The Ginger Man

My reviews have spoilers. I make no apologies.

In short – I hated it. The style was jarring at the beginning, and mellowed out but still messed around, mixing up third and first person perspectives – most of the third person writing was in the first 15-20% of the book, then it seemed to forget that it was trying that and kept swapping around. This was incredibly annoying.

The plot can be summed up as “An arsehole moves to England, where he gets everything his own way.” As far as I can tell, it’s about a guy who sponges from his friends and treats his wife and child atrociously, never pays rent, then when it appears he can’t live in Ireland anymore due to landlords chasing him, the wife (and the rent his parents were paying directly to her) disappearing to Scotland, he leaves for England. There, he meets up with some friends who treat him well, an old friend who has (gasp!) worked and treats him extremely well, and they set him back up with a woman he cheated on his wife with (one of three) who is working and willing to support him despite him beating her and treating her like crap.

So an arsehole moves to England, where everything comes up roses for him. He always gets forgiven, and no-one means it when they say “this is the last time…” – including the friend who is practically destitute every time he is bothered for a drink!

Our main character, for whom everything works out terrific, is a drunk, an adulterer and a wife-beater. His child is only mentioned a couple of times and he appears to take no notice of her at all. Although he has a bad life in Ireland, it is entirely of his own making – pawning household items to pay for drink, never fixing or paying for anything if he can help it, not studying as a lawyer (as he is supposed to be doing), and driving his friends out of the country.

I was much more interested in the characters who left our lead. The estranged wife who sided with the despicable man’s father to leave him penniless and move firstly across to the nice district of Dublin, then to Edinburgh. His lodger – a devout Catholic taken advantage of, who regretted every time she (apparently willingly) let him have his way, and most of all his best friend who left for France to both make some money and lose his virginity. It appears in his letters to our star that he is having more adventures, including passing himself off as a cook to gain employment in a noblewoman’s house in Ireland, leaving there and moving on once more (all without losing that darned virginity!). He’s not succeeding, and probably not any nicer a person than the main character, but certainly had more interesting adventures and seems like he would have been more entertaining.

Even, and this is a stretch – the young girl beaten by her father who he extorted money from to move to London, who joined him later, left him because he was wicked then came back – after successfully losing weight, getting a job in the film industry, making good money for herself and all so he would like her more would make an interesting character to follow. She’s able to take all his crap right at the end, yet stays with him and supports him!

I don’t like books with characters like this lead. I want them to get their just rewards. There’s no obstacle for him to overcome – or rather, there are obstacles, but he just drinks and slobs and walks away from them. He doesn’t achieve anything, he gets lucky at the end due to his friends and a woman and gets the life he was trying to live all along – no work, no responsibility.

The only thing that I am possibly not understanding about this book is it’s humour. I could follow and like a book about a loser and a bastard if it was funny, but the only way that The Ginger Man is funny is in the Happy Slapper sense – not really very funny at all, on reflection.

Dammit, I Failed Again

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Right, so it’s been a while since my last regular blog post. I think it’s probably the worst I’ve done so far this year… although it wasn’t one of my new year’s resolutions, I’m happy that I’ve been able to keep it going for a little way (although more pictures would probably be better) – and without the crutch of picture-a-day or the like. Although I freely admit the posts here are a little lacking in interest, maybe one of those crutches might be a good thing…

Anyway, it’s probably time to catch up with my resolutions! It’s a mixed bag at this point in the year, I’ve moved my own goalposts.

