Monday, December 14, 2009

URT Podcast Episode 5: Metaphysical Mario Kart Mashup!

In this HIGHLY EFFICIENT Very Special Episode of Unified Review Theory, Neill and James review popular Nintendo Wii driving game Mario Kart, while playing Mario Kart! They also review the philosophical concept of Free Will, also while playing Mario Kart. It gets confusing. Join us, won't you? Have listen here, download the mp3, subscibe on iTunes or just listen using the embedded player below!

Show notes and final scores:

  • Neill apologises for mumbling.
  • FREE WILL scores an average 6/10 (NEILL: 5/10, JAMES: 7/10)
  • MARIO KART WII scores an average 7.5/10 (NEILL: 8/10, JAMES: 7/10)
  • So Mario Kart is better than free will! That's one problem solved, anyway.
  • Oh yeah, we reviewed The Year 2009, too. It got like, 4.5/10?
  • You can follow URT on Twitter! Tweet-sized reviews at @urtheory, Neill at @neillcameron, and James at @pretzelsncheese.

The URT Podcast will be back with a special DECADE IN REVIEW roundtable discussion, as soon as possible after Hogmanay. In the meantime, why not check out some of our old episodes at the URT Podcast Page? Or don't. Whatever you like, man. Hey, back off!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pilgrim's Progress

By John Bunyan
(Medieval Visionary Poem)

JAMES says:

(in the style of the work)

And so I had this really freaky dream, right, about this guy, right, this guy called CHRISTIAN, and he was really bummed out. He dwelt in the town of Despair, and house prices were just plummeting. There was also quite a bad write-up of the place in the ‘Let’s Move to...’ section of the Guardian Magazine. He tried to talk to his wife and children about it but they, like, totally didn’t get him AT ALL. Then one day there was a ring on the door-bell. And there stood GOD-BOTHERER.

GOD-BOTHERER: Why so glum, chum?

CHRISTIAN: I don’t know, I sometimes feel, like, what’s it all about?

GOD-BOTHERER (Spotting weakness): Well, that’s because you dwell in this crappy place. Over yonder metaphorical hill there is a wonderful city with excellent amenities, a thriving cultural scene and a tram system. Also, the grass is much greener than the rubbish grass here. It is called Croydon.

CHRISTIAN: How do you know of this fabulous place?

GOD-BOTHERER: It is all written down here, in this pamphlet published by the Croydon tourism board. So therefore it must be true.

CHRISTIAN: And can I reach it?

GOD-BOTHERER: Of course, the way is open to every man with an all zone travel card. But be warned, though many set out for Croydon but few can resist the temptations of the way.

So CHRISTIAN ran in great delight to his wife and children and said to them “Rejoice, for we are to travel to Croydon!” At this they were much surprised and his wife queried the wisdom of such a move, especially as her job and all her friends were in Despair. And CHRISTIAN tried to explain how meaningless such things were next to the glory of Croydon, but they just wouldn’t listen. So he packed a suitcase, told them he was going out for cigarettes, and left.

As he set out on his journey CHRISTIAN was greeted by his friend GULLIBLE, who asked him where he journeyed.

CHRISTIAN: I am travelling to Croydon.

GULLIBLE: Is it nice?

CHRISTIAN: It has trams.

GULLIBLE: Can I come?

CHRISTIAN: I suppose so.

So together they travelled to the train station. And their hearts were gladdened when they saw that the next train to Croydon was in only 15 minutes. So they sat and waited, and the fifteen minutes came, and went, and the departures board didn’t update at all until, suddenly, their train was no longer on the departures board, and no announcement or nothing. At this point GULLIBLE got slightly narked and went home, and CHRISTIAN cursed him, and went to find a guard.

CHRISTIAN: What happened to the Croydon train? It just suddenly disappeared?

GUARD: Engineering works, I’m afraid sir. There are notices up. You’ll have to use the
Replacement Bus service.

So Christian went and found where the buses went from and got on the bus, and found a seat next to SLIGHTLY INSANE.

SLIGHTLY INSANE: Are you travelling to Croydon?

CHRISTIAN: Indeed I am.

SLIGHTLY INSANE: Do you mind if I keep you company, as I am also travelling there?

CHRISTIAN thought this was quite an odd thing to say, seeing as how everyone on the bus was going to Croydon, but he thought it would be nice to have some company, so he acquiesced.

SLIGHTLY INSANE: I think Croydon is going to be great. What are you looking forward to the most?

CHRISTIAN: The trams, definitely.

SLIGHTLY INSANE: Oh yes, me too. I think they will be lovely, all shiny and red.

CHRISTIAN: Excuse me, sir, but I think you will find that the trams are blue.

SLIGHTLY INSANE: Oh no, they’re definitely red.

CHRISTIAN: Look, it definitely says here in the ‘Visit Croydon’ brochure that they are red.

SLIGHTLY INSANE: No, that is a mistranslation of the original Dutch. It should definitely be Blue.

CHRISTIAN: No. You are wrong. And stupid. And I hate you.

SLIGHTLY INSANE: All right, no need to be a dick about it.

And he changed seats, whilst CHRISTIAN shouted “Red!” at him.

In a few hours the bus reached Slough, at which point the driver asked everyone to disembark. CHRISTIAN mentioned that the bus was supposed to be going to Croydon but the driver forcibly let it be known that this wasn’t his problem. So CHRISTIAN left the bus, and as he sat in despair he was approached by DIFFERENT BUT STILL EQUALLY VALID VIEWPOINT.


CHRISTIAN: I’m trying to get to Croydon, but the trains aren’t working.

DIFFERENT BUT STILL EQUALLY VALID VIEWPOINT: Well, why don’t you go to Reading instead?

CHRISTIAN: Do they have trams?

DIFFERENT BUT STILL EQUALLY VALID VIEWPOINT: No, but there is a big stone lion.



CHRISTIAN: Reeeeeallly?

So CHRISTIAN set off towards Reading, but as he was walking past a brothel, out came GOD-BOTHERER, looking quite shifty. He spied CHRISTIAN and called him over.

GOD-BOTHERER: Where are you going?


GOD-BOTHERER: Not Croydon?


GOD-BOTHERER: Because we talked about this, and I’m pretty sure we decided you should go to Croydon.

CHRISTIAN: I know, but...

GOD-BOTHERER: Besides, Reading is but an imperfect reflection of the majesty that is Croydon

CHRISTIAN: Have you been to Croydon then?

GOD-BOTHERER: No, the mayor of Croydon says my work here is too useful for me to go to Croydon yet.

CHRISTIAN: You’ve actually spoken to him? The mayor of Croydon?

GOD-BOTHERER: Not spoken, but he communicates to me all the time. Through the classified adverts in local newspapers. In code. He tells me I’m special.


GOD-BOTHERER: Now, go to Croydon or the Mayor will force me to stab you.

CHRISTIAN: Alright, alright, I’m going

So Christian braved the vagaries and uncertainties of the public transport system, and eventually had reached the foul city of London, where temptations are freely available. And as he was sitting on the underground railway, idly reading an advert for cheap international telephone calls again, he caught the eye of RICHARD DAWKINS, who was wearing a loud jumper.



