Category: Report


The Land of Vimto

Hullo,

Been a busy old time again what with my recent trip up to Manchester and trying to solve other people’s problems.  And a fairly involved time of it at work, tbh.

Starting with Manchester: first trip to the land of Vimto in something like eighteen years and I was determined to get something meaningful of it.  The cover story is work…well, that’s more the truth than a lie but I took full advantage of the opportunity and extended my stay.  Bunked in the Mercure – nice hotel (as my review will attest on booking.com) but my room overlooking Piccadilly Square the way it was, the sound of the tram horns blasting from 6am was not a welcome phenomenon.

The agenda: visit the board game shops, gawp at the city centre, form a revised opinion of the city and the people, see Scott and Joey, ensure I eat something “local”, buy something nice and do something indulgent.  Succeeded in all my goals.

Post work event, the first stop was to have something to eat and upon Scott’s recommendation, we went to Gorilla, close to Oxford Road station.  Nice place, good food – bit loud (music) but I’m an old fart and don’t appreciate these things as much as I used to.  Then a slow trip back up the road to the hotel to go and pass out because it had been a long day and surrendering to blissful unconscious was most welcome.

Thursday; I ticked off most of the list above.  As for overall impressions – there’s a lot to be commended in terms of the city’s ongoing development and reinvention.  I can understand why Mancunians are proud of their city but when it comes to comparing with London, it’s comparing apples with circuit diagrams.  With Manchester, you can walk across the city centre in 20 minutes.  In London, you’ll be lucky to make it from one end of Oxford Street to the other.  Yeah, there are all sorts of reasons for this but they are two different places; there’s no competition (despite what the current Mayor of Manchester might think).

The board game shops were quite nice, well stocked and decent staff on hand.  I liked the street art in the northern quarter, ate lunch in a vegan diner, looked at some of the more off-beat places and then went to lie down for an hour as I needed _some_ energy for the evening.  In terms of games, I bought the Puppies micro-expansion for Munchkin and the Hallowe’en expansion to King of Tokyo (re-release).  Didn’t feel like buying anything bigger.

At S&J’s we played Secret Hitler but with the Donald Trump expansion (and I ended up being Trump twice), Salem and a few games on Jackbox.  Met some new folk and enjoyed catching up.  Good times.  Final day in Manchester saw me head off to the Manchester Museum in the morning, a late lunch at the Dough Factory before…amusing myself until it was time to catch the train home.

So now for other odds and sods:

I finished my latest play through of Fallout 4 (first time completing Nuka-World following complete massacre of the gangs, Minuteman ending) and started on Fallout New Vegas.  Making heavy reliance on VATS as aiming is a sod and I’ve been spoiled by playing number 4 first.  More to come on that later but I’m enjoying it for now, the only exception is a lack of a companion at the start of the game to help ferry items around.

But what I did want to say is that just for shizz and giggles, I started a game of Fallout 4 on Survival Mode.  Only lost my temper twice this far!  Essentially, I wanted to see how it played, see what a difference having to properly regulate your character makes as well as all the other game changes.  Day 3 in the game was the toughest for me: I wanted to get the double meat perk early from Sunshine Co-operative (given the need to constantly feed your character) but each time I made it there, something killed me off as my character was unarmoured (hadn’t run into any raiders yet) and I was only about level 5 from building stuff at Sanctuary Hills and Red Rocket.  Mirelurks, Smacky-Smack Smacks (Ghouls) – each time I got clobbered/killed just when I thought I’d made progress.   The only other thing of note about this game is I’m going to avoid the Pesto Gravy & the Minutemen as there are unique options for Nuka-World before becoming the General.

Not sure how I feel about the Fallout 76 announcement – given that all the rumours are pointing to an online game (no thanks, not with this one).

What else?  After a couple years’ worth of general abuse, something went horribly wrong with the lightning jack for my iPhone and I’m the sort who won’t upgrade to wireless despite snagging the damn things repeatedly on swivel chair arms at work.  I felt compelled therefore, to go to the Apple Store in Covent Garden on what felt like the wettest day of the year (snow days don’t count) the other day to try and buy a new one.

Yeah, you’ve guessed it, this is going to turn into a rant.  You may want to switch off now or skip ahead.

You may have heard of the phenomenon “IKEA Rage” whereby happily partnered couples can descent into bitter enemies just by crossing the threshold of the flat-pack kingdom, sulks going on for days.  Several couples I know have agreed to never, ever go to IKEA together again.  IKEA rage can also cover the joys of assembling the furniture but the in-store rows are for me, the most memorable.

I’d like to add a new term to the lexicon: “Apple Store Rage”.  This is the phenomenon – which I have dutifully reported on before (see purchasing of iPad Pro about a year ago) – where despite knowing what you want, what you’re prepared to spend and being an organised (albeit still prospective) customer, the lousy service you receive from the blue/red/green shirts thrusts you into a homicidal rage, unless you’re a bimbo with an ample buxom which male members of staff tend to leer over (except the gay ones, then it’s the muscle nerd boys leered over).  Twenty minutes.  It took twenty stinking minutes to find someone to take my payment; I refuse to believe they were *that* busy.  About the only thing I can do is leave negative feedback but every time I go to an Apple store, the experience is the same.

Anything else?  No, not really.  Plus I suspect most of you have switched off by now.

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Relocation; a tale of blood boiling

It’s been six days – at least when I started writing this post – since I/we moved from Casa Beaufoy to Hasiera Heyford (Hasiera is Basque for home btw) and I think I’m over the traumas of the experience.  Time for a record for posterity.

