Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster
jiggery_pokery

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Billy Elliot to board games

* One of the most notable obsessions missing from my increasingly out-of-date interests list is that of international games - multi-sport festivals in the style of the Olympics, but restricted in terms of constituency or subject matter. deepfun tangentially pointed out that the 2004 World Firefighters Games are in Sheffield in 2004, which is about 100 miles away - close enough to take a practical interest.

According to the probably-peerless internationalgames.net, the World Firefighters Games are not to be confused with the World Police and Firefighter Games (which I think may take in some other emergency service workers as well, though I fear they draw the line at coastguards); happily, the WPAFG is a fixture of odd years and the WFG one of even years. In case that looks a little one-sided, policemen also have the even-numbered-years International Law Enforcement Games, which happen to be welcoming firefighters this year as well. North American firefolk also have the Can-Am Police Fire Games (traditionally in the Pacific North-West, but spreading across to London, ON this year) and I hope the difference between Can-Am and Pan-Am games needs no explanation.

Was thinking about volunteering for the Sheffield WFG, but the dates don't suit; the Olympic Games this year run from August 13th to 29th, the Firefighters Games run from August 28th to September 4th and the 8th Mind Sports Olympiad (the one I work for - the only one which will pay me money!) runs from August 21st to 30th. The overlaps are rather inconvenient. Never mind. At least there are enough sets of games on these days that another one is bound to come along soon enough.

* Sometimes I idly consider the concept that people should make each other's New Year's Resolutions for them. Your new New Year's Resolution is to back up more: back up everything, more often. My e-mail/news program, Turnpike, went down spectacularly hard a couple of days ago, necessitating me to revert to my most recent backup, taken in a very rock'n'roll fashion on New Year's Eve. Happily I was able to export just about all of the mail I had received between New Year's Eve and the crash and import it back in, so little harm done. Annoying that it crashed, though. Backups! Lots of backups! Check they work and keep some off-site!

* Thinking about the last entry's discussions, would it be reasonable to summarise them as "do as you would be done by better than nothing, do as you have {knowledge or at least a well-founded suspicion} how each other person would be done by better still"? Not nearly so catchy, but rather more to the point. It does take account of the pertinent fact that different people would like to be treated in different ways, too.

* One of the main attractions of Christmas these days is a more interesting class of TV broadcast. The first two series of The Fast Show, one episode per night? Tremendous and very interesting to see the development. Non-Brits: it was a heavily catchphrase-driven sketch show where 80%-90% of the sketches involved one or more of a cast of dozens of repeating characters. The magnificence of the show was due to the strength of the characters, the number of ways in which they were developed and a willingness to play with the boundaries of the established comic form. Seeing the series as an entirety, it definitely looks like they weren't at all confident of getting a third series - there's a definite tieing-up-loose-ends feeling at the end of the second series, but the third series didn't suffer from the usual successive have-to-untie-the-ends-again-or-do-something-different problem (cf Babylon 5, etc.)

Red Dwarf: the second half of series four and all of series five and six in fifteen consecutive nights - nice one! Unfortunately it did rather expose just how repetitive series six was; some imaginitive, silly, funny stories, but a great deal of emphasis on the same jokes every single episode and an ill-judged attempt to turn the show from a sitcom into a serial. The law of "the golden age was just when, or just before, you joined" strikes again with series 5 being most to my taste - with 5.06, Back To Reality, as the highlight - but series 4 best embodying the attitude of the show. Series 7 is being repeated on Sundays from tonight; I remember it being awful and look forward to finding out just how awful over the coming weeks. (Series eight wasn't that bad, though, was it? ....was it?)

I don't habitually watch a great deal of movies and thought I was unusual in this until discovering lots of nice LJ folks likewise, but I caught a few this Christmas. Skipping neatly over the Christmas Eve film I can remember enjoying very much though I can't remember what it was, Amélie: wonderful. Happy, imaginitive, silly, clever, sexy, just gives enough hints so that you can work out the twist, gorgeously shot and the star is extremely attractive.

Independence Day: very, very much by the numbers, but gets the formula spot on. Very silly in some parts (the timing makes no pretence at accuracy) and completely inaccurate about timing about drunkenness, all of which add to the entertainment. The sad parts are effective, the gory bits make you look away, the romantic bits are charming, the comedy works in context, the special effects are gloriously ludicrous, the world-in-harmony politics appropriately twee and the gratuiously preachy out-of-place pro-recycling part makes no attempt to be anything other than what it is. The dodging-the-fireball-down-the-tunnel scene is a rare misstep, but otherwise this is one of the most over-the-top - hence silliest, hence best - examples of its type. If you like that sort of thing, what more can you want?