  1. Filing
    I’ve actually finished the bulk of the filing, and the ‘backlog’ from the beginning of the year! There’s still a small pile which I’ve not decided how to proceed with (it’s not urgent, I’ll keep it around for a bit anyway), and there’s a pile of documents to be shredded. But otherwise, this one is crossed off!
  2. Dark Elves
    Nothing has been done with these in a long time. I’ll definitely not hit my targets if I don’t do any work with them. I’m considering beginning to paint a small amount (ten minutes or so) every evening after dinner, as long as my son doesn’t fling his noodles in the paint pot. I already changed the criteria on this resolution once, I don’t think it counts if I do so again.
  3. Driving Licence
    I took a test on Monday, and failed. I had two serious faults in the last two minutes of the test. One was a complete flubbing of bay parking, and the other was not seeing a lorry that I almost hit. That’s not exactly comforting, but the doubt in my mind is that if I don’t remember it, and didn’t hit it, was I consciously moving around it and not worrying about it? Or was I just too close for the examiner’s comfort? Regardless, I’m convinced that third time is a charm and I’ve already booked my next test – although I’ll try to get a cancellation before that.
  4. German
    Still had no time for this one.
  5. Star Trek Cards
    Another one I can cross off! There’s a bit of tidying up to do – some of the cards didn’t sell – but otherwise, I’ve got rid of the lot. And funded a new television with the proceeds! Hoorah!
  6. Family Tree
    My weekends are mostly booked up till the end of August, but we’re going to arrange to get Jen’s Oma to discuss her side of the family at some point in September. I’ll have to practice the German characters on my keyboard!
  7. Wargame Tools
    Slightly bad news on this one – I’ve totally lost motivation. Because of the lack of time to work on the project (half an hour a day a few times a week on my lunch breaks) and because I am stuck in a less interesting part of the project for the foreseeable future, I’m just not motivated to work on this one. I’m considering scrapping the project completely, since I just don’t have the time for it. It would be too tempting to immediately start a new project, and I’ve already got a few ideas, but it’s something that I should think about further.

So, 2 things crossed off – more than 25% of the way there! One item I may fail despite trying (the driving test), two I may not finish (German and Dark Elves) and one I am thinking of giving up on (wargame tools) but the rest are alright. Not too bad!

Focus on the Wrong Targets

Originally posted at Year of Frugal Gaming

I’ll cut past the ‘hello, is this thing on’ and just straight up apologise – Sorry I’ve not written anything here for a while. Today, I’ll be blaming this on two things. Firstly, I’ve managed to accidentally nuke a few draft posts that were ‘in process’ – this was pretty stupid. Secondly, I’ve been failing in my mission. Or at least half failing, but failing in the fun half. Succeeding in the dull half is not really succeeding at all.

The mission is ‘Play More, Spend Less’. And I’ve been hardly playing at all. A couple of games of Warhammer Invasion when I can squeeze them in, and a short RuneQuest campaign I participated in. Though I’ve tried to plan a games evening (I have held one of the four I intended to by this time in the year), I’m trying to use it to get people round to visit who don’t normally come – so this too, is failing. I can blame a lot of things (increased demands on time, trying to make one games night do multiple things, etc etc) but ultimately, it’s down to me not setting aside time to play games.

I have managed to save money by not buying new things – indeed, selling off all of my old Star Trek CCG cards has allowed me to grab a new television – but that’s not exactly fun. It’s nice, once I got past the hoarder’s natural instinct of “But that’s my stuff!” but it’s not exactly fun. Certainly not as fun as playing games, which is why we’re all here.

This all came to a head this week when, on a rare day off work, I was told by my wife in a games store “It doesn’t matter how much that rulebook is – would you play it, since we don’t play the other games as it is?”

This hit me like a brick. For one thing, it’s a really nice rulebook. Heavy, hardcover, bionics and spaceship battles. What more could you want? Well, the time to play it, obviously, and the blessing of She Who Must Be Obeyed. It was at that moment that I realised that spending less on games was the trivial part of the frugal gamer’s mission – the gaming more part was actually, counter-intuitively, the harder part!

Despite the busy social schedule for the next couple of months, I’m going to try to remedy this by scheduling some roleplaying games in to kick life back into a long-left WFRP game. I’ll also try to sneak some zombie-themed games into a zombie-themed movie evening (to celebrate the new telly).

Hopefully, between planning games, playing games, and the other commitments which prevent the other two I’ll have some time to at least write some game reviews to put up here. Wish me luck!

Achievement Unlocked: Second Anniversary

One more year of marriage, oh yeah! This one is cotton, apparently. I checked online to make sure, and I found a site that suggested gift ideas. It also said that cotton or straw were traditional, but china or porcelain were the modern equivalent? Doesn’t that seem like quite a jump in expectations?

