Avatar A taste of Hampshire

People sometimes ask me: Chris, why did you move to Bordon? What attracted you to this small ex-army town in Hampshire? Was it the abundant woodland? Its proximity to the South Downs National Park? Being in easy reach of the picturesque and charming market towns of Farnham and Petersfield? Being within commuting distance of London while also being less than an hour from the coast?

It was none of these. What brought me to Bordon was enviable hilltop location on the borders of Aragón and Valencia in south eastern Spain, and its delicious red wines, a blend of 75% Tempranillo and 25% Garnacha grapes.

Wine from Bordón

Avatar I don’t need you

Look at you. I don’t need you.

You tell me to ‘keep you for when I need you’ but I’ve got news for you buddy, there will never come a time when I will need you.

I don’t need a Roman. I don’t think I’ve ever asked anyone for a Roman. It’s not as if I’ve been walking down the street in town and thought to myself, “ooo, you know what I could do with right now? A bit of Roman, yeah.” I’m not stuck at work trying to solve a problem and cursing the absence of a centurion to help me through a difficult time. You don’t find me arms aloft, shouting to the heavens, wishing a Roman would swoop along to sort out my bad diet and poor exercise regime.

You look confused and out of breath. Are you surrounding that house so you can lay siege to it or is this your home? It doesn’t look very Roman if you ask me. If you’re lurking about on someone else’s property they’re going to call the police. You look as though you’re taking a piss in their garden and hoping that nobody notices you. That’s not your house, is it, Roman? You wouldn’t have that many windows. You would freak if you saw double glazing or that burglar alarm started going off. Your primitive mind couldn’t cope with our twenty-first century ideas. Hell, I can’t cope with our twenty-first century ideas.

Tell you what, if I’m planning to try and conquer most of the known world I will drop you a line and ask for some assistance. Until then, I don’t need you.

Go away, shoo!

Avatar Twenty years on

This September we take a moment to pause and look back on a major world event. In September of 2001, Ian and myself helped to found a new country.

Filled with youthful hope for a brighter tomorrow, we joined forces with Chuckie and George, and – deciding that the spirit of the Office would serve as a perfect basis for a nation state – declared independence for a small area of Leeds suburbia. Through a complex system of writing down random letters, we named it Zyurisizia.

Geographically, it faced certain challenges, with its capital city located inside an office in a school building. Most of Zyurisizia’s territory lay across the path between the music block and the sunken playground, and its vast rural hinterland took in the wildlife area, a small field, and a slightly bigger field that we didn’t really go in much.

Moving on from the sixth form in 2002, the four of us bequeathed this fledgling nation to the youth of tomorrow, hoping that it would serve to bring them enlightenment and liberty as it had us, and hoping that one day its boundaries would extend to a worldwide empire where equality, justice and silliness would be shared by all humankind.

Let’s see what became of Zyurisizia in the two decades that followed. Here are the borders of the nation superimposed on modern-day satellite photography.

Satellite imagery © Google. We were unable to source pictures from the Zyurisizian Space Agency for some reason

As you can see, the rapidly developing country has been completely urbanised. It’s delightful to see that the wasteland we left behind has been turned into this sprawling metropolis, known to its inhabitants as “Scholars Gate”, stretching in every direction to meet the borders of the nation. The name of the settlement is a clear indication of a society that prizes education and enlightenment above all else.

One can only assume that the proud citizens of Zyurisizia are continuing to uphold the traditions of free-spiritedness, self-determination, and occasionally writing unsolicited letters to Tony Blair. As a founding father, and a former passport holder of Zyurisizia myself, I could not be more delighted.

Here’s to the bright future of Zyurisizia. If I could remember the national anthem, I’d sing it.

Avatar The Pompadoose Moose

In my long and illustrious career as, well, pretty much everything and everyone I have achieved a number of accolades to my name. I’m not going to list them all here because we don’t want it turning into one of those back-slapping exercises that other people seem to indulge in. I’m far too shy and retiring for that.

That said, I suppose 2020 was the worst time to change my career. I decided to be an animalogist just as the Bovona virus took hold of the world and squeezed it like a sad lemon to make a tiny droplet of lemonade so lacklustre it would fail to quench the thirst of a dung beetle.

For those not in the know, animalogists are those people who look like they got dressed in the dark / with their eyes closed and go out into the world to record all the different types of animals living in the world. All of them from such famous ones as the Alaskan mountain nut boar and the wig herons to the common ‘o garden hassle mice, they all need to be documented as many times as possible so that when you meet one of them you know what their star sign is and how they take their coffee.

