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2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


Film Review: Skyfall


To the manor Bond

There’s nostalgiaabout this film as it marks 50 years of Bond.  It also fulfils audience requirements in that since Casino Royale thrust Bond back into fashion audiences have been waiting for another action packed Bond Film (considering Quantum of Solace garnered less enthusiasm).  Plus, a Bond film is one of those films that you go to the cinema knowing you will like: you may be able to see its flaws, but on the whole you know you’re gonna like it.  It inspires and revisits the excitement of when the new Bond would be out (or even an old one on television) from childhood.  But…

…Don’t believe the hype: this is not the best Bond film ever made.

It is a Bond of two halves:

It’s definitely Casino Royale mk2 for the pre-title sequence: a pulsating chase through Istanbul that culminates in a reasonably edgy segue into the titles.  I liked the titles and the song is fittingly Bond-esque (I wouldn’t be surprised to see Adele involved in further films).

The film continues apace punctuated with a couple of dull moments that are clearly there to show depth to Bond’s character, but feel clunky and ill-conceived in relation to the rest of the film.  It seems that in this “Bond universe”, contrary to the rookie Bond in the previous two Craig outings, Bond is a washed up (literally) drunk: battered and bruised and self-aware enough to know that espionage is fast becoming a young man’s game where technology outfights brawn.

But, with a list of secret agents being leaked by a disturbingly camp former agent Silva (Javier Bardem), Bond is soon found to be useful, particularly as this adventure becomes more personal.  Silva is potentially Bond of the future: as an agent he pushed the boundaries of his remit too far and M hung him out to dry.  Silva explains as much to Bond, but the similarities between them seem to pass him by and, unfortunately that theme does not get revisited.

There are some great set pieces and when the action does get going it grabs the film by the scruff of the neck and lifts it way beyond the shaky plot.

At some point the main plot, the secret agents list, is discarded and it becomes a film about Bond protecting M from all-out assault from Silva.  This second half of the film seriously loses its way for me and I began to lose interest.

Silva also inexplicably discards his clever scheming and terrorist tactics in favour of all out warfare.  Perhaps it was to show that the list was trivial to him and all that mattered was M, but this was not really represented in the film.

What this film does do is give M much more screen time than previous Bonds.  Judi Dench’s clipped and matronly interactions with, particularly Craig’s, Bond have always been well worked.  Unfortunately, in this film Judi Dench shows more of her “As Time Goes By”, rather than her Academy Award winning acting chops.

Although the “Straw Dogs” style siege at the end offers up impressive action again, the shine is taken off by the manner in which we got to this point.

At times it feels like fan fiction: revealing more of Bond’s past and knowing nods and winks to previous films (and Bonds).  That’s not to say that it doesn’t work, but it places Daniel Craig’s Bond in that uneasy area where previous Bonds are regarded as the same person: George Lazemby clearing his desk in OHMSS springs to mind. 

This might seem like a damning review, but I actually enjoyed the film.  You do have to suspend belief when watching Bond and I’m more than ready to do that.  I suspect the hype led me to believe that this really could be the best Bond of all.  It always helps when you like a Bond and, Brosnan aside; I’ve liked all Bonds (yes, some more than others).  I honestly think that Daniel Craig is a great choice and conveys Bond’s ruthlessness and charm extremely well.

The film redeems itself massively in the final 20mins and I also suspect that audience members leaving the film on a high and full of anticipation for the next film in the series will have also added to the rave reviews.  It sets up the next phase of the series really well and I will be relishing when…James Bond will Return…

My Rating 3/5

Peru Travel Blog: Epilogue‏

It’s hard to believe that my trip to Peru was almost 3 months ago.

I found it really difficult to respond to people’s questions of “how was it?” other than “fantastic”.  There’s no way I can neatly summarise the whole experience into a few sentences.  Which is very similar to how I felt after returning from my trip around the USA.  As time has passed experiences I had on the trip have gradually become anecdotes and I can talk more freely about some of it than I could before.

One of the things that I first did upon returning, after a hot bath, cold beer & a bag of chips, was to show my girlfriend the photos.  This was a major anti-climax for me and I felt very disappointed that my photos hadn’t captured anyway near the scale of what I was looking at.  Peripheral vision plays a huge part when you’re taking in a view and you lose all of that when you box up a section into a photo.  I didn’t feel the photos did the trip justice.

