Friday, July 23, 2004

In Principle


I got some good news yesterday from Ross Atherton, Deputy Editor of PC Gamer.


It seems that they're interested in using the Long Play article I sent them last week on Knights Of The Old Republic. I need to do a little tweaking to concentrate more on the experience of what it's *like* to play the game instead of *how* to play the game, provide screenshots, captions, etc, but they've agreed to use it in principle, which is encouraging. Being told that a piece is of the quality that they expect of their regular contributors is a real confidence boost, so I'm going to go away on holiday for the next fortnight and do some serious writing.


Don't expect any updates here for the next fortnight - I'm going to be directing my words elsewhere for a while. See you when I get back.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Doth mine eyes deceive me?



State is back! Now we can all get back to ruining our productivity for our respective employers! Yay!

A special treat


What follows is a "concept" Uncensored review I did of KOTOR for PC Gamer about six months ago. Regrettably, Uncensored got dropped for a couple of months after I submitted it, so it never got printed. I found it lurking on my hard drive on my laptop at work, so in these Stateless times, I thought I'd post it to cheer you all up. So then; KOTOR in 300 words. Enjoy!


Rice Crispies are evil; the breakfast food of the Dark Side. Don’t think so? Consider this – what noises do rice crispies make?


Snap!


Crackle!


Pop!


What sound does Sith Trooper’s neck make when you use Force Kill on him? Snap!
What noise does the Dark Side power Force Storm make when you use it? Crackle!
What does a Twi’lek’s heart do when you’ve drained out the last of their life using Death Field? Pop!


See? EVIL.


The Rice Crispy Evil of the Dark Side is only one of the possible ways that you can play Knights of the Old Republic. You can also follow the Golden Grahams ethos of the Light Side – sugary sweet, fortified with all sorts of virtuous things, and too much will make you want to vomit.


Like Planescape: Torment, KOTOR is a game that explores the morality of the player. KOTOR makes you choose your character’s moral path in a very unusual way. Whilst your character will ultimately get forced down the Light or Dark path, KOTOR gives the player significant freedom to place a magnet against their moral compass. Cruelty, compassion and apathy are all valid methods of confronting the moral questions the game poses, as is any combination of the above. KOTOR also makes the consequences of the choices you make immediately apparent, though disappointingly, word of misdeeds perpetuated on one world don’t follow you to the next, limiting their long-term impact.


KOTOR is not without flaws; notably occasionally shoddy voice acting and too many “fetch X for Y” filler quests, but those looking for an epic space opera won’t be disappointed. Bioware’s panache for plot, pacing and characterisation added to one of the most unusual plot twists of recent times all make you ask this question: Are you Rice Crispy or Golden Graham?

The political equivalent of the Model T Ford



I worry about America. I really do. They complain about 'turrurrists', extremists and how they're fighting for Freedom and Liberty, yet as soon as anyone raises any dissent, BANG, principles like Freedom of Speech go straight out of the window.


Case in point: A singer in Las Vegas praises Michael Moore's latest film, Farenheit 9/11 just before the climax of her performance, and what happens? The audience riots, and the hotel management chuck her out of the building. This is tantamount to Henry Ford's statement "You can have it in any colour, as long as it's black." What happened to Freedom and Liberty? They obviously don't apply if you say anything that can be considered anti-Government or anti-Bush.


America is becoming a nation of extremists; neo-conservative, white Christian extremists. Only these extremists are backed up by the largest Defence budget in the entire world, instead of a handful of Kalashnikovs and RPG-7s.


The American Dream is fast becoming The American Nightmare. Now Bush has started saber-rattling at Iran, saying the 9/11 hijackers passed through Iran prior to the attack. So why did you sort out Iraq and not Iran, eh, George? After all, Iran was in your so-called Axis Of Evil from the very start of your term as President. The history of the last three years reads like Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty-Four. WAR IS PEACE. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. Keep finding new threats, keep waging war, and the public won't care that you never sorted out the original problems.


