Christmas has very much snuck up on me this year, largely since it’s the first time I have been working right up until Christmas Eve. I have no complaints though, and a couple of boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts successfully lightened the mood in the office. Because of the way the weekends have fallen, taking time off between Christmas and New Year barely uses up any holiday this year, so I am left with a surplus to use up realistically some time in January of February. The current plan is to take two weeks off and just sleep, watch films and generally indulge without ulterior motive. I am, however, open to suggestions.
I spent last weekend on a very brief trip to Ireland with several uni friends, masterminded by Irina who had bought Andy tickets to see Coldplay at the new O2 venue in Dublin. It actually felt like a rather studenty trip between the hostel accomodation (Barnacles — cheap, clean, secure but with no curfew) and the decidedly alcoholic bent to our sightseeing. By which I mean both the Guinness breweryand the Jameson distillery. The former was prettier with plenty of marginally related photo opportunities, despite the fact I have scant interest in the drink itself. Jameson offered a more informative guided tour followed by a tasting that compared Scotch whisky with Irish whiskey and American Bourbon. Despite being offered a place, I relinquished it to Sparkie which only made sense given that we were also celebrating his birthday. I also seem to have ended up with a couple of hundred photos so expect more once I’ve managed to get them sorted out, which may take some time.
And finally as a sort of Christmas present, here’s some unashamedly geeky free music by Jonathan Coulton. He’s an interesting chap whom I initially came across when his Code Monkey song did the rounds online, and more recently in Portal’s closing credits which he composed. His blend of folk and rock styles lead to interesting results but he really showed off his versatility in the Thing-A-Week project in which he, uh, released a new song every week, free to download under the Creative Commons licence. I recently stumbled across this trove. The breadth of his work covers topics as varied as the Mandelbrot set, the problems with being an evil villain in love, Olympic Curling, a sort of dumped stalker’s anthem, a very odd apology with monkeys, the zombie apocalypse, DNA and of course a folk cover of Baby Got Back. Obviously. Because why wouldn’t you.
As Christmas Day wears on, one eventually arrives at the veritable minefield of family games. Being no longer a resident I neatly sidestepped the problematic issue of game selection, but this still left the perplexing challenge of the games themselves. I can never quite remember the prescribed etiquette: does one reflect on Christmas as a time of charity and let others win, or does one use this family occasion as a rare opportunity to put them in their respective places? There is also my mother’s scarily competitive streak to be considered, should one wish the building to remain standing. To cheat is to take one’s life into one’s own hands.
In the circumstances I ended up winning all of them, though in my defence one was a word game and another was Scene It?, full of film and pop culture trivia. I do feel somewhat guilty for ruining Jehan’s perfect record of victory in the latter and promised not to rub it in too much, at which I suppose I’ve rather failed by broadcasting it across the web. If people feel like brushing up on their trivia, I may pick up the Xbox version of the game for visitors. If not, there’s always next year…
The more I hear about I Am Legend, the more its position on my radar has shifted from casual indifference to really ought to see. At first I wrote it off as merely a Will Smith vehicle (I like him, and roles like this generally highlight a range which we do not credit him with, but mediocre choices like I, Robot mean I rarely get excited) but the background, the existence of the novel and atmospheric trailers have all played a part in winning me over. That my dad wishes to see it too means that we’ll be seeing it tomorrow. It will be refreshing to see a big budget Hollywood film for which I have no expectations, following a year of generally disappointing results.
Meanwhile with the writers’ strike continuing in the States, next year’s film fare looks decidedly uncertain. Looking through trailers reveals a throng of underwhelming, largely derivative offerings. The standout is undoubtedly (and unsurprisingly) Wall•E, Pixar’s next effort which looks better suited to my taste than their last few releases. Also intriguing are Tim Burton’s vision of the macabre musical Sweeney Todd (again right up my alley), though Johnny Depp’s seemingly understated performance may not gel well with the extravagance of a musical. Finally, a sequel to Harold & Kumar, a film people are always surprised to find I love, looks like a worth comedic contender if only because it promises “it’s gonna be exactly like Eurotrip only it’s not gonna suck.”
