And the prize for participation goes to…

Pole position. via djryanie
Pole position. via djryanie

I re-discovered something this weekend. I fucking hate go-karting.

We went on a team-building exercise at a go-karting track in Greenwich, which sounded like a good idea: we’d knock off work a couple of hours early, drive around a little bit, then start the weekend on a high. I’d done it before and it wasn’t too bad, even though the first time was outdoors in a rain storm.

But..

There’s a particularly mean trick memory can play – mostly on women to convince them to give birth more than once – after a suitable period of recovery you forget just how much an event hurt.

After getting dressed up in a set of overalls that compressed my testicles into a pancake-like mess, we got shown a badly produced video featuring a cast of Inbetweeners lookalikes giving thumbs up signs. Not feeling confident that either my health or safety was of paramount importance the race was on.

Sweet suffering Jesus was the race on. I think it took twenty seconds before I went from my starting position to last and I was whacked by all twelve other drivers on the way. Do you know how annoying a polite hand wave is after you’ve been smashed up the bottom? VERY! After the fifth crash I was plotting to bring in Sharia law and cut that bloody hand off.

Once everyone got out of the way, though, I started to get the hang of it and even managed a couple of laps without crashing. Then it happened. Lapped! I got side-swiped, broad sided, bumped, smashed, and crunched again! And every two or three laps for the rest of the humiliation… I mean race.

By twenty minutes in, Einstein’s famous description of relativity came to mind: “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour.” I’d another ten minutes of stove to deal with and my arms had turned into the bingoest of wings, I’d bruises on the inside of either knee from bashing the steering column, and pride was but a distant and folorn memory.

Once the checkered flag came out and the ‘race’ ended I’d have kissed the marshall (with tongue), if only I wasn’t too busy rocking myself in that bucket seat reliving ALL OF THE POST TRAUMATIC STRESS. I had flashbacks to every Vietnam war movie made.

Coming last was inevitable. Being lapped five times by the next slowest driver? That was an achievement.

 

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The Story of the Boy Who Lived

The older you get, the harder it is to buy presents for someone; birthdays and Christmas become less of a celebration and more of a tightrope walk between disappointment and frustration.  Philippe Petit has nothing on someone trying to get a gift that’s surprising and thoughtful, yet wanted.

Thank Dawkins Warner Bros. decided to turn Leavesden Studios into a dedicated museum to the Harry Potter movies.  At least this year, Ang’s birthday didn’t involve the words Frack, What and The.

Housed in two gigantic buildings, the Harry Potter Experience contains almost every piece of Harry Potter arcana that any fan might want to see, including a fully dressed Great Hall, Diagon Alley, and the scale model of Hogwarts used during filming.  The latter really has to be seen to be believed: fifty feet wide, the size of a very large room, and with two and a half thousand optic fibres inside, it took eighty-six artists a total of seventy-four man years to create.

Even more breathtaking, once you go outside you can stand in Privet Drive itself while looking at the Knight Bus and the cottage where the story began.  In a moment of marketing genius, Warner Bros. have allowed the taking of photographs, which means that most of the people will have their experience looking through an iPhone screen whilst screaming.

The Harry Potter Experience certainly is worth a visit even if you aren’t as foaming-at-the-mouth of a fan as Ang, though it’s likely to turn you into a confirmed agoraphobic as the sheer numbers of people passing through makes it feel like rush hour on the Central Line.  If you do go, steer clear of the butterbeer.

‘Course, I’m screwed for next year.

 

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Kapow ComicCon, Day 1: A Wil Wheaton of Nerds

For years comic book fans in the UK have looked across the sea at San Diego and New York and wondered why the land of Wells and Clarke had nothing to offer.  While the US had their huge events, premieres and panels, all we could do was wait for grainy videos and vicarious emails.

No longer!  Kapow was the first attempt at a big British comic convention and proved that it’s not the size that matters, but what you do with it.

Queuing started at 8am with many already in full costume, and didn’t stop until the day was over. The first panel we attended was a Fans vs. Pros quiz, hosted by Jonathan Ross which pitted John Romita, Jr., Mark Millar, and the immortal Dave Gibbons against Stewart Lee and a couple of fans out of the audience.  Obviously no real substance, but a lot of fun and a nice way of letting the coffee injections take effect.  The fans won, of course.

Mark Gatiss was our next victim. One of the League of Gentlemen, Professor Lazarus, one of the Mycrofts Holmes and a thoroughly nice chap, he waxed lyrical on all things horror (Halloween ruined American movies), televisual (“[Stephen] Fry. Bastard Fry”), and supernatural  (“Crystals. Fucking Crystals”). He could have done an entire weekend and I’d have been happy. Just as well, since he made us miss the Green Lantern Panel (Gatiss. Bastard Gatiss).