Is there peace and democracy is Afghanistan? Like fuck is there. The Taliban may not be in government, but it's they who continue to hold the real power - government officials can't even leave Kabul without risking death. Did we ever find Bin Laden? Nope - we don't even know for sure if he's dead or alive. Did we ever defeat Al Qaida? Nope - they're still going strong. But let's gloss over that, because we need to sort out Saddam and his Weapons Of Mass Destruction.


Oh, hang on, there aren't (and weren't) any. But it's okay, we got rid of a cruel and vindictive dictator, and gave peace and democracy to Iraq. Oh, no we haven't, have we? We've given them terrorism, extremism, and annihilated their infrastructure, whilst George W. Bush's friends line their pockets with lucrative reconstruction contracts and Iraq's oil is siphoned off. But let's not worry about that because Iran harboured Al Qaida terrorists before 9/11.


Where does it end? What happens when there is no-one left to fight?

Monday, July 19, 2004

Oni



I won Oni about a week ago on eBay, and finally got around to installing and playing it last night. For those of you not familiar with the game, Oni is an anime-influenced third person action game that's a cross between a standard third person shoot 'em up and a beat 'em up.


If that doesn't sound particularly enticing, wait - it gets better. Oni was published by Rockstar (of Grand Theft Auto fame) and developed by Bungie (of Halo fame), so the game has real pedigree. It shows, too. Oni combines hand-to-hand combat with running and gunning, and it's surprisingly satisfying. The hand-to-hand melée system is truly excellent. Konoko kicks, grips and throws opponents, or alternatively just batters them with her fists. Flipping over an enemy, grabbing them with your legs and then tossing them into a wall is just awesome. The hand-to-hand combat keeps on surprising you with what you're able to do, as the angle at which you approach an enemy changes the moves and alters the execution of the throws. I'm not too far into the game as yet - only on the third mission (of 17), but I've been really impressed with the combat, if not entirely by the level design. There are loads of nice touches though - such as being able to slide underneath laser trip beams, and the chop-socky is so good that you'll not even want to bother with the weapons for most of the time. It's a nice game - well worth picking up if you see it cheaply, if only to see what you can do with the hand-to-hand melée engine. It's the best you'll see on the PC outside of a dedicated beat 'em up game, and is really rewarding to master.


Victoly!


I won another auction on eBay. The Master Chief is going to look great on my desk at work. My workmates are going to be *soooo* jealous. No, really - they're all big Halo nuts. Trying to prevent Olly from stealing him (or putting him in compromising positions with all the soft toys on Jonathan's desk) will be quite tough, actually.


None&None


Customer service? None. Ability to keep promises? None. Yes, our estwhile hosts are still being rubbish. It would appear that they never received the e-mail I sent them on Friday (I never got a return receipt for it, so that's not a surprise), and the telephone advisor didn't update our account notes when I called them on Thursday, so we're still websiteless. I called them again this morning to find this out, and attempted to pressure them into actually, you know, perhaps *doing something* about a website that's been down for a week and isn't generating them any revenue, and I was assured that we'd be back online by the end of tomorrow (meaning Tuesday). Which is what they said on Thursday, so don't hold your breath, anyone. You might die of asphyxia.


I foresee a change of hosting company in the non-too distant future. And there's a prediction I didn't need my Tarot cards for...

Oh, no, not another stupid internet quiz...



What Video Game Character Are You? I am a Base-defender.

I am a Base-defender.


What's mine is mine, and I make sure everyone knows it. Nobody invades my space without permission - I'd destroy everything I own before letting someone take it from me. I tend to be forward-facing, which is both a strength and a weakness. What Video Game Character Are You?

Sunday, July 18, 2004

The Nature Of Writing


I'm going to temporarily ignore the frustrating and ongoing problems with State, as there's nothing I can do about that until Monday morning at least. I'm as disappointed (if not more so) as the rest of you that our hosts have somehow seen fit not to follow up on their promise to have the site back up before the weekend, so I'm going to have to chase them up on Monday. Until then, I hope you're all finding shelter from the storm in a suitably accommodating website. Just come back to us when this is all sorted out. Please.