RICHARD DAWKINS: I’m married to the bird from Dr Who, the one who was with Tom Baker, did you know that?

CHRISTIAN: I think I had heard that, yes.

RICHARD DAWKINS: So, where are you off to?


When he heard this, RICHARD DAWKINS punched CHRISTIAN in the face several times, knocking him to the ground. Then he proceeded to kick him repeatedly in the groin, before spitting on him and walking angrily off.

And then in my dream CHRISTIAN approached the great station of Victoria, where there were Deli de Frances and Burger Kings and all was rejoicing, as CHRISTIAN knew he was close to his goal. And as he waited there for his connection he saw JAMES, who was hanging around fulfilling a narrative purpose.

CHRISTIAN: This is great, isn’t it?

JAMES: Hmmm?

CHRISTIAN: I said, this is great isn’t it?

JAMES: The station?

CHRISTIAN: No, the fact that we’re so close to Croydon!

JAMES: Oh, you’re going to Croydon are you?

CHRISTIAN: Of course, that is where everyone should go, it’s obvious

JAMES: I think it’s far from obvious. Even accepting the fact that Croydon is obviously a clumsy metaphor for the Christian Heaven (and I could add, not much clumsier than in the actual work), you can’t present it as a rational choice. You have the right to believe what you want, of course, but your dogmatic certainty, backed up by personal interpretations of ambiguous texts and flawed reasoning, is deeply unbecoming. Don’t get me wrong, you have some lovely imagery, but like a lot of the bible that’s all it is. It’s poetry, and not matter how attractive poetry can never be a replacement for open-minded debate. Except for most of human history that is.

CHRISTIAN: ....Screw You.

Then he came to the platform, and asked the GUARD if this was where he should catch the train for Croydon.

GUARD: Dunno mate

CHRISTIAN: What do you mean?

GUARD: Well, there’s only one train that departs from here, everyone has to catch it, and
nobody knows where it goes because no one has ever come back. Some people think it goes to Croydon, others Brighton, it’s all guess work. If I were you I’d just enjoy the station while you’re here, get a paper, go to the pub, and don’t spend all your time worrying about where the train goes. When it’s time for you to find out, you’ll find out.

CHRISTIAN: Typical British Rail.

And then I dreamt that I was eating a giant marshmallow, and when I woke up my pillow was gone.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Diagnosis Death


JAMES says:

New Rule: If you are a slightly weasely looking man in his 40s, with a wrinkly, shrivelled face, and you are writing a film, do not cast yourself as the romantic lead. Especially not if you co-star is 18. Double especially do not write a scene where you take the aforementioned 18 year old’s virginity. It is just creepy. Also, if your film features Jermaine and Murray from Flight of the Conchords but they have a combined screen time of less than 3 minutes, it is slightly disingenuous to feature them in the poster of the film. Finally, your film is rubbish. This advice may not be terribly universal, but hopefully it will be taken up.


Friday, October 23, 2009

URT needs YOU tell us what to review. That's right, our next URT podcast is going to be an ALL-REQUESTS special. James has rather foolhardily declared that we will review whatever our listeners ask us to, and so I guess we are honour-bound to do so. So if there is something which you particularly desire to hear us hold forth on for 10 minutes or so from a position of very probably absolute ignorance, just let us know! You can put your suggestions in as comments here on the blog, or via twitter (We are at @urtheory).

Looking forward to your suggestions! (And by looking forward to' I really do mean 'worried and slightly terrified by)...

Saturday, October 17, 2009


(Biscuits. Or are they?)


Choco-Leibniz is a chocolate biscuit, which bears the slogan 'More chocolate than a biscuit', which I find rather confusing. It reads like a slogan translated from another language (presumably German) to English, by someone with an imperfect grasp of one or both languages. One way of interpreting the claim is that it means:
"More chocolate than a[nother] biscuit"
... i.e. that Choco-Lebinz offers a more generous proportion of chocolate-to-biscuit than lesser alternatives such as the humble McVities digestive or Hob-Nob, and such a claim is certainly true. Another interpretation offers an even bolder proposal; it is arguable that the slogan means to imply that Choco-Leibniz is:
"More [a] chocolate than a biscuit"
... i.e. that the aforementioned chocolate: biscuit ratio is indeed so prodigious that technically the product must be classified as chocolate, rather than biscuit. But that's just silly, it's clearly a biscuit. It's on the biscuit shelf in the shop, and everything.

The clue to solving this apparently intractable riddle perhaps lies in the biscuit/chocolate's name, so we must look to the works of celebrated 17th-century German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz for an explanation. In his 1685 Discourse On Metaphysics Leibniz introduced his famed 'predicate-in-notion' principle, which claims that every single predicate of a true contingent proposition is contained within the terms of that proposition. If we apply this to the proposition "[Choco-Leibniz is] More Chocolate than a Biscuit", we can see that the predicate 'chocolatiness' is indeed contained within the notion of 'biscuitiness' - that is, that the idea of a biscuit logically contains the possibility of a certain degree of chocolatiness. And yet there is a contradiction, precisely because of the claim that the chocolatiness of Choco-Leibniz is higher than the degree of chocolatiness permitted by the concept of 'biscuit'. Paradox inevitably ensues.

Clearly the makers of Choco-Leibniz are on very shaky metaphysical territory. Perhaps they would have been better advised to seek inspiration for their slogan in another of Leibniz's theories, the idea that the world as it exists is, despite the existence of imperfections, suffering and evil, the optimal of all possible worlds that God could have created. Thus we get:

"Choco-Leibniz: The Best of All Possible Biscuits"

Which, actually, it pretty much is. They're very chocolatey you know.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Having an Infected Cyst

(Condition/Journey into the Heart of Awfulness)

JAMES says:

You can probably guess that this is not going to be a glowing review. Or pleasant. Also, as no one could choose to experience having an infected cyst it will be of no use to anyone. Well, I had to suffer so why shouldn’t you?

There are a number of things that are undesirable about having an infected cyst. I will now list them:

1. The pain. The absolute burning constant unrelievable pain. Now, belonging to the gender I do it is normal for me to shun painkillers, preferring instead to complain to my wife as relief (mine, not hers). I am currently at maximum suggested dosage of both Ibroprofen and Paracetomol Extra, and am a long way past the pain peak.

2. The lack of sleep. In my case the cyst was on the back of my neck, meaning there was only one position I could lie in that was not agony. Unfortunately this involved my arm being in a very unnatural position and meant that very soon after reaching unconsciousness I would attempt to adjust my position, roll over and very suddenly and unpleasantly no longer be asleep.

3. The sore back. Having to hold my head in an unnaturally crooked position led to, along with mocking from my wife, a very sore back. Attempts to relieve this with a warm bath were not terribly successful as I had to perch awkwardly half out of the water to avoid my dressing getting wet.