Rounding out the Christmas party week was Irina and Andy’s drinks party on Saturday evening. With mocks this week I almost missed it, but fortunately she convinced me to pop in for a few hours. I had not previously met any of the other guests, mostly ex-Cambridge students as well as Andy’s sister. Rivalry swiftly ensued as the Wii was fired up, the battleground being the pretty awfulCarnival: Funfair Games. A ramshackle collection of 25 fairly ugly mini-games, it’s a momentary diversion before swiftly moving to tedious and infuriating. It was described by Eurogamer as the sort of game you would only pay when “you’d rather eat soap than play one more round of Wii Sports baseball”. It highlights the chief issue plaguing the Wii: while the console may be selling well with no signs of slowing, Nintendo’s lack of any form of quality control when it comes to third party releases means most of the games border on unplayable. The games made by Nintendo themselves are uniformly excellent, but brave the rest at your peril.
Accompanying wines and a special bottle of vodka Irina brought with her from the Ukraine was an impressive spread of doughnuts. It seems that inadvertently my innocuous housewarming gift of a box of Krispy Kremes a few months ago sparked something of an addiction once I informed them there was one in Paddington station. I seem to be alarmingly proficient at inducing such addictions, having also hooked Jenna on Lindt white chocolate truffles, for which I feel particularly guilty as importing Swiss chocolates to the States is even more exorbitant than here. Woe betide anyone I accidentally introduce to heroin…
This relaxation was needed after Meredith’s funeral on Friday. It is not something on which I wish to dwell, though it was certainly cathartic that we were finally able to say our farewells as she was laid to rest. Being able to share this traumatic time with friends who knew her helped a great deal although it stirred some guilt that many of us have not stayed in touch as well as we ought. This jarring experience will hopefully force us to make a greater effort. The service was wonderful with excellent music selections including Mez’s fav With or Without You and closing with Sigur Ros’ incredibly soothing Hoppipolla. The tributes from her siblings were truly inspiring, showing real strength as they delivered heartfelt but upbeat messages. The only mar on the day was the inevitable, but nonetheless intrusive, press presence. Circling like vultures outside the church, I am not sure what they expected to see — it was a funeral, people were upset — but it was not exactly what mourners needed to be faced with as they left.
Posting stopped as I have been rather busy over the last couple of weeks. This may initially have had something to do with the release of Mass Effect and not very much to do with forthcoming mock exams, while last week I found myself doing the Christmas Party circuit. This included Bird & Bird’s at Dust Bar, the BPP crowd at Boardwalk in Soho, and a very Cambridge Christmas dinner in — well, you can probably guess.
In reverse chronological order, the BPP do comprised our “group” for classroom teaching. It’s a diverse but really fun bunch when we do all get together. I found the Boardwalk left a little to be desired with excessively loud music that made any form of communication difficult, particularly with such a large number spread over a long, thin table. The food was reasonable, but the highlight was undoubtedly the company and the exchange of Secret Santa presents. Lauren had decided to make this hideously difficult by imposing a £2 limit, a restriction that required much creativity. The best of the evening was a bright red, fur-trimmed Christmas cowboy hat given to Gordon, which fitted alarmingly well with his chequered shirt. The hat then proceeded to do the rounds. Lauren’s efforts in arranging the night were much appreciated, although unfortunately I could not stay later as some of the others partied into the early hours.
On Tuesday I headed up to the Bird & Bird event for future trainees with Rachel and Tor. I only realised just how quickly the last year and a half has flown by on seeing Chelsea, whom I had last seen during our vacation scheme in the summer of my second year at Cambridge. It was great to catch up again, as well as meeting several new and future trainees. I was also able to meet my trainee “buddy” (less intimidating than “mentor”, admittedly, but perhaps too casual a word since we had not managed to get in touch yet!). It is strange that what felt so far away when I accepted the job offer now feels just around the corner. I imagine there was careful (self?) selection of partners allowed to attend, since those there did not affect the mood (or banter) of the groups to which they were chatting. Dust is a great venue with wandering staff serving impressive nibbles in quantities more than enough to fill us all. Now we just need to make sure the 2008 intake arrange something ourselves to catch up before next summer.
Finally, the weekend before last I was up in Cambridge for a wonderful Christmas dinner mostly cooked by Angie, with several dishes provided by others. The journey took forever, though bizarrely it was getting across London that took the longest due to work on the central line. Arriving late, I had a plate thrust into my hand and headed upstairs to meet everyone and share stories about the couple of months since I’d seen them at the housewarming party. The food was great, accompanied by Sparkie’s home brew (sweetly palletable since he had added additional sugar in order to ferment it to a more alcoholic strength). Several shots of vodka with the medics later, I ended up walking back to theirs for the night since space at Victoria Road was pretty tight. This meant I was able to see TomTom the next morning who had missed the festivities. Much tea and Gears of War later, it was sadly time to head home. My camera, however, was more than full. As I gradually improve with the new camera, photos actually look good full size, so these should be added to the Gallery soon.