No, tonight, I'm in a philosophical mood. Fleur and I were visiting some friends that we'd not seen in three years - Fabrice and Catherine Vié. They're both teachers - Fabrice was a colleague of Fleur's at Brooke Weston, a school in Corby, just outside of Kettering, that Fleur worked at prior to moving in with me here in Surrey. Catherine is currently expecting her second child, and we were all talking about the nature of the personality of an individual. We were discussing how people seemed naturally talented and inclined into pursuing different interests. Fabrice, for example is fascinated by history, Fleur by cinema and classic literature, Catherine also by literature, and me by just about everything under the sun, ever.


Catherine seemed surprised that I do so much writing; for this blog, for the State website, and now for PC Gamer. The discussion made me get around to thinking probably for the first time about *why* I write. What am I trying to achieve? What does anyone who indulges in the creative arts (writing, music, painting, sculpture, etc) want to do? Why do people feel the need to express themselves creatively?


After thinking about it for a while, I can only think of one answer:


Every creative artist wants to make connections to people, in a totally unique way. When I write, I want to say something to my audience that they have never heard before, to make them think about something in a way that they never would have considered if they had not read my work - to say something unique, valuable and memorable. Whilst I may never have the talent, insight or resonance of Shakespeare or Proust, I would like to think myself capable of affecting the people who read what I write in a way that they'll remember. Every artist (no matter what the medium) wants to create a legacy for themselves, which will carry their name and philosophy beyond their lives, in a way that will never be forgotten.


Most people perpetuate their memory by having children - something that neither I nor Fleur are interested in. If I am to ever be remembered beyond my years, I would like it to be for something individual, unique and profound. When I write, I pour in all the essence of my heart, soul and intellect into it. I want a certain measure of immortality. To be cited and remembered hundreds of years after my death. Of course, I'm not going to achieve this with a humble blog or a few articles in a computer magazine, but I have ambitions... A lot like Kieron I harbour the desire to write beyond simple videogames journalism. Whether I have the talent, or will have the time to realise my dream remains to be seen. But why have dreams if you cannot try to make them come true?

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Relief



After spending *another* half hour on hold, I finally managed to speak to an actual human being at One&One's billing department. A new debit is being arranged now for the hosting rent, and I'm assured that the website should be back up and running in the next 24 hours or so. Just keep checking the URL, and at some point between now and Saturday, the site should be back up.


Deep breath now... and relax!

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Serious flaws



How is it that we can have politicians who justify a war using blatently poor intelligence information, then gradually move the goalposts so that this justification is no longer needed, and when a supposedly independent report into the intelligence used to make the case for war is published highlighting "serious flaws" in its collation, accuracy and use, it can conclude that NO-ONE was in fact to blame or should be held accountable?


Are we expected to believe that we weren't willfully mislead, and that our intelligence services and politicians are merely incompetent? I'm not sure which is worse. Either way, it doesn't inspire credibility or confidence in Tony Blair or the government, does it?


Long Play



I've not been playing games too much recently, as I've been knuckling down and writing in pretty much every free hour I can muster. Last night I sent off a Long Play article on Knights Of The Old Republic to Lord Donald for him to have a look at, which will hopefully get a positive reception. The irony of writing a piece for a magazine section called "Extra-Life" is not lost on me, particularly in these dark days of server blackout on State. Still no word from our host's Billing Department, but everything is in place for service to be restored - it's just a matter of them actually getting around to do it. I'm sure you can all survive for another day or two.


I'm also revisiting my Star Wars: Supremacy addiction in a Bow, Nigger-style piece tentatively called "Confessions Of A Galactic Tyrant", which mixes an analysis of the game with stylised anecdotes from the point of view of the player as a game progresses. Including boxouts, it's already well over 2500 words, and it's going to be difficult keeping it down to a printable length, but hopefully it's entertaining enough to be worth printing. My somewhat more philosophical article on Music in Videogames is also taking shape, and I'm hoping to get both of them finished in the next week or so. I'm going to be having a writers' workshop session with Paul tomorrow night over our usual weekly stir-fry and beer to exchange hints, tips and suggestions, which should be enlightening.