4. The squeezing. When you visit a member of the medical profession, they need to remove as much icky stuff as possible. This is done by squeezing. Imagine a part of your body that is so sore that you wince if someone even touches it. Now imagine someone placing that body part between their thumb and forefinger, and applying as much pressure as they can. Repeatedly. Whilst you have to make conversation with them.

5. The lack of sympathy. Due to my aforementioned constantly tilted head I had many concerned enquiries about my neck. When I informed them of the state of affairs (I tried lying and saying that I had been stabbed in the neck during a bar fight but it didn’t fly), the concerned look would be replaced by one of disgust. It is unfair but despite the relative amounts of suffering involved, start mentioning pus and people just don’t want to know.

6. And they are were right. It’s horrible. Now the inflamed, painful stage has past it has settled on constantly producing a sticky and smelly goo, which I have to dispose of discretely.

7. The pain, again. It really was very bad.

The positives are:

1. It makes you appreciate not having an infected cyst.

2. Umm...

So, in summary, don’t get an infected cyst. And feel sorry for me.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

URT Podcast, Episode 4: Sleepytime!

In this very special episode of the Unified Review Theory podcast we review various subjects related to the subject of Sleep with the intention of providing suitable sleepytime listening for the toddlers in our audience, but unfortunately do so in an expletive-filled manner filled with SUDDEN LOUD NOISES.

Join us for a vigorous and wildly incoherent discussion that takes in such subjects as Flying Hippy Yoga Monkeys, Sleep Deprivation as an Easy and Cost-Effective Form of Torture, and the Amazing Phenomenom of Unihemispheric Slow-Wave Sleep Which James is Totally Bored By.

This episode features special rubbish clicky-fuzzy sound quality to simulate the feeling of being semi-conscious while listening!

(We promise to do better next time. Honestly.)

Download MP3
Visit Podcast Page

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Day of the Locust



It was as if everyone decided that there were only a small number of films from the past that were worth watching, and these films must be watched for ever and ever until we all drown in a sea of Great Escapes and Godfathers and Jawses. An understandable reaction, I suppose, to the horrific realisation that you will never be able to watch every film, read every book, sleep with every hootchy mama. This explains the rise in these lists of 1000 things you must do before you die otherwise your time on this planet has been a complete freaking waste of time just because you’ve never found the time to sit through Sixteen Candles. If you can create a fortress against the great tide of culture constantly being spewed at you, if you can say ‘These things I will watch, the rest can go hang’, then you can escape that gnawing feeling that maybe you should have watched Revenge of the Nerds II, I mean the first one was pretty crappy but maybe the turned it around with the sequel, maybe it was all building up to some pretty biting social commentary.

A natural human reaction to mortality, but one that leaves you in danger of missing out on some pretty cool stuff that for some reason or other never made the canon. Day of the Locust, for instance (just in case you had forgotten what the actual subject of the review is by this point). I had never heard of the film version before seeing it, and the only reason I sought it out on Lovefilm was that I am currently at the point on my literary cycle where I am wanting to re-experience stuff I read or saw 10 years ago. I had read the novel by Nathanial West at university and not since, but it is one that has stayed with me and I am always curious to see adaptations of books I have enjoyed.

The Day of the Locust is set in 1930s Hollywood, amongst the bit-players, the art assistants and the wash-outs that live of the fringes of the great entertainment machine. These people are completely sure of their own talent, but are only able to survive by debasing their talent. The great clown becomes a polish seller, the visionary artist designs sets and the actress is a prostitute. But then aren’t they all. The characters sweep along in their own tawdry worlds, blinded by the glamour that is so close and yet out of reach, until into their world comes Homer Simpson (yes, really), an awkward repressed bumbler, the poor slob representing the consumer of the entertainment industry’s product and whose money funds the clouds the artsy types live in. It will come as no surprise that his life is not improved by this meeting.

The mix between fantasy and reality, between the degraded world of the bottom feeders and the divine life of the chosen few is captured well by the style of the film, as is the human cost of the fantasy being created in Hollywood. The sweat is always visible beneath the make up. The plot also sticks admirably close to that of the novel, allowing the characters to commit unforgivable actions that would alienate the viewer if they ever really asked for forgiveness. The finale, meanwhile, transcends the rest of the film. It was as if reading the Great Gatsby you find that the last page had been replaced by a Goya etching. When Debbie awakened after falling asleep as usual and asked me what happened in the end, all I could answer was the end of the world.

The only criticisms I have are with casting. Firstly they have that funny looking woman whose eyes are too close together and who seems to be in every single film from the 70s as the romantic lead. Secondly, the only guy in it that I’d actually heard of, Donald Sutherland, was completely miscast as Homer. Far from bumbling, he appears almost debonair at times, and it is unclear at times just why the character is acting the way he is. However all this is forgiven for the ending of the film, and I would beg all reading this to watch the film, tell your friends, and don’t let it become a forgotten gem. Um... might have missed the boat on that one actually.

And if you too have deep seated worries that you are missing out on cultural greatness in your life, don’t worry. Nothing that has been produced is entirely without value, nothing can be watched without some kind of benefit or enjoyment. Except The Edge of Love with Keira Knightley.


Monday, August 24, 2009

URT Podcast, Episode 3!

Hey, why not go and listen to the latest episode of Unified Review Theory: The Podcast? Due to technical difficulties we had to come up with some review topics at very short notice, so in an inspired move we turned to the 'Random Article' button on Wikipedia for help. Enjoy the spectacularly random results as Neill and James discuss such wide-ranging and really interesting subjects as Status Quo's 1989 album Perfect Remedy, disgraced drug-abusing NBA player Dirk Dewayne Minnifield, and the Flag of Pakistan.

Also, James tells a funny joke! Although it's kind of only funny if you've played a lot of Mario.

If you would like to suggest review subjects for future episodes, to prevent this from ever happening again, please do so in the comments below!

Wikipedia links:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009



JAMES says:

I knew she was no good the moment she walked in my office. Only one type of guy ends up scraping the bottom of the barrel where I reside, someone who has absolutely no one else to help them out. This gal could get fifty guys to die for her just by walking into the nearest bar, winking and offering casual sex. She looked like an angel, if angels could give you a look that suggested that they didn’t mind at all those thoughts you’re thinking, and maybe if you play your cards right... I don’t know, things might be more laid back up there these days. They certainly are down here.

I offered her a drink and she wasn’t about to say no. When I got back from the shop with the WKD Iron Brew she’d made herself comfortable, very comfortable judging by her expression, on my couch.

“Listen,” she rasped in a voice like Bette Davis narrating a trailer for the latest Terminator flick, “I need your help” She gave me some sob story about her husband going out to buy a packet of cigarettes and not coming back. It struck a bum note, any guy who went home to those gams each night would have to be dragged away by some kind of giant robot gorilla, and when I saw the weasely face in the picture that she slid across to me I knew I was being spun what we in the Shamus business call a Daily Mail exclusive. However, when she introduced me to her friends Mr Darwin and Ms Fry all doubts evaporated.

The case itself wasn’t too taxing. I recognised the poor slob straight away as the teacher at a Salsa class my old lady was always trying to drag me to at the community centre. I spent a decent interval running up expenses like an MP in a Kensington antique store then tossed hot-lips a nod in the right direction.