It also hit my (very, very small) feminism gland. Well, not exactly feminism, but sexism in general. Not enough to really bug me, but enough to get a disapproving remark here. There were suggestions for Him and for Her – for Him, ‘buy him an item of clothing’. OK, that fits cotton, what about her? ‘Buy her a new outfit, and top it off by taking her out for dinner’. Does that seem a little one-sided to anyone? Women’s clothes are often more expensive than men’s, and a whole outfit is obviously more expensive than a suit. Then there’s the need to ‘top it off’ by taking her out for dinner. Why couldn’t the woman take the man out for dinner, to show off his new shirt/jacket/shoes, and to show off her own new dress/suit/Sailor Moon costume?

Anyway, for our anniversary we got grandparents to babysit, wandered over to the cinema for Iron Man 2 (great film, real fun) and then to Chiquitos for dinner and cocktails. Back home, watched Zohan and enjoyed a nice lie-in before we become parents again at lunchtime. Good time, lots of fun, can’t wait till next year!

Game Review – Kill Doctor Lucky!

Kill Doctor Lucky is a board game, the spiritual prequel to Cluedo. Instead of stalking around a mansion trying to work out who did it, you’re stalking around the mansion trying to do it.

150pxTitanicKillDoctorLucky

The way to win the game is relatively simple – get yourself in the same room as Dr Lucky, make sure no-one can see you, and try to do him in with whatever weapons you may have picked up (or your bare hands). Other players then take it in turns to play failure cards to try and thwart your attempt. If you succeed, you win! If you fail, you get a spite token – which, for as long as you hold it, increases your chances of success.

The rules themselves are easy to pick up, and the game has become a staple in our games nights for being quick to learn, quick to play, ruthlessly mercenary and with a splash of gambling too. “Should I play this failure card to stop Ann, or should I refuse and make Carl use his cards… ensuring that my own murder attempt will be more likely to succeed!” This does, of course, backfire occasionally – we’ve had more than one game end early due to over-ambitious would-be-killers.

The game has nice, black humour and each failure card includes a reason for the failure – “The doctor spins around and waxes lyrical on his recent polar adventure.” The weapons in the game are also good – a monkey hand (bonus in the lobby), ‘loud noise’ (bonus in the carriage house, picture of a French horn) and killing joke are all in there, as well as simpler ones (revolver, knife, etc). Besides, competing to murder someone is a fairly funny thing to do when you’ve got a bunch of friends, a glass of wine and some takeaway pizza.

We picked up the reprint of the game in full technicolour glory, nice wooden playing pieces and big box. Originally, it was released by Cheapass Games in much less glamorous style. Cheapass Games are a frugal gamer’s friend – they believe that all you need to play a game is the rules and any unique components (such as cards). Everyone has dice, false money, pawns and counters so there’s no need to pack all that stuff in a big box and hike the price up. They argue that the quality of those components is generally poor anyway, so it’s better to leave them out, keep the cost down, and allow people to invest in one really good set of gaming accessories to use for all their games. Of course, since the big games companies are unlikely to follow this pattern, the only games you’ll really get good use out of this philosophy are other Cheapass Games. The big box version is good quality, but possibly a little over-priced looking at the content alone, and I believe that the Cheapass printing is no longer available.

There are also expansions to the game that introduce the Doctor’s dog, and a prequel game still sold by Cheapass Games called Save Doctor Lucky – wherein you must stop the Doctor drowning on the Titanic (making sure people do see you save him!) The game is slightly harder, since the Titanic is sinking while you play, and there is the potential for nobody to win!

Overall, I would heavily recommend this game – even the more expensive big box version – because it is quick to learn, doesn’t seem to get old, provides a lot of potential strategy or luck, and appeals to a wide range of people. I have even had to consider banning it, because about half the time in any games night we hold is spent playing Kill Doctor Lucky – and it usually comes out again for rematches the following day too!

