[ occasional pirate ], [ scribbly fellow ], [ hat devotee ], [ improviser ], [ cat dad ], [ sometimes unhappy in the brain ], [ AFOL ], [ consumer of eye-candy ], [ beer drinker ], [ enraged cyclist ], [ please talk to me about Transformers ], [ very bad at DIY ], [ enthusiastic duct-taper ]
Hideously I feel it is the result of a soul-deep weariness and hyperbole. I am a bit worn – last week was pretty busy and had a perhaps excessively fun weekend. Thus I must sleep. I am not, of course, managing to sleep though. I’m getting tired of blaming it on work, but my brain is totally fried from focussing intently on spreadsheets and IF statements. It’s leaving precious little space in my fragile noggin for more highly-prized creativity.
I’m spending my free time happily burrowed in books and Lego, which are naturally easier since they just get sucked into the mental vacuum; writing demands more than a hole to build with. I’ve also taken great pleasure at being sat upon by our Pickle-Moose.
The Winter Village Toy Shop is still getting a damn good seeing to as I continually tamper with it. It’s possible that I have finished tampering with the design since it’s achieved a rather charming gingerbread house quality. Most recently I added a smoking chimney.
I’ve also been playing with the gate I assembled after Christmas, which has been sitting on the shelf, bereft of framing or place. I thought it would be a good time to experiment a bit with one of the most highly rated of all Lego bricks – the hinge. It’s been used in some of my favourite Lego sets of the last few years – the Colby City Showdown and the LoTR Attack on Weathertop to produce the nicely shaped buildings. Obviously I hadn’t thought that far ahead, but figured it would be simple enough to add forward-facing walls on either side. It has not proven that simple… Due to the plates I chose (for aesthetics) I’ve been forced into weird building choices to join them all together. However it’s turned out rather nicely and I’m content that you can’t see how badly mismatched the build really is.
Also – I continue to taunt myself with the shelf of unopened bargain Lego sets. It warms my face in passing. I did build the Gollum set and he is a truly upsetting minifig. Very, very upsetting indeed. The stud on his spine suggests I should incorporate him in a building but I can hardly bear to look at him. Also exciting – I may be getting a chance to test out one of the new Lego Movie giant stacking brick boxes! Stay tuned for more Lego spaffing.
♥ Last Week’s Scribbles
Incredibly I did done do writing last week too! It really helped that I had a meeting in London and so acquired four hours of pure writing time on the train. It wasn’t all used well… it was too early for one thing and London just stains my soul. But, I got the next chapter of The Desert Crystals done, a long blog post about improv and stammering and even started a new Captain Pigheart story! Obviously I’ve failed to capitalise on this progress as it’s now Thursday…
Ah such a busy week… it demands more than I can give it! Not just the sweet mistress improv, whose demands on my time and brain are distressing, but also merely writing up last week is going to defeat me.
In brief then: we returned to The Glee Club Nottingham for our regular monthly show. We fielded nine players to a decent little audience – just forty or so (who I coerced with loving words into a fine and fizzing audience. Lots of shortform nonsense which felt very fun. I cannot now recall and of my scenes… I like to think that is a good sign. Plus we went out afterwards till ghastly o’clock to celebrate Geoff’s 50th birthday.
Heather Urquhart & Jules Munns
On Sunday we had The Maydays‘s Heather and Jules up to skool us in ‘Naturalism and Intimacy’ for the afternoon before they could wow us with their show in the evening. The workshop presented plenty of challenges to those of us with well-practiced shields and blocks against our fellow humans. I overcame some of those… It’s always interesting to aim at the softer, gentler emotions as well as the fire-spitting rage.
I particularly enjoyed the contemplation of how casual intimacy really is. The touches are not significant in themselves, they are an indication of the intimacy between two people. It’s also nice to have the importance of eye contact reiterated. It’s not something I struggle with, but I’m reminded of how many people I know who cannot bear to maintain eye contact for even a few seconds. Maybe I just make them nervous. I’ll grin fiercely to make up for it.
Ten Thousand Million Love Stories
After that we got to enjoy fucking about on stage in the Fancy Pants Jam which was the prelude to Ten Thousand Million Love Stories. I found the set up rather engaging – Heather and Jules asked the audience to close our eyes and be primed with triggers like ‘first love’, ‘the one that got away’. When reopened they encouraged us mingle and share our stories and memories while they eavesdropped and asked questions. Then they chatted about the stories (all without naming people!) and those that interested them the most – providing the fodder for the coming show.
I guess as an improviser it was clear how they got from the suggestions to the two story threads they explored (people having sex in a shared bedroom and their housemates and the couple who only meet through church) but that just made their exploration the more satisfying.
It’s a genuinely very funny show, with Heather and Jules playing beautifully with each other, in this case playing to a knowing improv crowd that appreciated the risks and the corpseing as they ruthlessly exploited whatever was making the other smirk. Despite, or possibly because of the humour, the relationships that developed were touching and affectionate. It’s a very lovely and funny show about love.
