Monday, 17 September 2012

Retro Review

Welcome to Chaos

The Chaos Engine is a futuristic vision of Victorian steampunk Britain where only six mercenaries are capable of purging the evil genius Baron Fortesque and ridding the world of his monstrous machine (that can bend time, space and matter and bring to life and alter all manner of creatures of terror) through tactical upgrades, brute force, special abilities and a whole lot of running and gunning.

Developed by Bitmap Brothers and published by Renegade in 1993, The Chaos Engine was one of the defining games for the Sega Megadrive. With a dynamic 16 bit soundtrack by Richard Joseph that altered depending on how play was approached, it also offered my first introduction to RPG - where I was in control of how to level up my character (skill and weapon, skill and weapon). This top down shooter is also a fine example of local co-op play as Tracey and I can testify; it still feels great nearly 20 years later.
A noticeable difference when coming back to play any of our earlier consoles is the joy at the swiftness of how fast you can get into the game – from TV and Megadrive off it took 9 seconds to get the main screen and to playing and shooting in just 15. In comparison to the Xbox 360 and PS3 where the eons of loading screens, signing in junk and what’s the latest update baggage - the immediacy of immersion into the chaos was satisfying.

Broken into four worlds with four levels per world and choosing to play as the Thug with Brigand as a +1 we rampaged around the wastelands with their strange inhabitants, on the loot hunt and searching for electrical nodes.

Giant hands with only three fingers flicking silver spheres, straight line kamikaze jumping frogs and beige building climbing lizards were just some of the examples of the enemies that appeared out of  walls/trees/sewers or the general ether causing sharp intakes of breathe and a significant expelling of ammunition.
Along with the sudden emergence of enemies, the game is quite a taxing affair for a number of other reasons a) certain characters start with very little life b) enemies can remove your life by either walking into you or aiming their long range projectile in your general direction and c) the ability to save progress is only offered at the end of each world through the scribing of a 12 digit password. The password option freezes all current abilities and enables players to re-start at the beginning of a world with however many lives you happen to have left.

Alongside my shotgun, I discovered other special abilities to aid my quest including a monster distracter and shield which were effective in buying extra seconds to escape or attack from a better angle.

Finding golden sets of keys often lead to increased weapon upgrades or health replenishment and silver keys and ringing telephones enabled progress through the area. After killing enemies, they dropped either a gold or silver coin which remained on screen only for a couple of seconds before it disappeared and the completionist in me was often left rueing my stats at the end of each level after it revealed I had only 98% of the level complete and had missed a few coins, a monster or a set of silver keys.
The Chaos Engine is a brutal game that kept me on my toes throughout and has huge amounts of replay ability through the different combinations of characters, local co-op or player + CPU. The constituent parts of frenetic action, puzzling landscapes, inventive enemy design and immersive soundtrack gelled together to create a gaming experience that has seldom been bettered on the Megadrive and rarely surpassed in the next two decades on alternative gaming platforms.
Chaos is the score upon which reality is written.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Greetings from Düsseldorf

After a rather delightful trip to Cologne for Gamescom, where we feasted professionally and socially on video games, we embarked on our favourite type of train (double decker) moving northwards to the seventh largest German city, Düsseldorf, for a chance to let Deutschland bewitch us a little bit more.

Meaning "the fascination of variety", Düsseldorf is without doubt one of the most elegant places we've encountered and is true to its translation with classical and cutting edge architecture.

It boasts a rich cultural and fashion scene as well as being the birthplace of electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk. Taking a huge city walking tour through central landmarks, we also found a cafe to indulge in our new drinking addiction - Bubble Tea. A fruity/yoghurty/cold juice drink with mini fruit tapioca bubbles that pop in your mouth when you suck them up through a wide straw.

We continued our exploration from the centre, bleeding out to the media and advertising parks where we found the amazing dancing buildings designed by Frank Gehry in the centre.

Ambling along the Rhein, is it possible to fall in love with a river?, and lying under the TV tower gazing skywards we discussed the rhythm of the city, our German adventures to date and our off piste trip to the Düsseldorf industrial park just 2 hours earlier - where we found an amazing disused paper factory.

A wealthy city that was relatively unscathed by the bombings of World War II, it boasts a heritage of architecture in Altstadt, a superb green axis of parks and an artistic offering that is of dizzying proportions including: the world famous Kunstakademie, the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, tanzhaus nrw as well an Elvis musuem boasting the world's largest private collection of Elvis memorabilia.

The beautiful river Düssel runs along Königsalle (King's Avenue - an urban boulevard that houses international brands and boutiques that puts New Bond Street to shame) and into old father Rhine.

