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*vaguely waves* - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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October 7th, 2011


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07:12 pm - *vaguely waves*
For a long time, there's a a post I've been meaning to make. Sometimes tunes just hang around and you sort of know what they are, or know where they have come from, without knowing where they originally came from. I've been meaning to post to try to find out what they were, possibly even with a LiveJournal phone post in which I attempt to recreate the tunes in a possible attempt to help convey what they are.

Serendipitously, I have been able to resolve three out of the four tunes that have been bugging me, at the rate of one every three or four months. "The music from the M&S commercials" turns out to be "At the River" by Groove Armada, "some tune we were humming at work" turns out to be the end of "A.M. 180" by Grandaddy (I think I've got the band and song name the right way round) and "the music from the Sports Review of the Year that they used to use as a tribute for the remembrances" turns out to be the quiet bit of "the Olympic Fanfare and Theme for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Summer Games" by John Williams, or somesuch.

Three down, one to go; inevitably, this probably will be the most difficult one. Can anyone provide an identification for, or a recording of, "the theme tune for UK commercial television channel ITV's gymnastics broadcasts from about 1981"? This may be tricky, as it may well have been specially commissioned for the broadcast and thus not known by any other name. More likely, it's a piece of library music, which might be identified. I'm secretly hoping that it, too, was another light classical tune that might be known under some other guise. I know, mhp-chat is that way, but asking here is more fun.

Here are some book reviews. These were going to be short, but they grew. I've not been feeling in much of a communicative mood recently, explaining the radio silence.

Dave Gorman vs. The Rest Of The World: one day, last July, British author/comedian Dave Gorman tweeted "Does anyone play any games? Real life, not computer games. Would you like a game?" Plenty of people respond yes; Dave travels the country, learning and playing lots of new games, and eventually he decides to turn some of the stories into a book. As is usual, Dave's work is really more about the people he meets rather than the adventures on offer, and the balance is fairly firmly further away from the games than would suit my personal preference. Accordingly, there is a tendency to focus on games played against big characters, or against public figures. He's strongest at writing about the games with which he's most familiar, particularly poker.

More disappointingly from my perspective, Dave seems to prove to be most drawn to throwing games of various types that I would be inclined to categorise as being on the sports end of the games-to-sports continuum. He does enjoy board and card games, though his tastes seem to veer towards abstracts, with Khet, Kensington and cribbage positively mentioned; to my greater disappointment, two attempts at The Settlers of Catan never really stick, and Agricola struggles further still. The start of chapter sixteen mentions at least half a dozen other hobby hits that he's tried (Ticket to Ride, Tikal, Werewolf, Blokus, Ingeniousand Zombies!!!, so certainly no mean diet), but sadly neither the games nor their players catch his imagination sufficiently to merit more than passing mention.

It would have suited me if there had been suggestion that meeting very pleasant but unremarkable people and playing a very pleasant but unremarkable board game was a fine way to spend an evening, but there is not; indeed, Dave points out a sense of being underwhelmed by some of his experiences, considering them to be folly rather than grand folly. I had hoped for this to be the book that conveys the message that, very generally, there is no reason why the board games of the last twenty years cannot be as valid and accessible a form of entertainment as any of the other games listed, but sadly for me message is nearly the diametric opposite. He pays a clear and thoughtful compliment to them - "they've been designed to give every player a stake in the game right to the end" - but only in passing. His book, his perspective; to me, an opportunity missed.

When I heard about the endeavour, at first I was really envious that I missed out on the opportunity to meet an inadvertent geek hero and introduce him to the game that would change his life; in practice, I don't know if there is anything that I could have introduced to him that could have made an impact in practice. (Additionally, there would have been a considerable degree of rampant fanboying that is not evident from anyone described in the book, which would probably have embarrassed the poor man.) It would be fun to see his take on, say, a rule-changing game like The Chairman's Game, but it's far from guaranteed to have made the cut into the book. The effect of playing each game only briefly is pretty clear on his experiences with each one - though this is odd, considering how close that is to real-world practice.

However, I choose to believe, based on the body of evidence of his life's work, that Dave is very firmly on the side of the angels; he likes people in general and I enjoy his chatty style. I'm not sure that he has written more than one really satisfactory ending in his four books, but endings are difficult to write; while this one is a miss, it's not a disaster. Certainly the book is a very entertaining read, generating a handful of snorts of laughter, but it describes a pretty identifiably smaller adventure than as described in his previous books, and proves a much slighter success as a result. I'm not sure I would go so far as to recommend the book to someone who was a fan of neither Dave Gorman's previous work nor writing about games, but if you like the thought of reading about "a nice bloke playing lots of different games and writing entertainingly about them" then you'll probably enjoy it at least as much as I did.