Move day was Wednesday 21 February.  The packing crates arrived on the Monday and once they arrived, so began the chaos.  I think it’s fair to say that neither of us had done much sorting out of items to move the weekend before – with the exception of the clothes.  So as I was filling my crates, I also took random breaks to wrap a birthday gift for Karl, updating my scrapbook before I lost various loose items, putting photos in an album – that kind of thing.  On Monday afternoon as I was putting the books away, I felt a pain in my lower back becoming sharper…yeah, perfect timing.  From this point onwards, movement became an issue and slowed me right down.  Moving full crates out of the way was a chore.  A very painful, inconvenient chore.

But we soldiered on, dropping off a load of rubbish at the charity shop (clothes, books, DVDs) and getting ourselves inexorably ready.  As we were moving less than 100m away, we also took the time to make several advance trips armed with items to drop off at the new flat (which cut down on the number of crates we needed) and items such as glassware and crockery could be immediately put away rather than messing around later.  That evening, I went to go sit in a spa whirlpool to see if it could do anything for the pain.  It helped a little.

Tuesday was more of the same except I panicked and bought a pack of five cardboard moving boxes from Argos thinking there wouldn’t be enough crates and not enough possible trips to the new flat.  Although in hindsight, it was a very sensible move as the boxes can go into the attic with various odds and sods.  I filled two of those crates with just wine and spirits – to say nothing of my imported beers.  Dr Do(o)m remarked at the weekend that if the flat ever caught fire, we’re so screwed…

I managed to finish my packing by Tuesday evening (apart from a couple of final insignificant items) despite the lousy back and so went to the Griffin quiz.  Fortunately we didn’t win the beer.  Packed away my Xbone, went to bed.  I felt very hot under the duvet.  Very, very hot.  Very, very familiarly hot.  I was starting to run a fever.  The Catherine virus had been running around the office and had knocked out several colleagues over the last few weeks (so named after the first member of the team to succumb).  I had a horrible sensation that owing to the stresses of the move, my back etc, the obscene amount of dust and garbage flying around, it was taking advantage.

Wednesday: woke up at 4am, body overwhelmed with viruses.  Cursed my luck and lay awake for the next four hours before I made myself get up to get ready for the movers.  Tried to get ready with crates and boxes but the only way I was going to shift them was sheer force of will/bloody-mindedness which sapped what little energy I did have.  Opened the flat’s front door, looked at the lift which had a little sign saying “lift out of order”.

I swore.  Profusely.

Fortunately an hour later, it was back online.  By 11, I collapsed on the bed and lay there for an hour.  Shortly before 1, the movers arrived to assess the situation.  Think we put the fear of god into them.  Had I been fit, I could have helped but I was less than useless.  Dr Do(o)m and I did our best to spur things along but when they suggested more people (and higher prices), I immediately said yes.  It was around 3pm when the van was full so we were in overtime.  I slunk off to the park café for a late lunch – needed to get away from the dust and boxes for a bit.  By the time I got back to the new flat, the latest drama was that the bookcases wouldn’t go through the front door of the flat, they were a hair too big.  So everything was hauled up into the flat whilst the book cases lay downstairs inconveniencing our neighbours.

As my mood was steadily declining (along with my will to live), I ended up giving my remaining Star Wars toys & items to one of the removal men (he’s a huge fan and collector), I left behind the countertop freezer and decided to recycle my SNES and Megadrive.  I regret nothing.

We made a vain attempt at unpacking but there wasn’t much we could do, not without the bookcases in place as half the crate contents depended on them being in position.  After trying to get the cases through the doors ourselves, I gave up and dismantled the book cases myself, causing significant cosmetic damage to one of them in the process through my impatience and lousy mood.  We got two in the flat and assembled before quitting for the night.

Thursday: woke up feeling worse than the day before.  Sneezing like all hell (Dust? Virus?), felt like head was full of rocks and cement.  I managed to fill two shelves of one bookcase with things before returning to bed for a snooze.  Then the interweb engineer showed up so I let him in before retreating to the duvet.  Got up an hour later, did two more shelves, too tired, went back to bed.  Woke up by Amazon Prime delivery man dropping off a few odds and sods c/o the new landlords and again at 1pm by the crate hire firm who’d come to collect the crates.  I had it in my head they were coming on the Friday (and the lack of email confirmation despite chasing didn’t help) so I gave them what we had emptied (1/3 of the boxes) before going back to bed.

Around 6, I had enough energy to resume unpacking and Paul and Darren came over at 9 to help us with the other two bookcases.  Darren was in his element, Paul explained and so I let them get on with it.  Once they were in place, we could empty out most of the other crates (comic books) which helped significantly.

Friday: better than Thursday though not by much.  Nothing noteworthy happened on Friday except we’d cleared enough of the lounge to have dinner on the dining table c/o Happy Family.

Saturday: finished the kitchen and got the lounge into shape.  Fired up the tv and xbone, watched Labyrinth.

Sunday: finished my room (with the exception of the final charity shop items).  I ventured out of the flat after lunch, mainly to go shopping and to perk myself up a bit.  After a week of ordeal, it was time to get some form of reward.  I went to good old FP first; no intention to buy anything but did pick up the new expansion to Eldritch Horror (Masks of Nyarlathotep) and the Andre the Giant TPB which was on sale.  It’s fine – I’ve already done the one in-one out process.  Then onto Scribbler for early March birthday cards.  Picked up a novelty cushion which is blue, has a rainbow and some clouds and in the rainbow, it says “Get Lost”.  Says it all, really.

Bought a few comic book boxes to tidy up my collection,  shouted at two people – one a black cab driver for failing to stop at a junction when I wanted to cross (he ignored the give way sign).  And another was a woman who blocked the street by randomly stopping in it.  Really narrow Soho street so those behind were forced to stop too.  Dummy.and then headed home.  Didn’t realise it was 6 when I came back (time just flew by yesterday) so settled in for a quiet evening at the flat and cooked my first meal.