Now I realise that it was too close to the memories of the experience for me to look at the photos.  When you can picture in your mind exactly how it was and how you felt as well, it’s difficult to see that in a photo.  However, now that I have been back a while and other things have muddied my memory I think the photos are great.  Not great in that I want to get any of them blown up and framed on the wall, but great memory joggers.  Now when I look at the photos they help to remind me of what I saw and how I felt which is fantastic, so I have come to realise that I didn’t need to try and capture all of that in a photo, I just needed to capture the essence of the moment and that would drag my memories forward from the storage room at the back of my mind and I can relive it.

To call my trip a voyage of self discovery might be going a bit far, but I did surprise myself in a few ways.  I was surprised how well I coped with the physical exertions of the trek, altitude and the jungle heat and humidity.  I also coped well with some of the hair-raising aspects of the trip with crumbly paths and steep drops on the trek and the jungle having open access to my room.  It’s certainly not a case of me becoming fearless, but I have definitely dealt with scenarios that could have scared or worried me which is not something, thankfully, that I have to do on a day to day basis, so I was proud of myself for coping in the way that I did.

Knowing that I can cope with trickier situations to what I am used to, I have enrolled on a scuba diving course that starts in January.  I have snorkelled before, but never really had the confidence to dive down to any sort of decent depths and knowing how helpless a human is bobbing about in an ocean teeming with life did make me very apprehensive.  I think that by becoming a PADI qualified scuba will help me discover a whole new side to the ocean and perhaps even enjoy being down there amongst it all.  I will blog how it goes.

I have enjoyed writing the blog and I certainly enjoyed keeping the diary of my trip – I almost wish I had done that in the USA now.  As with the photos, reading through what I had written also jogged a few memories of what I hadn’t written about.  I don’t think I will keep up the travel blog unless I think the trip is special enough to write about – a week lounging by a pool in the sun sounds great, but wouldn’t make much of a blog.

I have fulfilled the main travel ambition I have had over the years, but that has left a gap to fill.  I wonder where I could go next…?

Peru Travel Blog: 3rd October 2011: Welcome to the Jungle

Fucking Hell! This is some serious shit I have got myself into!

 I left my hotel in Cusco around 11:30 and was at the airport with plenty of time to catch my flight to Puerto Maldonado.  There were so few people on the flight that the people on the gate actually walked around the departure lounge asking who was on it and the guy manning the desk gave me the nod when the plane was ready.  There were a few people on the plane already, as this is part of a longer route (from Lima, I think).  The flight is barely half an hour, but almost as soon as we got over the mountain range that surrounds Cusco, I was able to see the myriad of rivers winding their way through dense rainforest.

I'm doing fine on cloud 9Little fluffy cloudsRiver of dreams


Stepping off the plane I felt the heat and the humidity hit me immediately; a massive change from the cool, thin air of recent days.  My guide, Yuri, met me at the airport: this guy was born and raised in and around the jungle, so I’m in good hands…which are huge, by the way, he’s a big guy and his handshake felt like it was going to render me unconscious.  We had a short drive to the Admin office of the tour company – I say office, but it was more like an open pavilion where I had to wait with others that were also making the trip up river to stay at the same lodge.  Some were going to only stay one night at the lodge: a group that were going paddle boarding on some rapids and a guy who is a professional photographer who would be going further up river too to work.  There was also a middle-aged American couple and a group of, at a guess, early twenty-something, friends that were also American.  The staff at the office piled our stuff onto the roof of the bus and as we climbed on board we were given snacks of bananas & sugar covered Brazil nuts.  And then we were on our way out of Puerto Maldonado to a town call Infierno which roughly translates as “Hell Hole” where we would pick up our boat.

The road, if you can call it that, was rough and dusty – a red dust that soon coated all of us.  Driving to e place called Hell in a rickety bus going over all sorts of bumps and holes put me in mind of the excellent William Friedkin film Sorcerer (based on The Wages of Fear).  I was very glad we didn’t have any “sweating” Nitro Glycerine in the back of the bus with us!

