Thursday, 15 July 2010

BWAAAAOOOOOM!' Dare to dream a little bigger darling, cos it's Rob's Random 5!

Good day to you! This week I'll be invading your dreams and planting thoughts about chicken, Sherlock Holmes, movies, Freakonomics and comics. Don't fight it; your mind is the scene of the Random 5! 'BWAAAOOOOM!'

Nandon't: Religion. I don't like it, but hey, some people do and as long as you're not some Bible n' Bandolier zealot then I'm fine with it. Follow your faith and may it bring you comfort. And there are alot of religions you can adhere to: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Jedi, Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Paganism, why a whole Holy host of them. Lately though there's a new player on the block. It's places of worship are many and it's congregation numerous. It takes your money gladly and in return will fill you with a feeling of fullness and well-being. No, it's not New Mormonology, it's the Church of Nando's, and it's followers are Legion. Because lately everyone seems to talk, no enthuse, about Nando's as though it were the best thing since shoes, or mobile phones. They've been and tasted the menu's offerings and - Hallelujah! - they have been converted. The scales have fallen from their eyes onto their bone-strewn plates and the light they see is in the shape of a chicken. Now 'poultry-based proselytisation' is a term I never thought I'd ever use, but then I never thought I'd see people enthuse over chicken like it was the Second Coming with drumsticks.
Thing is, I don't understand it. I've been to Nando's once. Only once, but it was enough to form an opinion. I didn't choose to go there but I ended up there. I ordered the chicken, I ate the chicken. Was it good chicken? Indeed it was. Was it an amazing culinary experience? No. Really, no. It was just chicken. Chicken in a sauce, that's all. My brother used to work there, cooking the chicken, and he agrees with me it is just chicken. There's no secret. Jesus has not blessed it. God has not cooked it and seasoned it with magic spices. Can I emphasis this enough? It was just chicken.
So why do people treat a trip to Nando's as a real treat? Why do they talk of it as 'a special tea', somewhere to take the girlfriend, or - God help us all - something to Facebook about? Why do they enthuse about it with sparkly-eyed, greasy-fingered zeal, as though they have discovered some all-saving culinary religion? After all, lots of restaurants serve chicken and lots do it better than Nando's. Is it the service? Well no, as you have to trek from your table up to the counter to order like at a McDonalds. Is it the faux South American surroundings? Come on, I'm not even going to answer that. Is it that it's simple food that's tasty? Obviously it is, but other restaurants - restaurants with actual proper waiters who'll ask if you want more wine or a pudding - make tasty food and you don't hear people banging on about Ask or Frankie & Benny's. I really can't fathom why there's such a devotion to Nando's over other equally ubiquitous restaurants of similar quality. Can you explain it?
The only reason I can think of is that it maybe is just faith: faith in the knowledge that whatever town you're in you can go to a restaurant that's the same as it is in Swindon or Salisbury and have a tasty piece of fowl at a decent price. It won't be glamorous, it won't be a meal to remember, but it'll keep the kids quiet and you know it'll satisfy you. And in that sense of engendered comfort and satisfaction Nando's is a lot more like a Church than you might realise. A big, depressing church of chicken. Just don't expect me to ever join the congregation there. I'll be down the road worshipping at an independent restaurant with a good wine list and a specials board.

Ham Radio: Last Christmas I was given the Complete Sherlock Holmes on DVD. It's the collection of the fourteen Holmes movies made in the 1930s and 40s and starring the legendary Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. And they are fantastic. For the two weeks after Christmas my dad and I watched one a night - big TV, lights off; if we'd filled the room with cigarette smoke and worried murmurs about the Nazis it'd have been just like being in a cinema in 1940. If you've never seen one of the old Sherlock Holmes films you're missing out. You can pick any of them up on DVD for two quid at HMV, or as they're now public domain you can download them free and legally. Free! I'd recommend any of them, but especially 'The Spider-Woman', 'Pursuit to Algiers' and 'Terror By Night'. Just for now though here's the trailer for the superb 'The Scarlet Claw' (WooooOoooOoo!)

Great stuff. Well acted, twisty-suspenseful plots, occasionally hilarious, I love them. Basil Rathbone, with diction so crisp you could split an infinitive on it, is a perfect Holmes, and Bruce plays up the comedic side of Watson with a loveably bumbling portrayal. They're something the whole family can enjoy and at just over an hour long there's not a minute wasted. All too soon my dad and I had watched them all and were sad that there weren't more. But then I discovered the Sherlock Holmes radio plays that were produced in the 40s and also starred Rathbone and Bruce. About fifty episodes in all and they're as classic as old radio plays can get. If you've seen the 'Nightmare Inn' episode of Frasier you'll understand. They're half an hour long and while a little 'exposition-y' in places ("Look out Holmes, there's a man coming through the door! He's raising a gun to point at us!") the mystery/story is solid and the voice acting excellent. There's atmospheric organ music, classic radio sound effects, and a genial announcer who won't shut up about Petri wine. If you're after something to listen to while in the car or in bed (I listen to them while cooking) you should definitely give them a try. Best of all they're free and legal to download (public domain again, see). If you have iTunes you can find them there, and if not you can download them here at Botar's Old Time Radio, or here at the Sherlock Holmes Public Library. As I say there are a lot of episodes to choose from, so if you just want one to try out then go for 'The Out of Date Murder' or 'The Paradol Chamber'. Both are very good indeed.
If you do watch any of the films or listen to any of the radio plays then absolutely let me know. I'd love to know what you think of them.