When I was (secretly) roaming the more uninhabitable parts of Northern Russia in the later months of the year I came across a species of moose that was yet undocumented. It was tall and graceful, with a large volume of hair that took up most of the horizon line. I could see many nests of birds hiding in there. Worn high over its forehead, it was the most stylish moose I have ever seen with my moose-viewing eyes (they were commissioned especially for this expedition). After a general introduction I started asking it all of the pertinent questions starting with shirt size, favourite astronaut and whether or not their rivalry with raccoons had been blown out of proportions over the last few decades.

The information I acquired was priceless. In my bag I had reams and reams of paper filled to the brim with a veritable cornucopia of details. I was going to offer the definitive take on this new breed, coupled with one of my award-winning and best-selling books to boot. The only downside is that the pompadoose moose would not allow me to take its photo. I could ask all the questions I wanted but the world was not ready for its beauty and so I left pictureless.

To gaze upon its pompadour and its grace was a treasure like no other. I only hope that when the world is ready for it, that I am there at the front, pushing everyone else out of the way, ready with my trusty Kodak Ektralite to record that wonderful moment.

Avatar Badvert

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Toffifee. It’s a sort of over-packaged nutty caramel confection that a distant relative might buy a grandparent for Christmas, or that might be the only product you recognise if you visit a German supermarket.

In a move common to all European confectionary when it’s advertised in the UK, Toffifee released a new TV advert a couple of months ago that has somehow made it on to the airwaves without anyone involved realising that it looks at least 30 years out of date. Presumably nobody involved in the entire campaign had any sense of irony.

This post isn’t really about anything other than my need to share with you just how naff the whole thing is.

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Avatar Newsboost – Zany Zoo Zig-Zag

Thailand has opened a brand new zoo and it is one that has garnered the attention of the world’s media for offering a different kind of experience.

The ‘Khop Khun Animal Sanctuary’ based outside of the city of Phuket is revolutionary in its approach to animal captivity, if you can even call that. The entire park is open with no walls or barriers keeping the animals in one singular place. Instead, in order to keep visitors safe, every member must wear their very own human cage, placed around their head, body and legs to prevent any unwanted attention from the most rambunctious of residents.

Originally the idea of billionaire John Cho, it was fully realised, albeit with the help of Cho’s money, by Anastasia and Lloyd Botham, a couple originally from Milton Keynes. It was these forward-thinking biologists who designed the layout of the attraction with the animals in mind, more than the people.

“We wanted it to be outside inside, or more appropriately, we didn’t want the animals to know they were being kept inside something,” wittered Lloyd, “Their sense of freedom is much more important than anything else. They need to believe that nothing is stopping them from living their best life and though it may not be the habitat they are normally used to, it is much more humane than tiny cages in dingy corners of draughty warehouses.”

Anastasia was the one who crafted the “human cages” as they have come to be known as. “I was inspired by robots. I love the movement of robots, the style and look of robots. It then occurred to me that when people get close to sharks they lower themselves into the water in a giant cage for protection. Why not do the same thing on land? Not with sharks though because they’d die, unless they were put in a giant tank. I reckon it wouldn’t be the same though.”

After ten minutes of waffling she returned to the point. “We have several cages available for use. The family cage (AKA the “Bernard Manning”) is our most popular, allowing two adults and two children to wander through the park in tandem. The couple cage (AKA the “Howard and Marina”) is another favourite, for those who don’t want to chance it on their own. The solo cages (the “Katie Hopkins”) are also available although you’d be surprised at how often they are not used. People would prefer to travel in groups.

The controversy surrounding the sanctuary was deepened when several of the animals took it upon themselves to try and eat the paying patrons by pushing the cages over and clawing at the people like they were trying to scoop the last of the Pringles from the very bottom of the tube. Mike Sore and his fiancee, Klara Onspott, barely made it out alive.

“It was the most terrifying experience of my life,” rustled Mike, his wife-to-be shaking nervously at his side, “you never expect it to happen to you. There we were, laughing at the marmots when these two gorillas pushed over our cage and viciously swiping at us. Had we not flattened ourselves at the very bottom and called for help we wouldn’t be here today. Thank God gorillas have never had a box of Tic-Tacs.”

It’s fair to say that once the animal kingdom does learn about shaking that last chocolate-covered raisin from the bottom of the packet into the mouth in one seamless movement, the human race is doomed.

Avatar Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite!