Monday evening, we emptied out the final crate (just some power extensions and other miscellaneous tat) and relocated a few boxes & items into the attic.  The remaining crates get picked up Tuesday afternoon.  And I think that then, Hasiera Heyford is open for business.  Bring on the games.  We’re definitely doing a house warming event this time.  Not least as there’s enough liquor in the house to fill a barrel.

A difficult week to get through, on a personal level that is.  Glass half full: I can rejoin my life, so much has been deferred until this point.  And I can make an attempt at saving again now monthly expenses are down.  I just wish I felt more positive overall.

Berlin & Szczecin

My annual pilgrimage to Berlin was 6-12 December this year.  Xmas markets, Currywurst and Köstritzer were just three of the things I was looking forward to.  And boy was it needed – I was working right down to the wire, there was no early check-out of work and certain other people in the office were turning into basket cases as it dawned that I wasn’t going to be around for a week.

I managed to secure a lunchtime flight this time so didn’t have to worry about getting up early.  It might cost a few more pounds but not rushing to the airport at 6am is totally worth it.  Anyway, checked in fine, passed through security without being dragged aside for looking like Walter Heisenberg and had brunch at Giraffe (Huveos Rancheros & an espresso martini for dessert!) before boarding.  There was a certain amount of whispering going on – eavesdropped harder and realised that Ricky Gervase was on the plane and everyone had noticed.  Probably more exciting celeb spot at Heathrow than Chris Eubank a few years ago.

Flight was ok, had the entire row of seats to myself on row 20, landed as the sun was setting and was able to make a quick getaway from the airport over to Kurfürstendamm as I was staying in Schönberg rather than Friedrichshain.  Naturally I got off the bus at the wrong stop (one too early) and had a longer schlep down the road to the hotel.  Still, I got to walk through my first market – ominously guarded by large black concrete barriers.

The hotel – the Axel – is sited about three minutes away from Wittenbergplatz U Bahn station, next to KaDaWe so for me, it was slap-bang in the centre.  Day 1, I was content just to unpack and head out to the markets looking for dinner and a beer rather than experience the comforts of the hotel – as there is an onsite gym, spa and rooftop Jacuzzi.

I didn’t venture very far, back to Ku’damm in fact.  Just wanted to poke around the stalls, see what was hot, what was not etc.  Crowds were half local, half tourists.  I dunno if it was my imagination but there were more food stands in evidence and fewer ornament/gift-type stalls.  Either way I enjoyed my food and then went out for a couple of drinks and then back to the hotel to pass out.

Slept badly – new bad makes for an uncomfortable Joe although the room temperature was just right.  Fortunately, that issue didn’t bother me for the rest of the stay.  Dragged myself out of bed as I had some planning to do. Y’see, one of the goals of the tip was to have a day trip to Poland, to Szczecin as it’s within easy reach of Berlin.  I had a look at ticket prices on Deutsche Bahn and they seemed to vary wildly.  Tried to book a fixed-train ticket but the site would not let me make a reservation and in the end, I took the U Bahn over to the Hauptbahnhof so that I could obtain a ticket from the Reiseburo there.

If you are planning to travel to Szczecin from Berlin, DO NOT TRY AND BOOK A TICKET ONLINE!  I was able to get an open day return from the ticket office at the station for 1/3 the cost of the online stated price at €22.  With that reward in my pocket, I decided to go east to attend to my second goal of my trip, a visit to the Stasi Museum in Lichtenberg (and coincidentally, where I’d need to get the train back from the next day).

The museum was very confusing to find that day because of all the filming going on – some TV or movie.  The Ministerial floor (i.e. head of the Stasi) was totally out of bounds that day so I only got to visit floors 1 & 3.  But what I did get to see (history, rooms etc) was very informative and I found I could read most of the German as well as the English translations (very happy).  It’s worth a visit, doesn’t cost much to enter and a good warning on the dangers of state surveillance.

Post-museum, it was to Galeria Kaufhof for clothes shopping, back to the hotel and then for something to eat at the nearby Mexican place before trying out the hotel spa for a late night sweat and steam.  All in all, a good first full day.

Friday: Poland.  Got up early, headed over to the station early and had a McDonald’s breakfast as the queues were shorter before hopping on the train.  It was a Regio train – double decker.  It was a nice smooth ride with a change at Angemünde which is the other side of the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve.  Arrived in Szczecin around 11.  Remembering the advice by novelist Sue Townsend (when in a new city, deliberately get lost so as to take your time and see things properly), I turned right at the station instead of left so that I could sweep the city via the south rather than enter right into the city centre.  I’m glad I did, as I got to see some interesting things.

I wanted something traditionally Polish for lunch but could I find anything?  Could I hell.  It wasn’t until I ventured into the Galaxy Shopping centre that I found a nice place in the food court and had something that cost me by weight rather than by item; escalop, boiled potatoes, curried beetroot and creamed spinach – very not bad.  And of all coincidences, I sat next to the only other British people in the food court.

Did a little shopping (Xmas t-shirt, Polish version of the board game Incan Gold), saw more sights, bought souvenirs, took the 1730 train home rather than the 1930 and then scrambled around looking for somewhere to eat which ended up being the Vietnamese place round the corner from Nollendorfplatz U Bahn.  Good stuff.

Saturday is when the snow started.  There was a light dusting on the ground when I woke up – but a good chunk of it had already melted.  I didn’t leave the hotel until just before noon as I didn’t get out of bed until really late.  All that walking around Szczecin had taken it out of me.  Kept the day pretty loose with a wander around Alexanderplatz (clothes), Friedrichshain – the Zozoville Gallery as that was another “must do” item on the list of activities.  Then back to the hotel for a couple of hours in the spa where I sat in the rooftop Jacuzzi in the middle of a snow flurry.  It was a surreal and very memorable experience.  Eventually dragged myself out to have a massage from the hotel masseur, a very late dinner in Vapiano and then a night at Woof.