In other news, well, it's taken a month, but the forumites on PCGF have finally got around to dissing my Devil's Advocate. It's nice to know that I've not lost my touch...

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

What we've got here is a failure to communicate


Since the support team seems to be a little unresponsive, I've just pinged the One&One Billing Department directly, informing them that payment for this 6-month block of hosting is ready to be taken. The good news is that it's just a temporary lock on the account and no data has been wiped, so everything's still intact. So don't worry, everyone, the site will be back up in a day or two when the credit card payment has cleared. Phew. Panic over.

Update



From a quick look at my Internet Banking Facility, it would appear that State's hosts have been unable to take the server rent from my account for this block of 6 month's hosting. The reason for this is probably because I got switched (aha!) to a chip and pin card, which altered all the Switch card numbers. I did alter the billing details for the account at the time, but when trying to confirm them and re-save them on the admin site this morning, it gave me "Number invalid for card type" errors. I've changed the billing details to my Visa card, and e-mailed the hosts to tell them to take the money from that instead, but I've had no word as yet from them.


Hopefully, this will all get sorted out soon, and everything will get back to normal. I can only hope that our hosts haven't wiped the server in the meantime. Otherwise, I'm going to be very upset.

Oh. No! State. Is. Down!



AIIEEE! Panic! Panic!


For some as yet undetermined reason, State appears to be down and totally unresponsive. A quick check of the domain administration site reveals that the hosting account has been locked. I'm in the process of contacting the site hosters to find out what the problem is, and will get it resolved as soon as possible. So *don't* bombard me on MSN complaining that you can't get to your favourite multiformat videogames forum - I *KNOW* there's something up, and it'll be fixed as quickly as is humanly possible.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Desmond's Gate



Bad pun alert! Bad pun alert! Thanks to the astonishing third iteration of the Baldur's Gate Randomness Thread on the PC Gamer forum, I've been made aware of a fantastic little Baldur's Gate 2 mod called BG1tutu (I said it was a bad pun) that allows you to play Baldur's Gate using the Baldur's Gate II engine. You need to have complete installs of both games on your PC at the same time, and using the mod prevents you from playing Shadows Of Amn, but it's worth it if you really feel like playing Baldurs Gate again without having to wipe blood away from your weeping retinas every five minutes because of the low-res graphics.


The only problem I've found so far is that the journal appears to be broken, but that isn't really a major issue for me, since I've played it so much I don't need it anyway. Otherwise, it seems to work nicely. The cutscenes and special dream sequences all seem to still work, and the game looks a lot better.


The big advantage (other than the nicer graphics and 3D support) is that the mod allows you to use all the BGII AD&D engine improvements with Level One characters at the start of BG, meaning that you can give Imoen a Swashbuckler Thief character kit and can have Minsc dual-wielding Morningstars for maximum hit-things-very-hard-for-high-score damage. I had to install it on my desktop, since my laptop won't reinstall BGII for some bizarre reason (it didn't uninstall properly, I think) so I transferred over a character file and imported my new uber-Ranger Thrawn (see the Godchild blog entry for stats) into the game at Level 4, giving him *** in dual-wield, ** in Long Sword and ** in Longbow, making him a rather potent Gibberling mince-making machine. Mmm... Gibberling mince!

Thursday, July 08, 2004

1215 Overture



Since my PC is getting on for three years old now, I'm researching the cost of buying a new PC. Pentathlon Direct have caught my eye. Their equivalent spec machines are much cheaper than Alienware, and it's nice to find a supplier who'll just sell the PC tower on their own, because I don't need a new monitor, keyboard or mouse. Unfortunately, the Athlon 64 3400+ with 1GB of RAM and the Radeon X800 I want to get costs £1215. It's a lot of money I don't have right at the moment, unfortunately, so it's quite lucky that it appears that my PC isn't *quite* over the hill yet.