I had two ideas for another post this month albeit they both stemmed from the same prospect of enraging Kevin and there is no way that I am going to post them within a few days of each other. I do like to space these things out so that Kevin’s wrath does not come down on my like a ton of spiky, explosive bricks. Also, you may as well milk this for all it’s worth because everyone loves winding Kev up as much as I do. With this in mind, let me present you with a little review of the Gameboy Colour game ‘Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite!”

Hamtaro is a hugely popular Japanese series of anime, manga and video games. It follows the adventures of a group of SD (super-deformed and very cutesy) hamsters and it’s utterly insane. I want to pretend that this is completely normal but it’s not. I have played through the entire game and I am convinced it was designed by the deranged. Even I, with my bat shit crazy view of the world, found myself exclaiming out loud, not in my head, actual audible sounds, of “Eh?” and “You what?” whilst playing it. It is everything that I was hoping for and an extra box of chocolate carpets to boot.

In it you play the titular Hamtaro, a lovable hamster with a heart as huge as his eyes. The boss of your hamster clubhouse has tasked you with locating all the other twelve hamsters and bringing them back for a special surprise. As a small rodent, the human world is big and full of items that would appear normal to you and me. How are you to convince your peers to abandon whatever they’re doing and head back to he clubhouse? You do this using Ham-Chat. Ham-Chat is the secret language of the Ham-Hams whereby instead of using sensible words to describe and communicate they use slight variations or muddied portmanteaus of colloquialisms. It does seem rather odd that this fully-grown hamster does not understand basic words for ‘happy’, ‘tired’ and ‘hungry’; how has he been getting by all this time? Has he been writing down words on a pad and showing them to friends and family? Where did he buy this pad of paper, from a tiny WH Smiths? Who designed and built a WH Smiths so small only small animals can get in? There are so many questions.

So you get given a few to begin with and set off into the world to learn more words. The more words you learn the more puzzles you can solve. When I say “puzzles” what I mean is… what do I mean? You meet other Ham-Hams and they tell you things such as stories or other Ham-Chat words. You pass these on to other Ham-Hams to help them with whatever problem they’re dealing with. Occasionally you won’t be able to proceed in the area you’re in until you find the right word and backtrack to that point. Occasionally you’ll go through every word you have until you do the right thing. Occasionally you’ll have to play a mini-game where you position Hamtaro in the right place so he can head a strawberry like a football. Fruit sports.

The game is relatively open so you can wander around until you find the right thing for the right place. It’s a series of fetch quests hidden behind a brightly-coloured world of absurdity. There are eighty-five words to find in total. As this is a kid’s game, you are also given the choice of purchasing clothes and items for Hamtaro from specialist shops hidden in the game. Fancy yourself a bit of a dance guru? The words from the back of the box say it all:

“You can create dances with Ham-Chat. Every word gives you a dance step – string words together to make your own original Ham-Jam dances then link up and share with your friends.”

I didn’t get this. I mean I understand hamsters dancing but I didn’t see the point of it meaning I ignored this aspect of the game completely and went back to picking up acorns and rocks.

Though I am a little ashamed to admit it, I am still to complete my Ham-Ham Notebook having only found seventy-six of the eighty-five words in total. I appear to have hit a bit of a block where it seems as if I need to do the tiniest of little things before carrying on with the rest of the game and my poor eyes, all sets of them, don’t have the energy to go scouring through the same levels again and again trying to find whatever it is I need to do.

That said, it is a very engaging and silly game, and I enjoyed the majority of it. I first learned of it at the turn of the century and it took me until this year to play it. Twenty years of anticipation. Twenty years of sometimes looking for it on Ebay and then getting distracted by a box of hammers. As it is quite rare I could only find the game and instruction booklet so I bought a reproduction box from Etsy to house it in. Now it looks all complete and shiny the way it should. Look at it, Kev, bask in how great it looks. That repro box was well worth the money. I only wish everyone could experience the comic mischief of ‘Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite!” although the chances of an HD remake or remaster are practically slim to none.

It’s a good job then that there are three (count ’em!) three other Hamtaro games on the Gameboy Colour for me to source and play. Life is good.

Avatar Four Word Reviews: Tenor at the Movies

I cannot explain how Four Word Reviews work. The CDs just arrive, I don’t choose them, and they arrive by their own mysterious schedule. Right now I have a lot of them stacked up. Being in a position where I had a lot to choose from, I took a punt on Jonathan Ansell’s Tenor at the Movies, basically because I’d never heard of him. Here he is, look.

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