The snow didn’t loiter the next day in Berlin although a number of the Brits in the hotel were annoyed as their Sunday flights home had been cancelled as the UK had its usual panic.  The week before when there was a brief snowfall in the morning, I made the joke of “look, there’s five snowflakes, better cancel public transport in its entirety”.  Clearly someone didn’t get the humorous nature of my comment.  I was half worried but also half praying that the snow would cancel my flight so I’d stay on in Berlin at BA’s expense.

I had to admit being somewhat lost on Sunday for want of something to do.  I’d accomplished everything I’d wanted to do with the sole exception of Monday’s activities.  Something I hadn’t done was to pop over to Potsdamerplatz so went over to see what they had going.  Totally forgot about their Bretzel market stand with all sorts of savory items for sale but in the end plumped for a Knusperwurst; basically Currywurst in a crispy batter as a bowl.  Totally fattening, unhealthy and delicious.  On a whim, I went to the Museum of Espionage just down the road, part of which rehashed the Stasi Museum but there was more from the BDR side of events.  I didn’t participate in the laser web room: the memory of my Crystal Maze experience was too raw still…

Thought I’d try the Schnitzel restaurant around the corner from the hotel for dinner.  An obvious tourist trap but I didn’t care.  Glad I did – had one of the best waiters ever who conversed with me in my broken, incorrect German and the food…the food was exquisite.  First of all, I didn’t expect a piece of Schnitzel the size of a hatbox and secondly, the local brew served was a great accompaniment.  I read my book, watching the snow cover the streets outside.  By the time I was done, I had to go straight to bed, bloated and barely able to stay conscious.

Monday was my last full day and the plan was the Boiler, the Xmas market for those last minute gifts and Zsa Zsa Burger.  As always, the Boiler was a treat and I managed four hours before I had enough.  Rather than going back to the hotel, I went east to Alex yet again because I was toying with the idea of buying a SNES-mini from Mediamarkt.  Although virtually impossible to get a hold of (now) in the UK, they had a stack of them – albeit pricier.  It took twenty minutes of prevaricating before I decided not to buy.  I just couldn’t justify it.

Zsa Zsa once again, was a real treat.  I had the Kentucky Burger (Bourbon marinated burger topped with roasted bellpeppers and Swiss Raclette cheese) and three rather loaded cocktails, rounded off by a piece of cheesecake.  On the off-chance I’d have fallen into the river Spree, I’d have sank like a boulder.  Managed a final drink in Woof before passing out.

Tuesday morning – checked feverishly BA’s flight schedule – only two cancelled flights that day and neither of which were mine.  I was at something of a loss for things to do and on a whim, spent an hour in the spa before I had to leave.  Somehow, I still had about €150 on me and I made myself a half-promise that if I came across an opportunity to buy that damn SNES-mini, I would.  The nearest Mediamarkt was a distance away and I _could_ have gone into Karstadt but saw the bus across the road to the airport so decided on that instead.  KaDaWe didn’t have anything.

Had a really nice toasted advocado bagel for lunch which I lingered over before heading over to the check-in counter where I anticipated stupidly long queues of people packed onto the flight owing to cancellations.  I was right.  The queues were stupidly long.  This is when the worst part of the trip happened; y’see, it was chaos at the airport, or rather at the BA check in desk.  Obviously frazzled people weren’t thinking straight at all and were behaving like klutzes.  My flight and the next flight to London City were not that far apart and passengers for both were being admitted at more or less the same time so the waiting area was chaotic.  Then when it came time to call us for the plane, they called business class & oneworld members – but for those of us in cattle class were we called?  Were we hell!  And because the lounge was full of LCY passengers too, there was no mass exodus to serve as an example, just dribs of people disappearing but with a critical mass remaining.  Of course I’d checked in so there’d have been an announcement by passenger name but I just thought it was pretty shoddy of BA to have stiffed us over like this.  And there wasn’t any of the usual friendly greetings/farewells.  The only thing I could do was leave them snotty feedback on their inevitable post-flight questionnaire.

As usual, the trip back from the airport to home was the inevitable homicidal rage-inducing event.  I felt compelled to yell at several people behaving in a brain-dead fashion.  I rarely do this in normal circumstances but when I’ve a suitcase in tow, give me a wide berth.  Got home, dumped off bag, headed out for the finale of the Griffin quiz where we won the season prize of afternoon tea at Mr Foggs gin emporium for six.  Very nice.

Août

Hullo, 

From where I sit, I’ve no idea when this blog was last updated but I’m sure it’s at least a month ago. My inability to be a good correspondent continues unabated – but don’t feel too left out folks, I’m neglecting others as well. I have a free hour in which to compose something for posterity so here we go.

Core Themes: Video Gaming, Board Gaming. In board gaming, my latest acquisitions are Sushi Go Party and a new one by Repos Games called Secrets, both of which were bought in the Swansea board game shop, The Gamers Emporium. Secrets is a hidden identity game, not unlike Avalon or Resistance but players score points and their identities can change in the course of the game. It provides a fresh take on the hidden identity game and is well worth checking out. I’ve also tracked down the 7 Wonders promo cards and a copy of the Catan Wonder for my collection which are on order.