After that we went to the pub… it was a too-late night for a Sunday…
I’ve been a lover of Comixology for a few years now, for lots of reasons. One, digital comics are cheaper than paper, and take up less space (take note big publishers who use Kindle – it should be cheaper to get digital versions of books!). It also means I don’t have to go to a comic shop / leave the house. And I can tote them around with me everywhere. The whole panel swipe process for reading them has completely changed my enjoyment of comics since I can’t accidentally skip to the bottom of the page, and I enjoy them more. I’ve been collecting Transformers obsessively on the app, as well as Atomic Robo and whatever else takes my fancy.
The only reason I mention it today is that Comixology have an insane deal to celebrate one year of their Comixology Submit thing where you can submit your own comics for digital publishing (netting 50% of the profits if they accept it). It’s not part of the site I’d been especially aware of, though it does sound pretty cool. Anyhoo – they’ve got 100 comics for $9.99, which is a pitiful £6 or so.
There’s a tonne of the expected issue 1s to get you hooked on something, but it’s a very diverse range of comics and there’s at least twenty whole volume collections or stand alone graphic novels. I barely even hesitated… I probably won’t even download half of them but a good complete story will satisfy me enormously.
It’s not coat weather anymore, that’s for sure. I despise the heat, and sweating is a bestial practice. That’s why I so adore the frigid months of wind and attempted snow. Now that damn sun’s back, it’s unimpeded gaze roasting my lily-white crypt-flesh. I have discarded coat and hoodie in a vain attempt to keep my juices inside my skin.
This has been a week of (incredibly trivial) changes. I’ve had my twice yearly change of morning order. I am a creature of habit – it keeps me relatively sane and orders the few activities I undertake. One of those is the difficult matter of breakfast – does it precede or succeed showering? In the winter it’s definitely eating first before I can bear to expose my skin to water. But this week I’ve switched. It makes no difference whatsoever to getting to work on time: either way I’m bad at it.
What else this week? Oh yes, being out for all of Sunday shunted my ‘getting-my-shit-togetherness’ back by four days. So it was not a terribly productive week… This week has the bright shininess of two days suffering bureaucratic idiocy during day-long ‘workshops’ where the painful ignorance of those who direct us shall be dragged bleeding into the limelight again. If I weren’t already convinced of the impending disaster it would be a depressing pair of days. Thankfully the week will be genuinely brightened by the joys of Gorilla Burger this Thursday and KnickerbockerGlorious on Saturday.
Oh, and also – Merly has been adorable this week.
The local shops have taunted me further with Lego bargains and I have been too weak to resist their plasticky charms. I have supplemented the Lego shelf with the Galaxy SquadWarp Stinger and Star Slicerand The Council of Elrond. They’re all going to be lovely little constructions and should add some pretty bobs and bits to my Lego heap. I’m like a dragon, but I don’t care for gold.
As I said last week I’ve been burying my nose in books for fear of losing the tattered shreds of my humanity. Yesterday I finally finished Steven Erikson‘sGardens of The Moon. I’d stumbled across his insane world of the Malazan Empire when Marilyn snagged me a gift of Bauchelain and Korbal Broachlast year. Gardens of The Moon is the first in his massive sequence of massive books. I’ve been reading it on Kindle, so I don’t get the same sense of how far through the book I am. Despite dealing constantly in percentages being 65% of the way through a book doesn’t mean much to me.
It’s fantastic – a deep, complex and gloriously unexplained world of magic, gods, war and inhuman creatures. The battles are exciting, the plots loop around dozens of memorable and interesting characters. I love the magic (the ‘warrens’!), myths and landscape. He’s definitely on my Christmas list now.
From that I’ve gone on to join the Hipster crowd (appropriately behind the cool curve) – The King in Yellow by Robert W Chambers. I’d never heard of it until the H.P.Podcraft guys started going through the various writers who inspired H.P. Lovecraft. The same week I listened to those podcasts my good friend @Dr_Mekloug started babbling about the True Detective series and the million web posts about how this book is the key to that series. Then it appeared for free on Kindle and I took an interest.
I can’t tell you much about it yet other than it seems fun…
♥Last Week’s Scribbles
Hmm, not terribly productive. I’ll do better this week, I swears to ya boss, swears to ya.
A sweet layered stack of free live Entertainment, an abundance of Acoustic Music, a generous measure of Performing Arts. Topped off with a liberal sprinkling of family friendly Comedy. MissImp are bringing the improv to the street!
The only show of its kind in Derby, Interrobang features an improvised comedy jam in which everyone can take part followed by a showcase of the best improv in the region. Proudly presented by Furthest From The Sea and Derby Live.
I’ve been cheerfully modding my Jabba’s Palace since I got it some time last year. It was an absurd bargain and totally validated trekking all the way across the city using three different modes of transport just so I could hold it and grin manically at the terrified lady in the shop. She had no idea, none at all. I’d been watering at the face for months begging for it to be reduced below the frankly insane and insulting £129.99 RRP. Fuck you Lego, it’s not that many bricks. Or should that be fuck you Lucasfilms? I don’t know but I imagine they slap a whole heap o’ merch costs on top of it. It’s worth noting when you buy Lego that Star Wars Lego is frequently more than twice the cost per brick of the Creator stuff.