Grrr...Kids: I want to see Toy Story 3 when it comes out. So do a lot of my friends. Unfortunatley, as it's a 'kids movie' (even though Pixar don't pander to demographics) parents will be taking their kids to see it. Now, I hate kids. No, that's not strictly true. I hate the kids of people I don't know. What I especially hate is having to sit in a cinema with kids as they always jabber and squirm in their seats and ask their parents questions about the plot and just generally detract from the moviegoing experience with their lack of movie theatre decorum. Parents, you may as well take a gibbon in with you for all the attention your kids pay and the noise they make. And why should people without children have to put up with the noisy loin-spawn of some desperate couple? We've paid the same admission and deserve to enjoy the film without your son/daughter's garbled, candy-stuffed commentary. Hey! This ain't Mystery Science Theatre, sweetheart!
So what do do? Well - and I don't know if this is an actual thing yet - but why not have 'no children allowed' screenings of Toy Story 3? That's right, showings of the film just for adults. Toy Story is fifteen years old so many of you out there will have grown up with it. You'll have been kids at the first one, teens during the second, and now adults for the third. We've grown up with Andy and his toys. Just because you saw the first as a kid why do you have to suffer through sequels surrounded by noisy toddlers and texting tweens? We were here first! Why can't we sit with like-minded people who'll appreciate the legacy and memories of Buzz and Woody; people who didn't get that coveted Buzz Lightyear action figure for Christmas the first time round? So for all us nostalgic twentysomethings who saw the first Toy Story when we were kids, lets us have the joyous peace of a 'no kids allowed' screening. No one under 18 permitted. Heck, I'd pay extra for it. Let those foolish adults with whining, drooling gibbon-children suffer through the ceaseless kerfuffle of a normal screening. But let me, a big kid at heart, enjoy a film that captured and shaped my imagination so many years ago. Because the last thing I want is to have my childhood spoiled by children.

Le Freak, c'est chic: Here's my book recommendation for the month. I did Economics at A-Level and while there are aspects of it that are very interesting there are also great swathes of it that are dull, so you might be reluctant to read a book that has a basis in economics. But Freakonomics and its sequel SuperFreakonomics are only economics books in the way they use the principles of economics (don't be put off by that phrase) to examine and explain everyday events and odd occurences. In the authors' Levitt & Dubner's words they explore 'the hidden side of everything'. Cool stuff, like how you can catch a terrorist simply by looking at their banking habits, why drug dealers live with their mums, and why a department store santa is like a prostitute. SuperFreakonomics also covers what to my mind is THE GREATEST EXPERIMENT EVER: teaching Capuchin monkeys how to use money. The consequences of the experiment are startling, and not in the way you might think. The books show you how things are always more intricate than they first appear, but can be simply explained just by looking at the raw data. Take for instance the sudden crime drop in America in the 1970s and how it was caused by an event that had nothing to do with increased policing or tougher gun laws; the landmark Supreme Court case of Roe vs Wade. Suddenly the poor single mothers who would have likely had children that would have fallen into a life of crime could have an abortion legally. The result? There were simply fewer criminals being born. Amazing. It's that cause and effect, whether created by money or morals or both, which Freakonomics deals with so well. Once you start reading you'll see how the oddest things are connected, and how some of the greatest problems facing Humanity can be solved with the simplest, cheapest solutions.
Beyond the books there are also the Freakonomics podcasts available free on iTunes, and the Freakonomics blog. As with the books they're very readable (or listenable), clearly written, funny, and informative. They cover everything from radio stations to seatbelts to counterfeit wine. I guarantee you'll come away feeling smarter.

Remember where we 'Parker'-ed: Finally, to see you off, here's a treat; a brief preview of Darwyn Cooke's 'Parker: The Man With The Getaway Face'. The 24 page 12 x 8 comic is out now and as well as being a self-contained story, acts as a prelude to the graphic novel 'The Outfit', released here in October. Copies of 'The Hunter' sold out at a blistering pace, so I'm already pre-ordering a copy. I know I keep banging on about how good Darywn Cooke is, so I think you'll have got the message by now. Just buy it. Here's the preview. That first page with him looking in the mirror is one of the most beautiful openers to a comic I've ever seen/read.

Well that's all for the Random 5 this time. 'BWAAAOOOOM' for now!