In video gaming, there hasn’t been much outside my regular games. Star Trek Timelines have introduced the Starbase feature. When missions are completed, they drop components for upgrading Starbase rooms and you have to work together in fleets for perma-bonuses for your characters or to raise the Chroniton cap. Animation throwdown is about to have its one-year anniversary next week with gifts for players and our guild is doing pretty well at the moment. GTA Online launched the Smugglers Run update (basically huge planes that drop bombs) which I’m resisting for now – when there’s a “sale” on, then I’ll move into that feature, otherwise I’ll stick with the gun running type missions.

August wasn’t a bad month, for the most part. The weather turned ugly, much to the joy of a lot of people. After a really muggy, sweaty summer, having the temperatures hover around 21-22 degrees was a welcome respite. I had a little time off of work, kept things manageably quiet for the most part and finally got around to having a clear out of surplus and broken stuff. Two rubbish sacks of clothes got the chop, my small suitcase which had two old Sky decoders and my two broken 3DS XL consoles, one rubbish sack full of recycling (papers etc), one rubbish sack of just stuff destined for landfill/incinerator. My Xbox360 is going to go to CEX once I wipe the memory and I might take my old 3DS & DS games to be sold at the same time. That said – I haven’t decided if I’m definitely getting the Xbox One X when released in November.

Oh, we topped the Vauxhall Griffin Season 23 competiton ; god knows how. 

Stressful week – other people in hospital with serious stuff. No further details but hard times indeed.
 

A rainy day in July

Ahoy, 

We’re officially in the second half of the year – if you adhere to the standard calendar. The English summer has returned in its humid glory, flying ants are busy creating new colonies (those that aren’t being crushed underfoot) and I’m continuing to adhere to the rule of three (in prose).

So, what’s new at the zoo? I had the day off last Friday and after two hours’ worth of prevaricating including two changes of clothes, I finally made myself leave the house, travel up to Finchley to Leisure Games and I finally got a hold of a copy of Oktoberfest. Don’t ask me why this particular game caught my attention – I just saw it and knew I had to have a copy. I’ve not played a round as yet but I think I get the basics of the game. I had assumed it was a worker placement but it’s a hybrid of auctioneering and poker, at least in part. Then there’s some strategic placement of items so all in all, it’s something of a fusion of several gaming styles. I also purchased Mind the Gap which is a London Underground card game, sorta like dominoes or Uno where cards are played and the next card must have some connection with the last one played. There are several interrupt cards which can mess up the sequence (again, like Uno) and points are scored at the end of the turn. Again, not yet played at least of time of writing but I’m sure I’ll get round to it soon (i.e. this Sunday).

It was nice to have had Friday off and a three day weekend. I know it had only been a month since the Spring Bank Holiday but June has been incredibly draining. General Election and its aftermath, particularly on work. The heatwave took it out of everyone, particularly when it came to sleeping at night. And the various activities happening in June during the week and at the weekend. Other than the two board games, I’m still in cheap mode post new iPad. Lunch has been a steady stream of reduced-priced quiche and bread rolls (thank-you Sainsbury’s), dinner has, more often than not, been masses of chilli or again, items with a yellow sticker. And even cola consumption has been cut down to no more than two per day.

Video gaming: still ploughing through GTA online and have drifted back to Rome Total War (the original) on the PC – though I see it’s available on my iPad (for £9.99). I’ve three unfinished games on the go: Carthage, Brutii and Greek Cities. Pretty much it for now – short update, more soon.

Once again folks, there’s been another blog gap. I’ve not had much impetus to complete an entry – there have been several false starts but after getting to a second or third paragraph, I realise that my scribings are utter drivel and just cannot bring myself to inflict them on the public. But today, I wanted to catch up re E3, GTA Online’s latest update and of course to whine about the summer. 

So in that order – E3. IMHO, Nintendo were the winners although the new Super Mario is basically a rip-off of the Amiga game Putty. Or Kirby. Still, they got people excited and talking by just announcing stuff without actually committing to anything. For yours truly, what I’m looking forward to most has to be Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. I watched the trailer and have to say, I bought that recording of “Danke Schoen” by Wayne Newton so every time I hear it, I can mentally picture BJ running through the USA blasting apart Nazis.

As for the new Xbone, looks good, upscaling might be a very nice feature to have but the biggest drawback as far as I could see, is that the console only comes in a 1TB HD model. Surely a 4K game is going to be bigger than a regular HD one and the internal HD won’t cope. However, my concerns aside, I think the better news has to be the fact that backwards compatibility is going to extend to the original Xbox console. With any luck, that’ll mean Battlefront 2 (as in the original game) will be re-released! I mean, I enjoy the occasional killing spree on my laptop but I seldom switch it on these days, not least as the dining table is horrible to sit at.

GTA Online – last Tuesday saw the release of the latest addition to the online world: gun running. It starts off by using your in-game funds to acquire a bunker where Agent 14 (aka the contact from the Prison Break and Humane Labs heist) inducts you into the world of weapons development. You can also acquire a truck to act as a mobile operations centre (which clearly underscores somebody’s affinity with Knight Rider – first KITT, now the FLAG Mobile Unit) as well as a much welcome anti-aircraft gun to swat Hydras from the sky.

The point of the base is that you can either manufacture weapons, develop new weapons (not available at Ammu-nation) or do both. All the bases are located in Sandy Shores, Paleto bay or other isolated spots in the north of the map thus further addressing one of my long-held bugbears, that players tended to spend huge amounts of time driving around LS itself whilst neglecting Blaine County. And you can access your base whilst being a CEO or heading up your local MC so both options are available to the player.

I’ve not really immersed myself into the game too much – other things going on. That said, I did manage to rack up a few hours. My in-game bank balance of $5M has crashed to $1M by just buying the base and the add-ons which _were_ optional but still… Still don’t have enough for the truck, not without buying in-game currency or grinding horribly. That said, my car warehouse is full of vehicles that are begging to be sold. Anyway, I’ve taken care of a few resupply missions and they’re actually pretty challenging on the main map and a great deal of fun as armoured vehicles are de rigeur. Driving halfway across the map to drop off a tank whilst blasting apart army jeeps – great fun.

