Wednesday 25 February 2004

I hate Ikea

I hate Ikea. I hate how they force you to meander through a long maze of displays. I hate how friendly and convenient it is. It's so easy to buy more than what you originally went there for! I hate that I just can't order it online but I actually have to go there. I hate how clever they are. Very clever right down to the last detail. I hate how popular they are and I absolutely refuse to go there on a weekend. But it's not so bad on a weekday....

I'm not that fond of many Ikea designs. Very good for utilitarian furniture of course. Very good value. The office furniture is all right. However, I'm not into minimalist boxy modern stuff that much. Boring.

It's very clever how they're using old broken computer and audio/visual equipment for their displays. They're not just fake plastic boxes any more. Excellent use of product placement by the people that give them the equipment. Reinforce that brand!

We're moving furniture around the house and getting a few new things so both Jenny and I have offices. And a few more things get purchased of course. The place is worse than Costco!

Note By R*'s Dinner

R* left the following note by her unfinished dinner

I have not finisded my dinner Do Not eat is I have Spat on it. R. W.

Monday 23 February 2004

K*'s Birthday

birthday cakeIt's K*'s birthday this week. He turns five. Yesterday, we held his birthday party for him and 19 of his friends from nursery. It was a simple party at a local community center featuring a very big bouncy castle in a large gym they could run amok in.

After the activities, Jenny and some other mothers served out a (healthy) lunch. Here's a picture of the cake Jenny made. Jenny always spends a couple of days sculpting a fantastic cake. She gets better and better at it.

K* favourite bit was the helmet which he ate. Pure sugar!

City Of God (Fernando Meirelles, 2002)

coverWe watched "City Of God" last night as part of our regular foreign film night. Superb film. It's one of the best foreign films I've ever seen. The story is engrossing and well told despite reading subtitles. It's not beautiful, arty or funny. It's raw, violent and real-life.

The reviews are all great. Watch it. It's a must see. And don't miss the special feature on the DVD too.

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Sunday 22 February 2004

Murder Mystery Dinner

coverLast night we took part in a Murder Mystery dinner that friends of ours put together. Very good fun. We had taken part in one of these dinner games many years ago so we knew a bit of what to expect.

The "Champagne Murders" are set in the 60's at the manor of Lord Michael Jagged who's just been killed. There are 10 characters to be played. I was Brian Sewer - a sneering, rude and patronising wine critic. Not sure WHY I was given this character ... something about how easy I could play the part! I admit I did enjoy the freedom the character allowed :-)

Jenny played Kitty Killer - a famous journalist and biographer. She had a lot of fun getting all dressed up in the sixties style. Even managed to get her hair into something similiar to a beehive!

The success of the evening hinges on everyone getting into character and staying there. It's a very good laugh if you do. The game repeats this sequence three times between courses:

  • Each person reads more details about their character along with questions they should probe other characters with and facts about themselve they might want to evade. If asked directly however, you must reveal the information.
  • A few characters are given evidence they will reveal during the round.
  • The initial dialogue between characters is scripted.
  • As the evidence is revealed, each character starts questioning the other characters. You ad lib as much as you want.
  • At then end of the round, a tape is played of a detective who summarises the progress of the investigation.

At the beginning of the third round you find out whether you're the murderer and at the end everyone takes a guess who it is. I won't spoil it by telling you who the murder is in this game but only one person guessed correctly.

It's definitely a great way to spend an evening. Not your average dinner party. Thanks Jessica!

Thursday 19 February 2004

British Library

Today R* took me on a tour of the British Library. She went with her class last week and it's a place I've always meant to go visit. So we went down there this afternoon (she's on term break) and she showed me around. I found the permanent exhibition breathtaking. Wow! The original Alice in Wonderland, Robert Scott's last diary entry, Leonardo's notebook, the Magna Carta and much, much more. There was a 4th C bible in Greek - almost the original bible! Not to mention the original music scores by Handel, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin. In the Valentine's display was the original "How do I love thee, let me count the ways" written in tiny cursive handwriting by Elizabeth Browning. There was the original Jane Austen's writing desk with the original transcript of "Persuasion". Very exciting!

I'll have to go back again. R* was quite patient but I could spend a lot of time pouring over the exhibition. More than an eight year old would tolerate.

The exhibition on printing was very good as well as a temporary exhibition on Chinese Printmaking Today which was excellent. It covers woodblock printing in China 1980-2000. One print description remarked that the Chinese regard minority nationals as sensual and pleasure seeking. I wonder how much truth is behind that? We wandered around the exhibition at R*'s pace which was quite quick as you might imagine.

Anyway, the British Library is a cool place to take your children. You can check in your coats for free. The bookshop is nice and they make a great latte in the cafe. It's a winner.

