Archive for the 'reviews' Category

A rally with Barack Obama, Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, Bozeman, MT, May 19th

May 21, 2008

This piece represents a journalistic first for me: it’s the first article I’ve ever written in shorthand and then transcribed for public consumption. Next stop Hansard.

“I don’t belong to an organised political party; I’m a Democrat.”
– Tom Paxton

I guess you’d have to call it a Reich-roll: until a moment ago, if you typed ‘Obama’ int Wikipedia, it redirected you to the page for Adolf Hitler. Ha bloody ha. I can’t figure out if it was the work of a McCain supporter, a Clinton aficionado, or a canny Obama staffer, but the idea that someone would be redirected to the Hitler page and think “Oh my God! The black liberal really is just like the most racist, right-wing jerk the world has ever seen (well – not necessarily the worst, but if there were a premier league of genocidal arseholes, you’d expect him to challenge for at least a Champions League place)… no. They’d think “Another of our many enemies is sabotaging our champion” and redouble their efforts – I hope, at least.

In any case, we went to see Barack Obama speak at the Fieldhouse this evening. The speech was impressive; the organisation, not so much. I can understand giving out more tickets than the 7,000 places available in the main arena, kind of. However, I can’t understand the lack of a plan for what would happen if and when they all showed up. Yes, there was an overflow room in the gym – good enough, in a pinch – but you have to tell the throng that’s just been rudely shut out of the main event where the need to go, you need to tell them clearly, and you need to have the other venue expecting the crowd, rather than, say, closing the door. Also, is it really unreasonable to ask for a screen in the overflow room? I know you probably haven’t organised such a big event before, being red-state Democrats and all, but people, please.

Well, what did he say? He played up not being George Bush a lot, displaying his anti-war credentials, and pretty shrewdly differentiated between the war against Al-Qaeda and the war in Iraq. He made it clear that he would associate McCain with Bush at every opportunity. He was almost dismissively polite about Clinton, mentioning his respect and admiration for an ‘incredible public servant’, but focussed very quickly on party unity. The best joke was about “my cousin, Dick Cheney” and how he was so embarrassed when that came out.

He made a big thing about the environment (stressing the huntin’-n-shootin’ benefits of clean water and clear air), at one point promising to employ billions of people in the search for new forms of energy – a stretch, I think, even for the world’s most powerful man. He talked of healthcare, of the economy, tried to put things simply and relevantly, keeping things local, speaking like a preacher at times: making people enthusiastic by telling them about a future, an after-election, that he believes in, that he can make them believe in, but that looks a bit far-fetched for cynics like me.

He talked of tuition credits in exchange for volunteering or community service, but most of all about the power of ordinary people (people, in politicians’ speeches, are never people, but Americans, or even better: hard-working Americans. If you can mention family in there too, the sustained applause might give you time to fly out to another swing state for a photo-op and back to finish your speech). Where was I? Ah, Iowa. The power of ordinary hard-working-American-families to change things for the better. He wants to kick special interests out of Washington; I think that’s another big ask.

He’s a charismatic man, a man whose chief quality may be making people feel good about themselves, making people feel powerful, hopeful. He ended with his family history, and emphasised that he had live the American Dream – coming from relative poverty to become a teacher, a lawyer, a senator. He left unsaid that McCain and Clinton both come from relatively privileged backgrounds.

It’s difficult to dislike Obama, and almost anywhere else in the world he’d be a shoo-in. In the US, though, it’s tough to know whether the excitement he generates among young people and normally apathetic HWAFs will be enough to overcome the barriers of racism, conservatism and anti-intellectualism that prevail across the country. I like to hope he can.



April 29, 2008

The more eagle-eyed readers will spot that this is a reworking of Dear FedEx. There are actually a few more verses of this, but I thought just singing the true ones would be more effective than claiming to have flown via Timbuktu. There is an audio recording, but I need to clean it up and put it online. Soon.

United, United, I write to complain
You’ve led me to miss my connection again
Twenty-four hours of my life down the drain
And all you can do is treat me with disdain

United, United you’re driving me spare
I just spent the night at Chicago O’Hare
You dumped me in Madison, tearing my hair
And now you’re refusing to refund my fare.

United, United, the air’s turning blue
I’ve been calling all night and I still can’t get through
I’m stuck navigating your computer menu
Which tells me my call is important to you

United, United, you’re making me cry
All of your ads tell me ‘it’s time to fly’
But when I spoke to the ticket desk guy
He said ‘ten more hours ‘til you’re in the sky’.

United, United you’ve got to be jokin’
If you think this voucher will stop my ears smokin’
My trip took forever and the TV was broken
And you think I’ll be happy with a stinking gift token

United, United, you’re useless at best
You got me home tired and grumpy and stressed
I’d rate you zero or possibly less
You make me nostalgic to fly with North West.