My last post was about a month ago so I haven’t really commented on the election. One of my abortive posts which I still have the draft of read:

“Speaking of the election, in Vauxhall the Liberal Democrats are really going all out to see Kate Hoey (current Labour MP) dumped, principally on her pro-EU exit stance. I’ve had correspondence and flyers every day this week, stickers are appearing all over the borough – on lamp posts, on telephone exchanges and the like. Given as Lambeth recorded the highest pro-Remain vote (Gibraltar aside), it’s not looking too good for the incumbent.”

Alas, that didn’t become manifest. I did see the candidate on polling day, with child strapped to his chest in one of those baby carrier things but no sign of Labour’s electoral machine. Ah well, I think that she’ll be dumped ahead of the next election. Correction – I hope that she’ll be dumped ahead of the next election.

Oh, and I wanted to post the following about the Griffin:

The refurbished Vauxhall Griffin has opened under new management. The new landlords have gone for an idiosyncratic look, kinda like the old place but there’s a smash-up of two very different styles (possibly three) which I have a hard time seeing it blending together. I don’t know if they’ve deliberately gone for eclectic (or post-modern) deliberately – it’s just…odd. The two feature walls: one is red brick, the other is recovered (and painted wood). The bar area is white ceramic, the furniture is contemporary, the light fittings are quite nice (hi-tec lanterns), the toilets are a vast improvement but the upstairs function room hasn’t been touched other than a clear out of the art (so far). It’s definitely lost something but I’m at a genuine loss as to say whether anything has been gained. The landlords seem nice enough. So all things considered, I don’t hate the place – I don’t ‘like’ it – I guess cautiously neutral for now. If nothing else, at least I still have Zeitgeist (although I still object to the sneaking in of Adnams behind the bar for the real-ale twats).

S’all for now.

 

Big Trouble in Little Malta

Nah, that title is totally misleading. But as was frequently referenced in blogs passim, I went to Malta on 26 March to attend an international road safety conference & stakeholder event.  

The first day began in the usual rush; I set my alarm early so there’s plenty of time to get to the airport, I wake up and think “I’ve more time”, get up late, panic and fling myself out the flat door hoping everything is in order. I’d booked myself on an early morning flight y’see as I wanted to get there in good time to see the place. As I’d dithered in the flat and not had time to eat anything, I treated myself to one of the more upmarket restaurants and had an Indian-themed breakfast (special of the day) – very not bad.

I was flying with Air Malta – first time. The plane was delayed in taking off so we missed our slot and therefore were stuck in a long queue of planes flying out. Once we were under way, I enjoyed the view from the window, gawping at the peaks of the Alps popping up above the cloud layer – think I spotted the Matterhorn as I’m familiar with the shape/outline. And then looked at the Mediterranean and the ships travelling about, particularly around Sicily. The descriptions of Sicily from the Michael Corleone interlude in novelisation of the Godfather stuck out in my head and I tried to picture the land below as if it were post-war 1946.

We made it to Malta about ninety minutes late, then the next task was to get to the hotel. I tried to do the right thing and get the bus to Sliema but owing to exiting the airport at the wrong entrance, I missed the X2 by seconds. So I joined the queue for the next one. After waiting two hours for buses that just failed to turn up, I eventually cracked and took a taxi, getting in this rickety cab which I think was brand new in the 1980s. Malta was the first time I’d ever seen wild cacti growing – Prickly Pear. They were festooned in every field and in every garden between the airport at the hotel. 


Finally arrived at the hotel, checked in and took a good look around. Sliema is across a bay from Valletta (the capital) and also overlooks Manoel Island (ex leper hospital, fort and boatyard). Lots of hotels and waterfront eateries, boating activities of all sorts and a shopping centre. After sufficiently cooling off, I enjoyed a stroll along the coast line before finding somewhere to eat and partook of the local brew, Cisk. Wasn’t a bad beer, kinda mild but with more flavour than garbage such as Fosters. Had a ravioli made with local produce – there’s a lot of rabbit served in Maltese dishes but I didn’t partake in that. The bar filled up quickly as Malta was playing Slovakia in football though people were far less excitable than in a UK pub (blessedly).

 

Monday was my day to myself. Hadn’t slept all that well owing to the air conditioning unit which only seemed to pump out hot air regardless of the setting and maintenance not picking up their phone. After breakfast (and this is when I saw that I was the youngest person in the hotel by 20 years excluding staff), I had a kerfuffle over switching my room before deciding to walk to Valletta. A ten minute ferry ride would have deposited me there but I wanted the exercise so strolled all around the harbour for an hour before arriving in the capital. But I’m totally glad I walked. The far end of the Marina you could see rainbow fish swimming in the water and lizards (or salamanders) darting between the rocks. Very few skanky pigeons and gulls but you could see falcons on occasion as well as sparrows by the dozen.

 

Many of the buildings in Malta are made from local materials (i.e. sandstone) which obviously crumbles quite easily and makes the place look more run down than it otherwise in because the interiors are nice, modern and well kept. Streets are about as wide as they need to be so drivers appear to have developed a reasonable etiquette over road use. Bicycle use in Malta wasn’t prevalent at all. But pavements were seldom wider than a meter except in Valletta itself which is almost totally pedestrianised. But boats were everywhere and from the number, it seems that every house has access to even the most basic sloop right the way up to luxury yachts.