We were only here for a day but know that we will return to Düsseldorf as it's jumped into our top 3 favourite German cities and warrants a much deeper digging and excavating of some of its jewels. Düsseldorf you flipped us out.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Return to Car Boot Corner!

After some very soggy weekends, today we hit the car boot with renewed vigor and nabbed us some amazing August bargains!

The bread man was back so we fueled up on flapjack before heading up and down the aisles of cars and tables, crammed with treasures. Our first purchase was a phone box magnet that when pushed, makes a ringing noise and flashes. It's brilliant and was a bargain at only 50p. Of course, we always pick up Greetings From postcards and the haul this week were mainly of Scarborough which we know and love very well after studying there.

Tam spotted a Space Wars illustrated beauty whilst Abbo was given a free book on village life after buying the vendors favourite book (which no one else wanted to buy); Loving the Machine - a picture packed look at the art and science of Japanese robots. We had a good chat with him and recommended he check out the film Robo-G. There are always loads of funny little snippets of conversation we catch on the way round, like a grandma commenting on a young boy's teeth "Look at yer yella teeth. Bet ya don't brush um from one month tut next!"

We also learnt that slimming world costs £5 a week. Elsewhere, in-line skates and Tony Hawks videogames seemed to be on every other stall. One hand-made, Moroccan prayer rug with tanned stags and cyan background plus fringe, a handful of rings, a watch, some clip on earrings, 4 packs of garish gift bags and some plastic, fruity table mats later we spotted Albert...

Propped up against a camper van, our super fabulous purchase of the day is a 4ft, metal target man! Only £10, FIG11 (whom we have renamed Albert), formerly took residence at the Ministry of Defence but has retired as is riddled with holes. He now stands proudly in our hallway; the first and last line of defence to our little apartment of boot wonders.

Bang bang, bling bling. Boot done!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Tonight Leslie...

Deriving from the European pioneers of entertainment television, Dutch giants Endemol adapted an existing format and in 1984 created Soundmixshow, the forefather of the Saturday night soundalike gameshow that I hold with dear affectionate; it’s Saturday night and it’s Stars in Their Eyes.

Giving mass media exposure (the finals regularly attracted 13 million viewers) to a select few members of the public who before heading through those famous doors would be introduced to the public.

Each of the presenters (Leslie Crowther, Matthew Kelly and Cat Deeley) would ask courteous questions trying to elicit information about their profession, hobbies and mildy embarrassing tales in their life (similarly to the master of this technique Jim Bowen in Bullseye) which may or may not give a hint to who they’re planning to transform into before our very eyes.

This sequence always finished with 6 words that have transferred deep into the public consciousness, a testament to the success and warmth with which the programme (running for 16 years in the UK) was held in with the viewing public. “Tonight (Leslie/Matthew/Cat), I’m going to be…” and the most impersonated stars were Elvis, Cher, Madonna, Cliffy R and Georgey M giving an insight into who would have been gracing the covers had celebrity magazines been invented in the mid nineties.

Heading back to the Netherlands, they introduced televoting for the finals in 1988 for the first time and they generated such an unprecedented quantity of phone calls that the entire Dutch telephone grid was brought down temporarily and their emergency services were out of reach in some parts of the country.

There were a couple of offshoots from the main format, including numerous Celebrity Specials, four Junior series and a Champion of Champions, which was won by Ian Moor as Chris de Burgh (polling over 500,000 votes). The victorious series winners often embarked on joint and solo tours of the classic seaside Butlin’s and Pontins holiday camps to give back and perform live in front of the thousands of folks who had originally voted for them.

Famous doors, a timeless catchphrase, salt of the earth members of the public and a chance for people to vote, Stars in Their Eyes was pure TV alchemy.

Monday, 21 May 2012

B to the Russ to the Els

…it’s a long, long way to where the streets smell of chocolate

Embarking on a 5am coach leaving our fair sandy town, to maketh our way to London and switch coaches on to the now INTERNATIONAL Megabus (got to love that little jolly fella), we took a trip to Belgium, capital of Europe and as far as we’re concerned capital of our world.

Landing in the dark chocolately heart of Brussels in the early evening and making our way across the cobbled streets to our 5* hotel, we dropped everything to start explorations and food hunting. Brussels is broken down into easy and manageable geographic sections, e.g. you walk down one street and it’s all Italian eateries, another street is full of Greek muncheries, but we fancied something a little Asian and a Vietnamese/Thai appealed. With some decidedly mischievous décor with full size tables and chairs plastered into the walls, alongside a 3 wheeled trike affixed upside down on the ceiling, it satisfied our quirk ’o’ meter and delivered some fine cuisine, including an 8 taste chicken experience. With parties spilling out on to the street, we were laying down memory markers where to come back to the following day to see much resplendent architecture in the bright Belgian sun.