With a bit of time in hand to look around the stalls, picking up some nice stuff from Genki Gear and Insert Coin T-Shirts, it became increasingly difficult to navigate the Supermen, Batmen, Penguins and Steampunks so I dragged Ang away from the yaoi and started queuing again.  How many Supermen does one city need before it starts to feel like a Monty Python sketch!  Next year I’m going as Bicycle Repair man.

We got really lucky with the last panel of the day; the one every geek, nerd, and fan wanted to see, the Thunder God himself, Thor. After a lot of herding and surrendering of technology (the comic book fan equivalent of Gitmo) five hundred of us got to see twenty-five minutes of footage from Branagh’s movie (with script co-written by the Great Maker) and if the whole movie is as good as those few minutes then it’s going to be a real Easter treat.

Hemsworth is perfect as the hammer thrower, Sir Anthony Hopkins eats the scenery as the Allfather,  Tom Hiddleston gave a good turn as Loki and we even got a brief, tantalising glimpse of Stringer Heimdall. Talk about your 60 degree day.

It’s a shame the movie is in 3D, but at least JMS’s script (and a fantastic cameo that must have left him wet) is full of the humour and excitement fans of Babylon 5 know to expect.

Coming soon: Kapow 2: They Queue in Blood.

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Amber and Blue

Seeing as I haven’t been to The Junction is ages, this was a perfect re-introduction. In my love for smaller venues I’d forgotten just how much of a buzz it can be to be smack in the middle of a big crowd all getting down to the same music.

The support band, Ambershades, were not anyone I’d heard of before but carried themselves off very well in the face of an uninterested crowd. Very melodic pop, with a tinge of Status Quo, but only the good stuff. I’ll be listening out for them in future.

Of course there was the usual jockying to get into a good position for the headliners, The Bluetones, and this time we managed to get closer to the stage than ever before in The Junction. I’d not heard much of this lot’s music either, but they came highly recommended and quite rightly so. A mixture of The Jam and Primal Scream with a harder edge to it, they absolutely tore the place down. The normally quite staid Cambridge crowd went mad with excitement and there was much pogoing and screaming to be had. I even lost it myself, in spite of the ties being worn by the band, and went ballistic. The lead guitarist was one of the best I’ve ever heard live and indeed deserved the man of the match award.

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Three teams in the Boat Race

As gigs go tonight’s was brilliant. If you can imagine a concert with three bands, each of which was worthy of headlining on their own, you might get the picture.

First up was Byrne who I can only describe as indescribable. They were rocktastic, musical, and just god damn lovely. They really should be at Wembley rather than a tiny club in Cambridge. Great things will come of them, I promise you.

After a brief interlude Saloon came on who were a lot more pedestrian (much to my embarrassment since I mentioned to the bass and violin player how much I preferred Byrne). They sounded an awful lot like Stereolab.

The Broken Family Band were, as always, fantastic. Not as much banter as usual, but I think it’s because they were nervous. Instead of the usual floating backing singer (Mary happened to be in Bulgaria) they had a guy playing the accordion/squeezebox and I have to say it worked rather well, lending a very Cajun sound to the proceedings. I would hope that both accordion and female backing singers become a permanent fixture as this would give them a much needed boost to their sound.

And to top it off, some of us headed to KamBar, which on alternate Saturday nights is indie. T’was rather good and to prove what a small town Cambridge is Mick, the drummer from the Broken Family Band was there, giving the sign of the horns as was strange Forbidden Planet guy.

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Dublin and Dublin in size

Cover of "Otis Lee Crenshaw: I Blame Soci...
Cover of Otis Lee Crenshaw: I Blame Society

Fantastic night: Rich Hall playing Otis Lee Crenshaw at the Corn Exchange. As you all should know Rich Hall is a pretty funny stand up guy, but playing a redneck country singer really suits him. Faint praise, eh?

The first half wasn’t anything special but once his support band came out it turned into one of those events you tell your grandchildren about. With tunes like the Overweight Irish Song and Incest Man I couldn’t stop laughing.

Unfortunately Mr. Hall had to stop the show until I composed myself.

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If you go down to the woods today

St Micheal, Longstanton
Image by Cruccone via Flickr

The 100 Acres that was on in Longstanton the Saturday before last was the first festival of it’s kind in Cambridge and appeared to be a rousing success.

Alabama 3, the headliners, were every bit as good as expected, though the American accents started to slip back towards Edinburgh and Brixton towards the end. Cornershop were great as well, despite the lead singer’s seeming boredom with the whole event. They played a fantastic sitar jam at the end of their set which blew us all away.

A couple of new bands there seem to be worth watching out for. Other Garden (who impressed me with an impromptu cover version of Lazy Sunday Afternoon) and Silverfish.

Hopefully the festival will continue next year.

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