 

So Valletta itself: I thought the Parliament building was a library until I saw a sign telling me otherwise. Though I enjoyed looking around at the contrast in architecture. You could tell what was built when Malta was a Crown Colony – the Presidential Palace and square had a distinctly colonial feel to it, right down to the uniforms worn by the guardsmen. And because Brits were the predominant breed of tourist, there were a number of instantly recognisable high-street brands that one could patronise. I did go to Costa a couple of times – the iced drinks were most welcome as the temperatures climbed every day I was there. But resisted the others.

 

Monday was sort of like Sunday in Malta, a lot of shops were shut or had different opening hours. But it also meant that the streets were less crowded (contrast with Tuesday and Wednesday) so getting about was pretty facile. Lunch was a sammich in a local café, dinner was Italian again, asparagus risotto. Also had drinks with a local thanks to the power of the interweb which was a nice change of pace. Alas, I didn’t sleep well again – opened the balcony window only to let in the damn mosquitos.

Tuesday was the day of work, the conference. I got up extra early to ensure I was able to get to Attard which is in the centre of the Island, not far from the former capital of Mdina. Glad I did because navigating the buses was a nightmare. Although I’m glad I did elect to stay away from the hotel where the event was happening – Attard is…if you’ll forgive me…in the middle of nowhere. It was just suburbia with the occasional shop. The hotel was another colonial relic, both inside and out though the gardens were very well kept and the food was excellent. Again the air conditioning struggled, particularly in a room with a couple of hundred people in it. I won’t go into detail over the event – it was…well, it was work. And you can read the Valletta Road Safety Declaration online if you’re really desperate.


Getting back to Sliema: another nightmare in public transport. It was rush hour and every bus was jam packed. I went from one bus stop to the next and in the end, I traipsed back all the way to the hotel where in some places, there was no pavement to walk down. That aside, I got to see stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise have observed and my walk to Valletta the previous day paid off as the road from Attard rejoins the route to Sliema. My vague plan that evening was to go to St Julians up the coast but my feet were aching and I could not be bothered so went to the Tex Mex place up the road which caught my eye earlier – totally glad I did. They had amazing cocktails, a great dinner of quesadillas with again local cheeses and vegetables + an Oreo cheesecake dessert. Decadence all round.

 

Final day: actually slept that night but I think had there been a nuclear blast, I’d have been zonked out right the way through it. My flight home was at 5pm, checkout the hotel was at 11 so had to amuse myself for a few hours. Went back to Valletta by ferry for a couple of hours for some last minute souvenir shopping and to see the old fort at the tip of the island. Then to the shopping centre in Sliema to source some local food and drink to take home. It was wonderfully cool inside, next time I’m pitching a tent and staying in the mall! Very UK-like which was handy.

Once again, the fickleness of Maltese public transport hit me: I turned up to the bus stop about thirty minutes early as I was just done for the day. The bus showed up thirty minutes early (or late) so I jumped on and the journey took longer than the promised 45 minutes (more like double that) which was a bloody good thing. So readers, if you ever find yourself in Malta, take the bus timetables with a fist-full of salt, hire a scooter or walk! Plundered duty free for the usual treats (6 cans of Cisk, Maltese wine + locally made prickly pear jam) before queuing for the plane. 

Flight home was uneventful and I found myself a little bit down at the thought of leaving. I was finally warming up to the country – usual sense of personal caution in accepting something readily – and have decided I’ll go back one day. About the same time of year, I reckon but with more organisation over activities. 


Coming up next: back to the video games and the latest acquisitions…

 

Hallo, 

It’s April and once again, I feel like a little public self-flagellation, fessing up that I’ve not been the best blogger/diarist. Mainly as most of March was “more of the same” rather than something new and different. I wrote the below two paragraphs a couple of weeks back but quickly grew bored and left them to languish in drafts. But I feel I need some filler so here they are in their unmodified and unsexy glory.

The rest of my birthday went by fairly calmly and quietly. Played a couple of games, had a burrito, watched the Changeling (George C Scott) and went to bed. Not exactly a raucous affair but what I wanted in the end. Did a little gaming with Paul and Darren in Brixton the following day and then the main event on Saturday: Eldritch Horror followed by dinner in Belgo’s. We failed at the latter (barely got one mission completed before Nephren-Ka woke up) but had a blast necking fruit flavoured beers and stuffing our faces with fatty foods. They tried to drag me off afterwards but I was struggling to remain awake so had a drink at Retro before succumbing to unconsciousness.

Sadly I was up the next morning rather early owing to the need to get a train down to Cardiff as I was going down there with work. So bleary eyed, I staggered down to Paddington and on to Wales. Like Dublin, the weather was quite nasty (damn the Celtic fringes) for a good chunk of the day and put off any vague sightseeing/entertainment plans. I’ve been to Cardiff twice before but both those trips were just for the day so this was a time to actually have a proper gawp around. Naturally my first stop was the Board Game shop, Rules of Play. It’s sited in an Arcade so not much floor space (probably less than Orc’s Nest) but was very nicely organised and arranged. Couple of Welsh language games in the shop – novel as well as the usual selections. Would go back.

Sorry.

What else then? Had a second trip to Cardiff on 20 March, rain was far worse than the first visit. And I bought the Cthulhu Monster pack for King of Tokyo and the board mat for 7 Wonders. I only wanted one item! Otherwise, March has been a pretty quiet month. For Mr Beer’s Birthday, we went to the “Secret Escape” Room Escape game. It has, I was relieved to discover, nothing to do with that annoying woman on the adverts for the similarly named company. The premise: disappearance on a 1960s/70s film set. We escaped though we did require a lot of help, I think. Some of the clues were quite cryptic and did not flow organically. Still, there was a fair amount of fun had.