Anyway, I digress into number babble. So I’ve previously extended the corridor section and altered the tower so it could fit on our shelves, but the part of Jabba’s Palace I always really loved was the droid dungeon where they take R2D2 and C-3PO. You know, the room where they have a Gonk droid being tortured by burning the soles of its feet. That struck me as so weird that it’s emblazoned on my memory. So that’s what I wanted to build.
I turned to the internet for source pictures and really isn’t much out there. I re-watched Jedi twice for research purposes (I forgot to pause the first time round) and concluded that the dungeon is a black box with no visible features. Blank slate…
Outside and Inside
I’ve been slightly obsessed with oddly shaped bases for a while, and despite my better judgement have begun by building the base. There was that and the spiral staircase, which I adore and simply had to fit it in. So I ended up with an odd corridor branching into a couple of rooms. It’s very clear that R2 could never have gotten into this room.
The ‘play features’ I remembered were the Gonk droid being tortured and the protocol droid on a rack (it’s a weird scene), so they had to go in. After that it was a matter of making judicious use of my ever-rare sand and dark-sand bricks and filling up the gaps with junk. I am pleased with the Gonk droid. I think he’s the one I got out of an advent calendar from a couple of years ago, with a few brick switches. I had to make the torturer droid and I’m quite pleased with the result, even if he is rather chunkier than a Star Wars droid should be.
Similarly, the droid on the rack got his own whole corner of the set, with light up flamey bits too (god I love them light bricks). I couldn’t figure out a way to splay a minifigure, so I used those weird robot arm bricks and the helmet from General Zod to get the droid headed vibe. The rest of the dungeon was a chance to cram in robot and tech-like bits and pieces.
At Least There Are No Ewoks, or Jar-Jar
The most important bit I totally forgot to mention is of course R2 and Threepio being confronted by the dungeon boss droid, EB-9D (? I think – I’ve got his name mixed up with ED-209 in my head.) I had him from the original Jabba’s Palace set in the early millenial years.
The nice thing about a corridor is that it has a roof and I couldn’t help randomly bunging bricks and minifigures on top for even more action packed fun. It makes no sense of course, as obviously the dungeon is far underground… But it meant I could get my now really odd looking yellow Leia out (also from the original set).
The whole things looks quite nice at the end of the corridor, though I couldn’t finesse a join to the rest of the palace. Maybe next time… The whole set up is now scheduled for demolition! I need the space man, the space. That said, I’d like to revisit the massive doorway into Jabba’s Palace as a separate appropriate-ish-ly scaled model. I still don’t have the shelf height to allow for the Rancor pit extension.
A Picture Tells A Thousand Yeah Whatevers
The rest of the pictures of the Droid Dungeon can be seen here on Flickr.
You can see more pictures of the other extensions to Jabba’s Palace set in glorious colour here on Flickr.
I love Lego mini-figures. Absolutely love them. Like most people, I constantly played with Lego when I was a child. With the possible exception of Star Wars and Transformers it was the most enduring plaything of my childhood. I rediscovered Lego briefly when I left college and started worked with children – what else was I going to get them to do? And then they lay in abeyance in my mind, their brickish possibilities building beneath the surface. I don’t know what happened after that – it may just have been the release of some spectacular new range, but Lego was back in my life.
We went to see the splendid The Grand Budapest Hotel on Saturday (I’ll review it tomorrow, promise) and I was struck by the adverts leading up to it. I made a note of them, because otherwise I wouldn’t remember them – sorry advertising executives but all your hard work means fuck all to me.
Presumably though, they make some effort to put relevant ads before at least some films. These are the ads we got for Wes Anderson‘s latest film:
Red Bull – we are shown two tough British cross country cyclists. They seem very good, if nervous about talking to the camera. The message? Some people are really good at cycling, but even they get hurt badly. Will a weird tasting caffeine drink help?
FT Weekend – read a another dull weekend newspaper supplement in the style of a florist’s James Bond intro.
BMW – a car that growls like a pissed off cougar farting. Doesn’t bode well for the engine. The sound the car makes is all they have left to distinguish their brand.
McDonalds – desperately grasping at the poorly made coffee market (already nailed by Starbucks)
Coke Zero – literally adds nothing…
There were also adverts for Sky and EE but I can’t face explaining why I hate those again. In summary, advertisers think that if you are interested in The Grand Budapest Hotel you will be a sofa-bound adrenaline junkie who cums too fast but dreams of being middle-class enough to read the Financial Times in some crappy car while driving to eat fast food, drink bad coffee and pretend to be healthy by drinking caramelised piss water. Yup, nailed this demographic right here…
The trailers for this had been killing me for a while, and on the strength of Wes Anderson’s previous work I was well up for it. The film is a perfect blend of completely straight acting and outstanding whimsy. In that respect it’s much like (the also brilliant) Steve Zissou and The Life Aquatic. If anything the eccentric setting of the ageing hotel on a mountain makes this slightly more concrete, which allows an even more fantastical tale to unfold. Ostensibly this is the tale of the finest concierge the Grand Budapest has ever known, and how his lobby boy ended up owning the place. In practice it’s a master-class in playing ridiculous characters straight-faced and making every single scene look utterly gorgeous.
