglais). The food was extremely impressive with a great if somewhat insubstantial salmon starter, decent steak accompanied by an exceptional pepper sauce and a competant crème brûlée. The service, on the other hand, was shocking: the constant clang of dropped cutlery, the protracted pause between courses, the lethargic response resulting in chilly (if not quite cold) food, and the unapolagetic attitude to consistantly mixed up dishes (we were, to be fair to them, a large group). As such we were all cheerfully impressed when the partner waltzed in late, flatly refused to drink the same wine as us and patiently but condescendingly informed the slightly unhelpful waitress that it would be quite alright since he was paying.

By contrast the company was fine, consisting as it did of virtually every second year Downing lawyer and a handful of Cambridge-educated trainees. Of course we all know that the trainees are really recent graduates present purely as an excuse to take an early afternoon off work in some vague attempt to hark back to a romanticised memory of their student days. Nonetheless, at least their interesting to talk to. Chris I already knew through Anna, Sumit I had met at a previous Linklaters event, and the final trainee stumped me after chatting to her for nearly an hour when she asked, “Are you…Phoenix?”. Apparently my infamy is on the rise. More importantly I’m now beginning to wonder just how extensive a file these firms have on me already…

Tonight was dinner at Brown’s courtesy of Herbert Smith. The food was awesome: another smoked salmon starter (the only way to fly) followed by meaty lamb dish and stick toffee pudding to finish (thanks to Steph’s advice on things to avoid!). Service was better, albeit just as sluggish as last night. The red wine left a little to be desired (last night’s was somewhat lacking in flavour but incredibly easy to drink) but they bought us a round of drinks before the meal which gave us pretty much carte blanche to order whatever we liked which was unusually generous. Or perhaps rather foolishly trusting, depending on your point of view. It was filling, satisfying, but ultimately a little dull. The truth is the alleged cream of the Cambridge restauranting crop don’t feel nearly so special as they ought, and are going to have to act quickly to retain their title.

Unfortunately the late finish meant I had to miss the Ball launch party at Cindy’s. The Ball site has now been updated with several new sections including profiles for the committee. At any rate, I can’t stomach the excessive cheese of Cindy’s unless I’m pretty drunk and frankly I have too much work to be drunk right now. I’ll see you in a couple of days…

Mugged Leprechauns

Recently I’ve taken to reading regularly ShortPacked!, a daily web comic loosely based around the toy industry (in the same way that PA is loosely based around the gaming industry), whose conspiracy theories are even worse than mine.

I finally made it to brunch with Lyds and Tom for the first time this term (my last attempt was thwarted by the phantom shifting kitchens). I’ve always said that hash browns are what make or break the meal and I’m happy to report that despite vicously circulating rumours about Lilliputian potato products being served the previous week, they remained a suitably satisfying size. The new self-service approach was a little disconcerting at first but does allow one to establish proper flood channeling when serving baked beans. It is imperative, of course, that the crispness of the hash browns be protected at all costs. The old gang have been maintaining the Sunday breakfast tradition over at 38, so Kirsten and I wandered over, allowing her to meet them and because pancakes do so nicely round off a good brunch. It then occurred to me that deliciously creamy hot chocolate at Clowns does so well round off a good pancake, as I had arranged to meet Lydia for coffee since she was keen to hear about all of the past week’s developments. It also transpired that we both have friends with imminent weddings. Which we’re starting to find slightly unsettling.

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"You shouldn't trust the storyteller; only trust the story."

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