Nearly-Halfway Check-up

Well, I think it’s about time I brought an update on the resolutions. The last time I checked on those, things were progressing slowly, or not at all. And in the usual order:

  1. Filing.
    I got ahead last week so I could spend a bit of time off this week – I’ll be about ten pages behind for next weekend, but I plan to make it up then. I’ve almost reached the end of the top drawer, and the bottom drawer is almost empty. Then there’s just the backlog of stuff that hasn’t been filed since I started doing this in January! All in all, I think this one will be finished in a couple of months!
  2. Dark Elves.
    I went to stay with my parents over the Easter weekend and while they fawned all over Freddy, I got a good chunk of work done on the Corsairs. I believe I may be able to free up a bit of time in the evenings to work on them now, so for about 15 minutes a night I can chip a little closer to my goal. Still looking like I won’t finish the whole army this year, but I will see what I can get done and plan accordingly for next year.
    The other problem is that knowing I won’t get them all done, I’ve lost momentum on getting the remainder of the models ready to paint. I know there are more undercoated than I can paint this year, so I’m just not motivated to get the rest undercoated. The weather has been a bit off for the last few weeks too, maybe I’ll catch the bug when the clouds disappear again.
  3. Driving Licence.
    Lessons have been going well, I had a double lesson today and booked a double lesson for next weekend (knowing that the one after it I will be unavailable). The instructor is really good, and I’m recommending that the wife take a couple of refresher lessons before I take the test again. Speaking of which, I was told to book the test today – “For the second half of June.” So that’s good news!
  4. German.
    Looking at my schedule, I believe that when the filing is out of the way I would do better to try and concentrate my time on painting for now. There’s also the driving lessons (1-2 hours a week) that I may have free, but I think I should focus those too on painting. Maybe when I’ve made more progress on that one, I’ll reconsider this.
  5. Star Trek cards.
    The bulk of my collection has sold on eBay! The remainder has now been listed, and there are a few parcels still to send out. I’ve even received feedback on a couple of items, so I know that they got there OK. I got more money for them than I was expecting, so that’s a nice bonus too. I just need to get it out of my PayPal account and into my real world.
  6. Family Tree.
    As I mentioned before, we’ve had our first bash at that and added a whole bunch of new names to the list. We’ve got a lot planned for the next few weekends (weddings, fairs, guests, etc) so I think when it’s all over (middle of June?) we’ll be planning our next one. My original plan to have the main bulk of this finished by July was a bit optimistic, on reflection. We have at least two more meetings to go to get the basics down, and possibly a third, given the complexity of my wife’s ancestry. I’ll also have to practice my German spelling for that one.
  7. Wargame Tools.
    I came to a bit of an irk-point a while ago – none of my friends have been able to test the program so far, they are all too busy. My own tests turned up that I need to alter the data structure, and since it was a learning project it’s not quite consistent in the way things are performed… it was looking to be complex and time-consuming. I am rewriting it to teach myself MVC, and so far progress has been quick. This also has the advantage that I can shove it on a website and point people to it to test much easier – I’ll probably go straight to some war-gaming forums and ask for volunteers. I still think I can have it in test by September.

All in all, good progress! A driving test being taken by July, which was my original aim, and hopefully I’ll pass! Star Trek cards almost all gone, and with more money than I expected to boot! Family tree and Wargame Tools both moving along as expected, and the filing hopefully coming to a close soon! I’ll probably have very little to do for the winter months this year…