If the kids fly United, they will find nothing provided

April 26, 2008

Scheduled journey
12.45pm (Fri, MDT): Leave Bozeman, MT
4.45pm (CT): Arrive Chicago, IL
6:00pm (CT): Leave Chicago, IL
8.15am (Sat, BST): Arrive London Heathrow

12.45pm (Fri, MDT): Drumming fingers in Bozeman, MT.
1.30pm (MDT): Learn flight has landed in Helena, MT. Told it’ll be 20 minutes or so before it’s here.
3.15pm (MDT): Incoming plane arrives at Bozeman, MT.
3.45pm (Fri, MDT): Leave Bozeman, MT.
4.30pm (CT): Begin interminable hold pattern over cities progressively closer to Chicago, IL.
7.00pm (CT): Diverted to Madison, WI for refuelling.
9.45pm (CT): Allowed off of plane in Madison, WI
10.00pm (CT): Told there is neither a crew nor a bus available to get us to O’Hare. Told by agent this is now a crew problem rather than a weather problem, and United’s responsibility.
11.00pm (CT): Rent car in Madison. Drive to Chicago, IL
2.00am (Sat, CT): Arrive at Chicago, IL. No information is available, three United staff to deal with dozens of tired, frustrated passengers. There would be hundreds but for the ones that have booked up all the hotels.
2.45am (CT): Reach United representative on phone. Told my connection will now be at 4.11pm. Flights at 6am and 9am are booked solid, and standby is not available.
2.55am (CT): Seriously consider destroying exit card just so United are given a hefty fine.
3.00am (CT): Buy t-mobile internet pass for day, use for a while.
4.00am (CT): Begin queuing for check-in.
5.15am (CT): Reach check-in
5.45am (CT): Clear security
6.00am (CT): Pizza for breakfast, first proper meal in 21 hours.
9.00am (CT): Give up on trying to sleep. Discover internet has very limited connectivity and keeps dropping.
10.30am (CT): Compile schedule of first 24 hours of trip. Still around 15 hours from reaching London.
11.00am (CT): Seriously contemplate putting on adjustable bouffant to see if it elicits any comment from United staff.
4.11pm (CT): ETD, Chicago, IL.
5.55am (Sun, BST): ETA, London.

It’d just be really nice for someone at United to say ‘God, that’s awful.’ They think that driving 150 miles just to reach a layover longer than the original flight is not just acceptable but something I should be grateful for (one agent said, ‘what if we’d booked you on the 9pm flight out?’). There are a hundred things they could have done to make things a bit easier – ask for a volunteer on an earlier flight to fly later, say ‘we’re very sorry’, offer use of the customer lounge, offer a pillow, a blanket, earplugs … There are a dozen ways they could have avoided the problem – it’s not as if they suddenly realised the crew was out of time, it’s not as if the arrival of hundreds of late passengers after dozens of delayed and cancelled flights should have been a surprise (and i certainly shouldn’t have been left to a handful of frazzled baggage claim employees to deal with), and it’s not as if trying to find extra capacity for stranded passengers, on different airlines if necessary, should be completely out of the question – or even the passengers’ responsibility to deal with.

Dear United. You have brought me somebody else’s shredded slippers and expect a pat on the head. No love, Colin.

There are likely to be other United-related posts in the near future. Do feel free to share your airline horror-stories.

Review: I Predict A Riot by Bateman

February 13, 2008

I have a horrible inability to put down a book I’m more than two-thirds of the way through. When it’s a slim P.G. Wodehouse, that’s not a particular problem. When it’s a 600-page monster like Harry Potter or Bateman’s I Predict A Riot, it does tend to lead to me being up all night reading, unable to sleep no matter how exhausted I am.

I Predict A Riot is great fun, no question. You might think of it as Rebus-lite, if you were so inclined: one of the central characters, “Marsh” Mallow is frequently a less dark, more Belfasty detective and likes his music and whisky (apparently on a more superficial level than Rebus).

It’s an odd book. The copy on the cover is all about mutilated corpses and an untouchable bad guy  yet you get thirty chapters in and it’s still a chuckly love story with Mallow as a minor character, also looking for love more than for a dangerous criminal… and yet you read on.

It’s hard not to like the main characters – Mallow and the ridiculous couple, Margaret and Walter, no matter how foolish and irrational they act. In fact, it’s difficult to hate anyone in the story: the bad guys are largely caricatures, and even the good guys are little more than caricatures with added foibles.

Despite the lack of characterisation, it’s a good read. The plot is admirably convoluted and, in places, utterly daft; in others, it’s so daft as to be plausible – rioting for the sake of rioting, a paramilitary with a twin brother who’s a priest (where on earth could that storyline go?), a mysterious office in the Department of Education… and it all gets neatly wrapped up, which is always a bonus.