There’s further whimsical confusion in making this a story within a story within a story (I think it’s that many), introduced by Tom Wilkinson playing an older Jude Law who writes the book of the Grand Budapest Hotel after staying there and hearing it from the owner (F. Murray Abraham). So that’s just the introductory cast… add to that Ralph Fiennes on extraordinary form (he wasn’t this funny in Schindler’s List, Adrien Brody, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe (check out that underbite – half Shadow of The Vampire, half Sloth from The Goonies), Saorise Ronan, Jeff Goldblum – all with splendid facial furniture (including Ronan) the wonderful introduction of Tony Revolori and an astonishing string of cameos I won’t spoil for you here, save that they all too have great moustaches, and it’s a pitch-perfect film.
I laughed continuously, clapping hands at the use of stop-motion, camera angles that would delight Police Squad, prison escapes, the Zigzags (more amusing Nazis), chases, slapstick, moustaches, quirked eyebrows, disguises, witty dialogue, great costumes, set design… everything. It’s affectionate, lovely, clever and drenched in the kind of creative whimsy you usually only find in the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Of course, if you don’t like that sort of thing you’ll absolutely hate this.
‘300: Risible Empire’ would be a better title. This is a staggeringly bad film. The original 300 was a faithful, highly styled version of a gorgeous painted comic book written by Frank Miller. This is a mere slow-motion shadow of the original. All the misogyny, war porn and laughably homoerotic nonsense of the original just doesn’t bear repeating.
Since the first one we’ve had to suffer the ghastly pastiches of Immortals (Mickey Rourke in a gold lobster hat) and the remake of Clash of the Titans (mock Harryhausen’s Bubo will you?) and its unwelcome sequel Wrath of the Titans (oh…) and they’ve covered all the ground that was left to tread.
With this dire sidequel we get heavy handed voice-over narration stating the obvious and uninteresting, and even helpfully flashing back to a sequence we saw earlier, just in case the audience’s brains had atrophied. I can’t bear to look at the running length of 300: Rise of an Empire – it felt like it was about three hours long. Three hours that if it were at normal speed could possibly be crammed into twenty-five minutes. Even that would be dreary. Most of the film is a demonstration of imaginary fluid dynamics, with improbable jets of 3D blood and stationary seas. There are a number of battles, including footage straight out of the first film, some at sea. All are absurd, and will likely make you laugh out loud.
There’s a script, by someone who lacks subtlety, storytelling, wit and language. The best lines are hugely out of sync with the characters and situations: on arriving at Sparta to get some help our man (Sullivan Stapleton as ‘Themistokles’) the lady-leader (yes – there are like, two girls in this!) says “you’ve come a long way to stroke your cock watching young men train”. It’s possible that was a statement. I was surprised the Spartans were scrapping instead of just having a big oily man-orgy, which the whole film seems to be implying throughout. There’s also some terrible inspirational speeches on the eve of battle stuff. Sadly there are about twenty of these and they’re rather half-hearted and presumably only audible to a handful of soldiers. And they’re awful.
Mainly though, this is the story of Captain Hotpants and his mental sister/general/mate/lunatic and her travelling war-wardrobe. It’s stupid, boring, overlong and the rare moments of humour come solely from it being stupid, overlong, stupid (and repetitive). A list of the stupidest things in it has surely already been compiled by a click-bait site – skip it, your life can still have meaning.
I seem to have almost annihilated my health by working too hard and worrying too much. There are loads of stupid consequences of such behaviour: lack of suitable free time for messing about with Lego, the consequent difficulties sleeping (plus the loathsome sun waking us up early), having just one more drink to relax more effectively in the evening, and the consequent poorer quality sleep… and it just rolls on.
Last week I endured two days of being given information that was either unclear, ill conceived, trivial or shouldn’t have been first shared during the conference. It was very annoying. My preference for receiving information is in the written form – that way I can read it (far faster than someone can read it to me off a powerpoint slide), consider it, refer to it and discuss with colleagues and respond with comments and further queries. I’m baffled that others don’t also work this way. What made the days worse was having to get a lift there… I don’t get on with car journeys and despite my colleagues’ fine driving I still ended up with crippling headaches by the time I got home.
That burned away two days of potentially useful work time that still needed to be crammed into the week. Thank unicorns for being able to work from home. Most of the quality time this week has been spent underneath our cat.
So that killed off most of the week’s evenings, except for Thursday’s Gorilla Burger at The Corner. I was too devastated to play, but we had a fantastic turnout, thanks in part to the University of Nottingham’s Improv! society arriving en masse. They were very welcome and fun to watch. Hopefully next month we’ll get them to do a show slot for us. We also had our first ‘monoscene’ – performed by Martin, Ben and Lloydie. It was an excellent scene set in a vampire’s lair…
The Weekend (at last)
By Saturday I just felt horrible. Nonetheless I tootled off to Derby with MissImp‘s Lloydie and Colin to give some quality free improv in the street as part of Knickerbocker Glorious. I got through that and we seemed to amuse ourselves and the crowd – the kids in the audience were particularly excellent. We gave the bell for Should Have Said/Sung and the rollercoasters to the keen young lad in the front row (he also got a badge).