Our bones well and truly rattled, we arrived at the small dock and took our places on the boat.  The boat was a long narrow boat that sat low in the water and had an outboard motor with a very long propeller shaft.  It looked like it could capsize easily…especially if a huge Cayman tried to climb aboard and eat us.  Perhaps my imagination was running away with me.  On the boat we were given some lunch and we slowly made our way up river for the next 3 and a half hours.  It was all new to us, so the scenery was great and we even got to see a capybara by the shore.  The sun was beating down on us and I was very glad that not only had I put on sunscreen, but that I had also put on plenty of insect repellent.  As the trip went on the sun began to sink and the guides said that we would not reach the lodge before dark: cue frantic scrabbling to get our headlamps and torches.  It was a clear night though and the moon was almost full giving us and, more importantly, the driver a clear view of the river.  Bats flew alongside us and acrobatically dived and swooped to catch the many insects around.  We also saw lots of flashing lights rising out of the rainforest which I assumed to either be logging areas or refineries only to be told that they are small pockets of thunderstorms such is the ecosystem there they can have a full thunderstorm specific to perhaps a kilometre square in amongst the hot and humid weather.

What’s up dock?


Once at the dock of the lodge we disembarked and had to walk up many steps and follow a jungle path for around 15 minutes before we reached the main building.  It was an impressive sight when we reached it and it was all lit up (gas lamps only, as there is very little electricity here).  There is a main area of the lodge with a bar, lounge and the dining area and off of that run raised footpaths that lead to the rooms.  It looked like a Bond villains hideout.  Once designated a room, I eagerly went to see it.

First thing I noticed was the door: there isn’t one – it’s curtains.  Not a big deal, it’s hardly likely anyone will wish to come into my room.  Secondly, the room is lovely – I get 2 beds (each with mosquito nets), a hammock, table and chairs and an en-suite bathroom which has cold water only.  Oh yeah…there’s also a wall missing!  I’ve got 3 walls and then a sort of balcony that faces straight out to the jungle.  No patio door, no shutters; Yuri took great delight in telling me that the room is open to the jungle 24/7.  I think he took more delight in my reaction to that than telling me: it went along the lines of “Oh god, that is going to scare the shit out of me!”

Oh yeah, a couple more things: if you have any food you have to lock it in your safe, so it won’t attract animals.  And each room as a whistle hanging on a hook and you are supposed to blow it, in Yuri’s words “in case something big comes into the room that you can’t handle”.

The room is only lit by candle light, so as you can imagine a flickering light has a tendency to make every shadow move.  So I already started to feel like there were many other things living in there with me.  Thankfully, it was now dinner time, so I didn’t have to think about it much more.

As usual on this trip the food was great and I was allocated a table and a group for the entire stay: Yuri would be my guide for the duration and the middle-aged American couple from the boat would also be with us.  The same process was done for other groups (many bird watchers) and I saw how lucky we were that just the 3 of us had one guide where we saw other groups that had 12 people for one guide.  We immediately chatted and got on well, so that was good too and I made sure I had a couple of large beers  to “help me sleep”.

Returning to my room I had 2 candles burning and my headlamp on.  Although light sort of makes me feel safer, it also attracts insects.  You know that an insect is large when instead of it buzzing past your ear, you actually hear wings flapping!  The housekeeping staff set up you mosquito net for you, so all you have to do is lift one corner, crawl in and make sure you replace the corner securely.  Typically, the housekeeping staff had decided that the bed nearest the jungle was the one for me and only set that mosquito net up!

I laid inside the mosquito net sweating.  It’s still pretty humid at night.  With my torch on and a candle (at a safe distance from the net).  I wrote in my journal for a while before deciding enough was enough and blowing out the candle and switching off the torch – keeping my torch under the net with me though, just in case.

With the light my eyes were drawn to the “balcony” or rather the jungle beyond.  The sound coming from the jungle is pretty loud.  It sounds like frogs and crickets to me, although lord knows what might be making those sounds.  It’s quite a relaxing sound actually and, now the light is off, nothing seems to be attracted to the room or the net – nothing that I can see or hear anyway.  So, I felt like I could finally fall asleep…and then…

…the heavens opened, thunder rumbled overhead and lightning illuminated the jungle giving me the best view from my room I had since arriving.  It was raining so hard, I wondered if the roof might leak – instead, I started to feel a fine mist of water drift into the room and over me.  The rain must have been hitting the floor with such force that the splashback was drifting in.  I worried that I may have to switch to the other bed and set up my own mosquito net.  Thankfully, that subsided, but the storm still raged around us.  I half expected each flash of lightning illuminating the jungle to reveal some huge creature with big teeth and claws getting closer and closer, like a slowly thumbed horror filled flickbook.

As it was, I drifted to sleep listening to the storm and I slept very well.

 And that’s why they call it a rainforest…