I must confess to a slight pang of guilt when I saw his face staring out at me from the front page Harpenden Enquirer next Wednesday, however I took consolation from the bulging wallet in my jacket. I tell you one thing though brother:

Dames, they ain’t nothing but trouble.


Monday, June 22, 2009

The Compleat Moonshadow

By John Marc DeMatteis and Jon J Muth
(Graphic Novel)

JAMES says:

Yes, that’s right, I said Graphic novel. Not comic. If any work deserved to avoid the negative baggage of the sequential story-telling medium it is this one. Not only does it have a literary sensibility strong enough to justify the novel tag, it could even quite happily be a penguin classic if you added in a few humourless, patronising and distracting foot notes. The story of a young boy’s journey from innocence to experience, it falls firmly into the bildungsroman genre, specifically the masochistic bildungsroman of works like Candide or Nathanael West’s A Cool Million. In a presumed attempt by the author to punish his past self for his surrendered innocence (which, if we think back on our own over-earnest teenage years is all understandable), the eponymous hero suffers indignity, disease and betrayal as his romantic world view is extracted with a rusty hook.

When looked upon as independent sections matters are not always subtle, and you are reminded that the author also co-wrote the Justice League during it’s humourous late 80s phase. However if the characters are drawn with broad brush-strokes it is of a piece with what you might find in, say, Dickens or Moses. And it all adds to the archetypal feel of the work.

Perhaps the reason why few graphical works achieve a level where they could be referred to as literature is that they have twice the opportunity to fail. To succeed either the author must be one of the few, the happy few, artists who are also able to write well, or the collaborators are fortunate enough to have complimentary visions. That is definitely the case here, where Muth adapts his style to the plot sympathetically, from sketchy caricature to languid Klimt-esque eroticism, whilst not losing an over-arching and cohesive vision. And it’s mighty pretty.

There are, of course, downsides. Pleasure needs be bedded with her cruel master disappointment at all times, thus is the cosmic balance maintained. Throughout Moonshadow’s journey he is placed in numerous perilous positions, yet there is very rarely a sense of peril. Partly due to the fact that the narrator is the hero in his dotage, yet also due to a feeling of invulnerability as he drifts from one disaster to another. He even manages to keep his cat with him, for G’l Doses’s sake, whereas my two cannot make it to the end of our road without getting spooked and running up a tree with a tail as bushy as a Scotsman’s beard.

Also, whilst one gets a slight sense of superiority from reading a weighty novel on the tube, the stigma attached to having pictures mean this must needs be consumed at home. Finally, for the duration of the book you will have ‘Moonshadow’ by Cat Stevens stuck in your head.

Regardless, this is a work of real beauty and profundity. It's subject matter is all human life, and there are no definitive resolutions save that most definitive of all, and if you can read the final chapter without feeling the approach of manly yet sensitive tears then you are not welcome at my table.

I’ll lend it to you if you want.


BNP Wives

(Sky Three Documentary)

NEILL says:

While flipping channels last night I had one of those curious 'did I see that right'? moments, flying through the long Freeview hinterland between where BBC4 ends and E4 begins. I went back a couple of stops and realised that, yes, I had seen that right. Sky Three were indeed showing a programme titled 'BNP Wives'. Incidentally, the last time I was so arrested by an intriguing title was Sky Three again, with 'Darts Players Wives'. This seems to indicate both a certain theme to that channel's output and a weird equivalence in the station controllers' minds between Darts Players and Far-Right Nationalism.

I only managed to catch the last 10 minutes of the show, which would not ordinarily be considered sufficient grounds for review, but based solely on what was contained in those minutes I think it's fair to say this may have been one of the most fascinating films ever to appear on British Television. As I tuned in events were already in full swing, with a series of scenes filmed at some bizarre BNP countryside fair. Fat-necked skin-headed men sat around in folding deckchairs, their demented tattoos of Germanic knights on proud display, watching some wholesome BNP-approved entertainment. This seemed to consist of a teenage boy singing Sinatra and a dumpy middle-aged woman reading hilariously, spectacularly bad poetry about her adulterous husband. Apparently her work was too awful even for the fat-necked tattoomen as they all left, and she finished her reading to an empty stage. The whole scene was utterly surreal, like watching a Village Fete run by Vogons.

It turned out that the betrayed fascist poetess was one of the Wives of the programme's title, three women involved in the BNP in various ways who were followed around for some time by the documentary-makers and given every possible opportunity to show themselves to be amongst the worst and stupidest human beings ever to drag down the grade curve of this green and pleasant land.

During one segment, the poet woman - who I think was in fact a BNP councillor - tried to evade questioning on the admittedly subtle and complicated question of whether Britain should in fact have gone to war against FUCKING HITLER. "To be honest, I've never really thought about it", she said, before starting a sentence that began "I don't agree with everything Hitler stood for, but..."

I don't think we really need to finish that thought, do we? Has any sentence worth hearing ever started out "I don't agree with everything Hitler stood for, but..."? I tried to write a few, just for the purposes of Comedy and honestly, it's almost impossible.
  • "I don't agree with everything Hitler stood for, but... it's raining"?
  • "I don't agree with everything Hitler stood for, but... I quite want a sandwich"?
  • "I don't agree with everything Hitler stood for, but... I'm a MASSIVE IDIOT NAZI WHO WRITES TERRIBLE POEMS"?
So just to reiterate, this is a person who is actively engaged in politics - specifically the politics of race and nationalism - indeed, who seems to have made those politics central to her whole life. And who claims to have 'never really thought about' such issues as Nazism, Hitler or Whether He Was Bad. This is either genuine, in which case it is possibly the most shocking and jaw-dropping stupidity ever expressed by a human being, or it is an attempt at being disingenuous so pathetically ill-advised as to actually be even more stupid.

Watching this programme was, of course, depressing in its way. But mostly it was just astonishing. To see these people going about their days, living in their seedy and depressing bubbles of hatred and idiocy, and thinking through it all that they are the normal ones. I honestly think these people fail to understand an important simple fact, so I'm going to state it here as clearly as I possibly can.

We - and I'm going to speak here for the overwhelming majority of people in this country who are, you know, NOT NAZIS - despise your ideas. We despise them. It's not that we are afraid of them, or that we don't understand them, or are 'not ready to hear them'. We understand them fully, we understand their roots and their implications, and we despise and utterly reject them anyway. The reason we understand all this is because a) we are so very, very much cleverer than you, and b) unlike you, we have actually thought about this.

The overwhelming ignorance that these people kept falling back on when pressed on any significant point was actually, in the end, oddly hopeful. It seemed to confirm something I dare to dream in my more optimistic moments: that most of what we call evil - this kind of low-grade goose-stepping flag-waving/flag-burning variety of evil, anyway - is just ignorance, at its core. And whilst 'evil' can seem mysterious and unstoppable, ignorance can be defeated relatively easily; by, oh I don't know, reading a book once in your entire fucking life. For example.