Oh my, the quality of the bed and pillows at our hotel was heavenly (easily the comfiest bed we’ve both ever slept in) but made the mornings a whole lot harder. Finding Use It (an international/local young travellers city guides which tell you genuine information, not just the tourist trappings) and following one of their 90 minute walks around the city, we saw places outside the centre and let us visit parks, museums, unusual areas and unintentionally, the European Parliament; which just so happened to be having an open day – of course we went in! Satisfying our needs for miniature quests, the EU designed several stations located all over this labyrinthine building where you had to retrieve a stamp after answering 5 very boring questions (e.g. how many disabled ramps give access into the main building? Read this leaflet for the answers *yawn*). After spending at least 2 hours and 40 minutes sat in the main EU chamber listening to a live debate on censorship and social media, we decided to carry on with the guided walk where I got caught peeking through a UK MEP’s box, which was very full – obviously they hadn’t attended very recently.

Food was an utter delight throughout our entire trip, we didn’t have one average meal, mixing street food vendors selling raspberry waffles to the Drug Opera restaurant serving steak and cherry beer plus VW camper vans selling ice creams and sorbets. The culinary highlight was reserved for the final night where we found a modern hamburger joint. Sat at the counter watching the world go by, drinking milks shakes and eating burgers made for glorious times indeed. We ventured out into the night seeing the Grand Place with so much gold leaf on show from the 16th Century that I was suitably impressed. Add some wonderful full building size street art on the empty side of buildings that really added character to the neighbourhoods that we found them in to the dozens of gourmet chocolate shops that adorned every corner; Brussels is a little piece of foodie paradise.

Built for the world expo of 1958 (the world needs more massive expos) we visited the mighty Atomium – a mighty futuristic 9 ball structure with interconnecting tubes which you can explore. A lift takes you to the very top giving you huge panoramic views over Brussels and even as far as Antwerp whilst in the lower balls, there’s temporary exhibitions, a history of its construction. One sphere even has mini spheres inside in which children can sleep over. The Atomium is mighty and is the perfect tourists bedfellow to Mini-Europe, which is right next door and is essentially a model village but covers the whole of Europe with at least one architectural highlight from every major European country, a glorious yet complete folly at the same time. The replica of the Grand Place in Brussels took 19,000 man hours and cost over 350,000 euros to build. There are over 50 models and it’s only then when you begin to compute the scales, human and financial that has gone into this tiny world, which sits next to the huge steel balls that I begin to take my hat off those workers who’ve carved, painted and shaped Mini Europe.

We finished off our adventures with a trip to the Musical Instruments Museum, which although presented no interactive things to play with, actually housed some amazing constructions from across the centuries from around the world, that looked like art. From a modern Theremin to a Serpent Bassoon to a 2 inch wide 6 string violin. It was like looking into a strange and magical world where if these tools were actually played one last time, it would create an almighty sound, something magical and completely unheard of.

It is official, Brussels is the capital of Europe and it’s also full of human wonder.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Man vs Food

The Really TV channel have spoiled us once more (following Hair Battle Spectacular and Ace of Cakes) with an exquisite import of small screen American reality goodness. The big behemoth that is Man vs Food.

MvF is Fronted by Adam Richman who travels across the US of A seeking out eateries in towns and cities that have huge and spicy dishes on offer that he has to consume completely, usually within a strict time limit and without leaving the table.

The size of these mega meaty banquets could easily sate a family eight for an evening meal. The entertainment show (think Top Gear) is verging into the realms of competitive eating - which hasn't quite made it to the UK shores yet - a regular spectacle in the US. For the first half of the show Adam wanders around finding relatively small town famous dishes to try and give a little air time to, before the main event in the second half.

What makes the show is that he's spurred on by whipped up and frenzied crowds. They get him absolutely buzzing with motivational speeches, fist pumping antics and straight to camera monologues about the feat of endurance that he is currently undertaking.

The show was pioneered by the Travel Channel and in some way it is like an alternative tourist guide to some of the places that wouldn't normally get an ounce of exposure on TV. I admire the fact that it is promoting the world this way and if it ever came to these shores, it would end up in places like Tavistock or Sleaford. Imagine getting a haystack of halibut from the Peppered Pig in Goole and letting small towns of the UK showcase their own famed culinary highlights.