Paul came around last night, and I demoed him Joint Operations, this time jumping on one of the Jolt Advance And Secure servers, and the performance of the game was much better, and consequently, so was mine. By the end of the night, I was third highest scoring player on the server, which is pretty good, even if there was only 20 people on it. I still can't imagine a session on a server packed with over 100 people on it though. The game does seem quite heavily weighted towards snipers, and with lots of people camping, it might be a recipe for complete frustration. I'll just have to play and see.


I had a few more good moments in the two (hour long!) games I played (one as a Rebel and the other as a Joint Ops bod). I was manning a 50 cal on a jeep when my driver went careering into one of the Player Spawn Points, crashing into the garage of one of the buildings. A poor Joint Ops guy had just leapt out of the way of the jeep, and was just getting his grenades ready when I cut him down with the 50 cal from a distance of all about five feet. We both jump out and then sweep up opposite staircases to the roof in tandem, securing the Spawn Point as we go. Pretty bloody awesome. I also spent some time as a Blackhawk pilot, ferrying passengers around the island and having my minigun operators wreak total havoc as I orbited around enemy positions, sticking to the nap of the earth so that the Rebel engineers couldn't shot us with Stingers. There's nothing quite like clinging to the treetops with the rattle of miniguns ringing in your ears... I'm going to be playing this a lot more, I think.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

How could you do this, after all we've been through?



I'm going to plug a wonderful little downloadable bit of Freeware that's currently still in the Alpha stage, but looking really rather good. It's a remake of the classic Spectrum game Ant Attack, which was one of the very first 3D games ever made. Modesty doesn't say what she's coding the game in, but it's looking seriously retro-tastic, with not only a free-floating camera for the classic isometric view, but also a proper first person perspective! Considering that she's writing this entirely in her free time, she's done amazingly well for just a couple of month's work (though she may have been working on this for longer than she's been blogging about it). It's worth downloading now, but will be even better when she implements the grenades and the character animation for the leading man and the damsels in distress. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

Joint Operations


It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the Delta Force games, so once I got broadband, it wasn't really in any doubt that I'd get the online dedicated Delta Force-esque game Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising. (Silly videogame subtitles - just say "No" kids!)


I ordered this from the dangerously cheap Play last week, and it dropped through my letterbox on Monday. I played the training missions offline on Monday, and initial impressions were promising. The enhanced Delta Force: Black Hawk Down engine looks spangly enough and the vehicles all handle well, particularly the helicopters, though that should come as no surprise since the graphics engine is itself an upgrade from the one used for Comanche 4. The weapons are suitably punchy, and as you'd expect from a Delta Force game, there's a good variety of sniper rifles, all of which are particularly deadly. Novalogic have sensibly removed the rangefinder from the sniper scopes, meaning that people have to use their binoculars to adjust the range deflection properly, so that the game doesn't turn into a complete turkey shoot for the guys with the best scopes and video resolutions.


I went online last night on an Advance And Secure server with only 40 people (which is nothing compared to the theoretical maximum of 150) and things weren't quite as good as I hoped they'd be. Even though I'd dropped the resolution from the recommended 1024x768 to 800x600, things rapidly became unplayable when I got into multiple player scraps of more than a dozen people, and this was on a server with a ping around 20ms. I'm not sure if it was just a dodgy server or not, or whether my PC just can't cut it anymore. Probably the latter.


I wasn't doing very well in the two games I played - averaging 2 deaths per kill, and only killing 5 people in a half hour match, which isn't too great, though not quite scraping the bottom of the barrel on the server, thankfully. I still managed a couple of nice moments, though - I was holed up in a road block turret, sniping with an SR-25 as a rebel tried to run the roadblock in an APC. I rattled him so much he actually lost control and careered off the road, off a short pier and into the drink (the game is set in Indonesia, so the maps are all island based) I rushed out of my hidey-hole, as he struggled to get the APC back onto dry land, and was ready waiting for him when he decided that the APC wasn't going anywhere and bailed out. BANG! He just had time to see me there as I blew him off the top of the vehicle with a 7.62mm round to the chest.