BNP Wives - the documentary, last 10 minutes thereof: 7/10
BNP Wives - the actual human beings portrayed therein: 0.4/10

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Wasps vs. Bees – A Comparative Review



On the surface they are so similar. Both are yellow and black insects that turn up when it gets warm, sting you and go “Buzz”. However, scratch beneath the surface and they are as different as Flash and the Reverse Flash. Wasps are vindictive little gits who will sting you soon as look at you and serve no useful purpose at all. They kill more Australians than any other animals (which when you look at the competition is pretty good going) and if you have the audacity to drink fizzy pop outside then they are as relentless in their pursuit as a Glaswegian divorcee who thinks they might be on for some sex.

Bees on the other hand are ace (though not to be confused with The Bees, who are also pretty good). They’re furry, and have little interest in your beverage if there are flowers around. Also, without them there wouldn’t even be any flowers. And they make honey, which is one of the dopest foodstuffs ever, and the only one to never go off. If you were to find a jar of Sumerian honey you would still be able to have it on your toast, that’s how great bees are. Although, having said that, if your Asda economy clear honey has turned into crystals it might be an idea to chuck it.

Despite this, and in definitive proof that the creator of this world is in no way benevolent and that the Lombards had it spot on, it is wasps that continue to thrive whereas bees are in danger of disappearing completely. I mean, come on, won’t someone please think of the bees. Wasps, you can all officially go to hell.

Bees 7.9/10
Wasps 1.4/10

The Book Thief

By Marcus Zusak

JAMES says:

A girl in Nazi Germany has a cool dad and steals books. For some reason this interests Death.

From the start this book is obviously going for the magical and sentimental tone used so well by writers such as Louis De Bernieres. Not long afterwards you realise that the writer is no Louis De Bernieres. It is a difficult thing to pull off, having a book narrated by Death without it seeming annoying and crass. In fact, one wonders why you would even attempt it. In this case the effect is worsened by a series of lists and asides that seem to suggest that Death is a Nick Hornby fan. I’m not sure if that is a comforting thought.

It seems an admirable idea to have a book featuring an ordinary German family during the Second World War, however the stigma of such times is so great that the author feels the need to show repeatedly and explicitly that the family at the centre of this story are not Nazis. He might as well have made them English and had done with it. The father of the family does work for Jews when no one else will, refuses to join the Nazi party and eventually hides a Jewish man in his basement. Though it is difficult to write about the period without mentioning the Holocaust, it was rather refreshing to have a book which didn’t centre around it and so I found this development rather disappointing.

Something that also became very wearisome during the course of this book was the way that even though it was written in English some phrases would still be in German, then repeated in English. It made proceedings worryingly reminiscent of Chris Claremont-era X-Men. Unglaublich.

This is not to say the overwhelming sentimentality of the book was not effective at some points. The characters were likeable and so when some of them died (given the narrator I don’t think this is spoiling anything) it was very sad. However, the overall impression was of what could have been an interesting study of live under a totalitarian regime in war time just ended up like every other book you have read about WWII, only not as good.

And besides, Death speaks in capitals. EVERYONE KNOWS THAT


P.S. If anyone could recommend an actually good book about life in Nazi Germany, let me know.

URT Podcast, Episode 2!

Yes, Episode 2 of the URT Podcast has belatedly arrived! In this excitingly rambling and incoherent SUMMER SPECIAL, Neill and James cast their critical eyes over two pieces of essential holiday viewing: the 1965 Elvis Presley musical 'Harum Scarum', and 80's Japanese animation 'Voltron: Defender of the Universe'.

Listen / download by clicking the image above, or:

...EDIT: or indeed using this handy embedded player:

You can also now check out our new podcast page, where you can subscribe to the RSS feed and stuff.

Episode 3 coming soon! Well, sooner. And with more coherence, guaranteed.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Baby Sumo

(ritualistic form of child abuse. But, you know, in a FUN way)

NEILL says:

The 'Baby Sumo' festivals held annually in Japan do not, as it turns out, actually feature two infants being forced to fight while dressed in tiny sumo outfits. This is of course something of a disappointment yet as is so often the case with Japan the truth turns out to be gratifyingly demented in its own unique way.

The one-year-old contestants are dressed in traditional costume and placed opposite each other in a ring, held in the arms of their caring parents. At this point the shinto priest refereeing the "match" proceeds to try and make each baby cry, apparently mostly through a combination of sudden loud noises and, if that doesn't work, occasional poking. In a further pleasing inversion of expectations / common sense / general normality, the baby who cries first is declared the winner, crying being considered a sign of vitality and strength. This leads unscrupulous mothers to surreptitiously pull hair and pinch cheeks in attempts to grab glory for their offspring.

In a variant of this festival held in Asakusa, Tokyo, the entertainment quotient of the event - which I think you'll agree is already pretty high - is ratcheted up further by replacing the shinto priest referees with proper sumo wrestlers, who hold the babies above their heads and bellow terrifyingly into their faces.

I'm considering suggesting the introduction of this practice at my son's nursery, as I think it would help toughen the kids up, sharpen their competitive edge, and provide a fun and highly amusing day out for the parents. I'll let you know how that goes over.


Friday, May 22, 2009


NEILL says:

As should be now be apparent, there is a lot of Stuff in the world, and the business of systematically reviewing it all and assigning marks out of 10 is time-consuming, difficult and highly dangerous. A top URT think-tank of scientists, mathematicians and cheese connoisseurs was recently convened to assess the situation, and its findings are summarised in the following formula.


S represents the amount of Stuff in the world.
N represents New Stuff.
x is the rate of increase in the amount of Stuff.
U is the rate at which Unified Review Theory is actually managing to Review Stuff.

The implications are clear and terrifying. Not only is Unified Review Theory not currently making any significant progress in reviewing the Stuff backlog, but the exponential increase in Stuff means that we are actually, in real terms, moving backwards.

Clearly this situation cannot be allowed to stand. To increase our efficiency and Stuff Turnover Rate we are pleased to announce the introduction of URT on Twitter, whereby your faithful reviewers Neill and James will continue to review everything, but in manageable and convenient 140-character chunks.

You can follow us on Twitter at

Unified Review Theory - Reviewing Stuff For Today's Busy Lifestyle!

Sunday, March 29, 2009



JAMES says

Better than I thought it would be.


Going to the Cinema on your own

(Solitary Pursuit)

JAMES says

I have no idea why this should be such an issue. You wouldn’t think twice about watching television or your neighbours on your own, so why should the larger screen size (not in all cases, I can think of some cinemas and friends TVs that have roughly comparable dimensions) mean that instantly it is unsafe to venture on your own. Like a pub or restaurant cinemas are designated social areas, and to venture into one on your own is basically admitting that you have no actual friends and might as well start having rambling conversations with the pharmacist as your only human contact.

I admit it is preferable to watch something with someone else, if only for the chance to critically evaluate/lazily mock afterwards. However, this isn’t always possible. Like most heterosexual people I am married to someone who doesn’t exactly share my tastes in films and whilst the majority of times when we go to the cinema (which due to our young child is approximately once every economic cycle) we can find some happy medium, there are some adventures into the hard core of geekery which she is too girly to wish to accompany me on.