A Dialect Meme

Stolen from the guy who writes For I Have Tasted The Fruit

  1. A body of water, smaller than a river, contained within relatively narrow banks:
    Stream, maybe brook (but only if it is babbling).
  2. What the thing you push around the grocery store is called:
    Trolley, or shopping trolley.
  3. A metal container to carry a meal in:
    I don’t know of metal containers to carry meals in – plastic ones are lunch boxes (if they have a hinged lid and Action Man on it), tub or tupperware.
  4. The thing that you cook bacon and eggs in:
    Frying pan – although we grill our bacon and I am incapable of frying eggs.
  5. The piece of furniture that seats three people:
    Sofa.
  6. The device on the outside of the house that carries rain off the roof:
    Gutter.
  7. The covered area outside a house where people sit in the evening:
    Sit outside? Usually patio if it’s a concrete thing in the back garden (but I’ve never seen one covered), porch in the front of the house (though I can’t imagine many people sitting at the front of the house of an evening!)
  8. Carbonated, sweetened, non-alcoholic beverages:
    Fizzy drink.
  9. A flat, round breakfast food served with syrup:
    Probably pancakes, but they are not really a breakfast food.
  10. A long sandwich designed to be a whole meal in itself:
    Baguette.
  11. The piece of clothing worn by men at the beach:
    Shorts or (swimming) trunks. I always preferred shorts, the longer the better. And a t-shirt. My theory was that if that was all I wore anyway, that’s all I needed to tan. Why risk cancer?
  12. Shoes worn for sports:
    Trainers.
  13. Putting a room in order:
    Tidying, cleaning if you dust as well.
  14. A flying insect that glows in the dark:
    Probably firefly. That’s the only one I can think of, I don’t think there’s a local word for it.
  15. The little insect that curls up into a ball:
    I’d call it a woodlouse, but apparently a Bristolian term is ‘grampfer grey’.
  16. The children’s playground equipment where one kid sits on one side and goes up while the other sits on the other side and goes down:
    Seesaw.
  17. How do you eat your pizza:
    Fingers. Pizza is a meal of last recourse, when no-one can be bothered to do something more difficult. No need to try and save dignity there. I will use a knife and fork in a restaurant, depending on both the quality of the restaurant, the company I am with, or (ultimately) the thickness of the base. Some of them are almost transparent at Pizza Express!
  18. What’s it called when private citizens put up signs and sell their used stuff:
    A crime? I’ve never seen people just set up at the front of their house and sell things. Most people would take it to a boot sale or church fair or something.
  19. What’s the evening meal?:
    Dinner. My wife would call it tea (but to me, that’s a drink).
  20. The thing under a house where the furnace and perhaps a rec room are:
    HELL. People don’t have furnaces in this country, and it’s very rare to have a basement either. I think of them as basements or cellars, depending on how pleasant they are to be in. Having not seen more than one ever, I couldn’t tell you which is worse.
  21. What do you call the thing from which you can drink water in public places:
    Fountain or drinking fountain. And the general rule is that you don’t drink from them.

Penny-Pinching, and Picking Perfect Paints

(Originally posted to A Year of Frugal Gaming)

I’ve been on a painting spree recently, trying to get my Dark Elves painted before the end of the year. I’ve also realised that this is a bit of a long shot, but it won’t stop me trying! I’m one of these people who appreciates the skill of someone doing a great job (as Dave mentioned last week), but I just have to do it myself.

My painting method is to take all the models of a particular type or unit, and do them as one enormous batch. There’s normally two or three different groups, at various stages, all nicely arranged and separated by paint pots to show what I need to do next. When painting a Wood Elf army in one go, this meant 48 archers in my mega-batch (some were halfway done while others were still being assembled!) and currently, I have about 60 corsairs. It’s a bit daunting at first, but it’s nice to see them all progress along slowly, then at the end the final details go on incredibly quickly – usually a tiny spot of colour on each model, and a dozen can be finished in a few minutes. The satisfaction as they are all finished together is brilliant, and because I do them all together they are all almost identical in quality and style.

Because of this, I tend to follow other people’s guides (often Games Workshop) on how certain things should be done, if I like their style of (for example) sea dragon cloaks, and I’ve not painted something like that before. I’m not confident about my ability to pick colours well, and I’m definitely not sure about which paints to use to produce a certain layering effect, or what base paint for a certain output.

This brings us, via the scenic route, to a new tool I’ve discovered recently – the Silicon Dragons Color Match 1.0 (and I’m aware of the spelling, it hurts me too) (EDIT six years later, it no longer exists. Boooooo). By following guides by Games Workshop, I will only be told what Games Workshop paints I need. I’ve got some colours that have been discontinued, renamed or replaced over time and if I can help it I’d rather use something I already have than buy a new shade of brown, when I have five or six sitting there almost full. I also look at other paint ranges that are cheaper, and wonder if any of their colours match the ones the guide tells me to use.

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The Colour Match tool from Silicon Dragons is free, and allows you to match two different paint lines to see what paints from one company match the paints of another one. In many cases, it’ll show several possible candidates and you can eyeball a match and say ‘well, it’s a little less red than I need, but I can mix that up.’ Even better, some shades (but less than I expected) are dead on exact, and a good shot to replace a more expensive line with a cheaper one.

The match data is collected from volunteers across the world, anyone is free to post in a sample to be incorporated into the tool’s database as long as they follow certain guides. This helps take an average of batches which may leave the factories in identical pots but have a slightly different composition. It all gets a bit technical for me.