Sunday 15 February 2004

Valentine's Day Salsa Dance

Last night we went for a local Valentine's Day Salsa Dance at a local community center. It was organised by the parents involved in the Berkshire Youth Musicians Trust. It started with merengue lessons for everyone. I mean absolutely everyone! No one was left sitting down and it was easy to follow and got people thinking "I can do this!". Then some social dancing and food followed by salsa lessons for everyone followed by more social dancing. During the lessons, everyone was made to switch partners every few minutes. There were also a few students along with the dance teacher to help get people dancing.

It was a very good format as you introduced yourselves to each other and everyone was largely starting at the same level. There were children of about 9 years dancing along with adults of 60+ years. That's a really big advantage with latin music. It doesn't seem so strongly delineated into generations as techno, drums & bass, house, disco, rock, rock 'n' roll. It has a very broad appeal.

Jenny and I haven't been dancing salsa for several months now but we remembered some of it. Really need to make an effort to get back into it. Definitely good exercise too!

Tuesday 10 February 2004

Beijing Bicycle (Xiaoshuai Wang, 2001)

Beijing BicycleGood film. One of those films you need to think about. It explores the pain and injustice in modern Chinese society through the extraordinary steps two individuals take to own the same bicycle. It's poignant in how critical the bike is to each of them. And like almost every Chinese film I know, it ends tragically.  Subtitles in English but there isn't much dialogue. Excellent cinematography. Only recommended if you're enjoy world cinema.

The F Word

cover R*: "What's the F word?"
Jenny [in a mild innocent voice]: "What F word is that?"
R*: "The one spelt F * * *"
Jenny: "Ah. Well. Ummmm. Why don't we look it up in the dictionary?"

We just happened to have bought R*  a compact edition of the Colour Oxford English Dictionary this very afternoon. Sure enough, the OED is thorough!

f*** vulgar verb 1 have sex with 2 (also f*** up) damage or ruin. exclamation a strong expression of annoyance or contempt.

Hmmm. It's a children's dictionary! Of course she hears swearing in the playground and I have no doubt she has classmates that swear. Kind of sad really. The innocence is slipping away little by little. Meanwhile, I've been trying to be very careful with song lyrics in the music I play. Just the other day, she discovered a Rolling Stones' song on an old cassette tape called "Bitch". That took quite some explaining!

Sunday 8 February 2004

Oh No! Yu-Gi-Oh!

We've started to let R* use her own money and make her own purchase decisions. So in a bookstore yesterday she wanted to buy these Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Cards. Arrrgghhh! It's £2.50 for 9 silly game cards? I bit my lip hard and said "it's your money".

She was thrilled and bought them. My subsequent explanation of why they're a rip-off didn't dampen the excitement in the slightest. Of course, her friends also have these cards and so now she can participate in something her friends do. She says her friends just trade the cards and don't actually play the game.

I guess it's relatively cheap entertainment although I notice that to play the game requires a 46 card deck! On the bright side, playing the game requires practising subtraction and other numeracy skills. If she's going to collect them, I'll be learning a new game. It's Dungeons & Dragons all over again!

Friday 6 February 2004

Poker Night

Poker NightLast night I got together with some friends for a poker night. Danger! Red Alert! Yes, I know. I can recall sleazy gambling imagery too. Jenny was a bit dubious. Well, it cost only £10 to buy your chips so I consider it pretty cheap entertainment. The idea is to play for three hours and the person with the most chips wins 70% of the entire stake while the person with the second most chips gets 30%. There were eight of us playing so you can figure what there winner got.

I should mention that I'm not the organiser - it's James's new found hobby. He's invested in a proper poker table, real chips and proper expensive poker cards. Serious stuff here! James does things the proper way. And he buys the pizza too (thanks James!).

The game is Texas Hold'em. Except for James, we were all complete beginners so we had some practice time as we all learned the rules and proper poker etiquette. Then we played for real and I proceeded to lose all my chips. Well, I did all right in the beginning AND THEN lost all my chips but one. It will be no surprise to learn that James won in the end.

Still, it was an enjoyable evening and we'll probably do it again. First though, I'm going to have to learn the odds a bit better and maybe practice at Poker Stars. It turns out Texas Hold'em is hugely popular and there's plenty of books and websites on playing strategy. Then on to Las Vegas...

Sunday 1 February 2004

Belleville Rendez Vous (Sylvain Chomet, 2003)

cover I enjoyed this quirky but beautifully animated film. It's very slowly paced. The time is used to introduce you to characters and for you to get to know them. There's almost no dialogue so time is spent just living with the characters. Together with the highly stylised animation, this builds up a great atmosphere.

The plot is rather bland and a far cry from a Hollywood script. It's not pretty and some scene are somewhat grotesque. Some also might find the extreme caricatures offensive but I thought they added great humour to the film. Our children watched it with us and liked it too but it's certainly not a children's film. 

If you enjoy animation as an art form, I'm sure you'd enjoy immersing yourself in this film. It seamlessly combines 3D and 2D animation techniques. If you want a snappy plot with gags and a standard happy ending, you'd be better off watching something else.

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