I do have actual friends (or Facebook friends, which are close enough), but the majority of them have yet to fall for the lure of Suburban life and insist on visiting the capitals overpriced fleapits. So it’s just me, facing down my failure in the form of a disinterested ticket seller. And while I’m here, did you know that teenagers get a discount on their tickets? Why don’t we just give them subsidised glue and say goodbye to society while we’re at it?

Of course I am the only one in the place on my own. Having no one to go for a drink with beforehand I am of course in time to see all the adverts, enduring the looks of all the happy couples who regard me as they enter, before finding a pair of seats at a safe distance and starting to chat. Then they start to laugh! Like it’s Fun! Don’t they know they’re interfering with my enjoyment of the advert with the guy and the car and stuff. I console myself with my popcorn, too large for one so that if I were to at it all myself my flesh would dehydrate and shrivel like a Nazi.

And I have no one to play the Trailers game with. Which is probably for the best as I’m rubbish at it.

The movie itself is fine as, like death, you are always on your own watching a film. But then after the explosive climax you are thrown back into your own existence, and the silence of the solitary man is deafening. And of course due to the length of films these days by the time you get home your wife is in bed, and doesn’t thank you for your lengthy discussion on how you missed the squid but actually the new ending makes more sense philosophically. Luckily, that is where the internet comes into its own, and you are no longer forced to spill your critical seed on the ground.

Cinema-going, like bridge and sex, is at its finest with at least 3 other people.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Brighton Restaurant Reviews



I am going to come clean straight away. The reason why I am going to review these restaurants is in the hope that word gets around that I might be reviewing a place and then maybe the serving staff would give me some goddamn respect. Hence the picture. There, that’s my face, remember it well waiters of England. It would be nice to get some kind of return for all this (admittedly minimal) effort I’m putting in.

Anyway, with interests fully declared, Oki-Nami. It’s a Japanese restaurant, as you may have guessed, in Brighton, and its fab. It is the ideal luncheon venue in that it is cheap, cheerful and with quite quick service. My companion and I both dined from the special lunch menu (we were there at lunch time, by the way), and were both very happy. The staff were pleasant and affable, maybe having recognised me, and the building was a lovely regency affair with twisty staircases. Any excess waiting was softened by the chopstick wrappers which doubled as origami patterns. My companion D had the very last tempura vegetables whilst I had pork belly (and is it just me, or is the pigs tummy the only thing they seem to be serving anywhere these days) with noodles.

For afters I had Japanese Millionaire’s Shortbread, though the only oriental element seemed to be some green ginger, and D had green tea ice cream which was refreshing but disappointingly not Tempuraed as promised. All washed down with plum wine and sake, enough to make me fairly giddy in the afternoon. My only criticism (apart from my other criticisms), was that there was a baby seated on the table behind us who uncannily mimicked both the looks and actions of our own child whom we had fled to the South Coast to escape from.


Alexander’s Gastronomy

It might undermine my apparent objectivity but we did appear to visit the two best restaurants in Brighton. Even if you were resident there you might not be aware of Alexander’s, located as it is off the main drag up and in the basement of one of the little hotels on the Old Steine. It is definitely worth the trip, as it is probably the finest restaurant I have ever dined in. It might be due to the fact that this is one of the first times I overcame my natural thriftiness and chose not to dine in a restaurant of the sort described above.

Or it might be all the booze we drunk.

Whatever the reason, it was great. There was a distinct lack of atmosphere caused by the remaining tables being filled by couples who seemed to have looked upon the place as a neutral location where they could sit and scowl in silence all night. But the waiter chap was friendly, and the toilets where Bali themed and reached through a secret passage, which I think is important. But most of all there is the food, the sort of food you wish could be conjured into reality by the sheer power of your memory, as memory could only ever be a cold reflection of the majesty of the process of eating.

I would warn you, though, don’t go if you’re a vegetarian. From the mighty amuse-bouche of pancetta on black pudding it was a big meaty fishy treat. I had my first ever lobster bisque as a starter, but it was the mains that really shone. Excellent ingredients cooked excellently seems to be the secret. My main was really three, a superb goose breast, a hare confit and some stuff which I never quite worked out what it was but tasted fine. As a special bonus I also got to eat my companion’s crackling as she had misread the menu. Eating other people’s food always gives it a little touch of specialness, which pushed this pork belly (see!) into the pork stratosphere.

The wine list was magnificent (we went for a sparkling wine from nearby Ditchling), the music was so good I begun to get paranoid that the guy had just nicked my iPod and put it on shuffle and the waiter (who turned out to actually be Alexander in the end) was very welcoming and enthusiastic when explaining the food. Also, by lasting three hours it solved our dilemma of what to do after dinner. We went to bed and watched TV.
Finally, a tip. Pretend you’re staying at the nearby Sea Spray hotel and get 10% of the bill (or actually do stay there, it’s great and has an Elvis themed room).



As if to punish us for such fine food, our final meal on the train home was straight from the anus of Satan. Due to my usual underestimation of how long it takes to travel by foot between locations and my insistence on having a hot cookies and cream milkshake (big mistake) we were unable to have fish and chips on the beach. My companion D was not best pleased as we ended up in East Croydon at 3pm still unlunched, so we decided to use our 10 minutes between trains to check out the culinary options available to us.

There weren’t many, but on a platform side Delifrance there were some surprisingly inviting looking Croque Monsuiers. Sure they were expensive, costing about as much as our tempura/pork tummy noodles the day before, but they were ham sandwiches with melty cheese on them, what could go wrong? The fact that they had a consistency more akin to bodily fluids than actual food, and a taste that could only have been reached by several months of consultancy, focus groups and hours spent in the lab trying to come up with the flavours most likely to cause someone to pull a face combining disdain and disgust.

I wonder if the whole thing is a cunning French satire on fast food?



Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ginsters New York Style Steak and Cheese Pasty


NEILL says:

Ah, New York. What is the definitive flavour of such a multifaceted and vibrant city? A glistening slice of Pepperoni pizza from Lombardis? A pastrami-laden bagel from the Westway Diner on 9th? Or is it, perhaps, the taste of stodgy pastry, cold potatoes and a few scant morsels of greyish mechanically recovered meat, bundled together into the conveniently portable form of a Cornish Pasty?

Of course it is the latter. For a true taste of NYC, the knowledgeable modern gastrosexual-about-town knows not to bother with all the faff of transatlantic flights, currency exchanges and hilarious cultural misunderstandings when you mention your intention to "pop out for a fag", but simply to head to their nearest shabbily-appointed corner shop or 24-hour garage and pick up a Ginster's "New York Style" Steak and Cheese Pasty. Cleverly exploiting the often-overlooked culinary and cultural affinity between New York and Cornwall, this superlative example of modern global fusion cookery manages to send the consumer into heady international raptures; with each mouthful you will feel as if you are out on the town amidst the glamourous neon-drenched bustle of Times Square.