In between our sets Marilyn and I wandered about Derby (I bleary eyed and staggering). We acquired an unholy volume of new books (aaaagh!) and I stocked up on my beloved Bavaria 0.0% Wit Beer. After that I actually went back to bed… and have been able to do little else all weekend.
I’m prepared to utterly dismiss the mess of last week because this week we are off to the Lego Store in Merry Hell once more! Hurray – I cannot wait for Wednesday. We have three boxes to fill for free with Lego pick-a-brick, plus two containers with a discount and the sheer joy of all those gorgeous boxes of Lego to paw over. It’s going to be brilliant.
We’ve also discovered Lego’s new range – the Mixels. As ever, our local Tesco is at the vanguard of flogging new Lego products. I think they’re really cool and sweet. I hope it proves a profitable joint venture with the Cartoon Network.
♥Last Week’s Scribbles
Some kinds of victory! Words, babble and more have fallen from my mouth through my fingers:
I believe we should start with full disclosure – I was sent this item to test and review by A Place For Everything, also I love and adore pretty much everything made by Lego so there’s a faint hint of bias… it’s Lego! I’ve already got a few of the smaller boxes and have been delighted by their stackability and overall Legoishness (I also have some of the very small brick boxes that sadly don’t actually stack, but are pretty damn cool anyway).
I was surprised by how big this box is, plus it arrived in a massive cardboard box which was a delight to come home to. I’ve got one of the 4 stud boxes, so this is only twice as large but still… it’s also a glorious orange colour (exclusive to the The Lego Movie range). To considerable local mirth the box tells us it has “8 Knobs” – it seems slightly odd that Lego isn’t calling them ‘studs’ as usual. I suppose that could also sound strange… It almost literally glows once the neat packaging is off.
As usual with Lego, it’s their attention to detail and quality that elevates this above being just a box. If you flip the storage brick over you find that the base is the same as any other scaled Lego brick, with the hollow studs ready for further stacking
What you’ll also notice immediately is that once opened, the brick is actually fairly shallow. On the outside it’s 18cm high x 25cm wide x 12.5cm deep; inside it loses about 7cm of height and a few round the other sides. That seems to be slightly shallower than it absolutely needs to be to enable stacking, which is a bit of a shame. I guess you can fill up the inside of the studs… That said, once stacked these things do look awesome. I’d love to have enough to build a microscale castle.
Let’s Fill It With Things
The only sensible way to test a storage box is fill it with stuff… it is slightly too shallow to put books in so that the spines stick up (similar issue with DVDs), but then that’s what shelves are for! I’d need about forty of them to put all our Lego in but here’s a few suggested uses. I tried really hard to get Merly to sit in the box, but the plastic smells too fresh and new for her dainty nose, and she does prefer cardboard.
I think these storage bricks are great – I love that you can stack them, and that the studs still have Lego embossed on them just like their tiny cousins. The internal dimensions give somewhat odd volumes, but you can always just get more of them I suppose! They are of course quite big and blocky – finding a home for them in our tiny house will be a challenge (I can hear you weeping in sympathy) but I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t want one – child or adult. They aren’t particularly cheap, but if you’re into Lego already that won’t surprise you –
I’d have been ecstatic to have such a thing when I was little (I’m now ecstatic in an entirely adult way, much more mature, and only spent an hour last night stacking them, filling and emptying them of things). Like the normal-sized versions, Lego bricks are an undoubted design classic, immaculately produced and gorgeous for their simplicity. There’s an additional joy of these ones though that I almost forgot to mention. The sides of the box are sort of vented, and when you drop the lid on it slowly slides shut with a very satisfying pfutting sound. It just makes them even more awesome.
A Place For Everything has them for £22.95 which is about the same as everywhere else (the pre-Lego Movie bricks are sometimes available for less) and a damn sight cheaper than Lego.com itself. You can also buy them in 1, 2 and 4 stud (or knob) sizes. They’ve also got the Giant Lego Minifigure Storage Heads including the skull which I’m feeling rather desirous of…
I get nice emails sometimes from Lego-ing people. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy to be part of the Lego community. This time I was sent links from Atlanta’s Lego Discovery Centre. They’ve just started to produce short building instruction videos on their YouTube page. The first two they’ve done are microscale buildings – a castle and a classic house.
I made the micro castle last weekend (religiously following the directions in the video) and it’s a simple but pleasingly asymmetric build. I was a little challenged in getting the twelve light grey cheese slopes and had to go with dark grey instead. It took far longer to find the bricks than it did to assemble! I’ll get round to building the Classic House later. Hopefully the chaps in Atlanta will keep adding more videos and I can expand my tiny kingdom.