This game will definitely be one to keep playing, if I can find a way of upping the performance, as doing things like strafing enemy positions from a Blackhawk with a minigun or rocketing APCs from Little Birds is pretty epic, as people are pelting Stinger missiles at you. I may need to get a new PC to get the best out of it, though. If only I could scrape up the money for an Athlon FX...

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

For Sale - Internet Games Forum; two careful owners



I've been having a few Skog moments lately, and I've come to the decision that it's time for me to hand on the reins at State to someone new. I've been feeling frustrated and pretty unappreciated generally on State for quite a while now. The name of this blog originates from an incident relating the to State's reaction to my appointment as a moderator, and my rather too speedy and possibly ill-advised attempts to foster some much needed change on the forum. My tenure as Head Of State has never truly been a welcome one - I was less Owner-Occupier in the sense of owning a house, more in the sense of having invaded a country; so whilst I may have earned a bit of grudging respect from even the most hard-hearted of forumites as a writer, culminating with my Devil's Advocate being printed in this month's PCG, I never really commanded the same affection or respect as State's founder, Oskar.


My methods were always seen as being too aggressive, my style too abrasive, despite the real necessity to shake up State and move it onwards. I've always had to strenuously justify myself to the more vocal members of the community, many of whom have never lifted a finger to contribute to actively make State better - and after nearly a year and half of this, I feel it's time to move on. I'm tired of the sniping and backbiting and continual arguments to justify my decisions and strategies.


They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and I took on the running of State with the best of them. It's come to the point now where I'm putting more into running the forum and site than I'm getting out of it. I've invested a lot of time and a not inconsiderable amount of money getting State where it is, but the act of running the forum is taking away my ability to enjoy being there. With all the other pressures in my life, work, a longer daily commute, social engagements plus the increasing desire just to sit down, play more games and write about them more, there just isn't room for the extra demands of running the forum.


Over the last couple of weeks I've instigated more changes which are afoot for State, but I think they'll be far better received if I'm not the person presenting and implementing them over the next couple of months. I don't feel that the work I've done for State has ever been truly appreciated (except by a select few, who all know who they are) and I don't want to get dragged into another round of arguments to justify changes to the people who don't see the need for change, or for State to cement its future without relying on the largesse of any single individual.


I'm absolutely certain that some people aren't going to particularly like the plans to introduce affiliates for the website, but they're undoubtedly going to be less vocal if they're presented by someone without all the Mad! And! Wrong! baggage I'm carting around.


You might think I'm just feeling unappreciated and a little sorry for myself, digging for a little sympathy, but it's more than that. I'm tired of all the arguments, and tired of setting myself up to be shot at. I don't mind so much if it's about my writing - you don't publish writing in public if you can't take the heat - but to have your motivations, your decisions and your personality picked to pieces by people who've never even *tried* to contribute to something in the way you have, it's difficult to take. Particularly when you're *paying* for the privilege of letting people fling shit at you.


Sometimes you just want to pull the plug and tell everyone to fuck off onto their own server, but State's always been bigger than just one person, and I'd like to think I'm not so petty as to put my feelings before the good of the website. The hosting's paid up until December, so State's not just going to disappear - I wouldn't ever let it come to that, anyway - but I don't feel that I can be involved in how it's run anymore. My successor is yet to be determined, but if I were a betting man, I'd put my money on either Pat or Mark.


I just want to be able to go to the forum again and *enjoy* being there - being around people who enjoy the same hobby as me - to enjoy writing about games and reading the reaction to my writing. Unfortunately it appears that this and being in charge are mutually exclusive, so one of them has got to go, and I don't go to State to be miserable... Letting go of State now will allow me more time to concentrate on my writing, for both PCG and State, and will let me take a more active role in mentoring new writers on the forum, which can only be good for all concerned.


I think it's fitting that someone else takes over State at this point. Oskar provided its identity and ethos, I provided its structure and independence, and whoever takes over from me will financially secure its future and probably take State in directions neither Oskar or I would ever have dreamed of. As Sting says - "If you love somebody, set them free..."