It is escapism TV and compulsive viewing as Adam attempts an different eat feat in every episode. Could I eat a 14lb cheese toastie? 5lb of chips with a 10lb burger? Probably not, but I'd give it a go.

If he completes said task he can get on to hallowed walls of fame which adorn the walls of each eatery and there's usually a t-shirt as a winning memento as well. Adam also has a weird ymca hand dance that represents M V F (Man vs Food) which he pulls out two or three times a show. A wonderful 27 minutes, that ran for four seasons in America and as the votes were counted at the end of the run, the final scores were Man 48 vs Food 36.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Car Boot Corner April 2012

It's moved to the big field, we repeat - it's moved to the big field.

That means the time taken to navigate the new beast was up from 90 minutes to 3 hours. They trebled the field coverage and the number of sellers. So that equated to a higher quality of car boot bargains to purchase and more things which suited our tastes and home decorations . Oh boy it did not disappoint.

We made a novice mistake (didn't bring any bags) and so had to go back to the car after we purchased these two marvellous, but rather unwieldy sized books. I've wanted a pin picture book for a while and it was mine for merely 50 English pence and I shall start work on some of the designs courtesy of Golden Hands and will pop up the results here in due course. We also helped a lady part with her unwritten postcard collection - Colour Masters, John Hinde etc all ready to be written and sent out, sending greetings from near and far. An orginial tin that Sellotape used to come in (it is cyan after all) and who can't resist some animal future birthday cards?

However, it was Tracey who was happiest at the end of the session - the holy grail of 80s originals, size 3, roller boots are now in our possession. We shall be turning Bournemouth seafront into Malibu as we both now own some classic roller boots. Magna Carta we salute you.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Arundel - Triple A for Amazing.

Our Great British travelogue continues in earnest and today we encountered an absolute corker. Presenting Arundel.

A suitably historic market township with a little over 3000 populants, it is overlooked by two fine architectural behemoths: a Cathedral and the magnificent 1000 year old Arundel Castle as well as a complementary array of fine retail outlets.

The beauty and individuality of this town could encourage a real verbosity in my description, but from the opening meander along the duck filled miniature moat encircling the castle to an art and craft fayre in the local hall signalled good times were a'coming.

Quite honestly, it's one of the most picturesque and incredible towns we've come across. Our first stop was Gaskyns. A cracking eatery which in its past has been a brewery, car showroom and is now an awesome and tasty place.

With art a plenty, it was sun drenched in the afternoon sunshine and we had a little twin scoop of Movenpick ice cream (pistachio and caramelita being the favourites). The town was full of smiley people and shops we loved with gifts a plenty for our friends and family. The added bonus of personal conversations with shop keepers including the story of the old sweet shop man who has his chocolate bunnies made by a Belgian called Jann, who now lives in Finland and he also makes the rose cremes.

Alongside the Lido (two pools), Cathedral (in which we heard the organ being tuned), Victorian Arcades (complete with an amazing walk stick shop), Deli's and Antique shops we found the Queen of the retail world - Sparks Yard.

Stumbling into the smaller river sided gift shop first, where we promptly acquired lots of lovely print and stationary, the shop staff told us there's a bigger store over three floors just up the hill. We found it after wandering through a few tiny streets and was welcomed graciously and another set of purchases of kitchenware, iron signs and tasty food stuffs somehow came home with us. We were impressed by the customer service, attention to detail all around the shop and the exquisite selection of gifts and food stuffs on offer across both stores.

Long may this jewel reign in the heart of West Sussex. We shall indeed return for a more thorough exploration of the castle, lido and tell all and sundry of this most marvellous place.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Ace of Cakes

Fresh from the international hit TV show - Hair Battle Spectacular - on the most criminally underrated channel - Really - comes our new favourite way to spend 60 mins, ladies and gentleman, we bring you...Ace of Cakes.

Charting the stories and daily experiences of Duff Goldman's business Charm City Cakes who make the most outrageous and architecturally insane edible structures. Duff employs his buddies to help create and craft these tasty marvels and the programme charts the deadlines, problems and innovative solutions that the team come up with to make sure those who ordered the customised cake receive it right on time.

It is verging on food sculpture with all the tools the team use including trowels, paint brushes and everything in between. Live this week include a massive Hershey's chocolate bar complete with kisses, a 3D Charlie Brown and Peanuts halloween themed cake, an antique gym locker and a zombie themed wedding cake.

At the end of each show, you get the big reveal where the recipient sees the creation that has been made especially before them and generally smiles are shared around. Duff decided after pastry school to make cakes his way and it seems to be going pretty well for him. They make it bigger, badder and awesomer!