I’ve been interested in microscale building for a while but I haven’t attempted it properly before. This model seems a great place to start and I instantly want to vary it and add new bits. What I really like about microscale is the ingenious alternative uses of bricks – I’ve been eyeing up my collection of parts to see what might look like architecture if squinted at from the proper perspective.
The Dove’s Eye‘s fatal spin had been arrested, and the great airship simply plummeted through the blue sky. The twisted balloon was festooned with screaming and unconscious crew, dangling from their safety tethers. In all it resembled a rather ugly falling lampshade. Lord Corshorn wrestled with the controls, but no combination of thrust and steering would return the balloon to its original state. A bellow from the foredeck roused the captain’s eyebrows from their frown and directed their owner forwards. The rush of wind carried the words away and Corshorn was forced to creep out of the cockpit’s relative safety. He left the controls in the least harmful setting and clambered out onto the tilted deck checking first that his tether still held.
There was little option other than sliding down the deck as it pointed almost straight downwards. Corshorn alternated gripping at the edges of planks with the terrifying rush towards the ground below. In moments he had reached the source of the bellowing: Harvey, the Giant Centipede was still securely bolted to the deck after piercing the cave’s strange rocky wall with his carapace-mounted cannon.
“I must say Lord Corshorn, the perspective I’ve been granted is certainly dramatic.” Unable to turn away from the airship’s impending doom, the centipede’s ticking speech was tinged with an unusual panic.
“There’s no turning us,” Corshorn shouted, gripping Harvey’s shell with both fists, “the bag’s all snarled with tethers and for all I can tell, holed by those damned rocks.”
“I’d surmised as much, but as you can see my attention is somewhat fixed.”
Lord Corshorn reflected for a moment on what the great insect might be perceiving, with his simpler vision but vastly superior sense of space and distance. He was rather glad to be merely guessing at their remaining distance from the earth.
“I’d be grateful if you’d relieve me of my fixings, I rather fancy my own grip is quite sufficient to keep me aloft.”
“Well you’d be the only judge of that,” muttered Corshorn as he wedged his handy knife under the flattened top of the first bolt and levered it out with a twist and a judicious kick. True to his word, Harvey’s dozens of legs dug fiercely into the timber deck, easily taking his weight. With one bolt free Harvey was able to wriggle and snap the other bolt clean out of the wood. It whipped past Lord Corshorn’s face and vanished into the air behind them.
“Excellent. My thanks Lord Corshorn. Now let us see about this balloon of yours.” With the captain holding tight to the centipede’s harness, Harvey swarmed back up the near-vertical deck.
“What are your intentions sir?” enquired Corshorn as he transferred his grip to the cockpit’s doorway.
“I believe I’ll be able to untangle the canvas somewhat, though I must know which (if any) of the ropes may not be cut.”
Lord Corshorn’s eyebrows raised at the prospect. “I daresay we can survive the loss of a few guys here and there, but we must keep the key ropes – you’ll know them for the steel threaded through them.”
“Indeed,” was the centipede’s only comment before he ascended, climbing straight up the cockpit’s wall and, his forelimbs waving in the air for a moment, pulled himself up onto the first tangle of ropes that lead up to the balloon.
“Be careful not to slash the canvas either!” cried Lord Corshorn.
The centipede swiftly vanished from Corshorn’s view, to be shortly replaced by a set of fingers hauling their owner into the cockpit. With a an extended hand he helped to haul in his skymate.
“Thanks sir,” nodded Freymald, her face gashed open and bloody from lip to eye, “it feels worse than it is sir – took a door to the face.” She grinned a curious mix of nerves and fear at him. “The hold’s secure sir, and the cabin’s are locked. But I’ll not guarantee the state of the contents.” Freymald had been fortunate in falling back inside the ship as they fell from the sky cliff, rather than off and away like many of her crewmates.
“Excellent. That centipede’s gone up to fight with the balloons, there’s damn all I can do here till he’s unwound us.”
“Speaking of which sir, with some aid I reckon we could wind in some of the lads, those at least who are not too snaggled.”
Corshorn nodded his assent and the pair climbed back out and up the cockpit’s walls to where the gondola rose in a steel assemblage of rings and struts, joining the ship together and keeping the crew attached by their lifelines. The life ring was made up of a dozen slender circuits of steel and brass, with the clips and hooks of the crew’s tethers pulled tight with the strain.
“Start here,” directed Lord Corshorn, pointing to a rope tagged with a scarlet thread. It stuck straight out to the side, disappearing high overhead behind the canopy. Each sub-ring had its own winch, well-greased and ready. Freymald balanced herself with her back to the roof and feet pressed against the ring and wound the winch fiercely. Quickly a limp body was drawn below the bags and within Corshorn’s reach. He tested the man’s pulse, nodded with satisfaction and Freymald locked off the tether.
“That was the easy one,” noted Freymald. She jerked back in alarm as two of the other tethers whipped out at head height, racing along their rings, unwinding. Above them a flailing man could just be seen flying around the edge of the balloon.
“Looks like the centipede’s having some joy.” Following Harvey’s lead, Corshorn and Freymald began winding in the crew as they were released from their tangled bondage above.