For Richer, For Poorer, Victoria Coren's poker memoir, is a tremendous hit that I have thoroughly enjoyed devouring in full twice in as many days. The book makes no secret that the book's eventual destination is the 2006 European Poker Tour event in London at which Coren wins £500,000, but the journey is a fascinating one, and the motif interlacing details of that final table - with thought patterns in full, which might be considered an (independently reinvented) analogue for the way The Master Game covered chess - with Coren's near-twenty-year journey to get there.

The narrative is roughly chronological, so skips between different strands. There's an element which just considers Coren's development of her poker skills over time, playing in bigger and bigger games with more and more success, a pleasingly "get rich very slowly" story. There's an element which concerns journalistic observations, either professional (for instance, when she has a reason to sell a story about poker to a newspaper, or when her journalistic credentials have qualified her as a celebrity) or when the rest of her life has taken her to where the action is. Lastly, there's an element that concerns her private life, turning this into a true memoir. The book's subtitle, "a love affair with poker". has more than one meaning.

Coren makes it clear how strongly she loves the game and its players. She has the sort of teasing sense of humour where she'll demonstrate her love for her friends by showing the majority of them at their less flattering points, but makes it clear that she loves them warts and all - particularly the (often rotating) cast of characters who make up her long-time regular Tuesday home game. Coren also reveals a relationship with Joe Beevers, one of the UK's televised contests' bigger names, then hints at a later relationship and another near-miss with other players. She doesn't name names later on. I have a wild guess, but it would be impolite to guess out loud.

There are some common themes arising in Coren's other work; for instance, there is passing reference to the adventure that inspired her first novel, Once More With Feeling, and to its co-author. (Note to kay_taylor: I still have your copy safely and look forward to returning it!) Additionally, her friendship with John Diamond (which inspired her to adapt his columns into a play first for theatre and later for TV) merits mention where relevaqnt, and - much as was the case in OMWF - Coren writes a great deal about worrying about what her father might think of her activities. Her depression and her father's illness are also crucial elements in her life story, as you would expect. The book attempts to straddle autobiography and a collection of ramblin' gamblin' tales. I lapped it up. From about fifty pages in, there were belly laughs catching me unaware from time to time, not least at straight-faced recollections of spectacular misunderstanding of the rules of the game at celebrity tournaments.

I loved it, but I'm such a sucker for her writing in general (even when I don't agree with it) that I'd have been disappointed if I hadn't. Certainly it helped that I could picture many of the dramatis personae already, from having seen them pop up on TV poker shows over the past decade or so. Additionally, I have long admired the sheer accessibility of high-stakes poker players, who often frequent the same Internet forums (and blog using, or comment on blogs using, the same blogging services) as the rest of us. It helps that there are many things to say about the players in a poker game in a way that might be impossible to convey about chess players from a game transcript. If you're not familiar with the poker names but sympathetic to poker at large, you'd quickly find your feet. However, evidence leads me to suspect that if poker turns you off, you'd find picking the rest of the story out to be a chore.

Coren's brilliance as a writer is probably highlighted by the rare precision with which she nails the ending. While the story of her biggest tournament win is the ideal focus for the denouement, the final chapter is much more than an epilogue; it's a measured reflection on the place of poker within her life, particularly when her father passes away. She is a brilliant advertisement for the game, happy to celebrate it at both the nosebleed level of the biggest tournaments and also at the two-orders-of-magnitude smaller kitchen table level of her home game with her friends. Perhaps it would be fun to find a light-hearted, tiny-stakes dealer's choice game around here after all. It certainly makes me want to read the other classic works about poker referenced in passing.

It's definitely the more successful book of the two; it's probably the book I've enjoyed most (though it's competing against fairly shamefully slim pickings here) over the past year or two. Again, I'm not sure I would go so far as to recommend the book to someone who was a fan of neither the author's previous work nor writing about poker, but if you think you'll be well-disposed towards the book in theory, then you're very likely to love it in practice. More, please, Ms. Coren; I look forward to the behind-the-scenes story of Only Connect some day!

Please redirect any comments here, using OpenID or (identified, ideally) anonymous posting; there are comment count unavailable comments to the post already. Thank you!
Current Mood: tiredtired

 


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