Monday, July 05, 2004

Le Weekend



Last weekend had a very strong French theme. Distinctly garlicky, actually. I was up at 5am - yes, FIVE IN THE MORNING - on Saturday, in order to get to Farnborough station by 6am, so that we could get to Waterloo in time for the 9am Eurostar to the Gare du Nord in Paris. If you're thinking "you went to Paris, you lucky bastard" at this point, there was a catch. Twenty-three catches in fact. Namely 23 students from Fleur's school.


It's some catch, that Catch-23.


Thankfully, it was only a day trip, and the kids had been specially selected from best French classes in the school, so they were surprisingly well behaved, though I did need to get a little shouty with them on the Eurostar back, as they were getting just *too* loud, and we didn't have the carriage to ourselves.


It was an unusual way to see Paris for the first time, but I definitely want to go back - but preferably *without* all the pre-teens. We saw most of the sights, Notre Dame, the Champs Elysees, the Arc d'Triophe and naturally the Eiffel Tower. We spent most of our time on an open top bus, though we did have lunch outside the Louvre, and take a walk down the Seine to the Notre Dame. Things were a little rushed, unfortunately, and we were lucky to make it back to the Gare du Nord in time for train, as we got caught in the rush hour traffic, and wouldn't have made it unless the bus driver hadn't offered to alter his route and take us directly to the station. Parisians have a bad reputation for being snotty (especially to foreigners), but this guy was a real star. I don't envy his job either, the traffic in Paris is incredible - even worse than in Porto, and they were complete nutters.


In places like the Place de la Concorde and the Arc d'Triophe you're getting cars six abreast, just randomly cutting each other up and changing lanes, with no indicating or lane markings... you'd never get me and my Coupé in there.


We were lucky with the weather, though, and the kids all really enjoyed themselves. There was all the novelty value of me not being a teacher - most of the kids kept calling me "Mr Foltzer" because they couldn't either remember or pronounce my surname, which was quite amusing. At least when I told them to do something, they listened, which was nice. Though I suppose you don't talk back to a 6'1", 15 stone Glaswegian in Matrix shades if they tell you to do something in the middle of a strange city if you're only 11 or 12 years old...


We only had a couple of traumas on the trip - one at the beginning, and one at the end, though nothing too serious. One of the girls on the trip was from Zimbabwe, and the border police kicked up a bit of a fuss since she didn't have a visa to visit France, which caused a bit of stress for about half an hour until they managed to get everything sorted out. The worst thing was at the end, when we got back to Farnborough. The letter for the trip had told the parents that they needed to be at the station for 10pm to pick up the kids, and when one girl, Michaela, rang her mother to get her to pick her up, she was told "I'm in London, I can't pick you up." How charming is that? No, I can't pick you up, I'm 40 miles away. Just make your own way back to Camberley thankyouverymuchdon'tbotherme. The poor girl was in tears, and we ended up having to give her a lift home, which thankfully wasn't too out of our way. I'd be giving that parent a serious kicking if I saw her for a student review day, because that's *well* out fucking order...


Fleur and I made it home around 11pm, making it officially A Very Long Day Indeed. We then kept up the French theme on the Sunday by visiting a travelling French market that was in Camberley for the weekend. Fleur bought lots of jam, and I bought some a couple of saucisson sec - duck and wild boar, respectively - with some rather special mustard (wholegrain mustard with cassis & white wine) to go with them.


And just to finish off the weekend, I watched the highlights of the French Grand Prix whilst drinking some French Cabernet Sauvignon... A very French weekend, non?

Friday, July 02, 2004

Lovely links



How long would it take to kill Bill Gates with an Axe? All is revealed here with some inspired AD&D geek humour.


A Third Echelon Operative tries to get into bed after a night out on the razz without waking up his girlfriend. Much better than Splinter Cell. Particularly the bit where you're trying to go to the toilet stealthily... we've all been there.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Pyromaniac



*Never* accept an invitation to go a barbecue from this chap. You might find yourself on the menu. Proof, if any more were needed, that people in America are very, very scary.