Bateman doesn’t have quite the incisiveness of, say, Hiaasen or Brookmyre, or the darkness of Rankin, but he does pull off something  worth reading.

Restaurant review: Boodle’s

January 9, 2008

It is impossible, I recently discovered, to drive at 25mph while singing along to Tangled Up  In Blue on the radio. On CD it’s a different story. The thing is, Tangled Up In Blue may or may not be a better song than Like A Rolling Stone, but it gets an awful lot less airplay and the excitement of a DJ choosing the less common track immediately adds at least five miles per hour to your driving.

What this has to do with Boodle’s, probably Bozeman’s finest dining establishment, isn’t immediately clear. However, seeing this post as an elaborate, extended haiku, I will now talk about the meal I had this evening and try to tie it all up at the end. Since I’m leaving Bozeman next week, TCB suggested we dress up extra-smart and go out for an extra-posh meal. It’s not the poshest restaurant I’ve ever eaten in – it’s a notch below the 13 Coins in Seattle, a little more crowded, a little more inclusive, perhaps – but it’s still a good restaurant. It’s different to everywhere else in Bozeman – for me, what sets it apart is that everyone on the wait staff is proud of, and excited about, their food.

They have every right to be. The first time we went there, the waiter raved about the blue cheese vinaigrette and we presumed he was just a little odd. But it turned out that he was spot on, and the drizzled-just-right dressing on the salad set up the meal just perfectly. Tonight, TCB ordered the scallops and the waitress sighed with delight just thinking about them. I went for the cashew-fried tofu, reasoning that it was the only vegetarian option.

They put some thought into the presentation – three lodgepoles of tofu, arranged into a star, each limb leaning on a pyramid of noodles, coleslaw and seaweed with a smidgen of  some sort of sauce at the feet. It looks great, smells great, tastes great and feels great in the mouth. I wonder if I’d like it to sizzle too, or if that would just be sensory overload? It’s so tasty, it’s almost a shame to eat it.

Perhaps because you can’t make Tangled Up In Blue last longer than 5:42, you drive faster – at least then it lasts further. When it’s on the radio, it’s a gift – you can get a can of soda from the machine whenever you like, but when your girlfriend brings it over it’s ten times more satisfying. And somehow, it sounds like a Boodle’s meal would sound if it was music instead of food.

The first 28 minutes of the second half of Moldova vs. Turkey

October 13, 2007

Moldova vs. TurkeyThe sports bar is a peculiarly American institution. Bozeman has three of them – Bennigan’s, which is as much a chain restaurant as a bar; the Cat’s Paw, which oozes the feeling that what happens inside, stays inside (and that anyone who goes in hoping to watch anything other than American football is unlikely to leave with as many limbs as when they went in); and there’s Spectators, conveniently located on campus.

You’d think that a sports bar would make some kind of effort to show sports, plural. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Bible (Abridged), Equinox Theatre, September 21st 2007

September 21, 2007

Complete Bible (abridged)We went to see The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) last year. I’d seen it before, but it merited a second viewing. The Complete Bible (Abridged) is from the same stable, yet somehow lacks the cohesiveness of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s first adventure – which is saying something, because you don’t rattle through 37 plays and a few sonnets in 90 minutes with any respect for continuity. Read the rest of this entry »

Review of Duck Soup (1933)

August 23, 2007

Duck Soup was always one of those movies that I’d heard of, was even familiar with, but had never sat down to watch. Indeed, no film out of the entire Marx Brothers oeuvre had ever passed before these eyes. But finally, when presented with the “What shall we watch over dinner?” question, it popped out of the DVD binder and there we were.

It took me a moment, while messing around with TCB’s insanely complex video/audio setup, to figure out that the Marx Brothers made talkies – of course, Groucho’s delivery wouldn’t be so legendary if it all came up in supertitle, and Harpo’s silence wouldn’t have been worth comment. Let the credits roll…
Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stardust

August 12, 2007

It is very important (according to Douglas Adams) to annoy the fans. By which he means, some people are going to obsess about every tiny detail of your adaptation (“But the ship appeared with a ‘fop’ in the book, while that was clearly a ‘fwow'”), and these people are worthy of the author’s – indeed, everybody’s – contempt. Read the rest of this entry »

Lyle Lovett, Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, August 2nd

August 4, 2007

Lyle Lovett I can pinpoint the precise moment at which I became a Lyle Lovett fan. It was about 20 seconds into If I Had A Boat, track 9 on the Cowboy Man anthology I’d picked up on spec. He sang, and I quote: “If I had a boat, I’d go out on the ocean/ and if I had a pony, I’d ride it… on my boat.”

Read the rest of this entry »