The only ‘gotcha’ I found when using it (although it appears to have more options now I go for a screenshot!) was that I had to research the paint lines I looked at to tell whether or not they were for air paint spray gadgets. I found uncertain advice that they should be OK for regular brush painting, but were pre-thinned for the spray application so possibly less strong a colour? I couldn’t really tell.

Regardless, this is a great tool for frugal painting, since it is free (frugal already!) and can help find a cheaper alternative to recommended paints if you, like me, are slavishly following someone else’s recipe. It’s also a great tool for frugal gaming, since it will help encourage painting and painted models always outperform unpainted ones. The dice can tell.

Film Autopsy – Hancock

hancockBoiler-plate introduction warning: This film review is going to be heavy on spoilers. Move along if you’re not into that sort of thing. I will warn you to start with, I am a nit-picker of films. I will latch on to something and unravel it, and try and understand how the world of a film works. This often makes it look like I hate a film, or at least think too much. Sci-fi films set 10 minutes into the future are perfect for this – a lot of things can be assumed about the way the world works now with that one big difference.

We picked this one up from our Sainsbury’s bargain bin. It’s too easy to walk out of that store with a handful of new DVDs as they’re all pitched at that perfect ‘try-me’ price.

Now, it’s hard to nitpick funny films. So much of humour these days is based on the fact that these things do not happen, can not happen, are bizarrely unlikely or physically impossible. And superhero films fall on that same sort of side – how can you really nitpick Spider-Man’s web travel dynamics when you’re talking about a guy who shoots selectively sticky, instantly replenished super-strong webs out of his wrists?

In general, this was a good film. It made us laugh. Not as much as Don’t Mess With The Zohan, which we’d watched just before it, but it was definitely entertaining. I thought, by the end, that the acting was in general fairly good for this sort of thing. The relationship between Mary and Hancock kept us guessing all the way through, and we just couldn’t work out what the story was there.

Which actually brings me to the big nitpick – Mary (Charlize Theron). She never answered any damn question sensibly, or without introducing at least a dozen more! Almost entirely down to her character, the plot unravelled itself until there were dozens of loose ends, no real resolution, but all the characters just wandered off fine and dandy. Big questions she failed to answer include…

What are we?
To which she replies:
We have been known by many names – angels, gods…
So… what are they? Not expanded upon.

She tells our man Hancock:
We were made in pairs, but as we get closer to our opposites we lose our powers.
There are lots of questions he could ask, including “By who?” and “For what?”, and none of them really bad choices. He chooses:
Why?
And is told:
So we can live human lives, and love and blah blah blah.
That doesn’t answer any of my questions! Not one!

While Hancock lies bleeding in a hospital, she sits on him and tells him that the closer they are, the weaker their powers. The further away, the stronger those powers get. Like the power to heal. To heal those dangerous bullet holes in him. The woman sitting on him tells him that the further away he goes from her, the better those wounds will heal. So MOVE, woman!
It’s at this point that she reveals their true history – where he got his scars from, how he got his skull hit and got amnesia, and why she left him there. This would have been totally fine if she’d not then added:
They always get to you through me.
WHAT??? Who always gets to him? Different people, in different ages of history, in different countries and cultures, just randomly attacking people makes sense, as does ‘ooh, they’re angry because we’re demons/witches’, but suddenly she makes it a They and an always and makes it seem like there’s so much more occurring beneath the surface… Why are people after him? Do we have to guess?

She fails to answer any questions to her husband when confronted by him about Hancock and her flying ability…

I have to fault Hancock himself though, when learning that Mary knows all about him (they’ve been together three-thousand years or more) but he has no recollection of anything eighty years before, that he didn’t ask her what his name was. There’s a cute story about a nurse asking for his ‘John Hancock’ and him being so addled from the skull wound that caused his amnesia that he thought it was his name.

This is a film about questions. People not asking the right questions, and people not answering the questions asked. I expect we’ll watch the ‘Unrated’ version (we got the 2-disc special edition) at some point, and maybe it’ll answer something. Then again, maybe the answers I want are hidden somewhere in the bonus disc. Either way, it’s a funny film that’s worth a second viewing, even if it’s a little short on absolute laugh-out-loud moments – but as I say, that could be because we had it straight on the tail of Zohan.