No wait, hang on.

It's a fucking CORNISH PASTY.


Sunday, February 15, 2009


by Passion Pit

If you are down and in need of cheering yourself up, you could try putting The Avalanches' excellent debut album Since I Left You on the stereo in one room of your house, and the soundtrack to the film Lost in Translation on in another, and then rapidly bouncing back and forth between rooms on a space hopper while pouring Red Bull down your neck and emitting loud, shrill childlike noises. Or you could simply listen to this implausibly likeable song from american electro band Passion Pit's debut EP Chunk of Change and achieve largely the same effect, but with less potential for personal injury.

I cannot decide these things for you.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Mid-Week Drinking and it’s Inevitable Consequences


JAMES says:

In an ideal world we would all go out drinking on Friday and Saturday nights, wake up around midday the next day and head to the pub for a leisurely roast meat/newspaper session. Thanks to the incompetence or disinterest of the creator this is far from an ideal world. In many important ways it sucks, and one of the times this is most noticeable is when you have to spend time in the office environment the morning after a spree.

I would dearly love to take the weekend drinking path, but frequently find it strewn with obstacles. Generally obstacles that my wife has booked in and which involve me driving somewhere, precluding any kind of liver abuse. Just going to the pub and drinking beer fails to rank as a worthwhile social activity, and is also kind of awkward with a young child in tow. As such any drinking that is to be done in the correct fashion, eg. aimlessly, uselessly and regretfully, is chased into the social wilderness of the middle of the week. It is also pretty much the only time you can hope to find a pub quiz.

I therefore find myself blameless, an innocent victim swept along the tide of events by the inevitable march of history. It all starts innocently enough, with vague intentions of leaving after a couple, but I do find beer very moreish. There is also the danger of the round trap. Let me explain the round trap. Say you are meeting a group of three other drinkers, their names are not important. You are the second to arrive, being well-mannered yet not a loser. Your loser friend is already at the bar and you go to greet him. He offers you a drink. You accept. God is in his Heaven and all is right with the world. Shortly afterwards another friend arrives and offers you a drink, basking in the safe glow of your barely touched glasses. You thank him for his empty offer but decline and he sorts himself out. Drinking and laughter ensue.

And then you notice the relative state of the drinks in front of your party. You are reaching dreg levels, your sad friend is close behind you whilst your smug friend is about half way down. You briefly consider slowing right down, hoping smugface will overtake you and fall into the round trap. But he is in full flow about Buddhism or The Wire or something and, besides, that beer is very moreish. You polish it off, and make the offer of another drink, which is gleefully and unsurprisingly accepted. As you stand up in rocks your last friend, almost as if he had planned it. (He wouldn’t have, would he? Skulk out in the cold and dark just to not have to buy a round? No, the idea is absurd).

The end result of all these passive/aggressive machinations is that you are 4 drinks down and have only seen 2 drinks benefit (and late friend has ordered a gin and tonic, typically). Your only option is to stick it out for another two drinks, and hope smug and late don’t wimp out of their commitments. By this point you are four pints down, and have entered the Bizarro World stage of the evening.

“Stupid Humans eat a healthy nutritious meal before going to bed at a reasonable hour! Here at 11pm on a Wednesday night world we eat fried chicken and go to dubious establishments with late licences, before falling asleep on last train home!”

Eventually you make it home, waking up your wife, cats and child in the process which means you start the next day with a negative balance of goodwill. You also start it with a wounded disbelief at why your alarm clock is going off when it’s clearly still the middle of the night. That is, of course, if you manage to avoid the vicious circle of waking up too early, then worrying that you’ve woken up too early and being unable to get back to sleep due to this worry (and the fact that you have the first line of Leggy Blonde by Flight of the Conchords stuck in your head). However it happens, it happens that the healing embrace of sleep is replaced by the unforgiving slap of so-called reality.

At first it doesn’t seem too bad. Despite previous experience you think that this time, somehow, you’ve gotten away with it. It’s not until you’re safely ensconced at your desk that Har-Garr the Morning After Beast strikes with his full might. A hangover, when carefully nurtured and indulged with enough ginger beer and time spent on the sofa can, like giving birth, be a joyous experience. Stick it in front of a computer with nothing but the prospect of 8 hours of spreadsheets to look forward to and it becomes more akin to a breach birth whilst stuck in an elevator with only Zach from Saved by the Bell to assist.

You eventually make it, bloody and bruised, to lunch time and yet again taking a distinctly Humean approach to experience you decide that a big pile of junk food will be just the ticket for sorting you out. You are wrong, as you will shortly discover. The combination of too much greasy food and a ravaged digestive system is total annihilation, and I have yet to experience a workplace bathroom in which the inevitable results are entirely free of some kind of trauma.

And so the clocks refuse to move, your head refuse to stop pounding and your work refuses to just do itself for a change. It’s hell, nor are you out of it. Until you are, of course. The birth analogy is once again useful here because when you make it to the end of the day you solemnly vow to never do it again, but time smudges the horror and buffs the benefits and eventually there you are again, quietly sobbing into our keyboard whilst praying that none of your co-workers notice the congealed kebab stench.

Now, a confession. Though I have used ‘you’ throughout the piece I could just have easily used ‘I’ for, you see, I too have experienced the thrilling high and crippling lows of being drunk on a Tuesday night. It is not worth it. If you simply must drink alcohol outside the permitted time zones my advice is this, do it during the day at work, that way you can sober up by the time you go to bed and avoid the hangover completely.

A cautionary tale


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Unified Review Theory - the PODCAST

Yes, we have recorded a podcast! In this first-ever episode of Unified Review Theory, join your hosts Neill and James as we continue our ongoing mission to Review Everything. Only this time, you know, by TALKING. In this packed episode, we take it back to the 90's with a review of beloved time-travel TV series Quantum Leap, and get in touch with our highland roots with a frank and full discussion of the Cameron Family Motto.

Just click the above image , or follow this link:

We will put it on iTunes and stuff if we ever figure out how. Also, if we ever record another.

Your thoughts, comments and feedback would be very welcome, as would be suggestions of stuff for us to review in future episodes! Just leave comments below, or on our Facebook page.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

McVities Toaster Waffles

(Low-effort 'convenience' foodstuff)

NEILL says:

Imagine waking gently from a deep, long, sleep. You push yourself up from between cool and crisp white linen sheets and let your mind slowly settle. What has woken you up? Not a noise - the house is blissfully quiet, the only sound being the gentle lapping of the waves on the beach outside. The light? It's true, warm sunlight is streaming in through the windows and across the bed. But that's not it. No, it's - a smell. A wonderful, rich, delicious smell. Someone downstairs is making waffles.

That is the dream that waffles represent, and it is a dream that is heartbreakingly poignant when one's real wake-up routine involves a regular 4am leap out of bed into a pitch-black and freezing-cold house to deal with a screaming baby who has the runs. So poignant, in fact, that it can lead one to doing odd, otherwise inexplicable things. Like, for instance, buying 'Toaster Waffles'.