Speaking of room escapes, Tuesday night we revisited Time Run as they have a second game added to their repertoire which played differently to the first one. This time we were required collect items in each of the rooms that we were due to escape from to use in the final room. Our score was 97/100 + 13 bonus points so 110/100. Don’t know if it’s the record for the game but it certainly was the best score that day. I shined in the Russia room where there were a lot of problems like “Keep Talking or Everyone Explodes”.

Last night we finally finished Risk Legacy (the usual Wednesday mob) and I unexpectedly won. Everyone had a “last gasp for glory” style run by amassing tonnes of soldiers and going on an all-out attack. Actually, Brendan, Paul and myself did two gasps and mine was the successful one. But it was an epic finish to the game lasting two hours. I’ve had a stinker of a cold this week so was drinking copious amounts of brandy to keep me going. Feel much better today.

I’ll write a separate blog post for my adventures in Malta.

38

Nope, not the flat number, nor my lucky number.  But the number of successful orbits of the sun whilst maintaining my status as a passenger on planet Earf.

Like most people, I’ve taken the opportunity to bunk off work (read: taken  a couple of days off) to mark the event.  And  it’s been a quiet old day so far, noise from the street excepted.  The last two days were spent in Dublin with work.  I had a quiet, pleasant stay although the rain felt quite incessant at times.  There was allegedly some snow on Tuesday morning but it had melted by the time I emerged from my hotel room.

So what’s been new, hip and happening?  Answer: not much.  More of the same, really.  Am I in a rut?  Perhaps, though I’m not rushing out to embrace the new.  Is there anything that’s truly new?  Apart from picking up a new mobile last weekend, no.  Letting February slide by as quickly as possible, I guess.

Continuing to enjoy Star Trek Timelines and the recent events have given my inventory a chance to rest and rebuild following a succession of missions which have drained them dry of all the really useful stuff.   And finally have a couple of friends playing it although they are not quite as into it as I.  Still, good times.

On the Xbone,  I downloaded the free copy of The Force Unleashed and replayed that, forgetting how much fun it was to throw Felucians into Rancors.  And to fry that bitch  Shaak Ti.  GTA continues to be my most played game although I’ve been trying to get into Banjo Kazooie Nuts and Bolts again.  It’s just hard to like it.

Board games: lots of 7 Wonders, finally got around to breaking in “Under the Pyramids” expansion for Eldritch Horror and whilst in Dublin, I treated myself to “The Dreamlands” as it was cheaper there thanks to the collapse in GBP. I was particularly proud of this game with Joey and Scott:

 

Finally folks, I was doing a YouTube crawl and stumbled across this parody music video.  I almost wet myself cackling as I think I’ve experienced every one of these deaths:

So that’s your lot, just a quick update before my second coffee of the day and hopefully, a decision about what to do with the rest of my time today.  And if anyone else is celebrating a birthday today (Ron Howard, Harry Belafonte,  Dirk Benedict, George Eads, Doris Hare and of course, Frederich Chopin), PISCEANS ROOL!

Year of the…Blank

Tag, 

Although January was a fairly active month – in terms of social activity, there has not been much worth of pen and ink (or its 21st century equivalent). So that’s why the lack of blog posts. There’s been the usual gaming sessions, pub quizzes, work stuff (plus trips to Swansea and Bristol) and random activities that comprise of 21st century living. But other than going to Bristol (city centre rather than one of the suburbs), there has actually been nothing “new” to enjoy. Is that the theme for 2017? Take comfort in the familiar?

Something I did manage to do in both Bristol and Swansea was to visit the board game shops. I know, other folk in new places will make a beeline for the cultural sights, others the pubs, me – the board game shops. My lack of general life aside, I enjoyed my trip to both stores: The Gamers Emporium (High Street Swansea) and Excelsior Games (Bond Street Bristol). Both stores had play areas, bigger than those in Leisure Games but that’s not exactly difficult – no offence guys. And the stores were tastefully arranged showing the stock (sealed and opened). I felt compelled to make purchases in both of them (Eldritch Horror expansion Signs of Carcosa and Boss Monster 2 + some card sleeves) cos you have to support these businesses otherwise they’ll become something pointless like nail bars or tanning salons.

So looking ahead to February and beyond, there isn’t much more to note at present other than the usual run of birthdays and weekly activities. There’s the possibility of heading off to Dublin later in the month with work, might even be the day before my birthday. I’ve been trying to think of stuff to do either on the momentous day or that weekend but so far, I’ve drawn a complete blank. Well, that’s not true, there have been many ideas but all of them rejected for…well, pretty good reasons actually. If I don’t get something in diaries soon, it’ll be a re-run of last year’s couch fest. 

I think the vague plans I was formulating to head to Boston in late March are postponed – cash flow is an issue at the moment. The collapse in the pound has hit my finances too. I hadn’t noticed until January just how much more money I was haemorrhaging from my monthly stipend. I think these things are going to bear much closer scrutiny for the time being. It’s incredible how the newspapers aren’t screaming about this phenomenon but considering the political affinities of said papers, it’s not all that surprising. Put it this way, any dreams of home-ownership have receded even further away. Unless I can get a mortgage on a cardboard box around the back of Waterloo station.

Lastly, if you [happen to] read back through the reams and reams of material appended to this blog, you’ll see that I have a tendency to name years, sometimes after things that have happened to me, occasionally in response to other events. I’ve narrowed down 2016 to several possibilities before I settle on one: is the Year of Death – in response to the celebrity bloodbath? The Year of the Achilles – after my damn ankle issues for most of the year? The Year of the Sole Survivor – after enjoying Fallout 4 so much? The Year of Mitteleuropa – after my trips to Berlin, Austria and Slovakia? Or perhaps the Year of Stupid Decisions? I don’t think the latter requires any explanation. Comments on the back of a postcard please.