Billy Elliot: probably less famous than the other two. This was a British film from the year 2000 telling the story of a young boy from a County Durham coal-mining town who grows up to love ballet despite the derision of his working-class family. It's probably a very good film, but I hated it.

Billy Elliot hits extremely close to home for me - far too close for comfort. The setting is the fictional town of Everington, which we know is coastal and in the north of County Durham. (Effectively, it's the factual small town of Easington.) My family came from a very similar background; we lived with a grandparent in the only slightly larger coal-mining town of Stanley for the first couple of years of my life, then moved to a starter home on the outskirts of a nearby village for five years, before moving to Middlesbrough when I was seven. Billy Elliot is portrayed as being 11 years old during the (1984-5) Miner's Strike; I would have been nine. Billy is the only boy in a dancing class of girls; between the ages of about nine or ten and fifteen, I was that Billy. (Latin-American and Ballroom, in my case.)

Yet the image it portrays is one of poverty, dirt and ugliness. Almost all the adults smoke and swear. There is little (more than none, but little) obvious kindness and very little love. The characters are suspicious and crass. One character has lived an adult life without even visiting Durham, less than twenty miles away. The house we follow burns wood for heat and has only an outside toilet. (Factual, though uncommon.) It's true that there were many people who lived that way. It's true that the miner's strike was as horrible and divisive as the film portrayed. It's true that people can and do act selflessly despite the challenging circumstances. It's also very painfully true that the biggest reason I didn't end up growing up like that was due to sheer good fortune that my parents were teachers, not miners. It's also painfully true that this all makes me a more privileged person than the fictional Billy and in no way a better one.

The story itself is an entirely predictable rags-to-rags-to-rags-to-rags-to-riches-possibly-eventually slow burner with a few nice set pieces along the way. There are lots of puzzling little details: the way Billy's skills veer from ballet to tap to modern and back again, the unexplained scene jumping to Middlesbrough's Transporter Bridge, the heavy-handedness of Billy's relationship with his best friend and the very unclearly-explained temporal jump at the end. The trainspotter in me quibbled that if Billy was 11 during the Miner's Strike then he couldn't have been 25 (and we only know that per the credits) when his father uses the Jubilee Line Extension on the Underground to see him at the ballet, but the arithmetic just - just - about works out. This perceptive review points out a few other faults I hadn't spotted, too. Now these don't affect the story one whit, but they're still irritating.

So I'm really not in a position to give at all an unbiased view on the film, but my biased - informed? - opinion is a painfully negative one. Isn't that just as important?

* Spent last night solving puzzles for practice; we were working over a hunt adapted for one originally written for a board games convention, so I was very much on home turf with the games-themed puzzles. Next weekend will be a lot more challenging, but I was pleased to be able to solve large parts of three puzzles - two based on Diplomacy, one on Advanced Civilization. I've only ever played the former twice - and not particularly liked it - and the latter not at all, but it's nice to know that years of subscribing to postal Dip fanzines turned out to be useful somehow at long last. That was definitely the highlight of a day otherwise filled with familial strife. Grr, and indeed, argh.

* Also on the board game front, the annual Corus Chess Tournament started yesterday. This year's A group features half the world's top 20, including all those ranked from #2 to #6. Round one saw six draws and top seed Vlad Kramnik making a huge blunder to cause a shock upset. I'm not sure just how frequent the live updates are, but after 17. f4 I rather prefer Michael Adams' position as white against Alexei Shirov; no great material advantage - a good bishop against a bad knight and one passed pawn fewer - but a shape so beautiful and uncluttered that even I can recognise it as looking promising. (Mind you, just because it looks pretty doesn't mean that it'll be effective.) This week I are be mostly listening to chess.fm.

* jumbach phoned yesterday afternoon! An unexpected pleasant surprise. By happy accident, I was looking at this very good overview of the politics of international flight agreement rights, which makes a very technical subject accessible and illustrates the size of the issue at stake. The author, Michael Jennings, is an excellent writer and spreads many fine pieces about several community blogs, though I don't share his politics.

* Lastly, an e-mail discussion touched upon "people on your Friends list who scare you". Do you have any? (I do!) If not, why not? Is anyone prepared to admit to me that I am their Friend who scares them?
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