Away above the captain and his work, Harvey scrambled further up the straining canopy, selecting ropes, hauling in the limp or screaming skymate and flinging them out counter to their rope’s twist. This was met with much further screaming from those crew unfortunate enough to be conscious. Once he was satisfied that the captain had wound in all those crew he’d managed to free Harvey moved on to the balloon itself. He severed the most twisted ropes and hugged the canopy as the balloon’s natural shape began to reassert itself, bulging improbably and shifting the remaining ropes. Finally he attained the attenuated peak of the canopy where tattered edges of canvas flapped and the gas-filled balloons attempted to escape. He hissed in annoyance and gathered in the ragged sides, using the strength of his legs to draw them in tight. With a further sigh he pierced the canvas and zippered up the hole using his own body.
The change to the shape of the bag was immediately obvious to Corshorn, Freymald and the cluster of crew hugging the safety ring. With the hole centipede-darned it elongated as far as the remaining snarled ropes would allow and the deck flipped back up, slapping the heap of skymates between the roof of the gondola and the rings.
“He’s done it,” cried Lord Corshorn, with more incredulity than he’d intended. The angle of the airship was still unhelpful for their continued survival, but that at least he could do something about. He leaped to the cockpit and engaged the rockets once more. Their downward blast forced The Dove’s Eye into a sharply angled arc. The instruments reported that they were only a few hundred metres above the baking sands and the heat competed with the wind’s force in their faces. With a shuddering sigh the airship levelled out and the ship’s velocity carried them forwards and back up into the sky.
Another week has flashed by in the wink of a naked eye. The last week has had a terrifying mix of ecstatic highs and crushing lows. It makes the rollercoaster of life into a worrying metaphor. I think I shouldn’t dwell on the lows online however. Instead I shall confess to a startling weariness unrelenting despite going to sleep and lying in bed. Never mind – last week did have some cool stuff in it which washes away the crap and nonsense.
On Wednesday I crawled out of the gloom and we entrained ourselves off to Meadowhall, surely the most confusing shopping prison devised so far (with the possible current exception of the cardboard tunnel mess of Birmingham New Street / The Bullring). We made a day of it. The special trick of building up (geddit) to visiting the Lego Store is to put it off for as long as possible during the day. So we got over there at lunchtime, had a nice slow pizza and beer at Zizzibefore trundling around The Lanes and a few odd shops. We even went past the Lego Store to find that the Entertainer has closed up shop, leaving the Lego Store and The Build-A-Bear Workshop the only toy shops in the vast complex.
My god, the joy of bricks. We spent several hours in that single tiny shop, giggling over the minifigure combinations we made and the beautiful, shiny, well packaged and immaculately injection moulded brick sets. We got quite a lot of stuff, though I did genuinely restrain myself from the things I most desired… And we got freebies! Lego Friends Disney Princess Rapunzels and this Martian Manhunter dude from DC (I’ve never heard of him, but it’s a great figure). A really, really happy-making day.
Art, or Arse?
We finally got round to catching The Nottingham Contemporary‘s recent exhibition: Marvin Gaye Chetwynd. I’d been interested because the main window into the gallery has been showing her life-size Brain Bug sculpture (from Starship Troopers) for months. I was hoping for more stuff like it. The gallery guide told us that many of the works begin as props and costumes for various performances. It didn’t touch me as I’d hoped. Most of the costume props are just creepy and scrappily made. I quite liked the series of Jabba The Hutts made out torn strips of cardboard but most of it just left me cold. I admire the rough tossing together of materials and can appreciate that what looks rough close up can seem very different from further off… but maybe it just wasn’t for me. The videos of the live performances some of the works were featured in seemed like spoofs of performance art, clumsy and amateurish. The work I really enjoyed is a sequence of small oil paintings – the Bat Opera. These were lovely! Apparently they go for about six grand each.
The other gallery had an exhibition from Tala Madani. I liked this one even less… the artist has a peculiar obsession with men urinating and defecating. Almost every piece featured men urinating, crapping and crawling around. It swiftly removed any further interest I had in the artist.
I have to confess to being dramatically under-impressed by either exhibition. I enjoyed the gift shop much more. They had the most recent collection of Slinkachu‘s charming little sculptures – he’s the guy who sets up tiny dioramas in ordinary and unusual places. I liked that…
Well, apparently not. Despite becoming a staple in role-playing games and fantasy lore runes are proper language, not gibbering portentous nonsense like Tarot. While that is vaguely disappointing, that sadness is counter-balanced by discovering that they are vastly more interesting than that.
One of the finest humans I know, Dr Martin Findell, has a new book called Runes (the clue to its content is definitely in the title) out now. Published by The British Museum to accompany their new exhibition on the Vikings this is a beautifully illustrated and accessible guide to these mysterious symbols, their uses, meaning and history of the people who used them.