It's currently on Really at 7-8pm on a Monday evening GMT. Head over to their website and see what other crazy things they get up to and make.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Car Boot Corner

The winter sun didn't bother making an appearance today but thankfully, dozens of booters did as another year of retro-treasure hunting begins! The first car boot of the year and it was cold but as always, fruitful!

With two pairs of socks on each, we headed off to one of our favourite stomping grounds, Canford Park Car Boot and there was some speedy purchases made from the first three stalls we visited! Tam picked up Jo Verso's Cross-Stich for Children which has yet more beautiful, inventive and colourful designs from the popular craft author - bargain at £1. Next, Abbo got his 'buy of the day' after spotting a Dog's Playing Pool rug bundled up at the end of the stall. A perfect accompaniment to the 'Dogs Playing Poker' print we have in the kitchen, the bold colours and flying cigar butts will be brightening up our hallway.

Half an hour later and whilst purchasing a couple of 1980s kids LP's featuring the cast from Rainbow and the green bird with aviophobia Orville, we bumped into our friend Jamie from Fish4Junk. With clients all over the world including NYC, Tokyo and of course Bournemouth, F4J are the experts in tracking down delicious, 100% retro and vintage goodies - their fine selection of plastic 70s kitchenalia always sings to our orange and cyan hearts. Out hunting for goodies, Jamie proudly announced that F4J are now also part of the Dorset Curiosity Centre which sounds like a great excuse for us to already start planning our next day out! After comparing swag bags, we said goodbyes as Abbo had spotted some Bullseye poly metronic hard flights on a nearby stall!

As the cold seeped in, we managed to grab a telephone and address book and of course more lovely postcards. Sadly the bread and cake man wasn't there this week so no treats but a promising start nonetheless to the car booting year!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

A Short History of Gingerbread

What a strange and delicious thing.

Inspired by an afternoon of creating ninja ballet dancing and zombie rabbit eating gingerbread, I thought that this delightful substance needed further exploration and a higher profile by demonstrating its versatility and tasty prowess.

As an eating experience it has it's origins in the grand old time of Mesopotamia where it was believed to having healing properties. Following this, twas brought to Europe in the 10th Century by an Armenian Monk, Gregory of Nicopolis.

He taught its secrets to French priests and Christians and the medicinal myth was perpetuated as it was introduced to Sweden by German immigrants in the 14th Century and some Swedish nuns used it to ease indigestion.

The first imported gingerbread man was credited to our great HRH Queen Elizabeth I, who bestowed important guests with charming G-Bread likenesses of themselves.

However, the first record and honour of G-Bread being made in the UK is held by...Market Drayton where it was made in 1793 (by Roland Lateward). I love the fact that it proudly displays its heritage on its welcome sign.

It's even been referenced by ole Billy Shakes, so if it's good enough for him, then it's good enough for me. From Love’s Labours Lost:
"And I had but one penny in the world. Thou should’st have it to buy gingerbread."

After the Grimm Brothers' tale of Hansel and Gretel described a house "made of bread," with a roof of cake and windows of barley, German bakeries began offering elaborate gingerbread houses with icing snow on the roofs.

It is from this moment on that not only the edibility of this wonderful creation opened up, but the fact that you could make, decorate and embellish this wonderful substance into things like this video game inspired ginger bread biscuits.

I think a trip to Market Drayton could well be on the cards.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Postcards I Love You

For me they're a hallowed sliver of card which capture an experience and a moment in time that you want to share with someone else. They hint at a story and they hint at multiple stories through their combination of words, images and stamps and they create this link between two people and places and provides an indicator of what people find significant.

They are a personal treat and an investment of time. The hunt for the postcard to match the receiver is part of the fun. It matters not if it's a day trip to Bognor Regis or a fortnight in Tasmania; the quest, the ritual of finding what bounty the place has to offer is brimmed with happiness and then trying to find a stamp, engaging with locals and shopkeepers to try and determine the optimum value to ensure the speediest flight back home.

Postcards effortlessly convey distance and are a useful delayer of gratification. You can be mischievous and tell some outrageous lies on the back "killed a moose whilst getting married to Darlene last night, boy can she Howl!"

This is sure to get the postman gossiping with your next door neighbour or you can just give a salute and provide some banal information like "the weather is here, wish you were lovely". The restriction of that A6 canvas is hugely satisfying because you can never convey all that you wish to express, but you have to come to understanding that this space is all you're even going to have.

This is an invitation. An invitation to everybody, no matter where or who you are. If you feel like you don't have enough postcards in your life, send me one with your address to my address and let's strike up a postal relationship.

The postcard - how I love the postcard.