The actual review: they're not aggressively unpleasant. They do taste vaguely waffle-ish, which is probably the best one could hope for. There's a certain degree of sogginess that is unexpected in something that is, after all, cooked in a toaster. But they possess one unexpectedly winning quality: the smell. Not only do they make your house smell like someone has actually been making proper waffles, but that smell then lingers with an astonishing degree of persistence and causes pleasant olfactory tingles of waffliness whenever you walk into the kitchen for the rest of the day. My wife suggests that the ideal solution would be to simply toast a couple every morning and then chuck them in the bin. But I think she underestimates my desire to eat soggy toaster waffles.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Short History of Nearly Everything

by Bill Bryson

JAMES says:

A very handy book for a new father, as it gives me at least some of the answers to the barrage of questions I will no doubt be subjected to in a few years time ("what is wind? Who build the moon? Why don't trains have legs?" etc), however I think once again I have fallen victim to my inability to do anything other than start a book then read it in numerical order by page until I reach the end. This is probably more of a dipper. Several elements are repeated, mainly trying to make you comprehend how big or amazing things are (If you put every zero in a row it would reach to Sevenoaks, it was as if a cat had suddenly learnt how to conduct hostage negotiations overnight). The whole book is basically one big "Isn't it neat". And it is is fact neat. Although the next time a scientist tells you he knows something laugh in his face.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ninjafied Rap

(New Musical Form)

NEILL says:

One of the advantages of being self-employed and working from home is that I am able to play lots of really loud hip-hop, and rap along at the top of my lungs in an excruciatingly awkward thirtysomething-white-man fashion. In a more conventional office workplace this would be somewhat embarrassing, if not entirely inappropriate, but in the comfort and privacy of my own studio I am free to really let rip. There is, however, one significant problem with the practise. As a guilt-ridden middle-class liberal of impeccable credentials, there is.... a particular word that I am literally unable to say. Even in the privacy of my own studio, where there is no-one around to hear or be offended. And, unfortunately, it is a word that is used a lot in a lot of rap songs. I mean, really a lot. You know the one, it begins with 'N'.

This has caused me minor consternation for years, as when happily rapping along to The Roots or Nas in my pleasantly ridiculous fashion, I am forced to either simply skip over the word, performing a self-imposed mental version of a radio DJ pressing their cough button, or substitute a random incoherent mumble for the offending N-word. Either of these take a certain amount of memory and concentration, which are not exactly my core competencies anyway, and generally end up messing up my otherwise formidable Flow. Even worse are the rare occasions when I fluff the procedure and the word slips out, causing me to spend the rest of the afternoon in the throes of a crippling liberal guilt attack and worrying that my subscription to the Guardian will be revoked.

As you can see, this is a major problem for me. I would go further, in fact, and describe it as a major social problem for our times. However, it is a problem which I am happy to say I have totally solved. And all it takes is the easy substitution of the word 'ninja' for, you know, the other word. This is perfect, as:

a) it sounds almost the same anyway so the lyrics still flow perfectly
b) it renders even the hardest-to-excuse examples of gangsta rap into songs about ninjas. And I don't know about you, but I find that pretty amusing.

fig. 1.1 - The Wu-Tang Clan, Shame on a [Ninja]

fig 1.2 - Geto Boys, Damn it feels Good to be a Gangsta (Ninja)

fig 1.3 - Gangstarr, The Militia (Ninjafied Version)

My only regret is that this is without question the single greatest idea I will ever have in my life, and yet it is one that will almost certainly never make me any money. But that's it, my gift to the world and to future generations. You can thank me later.


The Originals:

Gangstarr, The Milita. Greatest video of all time? Very possibly yes.

Geto Boys, Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta. Doesn't it, though?

Monday, January 05, 2009


(Developmental stage)

NEILL says:

I am unable to give an accurate review of the subjective experience of teething, as it was quite a long time ago and I don't really remember all the details. But I would imagine I didn't particularly enjoy it. What I can give you is an all-too-comprehensive account of the experience from the other side, as the parent of a teething one-year-old. Essentially, in layman's terms for those of you who are fortunate enough to not yet have spawned offspring of your own: it involves a lot of being awake when you would prefer not to be awake. One's nights become a soul-destroying routine of being wrenched from pleasant dreams1 to spend several hours going through a futile cycle of milk bottles, teething gel, Calpol and "oh just leave him, he'll surely stop crying sooner or later". (He doesn't). Of course, when you do finally manage to successfully get the screaming ratbag back off to sleep, the mind then chooses just that moment to rebel and experience a perversely ill-timed bout of insomnia, and you end up lying in bed for hours in the middle of the night worrying and wondering about topics as diverse as whether the kid's okay, the global economic crisis and its likely impact on your mortgage, and whether this would be an appropriate time to get up and have that leftover ham in a nice sandwich with maybe a glass of milk.

I once heard about a scientific study which found that the impact of small-baby-enforced insomnia on one's mental acuity and intelligence levels was functionally equivalent to experiencing a mild but significant form of brain damage, and the only thing I can say about that is "well, duh." I do feel it gives one a peculiar insight into one's own parents. Have you ever wondered why your Mum and Dad were so weird? Well, it's because you, by the sheer fact of your existence and basic needs as a human infant, systematically destroyed their mental stability, judgement and decision-making abilities to the point where wearing corduroy trousers with bicycle clips seemed like a good idea. Are you happy now?


1 Tonight's, since you asked: with the assistance of Marvel supervillains and Thor adversaries the 'Wrecking Crew', I was helping that woman out of the first couple of series of Teachers move her new soapmaking business' stock of Bath Bombs out of her old premises and onto a nice new canal narrowboat HQ, and everyone present was very impressed that I could carry the whole sofa on my back with no assistance.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

New Year's Resolutions


NEILL says:

I hate to come off as the predictably cynical misanthrope that, well, I am, but New Year's resolutions really are a load of absolute shit. Whether to "lose weight", "stop smoking" or "try not to have more than two bottles of gin before the milkman's been, except on Saturdays obviously, everyone's allowed Saturdays off, right? Right?", they are equally futile. It is entirely inexplicable why people persist in the delusion that their catastrophic character flaws, stubbornly resistant to any attempt at change for the rest of their lives, will somehow be magically rendered soluble by the fact that the last digit on the calendar has changed incrementally. If anything, the start of January is the worst possible time for embarking on any attempt at self-improvement, as it's cold out, everything's pretty fucking depressing and you're probably hungover anyway.

New Year's resolutions can be useful and constructive, but the key is to set achievable goals. If you aim too high you only end up failing, depressing yourself, and reverting to your destructive behaviours harder than ever, the only winner in the whole ghastly feedback loop of self-annihilation being Paul McKenna and his ever-growing empire of fraudulent "I Can Get You Off the Pipe" style self-help books. As such, I have decided this year to set the following - entirely realistic - resolutions for myself in 2009:

  1. Learn all the (correct) words to the theme tune of Rawhide.
  2. Train my one-year old son to say "Daddy" and give a sharp military salute.
  3. Become rich and famous and successful and that.
One out of three seems a realistic target.