Call it perversity, but in my own research I’ve always had a taste for the unfashionable and the unglamorous areas of runic writing. I get more excited about a name scratched onto the back of a brooch than about a large and richly decorated runestone; and as a historical linguist, I take more pleasure in trying to work out problems of the relationship between spelling, speech and the changing structure of language than in broader questions of cultural history and society. Of course the two are interdependent, and while I concern myself with the troublesome nuts-and-bolts details of language, language is an aspect of culture and must be studied alongside other aspects of culture. Even the briefest and most unattractive inscription is an instance of language use by real people who belonged to a community in which the act of writing had some purpose. Rather than regale you with tales of unstressed vowels, I thought it would be more interesting to share my interest in some of the texts we find written in runes, and what they might tell us about the people who produced them.
Even better, Dr Findell is one of a number of experts we’ll be able to watch in the cinema when The British Museum’s Vikings Live from The British Museum comes to Cineworld from 24th April. I know we’ll be there!
Last week we did our second major Lego Store pilgrimage. Since I’ve returned to loving Lego over the last few years my closest friends have gone from sceptical mockery and teasing to full-blooded Lego obsessives. It’s a very satisfying about-face. We went en-masse before Christmas and had a very lovely day. On this occasion my own lack of free days meant that only three of us could go up together. It was sad not to have the full frenzied mob, but by brick we made up for it. We made a day of it of course – taking a day’s leave for the purposes of Lego makes it a proper holiday. I began the day with a mini-lie in and pain au chocolat before hopping on a train and heading for Sheffield.
We’ve developed a routine (or ritual, whichever you prefer) once we get to the shop: first we traverse the whole shop, beginning with the windows. They still have the Ewok Village fully assembled, and next to it the incredible The Lego Movie’s Metalbeard’s The Seacow. I nearly lost all control at sight of its beauty – it’s huge and intricate with amazing parts usage. Check out the railings made whirly with Indy whip accessories! I got my shaking mitts under control managed to get into the shop.
We toured the shiny boxes within, from Lego Star Wars into Creator and architecture, accessory tat, the wall of bricks, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Lego Friends and Disney Princess, Ninjago, Chima, Lego Beginners and Duplo. It’s all just so delightful and I love looking at all of it. Just being surrounded by so much Lego gives me a positive glow. I’m rather fond of the new Disney Princesses Lego Friends last theme, although there are a lot of big pieces in the sets they do look very pretty. It was even nice to find that you got a free Rapunzel polybag set just for buying any Lego Friends set. We got two…
Mini Figures Are Awesome
Then it was time to hit the minifigures. By this point the three of us were already hysterical, scrabbling madly for the best heads, legs and accessories (“I need more ladies’ torsos”). I entirely emptied one of the accessory bins seeking perfection within. We made a lot of minifigs – twelve I think (I’ll post full pictures when I have the time) using the wildest assortment of parts available. They always have an intriguing range of body parts, presumably from breaking down polybag sets and whatever’s failed to sell. If anyone knows where they all come from I’d be interested. There were a lot of Star Wars medallion-hero bodies and vampire lady skirt-legs. I especially like the Lego Friends rubbery moulded hair pieces and briefcases. I’ve finally acquired one of the bizarre Atlantis manta-ray hat/hair pieces. I love it.
Pick A Brick Pocket Or Two-oo
Once we’d assembled more mini figures than we could easily carry (it became necessary to fill my hat) we were ready for the glory of pick-a-brick. During our visit before Christmas we were given three boxes to fill for free since we’d bought an absurd amount of Lego and spent all day in there. We also had a couple of the larger tubs to fill. We were relatively restrained, only filling one of the tubs and all three boxes.
Of special note was the presence of olive-green cheese 1×1 sloped tiles, and 1×1 round tiles. Egad, I got fistfuls of the things. I already regret not getting even more… I also grabbed a load of light sand Palisade bricks and assorted other delights. My other half demonstrated a master-class in packing bricks – neatly stacking rows of blue and 2×2 yellow and red tiles in the boxes.
Once we’d satisfied ourselves that few other bricks could be crammed into the containers we moved onto making decisions about big sets. We were badly torn. There’s still the gorgeous Haunted House which always draws my eye, but I’ve persuaded myself it’s just not as good value as the big modular Creator buildings. They didn’t have the Fire Brigade set (now retired apparently) which is a shame as I’d have snapped that up. Instead I had to claw my face to choose between The Parisian Restaurant, The Grand Emporium, The Pet Shopand the surprise excitement of The Seacow. I was seriously tempted, but at £169.99 it just felt too much.. y’know.
One of the greatest delights of the day was watching the deep thought in the faces of my companions as we juggled value-for-brick, technical creativity, finger-twitching instinctive appeal and space at home. It is agonising. To stop myself from grabbing The Seacow I plumped for the Parisian Restaurant and am in fact gazing at it across the room as I type this… It’s the set I’d intended to get ever since we saw the white croissants used as architectural mouldings last year.
I’ve rarely giggled as much in a shop as when we loaded up the counter and slammed home the VIP cards. I think we were in there for about three and a half hours! An excellent day, and we got freebies as well – the DC Superheroes Martian Manhunter (for spending more than £50) and the Rapunzels . Definitely last week’s day of the week.